Russian airstrikes ripped apart a theater in Mariupol that served as a makeshift shelter for hundreds of people, Ukrainian officials said Thursday.
The theater was bombed late Wednesday even though the word “CHILDREN” was laid out in giant letters in front of the building to protect it. The strikes left many civilians buried in the burning rubble, Ukraine’s foreign ministry said in a statement. There was no immediate word on how many people were killed or injured.
“The building withstood the impact of a high-powered air bomb and protected the lives of people hiding in the bomb shelter,” Ukraine’s ombudswoman Ludmyla Denisova said Thursday. Ukrainian parliament member Sergiy Taruta added on a social media post that “people are coming out alive.”
The Kyiv Independent reported at least 130 survivors had been pulled from the wreckage, adding that the bomb shelter reportedly survived the attack. The rescue efforts were continuing.
A photo released by Mariupol’s city council showed an entire section of the vast, three-story theater had collapsed after the strike. Residents had taken refuge in the building’s basement, seeking safety amid Russia’s three-week, strangulating siege of the strategic Azov Sea port city.
REDUCED TO RUBBLE:Heartbreaking images explore Ukraine’s devastated residential areas
“Our hearts are broken by what Russia is doing to our people, to our Mariupol,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.
Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry, denied the bombing and said the military “does not bomb cities.”
Vadim Denisenko, an adviser to the Ukraine minister of Internal Affairs, said 90% of Mariupol city has been destroyed or damaged and that almost no buildings have been left untouched. Most of the 400,000 residents remain in the city, he said.
“Evacuation and rescue efforts remain extremely difficult due to constant Russian shelling,” Denisenko said. “This is beyond a humanitarian disaster.”
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►The city of Slavytuch outside Kyiv has been completely isolated by Russian aggressors, cutting it off from supplies. The city is nearing a humanitarian disaster, the Kyiv regional government said.
►Europe won’t be attempting to send its first rover to Mars this year because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the European Space Agency confirmed Thursday.
►The Ukraine military says it has captured about a thousand Russian servicemen and that an estimated 14,000 more have been killed in battle.
►The northern Ukrainian city of Chernihiv has experienced “colossal losses and destruction” amid heavy bombardment from Russian artillery and airstrikes, governor Viacheslav Chaus said Thursday. Chaus told Ukrainian TV that the bodies of 53 people had been delivered to city morgues over the past 24 hours.
►Former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called for Europe to stop buying oil and gas from Russia: “You pay Putin $50 million every hour. Every hour. And this money is used to kill us, Ukrainians.”
►The Ukraine military claimed to have shot down 10 Russian planes and cruise missiles over the city,
►Six Western nations – the United States, United Kingdom, France, Ireland, Norway and Albania – have requested an open session on Ukraine before the United Nations is expected to vote Friday on a Russian humanitarian resolution that has been sharply criticized for making no mention of its invasion of Ukraine.
►Ukrainian and Russian delegations held talks again Wednesday by video. An official in Zelenskyy’s office said the main subject under discussion was whether Russian troops would remain in separatist regions in eastern Ukraine after the war and where the borders would be.
WNBA star Brittney Griner, detained at a Moscow airport last month, will be held until at least May 19, the Russian state news agency Tass reported. Griner was detained after Russian authorities said a search of her luggage revealed vape cartridges. They were identified as containing oil derived from cannabis, which could carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison in Russia.
“The court granted the request of the investigation and extended the period of detention of the U.S. citizen Griner until May 19,” the court said.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist, 31, has played basketball in Russia for the last seven years in the winter, earning over $1 million per season — more than four times her WNBA salary. The WNBA season opens May 6.
The Ukraine invasion has mostly stalled and Russian troops are sustaining heavy casualties and unable to take control of major cities, a new British intelligence assessment reports. The assessment mirrors assessments issued by U.S. defense officials in recent days. The British Defense Ministry says the Ukraine resistance remains “staunch and well-coordinated” and the Ukraine government controls most of the country.
“Russian forces have made minimal progress on land, sea or air in recent days and they continue to suffer heavy losses,” the assessment said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a speech aired on Russian TV, said his military’s “special operation” in Ukraine was going according to plan and that all goals will be achieved.
He repeated a number of false claims about the invasion, including the conspiracy theory that Ukraine was developing weapons of mass destruction such as nuclear and bioweapons. He also said that in enacting sanctions, the West is trying to “cancel” Russia. The Russian economy must adapt to new realities, he said.
“The West thinks we will step back,” Putin said, according to a translation from Meduza, a Latvia-based media outlet. “The West does not understand Russia.”
LVIV, Ukraine – As millions of Ukrainian women and children move west to escape Russia’s widening war in their country, a largely unspoken front-line – open-ended, full of searing psychological hurt – continues to expand across Ukraine: the men they leave behind.
Many of the women USA TODAY spoke to were too overcome with emotion to address the subject of leaving their husbands behind, but many Ukrainian men showed remarkable stoicism in talking about the pain of family separations that have no foreseeable end. They feel it is their duty to defend their country.
“My family understands that if we don’t win this fight, future generations – maybe even the whole world – will not have a good life,” said Kotz’s husband Igor, 37, a property-developer-turned-amateur-security-chief for a Lviv-based humanitarian aid center that helps supply Ukraine’s professional and civilian armed forces. Read more here.
– Kim Hjelmgaard and Jessica Koscielniak
For the first time in public, President Joe Biden on Wednesday called Russian President Vladimir Putin “a war criminal” for his continued assault on Ukraine, which has killed hundreds of civilians.
“I think he is a war criminal,” Biden said in response to a question from a reporter after delivering remarks at the White House on the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.
Earlier Wednesday, Biden authorized an additional $800 million in military aid for Ukraine. He vowed that the American people will be “steadfast in our support of the people of Ukraine in the face of Putin’s immoral, unethical attacks on civilian populations.”
“We are united in our abhorrence of Putin’s depraved onslaught,” he said.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the president was “speaking from his heart and speaking from what you’ve seen on television, which is barbaric actions by a brutal dictator through his invasion of a foreign country.”
The State Department has said it is reviewing Russia’s actions for potential war crimes, a legal process Psaki said is ongoing.
– Joey Garrison
Michael Anthony McFaul worked for the U.S. National Security Council as senior director of Russian and Eurasian affairs before his appointment by President Barack Obama as U.S. Ambassador to Russia. For five years McFaul regularly sat across the table from Russian President Vladimir Putin, attempting to improve relations between the two superpowers.
As the U.S. Ambassador to Russia, McFaul met regularly with Russian pro-democracy advocates, a course of action that drew the wrath of Putin’s government. He is currently on the Kremlin’s sanction list of people not allowed to enter Russia. Today McFaul works as a Professor in International Studies at Stanford University and is the director of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.
On Tuesday, McFaul granted an exclusive interview with the Great Falls Tribune, part of the USA TODAY Network, in which he discussed Putin’s war in Ukraine, the role China may yet play in the conflict, and gave his thoughts on what additional measure the U.S. can take to oppose the Russian invasion.
“It’s just shocking and horrible, the lines Putin has already crossed,” McFaul told the Tribune. “He is deliberately terrorizing civilians. Killing the elderly, women and children, young kids, people in hospitals, people trying to give birth. This is a horrific way to conduct a war. He’s not fighting the Ukrainian soldiers, he’s fighting the Ukrainian people, and he’s killing them indiscriminately.” Read more here.
– David Murray, Great Falls Tribune, USA TODAY Network
Contributing: The Associated Press