Vladimir Putin’s speech seemed a warning that his authoritarian rule in Russia could become even more repressive than since the beginning of the war.

Kyiv, Ukraine – A Russian airstrike tore apart a theater where hundreds of people lived in the besieged city of Mariupol, Ukrainian officials said when Russian President Vladimir Putin called for “self-cleansing” to rid his country of all doubts. his invasion.

On Wednesday, the bombing of a theater that became a makeshift shelter while fighting tore apart a port city in the past three weeks and left thousands homeless left many people buried in burning wreckage, said in a statement the Foreign Ministry of Ukraine. How many people were killed or injured is not reported.

At least recently, on Monday, the cobblestones in front of and behind the once elegant theater were marked in huge white letters with the words “CHILDREN” in Russian, according to images published by space technology company Maxar.

“My heart is torn by what Russia is doing to our people,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Wednesday night, hours after he delivered a speech through a video to the U.S. Congress that caused a standing ovation.

Russia’s Defense Ministry on Wednesday denied bombing the theater or anywhere else in Mariupol.

Six countries called for a UN Security Council meeting on Ukraine on Thursday afternoon, ahead of an expected vote Friday on a Russian resolution calling for the protection of Ukrainian civilians “in vulnerable situations”, but without mentioning Moscow’s responsibility for the war.

“Russia is committing war crimes and attacking civilians,” the British mission wrote on Twitter, announcing a call for a meeting joined by the United States, France and others. “Russia’s illegal war against Ukraine poses a threat to all of us.”

Russian attacks have affected towns and villages in much of Ukraine, including the capital, Kyiv, whose residents have huddled in homes and shelters.

According to emergency services, a fire broke out in an apartment building in Kiev on Thursday after the remains of a downed Russian missile hit him, killing one person and injuring at least three. Firefighters evacuated 30 people from the top floors of a 16-story home and put out the blaze within an hour.

Putin has appeared on television to scold Russians who do not support him, even though both sides have expressed optimism about efforts to agree to a ceasefire.

“Russians will always be able to distinguish real patriots from scoundrels and traitors and will simply spit them out like a mosquito accidentally thrown into the mouth,” he said. “I am convinced that such a natural and necessary self-cleansing of society will only strengthen our country.”

He said the West was using the “fifth column” of Russian traitors to create civil unrest.

“And there is only one goal, I have already said – the destruction of Russia,” he said.

The speech seemed a warning that his authoritarian rule, which had been strengthened since the February 24 invasion, shutting down Russian newsrooms and arresting protesters, could become even more repressive.

As a result, Russian law enforcement agencies have announced the first known criminal cases under the new law, which provides for 15 years in prison for posting “false information” about the war in Ukraine. Among the accused was Veronica Belotserkovskaya, author of a Russian-language cookbook and blogger living abroad.

But it also came amid signs that the talks have finally made progress.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after Tuesday’s meeting that Ukraine’s neutral military status was “seriously discussed” by the two sides, and Zelensky said Russia’s demands to end the war were becoming “more realistic.”

Wednesday’s video talks seemed to delve deeper into the technical details.

Zelensky’s adviser Mikhail Podalak said that Ukraine demanded a ceasefire, the withdrawal of Russian troops and security guarantees for Ukraine from several countries.

“This is possible only through a direct dialogue between Zelensky and Putin,” he wrote on Twitter.

An official at Zelensky’s office told the Associated Press that the main topic was whether Russian troops would remain in separatist regions in eastern Ukraine after the war and where the borders would be.

The official said on condition of anonymity to discuss the fragile talks that Ukraine insists on the inclusion of one or more Western nuclear powers in the negotiations and on a legally binding document with security guarantees for Ukraine. In return, the official said, Ukraine is ready to discuss neutral status.

Russia has demanded that NATO vow never to allow Ukraine into the alliance or the armed forces there.

Earlier on Wednesday, Zelensky addressed the U.S. Congress via video and, citing Pearl Harbor and Sept. 11, asked America for more weapons and tougher sanctions against Russia, saying, “We need you right now.”

US President Joe Biden has announced that the United States is sending an additional $ 800 million in military aid to Ukraine. He also called Putin A. “War criminal”, in the sharpest condemnation since the beginning of the invasion.

Although Moscow’s ground offensive against the Ukrainian capital has been largely delayed, Putin said earlier that the operation was being carried out “successfully, in strict accordance with pre-approved plans.” He also challenged Western sanctions against Moscow, accusing the West of trying to “pressure us, put pressure on us, turn us into a weak, dependent country.”

The UN estimates that more than 3 million people fled Ukraine as a result of the fighting. The death toll remains unknown, although Ukraine said thousands of civilians were killed.

Speaking before Congress, Zelensky said that Russia “has turned the Ukrainian sky into a source of death.” But Biden rejected Zelensky’s requests to send military planes to Ukraine or create a no-fly zone, fearing war between the United States and Russia.

Nowhere hurt more than that surrounded by the city of Mariupol, where local officials say rocket attacks and shelling have killed more than 2,300 people. The southern seaport with a population of 430,000 people was attacked during almost the entire three-week war under siege, as a result of which people fought for food, water, heat and medicine.

Using a flashlight on his cell phone to illuminate the hospital’s basement, Dr. Valery Drangar pulled out a blanket to show the body of a 22-day-old baby. Other wrapped bodies also turned out to be children.

“These are people we couldn’t save,” Drengar said.

Associated Press writer Yuras Karmanov of Lviv (Ukraine) and other AP journalists around the world contributed to the report.

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