Hopes for diplomatic progress have risen after Zelensky said on Tuesday that Ukraine is aware that it cannot join NATO, and Russia sees this as a threat.
KIU, Ukraine – Russian forces have destroyed a theater in Mariupol, where hundreds of people hid on Wednesday, and shelled other cities, Ukrainian authorities said, even though the parties are optimistic about efforts to agree to end fighting.
As a result of the air strike, the center of the once elegant building, which housed hundreds of civilians after their homes were destroyed in battle, was torn down, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Many people were buried in the rubble, the statement said, although it did not say how many were killed or injured. Satellite images taken Monday showed the word “children” written in large white letters in Russian in front of and behind the building, space technology company Maxar said.
“Another horrific war crime in Mariupol,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba said on Twitter, calling the blast a “massive Russian attack.”
Russia’s Defense Ministry on Wednesday denied bombing the theater or anywhere else in Mariupol.
In Kiev, residents huddled in houses and shelters amid the citywide curfew, which runs until Thursday morning, as Russian troops shelled areas in and around the city, including a residential neighborhood 1.5 km from the Presidential Palace. A 12-storey residential building in the center of Kiev exploded from shrapnel.
And 10 people died standing in line for bread in the northern city of Chernihiv, according to the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office.
Meanwhile, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky addressed the US Congress through video and, citing Pearl Harbor and 9/11, asked America for more weapons and tougher sanctions against Russia, saying: “ We need you now».
US President Joe Biden has announced that the United States is sending an additional $ 800 million in military aid to Ukraine, including more anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons and drones. He also called Vladimir Putin a “war criminal” in the harshest condemnation of the Russian leader since the invasion.
International pressure on the Kremlin intensified and its isolation deepened when the International Court of Justice, also known as the World Court, ordered Russia to stop attacking Ukraine, although there was no hope that it would do so. In addition, the Council of Europe of 47 countries, the main human rights body of the continent, expelled Russia.
While Moscow’s ground advance into the Ukrainian capital has been largely delayed, Putin said 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.”
A senior US defense official said the Russians were still not making significant progress in much of the country, but began shelling the suburbs of Odessa, Ukraine’s third-largest city and a major naval and shipping center. An anonymous spokesman to discuss U.S. military assessments said Russia’s goals were unclear, but Western officials have long been worried about a ground attack on the coastal city.
The next round of talks between the parties is scheduled for Wednesday. After talks Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said both sides were “seriously discussing” Ukraine’s neutral military status, and Zelensky said Russia’s demands to end the war were becoming “more realistic.”
Hopes for diplomatic progress in ending the war have risen after Zelensky most clearly acknowledged on Tuesday that Ukraine is unlikely to realize its goal of joining NATO. Putin has long portrayed Ukraine’s aspirations for NATO as a threat to Russia.
Lavrov welcomed Zelensky’s comment and said that the “business spirit” that is beginning to manifest itself in the talks “gives hope that we can agree on this issue.”
“Neutral status in connection with security guarantees is being seriously discussed,” Lavrov said on Russian television. “There are specific wordings that, in my opinion, are close to agreement.”
Russia’s chief negotiator Vladimir Medinsky said the parties were discussing a possible compromise for Ukraine with a smaller, non-aligned army.
However, the prospects for a diplomatic breakthrough were very uncertain, given the gap between Ukraine’s demand for a complete withdrawal of invasion troops and Russia’s suspected goal of replacing the pro-Moscow Kiev government with a pro-Moscow regime.
Adviser to the President of Ukraine Mikhail Podalak refuted Russia’s claims that Ukraine is ready to adopt a model of neutrality comparable to Sweden or Austria. Podalak said Ukraine needed powerful allies and “well-defined security guarantees” to keep it safe.
Another source of controversy is the status of Crimea, which was seized and annexed by Russia in 2014, and separatist-controlled Donbass region in eastern Ukraine, which Russia recognizes as independent. Ukraine considers both parts of its territory.
The United Nations estimates that more than 3 million people fled Ukraine as a result of the fighting. The UN has been able to confirm only 700 civilian casualties, although the actual total is much higher.
Speaking before Congress, Zelensky said that Russia “has turned the Ukrainian sky into a source of death for thousands of people.” But Biden refused Zelensky’s requests send military planes to Ukraine or create a no-fly zone over the country because of the risk of starting a war between the United States and Russia.
The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross Peter Maurer arrived in Ukraine to try to gain more access for aid groups and increased protection of civilians.
Amid a widespread humanitarian crisis caused by the war, the Red Cross helped evacuate civilians from besieged areas and delivered 200 tons of aid, including medical supplies, blankets, water and more than 5,200 bags for corpses to help “ensure the treatment of those killed in dignity.”
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.
Local authorities said Russian forces had taken hundreds of people hostage at the Mariupol hospital and used them as human shields.
The bodies were buried in trenches in Mariupol, more corpses lay in the streets and in the basement of the hospital.
Using a flashlight on his cell phone to illuminate the basement, Dr. Valery Drangar pulled back a blanket to show the body of a 22-day-old baby. Other wrapped bodies also turned out to be children, given their size.
“These are people we couldn’t save,” Drengar said.
Nearly 30,000 people managed to escape from the city on Tuesday in thousands of cars through a humanitarian corridor, city officials said.
But due to the fact that humanitarian aid can not get on the background of constant bombardment, people burn scraps of furniture to warm their hands and cook the little food that is still there.
The leader of the Kiev region Alexei Kuleba said that Russian forces have intensified fighting in the suburbs of Kiev and on the highway leading to the west, and throughout the capital region suffering from endless shelling kindergartens, museums, churches, homes and engineering infrastructure.
In another case, the mayor of Melitopol, who was captured by Russian troops five days ago, was released, said Zelensky’s chief of staff Andrei Ermak. No details on how he became free have been reported.
Ukraine has also succeeded: satellite photos from Planet Labs PBC, analyzed by the Associated Press, show how helicopters and vehicles burned at the Kherson airport and air base held by Russia after an alleged Ukrainian strike on Tuesday.
Associated Press writer Lolita Baldor of Washington and other AP reporters around the world contributed to the report.