Ukraine Says Russia Attacked Mariupol Theater Housing People | Russia–Ukraine War

Russian forces shelled a theater in the besieged city of Mariupol where hundreds of civilians were sheltering, Ukrainian officials said, even as the sides expressed optimism that talks to end the war would continue. war in Ukraine.

There was no immediate word on the dead or injured in what the Mariupol city council said was an airstrike in theater on Wednesday. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said many people were trapped in the building and accused Russia of committing a war crime.

The Russian Defense Ministry denied attacking the building and accused the Azov Battalion, a far-right Ukrainian militia, of blowing it up, the RIA news agency said.

In Kyiv, residents crammed into homes and shelters amid a citywide curfew that stretches through Thursday morning as Russia bombarded areas in and around the city, including a residential area 2.5 km (1.5 miles) from the presidential palace.

A 12-story apartment building in central kyiv caught fire after being hit by shrapnel.

A Ukrainian serviceman stands guard in Mariupol, Ukraine, on March 12. [Mstyslav Chernov/AP Photo]

Separately, a group of 10 people were killed by Russian forces in the northern Ukrainian town of Chernihiv as they waited for bread, according to a report by the public broadcaster Suspilne.

The report included a photo allegedly showing the corpses. The Russian Defense Ministry has denied the charges, arguing that none of its troops were in Chernihiv, and said the atrocity was committed by Ukrainian forces or it was all a ruse by Ukrainian intelligence services .

Later Wednesday in the same town in northern Ukraine, five people, including three children, were killed when Russian forces shelled a residential building, emergency officials said.

Putin says the operation is going as planned

Russian troops have halted at the capital’s gates after suffering heavy casualties and failing to capture a major city in a three-week war that Western officials say Moscow expected to win within days.

However, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday the operation was proceeding “successfully, in strict accordance with pre-approved plans”, and he denounced Western sanctions against Moscow.

He accused the West of trying to “rush us, put pressure on us, make us a weak and dependent country”.

International pressure against 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, even if there was little hope that she would comply.

Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan, reporting from Kyiv, said countries that refuse to comply with court orders can be referred to the United Nations Security Council, where Russia holds a veto. However, the ruling “helps build the case for any subsequent prosecutions,” Khan said.

The fighting has driven more than three million people to flee Ukraine, according to the UN refugee agency.

Ongoing talks

Another round of talks between the two sides was scheduled for Wednesday. After Tuesday’s talks, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said a neutral military status for Ukraine was “seriously discussed” by both sides, while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the demands of the Russia to end the war became “more realistic”.

Hopes for diplomatic progress to end the war rose after Zelenskyy admitted Tuesday in the most explicit terms yet that Ukraine is unlikely to achieve its goal of joining NATO. Putin has long portrayed Ukraine’s NATO aspirations as a threat to Russia.

Lavrov welcomed Zelenskyy’s comment and said the “entrepreneurial spirit” beginning to surface in the talks “gives hope that we can agree on this issue.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy delivers a virtual address to Congress via video at the Capitol in Washington.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy delivers a virtual address to the United States Congress via video at the US Capitol in Washington, DC on March 16 [Sarah Silbiger, Pool via AP]

“A neutral status is seriously discussed in connection with security guarantees,” Lavrov told Russian television.

“There are concrete formulations that I believe are close to being agreed.”

Russia’s chief negotiator Vladimir Medinsky said the parties were discussing a possible compromise for a Ukraine with a smaller, non-aligned army.

However, Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak denied Russian claims that Ukraine was willing to adopt a model of neutrality comparable to Sweden or Austria. Podolyak said Ukraine needed strong allies and “clearly defined security guarantees” to keep it safe.

Earlier in a speech to the United States Congress via video link, Zelenskyy called for tougher sanctions against Russia and more weapons to help his country.

He invoked the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and quoted Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech to call for a no-fly zone over Ukraine – a move countries are against. Westerners, including the United States, have decided.

US President Joe Biden later announced that the United States would send more anti-aircraft, anti-armour and drone weapons and called Putin a “war criminal” while speaking to reporters. The Kremlin spokesman said the comment was “unacceptable and unforgivable rhetoric”.

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