According to Ukrainian officials, over 300 people killed last week when a Russian airstrike blew out a theater in Mariupol where hundreds of civilians were hiding – a tragic loss of human life that, if confirmed, is likely to increase pressure on Western nations to provide military help.
An large plaque saying “CHILDREN” in Russian had been put outside the majestic, columned theater to make it visible from the air in a futile attempt to shield children inside from missile and airstrikes that Russia has poured down on communities.
The administration in Mariupol, which has been besieged for days, has been unable to provide a fatality figure for the March 16 offensive. Eyewitnesses were quoted in the Telegram message on Friday, although it was unclear if rescue crews had finished digging the theater remains or how witnesses arrived at the tragic figure of people lost.
Despite repeated requests from Ukraine’s embattled president, NATO members have refused to send airplanes or fly patrols to secure the country’s airspace.
The severity of the damage in Mariupol, where victims lay unburied among bomb craters and houses have been hollowed out by incessant airstrikes, has made gathering information impossible. However, the Ukrainian Parliament’s human rights commissioner said shortly after the bombing that more than 1,300 people had sought refuge at the theater, many of them because their homes had been damaged by Russia’s siege. After the bombing, some people emerged from the ruins of the structure, which had a bomb shelter in the basement.
The fresh death toll was announced just one day after US Vice President Joe Biden and other Western officials offered greater military help to Ukraine. They did not, however, provide the heavy armament that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has stated is critical. NATO countries are concerned that supplying planes, tanks, and a no-fly zone in Ukraine’s airspace could increase the likelihood of direct confrontation with Russia.
On Friday, the United States and the European Union announced a collaboration to lessen Europe’s dependency on Russian energy and gradually dry up the billions of cash the Kremlin receives from fossil fuel sales.
Even in the absence of a direct confrontation between Russian and NATO forces, Europe’s most significant security crisis since World War II strained ties. The tightening noose of sanctions surrounding Russia’s economy, currency, and corporate elites suspected of supporting President Vladimir Putin irritates the Kremlin. On Friday, his foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, described Western pressure as “a true hybrid war, complete war.”
“And the intentions are not disguised,” he said, “they are clearly announced – to ruin, shatter, annihilate, strangle the Russian economy and Russia as a whole.”
The hardship for people is ever more intense in Ukrainian villages and cities that are gradually resembling the devastation left behind by Russian soldiers in past wars in Syria and Chechnya.
Those who have the ability to depart are doing so, vacating their towns. In Kharkiv, which has been pounded mercilessly, largely elderly ladies have come to gather food and other essential supplies. Because so many relatives have fled, urns left unclaimed, ashes of the dead are building up at the main cremation in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital.
A little girl in Kharkiv fidgeted with eagerness as she watched a volunteer’s knife slice through a big block of cheese, dishing out thick pieces – one for each hungry person waiting stoically in line.
Hanna Spitsyna was in charge of dividing up the food supplies sent by the Ukrainian Red Cross and distributing it to her neighbors. Each person in line received a lump of cheese that was chopped under the child’s careful eye and deposited piece by chunk into plastic bags held open like ravenous lips.
“They brought us help,” Spitsyna explained, “and they brought us aid for the old women who stayed here.” “Diapers, swaddling blankets, and nourishment are all needed for these folks.”
Russian soldiers are showering down shells and missiles on cities from afar, unable to surge into Kyiv with lightning-quick speed, as was the apparent goal on Feb. 24 when the Kremlin initiated the assault. In the huge refugee crisis that has displaced more than 10 million people, including at least 3.5 million who have departed the nation totally, Kyiv, like other cities, has seen its population drastically reduced.
According to the Interfax news agency, Russia’s military claimed Friday that it destroyed a huge Ukrainian fuel facility intended to support the Kyiv region’s defenses with ships firing a volley of cruise missiles. A massive flame explosion near the capital was captured on video and shared on social media.
Foggy haze engulfed the suburbs of Kharkiv on Friday, with shelling continuing since early in the morning. A day after physicians treated a dozen civilians, many injured troops arrived at a municipal hospital with gunshot and shrapnel wounds. The sound of shelling could be heard in the surgical ward while surgeons stabilized the most serious patient.
Zelenskyy pleaded with Western allies for planes, tanks, rockets, air defense systems, and other weaponry via video at an emergency NATO meeting in Brussels on Thursday, claiming his country is “defending our common ideals.”
The invasion has exacerbated an energy and moral dilemma for European countries that rely on Russian fossil resources to heat their homes and power their businesses. Concerned that the billions they spend may be diverted to the Kremlin’s war effort, they’re accelerating their search for alternatives.
Germany said on Friday that it has reached agreements with new suppliers, reducing its dependency on Russian coal, gas, and oil in the coming weeks. The new US-EU gas-supply alliance, according to Biden, would help counter Putin’s use of energy sales to “coerce and manipulate his neighbors” and “fuel his war machine.” The United States and other countries would raise liquefied natural gas shipments to Europe by 15 billion cubic meters this year as part of the plan.
While millions of Ukrainians have fled to the west, Ukraine has accused Russia of forcefully taking hundreds of thousands of residents from damaged towns and forcing Kyiv to surrender. Ukraine’s ombudswoman, Lyudmyla Denisova, stated 402,000 individuals, including 84,000 children, were deported against their will to Russia, where they may be used as “hostages” to force Kyiv to submit.
The Kremlin offered virtually equal statistics for those who have been moved, but said they were from eastern Ukraine’s largely Russian-speaking areas of Donetsk and Luhansk and wanted to travel to Russia. For over eight years, pro-Moscow separatists have fought for authority in those areas, where many residents want tight connections to Russia.