Local officials claimed on Wednesday that Russian forces destroyed a theater where hundreds of civilians were taking refuge in the besieged city of Mariupol, as Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin intensified rhetoric over the Ukraine war.
Some reports claimed that more than 1,000 people were seeking refuge in the theatre, although casualties remained unknown and Moscow denied targeting the building.
President Biden called Mr Putin a “war criminal” and announced that the United States would send an additional $800m (£600m) in military aid to Ukraine, including more anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons and drones.
In a sign of growing anger, Mr Putin attacked the “scandals and traitors” in Russia who accused the West of using it as a “fifth pillar” to destroy his country.
“Of course they [the west] Will try to bet on the so-called fifth column, on traitors – on those who earn their money here, but live there. Live, not in the geographical sense, but in the sense of their thoughts, in their dull thinking,” Mr. Putin said.
“The Collective West wants to divide our society … to provoke civil conflict in Russia and to use its fifth pillar to achieve its goal. And there is one objective – the destruction of Russia,” he said in a televised address. said in.
Mariupol has been continuously bombarded, surrounded and bombed by Russian artillery for more than 10 days. It has become a grim symbol of Ukraine’s suffering during the 20 Days of War.
Residents of the port city have described the conditions there as “living hell”, and have been left without food, power and forced to drink from radiators. Local officials say more than 2,300 people were killed in missile attacks and shelling before the attack on the theater.
Local officials said Russian forces also took hundreds of people hostage at Mariupol Hospital and were using them as human shields. Bodies are buried in trenches across the city and corpses lie in the streets.
The latest outrage came on a day of diplomatic developments.
Ukrainian *resident Volodymyr Zelensky appears before US Congress via videolink, calling for the attacks of Pearl Harbor and 9/11, and urging the US for more weapons and tougher sanctions against Russia: the wanted.”
International pressure against the Kremlin grew and its isolation deepened as the International Court of Justice ordered Russia to stop attacking Ukraine, although there was little hope that it would comply. In addition, the 47-nation Council of Europe, the continent’s leading human rights body, expelled Russia.
Despite this, there was some hope that a diplomatic solution might emerge to end the war.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said a neutral military position for Ukraine was being “seriously discussed” by both sides, while President Zelensky said Russia’s demand to end the war was becoming “more realistic”.
Hopes of diplomatic progress to end the war were raised when the Ukrainian leader acknowledged in the most candid terms on Tuesday that Ukraine is unlikely to realize its goal of joining NATO. Mr Putin has long depicted Ukraine’s NATO aspirations as a threat to Russia.
Mr Lavrov welcomed Mr Zelensky’s remarks and said “business spirit” coming to the surface in the talks “hopes we can agree on this issue.”
“A neutral position regarding security guarantees is being seriously discussed,” Mr. Lavrov said on Russian TV. “There are solid threads that are close to agreeing with my view.” Russia’s chief negotiator, Vladimir Medinsky, said the sides were discussing a possible deal for Ukraine with a small, non-aligned army.
The prospects for a diplomatic success were highly uncertain, however, given the gap between Ukraine’s demand that the invading forces withdraw completely and Russia’s decision to replace Kyiv’s west-looking government with a pro-Moscow regime. questionable purpose.
Another source of contention is the status of Crimea, which was seized by Russia in 2014, and the separatist-held Donbass region in eastern Ukraine, which Russia considers independent. Ukraine considers both as part of its territory.
In Kyiv, residents stormed homes and shelters amid a citywide curfew that lasted until Thursday morning, as Russia shelled areas in and around the city, including a residential neighborhood 2.5km from the presidential palace. A 12-storey apartment building in central Kyiv engulfed in flames after being hit by shrapnel. Ukraine’s General Prosecutor’s Office said 10 people died while standing in line for bread in the northern city of Chernihiv.
According to UN estimates, the fighting has sent more than 3 million people fleeing Ukraine. The United Nations said more than 700 civilians had been confirmed dead, but the actual number was expected to be much higher.
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