This satellite image shows the aftermath of the airstrike on the Mariupol Drama theatre and the area around it. AP
About 300 people were killed by the Russian airstrike last week that blasted open a Mariupol theatre that was being used as a shelter, Ukrainian authorities said, marking what could be the war’s deadliest known attack on civilians yet.
The death toll announced Friday fueled allegations that Moscow is committing war crimes by killing civilians, whether deliberately or by indiscriminate fire.
Russia, meanwhile, seemed to signal an important shift in its war objectives. US officials said Russian forces appear to have halted, at least for now, their ground offensive aimed at capturing the capital, Kyiv, and are concentrating more on gaining control of the Donbas region in the country’s southeast — a shift the Kremlin seemed to confirm.
Service members of pro-Russian troops drive a multiple rocket launcher in Mariupol. Reuters
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky again appealed to Russia to negotiate an end to the war, but pointedly said he would not give up any Ukrainian territory for the sake of peace.
"The territorial integrity of Ukraine should be guaranteed,” he said in a nightly video address to the nation. "That is, the conditions must be fair, for the Ukrainian people will not accept them otherwise.”
For days, the Mariupol government was unable to give a casualty count for the March 16 bombardment of the grand, columned Mariupol Drama Theatre, where hundreds of people were said to be taking cover. In an attempt to ward off such an attack, the word "CHILDREN” was printed in Russian in huge white letters on the ground outside.
An apartment building destroyed during the Ukraine-Russia conflict in Mariupol. Reuters
Petro Andrushenko, an adviser to the mayor of Mariupol, gave the same estimate without providing any further details.
The head of the UN human rights monitoring mission in Ukraine, Matilda Bogner, said that her team had not been able to obtain enough information to verify the theatre death toll.
"We are getting less and less information from there (Mariupol) and in that specific case we are still trying to verify the details," she told Geneva-based journalists via videolink.
Ukrainian officials have said that about 130 people were rescued from the rubble and that the theatre basement had withstood the attack.
Mariupol has been the scene of some of the worst devastation of the war, which has seen Russia relentlessly besiege and pummel Ukraine's cities.
The misery inside them is such that nearly anyone who can is trying to leave and those left behind face desperate food shortages in a country once known as the breadbasket for the world.
In the shelled city of Kharkiv, mostly elderly women came to collect food and other urgent supplies. In the capital of Kyiv, ashes of the dead are piling up at the main crematorium because so many relatives have left, leaving urns unclaimed.
“As the initiator and main instigator of the Ukrainian crisis, Washington, while imposing unprecedented comprehensive sanctions on Russia, continues to supply arms and military equipment to Ukraine,” Zhang was quoted as saying.
"Regrettably, instead of de-escalation, over the past several days there have been reports of further deeply worrying incidents that could, if they continue, lead to disaster," Antonio Guterres said in a statement.
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