Kyiv: A Russian strike on a theatre sheltering civilians in Ukraine’s besieged city of Mariupol badly wounded one person, but did not kill anyone, authorities said on Friday.
Rescuers picked through the rubble to find hundreds of civilians feared trapped in the wreckage of the theatre, as both sides in the war and their allies traded accusations of war crimes three weeks into the Russian invasion.
President Putin insisted on his part his forces were doing “everything possible” not to target civilians.
In Kyiv, Ukrainian authorities said one person was killed when a Russian rocket struck residential tower blocks in the capital’s north-western suburbs. They said a school and playground were also hit.
A body lay under a sheet, near a huge crater, after the blast blew out every window in the school.
Fourteen-year-old Anna-Maria Romanchuk’s lip trembled after the missile exploded outside her school, the Gymnasium No. 34 Lydia.
“Scary,” she said in halting English, her face pale with shock as her mother comforted her. “I just hope that everything will be OK.”
Ukraine had feared the biggest single toll yet from Russia’s invasion in the port city of Mariupol, after the Drama Theatre was bombed on Wednesday despite signs proclaiming that children were sheltering there.
Officials said that up to 1,000 people may have been taking refuge in a bomb shelter underneath the theatre.
Ukraine’s President Voldymyr Zelensky had vowed to continue the rescue operation in Mariupol “despite shelling” by Russian forces that has reduced the southern city to smoking ruins.
‘We only want peace’
The indiscriminate fire unleashed on Mariupol is one of several instances in Ukraine that led US President Joe Biden this week to label Putin a “war criminal” -- to the Kremlin’s fury.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday that American officials were evaluating potential war crimes and that if the intentional targeting of civilians by Russia is confirmed, there will be massive consequences.
Putin, however, has been taking no chances with domestic dissent in Russia — shuttering independent media, arresting anti-war demonstrators and threatening jail terms of 15 years for anyone spreading “fake news”.
The Kremlin leader received a hero’s welcome from tens of thousands of flag-waving supporters in Moscow’s Luzhniki football stadium, many wearing the “Z” sign that features on Russian tanks invading Ukraine.
Putin, commemorating eight years since he annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea, said that invasion was justified to pull Crimea out of its “humiliating state”.
Today, he said, the much bigger invasion was “to rid these people from their suffering and genocide”.
Published in Dawn, March 19th, 2022