Russian forces destroy theatre sheltering hundreds of Ukrainians
Russian forces have destroyed a theatre in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol where hundreds of people were sheltering, officials said.
Mariupol city council said the building was hit by an air strike but there was no immediate information on casualties.
In Kyiv, residents huddled in homes and shelters during a city-wide curfew that runs until Thursday morning, as Russia shelled areas in and around the city, including a residential neighbourhood just a couple of miles from the presidential palace.
A 12-storey apartment building in central Kyiv erupted in flames after being hit by shrapnel.
A total of 10 people were killed while queuing for bread in the northern city of Chernihiv, the Ukrainian General Prosecutor’s Office said.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, meanwhile, went before the US Congress via video and, invoking Pearl Harbour and 9/11, pleaded with the US for more weapons and tougher sanctions against Russia, saying: “We need you right now.”
US President Joe Biden called Vladimir Putin a “war criminal” in his sharpest condemnation of the Russian leader since the invasion began.
He also announced the US is sending an additional 800 million dollars in military aid to Ukraine, including more anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons and drones.
International pressure against the Kremlin mounted and its isolation deepened as the International Court of Justice, also known as the World Court, ordered Russia to stop attacking Ukraine, though there was little hope it would comply.
Also, the 47-nation Council of Europe, the continent’s foremost human rights body, expelled Russia.
While Moscow’s ground advance on the Ukrainian capital appeared largely stalled, Mr Putin said the operation was unfolding “successfully, in strict accordance with pre-approved plans” and he attacked Western sanctions against Moscow.
He accused the West of trying to “squeeze us, to put pressure on us, to turn us into a weak, dependent country”.
Another round of talks between the two sides was scheduled for Wednesday. After Tuesday’s negotiations, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said a neutral military status for Ukraine was being “seriously discussed” by the two sides, while Mr Zelensky said Russia’s demands for ending the war were becoming “more realistic”.
Hopes for diplomatic progress to end the war rose after Mr Zelenskyy acknowledged on Tuesday in the most explicit terms yet that Ukraine is unlikely to realise 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 comment and said “the businesslike spirit” starting to surface in the talks “gives hope that we can agree on this issue”.
“A neutral status is being seriously discussed in connection with security guarantees,” Mr Lavrov said on Russian TV. “There are concrete formulations that in my view are close to being agreed.”
Russia’s chief negotiator Vladimir Medinsky said the sides were discussing a possible compromise for a Ukraine with a smaller, non-aligned military.
Prospects for a diplomatic breakthrough were highly uncertain, however, given the gulf between Ukraine’s demand that the invading forces withdraw completely and Russia’s suspected aim of replacing Kyiv’s Westward-looking government with a pro-Moscow regime.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak has denied Russian claims Ukraine was open to adopting a model of neutrality comparable to Sweden or Austria.
Mr Podolyak said Ukraine needs powerful allies and “clearly defined security guarantees” to keep it safe.
Another source of dispute is the status of Crimea, which was seized and annexed by Russia in 2014, and the separatist-held Donbas region in eastern Ukraine, which Russia recognises as independent. Ukraine considers both part of its territory.
The fighting has sent more than 3 million people fleeing Ukraine, by the United Nations’ estimate. The UN reported that over 700 civilians have been confirmed killed but that the real number is higher.
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