Survivors emerge from a bombed-out theater, but Ukraine’s suffering increases

KYIV, Ukraine – A day after a Russian attack collapsed a theater in southern Ukraine where hundreds of people were huddled for shelter, rescuers waded through debris – even as bullets hit Russian artillery kept falling – began to pull the survivors out one by one.

“Adults and children are coming back to life from it,” Ukraine’s human rights inspector, Lyudmila Denisova, reported early Thursday as rescue efforts continued at the Drama Theater in Mariupol, a southern port city. surrounded by Russian troops.

But information is scarce from the city of despair, which has been within inches of Moscow since the invasion began three weeks ago. With thousands of people, many of them children, believed to have taken shelter at the theater and have yet to be rescued, fear that any hope emerges from Thursday’s rescue scene finally. will be overshadowed by despair.

“Our hearts are broken by what Russia is doing to our people, to our Mariupol,” President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said in an overnight public address.

Rescue efforts at the theater took place against a backdrop of fear, with thousands of civilian casualties across much of Ukraine. Having suffered heavy losses on the battlefield, Russian forces increasingly targeted bombs and missiles at towns and cities. Unable to capture the urban centers, they are razing them instead, and the civilian casualties are aggravating.

In Mariupol, it was people sheltering in a theater, where the word “children” was written in huge letters on the sidewalks on both sides of the building, clearly visible from the air. In Chernihiv, people queued for bread. In Kyiv, it was a 16-story apartment building pierced by rocket shrapnel, and among the shards of debris and broken glass outside, a man with a hooded sweatshirt knelt quietly beside a dead body. body under the bloody cloth, holding a lifeless hand. for a few minutes and then staggered away in grief.

As the fourth consecutive day of peace talks on Thursday went unannounced and the United Nations Security Council held an emergency session on the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, Western officials West believes that Russia’s progress is bogged down.

While Russian forces have made some progress in the south and east, one of the officials said, they are stalling outside the capital Kyiv, where they have suffered heavy casualties and – perhaps most surprising – did not achieve air superiority. . The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence assessments.

In the face of all obstacles, Western officials say they no longer have confidence that Russia planned a ground attack on Kyiv, a major target. One said: “An underappreciated attack on a well-prepared and well-defended city like Kyiv would be a very expensive business. They warned that Russia could still decide to attack the city or, if it failed, to suffocate the city in a protracted siege.

As cruise missiles hit their capital, Ukrainian warplanes described a number of successful, if modest, counterattacks against Russian forces.

Lieutenant Pavlo Proskochilo, the town’s military commander, to the east of Kyiv, on the outskirts of Brovary, the thrust of the counterattack was concentrated on artillery. He said Ukrainian artillery attacks in several places forced the Russians to infiltrate, assuming a defensive rather than offensive posture.

“We hit them in the teeth,” he said. “They’re waiting for reinforcements.”

It is not clear whether Ukrainian forces actually forced the Russians to retreat at any point, and in the remote towns, artillery battles were frequent throughout the day.

But it wasn’t just soldiers who vowed to fight the invaders.

Outside the apartment building in Kyiv that was damaged by the rocket, Tetiana Vaskovska, a 58-year-old lawyer, angrily surveys the wreckage of her 25-year-old home.

“I know how to shoot a gun,” she said. “Give me a gun.”

In recent days, an increasingly brutal war of attrition is raging on the ground and in the air, with fierce battles raging on the outskirts of Kyiv, and Russian warships in the Black Sea launching missiles. into towns around the southern city of Odessa. Eyewitness accounts, official statements and satellite images paint a picture of destruction on a large scale. More than three million people have fled the country.

On Thursday, President Biden reserved unbridled contempt for Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, who ordered the invasion. A day after labeling Mr Putin a war criminal, Mr Biden, speaking on Capitol Hill, called him “a murderous dictator, a pure thug waging an immoral war against humanity”. Ukrainians.” On Friday, Mr. Biden will speak with China’s President, Xi Jinping, and plans to warn Beijing against providing aid to Moscow, his spokesman said.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said Putin “may be growing increasingly desperate”, warning that Moscow may be preparing to use chemical weapons and has begun kidnapping local officials in Ukraine and replace them with Putin’s allies.

The House of Representatives voted, 424 to 8, to suspend normal trade relations with Russia, another blow to a country whose economy is already reeling under Western economic sanctions.

In recent days, Mr. Zelensky has taken his case directly to Western lawmakers, urging them to help Ukraine fight Russia. Before the British Parliament, he recalled the Nazi campaign of terror. Before Congress, he talked about Pearl Harbor. On Thursday, it was Germany’s turn: Mr. Zelensky, speaking before the House of Commons, made numerous mentions of atrocities committed by Germany against Ukraine and Russia, among others, during the Second World War, and the same thing with the Berlin Wall.

“You’re like behind the wall,” he said. “Not the Berlin Wall but in the middle of Europe, between freedom and slavery.”

ONE British intelligence report says that Russian forces have “made minimal progress on land, sea or in the air in recent days” and that they “continue to suffer heavy losses.” According to the US assessment, the number of deaths of Russian servicemen is 7,000, although this number cannot be independently confirmed.

If Russia miscalculates, the costs may not be limited to the Ukrainian battlefield. On Thursday, President Emmanuel Macron of France, who famously accused NATO of “brain death”, said the war had revived it, giving the military alliance “an electric shock, a wake-up call”. .”

But for all their struggles, Russian forces are believed to have controlled much of Ukraine’s territory, especially in the east and south. In Russian-controlled eastern cities, witnesses depicts desolation and ruin, as well as the looting of the Russian army, where tens of thousands of people once lived.

To the east of the city of Volnovakha, the Russian Defense Ministry claimed to be “liberated”, but after weeks of bombardment, Moscow’s reward was a landscape of rubble and ashes.

About 200 miles north of Mariupol, the city of Izyum was besieged by Russian forces for two weeks.

“No water, no light, no heat, no food, no medicine, no contact. The situation is no better than Mariupol,” said the deputy mayor, Volodymyr Matsokin, wrote on Facebook. “There is no one to bury the dead. ”

Andrew E. Kramer report from Kyiv, Ukraine; Michael Schwirtz from Odessa, Ukraine; and Eric Nagourney from New York. Mark Landler contribution reports from London; Marc Santora from Lviv, Ukraine; and Glenn Thrush from Washington.

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