Nabih Bulos, Jaweed Kaleem and Kate Linthicum/Los Angeles Times (TNS)
KYIV, Ukraine — Rescuers began pulling survivors from the rubble of an overnight airstrike on a theater where more than 1,000 people had taken refuge in the beleaguered port city of Mariupol on Thursday, as Russia’s war on Ukraine was entering its fourth week with no signs of respite and a new wave of attacks against civilian sites.
On Thursday, the International Rescue Committee said at least 20 people were killed and 25 injured in an attack on a school in the town of Merefa.
And in eastern Ukraine, a public swimming pool where civilians had taken refuge was also hit, officials said, although it was unclear whether there were any casualties.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said Russian attacks on civilian targets constituted war crimes.
“After all the destruction in the past three weeks, I find it hard to conclude that the Russians act otherwise,” Blinken said.
The death toll at the majestic Mariupol theatre, whose satellite images showed the word “children” written on the ground outside in an attempt to deter an attack, was still unknown. But a city official said there were at least 130 survivors among the hundreds who had huddled inside for protection.
“After a terrible night of uncertainty on the 22nd day of war, finally good news from Mariupol! The air-raid shelter survived,” another regional official, Ukrainian lawmaker Sergiy Taruta, wrote on Facebook. “People come out alive!”
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in an early morning video that he believed Russian troops were “deliberately” targeting the building.
“Our hearts are broken by what Russia is doing to our people, to our Mariupol,” he said of the southeastern Sea of Azov city, which has been one of the most war-affected and surrounded by enemy forces. Local officials say more than 2,400 people have died and tens of thousands more are struggling to survive without running water, electricity or much food. Mariupol Deputy Mayor Sergei Orlov said this week that “no building is intact” in the city of 446,000.
In the capital, Kyiv, residents became aware of what has become a depressing routine: reports of deaths and damage to another residential building following a Russian assault. This time it was by indirect fire: Ukrainian air defense officials said they intercepted a Russian missile, which then fell in front of skyscrapers in the southeastern district of Darnystky.
The blast killed one person and injured three others, authorities said, and 30 residents were evacuated from the worst-hit tower. The impact of the blast was visible throughout the city block, with at least eight building facades damaged.
By late morning, those who remained battled cold temperatures and powerful gusts as they attempted to clear the debris. A family carried a load of shards of glass and twisted metal in a bed sheet to the nearby trash can. Others lined up to get large sheets of transparent tarp-like material to use as temporary cover.
On Thursday, Ukrainian officials were also assessing the toll of the war in Chernihiv, 90 miles northeast of kyiv, where at least 10 civilians were killed as they waited in a bread line, the embassy said Wednesday. from the United States to Kyiv. In a Facebook post, Viacheslav Chaus, the head of the Chernihiv regional administration, said the total death toll in the city was much higher.
“The enemy exposes the city to artillery and systematic airstrikes, destroying Chernihiv’s civilian infrastructure. In the past 24 hours, 53 bodies of victims killed by the Russians have been brought to the morgue,” Chaus said.
Ukrainian officials said a US citizen was among the victims in Chernihiv. Anton Gerashchenko, adviser to the Ukrainian interior minister, identified him as James Whitney Hill, from Minnesota.
Hill was helping oversee the medical treatment of a seriously ill friend when the war started, according to a Facebook post from Hill’s sister. The couple found themselves trapped in a hospital amid a relentless siege by Russian artillery – a harrowing experience Hill chronicled on his Facebook page.
Amid a constant barrage of artillery and machine gun fire, regular power cuts and dwindling food and water supplies, Hill said he was overcome by a “sense of helplessness”. .
“The shelling has intensified,” he wrote two days ago. “No Exit.”
On Thursday, Hill’s sister Cheryl confirmed her brother’s death, saying he was ‘waiting in a line with several other people when they were shot by Russian military snipers. His body was found on the street by local police.
The Ukrainian government said there had been artillery fire and airstrikes elsewhere in the country overnight, including in the eastern town of Avdiivka. In the Ukrainian-controlled southern city of Mykolaiv, fighting continued as Russian forces attempted to enter in a bid to establish a strip of control along the Azov and Black Seas .
The Kyiv suburbs of Kalynivka and Brovary, northeast of the capital, were also shelled overnight as Ukrainian forces attempted a counteroffensive against the Russians around Kyiv and claimed to have shot down 10 Russian planes and missiles. The claim could not be independently verified.
The fighting came as a fourth day of talks between Russia and Ukraine was to take place via video conference. Earlier, representatives of both countries said the talks were progressing.
“We are confident that we will have a ceasefire in the next few days,” Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Zelenskyy, said in an interview with “PBS NewsHour” on Wednesday. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the talks had taken on an “entrepreneurial spirit”.
Moscow has not commented on a ceasefire.
Podolyak said he believed Russia would sign a deal because its forces have been unable to take kyiv and have made limited inroads since successfully overrunning eastern and southern regions a while ago. a few weeks. On Thursday, the British government echoed part of Podolyak’s analysis.
“Russian forces have made minimal progress on land, sea or air in recent days and they continue to suffer heavy casualties,” the UK MoD assessment said.
Pentagon officials, in what they call a conservative estimate, say more than 7,000 Russian soldiers died during the war – far more than the 500 officially acknowledged by Moscow. kyiv has so far acknowledged the deaths of 1,300 Ukrainian soldiers.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has insisted that his “special military operation” is going according to plan and that he will not stop it until all of its objectives are achieved.
After Zelenskyy’s impassioned speech to the US Congress on Wednesday demanding more aid, weapons, sanctions against Russia and a no-fly zone over Ukraine, President Joe Biden pledged $800 million. dollars in additional aid, including weapons and drones, but excluding a US-led patrol. of the Ukrainian sky. Biden called Putin a “war criminal” in what administration officials later said was an unsupervised moment. Moscow denounced the allegation as “unacceptable and unforgivable”.
Zelenskyy, who held a daily program of live video calls to foreign governments, appeared virtually before the Bundestag, the lower house of Germany’s parliament, on Thursday. After a brief delay caused by an attack near where he was speaking, Zelenskyy applied for his country’s admission to the European Union – a request unlikely to be granted anytime soon – and criticized the strong economic ties of Germany with Russia, including its substantial fuel imports. Berlin, which relies heavily on Russian oil and gas, did not follow the United States in banning Russian fuel, despite halting a major gas pipeline project that would have increased Russian imports.
“We could see your willingness to continue doing business with Russia, and now we are in the middle” of a war, Zelenskyy said.
“Why doesn’t ‘never again’ apply? What is Germany’s historical responsibility towards Ukraine today? Zelenskyy referenced the Holocaust, drawing a comparison between Russia’s attempted expansion into Ukraine and Germany’s World War II invasions of its neighbors.
Although it largely held back Russian forces from most major cities, Ukraine suffered significant casualties. Millions of refugees fled and hundreds of Ukrainian civilians died, according to the United Nations.
Funeral services for fallen soldiers from kyiv and elsewhere are becoming an almost daily part of life in the western city of Lviv, which has otherwise remained largely out of Russian sight.
During a Thursday service for one of the dead at the Church of St. Peter and Paul in Lviv’s Old Town, an honor guard of young soldiers carried the picture of their fallen comrade to the church, then waited for the van carrying his coffin to arrive.
The remains of Ivan Skrypnyk, 37, were taken inside for a funeral mass. A family friend said Skrypnyk and two other people were killed when a landmine exploded and destroyed their armored vehicle outside kyiv.
Lviv city officials announced that a minute of silence would be observed daily at 9 a.m. to commemorate the growing number of military and civilian casualties.
Bulos reported from kyiv, Kaleem from London and Linthicum from Mexico City. Times writer Patrick J. McDonnell in Lviv, Ukraine, contributed to this report.