Russia bombed movie theatre sheltering 'over a thousand' civilians: Ukraine
Mariupol theatre bombed: The city mayor indicated that many civilians had died in the attack on the Drama Theatre
Russian forces have bombed a movie theatre in Ukraine's Mariupol - in which more than a thousand civilians had sought shelter - the city council said Thursday in a post on messaging service Telegram. The Mariupol City Council said "the invaders destroyed the Drama Theatre. A place where more than a thousand people found refuge. We will never forgive this." Satellite images - taken three days earlier and shared by AFP - show the word 'children' written in Russian on the pavement in front of and behind the building.
There is no word yet on the number of casualties but photographs shared by AFP showed a half-destroyed building on fire and surrounded by debris.
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Mariupol mayor Vadym Boichenko called the attack a 'horrifying tragedy'.
"People were hiding there… some said they were lucky to survive, but unfortunately not all were lucky," he said, indicating there were deaths.
"The only word to describe what has happened today is genocide... genocide of our nation, our Ukrainian people. But I am confident that the day will come when our beautiful city of Mariupol will rise out of the ruins again."
Russia's defence ministry said the theatre was destroyed by Ukraine's nationalist Azov battalion, and claimed civilians had been held 'hostage' at the site.
Russia has laid siege to Mariupol over the past several days, encircling the city and launching wave after wave of attacks.
Ukraine authorities claim over 2,000 people have been killed in strikes on the city and tens of thousands are without running water or electricity.
Last week Ukraine accused Russia of bombing a maternity hospital in the city. Three people were killed and 17 - one a pregnant woman - were injured.
In this instance too Russia denied the attack and blamed 'nationalist battalions'.
Mariupol - a strategic target for its potential to link scattered Russian forces and cut off Ukrainian access to the Sea of Azov - had a population of about 500,000.
Human rights groups say the picture in Mariupol is still unclear.
"Until we know more, we cannot rule out the possibility of a Ukrainian military target in the area of the theatre, but we do know it had been housing at least 500 civilians," Belkis Wille of Human Rights Watch, told AFP.
There were also reports of strikes on a children's hospital in Zhytomyr, a city near capital Kyiv, in which an unknown number of civilians were killed.
These attacks, in addition to claims that nearly 100 children have been killed so far, have added to global outrage against Russia president Vladimir Putin, who this week was branded a 'war criminal' by the United States.
The US has also promised $800 million in defence aid to Ukraine.
The International Court of Justice ruled 13-2 against Russia (only the Russian and Chinese judges voted for Moscow) and demanded it stop its attacks.
A fifth round of peace talks was held Wednesday. The Kyiv Independent said a tentative plan had been reached. The deal will reportedly see Russia stand down if Kyiv renounces ambitions to join NATO and accept limits on its military.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy said 'NATO is not prepared to accept Ukraine' but demanded guarantees to guard against future Moscow threats.
With input from AP, AFP, Reuters