Civilians Survive Ukrainian Theater Bombing; The search for others continues

Ukrainian officials said on Friday they had yet to find any casualties in the ruins of a theater hit by a Russian airstrike this week in the southern city of Mariupol, as Russian forces continued to fire on the towns. Ukraine and that negotiators from both countries were looking for common ground. .

So far, 130 people have been rescued from the theater’s basement, Ukrainian officials said, as searches continue for more than 1,000 people who may be trapped in the makeshift bomb shelter that was hit Wednesday.

This photo posted on March 16, 2022 on the Telegram account of regional governor Pavlo Kirilenko shows the theater destroyed by shelling in Mariupol. As of March 18, 130 people had been rescued from the theater’s basement, Ukrainian officials said, but

The Mariupol city council said on Telegram that “according to initial information, there is no death. But there is information about a seriously injured person.”

The theater was shelled despite signs indicating that civilians, including children, had taken refuge there. Russia denied hitting the theatre.

Also on Friday, Russia’s chief negotiator in talks with Ukraine said the parties had moved closer to an agreement on the issue of Ukraine dropping its NATO bid.

Vladimir Medinsky said on Friday that the two countries were also “halfway” on the issue of Ukraine adopting neutrality status.

Ukrainian negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak said on Twitter: “Our positions are unchanged. Ceasefire, withdrawal of troops and strong security guarantees with concrete formulas.”

Meanwhile, Russia shelled the outskirts of kyiv on Friday and Russian missiles launched from the Black Sea landed in western Ukraine near Lviv airport, more than three weeks after the start of the Russia’s war against its neighbour.

A man removes a destroyed curtain inside a damaged school among other residential buildings in kyiv, Ukraine, March 18, 2022. Russian forces intensified their assault on Ukrainian cities on Friday, with new missile strikes and shelling on the edges of kyiv and Lviv.

A man removes a destroyed curtain inside a damaged school among other residential buildings in kyiv, Ukraine, March 18, 2022. Russian forces intensified their assault on Ukrainian cities on Friday, with new missile strikes and shelling on the edges of kyiv and Lviv.

The Western Command of the Ukrainian Air Force said on Facebook that two of the six missiles launched from the Black Sea had been intercepted.

In kyiv’s Podil district early on Friday, a residential building was hit, killing at least one person, according to emergency services, which said 98 people had been evacuated.

Two people were killed in attacks on residential and administrative buildings in the eastern city of Kramatorsk, according to regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko.

US-China talks

On the diplomatic front, US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping discussed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in a rare videoconference on Friday.

China could play a critical role in the conflict depending on its response to Russia’s request for military assistance. The United States is providing the bulk of military assistance to Ukraine, with Biden announcing another $800 million defense package this week.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks virtually with Chinese President Xi Jinping from the White House Situation Room in Washington, March 18, 2022. (The White House/Handout via Reuters).

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks virtually with Chinese President Xi Jinping from the White House Situation Room in Washington, March 18, 2022. (The White House/Handout via Reuters).

The Biden administration has sought to dissuade China from providing military and economic assistance to Russia, but China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement after the nearly two-hour discussion that “conflict and confrontation” is not were “in nobody’s interest”.

Russia still at a standstill

As the invasion enters its fourth week, Russian troops have failed to take control of kyiv, a major Kremlin objective.

US defense officials said it appeared Russian forces on the ground had stalled, making little or no progress as they continued to encounter what was repeatedly described as stiff resistance. by Ukrainian forces.

Russian forces “are, three weeks later, essentially frozen across the country … struggling to resupply themselves, feed their troops and provide them with weapons and ammunition,” a senior US defense official told reporters on Thursday. on condition of anonymity. to discuss information.

The defense official said the United States had “anecdotal indications that Russian morale is waning” and indications that Russian commanders are beginning to wonder how much longer they will be able to sustain their invasion.

At the same time, the United States and its NATO allies are working on ways to further strengthen Ukraine’s defensive capabilities, including responding to requests for S-300 air defense systems and combat aircraft. of Russian manufacture.

FILE - Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia speaks during a UN Security Council meeting on the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, March 17, 2022, at UN headquarters.

FILE – Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia speaks during a UN Security Council meeting on the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, March 17, 2022, at UN headquarters.

Russia touts claims against US

Meanwhile, the UN Security Council met on Friday at Russia’s request for the second time in a week to discuss its latest allegations that the United States was operating a secret biological weapons program. in Ukraine.

Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia claimed that Russian forces discovered new documents during their military offensive and that Ukraine played only a secondary role in the alleged project.

“Ukrainian specialists were not made aware of the potential risks of transferring biological material and were kept in the dark,” Nebenzia said of the supposedly secret military biological program. “They don’t really have an idea of ​​the real objectives of the research being carried out.

US envoy Linda Thomas-Greenfield dismissed previous allegations as “bizarre conspiracy theories” and said the latest claims appeared to come from “a dark corner of the internet”.

She expressed Washington’s lingering concern that Moscow could plant the seeds for an attack that it then blames on Ukraine.

“We continue to believe that it is possible that Russia is considering using chemical or biological agents against the Ukrainian people,” Thomas-Greenfield said.

The UN human rights office said on Friday it had verified 816 civilian killings since fighting began on February 24, but believed the death toll was grossly underestimated. Ukrainian officials say thousands of civilians have been killed.

Nearly 3.3 million people have fled the war in Ukraine, according to UN estimates.

VOA White House Bureau Chief Patsy Widakuswara, Congressional Correspondent Katherine Gypson and UN Correspondent Margaret Besheer contributed to this report. Some information comes from the Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

Brandon D. James