By ANDREA ROSA
KIEV, Ukraine (AP) – Rescuers on Thursday sought survivors in the ruins of a theater destroyed by a Russian airstrike in the besieged city of Mariupol, while a fierce bombardment left dozens dead in a northern city last day, authorities said.
Hundreds of civilians have been sheltering in the grand theater with columns in central Mariupol after their homes were destroyed in three weeks of fighting in the southern port city.
Almost a day after the airstrike, there were no reports of deaths. With much of the city cut off from the flow of information, there have also been conflicting reports on whether anyone has emerged from the rubble.
“We hope and think that some people who stayed in the shelter under the theater can survive,” Petro Andrushchenko, an official in the mayor’s office, told The Associated Press. He said the building had a relatively modern basement designed to withstand airstrikes.
Other officials had said before that some people had left. Ukraine’s Ombudsman Ludmyla Denisova said in the Telegram messaging application that the shelter had withstood.
Monday’s satellite imagery of Maxar technology showed huge white letters on the sidewalk in front of and behind the theater spelling “CHILDREN” in Russian – “DETI” – to alert warplanes to those inside.
The Russian military has denied bombing the theater or any other place in Mariupol on Wednesday.
The strike against the theater has been part of a furious bombing of civilian sites in several cities in recent days.
In the northern city of Chernihiv, at least 53 people have been taken to morgues in the past 24 hours, dead amid intense Russian airstrikes and ground fire, local governor Viacheslav Chaus told Ukrainian television on Thursday.
Ukraine’s emergency services say a mother, a father and three of her children, including 3-year-old twins, were killed when a Chernihiv hostel was bombed.
Civilians hid in the city’s basements and shelters of 280,000 people.
“The city has never experienced such heavy and colossal losses and destruction,” Chaus said.
At least 21 people were killed when Russian artillery destroyed a school and a community center before dawn in Merefa, near the northeastern city of Kharkiv, according to Mayor Veniamin Sitov. The region was heavily bombarded by stagnant Russian forces to advance.
In eastern Ukraine, a municipal swimming pool complex where pregnant women and women with children took shelter was also affected on Wednesday, according to Pavlo Kyrylenko, head of the Donetsk regional administration. There was no news of the casualties in that strike.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for more help for his country in a video addressed to German lawmakers, saying thousands had died, including 108 children. He also referred to the serious situation in Mariupol, saying: “Everything is a goal for them.”
The speech began with a delay due to a technical problem caused by an attack near where Zelenskyy was speaking, Bundestag deputy spokeswoman Katrin Goering-Eckardt said.
Zelenskyy’s office said the Russian airstrikes hit the suburbs of Kalynivka and Brovary in the capital, Kiev. Emergency authorities in Kiev said a fire broke out in a 16-story apartment building hit by the wreckage of a downed Russian rocket, and one person was killed.
The UN Security Council planned to meet on Thursday on the crisis.
“Russia is committing war crimes and targeting civilians,” the British UN delegation tweeted. “Russia’s illegal war against Ukraine is a threat to all of us.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared on television on Wednesday to insult Russians who do not support him.
The Russians “will always be able to distinguish true patriots from scum and traitors and will simply spit them out like a mosquito that accidentally flew into their mouths,” Putin said, using language reminiscent of the Stalinist era. “I am convinced that such a natural and necessary self-purification of society will only strengthen our country.”
He said the West was using a “fifth column” of treacherous Russians to create civil unrest. “And there is only one goal, I have already said: the destruction of Russia,” he said.
The speech seemed to be a warning that his authoritarian government, which has been tightening since the invasion began on February 24, could become even more repressive.
As a sign, Russian law enforcement has announced the first known criminal cases under a new law that allows 15-year prison sentences for publishing what is considered “false information” about the war. Among the defendants was Veronika Belotserkovskaya, a Russian-language cookbook author and blogger living abroad.
Both Ukraine and Russia reported this week some progress in negotiations. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Thursday that some negotiators were forming working groups, “but there should be contacts today.”
The talks were videotaped on Wednesday. An official in Zelenskyy’s office told the AP that the main issue under discussion was whether Russian troops would remain in the separatist regions of eastern Ukraine after the war and where the borders would be.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the delicate talks, said Ukraine insisted on the inclusion of one or more Western nuclear powers in negotiations and legally binding security guarantees for Ukraine.
In return, the official said, Ukraine was ready to discuss a neutral military status.
Russia has demanded that NATO pledge never to admit Ukraine into alliance forces or station there.
The fighting has led to more than 3 million people fleeing Ukraine, the UN estimates. The death toll remains unknown, although Ukraine says thousands of civilians have been killed.
Associated Press writer Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Ukraine, and other AP journalists from around the world contributed to this report.
Follow AP war coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
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