Hundreds are feared dead after Russian air force bombed a theatre and a swimming pool in Ukraine's port city of Mariupol where over 1,200 civilians, including pregnant women and children, were sheltering. According to local authorities, it is impossible to ascertain how many people have been killed or injured in the carnage, as rescuers are struggling to reach those who are trapped in the rubble.
Besides, Ukraine has also accused Russia of shelling a convoy of automobiles carrying civilians fleeing the city was also shelled by Russian forces. This comes as US President Joe Biden called Russian leader Vladimir Putin a war criminal in comments the Kremlin said were "unforgivable" as it insisted the war in Ukraine was "going to plan".
Russia's Hostilities Continue
Satellite images from Monday showed the word "children" scrawled in giant white letters in Russian in front of and behind the theatre building, where up to 1,200 civilians are reported to have been sheltering in a bid to ward of an attack by Putin's soldiers.
However, two days later, on Wednesday, the scene looks different after Russia bombed the site when over 1,200 people including pregnant mothers and children were present. The head of the Donetsk Regional Military Administration, Pavlo Kyrylenko, uploaded photos and videos of the Mariupol Drama Theater and the Neptune Pool buildings on Telegram, claiming that "Russians are actively assaulting civilians."
According to Ukrainian officials, the central part of the theatre collapsed when Russia's bombs hit it, burying a huge number of people under rubble. The rubble also obstructed access to the bomb shelter, which was positioned inside the structure.
The theatre, according to Petro Andruishchenko, an adviser to Mariupol's mayor, is the city's greatest shelter "in terms of number and space."
"More than a thousand people were hiding there but the probability of getting there to dismantle the rubble is low due to constant shelling and bombing of the city," he told CNN.
The number of individuals inside the theatre at the time of the blast is unknown at this time. According to Ukrainian authorities, up to 1,200 civilians sought safety in the building, but Human Rights Watch estimated that at least 500 civilians were housed there.
Russians have been killing Ukrainian civilians mercilessly, although Kremlin continues to deny the fact. The Ukrainian foreign ministry said Russia had committed a "horrendous war crime".
The bombing of the theatre is the latest of the instances. Hundreds of people, mostly women and children, were seen sheltering inside the theatre last week. A volunteer told the Times, "There are so many children. All the children have a fever, I don't know what to do. Help us."
Presently, it is impossible to ascertain the extent of damages and loss of lives. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenksy condemned the attack on the theatre, saying: "My heart is broken because of what Russia does with our people."
Russian officials have emphasized that their forces are only attacking important military targets and are not waging war on Ukraine's civilian population. However, Russia has launched repeated attacks on residential areas, with three people killed and five others injured in Kharkiv on Wednesday as a result of Russian shelling.
Despite the largest assault on a European state since World War II, Moscow is yet to conquer any of Ukraine's major cities. As the battle enters its fourth week, more than 3 million Ukrainians have fled and hundreds have died.
This comes as Putin was accused of more war crimes after video of an attack near Chernihiv, which was later authenticated by Ukraine's prosecutor general, showed at least 10 people were shot dead while queuing for bread.
Russian rockets also attacked a convoy of people fleeing Mariupol on Wednesday, killing civilians, including children. It's unclear how many people were killed in the shelling, but a photo from the scene shows a burned-out automobile with a blown-open door.