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Russia accused of bombing school sheltering hundreds in Ukraine


Ukrainian authorities say Russia has bombed a school sheltering 400 people in the besieged port of Mariupol.

A Ukraine soldier inspects the rubble of a destroyed apartment building in Kyiv on 15 March 2022, after strikes on residential areas killed at least two people. Picture: FADEL SENNA/AFP

KYIV – Ukrainian authorities said on Sunday that Russia had bombed a school sheltering 400 people in the besieged port of Mariupol, as Moscow claimed that it had again fired a hypersonic missile in Ukraine, the second time it had used the next-generation weapon on its neighbour.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that the siege of Mariupol, a strategic mostly Russian-speaking port in the southeast where utilities and communications have been cut for days, would go down as a war crime, warning Russians that thousands of their soldiers had died in the conflict.

The war in Ukraine, which Russian President Vladimir Putin launched on February 24 to stamp out the pro-Western bent in the ex-Soviet country, has sparked the fastest growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II, felled Russia-West relations to Cold War-era lows, and is wreaking havoc in the world economy still recovering from the coronavirus pandemic.

‘MADMAN OF A LEADER’

“Yesterday, the Russian occupiers dropped bombs on an art school No 12,” the Mariupol city council said on messaging app Telegram on Sunday, adding that around 400 women, children and elderly people had been sheltering there from bombardments.

“Peaceful civilians are still under the rubble,” it said, adding that the building had been destroyed.

City authorities also claimed that some residents of Mariupol were being forcibly taken to Russia and stripped of their Ukrainian passports.

“The occupiers are sending the residents of Mariupol to filtration camps, checking their phones and seizing (their) Ukrainian documents,” Pavlo Kyrylenko, head of the Donetsk regional administration said, adding that more than 1,000 Mariupol residents had been deported.

“I appeal to the international community: put pressure on Russia and its madman of a leader,” he said on Facebook.

HYPERSONIC MISSILE FIRED FOR SECOND TIME

Russia’s defence ministry said on Sunday that Moscow had again fired its newest Kinzhal (Dagger) hypersonic missile, destroying a fuel storage site in the southern Mykolaiv region.

The strike came a day after it said it used the sophisticated weapon for the first time in combat to destroy an underground missile and ammunition storage site in western Ukraine close to the border with NATO member Romania.

Humanitarian conditions continued to go from bad to worse in the mostly Russian-speaking south and east of the country, where Russian forces have been pressing their advance, as well as in the north around the capital Kyiv.

Aid agencies have warned they are struggling to reach hundreds of thousands of people trapped by the invading Russian forces.

‘HELL’

The port of Mariupol has been one of the worst cities hit, as it occupies a strategic position — its capture would link the Crimean peninsula, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014, with the separatist eastern regions of Donetsk and Lugansk, which broke away the same year and are controlled by Moscow-backed rebels.

Thousands of civilians are thought to be trapped inside the city, where communication, water, electricity and gas have been cut. Russia said on Saturday it had broken through the city’s defences and its troops were inside.

Last Wednesday, a theatre where more than 1,000 people had sheltered was hit, with hundreds still presumed missing in the rubble.

“This is no longer Mariupol, it’s hell,” said resident Tamara Kavunenko, 58. “The streets are full with the bodies of civilians.”

In his daily video message, Zelensky said that “To do such a thing to a peaceful city, what the occupiers have done, this is a terror that will be remembered even in the next century.”

The Ukrainian president, who has gained world-wide fame and admiration for staying in his capital in the face of the Russian advance, warned the Russian people that the war was costing thousands of their soldiers’ lives.

“Where the battles are especially fierce, the front line is simply littered with corpses of Russian soldiers,” he said, saying that 14,000 Russian servicemen had been killed.

“And (the number of) victims will only continue to rise,” he warned.

Russia has not provided a toll of its soldiers since early March, when it said nearly 500 servicemen had been killed.

The last Ukrainian military toll provided by Zelensky on March 12 said some 1,300 Ukrainian military had died.

Ukraine’s outmanned and outgunned military has put up a fierce resistance that has slowed Russia’s advance, stalling its forces outside the capital Kyiv and several other cities and making Moscow’s supply lines vulnerable to Ukrainian attacks.

In the encircled northern city of Chernigiv, the mayor said early Sunday that a hospital had been hit in the latest shelling, killing dozens of civilians.

“The city is suffering from an absolute humanitarian catastrophe,” mayor Vladislav Atroshenko said on television.

DIRE SITUATION

Aid agencies are struggling to reach people trapped in cities ringed by Russian forces, with the emergency coordinator of the UN’s World Food Programme telling AFP on Saturday the situation was “dire.”

More than 3.3 million refugees have fled Ukraine since the war began — Europe’s fastest growing refugee crisis since World War II — the vast majority of them women and children, according to the UN.

Another 6.5 million are throughout to be displaced inside the country.

‘STRATEGY OF ATTRITION’

In an intelligence update late Saturday, Britain’s defence ministry said Ukraine was continuing to effectively defend its airspace, forcing Russia to rely on weapons launched from its own airspace.

It said Russia had been forced to “change its operational approach and is now pursuing a strategy of attrition.”

“This is likely to involve the indiscriminate use of firepower resulting in increased civilian casualties, destruction of Ukrainian infrastructure, and intensify the humanitarian crisis,” it warned.

Ukrainian and Russian negotiators have met several times to no avail.

Russia wants Ukraine to disarm and disavow all Western alliances, in particular to renounce joining NATO or to seek closer integration with the European Union — steps that Kyiv says would turn it into a vassal state of Moscow.

Zelensky on Saturday again appealed for peace, urging Russia to accept “meaningful” talks.

ECONOMIC EFFECTS TO LAST ‘FOR MONTHS’

Russia’s war has been widely condemned across the globe and has sparked an unprecedented wave of Western sanctions against the country, both against Putin and his entourage and Russian companies.

Western businesses from oil companies to fast food franchises have either pulled out or halted operations in Russia, the assets of Russia’s Central Bank held abroad have been frozen and many Russian banks have been cut off from the SWIFT system that enables inter-bank transactions.

The war has sparked turmoil for the world economy as it recovers from the coronavirus pandemic.

Russia is a major exporter of oil, gas and commodities, while Ukraine also is a major supplier of wheat, so the war has sent commodity prices rocketing on supply fears, fuelling inflation that was already at multi-decade highs, the chief economist with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development told AFP.

“Even if the war stopped today, the consequences of this conflict would be felt for months to come,” Beata Javorcik said.





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