Russian forces deliberately dropped two bombs weighing more than 1,000 pounds on the Mariupol Theater, which was being used as a safe house, on March 16, leading to a mass killing of civilians that amounted to a war crime, according to a report by rights group Amnesty International published on Thursday.
Amnesty said there was no indication the theater was a base of operations for Ukrainian soldiers, but rather served as a haven for civilians seeking shelter from weeks of bombardment.
The report comes days after a Russian airstrike at a shopping center in the central Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk killed at least 18 people and wounded dozens, drawing international condemnation. Russian authorities have denied targeting the mall.
The Amnesty team interviewed 52 survivors and first-hand witnesses, about half of whom were either in the theater or nearby. Using satellite imagery from that morning, the organization determined that the sky was consistently clear enough for any pilot to read the word “CHILDREN” in giant Cyrillic letters on the front and back of the building.
Reports of the death toll vary. Mariupol officials initially estimated around 300; An Associated Press investigation found more than 600 people may have been killed. The Amnesty report could only confirm a dozen deaths, adding: “It is likely that many more deaths will go unreported.”
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►British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said “toxic masculinity” helped start the war in Ukraine and said that if Russian President Vladimir Putin were a woman, “I really don’t think he started a crazy macho invasion war.” and violence as he did.”
►Dmitry Medvedev, deputy secretary of Russia’s Security Council, warned on Thursday that Moscow may see Western sanctions as justification for war, calling the restrictions “rough and cynical” and bordering on an “economic war”.
►Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government, which stayed in power amid a civil war thanks to the intervention of Russian forces in 2015, said it would recognize the “independence and sovereignty” of Ukraine’s separatist eastern republics in Luhansk and Donetsk provinces.
Russia is withdrawing troops from the strategic Snake Island
Russia withdrew its forces Thursday from Snake Island, a strategically important island that lies on a busy Black Sea shipping lane and has become a symbol of Ukraine’s resistance to the invasion.
The island drew international attention in February when a Russian warship demanded that Ukrainian troops surrender or face bombardment, and the soldiers responded with expletives. The soldiers were captured and later freed in a prisoner exchange.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Lt. Gen. Igor Konashenkov called the withdrawal from Zmiyinyy Island (Snake Island) off Ukraine’s port of Odessa a “goodwill gesture” to demonstrate that the country is not interfering in the United Nations’ attempts to secure room for export through Ukraine agricultural products. Ukraine and its western allies have accused Russia of blocking ports and exacerbating a global food crisis.
After the Russians took control of Snake Island, the Ukrainian military relentlessly attacked their forces. The Ukrainian military said Russian troops fled the island after being bombarded by Ukrainian artillery and rocket attacks.
Biden announces another $800 million in military aid to Ukraine
President Biden said Thursday the US would announce $800 million in additional military aid to Ukraine in the next few days. The support will include new advanced air defense systems, more artillery, counter-battery radars and more ammunition, Biden said at a news conference concluding NATO’s annual meeting in Madrid.
“We will hold on to Ukraine and the entire alliance will hold on to Ukraine as long as it takes to actually ensure they are not defeated,” he said.
At the start of the summit, NATO declared Russia the “most significant and imminent threat” to the peace and security of its members and pledged to step up support to Ukraine in the conflict.
Putin still wants to claim most of Ukraine for himself, says US intelligence chief
Russian President Vladimir Putin has not changed his goals in Ukraine, although they do not appear realistic, the top US intelligence official said on Wednesday.
Avril Haines, the director of national intelligence, foresees a long, “attrition” battle in which Russia retains the parts of the eastern Donbass region it already controls and consolidates its grip on the south by the fall, but probably not beyond that.
At an event in Washington, Haines said Putin has “basically the same political goals as before, which is to take most of Ukraine” and push it away from NATO.
“We see a mismatch between Putin’s near-term military goals in this area and the capabilities of his military, a kind of mismatch between his ambitions and what the military can achieve,” she said.
Russia continues to make gradual advances in Lysychansk, the last city in Luhansk Province that it does not control. The invading forces and their separatist allies control 95% of Luhansk and about half of Donetsk, making up the predominantly Russian-speaking Donbass.
US will expand military presence in Eastern Europe, says Biden
On the same day that NATO officially invited Sweden and Finland to join the security alliance, President Joe Biden said the US would increase its military presence in Eastern Europe in the face of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Arriving at the NATO summit in Madrid on Wednesday, Biden announced that the US would set up its first permanent headquarters in Poland, maintain an additional rotating brigade in Romania and increase its rotating operations in the Baltics.
The troops in Poland would constitute the first permanent US forces on NATO’s eastern flank. The alliance plans to build up stocks of equipment and ammunition in the east and almost eightfold its total rapid reaction force from 40,000 to 300,000 by next year.
Contribution: The Associated Press