Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared at a massive flag-waving rally in Moscow on Friday, praising his country’s troops as they carried out their deadly shelling and rocket attacks on Ukrainian cities.
Moscow police said more than 200,000 people were in and around Luzhniki Stadium for the gathering and concert marking the eighth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula, which was seized by Ukraine.
The event featured noted singer Oleg Gazmanov singing “Made in the USSR”, with the opening lines “Ukraine and Crimea, Belarus and Moldova, it’s all my country.”
As Putin prepared to take the stage, speakers touted him as a fighter against “Nazism” in Ukraine, a claim that was flatly rejected by leaders around the world.
Meanwhile, Russian forces continued to shell the Ukrainian capital Kiev and launched a barrage of rockets on the outskirts of the western city of Lviv.
The early morning attack on the outskirts of Lviv was the closest attack yet to the center of the city, which has become a crossroads for people fleeing other parts of Ukraine and for others entering to provide or provide assistance. to fight.
In town after town around Ukraine, hospitals, schools and buildings where people sought safety have been attacked. Rescuers searched for survivors in the ruins of a theater that served as a shelter when it was blown up by a Russian airstrike on Wednesday in the besieged southern city of Mariupol.
Ludmyla Denisova, the Ukrainian parliament’s human rights commissioner, said at least 130 people had survived the bombing at the theater.
“But according to our data, there are still more than 1,300 people in these basements, in this bomb shelter,” Denisova told Ukrainian TV. “We pray that they will all be alive, but so far there is no information about them.”
Black smoke billowed in Lviv for hours after the explosions hit a military aircraft repair facility near the city’s international airport, 6 kilometers (4 miles) from the center. One person was injured, regional governor Maksym Kozytskyy said.
Multiple blasts followed in quick succession around 6 a.m., shaking nearby buildings, witnesses said. The missiles were launched from the Black Sea, but the Ukrainian Air Force Western Command said it shot down two of the six missiles in the salvo. A bus repair facility was also damaged, Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovyi said.
Lviv is not far from the Polish border and well behind the front lines, but the area has not been spared from Russian attacks. In the worst-case scenario, nearly three dozen people were killed in a strike at a training facility near the city last weekend.
Lviv’s population has grown by some 200,000 as people from elsewhere in Ukraine have sought shelter there.
Early morning barrage also hit a residential building in Kiev’s Podil neighborhood, killing at least one person, according to emergency services, who said 98 people were evacuated from the building. Kiev mayor Vitali Klitschko said 19 were injured in the shelling.
Regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said two others were killed in strikes in residential and administrative buildings in the eastern city of Kramatorsk.
A fire raged at a local market in Kharkiv on Thursday after shelling. One firefighter was killed and another was injured when new shelling struck as emergency personnel battled the blaze, emergency services said.
The World Health Organization said it verified 43 attacks on hospitals and health facilities, leaving 12 dead and 34 injured.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday that US officials were evaluating potential war crimes and that if Russia is confirmed deliberately targeting civilians, there will be “huge consequences”.
The United Nations political leader, Undersecretary General Rosemary DiCarlo, also called for an investigation into civilian casualties and reminded the UN Security Council that international humanitarian law prohibits direct attacks on civilians.
She said many of the daily attacks on Ukrainian cities are “allegedly indiscriminate” and involve the use of “high-impact explosive weapons”. DiCarlo said the devastation in Mariupol and Kharkiv “raises grave fears about the fate of millions of residents of Kiev and other cities facing more intense attacks.”
About 35,000 civilians have left Mariupol in the past two days, Kirilenko said Friday.
Hundreds of civilians are said to have found shelter in a large columned theater in the center of the city when it was hit by a Russian air raid.
Video and photos from the Ukrainian military showed that the at least three-storey building had been reduced to a roofless shell, with some exterior walls collapsing.
Satellite images on Monday from Maxar Technologies showed huge white letters on the sidewalk outside the theater that read “CHILDREN” in Russian – “DETI” – to warn fighter jets of the vulnerable people hiding inside.
The Russian army denied having bombed the theater or anywhere in Mariupol on Wednesday.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said early Friday that Ukraine’s defenses have proved much stronger than expected, and that Russia “didn’t know what we had to defend or how we were preparing to take the blow.”
Both Ukraine and Russia reported some progress in negotiations this week. Earlier this week, on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive talks, an official in Zelenskyy’s office told the AP that Ukraine was willing to negotiate a neutral military status for the country in exchange, in part, for binding security guarantees.
Russia has demanded that NATO pledge never to admit Ukraine to the alliance or to station troops there.
The fighting has led to nearly 3.3 million people fleeing Ukraine, the UN estimates. The death toll remains unknown, although Ukraine has said thousands of civilians have been killed.
This post Russian President Vladimir Putin appears at large rally as troops launch attack in Ukraine
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