Toll on Ukraine civilians worsens as Russian forces suffer battlefield losses
By Marc Santora, Michael Schwirtz and Shashank Bengali
As Russian forces take heavy losses on the battlefield and increasingly aim bombs and missiles at towns and cities, the toll on civilians in Ukraine is worsening, with children sheltering in a theater and people waiting in line for food becoming the latest to be killed or feared dead as the war enters its fourth week.
Rescuers on Thursday began pulling some survivors from the wreckage of a theater in the besieged port city of Mariupol, an adviser to the city’s mayor said, a day after an attack destroyed the building where hundreds of people were believed to be taking shelter. The extent of casualties was unknown as Russian forces continued to shell the area, he said, hampering recovery efforts.
In an overnight address, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine alleged that a Russian aircraft had “purposefully dropped a huge bomb” on the theater. “Our hearts are broken by what Russia is doing to our people, to our Mariupol,” he said.
Cease-fire talks between the Russians and Ukrainians were expected to enter their fourth day on Thursday, but increasingly harsh comments by President Vladimir Putin of Russia were a dim portent for progress, despite conciliatory public statements by negotiators from both sides. On Wednesday, Putin denounced pro-Western Russians as “scum and traitors” who should be purged.
His statements came amid an increasingly brutal war of attrition unfolding on the ground and in the air, with fierce battles raging in the suburbs of Kyiv, Ukrainian forces claiming to have shot down more Russian aircraft, and Russian warships on the Black Sea launching missiles at towns around the southern city of Odesa.
Here are the latest developments:
— British intelligence reports say that Russian forces have “made minimal progress on land, sea or air in recent days,” and that they “continue to suffer heavy losses.” Still, Russian forces have taken control of large sections of Ukraine, particularly in the east and south.
— The battle for the skies above Kyiv raged overnight on Thursday, with the Ukrainian military claiming to have shot down 10 Russian planes and missiles. The remnants of one rocket tore through a residential high-rise and killed at least one person, officials said.
— The Pentagon estimated that in three weeks of fighting, 7,000 Russian soldiers have been killed — greater than the number of U.S. troops killed over 20 years in Iraq and Afghanistan.
— U.S. and European officials that the Biden administration would provide Ukraine with more high-tech defensive weapons that are easily portable and require little training to use against Russian tanks, armored vehicles and aircraft.
— The United Nations Security Council was scheduled to hold an emergency meeting on Thursday afternoon to discuss the worsening humanitarian situation in Ukraine and the status of the more than 3 million refugees, according to a diplomat.