Ukrainian officials on Sunday accused Russia of bombing an art school in the besieged city of Mariupol where hundreds had taken shelter, as President Volodymyr Zelenskyy charged that Moscow’s relentless assault on the city “will go down in history” as a war crime.
“The terror the occupiers did to the peaceful city will be remembered for centuries to come,” Zelenskyy said in his daily address, marking the 25th day since Russia invaded Ukraine. “And the more Ukrainians tell the world about it, the more support we find. The more Russia uses terror against Ukraine, the worse the consequences will be for it.”
At the same time, Mariupol officials accused Russian forces of kidnapping several thousand local residents and transporting them against their will to “remote cities in Russia.”
“What the occupiers are doing today is familiar to the older generation, who saw the horrific events of World War II, when the Nazis forcibly captured people,” Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko said in a post on Telegram.
The reports of forced removals could not be independently verified. Russia has not responded to the allegations, although Russian state media have reported that buses filled with what they described as refugees have been arriving from Ukraine in recent days.
Few journalists have been able to enter Mariupol, where fighting has been raging between Russian forces and Ukrainian defenders and communication lines have largely been severed.
The port city of some 400,000 on the Sea of Azov in southeastern Ukraine has become a vivid symbol of the devastation wrought by the war, with officials reporting that 90% of the city’s buildings have been damaged or destroyed.
Still, even amid reports of widespread destruction in Mariupol, there were growing signs that Moscow’s apparent hopes for a quick war and rapid Ukrainian capitulation have faded against unexpectedly fierce resistance and what many call miscalculations and missteps by Russian military planners.
In a new assessment of the war in Ukraine, the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said that Russia’s failures to quickly seize control of Kyiv and other major cities have created the conditions for a “bloody stalemate that could last for weeks or months.”
The report also said that the protracted siege on Mariupol, while devastating, “is costing the Russian military time, initiative, and combat power.”
Russia desperately wants control of Mariupol, which would allow it to link Russia-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine with its forces in Crimea, annexed by Russia in 2014.
Early Sunday, the city council of Mariupol accused Russia of bombing Art School Number 12 in the city’s left-bank district. Sheltering there at the time, the city council said, were some 400 people, including women and children.
“It is known that the building was demolished and there are still peaceful people under the rubble,” the city council said, without specifying at what hour the attack took place.
Ukrainian authorities provided no immediate word on casualties, or estimates on how many remained trapped inside the school after the strike.
There was no independent confirmation of the alleged Russian bombing of the school.
Later Sunday, four Russian navy ships opened fire on Mariupol, according to the Ukrainian Azov Battalion, which is helping to defend the city.
On Wednesday, Ukrainian authorities said Russia bombed a theater in Mariupol where more than 1,000 people were taking shelter. Some 130 people were rescued but hundreds of others were believed to be trapped under the debris, Ukrainian officials said.
Four days later, there was no official word on the fate of the people who had taken refuge at the theater. Intense fighting in the city had hindered rescue efforts, officials said.
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba posted a satellite photo of the ruins of the site, Mariupol’s Donetsk Regional Theatre of Drama. About two-thirds of the large modern building was destroyed with only the western facade left standing.
Both sides in the war have exchanged accusations of atrocities and spreading misinformation since the Russian invasion began Feb. 24.
Russia has denied targeting civilians and has accused Ukraine of committing “genocide” against residents with “blood ties” to Russia — an allegation denied by Ukrainian officials.
Images from Mariupol have shown vast scenes of destruction — apartment buildings charred by shelling, a burned-out shopping center, craters opened by bombs and artillery shells. Intense fighting was reported this weekend in Mariupol at the giant Azovstal steel mill, among the largest in Europe.
Despite the dangers, authorities said that thousands of people were being successfully evacuated from Mariupol. Ukraine and Russia have agreed on a number of “humanitarian corridors” allowing civilians to flee hard-hit zones near Kyiv, Mariupol and other battle zones.
There was still no official statement Sunday on casualties from a reported Russian bombing of a military barracks in Mykolaiv, a major Black Sea port and shipbuilding center about 300 miles west of Mariupol. Rescuers were using shovels and bare hands this weekend in search of survivors in the rubble of the barracks following a missile strike Friday.
Various media organizations have reported dozens of casualties, which would make it among the deadliest Russian airstrikes to date on a military target.
Peace negotiations to end the conflict have been ongoing, but there was no word on new progress this weekend as the war raged on for a fourth week amid a steady stream of refugees and a widening humanitarian crisis. The two sides have had several rounds of talks, but the discussions have run aground amid differences on some key issues, among them Russian demands for Ukrainian demilitarization, and various Ukrainian demands for security guarantees.
In a video address early Saturday, Zelenskyy repeated his desire to hold personal negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“It’s time to meet, time to talk,” Zelenskyy said.
Kremlin officials have not responded to Zelenskyy’s requests for a summit with Putin.
The war so far has led to at least 847 civilian deaths, according to the United Nations. But the U.N. says the toll could be much higher since many areas remain inaccessible. More than 3.3 million people have fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion, the U.N. says.
On Saturday, the Russian military said it had deployed its Kinzhal, or Dagger, aviation missile system with hypersonic aero-ballistic missiles — high-speed weapons that can fly at 10 times the speed of sound and elude missile defense systems — for what is believed to be the first time since the invasion.
A spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, said in a video posted on state media RIA’s Telegram channel that the missile system was used Friday to destroy a large underground warehouse containing weapons and ammunition in the village of Delyatyn, about 380 miles west of Kyiv.
Putin has boasted of his military’s investment in hypersonic missiles. In December, he said that Russia was the global leader in such weapons and that it would probably remain ahead by further advancing its technology before the U.S. caught up.
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