By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent
KYIV/BUDAPEST (Worthy News) – At least scores of people were reported killed in new Russian attacks in Ukraine, but Moscow condemned U.S. President Joe Biden for calling Russian leader Vladimir Putin a “war criminal.”
Ukrainian authorities said Thursday some 21 people died by Russian artillery that destroyed a school and a community center in Merefa, near the northeast city of Kharkiv.
The destruction came as survivors emerged from a theater sheltering civilians that Russia hit in an airstrike in the besieged city of Mariupol, officials said.
Between 1,000 and 1,200 people may have been inside, including many who lost their homes in relentless Russian shelling, according to the city’s authorities.
However, “We hope and think that some people who stayed in the shelter under the theater could survive,” said Petro Andrushchenko in published remarks.
He told The Associated Press (AP) news agency that the building had a relatively modern basement bomb shelter designed to withstand airstrikes. Ukraine’s ombudswoman, Ludmyla Denisova, stressed that the shelter had not collapsed in the bombing. She and parliament member Sergiy Taruta said at least some people had survived.
The theater was hit despite signs on a pavement reading “children” verified footage showed.
Elsewhere in the northern city of Chernihiv, 13 people waiting in a queue for bread were reportedly killed by Russian
The war also reached Kyiv, the capital, where at least one person has died after the debris of a downed missile hit a residential apartment, several sources said.
Amid the ongoing attacks? President Joe Biden called Vladimir Putin a “war criminal” for the first time as the U.S. pledged to send some $1 billion weapons to Ukraine.
The Kremlin lashed out at Biden, calling his comments “unacceptable and unforgivable rhetoric.”
Additionally, Russia’s autocratic President Putin warned Russians who openly disapprove of the war in Ukraine that he calls a “special operation.”
In rhetoric resembling the Stalin-era, Putin said Russians “will always be able to distinguish true patriots from scum and traitors and will simply spit them out like a gnat that accidentally flew into their mouths.”
Putin added that he is “convinced that such a natural and necessary self-purification of society will only strengthen our country.”
Between all the misery, there was some hope with the news Thursday that Russian forces freed the mayor of the Ukrainian city of Melitopol in exchange for nine of their captured conscripts.
Kyiv accused Moscow of kidnapping Mayor Ivan Fedorov about a week ago. But surveillance video released Thursday showed him being marched out of city hall, apparently surrounded by Russian soldiers.
Residents of Melitopol, a city in the southeast currently under Russian control, have been protesting to demand his release.
Daria Zarivna, a spokeswoman of the head of Ukraine’s president’s office, said that Fedorov had been released from captivity. In exchange, Russia “got nine of its captive soldiers, born in 2002-2003, practically children, conscripts Russia’s Defense Ministry said weren’t there.”
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