Biden in Poland as Ukraine fears 300 theater deaths »Capital News

Russia, suffering heavy casualties and meager progress against key targets, continues a relentless bombing campaign © AFP / Aris Messinis

Rzeszów (Poland) (AFP), March 24 – US President Joe Biden moved closer to war in Ukraine on Friday after forging a new set of measures with Europe aimed at further squeezing Russia’s faltering, energy-rich economy.

Biden traveled to Poland as a clearer scale of ruin emerged from the beleaguered Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, which, a month after the invasion began, now resembles World War II scenes of Russian cities razed by the Nazis.

Authorities said some 300 civilians may have died in a Russian airstrike on a theater-turned-bomb shelter in Mariupol last week, in what would be the bloodiest attack of the invasion.

“I escaped, but I lost all my family. I lost my house. I’m desperate,” Oksana Vynokurova, 33, told AFP after finally escaping Mariupol by train to the western city of Lviv.

300 feared dead in a Russian strike on the Mariupol theater © AFP / Eléonore HUGHES

” My mother is dead. I left my mother in the yard like a dog, because everyone is shooting,” she said.

Also getting off the train, Svetlana Kuznetsova said: “There is no water, no light, no electricity. We lived in caves. We were cooking food over fires.

“I have never seen such horror. There is no Mariupol,” the middle-aged woman added. “Mariupol is like Grozny (in Chechnya). Everything is destroyed.

– New Russian toll –

Moscow said it had destroyed Ukraine’s largest remaining military fuel depot, in Kalynivka, near the capital Kyiv © AFP / FADEL SENÉ

Smaller-scale strikes have continued uninterrupted as Russia, suffering heavy casualties and scant progress against key targets, continues a relentless bombing campaign against Ukrainian cities.

Giving only its second toll of the war, the Russian military said it suffered 1,351 dead during the invasion. Ukraine and Western intelligence say there are several thousand more.

In the east, Russian strikes targeting a medical facility in Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, killed four civilians and injured several others, police said.

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“I had gone to get bread. There were explosions. When I came back, there were four bodies lying there, with relatives crying by their side,” Mykola Hladkiy, 71, told AFP.

Several residents said cluster munitions had been used in Kharkiv, spraying death indiscriminately.

– Chemical weapons alert –

After the NATO, European Union and G7 summits in Brussels, Biden warned that the NATO alliance would “respond” if Russian President Vladimir Putin resorted alongside chemical weapons.

An estimated 100,000 civilians are believed to be trapped in Mariupol with dwindling supplies of food, water and electricity © Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies/AFP

En route to Poland, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Russia would pay a “heavy price” – but stressed that “the United States has no intention of using chemical weapons, period, under any circumstances”.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov accused Biden of seeking to “divert attention”, and also denied Ukrainian claims that Russia violated international law by dropping phosphorus incendiary bombs on civilians.

Biden and European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen announced the creation of a joint energy task force in Brussels, before heading to the eastern Polish city of Rzeszow, only 80 kilometers (50 miles) from Ukraine.

With the help of the United States, the EU intends to reduce its heavy dependence on Russian oil and natural gas, while falling short of the demands of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to impose a total embargo and thus deprive Putin of billions to finance his war machine.

Taken together, however, Western sanctions “exhaust Putin’s resources to fund this atrocious war,” von der Leyen told reporters alongside Biden.

Germany, Moscow’s biggest customer in Europe, has said it will halve Russian oil imports by June and end all coal deliveries by the fall.

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“The first important steps have been taken to free ourselves from the grip of Russian imports,” said Economy Minister Robert Habeck.

Nearly 3.7 million people have fled Ukraine © AFP / Daniel MIHAILESCU

In Poland, Biden met with members of the US 82nd Airborne Division, part of NATO’s increasingly heavy-handed deployment on its eastern flank.

He will also receive a briefing on the dire humanitarian situation in Ukraine, where nearly 3.7 million people have fled, mainly to Poland.

The UN estimates that more than half of Ukrainian children have already been driven from their homes – “a grim milestone that could have lasting consequences for generations to come”, according to UNICEF chief Catherine Russell.

– Birthday on a bus –

The UN estimates that more than half of Ukrainian children have already been driven from their homes © AFP / FADEL SENÉ

In the scorching town of Irpin on the northwestern outskirts of kyiv, Daria played with her dinosaur mitts as an evacuation bus took away her family and others. It was his fourth birthday on Thursday.

“We had planned candles and a cake, but we had to leave them there,” said Daria’s mother, Susanna Sopelnikova, 29, holding her firmly in her lap.

“We stayed in the basement for about three weeks, then we decided to leave,” Sopelnikova said, to the distant bombardment boom.

On the battlefield, Moscow said it destroyed Ukraine’s largest remaining military fuel depot, in Kalynivka, near the capital kyiv, using ship-borne cruise missiles.

Balls of fire leaped into the air from the storage facility, while a small fire broke out from a severed fuel line and a huge plume of black smoke rose above above the site, AFP reporters at the scene said.

But with Mariupol and other places now charred ruins, Western defensive systems, including shoulder-fired anti-tank missiles, have helped Ukraine’s armed forces hold their line – and increasingly move to the offense.

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“Ukrainian counterattacks and Russian forces retreating to overstretched supply lines allowed Ukraine to reoccupy towns and defensive positions up to 35 kilometers (22 miles) east of Kyiv” , the UK Ministry of Defense said in a daily update.

– Cancel Russia? –

For his part, Putin accused the West of discriminating against Russian culture, likening it to the ceremonial burning of books by Nazi partisans in the 1930s.

“Today they are trying to cancel a millennial country – I’m talking about the progressive discrimination against everything related to Russia,” he said in televised remarks.

After the Kremlin imposed an information blackout on its “special military operation”, most Russians are unaware of the true picture of the fighting in Ukraine.

But an exhibition of 24 shocking images opened on Friday at a train station in Lithuania used by Russians in transit from the enclave of Kaliningrad.

On some of the photos, displayed near the car windows, an inscription read: “Today, Putin kills the peaceful people of Ukraine. Do you approve of this?


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