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Friday, June 14, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Ukraine sees another bloody day of fighting, civilian deaths  

The war in Ukraine saw more bloodshed and chaos on Friday as fighting raged in key battlegrounds around Mariupol and Donbas. Hundreds of people believed to have been sheltering in a bombed Mariupol theater are still under the rubble, according to city officials.

(CN) — Russia launched another missile strike into western Ukraine on Friday, hitting a military aircraft maintenance facility, and claimed to have seized parts of the southern port city of Mariupol during another day of intense fighting.  

On Friday morning, Russia shot six cruise missiles, possibly from a submarine in the Black Sea, targeting a plant where military aircraft are repaired at Lviv’s international airport. Ukraine said it shot down four of the missiles.   

It was another sign from Russia that it is ready to expand the war and target Western efforts in that part of Ukraine, which is not the scene of fighting, to supply Kyiv with weapons, supplies and volunteers. Last Sunday, Russian missiles hit a NATO training center near Yavoriv, killing many foreigners seeking to join the fight.  

The worst of the fighting though took place in eastern Ukraine and around the southern port city of Mariupol. There were also more reports of civilian deaths, including one man who was killed in Kyiv after Russian shelling hit an area of residential blocks. Nineteen others were wounded, including four children, Ukraine said.   

On Friday, the United Nations agency for human rights said it had recorded 816 civilian deaths and 1,333 civilians who have been wounded, but says that is an undercount.   

In Mariupol, rescue efforts continued on Friday to pull people from under the rubble of a theater that was allegedly struck by a Russian warplane on Wednesday.  

Hundreds of people were sheltering in the theater, apparently in underground chambers and basements. The number of casualties remained unclear, though more than 130 people have been found alive and up to 1,300 people are still missing, according to city officials. Russia accuses Ukrainian forces of planting explosives in the building and detonating it.  

“We pray that all of them will be alive, but at the moment there is no information about them,” said Liudmyla Denisova, the human rights commissioner for the Ukraine parliament, as reported by Ukrinform, a Ukrainian state news agency.   

Mariupol has been the scene of horrific fighting with reports that the Russian attack is led by hardcore Chechen fighters against Ukrainian warriors affiliated with the Azov Regiment, a battle-hardened group that has been at the frontline of combat over the disputed Donbas region for the past eight years. 

On Friday, Russian military sources showed video of troops putting up the flag of the self-proclaimed republic of Donetsk on an administration building in Mariupol. Donetsk is one of two regions in eastern Ukraine that declared themselves autonomous in 2014, a pro-Russian move that sparked Ukraine to send in forces to quell the rebellion, which turned into a war over Donbas.        

A cloud of smoke rises after an explosion in Lviv, Ukraine, on Friday, March 18, 2022. (AP Photo)

There have been grim reports of Mariupol opening mass graves and of families burying their loved ones. On Monday, the city said more than 2,500 people had been killed.      

Intense fighting also was taking place in eastern Ukraine around the city of Severodonetsk, one of the last areas of the Luhansk region still under Ukrainian control. Luhansk is the other self-declared autonomous region.  

The war is particularly bad northwest of Donetsk and Luhansk because it involves fighters who’ve been battling for the past eight years. Over this period, the frontline has become a land of trenches, snipers, fortifications, weapons depots, destroyed villages and artillery shelling.  

Before Putin launched a full-scale Russian invasion on Feb. 24, 14,000 people had been killed in the Donbas war and up to 2 million people had fled the war-torn region. Putin has justified the invasion by saying he wanted to end the war in Donbas and “liberate” the people there. Putin is also seeking to make sure Ukraine does not become a NATO member.    

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The U.N. data shows that the highest concentration of civilian deaths appears to have taken place in this area with a total of 222 people killed and 681 wounded in the past three weeks. It found that 172 civilians were killed in Ukrainian-controlled territories and 50 killed in territory held by pro-Russian separatists. Both sides have launched artillery strikes on towns and cities across the frontline, killing civilians.   

Despite some advances by Russia, Ukraine claimed that it was holding off the attackers and even mounting counterstrikes. Most military analysts say the invasion has been a fiasco for Putin and exposed Russia’s army as weaker than many believed. Still, it is hard to assess the state of the fighting and Russia has achieved some successes, such as opening up water supplies to Crimea, which Ukraine had blocked, and occupying large parts of southern and eastern Ukraine. Ceasefire negotiations are ongoing.    

The most significant event on the diplomatic front Friday was a two-hour video call between U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, in which Biden put pressure on China to condemn Russia's “unprovoked invasion” and not support the Kremlin in its war.  

In a White House summary of the conversation, Biden “described the implications and consequences if China provides material support to Russia as it conducts brutal attacks against Ukrainian cities and civilians.” The White House said it told Xi it wants to see “a diplomatic resolution to the crisis.”  

President Joe Biden meets virtually from the Situation Room at the White House with China’s Xi Jinping on Friday, March 18, 2022. (The White House via AP)

Xi told Biden that the United States and NATO need to sit down with Russia and Ukraine to resolve “the problems behind the Ukraine crisis,” as reported by Global Times, a Chinese news outlet that pushes Beijing’s agenda. Xi also expressed opposition to the West’s sweeping sanctions on Russia because they could cause global economic strife.   

“The Ukraine crisis is not something we want to see, and the events again show that countries should not come to the point of meeting on the battlefield,” Xi reportedly said.  

Chinese media said Xi used a common Chinese proverb, “Let he who tied the bell on the tiger take it off.” This saying means the person who creates a problem is the one who needs to solve it.

Prior to the video call, China responded coldly to Biden's demands and its diplomats have said China will act independently. Chinese diplomats have also criticized the West for supplying arms to Ukraine.   

In a statement Thursday, China’s office in the European Union lashed out at NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg for admonishing China that any help it might provide Russia will enable Putin to carry on with his brutal war. 

“We will never forget who had bombed our embassy in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia,” China’s EU office said, referring to the NATO bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999. “We need no lecture on justice from the abuser of international law.”   

There were accusations, as reported by British media at the time, that NATO targeted the embassy because it was allegedly being used to transmit information to Yugoslavia’s military. The U.S. said the strike was an accident.   

“As a Cold War remnant and the world’s largest military alliance, NATO continues to expand its geographical scope and range of operations,” China’s statement said. “What kind of role it has played in world peace and stability? NATO needs to have good reflection.”   

In Moscow, meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin made his first public appearance since the start of the war by holding a large rally at a sports arena packed with hundreds of thousands of Russians.  He’s trying to stir up patriotic support for the war in Ukraine and steel his compatriots for Russia's new far-reaching conflict with the West.

The Luzhniki arena was plastered with posters that read “For a world without Nazism” and the crowd waved Russian flags. Putin has said the invasion is meant to “de-Nazify” Ukraine, a claim that has left many in the West aghast.  

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives to deliver his speech at a rally in Moscow on Friday, March 18, 2022. (Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Putin proclaimed that Russia has not “had such unity for a long time.” There were reports that many in attendance were told to go by their bosses and were state workers.  

Despite signs of anger inside Russia over the invasion and the punishing barrage of sanctions that have effectively cut Russia off from the West and its allies, polls show that a majority of Russians back the Kremlin. Still, there are reports that many Russians disgusted with the war and Putin's anti-democratic regime are fleeing the country.  

Izabella Tabarovsky, a researcher at the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute, said in a recent piece for Tablet that thousands of Russians are fleeing Putin’s crackdown on free speech and dissidents. She said up to 200,000 may have left, citing an estimate by Russian economist Konstantin Sonin at the University of Chicago.  

“Most are now sitting in the Eurasian ‘near-abroad’ of countries that used to be part of the USSR, with others heading to Turkey and Israel. (European Union countries and the United States are closed to Russian passport holders without visas.),” Tabarovsky wrote. “Among this group are independent journalists, lawyers, and academics – the intelligentsia who made it their life’s work to oppose Putin’s regime. They are watching the unfolding horror in Ukraine and trying to process the destruction of their world.”  

In Kyiv, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged his compatriots to keep up a fight that he said Ukraine was winning and that would leave Russia poor and broken.  

“The occupiers do not stop burning their national wealth in the war against Ukraine,” Zelenskyy said in a speech. “I am confident that by attacking us, they will destroy everything that Russian society has achieved over the past 25 years. And they will return to where they once began to rise from, as they say, to the ‘the wicked 90's.’”  

He added: “Unjust and aggressive war always has a high price for the aggressor. But no matter what happens to them, it cannot comfort us. It will not resurrect our dead people. It will not restore our cities. It will not heal the emotional wound that will stay with us forever.”  

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.  

Follow @cainburdeau
Categories / Government, International, Politics

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