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Ukraine: US, EU allege Russian 'war crimes' — as it happened

March 17, 2022

The US and EU strongly criticized attacks by Russia on civilians. Meanwhile, Mariupol authorities are searching for survivors from a bombed out theater. DW has the latest.

Smoke rises from a fire broke out at the Saltivka construction market
Smoke rises from a fire that broke out at a construction market in Kharkiv after artillery hitsImage: Andrea Carrubba/AA/picture alliance
  • The EU condemns "war crimes" committed by Russia, joining top US figures
  • Search goes on for survivors at Mariupol theater
  • Ukraine's top prosecutor wants to see charges brought against "war criminal" Putin
  • UN Security Council holds emergency meeting 
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addresses the Bundestag

This live updates article is now closed. For the March 18 edition, please click here

Ukrainian historian: 'People just don't believe Kyiv will fall'

A historian with the Canadian Institute for Ukrainian studies at the University of Alberta has explained the determination of so many people in Kyiv to remain, despite the ongoing conflict.

Olha Klymenko is currently in Kyiv, having returned to be with her father, who neither wants to leave the city nor is in good enough health to do so. "He refuses to leave. And this is the case with a lot of people, a lot of my friends," she told DW.

She said there were a number of reasons for this, perhaps they had children fighting with Ukrainian forces, or perhaps they simply refused to abandon their homes.

"There are people who just say: We're going to stay. This is our land. This is our home. We're not leaving. And people just do not believe that Kyiv is going to fall. They believe that Kyiv is going to stand. So I'm staying."

Klymenko spoke from a darkened room on Thursday evening, as authorities had asked residents to keep their lights off to make targeting more difficult for Russian forces.

WNBA working with US government to free Griner as Russia extends detention

The Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) said on Thursday it was working with the US government to help free seven-time All-Star Brittney Griner from a Russian prison.

The development comes after the TASS news agency said her detention for possession of vape cartridges allegedly containing hash oil had been extended until May 19.

Like many WNBA players, Griner has played overseas during the winter off-season for the bulk of her professional career. 

Dutch have frozen €200 mln worth of Russian assets

Dutch authorities say they have frozen or seized more than €200 million (more than $220 million) worth of assets from individuals or companies sanctioned in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The Netherlands' Central Bank President, Klaas Knot, also said he expected that figure would "rise further."

US Republicans introduce bill to ban Russian uranium

US Republican Senators on Thursday brought forward a bill designed to ban imports of Russian uranium.

The bill comes as the Biden administration ponders sanctions on Russian nuclear power firm Rosatom, a major supplier of fuel and technology to power plants around the world.

WHO says 43 confirmed attacks on health care workers

The World Health Organization (WHO) said that it had confirmed 43 attacks on health care workers in Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion on February 24.

Twelve people died and dozens more were injured in those attacks.

The director-general of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, informed the UN Security Council, without specifying who was responsible for the attacks.

"In any conflict, attacks on health care are a violation of international humanitarian law," he told the 15 member states on the Council.

US lawmakers vote to suspend normal trade ties with Russia

The US House of Representatives has voted to remove Moscow from the list of "most favored nations" for trade. The Senate is expected to quickly approve the measure, paving the way for President Joe Biden to raise tariffs on Russian imports.

The legislation, which had broad support from Democrats and Republicans, also includes Russian ally Belarus. The two countries will join Cuba and North Korea as the only countries that the US do not have regular trade relationships with.

"Both parties… remain united in sending Putin a clear message: his inhumane violence against the Ukrainian people will come at a crippling price," said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

The sanction, which follows the announcement of a US ban on Russian energy imports, as well as extensive sanctions on banks, businesses and oligarchs. The IMF has predicted that the penalties will see Russia fall into a "deep recession" this year.

'We're coming for your ill-begotten gains'

EU condemns 'war crimes' committed by Russia

The European Union has condemned "serious violations and war crimes" committed by Russia in Ukraine.

"The European Union condemns in the strongest possible terms the Russian Armed Forces and their proxies' continued targeting of Ukraine's civilian population and civilian infrastructure, as well as their siege of the city of Mariupol," EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement. 

Ukraine has accused Russia of bombing a theater in the eastern city of Mariupol where hundreds were taking shelter. Mariupol's city hall says some 80% of residential housing in the city has been destroyed. It said it was "clarifying information on victims" of the theater shelling.

"Such deliberate attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure are shameful, reprehensible and totally unacceptable. They constitute serious violations of international humanitarian law," Borrell said.

"The perpetrators of these serious violations and war crimes, as well as the responsible government officials and military leaders will be held accountable," he said.

Earlier on Thursday, Ukraine's Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov urged EU lawmakers to recognize Russian President Vladimir Putin as a "war criminal" and step up the bloc's arms supplies to fight Moscow's forces. 

Putin’s war: No mercy for civilians?

G7 demands aid should enter stricken cities

Members of the G7 group of industrialized nations have demanded that Russia allow humanitarian aid into the besieged port city of Mariupol and other places surrounded by Moscow's forces.

"The Russian leadership has to immediately provide for humanitarian access as well as humanitarian aid to be delivered to Mariupol and other besieged cities," read the statement by the foreign ministers of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States.

The group's members said they would commit themselves to stockpiling and distributing humanitarian aid, as well as making sure that Ukraine's neighbors receive the assistance they need.

Ukrainian MP: Attack on sheltering women and children 'intentional'

Ukrainian lawmaker Dmytro Gurin told DW that before a theater being used as a shelter in the besieged city of Mariupol was hit by a bomb, clear efforts had been made to communicate to the Russian army that women and children were sheltering there.

"Of course it was deliberate. The theater building stands alone and the closest buildings are like 100 meters away."

Gurin said the word "children" was written in very big letters outside the theater [in front and behind] so it could be seen from the air.

"At 2 p.m. one of the survivors from Mariupol, the refugees, told on the Ukrainian television that there is a bomb shelter where women and children are in the basement trying to stay safe from the constant bombardment."

"And in 20 minutes, a plane went there and dropped a super powerful bomb. So it's intentional and it's it cannot be a mistake. Exactly. And the pilot, he knew what he did."

Gurin said that Russia was trying to starve Mariupol into submission, comparing it to "Auschwitz or Treblinka…it’s mass murder."

Bombing of Mariupol theater deliberate: Ukrainian MP Dmytro Gurin

Blinken echoes Biden's war crimes comment

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said  he agrees with US President Joe Biden that war crimes have been committed in Ukraine.

Blinken added that US experts are in the process of documenting and evaluating potential war crimes there.

"Intentionally targeting civilians is a war crime," Blinken told reporters, saying that he found it "difficult to conclude that the Russians are doing otherwise" after the destruction witnessed in recent weeks.

Blinken added that he had not seen any meaningful efforts by Russia to use diplomacy to bring the war to an end.

On the contrary, the Secretary of State added, Putin's remarks on Wednesday suggested he was moving in the opposite direction from diplomacy.

The Russian president on Wednesday lashed out at opponents of the war in his country. He labeled them "scum and traitors,'' signaling an even harsher crackdown on domestic opposition to the invasion.

Does Putin want total devastation?

Latvia joins Baltic neighbors in call for no-fly zone

Latvia's parliament has joined the legislatures of Estonia and Lithuania to call for the establishment of a no-fly zone over Ukraine. 

The Saeima People's Assembly in Riga urged the United Nations to take the appropriate steps without delay to protect human lives and make sure Ukraine's nuclear power plants are safe.

Latvian lawmakers also demanded that measures be taken as soon as possible to ensure safe humanitarian corridors on Ukrainian territory. 

Mariupol council says 350,000 still sheltering

The city council of the Ukrainian port of Mariupol has said more than 350,000 people are still taking shelter in the besieged city.

The authority said only about 30,000 people had left the city so far.

It also said work was ongoing to determine the number of possible casualties from the Wednesday bombing of a theater where many people were hiding as Russia continued to shell the city.

The search for survivors at the theater continued on Thursday. The building reportedly survived the impact for the most part, but the entrance was blocked by rubble.

Inside, hundreds of men, women and children, possibly up to 1,000 according to some officials, had been sheltering.

Mariupol has represented the worst humanitarian catastrophe of the war, with hundreds of thousands of people forced to hide and take shelter in basements with no food, water or power for weeks

Russian-European Mars mission suspended

The European Space Agency (ESA) confirmed that it's indefinitely suspending its ExoMars rover mission with partner Roscosmos, Russia's state space corporation.

The ESA had previously said the mission was "very unlikely" due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. 

"We deeply deplore the human casualties and tragic consequences of the aggression towards Ukraine," an ESA statement said. "While recognizing the impact on scientific exploration of space, ESA is fully aligned with the sanctions imposed on Russia by its member states." 

Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin said ESA's announcement was a "shame." 

"This is a very bitter (decision) for all the enthusiasts of space," Rogozin said on Telegram. He added that Russia will "conduct this research expedition on our own."

The ExoMars mission had already been pushed back from 2020 due to the COVID pandemic. It would have blasted off on a Russian Proton-M rocket from the Baikonur launch site in Kazakhstan in September. 

Ukrainian officials say 21 dead after shelling of eastern town

Local officials said shelling of the town of Merefa, outside the city of Kharkiv, killed at least 21 people and injured 25. 

Regional prosecutors said artillery fire hit a school and a cultural center in Merefa.  

Along with their statement, prosecutors shared an image showing a building of several stories that was destroyed in the middle with windows blown out and emergency workers combing through the wreckage.

Merefa Mayor Veniamin Sitov said the attack occurred just before dawn on Thursday.

Erdogan invites Putin for talks with Zelenskyy

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is said to have offered to Vladimir Putin to host him and Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskyy for talks, according to his office. The offer was reportedly communicated to Putin during a phone call between the two leaders. 

A Turkish government statement said Erdogan told Putin that agreement on certain issues could require a meeting between the leaders. Erdogan also told Putin that a lasting ceasefire could lead the way to a long-term solution, according to the statement. 

Both Kiev and Moscow have expressed openness to having Turkey mediate the talks and offer security guarantees for a potential peace accord. 

Canada to sanction Belarusian officials 

Canada's government said it would impose sanctions on 22 senior officials of Belarus's Department of Defense, over their support for Russia's invasion of Ukraine. 

"Just as Canada is imposing severe sanctions on the Russian regime, Belarusian leadership must also be held accountable for enabling and supporting Vladimir Putin's unprovoked attacks," Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said in a statement. "We will not hesitate to take further action." 

It comes as diplomats at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva voiced outrage at Belarus for "enabling" Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

A wide range of countries decried Minsk's role in supporting Moscow's war, with US Ambassador Michele Taylor saying Belarus was now party to "a dangerous crisis which could irrevocably harm global security and that of every sovereign state." 

'Kidnapped' Melitopol mayor was reportedly exchanged for 9 Russians

The mayor of the Ukrainian city of Melitopol, who Kyiv had said was abducted by Russian forces last week, has been freed, according to Ukrainian officials.

Melitopol Mayor Ivan Fedorov was released on Wednesday, Ukraine's presidential office said.

Local media reported, citing officials, that his release was in exchange for nine captured Russian conscripts.

Fedorov appeared in a video after his release, in which he thanked President Zelenskyy "for not letting me down." 

Ukrainian lawmakers had said Russian forces abducted him because he had refused "to cooperate with the enemy."

German police report 187,428 refugees arrived from Ukraine

German Interior Ministry said 187,428 people fleeing the war in Ukraine have arrived in Germany. "Most of them are women, children and old people," it added.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Berlin's central train station has become "something of a symbol of willingness to help" as he thanked volunteers who welcome refugees.

Steinmeier called on the federal, state and local governments in Germany to work together to help Ukrainian war refugees. 

Refugees from Ukraine arrive in Germany

The UN's refugee agency, UNHCR, said more than 100,000 people fled Ukraine over the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of refugees since the war started to 3,169,897.

"Hour by hour, minute by minute, people are fleeing the terrifying reality of violence in Ukraine. Unless the conflict ends, this heart-breaking crisis is set to grow. We need peace, now," the UNHCR said.

According to the agency, six in 10 Ukrainian refugees crossed the Polish border, or some 1,916,445 people so far. 

Ukrainian MP says dozens rescued from Mariupol theater

Ukrainian member of parliament Olga Stefanishyna said around 130 people were rescued from a theater in the port city of Mariupol after it was bombed on Wednesday. 

"Good news that we need so urgently. The air raid shelter under the theatre of Mariupol has stood up to it. Around 130 people have already been saved," Stefanishyna said in a Facebook post. 

"It's a miracle," she said, adding that the rescuers were still searching for more survivors. 

Ukrainian authorities had said that over 1,000 people had been hiding in the theater's bomb shelter when a Russian airstrike hit. 

HRW urges Ukraine to stop posting footage of Russian prisoners

Rights group Human Rights Watch called on Ukraine to stop publishing videos of captured Russian soldiers as it violated the Geneva conventions.

"The obligation to protect POWs (prisoners of war) from being objects of public curiosity, as well as protecting them from intimidation or humiliation, is part of the broader requirement to ensure their humane treatment and protect their families from harm," said HRW's senior legal advisor Aisling Reidy. "The Ukrainian authorities should stop posting these videos online."

HRW noted that it documented numerous violations and apparent war crimes by Russian forces, but stressed that Ukraine still had to uphold "clear obligations" of human rights.

"The violations by Russian forces are pervasive and widespread, causing intense civilian harm," Reidy said. "At the same time, Ukraine has clear obligations that it must uphold, including lawful treatment of POWs."

In a separate statement, HRW reported that Russian forces fired cluster munition rockets into the densely populated city of Mykolaiv in southern Ukraine, killing and injuring several civilians in multiple attacks.

The rights group noted that cluster munitions are subject to an international treaty ban, citing its long-lasting danger to civilians.

Stoltenberg: NATO has 'responsibility' to prevent escalation

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance is determined to stop the war in Ukraine from escalating further.

"NATO has a responsibility to prevent this conflict from escalating further. That would be even more dangerous and cause more suffering, deaths and destruction," Stoltenberg told a joint news conference in Berlin with Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

Stoltenberg and Scholz reiterated their support for Ukraine and sharply criticized Russian President Putin for the war. 

"This is President Putin's war. He must stop the war, withdraw his forces and engage in diplomacy in good faith," Stoltenberg said. 

Stoltenberg warns Russia

UK says will deploy Sabre missile system in Poland

British Defense Minister Ben Wallace said the UK will deploy its Sky Sabre missile system in Poland as NATO moves to bolster the security of its eastern flank.

"We are going to deploy the Sky Sabre medium-range, anti-air missile system to Poland with about 100 personnel to make sure that we stand alongside Poland, protecting her airspace from any further aggression by Russia," Wallace told a news conference, according to the Reuters news agency.

Wallace made the announcement during a trip to Warsaw. 

Russia rejects ICJ order to halt invasion

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed an order by the United Nation's highest court, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), to suspend military action in Ukraine. 

"We cannot take this decision into account," Peskov said, adding that both parties — Moscow and Kyiv — had to agree for the ruling to be implemented. 

ICJ judges in The Hague announced their ruling a day earlier in a case raised by Ukraine to challenge the Russian invasion. 

Rulings by the ICJ are binding, but the court has no executive means to implement them. 

Search for Mariupol theater survivors underway

The bomb shelter underneath the drama theater in the besieged city of Mariupol is said to have withstood a Russian airstrike, city officials said, adding that there may be survivors. 

"The bomb shelter held. Now the rubble is being cleared. There are survivors. We don't know about the number of victims yet," mayoral adviser Petro Andrushchenko told Reuters. 

Ukrainian lawmaker Serhiy Taruta wrote that some survivors had already emerged. "After a terrible night of uncertainty, on the morning of the 22nd day of the war finally good news from Mariupol! The bomb shelter has held," Taruta wrote. 

"People are coming out alive!" adding that the removal of the rubble had begun. 

Ukraine war a wall through Europe, Zelenskyy tells Bundestag   

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke directly to Germany's lawmakers in a video call on Thursday. The address follows a series of appeals Zelenskyy had been making to world powers, seeking to drum up support after Russia invaded his country.  

Zelenykyy warned German MP's that Russia was trying to build a new wall against freedom.

"It's not a Berlin Wall, it is a wall in central Europe between freedom and bondage and this Wall is growing bigger with every bomb" dropped on Ukraine," he said.

"Dear Mr. Scholz, tear down this wall," Zelenykyy added, evoking US President Ronald Reagan's Cold War appeal to then Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Berlin in 1987.

The Ukrainian president previously addressed the Canadian parliament and the US Congress, calling for tougher economic sanctions on the Kremlin and enablers of the invasion. 

Zelenskyy: 'Chancellor Scholz, please break down this wall'

Mariupol council will 'never forgive' theater attack

Ukraine claimed on Wednesday that Russia had destroyed a theater in the besieged port city of Mariupol. Russia disputed the claim, as it had with explosions last week at a maternity hospital, claiming that a Ukrainian nationalist regiment, the Azov Batallion, was behind the attack. 

A post on Telegram from the Mariupol local council appeared to suggest that as many as 1,000 people were sheltering inside. 

"Today, the invaders destroyed the Drama Theater. A place, where more than a thousand people found refuge. We will never forgive this," the Mariupol local council said in a Telegram post.

The number of casualties from the incident is still not known.

Ukraine's Foreign Minister said that "the Russians could not have not known this was a civilian shelter. Satellite images of the building showed the words "children" written in Russian on either side of it, presumably in the hope that this could be seen by either pilots or artillery units.

Russia 'bombing civilian targets'

Europeans are defying Putin by helping refugees, says migration expert

An expert on forced migration has told DW that Russian President Vladimir Putin's plan to "destabilize" Europe with an influx of refugees from war-torn Ukraine has failed. 

Gerald Knaus, chairman of the European Stability Initiative, said: "I am sure that Vladimir Putin had the intention these people would destabilize Europe. A large number of refugees would scare the Europeans. And it's not happened. If the Europeans mobilize, they can defy his blackmail."

To give an idea of the magnitude of the migration following the conflict, Knaus used the influx of refugees in Europe in 2015 as an example, where "the big refugee movement in the Aegean, saw 1 million people" coming "from Turkey to Greece in 1 year. Now, 1 million people come from Ukraine to the EU in 1 week."

Ukrainian refugees find comfort with hosts

Russian ballerina quits Bolshoi Theater over invasion

Russian prima ballerina Olga Smirnova has quit Moscow's Bolshoi Theater to join the Dutch National Ballet. She made the decision over "incredibly sad circumstances" in reference to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Smirnova took to Telegram earlier this month to say she was "against war with all the fibers of my soul."

Ukraine prosecutor general seeks punishment for 'war criminal' Putin

Ukraine's prosecutor general has welcomed the International Court of Justice's ruling for Russia to "immediately suspend" military operations in Ukraine.

Iryna Veneditktova told DW it as an "important first step" for Ukraine though "we understand that such decisions cannot stop the war, can't punish the people who are guilty in the deaths of Ukrainian citizens."

The prosecutor wants to eventually see proceedings brought against Russian "soldiers, their top management, and the main war criminal of the 21st century — President Putin" over the "brutal and aggressive war."

Ukraine's prosecutor general speaks to DW

Japan: Sanctions on Russia needed

Japanese sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine are necessary, even if they squeeze energy supplies.

That is the view of Taro Kono, a former defense chief and ex-foreign minister. Kono says Japan may one day need to call on allies to help it counter China.

"We need to tell the people in Japan that in order to protect ourselves we need to help the others too," Kono told the Reuters news agency. "If there is any aggression anywhere on this planet, we need to stop them."

Japan sees neighboring China as its primary national security threat, followed by North Korea and Russia.

Summary of Wednesday's events in Ukraine-Russia crisis

The United Kingdom, United States, Albania, France, Norway, and Ireland requested an emergency UN Security Council meeting, asking for it to take place on Thursday.

Ukraine accused Russia of bombing a theater in Mariupol. Hundreds of people were said to have been sheltering there at the time.

Prosecutors in France opened a war crime investigation into the death of Franco-Irish Fox News cameraman Pierre Zakrzewski.

The Kremlin said US President Joe Biden's characterization of Russian leader Vladimir Putin as a war criminal was "unacceptable and unforgivable," the Tass news agency reported.

Russia released Ivan Fedorov, the mayor of the southeastern Ukrainian city of Melitopol.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Europe would "suffer" over the sanctions it has imposed.

rc, fb, jcg, jsi/kb (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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