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Ukraine Warns Of New ‘Wall’ In Europe As Russian Strikes Kill 21

KYIV  –  Ukraine’s leader on Thursday charged Moscow with building a new Cold War wall across Europe “between freedom and bondage”, as his government said Russian shelling had killed 21 civilians near one city.

Three weeks in to their devastating invasion, Russian forces also stood accused of bombing a theater sheltering many civilians and marked with the word “children”.

Kyiv emerged from a 35-hour curfew to its own fresh destruction, as Russian troops try to encircle the Ukrainian capital as part of their slow-moving offensive.

Beneath a Kyiv apartment block damaged by a downed rocket, AFP journalists saw a distraught man crouched over a body draped in a bloodstained cloth, after the latest in a series of early-morning attacks. The 21 were killed when overnight artillery fire pounded a school and a cultural centre in the town of Merefa outside the hard-hit eastern city of Kharkiv, regional prosecutors said.

In besieged Mariupol to the south, searchers were combing through the smoking rubble of the Drama Theatre.

Ukrainian officials said more than 1,000 civilians had been sheltering in a basement bomb shelter beneath the theatre, and that Russian shelling was continuing. Human Rights Watch said it was at least 500. President Volodymyr Zelensky said the “number of dead is not yet known” at the theatre, but the airborne attack showed “Russia has become a terrorist state”.

Zelensky addressed the German parliament a day after a speech to the US Congress, when he secured $1 billion in new US military aid, including Stinger anti-aircraft missiles used against Soviet forces in Afghanistan. Zelensky reached back to that Cold War era as he drew on a 1987 speech in Berlin by US president Ronald Reagan: “Dear Mr Scholz, tear down this wall,” he implored German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

“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.” In an overnight video message, Zelensky also urged Russians to lay down their arms and abandon an invasion that has drawn swingeing Western sanctions against President Vladimir Putin’s regime.

“If your war, the war against the Ukrainian people, continues, Russia’s mothers will lose more children than in the Afghan and Chechen wars combined,” he said, referencing the thousands lost in those conflicts.

US President Joe Biden called Putin a “war criminal”, triggering fury in the Kremlin, as the Russian leader also lashed out at “scum and traitors” at home who he said were undermining the war effort.

Russia’s defence ministry denied it had targeted the theatre in Mariupol, where local officials say more than 2,000 people have died so far in indiscriminate Chechnya-style shelling.

The ministry said the building had been mined and blown up by members of Ukraine’s far-right Azov Battalion, a claim dismissed in the West as Russian disinformation.

Satellite images of the theatre on March 14 shared by private satellite company Maxar showed the words “children” clearly etched out in the ground in Russian on either side of the building.

Officials posted a photo of the building, its middle part completely destroyed and thick white smoke rising from the ruins.

“The only word to describe what has happened today is genocide, genocide of our nation, our Ukrainian people,” Mariupol mayor Vadim Boychenko said.

Addressing the Bundestag by video, Zelensky issued a strong rebuke of Germany’s years-long reluctance to sever energy and business ties with Russia.

“We turned to you,” he said. “We told you that Nord Stream (gas pipelines) was a kind of preparation for the war.

“And the answer we got was purely economic — it is economy, economy, economy but that was the mortar for the new wall.”

The broader economic consequences from the war could cut global growth by “over one percentage point” in the next 12 months, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development said.

However, NATO members have resisted Zelensky’s pleas for direct involvement through a no-fly zone over Ukraine, warning it could lead to World War III against nuclear-armed Russia.

Putin, at a televised government meeting Wednesday, insisted the invasion was “developing successfully”, adding: “We will not allow Ukraine to serve as a springboard for aggressive actions against Russia.”

He also condemned the Western sanctions as “economic blitzkrieg”, after Russia was frozen out of much of the Western financial system.

However, the Russian finance ministry said Thursday it had made interest payments worth $117.2 million on two foreign bonds, avoiding a default for now.