New Russian law on ‘false information’ on the use of the army against militants

Some 130 people have been rescued so far from a theater in the besieged city of Mariupol which was hit by a Russian airstrike, but ‘hundreds’ of others are still trapped under the rubble, Ukraine’s president says Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Meanwhile, Russian forces have continued their relentless and indiscriminate bombardment of Ukrainian cities despite international calls for an immediate ceasefire.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, despite a plea from German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to end the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, made a defiant appearance in front of a huge crowd at a state-sponsored stadium concert of Moscow, using the location to justify the invasion of Ukraine. Reports indicate that many public sector workers were forced to attend the event.

US President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping discussed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Beijing’s stance on it during a two-hour phone call on March 18, the House said. Blanche, after Washington warned Beijing that it would be held accountable for any action it took. to support Russia’s aggression, and will risk sanctions.

China has refused to condemn Russia’s actions in Ukraine or call them an invasion. He says he recognizes Ukraine’s sovereignty but that Russia has legitimate security concerns that must be addressed.

Zelenskiy said in a video posted on Facebook on March 18 that rescue operations at the Mariupol theater site would continue even as Russian forces continued to bombard the besieged port city. “Hundreds of Mariupol residents are still under the rubble,” he said.

The theater was serving as a shelter for hundreds of residents trapped inside the city when Russian shells destroyed it on March 16.

Officials have not yet said how many people, if any, died in the attack. They said most were under the theater inside a bomb shelter, which survived the blasts intact.

The attack on a civilian building with the inscription “children” in Russian, which was clearly visible from the air, triggered a wave of international revulsion and pressured Russia’s few remaining allies – notably China – to that they condemn Moscow’s deliberate targeting of non-military sites during the war, which began on February 24.

The word “children” is written in large white letters in Russian on satellite images of the Mariupol theater taken on March 14.

Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boichenko told the BBC that fighting for the strategic Black Sea port had reached the city center. Some 350,000 people remain stranded inside the city in horrific conditions, according to aid workers.

WATCH: A hospital in Mariupol, a beleaguered port city in southeastern Ukraine, is overflowing with patients. As Russian forces destroyed all other medical facilities in the city, it serves as an emergency ward, maternity ward and morgue.

In a phone call on March 18, French President Emmanuel Macron told Putin he was “extremely concerned” about the situation in Mariupol, the French presidential office said on March 18. The call lasted just over an hour, he added.

The Kremlin said Putin accused kyiv of ‘war crimes’ during the call, saying Moscow was doing ‘everything possible’ to avoid civilian deaths in Ukraine, despite overwhelming evidence documented by Western journalists. indiscriminate attacks by Russian forces against civilian targets.

“Attention has been drawn to the numerous war crimes committed daily by Ukrainian security forces, in particular the massive rocket and artillery attacks against the cities of Donbass. [under the control of Moscow-backed separatists]”, the Kremlin said of the call.

Putin told Macron that the Russian military is “doing everything possible to protect the lives of peaceful civilians, including by organizing humanitarian corridors for their safe evacuation,” the Kremlin added.

Earlier, Germans Scholz and Putin spoke for nearly an hour about “the ongoing war in Ukraine and efforts to end it,” Scholz’s office said in a statement. declaration March 18.

He gave no further details, but the Kremlin said in a separate statement. declaration that “the Russian side is ready to continue the search for solutions in accordance with its well-known principled approaches”.

Live briefing: Russia invades Ukraine

RFE/RL Ukraine live briefing brings you all the latest news on Russia’s unprovoked invasion of its neighbour, kyiv’s response, the plight of civilians and the Western reaction. The Live Briefing presents the latest developments and analysis, updates throughout the day.

Moscow’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine saw more than 187,000 people flee to Germany, according to the Interior Ministry, although experts say the number is likely much higher as many of the 2 million who entered Poland probably went on to Germany.

On the ground, missiles hit a maintenance facility near Lviv International Airport, while Poland’s Border Guard Service reported that more than 2 million refugees had entered Poland since Russia launched its invasion from Ukraine more than three weeks ago.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell had discussed protecting and helping Ukrainians who fled.

kuleba said on Twitter that he and Borrell also discussed a fifth round of EU sanctions against Russia for its unprovoked invasion.

The mayor of the western Ukrainian city of Lviv said earlier on March 18 that Russian rockets hit an airport maintenance plant near the city’s airport on March 18 as Japan and Australia were imposing new sanctions on Russian entities and that US President Joe Biden was preparing to speak with the Chinese President. Xi Jinping on Beijing’s position on Moscow’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadoviy said on March 18 that several missiles hit the military aircraft repair facility, sending a plume of smoke into the air. The strike also damaged a bus repair facility. No casualties were reported immediately.

Russian forces continued their assault on other Ukrainian cities, including Kyiv, where shelling was reported in the suburbs. Early morning barrages hit a residential building in the Podil district, killing at least one person, according to emergency services.

Massive casualties were also reported following a missile attack on a Ukrainian army barracks in the southern city of Mykolaiv, with one account of at least 45 people dead.

The missiles that hit Lviv were launched from the Black Sea, the Ukrainian Air Force’s Western Command said on Facebook, adding that two of the six missiles launched were shot down.

Across Ukraine, hospitals, schools, residential areas and buildings where people have sought refuge have been attacked, prompting world leaders to push for an investigation.

The UN said at least 816 civilians had been killed and 1,333 injured in Ukraine up to March 17.

According to the UN human rights office, most of the casualties are due to explosive weapons such as heavy artillery fire and multiple rocket launchers, as well as missiles and airstrikes.

The true toll is likely much higher, he said, as he was unable to collect information on some of the hardest-hit cities, including Mariupol.

Earlier on March 18, Japan and Australia announced separate measures sanctioning Russian individuals and organizations as punishment for invading Ukraine.

Japan will impose sanctions on 15 Russian individuals and nine organisations, including defense officials and state arms exporter Rosoboroneksport, while Australia will target two Russian billionaires – Oleg Deripaska and Viktor Vekselberg – linked to its mining industry .

Also on March 18, Pope Francis called the war in Ukraine a “perverse abuse of power” that condemned defenseless people to violence.

“The tragedy of war unfolding in the heart of Europe has left us stunned,” he said.

The Pope did not name Russia in any of his condemnations, but he used phrases such as “unacceptable armed aggression”.

His latest condemnation came in a message to a conference of the Catholic Church in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, which opened its doors to refugees.

With reports from the Ukrainian service of RFE/RL, AP, Reuters and AFP