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About 1,000 Russian troops captive, says Ukraine’s Zelensky as war rages on

About 1,000 Russian troops have been taken captive by Ukrainian forces since Moscow launched an invasion of its western neighbor three weeks ago, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Berlin, 16 March 2022 (dpa/MIA) — About 1,000 Russian troops have been taken captive by Ukrainian forces since Moscow launched an invasion of its western neighbor three weeks ago, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

He gave the number during an online chat with Karim Khan, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, according to the Ukrinform news agency. The president said anyone responsible for war atrocities should be held accountable.

“Everyone knows what is happening,” said Zelensky, noting that there have been witnesses to and videos of atrocities, which, according to Ukraine, include targeting civilian dwellings.

Kyiv and Moscow have blamed each other for an alleged attack on a theater sheltering hundreds of civilians in the besieged Ukrainian port city of Mariupol on Wednesday.

Russian soldiers did not carry out any airstrikes on ground targets in Mariupol on Wednesday, the Russian Defense Ministry said, according to the Interfax agency. “According to available reliable data,” the Ukrainian nationalist Azov regiment had attacked the theatre building, which had already been mined earlier, it said.

But Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba blamed Russia for the attack. “Another horrendous war crime in Mariupol. Massive Russian attack on the Drama Theater where hundreds of innocent civilians were hiding. The building is now fully ruined. Russians could not have not known this was a civilian shelter,” tweeted Kuleba.

No information was available on fatalities or injuries.

Separately, a group of 10 people was executed in the northern Ukrainian city of Chernihiv while they were lined up waiting for bread, according to a report by public broadcaster Suspilne.

The report included a photo allegedly showing the corpses. Russia’s Defense Ministry denied the charges, arguing that none of its troops are in Chernihiv, and said the atrocity was either carried out by Ukrainian forces or that the entire thing was a ruse by Ukrainian intelligence.

The Ukrainian government also warned of a humanitarian catastrophe in the Kherson region, which has been captured by Russian troops.

“Due to the temporary occupation, people in the settlements, especially the smaller ones, lack medicines and, in some cases, food,” Lyudmyla Denisova, the Ukrainian parliament’s human rights commissioner, wrote on Telegram on Wednesday. She also said there were problems with electricity, gas and water supplies.

Russia says it has occupied Kherson, and since then there have been repeated reports from the region that Russian troops have abducted pro-Ukrainian local politicians.

On Wednesday, according to activists, the mayor of the city of Skadovsk, Olexander Yakovlev, and city councillor Yuri Palyukh were taken away. A large number of people demonstrated in front of the town hall for their release.

Yakovlev came forward a few hours later in a video. He said he was free and doing well, and that the Russians had only had a conversation with him. The missing mayor of the Russian-occupied southern Ukrainian city of Melitopol has also reappeared, according to Kyiv.

The UNIAN news agency reported that a locally organized prisoner exchange took place in the Sumy region of north-eastern Ukraine in a ratio of one Russian soldier to six Ukrainians.

On the war front, the Russian advance on the Ukrainian capital Kyiv has stalled, according to the Ukrainian military. The statement also said that Ukrainian soldiers were fending off attacks in the country’s east.

Meanwhile, Russia’s Defense Ministry has accused Ukraine of preparing a false-flag chemical weapons attack on civilians, spokesperson Igor Konashenkov said on Wednesday, according to state news agency TASS.

Western states have accused Russia of creating the same pretext itself to use chemical weapons.

Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the West of pushing Ukraine to prolong the bloodshed by supplying weapons and information and also sending mercenaries. However, Russia would not allow Ukraine to become a staging ground for aggression against Russia, he said.

The Kremlin leader defended Russia’s invasion of its neighbor. “All diplomatic options had been exhausted,” he said.

Putin also said the unprecedented sanctions targeting Russia, what he called the “economic blitzkrieg against Russia,” had not worked, while promising the Russian population help and relief.

The UN’s International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague ruled on Wednesday that Russia must immediately stop its invasion of Ukraine. The judgement is binding, but experts doubt that Moscow will comply with the order.

Diplomatic efforts to end the war continued on Wednesday, with both sides voicing cautious optimism about progress.

Ukrainian presidential advisor Mykhailo Podolyak confirmed the existence of a draft agreement with Russia, but dampened expectations.

Zelensky has meanwhile ordered a daily minute of silence at 9 am to remember the soldiers and civilians who have died in Russia’s attack on the country.

Efforts to assist increasingly desperate residents from besieged cities continued on Wednesday, although Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said it had not yet been possible to arrange new humanitarian corridors.

Vereshchuk accused Russian forces of shelling humanitarian convoys and gathering points. Russia, for its part, has made similar accusations against Ukrainian troops.

Kyiv has accused Russia of repeatedly targeting civilians – a claim which Moscow denies.

According to Kyiv, more than 100 children have been killed since the war began.

Ukraine’s prosecutor general, Iryna Venediktova, also reported that around 400 school buildings and teaching facilities have been attacked, and about 60 were completely destroyed.

In Brussels, NATO defense ministers discussed bolstering the alliance’s eastern flank permanently.

NATO has repeatedly denied Ukrainian appeals to establish a no-fly zone over the country, fearing a direct confrontation with Russia which US President Joe Biden warned would amount to “World War III.”

In a livestreamed address to the US Congress, Zelensky said “Russia has turned the Ukrainian sky into a source of death.

He said if Washington was unwilling to secure the skies of Ukraine, then it should send him fighter jets to defend his people.

Biden later announced further military aid to the tune of $800 million.

On Thursday, Zelensky is set to address Germany’s Bundestag by video. He has spoken to several legislative bodies over the past three weeks.

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