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Survivors emerge from rubble of bombed theatre as Ukraine ‘could fight Russia to a standstill’

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Officials say “people are coming out alive” from a drama theatre in Mariupol that was bombed by the Russians while potentially hundreds of Ukrainian civilians were seeking shelter in the basement.

Ongoing shelling in the besieged city and the disintegration of rescue services have been hampering attempts to uncover survivors from the theatre’s ruins.

A former head of the Donetsk regional administration said “people are clearing away the rubble themselves”.

““People are doing everything themselves. My friends went to help, but due to constant shelling, it was not safe,” Sergiy Taruta told Ukrainian television.

“There is no rescue operation, because all the services that are supposed to rescue people, to treat them, to bury them, these services no longer exist.”

Meanwhile Western officials have told journalists it’s possible that Ukraine could fight Russia to a standstill.

Although the situation on the ground was not changing dramatically, they said Russia had not succeeded in achieving a strategic breakthrough since their invasion.

“Not only is it not going the way it was planned, but even as they have adjusted to a rather more grinding form of warfare, that is stalling as well,” an official said during a briefing.

However it would remain to be seen what Russian President Vladimir Putin would do next and whether he would “double down with greater brutality.”

Hope of more theatre survivors

Petro Andrushchenko, an adviser to Mariupol’s mayor, said some people had survived the blast that crumpled the city’s theatre.

“The bomb shelter held. Now the rubble is being cleared. There are survivors. We don’t know about the (number of) victims yet,” he told Reuters by phone.

The port city of Mariupol is encircled by Russian forces and has faced some of the fiercest bombardment of the conflict.

“The heart is breaking from what Russia does to our people, our Mariupol and our Donetsk region,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said after referring to the theatre attack.

Russia has denied bombing the theatre.

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the allegation that Russia had bombed the theatre was a “lie” and repeated Kremlin denials that Russian forces have targeted civilians since the February 24 invasion of Ukraine.

“Russia’s armed forces don’t bomb towns and cities,” she told in a briefing.

Tetyana Ignatchenko, spokesperson of the Donetsk Regional Military Administration, said there had been 1000 people inside the Mariupol theatre a week ago.

“But after that, many people were able to escape. We can’t say exactly how many people were in the theatre. We can only assume 400-500. Half of them.”

A Ukrainian parliamentarian said 130 civilians have far been rescued from the theatre.

“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,” Olga Stefanishyna wrote on Facebook.

“It’s a miracle,” she said, describing how rescue workers were removing rubble to free other survivors.

Satellite images of the theatre taken earlier this week before it was struck show a large structure with a red roof and the Russian word for “children” painted in large white letters on the tarmac at the front and back.

The Mariupol Drama Theatre with the word ‘children’ written in large white letters in Russian. Photo: Satellite image

US and China presidents to discuss Russia

US President Joe Biden will speak with Chinese President Xi Jinping to discuss ongoing economic competition between the two countries and Russia’s war against Ukraine, officials say.

The phone call scheduled for Friday is “part of our ongoing efforts to maintain open lines of communication” between the United States and China.

It follows an intense seven-hour meeting in Rome on Monday between White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan and senior Chinese foreign policy adviser Yang Jiechi.

US officials have accused China’s government of amplifying Russian “disinformation” that could be a pretext for Russia to attack Ukraine with chemical or biological weapons.

There are also reports — denied by the Kremlin — that Russia has reached out to China for aid as it faces sanctions and an invasion that faces stiff resistance by Ukrainians.

Schwarzenegger urges Putin: ‘Stop this war’

Arnold Schwarzenegger has spoken directly to Russians and Russian soldiers in a video address in which he sought to counteract the “propaganda” and “disinformation” behind the war in Ukraine.

The Austrian-born actor and former Governor of California described his almost life-long affection for Russians after meeting the world’s strongest man Yury Petrovich Vlasov when he was 14 years old.

“That’s why I hope you will let me tell you the truth about Russia,” he said in the nine-minute clip shared on Twitter.

Mr Schwarzenegger then outlined the “lies” that Russians had been fed by The Kremlin in order to justify the invasion and convince soldiers to fight.

He said Vladimir Putin’s claims that Moscow was attempting to ‘denazify’ Ukraine was not true as Ukraine’s president was a Jew whose father’s three brothers were murdered by the Nazis.

Mr Schwarzenegger said other lies included the number of Russian soldiers killed and the impact of the war on ordinary Ukraine citizens.

“When I see babies being pulled out of ruins, I think I am watching a documentary about the horrors of the Second World War, not the news of today,” he said.

“This is not a war to defend Russia like your fathers and your grandfathers fought. This is an illegal war.

“Your lives, your limbs, your futures are being sacrificed for a senseless war condemned by the entire world.”

Mr Schwarzenegger urged the people of Russia to see the truth for themselves and share this with others.

“Every bullet you shoot, you shoot a brother or a sister. Every bomb or shell that falls is not falling on an enemy but on a school or a home,” he said.

Mr Schwarzenegger closed his address with a direct word to Mr Putin and his cronies.

“To those in power in the Kremlin let me just ask you why would you sacrifice those young men for you own ambitions?

“And to president Putin I say: You started this war. You are leading this war, you can stop this war.”

 Kremlin slams Russian ‘traitors’

The Kremlin says many people in Russia are showing themselves to be “traitors”, pointing to those who are resigning from their jobs and leaving the country.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov made the comments a day after President Vladimir Putin delivered a stark warning to Russian “traitors” who he said the West wanted to use as a “fifth column” to destroy the country.

“In such difficult times… many people show their true colours. Very many people are showing themselves, as we say in Russian, to be traitors,” Peskov told reporters on a conference call.

“They vanish from society themselves. Some people are leaving their posts, some are leaving their active work life, some leave the country and move to other countries. That is how this cleansing happens.”

He was referring to Mr Putin’s comment on Wednesday that Russia would undergo a natural and necessary “self-cleansing” as people were able to “distinguish the true patriots from the scum and the traitors”.

-with AAP

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