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Putin appears at big rally as troops press attack in Ukraine

Over 200,000 people attend rally and concert marking the eighth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula



Russian President Vladimir Putin waves during a concert marking the eighth anniversary of Russia's annexation of Crimea at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. — Reuters
Russian President Vladimir Putin waves during a concert marking the eighth anniversary of Russia's annexation of Crimea at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. — Reuters

By AP

Published: Fri 18 Mar 2022, 6:21 PM

Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared at a huge flag-waving rally in Moscow and praised his country’s troops on Friday as they pressed their lethal attacks on Ukrainian cities with shelling and missiles.

Moscow police said more than 200,000 people were in and around the Luzhniki stadium for the rally and concert marking the eighth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula, seized from Ukraine.

The event included well-known singer Oleg Gazmanov singing “Made in the U.S.S.R.,” with the opening lines “Ukraine and Crimea, Belarus and Moldova, It’s all my country.”

As Putin prepared to take the stage, speakers praised him as fighting “Nazism” in Ukraine, a claim flatly rejected by leaders across the globe.

Meanwhile, Russian forces continued to pound the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, and launched a barrage of missiles on the outskirts of the western city of Lviv.

The early morning attack on Lviv’s edge was the closest strike yet to the centre of the city, which has become a crossroads for people fleeing from other parts of Ukraine and for others entering to deliver aid or fight.

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In city after city around Ukraine, hospitals, schools and buildings where people sought safety have been attacked. Rescue workers searched for survivors in the ruins of a theatre that served as a shelter when it was blasted by a Russian airstrike on Wednesday in the besieged southern city of Mariupol.

Ludmyla Denisova, Ukrainian parliament’s human rights commissioner, said at least 130 people had survived the theatre bombing.

“But according to our data, there are still more than 1,300 people in these basements, in this bomb shelter,” Denisova told Ukrainian television. “We pray that they will all be alive, but so far there is no information about them.”

At Lviv, black smoke billowed for hours after the explosions, which hit a facility for repairing military aircraft near the city’s international airport, 6 kilometres from the centre. One person was wounded, the regional governor, Maksym Kozytskyy, said.

Multiple blasts hit in quick succession around 6am, shaking nearby buildings, witnesses said. The missiles were launched from the Black Sea, but the Ukrainian air force’s western command said it had shot down two of six missiles in the volley. A bus repair facility was also damaged, Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovyi said.

Lviv lies not far from the Polish border and well behind the front lines, but the area has not been spared Russia’s attacks. In the worst, nearly three dozen people were killed last weekend in a strike on a training facility near the city.

Lviv’s population has swelled by some 200,000 as people from elsewhere in Ukraine have sought shelter there.

Early morning barrages also hit a residential building in the Podil neighbourhood of Kyiv, killing at least one person, according to emergency services, who said 98 people were evacuated from the building. Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said 19 were wounded in the shelling.

Two others were killed when strikes hit residential and administrative buildings in the eastern city of Kramatorsk, according to the regional governor, Pavlo Kyrylenko.

In Kharkiv, a fire raged through a local market after shelling on Thursday. One firefighter was killed and another injured when new shelling hit as emergency workers fought the blaze, emergency services said.

The World Health Organisation said it has verified 43 attacks on hospitals and health facilities, with 12 people killed and 34 injured.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Thursday that American officials were evaluating potential war crimes and that if the intentional targeting of civilians by Russia is confirmed, there will be “massive consequences.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said early on Friday that Ukraine’s defences have proved much stronger than expected, and Russia “didn’t know what we had for defence or how we prepared to meet the blow”.

Both Ukraine and Russia this week reported some progress in negotiations. Earlier this week, an official in Zelensky’s office, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive talks, told the AP that Ukraine was prepared to discuss a neutral military status for the country in return, in part, for binding security guarantees.

Russia has demanded that NATO pledge never to admit Ukraine to the alliance or station forces there.

The fighting has led nearly 3.3 million people to flee Ukraine, the UN estimates. The death toll remains unknown, though Ukraine has said thousands of civilians have died.


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