Ukrainian officials said Wednesday that Russian troops bombed a theater in the southern port city of Mariupol where “hundreds” of people had been sheltering from the ongoing Russian attack.
The Russian word for “children” was painted on the pavement in huge white letters on two sides of the building, according to Reuters.
There was no immediate information on the number of injuries or deaths.
Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba said the Drama Theater had been destroyed, calling it a “horrendous war crime.”
“Russians could not have not known this was a civilian shelter,” Kuleba said in a tweet.
While critics of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine have been calling him a “war criminal” for weeks, on Wednesday U.S. President Joe Biden joined them.
“He’s a war criminal,” Biden said plainly.
Russian troops have been laying siege to Mariupol for about two weeks, encircling the city and largely preventing civilians from leaving. Electricity, food, water and medicine are all running out. It’s a medieval tactic that Putin has used before with devastating consequences in Aleppo, Syria, in 2016 and in Grozny, Chechnya, in 2000.
The plight of Mariupol has been chronicled for the Western world by two Associated Press journalists, who believe they are the only international members of the press still in the city. People have been melting snow for drinking water, they report, and venturing out only for essentials before returning to wherever they are sheltering from the persistent shelling.
The number of casualties is unknown because it is often too dangerous to venture out to find the wounded and the dead; the official number is around 2,400, according to The New York Times.
Russia claims that its forces are not targeting or killing civilians, but Russian artillery has decimated apartment buildings and hospitals, and killed people along evacuation routes.
Ukrainian officials say Russian troops took 500 people ― about 100 doctors and patients and 400 people who lived in houses nearby ― hostage at one hospital in Mariupol late Tuesday. The troops allegedly rounded up neighbors and drove them to the hospital, using gunfire to prevent anyone from trying to leave.
In the northern Ukrainian city of Chernihiv, Russians “shot and killed 10 people standing in line for bread,” the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv said Wednesday.
The International Criminal Court at The Hague announced earlier this month that it was investigating whether war crimes were being committed by the Russians. Part of the rationale Putin has used to justify his invasion was a purported “genocide” in the eastern part of Ukraine, but the United Nations’ International Court of Justice said Wednesday that its investigation had found no evidence of such a genocide.
In a largely symbolic gesture, the ICJ ordered Russia to halt its assault.