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The assault on Mariupol has revealed the full extent of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s determination to take Ukraine as he claims that his country will undergo a natural and necessary “self-purification” of “traitors.”
“The Russian people will always be able to distinguish true patriots from scum and traitors and simply spit them out like a fly that accidentally flew into their mouths,” Putin said Wednesday. “I am convinced that such a natural and necessary self-purification of society will only strengthen our country, our solidarity, cohesion and readiness to respond to any challenges.”
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Putin compared the West to Nazi Germany and accused Russians who opposed the war of having a “slave-like” mentality, The New York Times reported. He labeled the conflict “a struggle for our sovereignty, for the future of our country and our children.”
But a fresh crackdown on anti-war sentiment – including a criminal case against a popular lifestyle blogger – pales in comparison to the horrors in Mariupol where the Russian military has appeared to overcome any hesitation about pulling its punches.
Russia on Thursday bombed a theater in which thousands had taken refuge, even though satellite footage shows that the word for “children” in Russian was written on the ground near the theater, according to Ukrainian officials in the city. Ukraine’s foreign affairs minister Dmytro Kuleba called the attack “another horrendous war crime in Mariupol.”
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The bodies of children pile up in a narrow trench hastily dug into the ground in the city. Mass graves now litter the outskirts, with citizens working fast in order to bury the dead and minimize the risk of danger to themselves.
“The only thing (I want) is for this to be finished,” raged worker Volodymyr Bykovskyi, pulling crinkling black body bags from a truck. “Damn them all, those people who started this!”
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Appeals for humanitarian corridors to evacuate civilians remain unfulfilled, but Ukrainian officials said Wednesday that 30,000 people have fled in car convoys.
Airstrikes and shells strike civilian infrastructure, such as the maternity hospital, the fire department, homes, a church, a field outside a school, while Putin continued to claim that Russia would do no such thing.
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The surrounding roads are mined and the city’s port remains blocked as food runs out and the Russians cut off any attempts at humanitarian aid.
“They have a clear order to hold Mariupol hostage, to mock it, to constantly bomb and shell it,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said last week.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.