A spokesman for the Red Cross today said they were astonished and grateful for the generosity the Irish people have shown since the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine happened.
In the space of just under a fortnight €20m has been raised and 25,000 pledges of accommodation have been made,” he said.
“This is an unprecedented number of pledges, and we would ask those who have offered places of accommodation patience until we contact them. We have already started to house refugees who have been left traumatised by their experiences,” he added.
The latest figures come amid reports the Mariupol Theatre was last night bombed by Russian forces.
It was unclear what lay underneath the rubble, but reports claim at least 1,000 civilians may have been sheltering from the Russian bombs when the building was destroyed.
Satellite photos showed the Russian word “children” clearly written in large script on the ground outside the theatre. The few pictures to make it out of the near-blackout in the city last night showed smoke rising from the gaping hole in what is left of the white building, with debris strewn across the well-kept park with manicured bushes below broken trees.
The southern Ukrainian city of 450,000 people has become the most intense battleground of the invasion so far, subjected to three weeks of siege and shelling, which the Red Cross says has left “apocalyptic” conditions. Mariupol sits between eastern territory controlled by Russia-backed separatists on one side and the Crimean Peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014 on the other. Capturing it would give the Russians a clear land corridor all the way through, controlling the Sea of Azov.
Local officials have tallied more than 2,500 deaths in the siege, but many bodies are thought to lie uncollected and uncounted. They have speculated the toll could be closer to 20,000. Deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk said hundreds of staff and patients were being held hostage at a hospital Russian forces had captured.
Video from the theatre less than a week ago appears to show citizens, including children, packed in the dark in the basement. In the video, civilians, mostly women and children dressed in winter coats, queued up to what was once the theatre’s cloakroom to get their rations. Nearby, children in puffed jackets and woolen hats sat on the floor underneath the portraits of the theatre’s star actors.
A man who appeared to be an employee said they had taken all the fabric at the theatre, including the costumes, to make beds for the residents. He says under the torchlight: “People, listen to us: there are more than 1,000 people here including pregnant women and children. Please help us, please stop the war.”
He adds, before breaking into tears: “Give us a green corridor to take the people out, first women and the injured. I don’t know how and when – but please stop it.”
Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said the attack was “another horrendous war crime in Mariupol”.City authorities said they were trying to establish the number of casualties but the entrance to the bomb shelter under the theatre was blocked by debris.
“It is known that almost 1,000 civilians from Mariupol were hiding in the theatre. The number of dead and wounded is currently unknown,” said Ukraine’s interior ministry. “Many Mariupol residents hid in the theatre with small children. This theatre was a shelter in which the inhabitants of besieged Mariupol escaped from continuous shelling.”
Inna Sovsun, a member of Ukraine’s parliament, said: “They’re all under the rubble, which can’t be dismantled as the shelling continues.”
Russia’s defence ministry yesterday denied responsibility for the atrocity.
“Russian aircraft did not perform any tasks related to launching airstrikes on targets within the city limits of Mariupol on March 16,” the Russian military stated.
Russia also alleged that Ukrainian far-right nationalists, known as the Azov battalion, had been keeping civilians inside the theatre hostage and used the upper floors as firing positions.
A few hours before the bombing was reported, several Russian state media outlets warned about a false flag operation in Mariupol by the Ukrainian forces.
On Wednesday morning, a stream of cars arrived in Zaporizhzhia in the first major evacuation of civilians from the encircled Mariupol. An estimated 4,000 cars and 20,000 people reached safety after crossing the front line and spending the night in the open in temperatures dropping to –7C.
The convoy of family cars pulled into a supermarket car park to be met by volunteers and police. Car windows patched with plastic sheeting and shrapnel pocked bodywork bore testimony to the shelling in the past three weeks. White rags had been tied to car aerials and door handles to try to secure safe passage.
Ukrainian officials have for days been attempting to open a humanitarian corridor, but the new arrivals said that inside the city they had heard little or nothing of the arrangements.
Earlier attempts to evacuate from Mariupol fell apart amid mutual recriminations between the two sides and continued shelling, or fears the path was mined. With phones and internet connections down, those under siege had no news of the outside world, or information on how to get out. Instead, families or groups of friends had to wrestle with the decision to leave themselves.
Many decided to make a break for it on Tuesday only when they saw other cars setting out, or when rumours spread that a way might be clear.
“We thought we could be killed on the road, or we could be killed staying in Mariupol,” explained a 46-year-old woman called Victoria as she stepped out of her car after the 12-hour exodus.
Olga Olanava and her family gambled on getting out. Their fourth floor flat had been destroyed. A shell had hit a floor below them and then another hit a floor above them. Ms Olanava, a bank cashier, said: “There was no water, no electricity.”
With their flat destroyed, the family spent days taking what shelter they could in the block’s basement.
“There was no internet connection, no telephone. We had no idea what was going on. But we began to hear there might be a way out.” On Tuesday they departed with four carloads of friends and family, gradually linking up with other vehicles on the route out.
Her daughter, 25-year-old Lisa Pashkova, likened it to the deadly game show in Squid Game. Some of their relatives stayed, unwilling to take the risk.
Among those left behind are premature babies reportedly without their parents trapped in a hospital seized by Russian forces.
The Kremlin said on Thursday that many people in Russia were showing themselves to be traitors and pointed to those who were 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 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”.
Ukraine has legalised cryptocurrency in a landmark bill signed into law by President Volodymyr Zelensky.
The “Virtual Assets” bill establishes a legal framework for the use of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, determining their legal status and classification with regards to ownership and regulation.
More than $100 million worth of cryptocurrency has now been donated to Ukraine since Vice Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov publicly called for funds to “contribute to the Ukrainian victory as well as support civil people”.
The bill will allow crypto exchanges and companies to legally operate in Ukraine, with full access and support from the traditional financial sector.
“The Ministry of Finance is actively working to amend the tax and civil codes of Ukraine to fully launch the market for virtual assets,” the Ministry of Digital Transformation said in a statement.
“The signing of this law by the president is another important step towards bringing the crypto sector out of the shadows and launching a legal market for virtual assets in Ukraine.”
Alex Bornyakov, Ukraine’s deputy minister of digital transformation, said the new bill will offer “new economic opportunities” to the besieged people of Ukraine.
“We will do our best to bring the bright new future closer as soon as possible,” he tweeted.
A draft of the bill, which passed through Ukraine’s parliament last September with a near-unanimous vote, was originally vetoed by President Zelensky, who claimed at the time that the costs of establishing the regulatory body would be too great.
The signing of the bill on Wednesday moves Ukraine beyond the legal limbo it existed in before with regards to cryptocurrency – it was neither legal nor banned – but it does not go as far as El Salvador, which became the first country in the world last year to officially adopt bitcoin as a legal form of tender.
Ukraine hopes nine humanitarian corridors will operate on Thursday, including from Mariupol, the deputy prime minister has said.
Additional reporting: Telegraph
https://www.independent.ie/world-news/europe/irish-make-25000-pledges-of-accommodation-for-ukrainian-refugees-amid-hopes-for-humanitarian-corridors-to-operate-today-41456102.html Ukraine war Putin Kyiv: Russia accused of destroying theatre sheltering 1,000 civilians, Ukraine hopes for nine humanitarian corridors to operate today