Donetsk Regional Theatre of Drama was destroyed by an airstrike in Mariupol. (Reuters)
Ukraine has claimed Russia destroyed a theatre harbouring more than a thousand people in the besieged port city of Mariupol. Moscow denied targeting civilians and Russia's defence ministry said its forces had not struck the building.
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The UN's top court, International Court of Justice (ICJ), on Wednesday ordered Russia to suspend its invasion of Ukraine, saying it was "profoundly concerned" by Moscow's use of force.
"The Russian Federation shall immediately suspend military operations that it commenced on 24 February on the territory of Ukraine," pending the final decision in the case, presiding judge Joan Donoghue told the International Court of Justice, or ICJ.
International outrage against Moscow grew on Thursday after the alleged Russian attack on the theatre. "Today, the invaders destroyed the Drama Theatre. A place, where more than a thousand people found refuge. We will never forgive this," the Mariupol local council said in a Telegram post.
Both Russia and Ukraine have continued talks to reach a negotiated settlement through the talks being held in Belarus. Ukraine has rejected proposals put forward by Russia to become a neutral country, like Austria or Sweden.
The US has establised the first high-level contact between the two countries since the invasion. US national security adviser Jake Sullivan spoke with Nikolay Patrushev, the secretary of Russia's Security Council, in the first publicly disclosed contact and told the Russian leader that if Moscow is "serious about diplomacy then Moscow should stop attacking Ukrainian cities and towns," the statement said.
In a speech before the US Congress, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky likened the invasion of his country to the attack on Pearl Harbor that drew the US into World War II. "Our country experienced the same every day," he said.
The invasion is going to plan, Putin said in a televised address although he admitted that while the West's "economic blitzkrieg" against Moscow has failed, the situation is "not easy" for Russians.
US President Joe Biden - who called Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin a war criminal - has announced $1 billion in new security help and the deployment of longer-range weapons to Ukraine on Wednesday -- assuring the ally of America's "unprecedented" support in its war with Russia.
The cash, approved with Russian forces closing in on Ukraine's besieged capital Kyiv, includes $200 million allocated over the weekend and $800 million in new funds from an aid package approved last week by Congress.
Ukraine handed over nine captured Russian soldiers to secure the freedom of the mayor of the city of Melitopol, who was detained last week, the Interfax Ukraine news agency quoted a senior official as saying. More than 3 million people have fled Ukraine to neighbouring countries in the three weeks of Russian invasion.