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Rocket attack kills 21 near Kharkiv, Ukraine; Mariupol theater survivors rescued

Rocket attack kills 21 near Kharkiv, Ukraine; Mariupol theater survivors rescued
A woman poses for a photo next to a damaged building in the aftermath of a shelling in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Thursday as the Russian invasion of Ukraine enters its fourth week. Photo by Vasiliy Zhlobsky/EPA-EFE

March 17 (UPI) -- A rocket attack on the western Ukrainian town of Merefa left at least 21 people dead and 25 others injured Thursday, the town's mayor announced.

Mayor Veniamin Sitov said the early-morning attack destroyed a school and community center. Merefa is a town of about 21,000 people located 13 miles southwest of the larger city of Kharkiv.

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As Ukraine's second-largest city and located in the northeast near the Russian border, Kharkiv has been the focus of Moscow's attempts at capture. Ukrainian forces have so far held Russian troops at bay, but rockets, missiles and other artillery have pounded the city, reducing much of it to rubble.

Kharkiv's emergency services agency said at least 500 civilians in the city of 1.5 million have been killed. Much of the population are ethnic Russians and speak Russian, The New York Times reported.

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"Kharkiv is not yet completely destroyed, but we hear constant shelling, constant bombing," resident Natalka Zubar told the Times. "It's a place of constant airborne terror."

New satellite images showed significant damage from Russian bombs across Ukraine on Thursday.

The satellite images from Maxar Technologies show major destruction from bombs in Volnovakha, about 35 miles north of Mariupol, and a number of homes on fire in eastern Chernihiv.

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The images also show an airfield at the Kharkiv Aircraft Manufacturing Co. that's littered with impact craters.

It's not yet known how many people have been killed or injured from a Russian attack on a theater in the surrounded town of Mariupol on Wednesday. The theater was being used as a bomb shelter and officials believed more than 1,000 people were inside.

Sergiy Taruta, the former head of the Donetsk region, announced Thursday that about 130 survivors of the bombing were brought to safety.

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"After an awful night of not knowing, we finally have good news from Mariupol on the morning of the 22nd day of the war," he wrote on Facebook, according to CNN. "The bomb shelter was able to hold. The rubble is beginning to be cleared. People are coming out alive."

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Taruta said rescue efforts at the theater were slowed by a lack of civil services and the constant threat of Russian attacks.

"People are doing everything themselves. My friends went to help, but due to constant shelling, it was not safe. People are clearing away the rubble themselves. There is no rescue operation, because all the services that are supposed to rescue people, to treat them, to bury them, these services no longer exist," he said in an appearance on Ukrainian television.

Despite continued Russian bombardment, a British intelligence report released on Thursday said that Moscow's advances have "largely stalled on all fronts."

"Russian forces have made minimal progress on land, sea and air in recent days and they continue to suffer heavy losses," the report states.

"Ukrainian resistance remain staunch and well-coordinated. The vast majority of Ukrainian territory, including all major cities, remains in Ukrainian hands."

In a virtual address to the German Parliament on Thursday, Zelensky evoked images of the Berlin Wall in calling for further aid from Germany and expedited membership to the European Union.

Zelensky directly appealed to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz by echoing a famous call from U.S. President Ronald Reagan over Russia's efforts to create a political wall with Ukrainian invasion.

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"Mr. Scholz, tear down this wall," Zelensky said, according to The New York Times.

The remarks came one day after Zelensky made an address to a joint session of U.S. Congress, during which he urged a no-fly zone over Ukraine and more aid to halt Russian aggression.

Scenes from the rubble: Russian forces attack Ukraine capital, Kyiv

Ukrainian service members stand beside a damaged building in a residential area after shelling in Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 18. Photo by Vladyslav Musiienko/UPI | License Photo

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