Firefighters try to extinguish a fire broke out at the Saltivka construction market, hit by Russian heavy artillery in Kharkiv, Ukraine on March 16, 2022. (Photo: Andrea Carrubba/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

'Lives of Millions of Ukrainians' Depend on 'Intensified' Diplomacy: UN Political Chief

Rosemary DiCarlo also demanded "thorough investigation and accountability" for violations of international law.

As Ukrainians continued to suffer from Russia's deadly invasion, international political leaders on Thursday emphasized the importance of diplomatic discussions to end the war while also calling for probes of attacks on civilians and infrastructure.

"This week, there were positive signals reported regarding the ongoing direct talks between Ukrainian and Russian representatives," Rosemary DiCarlo, United Nations under-secretary-general for political and peacebuilding affairs, said Thursday. "We welcome all such engagements."

"However, we note that these signals have so far not translated into the cessation of hostilities that is so desperately needed," she told the U.N. Security Council, underscoring the need for "intensified and coordinated political efforts" to end the war.

The U.N. political chief specifically pointed to Mariupol, Ukraine, where "residents who have not been able to safely evacuate lack food, water, electricity, and medical care" while "uncollected corpses lie on city streets."

Russia on Wednesday allegedly bombed the Mariupol Drama Theater, where civilians had sought shelter. According toThe Guardian, Serhiy Taruta, the former Donetsk region head, said Thursday on Ukrainian television that of the 1,300 people he believed were in the building, 130 have been rescued.

The Mariupol City Council said in a statement Thursday that while casualties from the theater attack are still being verified, residents are enduring 50 to 100 artillery shells daily.

"The city has been under blockade for 16 days, more than 350,000 Mariupol residents continue to hide in shelters and basements from continuous shelling by Russian occupation forces," the council said. "About 80% of the city's housing stock has been hit, almost 30% of which cannot be restored."

Mariupol is far from the only targeted city. As CNNreported Thursday:

Russian shelling has hit Kharkiv's giant Barabashova market, setting off a series of fires, according to officials in the eastern Ukrainian city.

Videos show huge plumes of black smoke emanating from several parts of the market, suggesting the complex suffered multiple strikes.

DiCarlo said that "the devastation and suffering in Mariupol and Kharkiv raise grave fears about the fate of millions of residents of Kyiv and other cities facing intensifying attacks."

"International humanitarian law is crystal clear. Civilians are entitled to protection against the dangers arising from military operations. Direct attacks on civilians are prohibited," she added. "Yet, the magnitude of civilian casualties and the destruction of civilian infrastructure in Ukraine cannot be denied. This demands a thorough investigation and accountability."

"There must be a meaningful sustained political process to enable a peaceful settlement," she warned. "The lives of millions of Ukrainians and the peace and security of the entire region, and possibly beyond, depend on it."

As of Thursday, the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) had recorded at least 2,032 civilian casualties in Ukraine, including 780 killed and 1,252 injured, but noted that the true figures are likely "considerably higher." Additionally, more than three million people have fled to neighboring countries.

U.S. President Joe Biden and NATO have resisted calls--including from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy--to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine, fearing it could escalate the conflict. However, Biden and other opponents of Russian President Vladimir Putin's war have ramped up criticism.

After calling Putin a "war criminal" on Wednesday, Biden said Thursday that the Russian president is "murderous dictator, a pure thug who is waging an immoral war against the people of Ukraine."

In a 424-8 vote, the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday passed legislation to suspend normal trade relations with Russia and Belarus.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he expects "broad bipartisan support" for the bill in the upper chamber, adding that "both parties remain united in sending Putin a clear message: His inhumane violence against the Ukrainian people will come at a crippling price."

A U.S. citizen, identified by an official in Ukraine as James Whitney Hill, was among several people killed Thursday in the Ukrainian city of Chernihiv, which has endured intense and deadly shelling.

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