“After an awful night of not knowing, we finally have good news from Mariupol on the morning of the 22nd day of the war. The bomb shelter [of the theatre] was able to hold. The rubble is beginning to be cleared. People are coming out alive,” the former Donetsk region head Sergei Taruta wrote in a Facebook post Thursday.
It was not yet clear whether all those who sheltered in the theater had survived. Ukrainian officials said 1,200 women and children were sheltering in the building when it was hit on Wednesday.
Liudmyla Denisova, the Ukrainian Parliament’s commissioner for Human Rights, said on Thursday that adults and children were coming out alive but the full extent of the impact remained unclear.
“In Mariupol, the release of civilians from the rubble of the drama theater has begun. The building withstood the impact of a high-powered air bomb and protected the lives of people hiding in the bomb shelter. ” Denisova said in a statement on Telegram.
However, she said there was “currently no information about the dead or wounded under the rubble of the theater,” and called the attack “an act of genocide and a terrible crime against humanity as defined by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. ”
After the bombing on Wednesday, Mariupol City Council shared an image of the building and said Russian forces had “purposefully and cynically destroyed the Drama Theater in the heart of Mariupol.”
CNN has geolocated the image and confirmed it is of the theater in the southeastern port city. The word “children” was spelled out on two sides of the theater before it was bombed, according to satellite images.
Ukraine’s Minister of Defense Oleskii Reznikov said on Thursday that the Russian who carried out the bombing was a “monster,” and stressed the presence of children in the building.
“You’ve probably already heard that this theater which was struck by missiles, a theater where 1,200 women and children were hiding,” Reznikov told the European Parliament via video link.
“And you can see from the maps, from the drones that around this theater, big letters of ‘children’ were written so that the pilot of the plane which was throwing the bombs could see ‘children’, and still, in spite of that , this monster has bombed the theater.”
Russia has denied its forces hit the building and instead accused “militants of the nationalist ‘Azov’ battalion” of blowing up the theatre. The Azov battalion started as a volunteer militia linked to far-right ideologies before it was incorporated into a Ukrainian National Guard unit in 2014.
Maxim Kach, a Mariupol city government official, said the building was for civilians, with only women and young children hiding within it and not military personnel, while an adviser to the government said it was the largest shelter in Mariupol.
Victoria Butenko, Olya Voitovych and Andrew Carey reported from Lviv. James Frater reported from Brussels. Jeevan Ravindran wrote from London.