Officials say some survivors rescued from basement of building bombed by Russian forces in southeastern Ukraine; Moscow denies attack.
Rescuers are continuing work to extract survivors from a three-story theatre in the besieged city of Mariupol, following what Ukrainian officials say was a Russian air raid.
“The building withstood the impact of a high-powered air bomb and protected the lives of people hiding in the bomb shelter,” Ukraine’s ombudswoman Ludmyla Denisova said on the Telegram messaging app on Thursday.
Denisova and parliament member Sergiy Taruta said some survivors had emerged from the Mariupol Drama Theatre. “People are coming out alive,” Taruta wrote on Facebook, though he did not say how many.
Another legislator, Lesia Vasylenko, who was in London in a delegation visiting Parliament, said there were reports of injuries but no deaths.
Al Jazeera’s Zein Basravi, reporting from Lviv in western Ukraine, said “local officials are confirming that … 130 people have been successfully rescued from that shelter.” The number of injuries and casualties remains unconfirmed.
Authorities in Ukraine accused Russian forces of bombing the theatre in southeastern Ukraine on Wednesday. Pavlo Kyrylenko, head of the Donetsk Regional Military Administration, posted pictures and videos of the theatre on Telegram, saying the “Russians are deliberately attacking civilians.”
Hundreds of men, women and children – up to 1,000 according to some officials – had taken shelter in the building’s basement.
Maxar Technologies, a private US company, distributed satellite imagery it says it collected on March 14 showing the word “children” in Russian painted in large letters on the ground outside the theatre.
Human Rights Watch said in a statement that “if there is doubt as to whether an object normally dedicated to civilian purposes, such as a theatre, is being used for military purposes, it shall be presumed not to be so.
“Directing an attack against a civilian object is strictly prohibited, as are indiscriminate attacks and attacks with disproportionate effects on civilians, and may be war crimes,” the watchdog said.
Russia has denied bombing the theatre or targeting civilians in Ukraine. The defence ministry accused the Azov Battalion, a far-right Ukrainian fighter group, of blowing up the theatre, according to the Russian news agency RIA.
It did not give evidence to back up the claim. Russia had previously accused the group of preventing civilians from leaving the city.
Mariupol has come under intense bombardment since Russian forces encircled the city in early March. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a late-night address on Wednesday that “the heart is breaking from what Russia does to our people, our Mariupol, and our Donetsk region.”
Zelenskyy’s adviser Mikhailo Podolyak said Ukraine has demanded a ceasefire, the withdrawal of Russian troops and security guarantees for Ukraine from several countries during talks with Russia.