Russian forces reportedly bombed a theater in the port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, on Wednesday, even as the word “children” was marked outside the bomb shelter to notify forces that civilians and minors were inside the building. Mariupol has undergone extensive damage in recent weeks as the invading military has repeatedly targeted the city from both the ground and the air, including non-military buildings.
On Thursday, The Washington Post reported that Ukrainian authorities said “it was not immediately clear how many people were killed or injured in the strike, with the extent of the damage and the near-constant bombardment making inspection difficult.”
The city council of Mariupol released a statement via Telegram, the encrypted-messaging app, stating that Russia’s military had “purposefully and cynically destroyed the Drama Theater in the heart of Mariupol.”
“Today, the invaders destroyed the Drama Theater. A place, where more than a thousand people found refuge. We will never forgive this,” the council said in its statement.
“It is still impossible to estimate the scale of this horrific and inhumane act because the city’s residential areas are continually shelled,” the council added.
Initial reports feared that there were potentially hundreds of innocent civilians trapped inside the building, with many likely dead.
On Thursday morning, other news outlets reported that survivors were making their way out of the bomb shelter underneath the theater, according to Mariupol officials.
“The bomb shelter held. Now the rubble is being cleared. There are survivors. We don’t know about the number of victims yet,” mayoral adviser Petro Andrushchenko said in a statement to Reuters.
Ukrainian lawmaker Serhiy Taruta also added that, “After a terrible night of uncertainty, on the morning of the 22nd day of the war finally good news from Mariupol! The bomb shelter has held.”
“People are coming out alive!” Taruta exclaimed.
Mariupol, located on an estuary leading to the Azov Sea, is important to both the Ukrainians and Russians for strategic and symbolic purposes. The port city is one of Ukraine’s busiest ports annually and holds a key geographic position for the Russian invasion.
For Russia, capturing the city would be an important victory in an attempt to discourage Ukrainian troops and also to cut off a key port for humanitarian aid and supplies.
“Every town — especially such a big city, and quite symbolic as well — lost by the Ukrainian government undermines the morale of the Ukrainian side and encourages the Russian rebels to go farther and farther,” Oleksiy Melnyk, a military expert from the Razumkov public policy center in Kyiv, Ukraine, told Radio Free Europe back in 2015.
The Washington Post noted that the theater, “hosted plays, concerts and festivals ” and “was a cultural hub in the center of Mariupol.”
Recently, Ukrainian Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk called for prayers and said “the conscience of every Christian demands that we raise our voices throughout the world and loudly say the word ‘No,’ to declare strong opposition to the mass murder of people in Ukraine.”
“Especially in these last moments, we see mass murder in the besieged city of Mariupol,” Shevchuk added. “This city, which was founded by the Greek community as the ‘City of Mary,’ has been transformed into a cemetery for tens of thousands of people.”
Despite the optimism there were more survivors than previously expected in the theater, Ukrainian officials reported that Russia had begun air strikes again Thursday, making any transfers of civilians out of the city dangerous.