The major of the besieged Ukrainian port of Mariupol called a Russian strike on a local theater where civilians were sheltering a “terrible tragedy” in a video late Wednesday.
“Today there was a terrible tragedy, another tragedy, in our already mangled Mariupol, of which there is already practically nothing left,” Major Vadym Boychenko said in a video posted on Telegram.
He said a “direct strike” hit the theater Wednesday, and he blamed Russian forces, who have denied responsibility. Satellite images from before the attack showed the word “children” written in Russian in large white letters on the ground on both sides of the theater.
“We live in frightening times that are called war. … We want to close our eyes and forget, like a bad dream, everything that is happening to us now — but we open them and see war again, we see the devastation, we see all this horror,” he added in the bleak video address.
“We know that, unfortunately, today many were not lucky,” Boychenko said. However, no official figures had been released on casualties as of Thursday morning. While the fate of hundreds of residents who had been sheltering in the Mariupol theater remained unclear, Ukrainian officials said Thursday that rescue efforts were being hampered by rubble and continued shelling.
Serhiy Taruta, a Ukrainian politician, wrote on Facebook that there was “good news” Thursday and that many people had emerged alive from the theater. Oleksiy Honcharenko, a lawmaker from Odessa, said on Telegram that the bomb shelter in the theater’s basement had withstood the strike and that, despite the debris, “people are coming out of the shelter alive and well!”
The BBC reported that a Ukrainian lawmaker, Dmytro Gurin, whose parents were in the city, said that more than 1,000 people sought safety in the theater, among them children, but that it appeared “most of them have survived,” he said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky denounced the bombing and compared the Russian bombardment of Mariupol to the Nazi siege of Leningrad during World War II. “Our hearts are broken by what Russia is doing to our people. To our Mariupol,” Zelensky said in a video address, one of several appeals he made Wednesday.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova denied Thursday that Moscow had bombed the theater, calling it a “lie.” She added: “The Russian armed forces do not bomb cities, and everyone is well aware of this. … The truth will still break through.”
Boychenko, the older Mariupol, promised to raise his city from the ruins. Mariupol has faced intense attacks from Russian forces as a strategic southern port and has been largely cut off from the outside world for weeks. A maternity hospital made headlines last week after it came under bombardment. Ukrainians blamed Russian forces; Moscow has claimed, without evidence, that the hospital was emptied of patients and used as a base for Ukrainian military activity.
David L. Stern, Mary Ilyushina and Amar Nadhir contributed to this report.