SURVIVORS were being pulled from the rubble of the Mariupol theatre today after it was bombed by Russian forces despite clear signs outside that it was sheltering children.
asualty numbers remain unclear as rescuers struggled to remove debris from the pancaked building.
The region’s former governor said there were definitely some survivors.
“Truly good news from Mariupol on the morning of the 22nd day of the war after a horrific night: the bomb shelter has withstood. Rescuers are clearing out the debris; people are coming out of there alive,” Serhiy Taruta, a Mariupol resident and a former head of the Donetsk region, said.
Petro Andrushchenko, the mayoral adviser, told Reuters: “The bomb shelter held. Now the rubble is being cleared. There are survivors. We don’t know about the [number of] victims yet.”
The theatre was understood to be being used as a bomb shelter by at least 1,000 women and children before it was hit late on Wednesday.
Satellite photos from a few days before the attack showed the Russian word “children” written in large script on the ground in front and behind the building.
“The only word to describe what has happened today is genocide, genocide of our nation, our Ukrainian people,” the city’s mayor Vadim Boychenko said in a video message on Telegram.
“We have difficulty understanding all of this. We refuse to believe, we want to close our eyes and forget the nightmare that happened today.”
Refugees from Mariupol arriving in nearby Zaporizhzhia said they had seen the theatre destroyed.
Roman Konyahin, a 55-year-old bus driver, said he had driven past it as his family escaped. “It was just four walls. The roof was totally gone,” he said.
Another woman, who gave her name as Olga, said the bombing had convinced her to try to leave. She said: “We lived near by the theatre. When it was destroyed, we decided to walk out. We walked for six miles before we got a lift.”
She said while up to 1,000 people had been sheltering in the theatre at one point, it was hoped that the numbers had fallen as residents had managed to leave the encirclement. She said: “There’s a hope that some of them were in the first column that got out.”
Russia has denied bombing the theatre.
Pictures emerged on Wednesday showing smoke rising from what was left of the white building. Debris was strewn across the well-kept park, with manicured bushes below broken trees.
Video from the theatre less than a week ago appeared to show civilians, including children, packed in the basement in the dark.
Last night the Italian government said it was willing to rebuild the theatre.
“The heart is breaking from what Russia does to our people, our Mariupol, and our Donetsk region,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a late-night address on Wednesday.
The southern city of 450,000 people has become the most intense battleground of the Russian invasion, subjected to three weeks of siege and shelling which the Red Cross said had left “apocalyptic” conditions.
Mariupol sits between eastern territory controlled by Russian-backed separatists on one side and the Crimean peninsula annexed by Moscow in 2014 on the other. Capturing it would give the Russians a land corridor all the way through, controlling the Sea of Azov.
Separately, a spokesman for the Red Cross today said they were astonished and grateful for the generosity the Irish people have shown since the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine happened.
“In the space of just under a fortnight €20m has been raised and 25,000 pledges of accommodation have been made,” he said.
“This is an unprecedented number of pledges, and we would ask those who have offered places of accommodation patience until we contact them. We have already started to house refugees who have been left traumatised by their experiences,” he added.
Meanwhile Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said the attack was “another horrendous war crime in Mariupol”.City authorities said they were trying to establish the number of casualties but the entrance to the bomb shelter under the theatre was blocked by debris.
“It is known that almost 1,000 civilians from Mariupol were hiding in the theatre. The number of dead and wounded is currently unknown,” said Ukraine’s interior ministry. “Many Mariupol residents hid in the theatre with small children. This theatre was a shelter in which the inhabitants of besieged Mariupol escaped from continuous shelling.”
On Wednesday morning, a stream of cars arrived in Zaporizhzhia in the first major evacuation of civilians from the encircled Mariupol. An estimated 4,000 cars and 20,000 people reached safety after crossing the front line and spending the night in the open in temperatures dropping to –7C.
The convoy of family cars pulled into a supermarket car park to be met by volunteers and police. Car windows patched with plastic sheeting and shrapnel pocked bodywork bore testimony to the shelling in the past three weeks. White rags had been tied to car aerials and door handles to try to secure safe passage.
Ukrainian officials have for days been attempting to open a humanitarian corridor, but the new arrivals said that inside the city they had heard little or nothing of the arrangements.
Earlier attempts to evacuate from Mariupol fell apart amid mutual recriminations between the two sides and continued shelling, or fears the path was mined. With phones and internet connections down, those under siege had no news of the outside world, or information on how to get out. Instead, families or groups of friends had to wrestle with the decision to leave themselves.
Many decided to make a break for it on Tuesday only when they saw other cars setting out, or when rumours spread that a way might be clear.
“We thought we could be killed on the road, or we could be killed staying in Mariupol,” explained a 46-year-old woman called Victoria as she stepped out of her car after the 12-hour exodus.
Olga Olanava and her family gambled on getting out. Their fourth floor flat had been destroyed. A shell had hit a floor below them and then another hit a floor above them. Ms Olanava, a bank cashier, said: “There was no water, no electricity.”
With their flat destroyed, the family spent days taking what shelter they could in the block’s basement.
“There was no internet connection, no telephone. We had no idea what was going on. But we began to hear there might be a way out.” On Tuesday they departed with four carloads of friends and family, gradually linking up with other vehicles on the route out.
Her daughter, 25-year-old Lisa Pashkova, likened it to the deadly game show in Squid Game. Some of their relatives stayed, unwilling to take the risk.
Among those left behind are premature babies reportedly without their parents trapped in a hospital seized by Russian forces.
The Kremlin said on Thursday that many people in Russia were showing themselves to be traitors and pointed to those who were resigning from their jobs and leaving the country.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov made the comments a day after President Vladimir Putin delivered a stark warning to Russian “traitors” who he said the West wanted to use as a “fifth column” to destroy the country.
“In such difficult times… many people show their true colours. Very many people are showing themselves, as we say in Russian, to be traitors,” Peskov told reporters on a conference call.
“They vanish from society themselves. Some people are leaving their posts, some are leaving their active work life, some leave the country and move to other countries. That is how this cleansing happens.”
He was referring to Putin’s comment on Wednesday that Russia would undergo a natural and necessary “self-cleansing” as people were able to “distinguish the true patriots from the scum and the traitors”.
Ukraine has legalised cryptocurrency in a landmark bill signed into law by President Volodymyr Zelensky.
The “Virtual Assets” bill establishes a legal framework for the use of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, determining their legal status and classification with regards to ownership and regulation.
More than $100 million worth of cryptocurrency has now been donated to Ukraine since Vice Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov publicly called for funds to “contribute to the Ukrainian victory as well as support civil people”.
The bill will allow crypto exchanges and companies to legally operate in Ukraine, with full access and support from the traditional financial sector.
“The Ministry of Finance is actively working to amend the tax and civil codes of Ukraine to fully launch the market for virtual assets,” the Ministry of Digital Transformation said in a statement.
“The signing of this law by the president is another important step towards bringing the crypto sector out of the shadows and launching a legal market for virtual assets in Ukraine.”
Alex Bornyakov, Ukraine’s deputy minister of digital transformation, said the new bill will offer “new economic opportunities” to the besieged people of Ukraine.
“We will do our best to bring the bright new future closer as soon as possible,” he tweeted.
A draft of the bill, which passed through Ukraine’s parliament last September with a near-unanimous vote, was originally vetoed by President Zelensky, who claimed at the time that the costs of establishing the regulatory body would be too great.
The signing of the bill on Wednesday moves Ukraine beyond the legal limbo it existed in before with regards to cryptocurrency – it was neither legal nor banned – but it does not go as far as El Salvador, which became the first country in the world last year to officially adopt bitcoin as a legal form of tender.
Ukraine hopes nine humanitarian corridors will operate on Thursday, including from Mariupol, the deputy prime minister has said.
Additional reporting: Telegraph
https://www.independent.ie/world-news/europe/survivors-rescued-from-wreck-of-mariupol-theatre-41456102.html Ukraine war Putin Kyiv: Russia accused of destroying theatre sheltering 1,000 civilians, Ukraine hopes for nine humanitarian corridors to operate today