At least 130 people have been rescued so far from a bombed theatre in the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol, according to officials who warned that more than a thousand civilians were still trapped.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky said rescue work was ongoing at the site, which Ukraine says was hit by a powerful Russian air strike on Wednesday. Russia has denied bombing the theatre or targeting civilians.
Mariupol has been under continual bombardment from Russian artillery for more than 10 days, and has become a grim symbol of Ukraine’s suffering during the 23-day war.
“Rescuers are working. There is only this information: 130 people are alive and have been taken out. The rest are waiting for help,” Ukraine’s human rights ombudswoman Lyudmyla Denisova said on national television.
“According to our data there are still more than 1,300 people there who are in these basements, in that bomb shelter,” Ms Denisova said, referring to underground shelters below the theatre.
This is the first time Ukrainian authorities have shared an estimate of the number of survivors. There has been no confirmation of the number of possible casualties.
Rescue efforts have been hindered by the complete breakdown of social services in the city and fears of future Russian attacks, Serhiy Taruta – former head of the Donetsk region – said in an interview on Ukrainian TV.
“People are doing everything themselves. My friends went to help, but due to constant shelling it was not safe. People are clearing away the rubble themselves,” he said.
“There is no rescue operation, because all the services that are supposed to rescue people, to treat them, to bury them, these services no longer exist.”
Mariupol, on the Black Sea coast, has seen some of the worst attacks in the past four weeks since Vladimir Putin launched an invasion of Ukraine on 24 February – including the shelling of a maternity and children’s hospital.
Local officials say missile strikes and shelling had killed more than 2,300 people before the attack on the theatre.
Moscow-backed separatist groups in eastern Ukraine have been “tightening the noose” around Mariupol with the help of Russian forces, the Kremlin said.
Fighting was ongoing in the city’s centre on Friday, Russia’s defence ministry was quoted as say by Russian news agency RIA Novosti.
A total of 3,810 people were evacuated from Ukrainian cities through humanitarian corridors on Thursday, Interfax Ukraine cited a senior official as saying.
The majority of them – about 2,000 people – had left Mariupol, Ukrainian deputy PM Iryna Vereshchuk told a briefing.
More than 3.2 million people have fled Ukraine, according to the United Nations, which has warned of the deteriorating humanitarian situation within the country.
Many grocery shops and warehouses in Ukraine are now empty as food supply chains are “falling apart”, a World Food Programme (WFP) official said.
Supplies are running out in “encircled cities” such as Mariupol, Jakob Kern – WFP emergency coordinator for the Ukraine crisis – said.
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