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130 rescued from Mariupol theater but 1,300 remain trapped, says Ukrainian official

Ukraine’s human rights commissioner says rescue work is ongoing after building destroyed in Russian airstrike; Moscow claims troops are fighting on streets in city center

This photo released by Donetsk Regional Civil-Military Administration Council on March 16, 2022 shows the Drama Theatre, damaged after shelling, in Mariupol, Ukraine. (Donetsk Regional Civil-Military Administration Council via AP)
This photo released by Donetsk Regional Civil-Military Administration Council on March 16, 2022 shows the Drama Theatre, damaged after shelling, in Mariupol, Ukraine. (Donetsk Regional Civil-Military Administration Council via AP)

Some 130 people have been rescued so far from the rubble of a theater that was being used as a shelter in the besieged city of Mariupol when it was destroyed in a Russian strike, a Ukrainian official said Friday.

Ukraine’s human rights commissioner Lyudmyla Denisova said in a Facebook post that rescue work at the Mariupol Drama Theatre is ongoing as some 1,300 people are believed to still be trapped.

However, rescue efforts have been hampered by continued fighting.

There have not yet been any reports of deaths in the wake of the Wednesday strike on the building in the besieged city.

Hundreds of civilians had been taking shelter in the grand, columned theater in central Mariupol after their homes were destroyed in three weeks of fighting in the southern port city of 430,000.

Video and photos circulating on social media showed that the building had been reduced to a roofless shell, with some exterior walls collapsed.

Petro Andrushchenko, an official with the mayor’s office, said the building had a relatively modern basement bomb shelter designed to withstand airstrikes.

Denisova has previously said it’s believed by officials that the shelter held up in the airstrike.

“The building withstood the impact of a high-powered air bomb and protected the lives of people hiding in the bomb shelter,” she said on the Telegram messaging app Thursday.

Ukrainian ombudswoman for human rights Lyudmila Denisova in Moscow, Russia, July 17, 2019 (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Satellite imagery on Monday from Maxar Technologies showed huge white letters on the pavement in front of and behind the theater spelling out “CHILDREN” in Russian — “DETI” — to alert warplanes to those inside.

The strike against the theater was part of a furious bombardment of civilian sites in multiple cities over the past few days.

However, Russia’s military has denied bombing the theater or anyplace else in Mariupol on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Russia said Friday its troops and their separatist allies were fighting in the center of Mariupol.

There was no confirmation from Ukrainian officials.

“In Mariupol, units of the Donetsk People’s Republic, with the support of the Russian armed forces, are squeezing the encirclement and fighting against nationalists in the city center,” the defense ministry said in Moscow.

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