'It's a Miracle': Mariupol Theater Victims Survive Russian Bombing

An urgent "miracle" rescue bid was launched on Thursday, March 17, as it emerged hundreds of Ukrainians—including children—may still be alive beneath the rubble of a bombed theater in Mariupol.

The civilians had been sheltering there to escape the Russian bombardment, and had written the word "children" outside in the hopes of being spared, but were hit on Wednesday.

It had been feared everyone inside had been killed, but the BBC reported authorities as saying the bomb shelter underneath the building had held up despite the massive blast.

Deputy Mayor Sergei Orlov said between 1,000 and 1,200 people had sought refuge in the theater.

And while the number of casualties is unclear, a local politician told the BBC that the basement where people were sheltering had withstood the bombing. "It looks like most of them have survived," Dmytro Gurin said.

Ukrainian officials said their fate was still unknown because the entrance to the shelter had been buried under rubble.

But on Thursday, Illia Ponomarenko, defence reporter for the Kyiv Independent, tweeted: "It's a miracle—civilians that were hiding in a basement at the Drama Theater in Mariupol survived the air strike," adding that now "they are getting evacuated from underneath the ruins."

While Iuliia Mendel, believed to be an ex-spokesperson to the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky, tweeted: "The bomb shelter in Mariupol Drama Theatre has survived the brutal Russian missile. At least, majority stayed alive after bombing. People are getting out from the rubble."

Photos emerging on Wednesday showed a scene of apparent devastation at the theater; smoke risking from a mostly collapsed building, with broken trees outside.

But The Telegraph reported that the region's former governor insisted there were survivors. Serhiy Taruta said: "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."

Satellite photos released by Maxar Technologies—taken before the bombing—showed the Russian word "children" had been apparently painted in very large letters on the ground in front of the building and behind it.

"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."

It still remains unclear how many people have survived and whether there were any casualties.

Petro Andrushchenko, an adviser to the city's mayor, said rescuers were trying to reach survivors. He told Reuters by phone: "The bomb shelter held. Now the rubble is being cleared. There are survivors. We don't know about the (number of) victims yet."

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Thursday that the allegation that Russia had bombed the theater was a "lie", and repeated Kremlin denials that Russian forces have targeted civilians, according to Reuters.

"Russia's armed forces don't bomb towns and cities," she said in a briefing.

Mariupol evacuees
Evacuees from Mariupol are seen at a shopping center on the outskirts of the city of Zaporizhzhia, about 150 miles inland from Mariupol, which is now a registration center for displaced people, on March 16, 2022. Getty Images