Rescuers search for survivors from Mariupol theatre hit by Russian bomb

Rescuers searched for survivors on Thursday in the ruins of a theatre blown apart by a Russian airstrike in the besieged city of Mariupol, while scores of Ukrainians across the country were killed in ferocious urban attacks on a school, a hostel and other sites.

WARNING: This story contains video and photos showing death and destruction in Ukraine

This image, obtained by Reuters from local government on Wednesday, shows the theatre after an airstrike in Mariupol. (Donetsk Regional Civil-Military Administration/Reuters)

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Rescuers searched for survivors on Thursday in the ruins of a theatre blown apart by a Russian airstrike in the besieged city of Mariupol, while scores of Ukrainians across the country were killed in ferocious urban attacks on a school, a hostel and other sites.

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

More than a day after the airstrike, there were no reports of deaths. With communications disrupted across the city and movement difficult because of shelling and other fighting, there were conflicting reports on whether anyone had emerged from the rubble.

"We hope and we think that some people who stayed in the shelter under the theatre could survive," Petro Andrushchenko, an official with the mayor's office, told The Associated Press. He said the building had a relatively modern basement bomb shelter designed to withstand airstrikes.

Other officials had said earlier that some people had gotten out. Ukraine's ombudswoman, Ludmyla Denisova, said on the Telegram messaging app that the shelter had held up.

"The building withstood the impact of a high-powered air bomb and protected the lives of people hiding in the bomb shelter," Denisova said on Thursday.

She and Ukrainian parliament member Sergiy Taruta said some survivors had emerged. "People are coming out alive," Taruta wrote on Facebook, though he did not say how many.

It was not known if there were injuries or deaths among those inside. Another lawmaker, Lesia Vasylenko, who was in London in a delegation visiting Parliament on Thursday, said there were reports of injuries but no deaths.

A satellite image from earlier this week shows a closer view of a Mariupol theatre with the word 'Children' written in Russian in large white letters on the pavement in front of and behind the building. (Maxar Technologies/Reuters)

As recently as Monday, huge white letters on the pavement in front of and behind the theatre spelled out "CHILDREN" in Russian to alert warplanes of those inside, according to images released by the Maxar space technology company.

Across the city, snow flurries fell around the skeletons of burned, windowless and shrapnel-scarred apartment buildings as smoke rose above the skyline.

"We are trying to survive somehow," said one Mariupol resident, who gave only her first name, Elena. "My child is hungry. I don't know what to give him to eat."

She had been trying to call her mother, who was in a town 80 kilometres away. "I can't tell her I am alive, you understand. There is no connection, just nothing," she said.

A woman wipes her eye near an apartment building, which was destroyed during the Ukraine-Russia conflict in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol on Thursday. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

Cars, some with the "Z" symbol of the Russian invasion force in their windows, drove past stacks of ammunition boxes and artillery shells in a neighbourhood controlled by Russian-backed separatists.

The Russian Defence Ministry denied bombing the theatre or anywhere else in Mariupol on Wednesday.

Hospitals attacked, patients left at risk

World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the UN Security Council Thursday that WHO has verified 43 attacks on hospitals and health facilities with 12 people killed and 34 injured.

In a virtual briefing, Tedros said "the disruption to services and supplies is posing an extreme risk to people with cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, HIV and TB, which are among the leading causes of mortality in Ukraine."

Tedros said disruption to hospital services now poses an extreme risk to people with serious illnesses and "the lifesaving medicine we need right now is peace." He said displacement and overcrowding caused by people fleeing fighting are likely to increase the risks of diseases such as COVID-19, measles, pneumonia and polio.

In addition, he said more than 35,000 mental health patients in Ukrainian psychiatric hospitals and long-term care facilities face severe shortages of medicine, food, health care and blankets. 

Young patients whose treatments were underway sit on chairs moved to the hallways of the basement in Okhmadet Children's Hospital in Kyiv. The World Health Organization says attacks on hospitals are disrupting treatments for people with cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, HIV and TB. (Umit Bektas/Reuters)

Russia attacks on Kyiv, Kharkiv area

Russian attacks have battered cities and villages across large parts of Ukraine, including the capital, Kyiv, where residents have been huddling in homes and shelters. In the capital city, a man wept over the body of his mother after a downed missile hit a residential building in the city.

A fire broke out early Thursday after the building was hit by the remnants of a downed Russian rocket, killing one person and injuring at least three others, according to emergency services. Firefighters evacuated 30 people from the top floors of the 16-storey building and extinguished the blaze within an hour.

Ukrainian firefighters extinguish a blaze at a warehouse after a bombing on the outskirts of Kyiv, on Thursday. (Vadim Ghirda/The Associated Press)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, meanwhile, called for more help for his country in a video address to German lawmakers, saying thousands of people have been killed so far, including 108 children.

The address began with a delay because of a technical problem caused by "an attack in the immediate vicinity" of where Zelensky was speaking from, Bundestag deputy speaker Katrin Goering-Eckardt said.

Zelensky's address to the Bundestag came a day after he delivered a speech via video to the U.S. Congress, which garnered several ovations as he called for more help.

Earlier, Zelensky said in a statement that some progress had been made in getting people out of war-ravaged Mariupol, even as he decried the ongoing attacks, saying Russian aircraft "purposefully dropped a huge bomb" on the theatre in Mariupol. 

Zelensky also said that Russian forces tried to disrupt the evacuation efforts, reporting mortar fire on a section of road in the Zaporizhzhia region.

"Only by a miracle there were no casualties," Zelensky said. "Five Ukrainians were wounded, including two children."

In a joint statement, the foreign ministers of the Group of Seven leading economies accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of conducting an "unprovoked and shameful war" and called on Russia to comply with the International Court of Justice's order to stop its attack and withdraw its forces.

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What's happening on the ground?

A school building is destroyed by an airstrike as Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues, in the town of Merefa, in the Kharkiv region, in this handout picture released on Thursday. (Press service of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine/Reuters)
  • Twenty-one people have been killed by Russian artillery that destroyed a school and a community centre in Merefa, near the northeast city of Kharkiv, officials said. Merefa Mayor Veniamin Sitov said the attack occurred just before dawn on Thursday. The Kharkiv region has seen heavy bombardment as stalled Russian forces try to advance in the area.
  • In the north, at least 53 people were brought to morgues over the past 24 hours in the city of Chernihiv, killed amid heavy Russian airtrikes, artillery bombardment and ground fire, local governor Viacheslav Chaus told Ukrainian TV on Thursday. Ukraine's emergency services said a mother, father and three of their children, including three-year-old twins, were killed when a Chernihiv hostel was shelled. Civilians were hiding in basements and shelters without access to utilities in the city of 280,000 people. "The city has never known such nightmarish, colossal losses and destruction," he said.
  • In Eastern Ukraine, a municipal pool complex where pregnant women and women with children were taking shelter was also hit on Wednesday, according to Pavlo Kyrylenko, head of the Donetsk regional administration. There was no word on casualties in that strike.
  • The fighting has led more than three million people to flee Ukraine, the United Nations estimates. The death toll remains unknown, though Ukraine has said thousands of civilians have died.
WATCH | Man in Kyiv cries over mother's body (Warning: This video shows scenes of death as Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues) 

Kyiv resident cries over mother's body under blood-soaked sheet

1 year ago
Duration 1:21
A Kyiv resident mourns his mother's death after a 16-storey residential building was hit by a downed Russian missile on Thursday morning. Ukraine's emergency service said at least one person was killed and three were wounded. Warning: This video includes scenes depicting major injury and death.

Negotiations ongoing

Both Ukraine and Russia this week reported some progress in negotiations. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Thursday that some negotiators were breaking into working groups, "but there should be contacts today."

Zelensky said he would not reveal Ukraine's negotiating tactics.

"Working more in silence than on television, radio or on Facebook," Zelensky said. "I consider it the right way."

While details of Thursday's talks were unknown, an official in Zelensky's office told the AP that on Wednesday, the main subject discussed was whether Russian troops would remain in separatist regions in eastern Ukraine after the war and where the borders would be.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive talks, said Ukraine was insisting on the inclusion of one or more Western nuclear powers in the negotiations and on legally binding security guarantees for Ukraine.

In exchange, the official said, Ukraine was ready to discuss a neutral military status.

Russia has demanded that NATO pledge never to admit Ukraine to the alliance or station forces there.

A Polish firefighter holds a baby at the Medyka border crossing on Thursday. More than three million Ukrainians have fled across the border, mostly women and children, according to the United Nations. (Wojtek Radwansky/AFP/Getty Images)

With files from CBC News