Survivors emerge from bombed Mariupol theatre as 'up to 90%' of city is damaged

ITV News Correspondent Geraint Vincent reports on the latest Russian attacks in Ukraine which have led to more civilian deaths and the utter destruction of what people used to call homes

Survivors have started to emerge from the ruins of a theatre ripped apart by a Russian air strike in Mariupol, where "80-90%" of buildings have been damaged.

A photo released by Mariupol’s city council showed an entire section of the three-storey theatre - where hundreds of civilians took shelter - had collapsed after the strike on Wednesday evening.

Rescuers began working to clear rubble that had blocked the entrance to the basement, despite new strikes reported elsewhere in the city on Thursday.

The shelter somehow stood firm, officials said.

“The building withstood the impact of a high-powered air bomb and protected the lives of people hiding in the bomb shelter," Ukraine’s ombudswoman, Ludmyla Denisova, said on the Telegram messaging app.

The Drama Theatre, damaged after shelling, in Mariupol. Credit: Donetsk Regional Civil-Military Administration Council

She and Ukrainian parliament member Sergiy Taruta said some survivors have emerged.

“People are coming out alive,” Mr Taruta wrote on Facebook, though he did not say how many.

Ukrainian MP Lesia Vasylenko said on Thursday afternoon there are reports of injuries but no deaths.

Between 1,000 and 1,500 people were sheltering at the theatre, she said, adding that local officials report 80-90% of all structures in Mariupol have been damaged.

As recently as Monday, the pavement in front of and behind the once-elegant theatre was marked with huge white letters spelling out “children” in Russian, according to images released by the Maxar space technology company.

Satellite images show the word 'children' spelled out in Russian outside Mariupol theatre in two places. Credit: Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies

Dmytro Gurin, a Ukrainian MP who grew up in Mariupol, says that Russia's tactics- such as bombing civilians and targeting civil infrastructure - were predictable as they deployed similar ones in fighting in Chechnya and Syria.

"I was one of the politicians in Ukraine who knew that Russia will invade," Mr Gurin, who lived in Moscow for 12 years, told ITV News.

"It looks like we do not have casualties," he said when asked about the theatre attack.

"It looks like people are safe inside. We have started to clean the rubble... of course it is really really difficult because shelling never stops."

He said the shelter in the basement of the building withstood the assault as it was built from strong foundations, and said he believes that Russia knew there were women and children inside.

"It was intentional, they knew there are children inside," he said.

He went on to say that it is not possible to restore his hometown because the ferocity of the Russian attacks have left the city "totally destroyed" with "nothing to save".

'There is nothing to save here,' Dmytro Gurin said of the area where he grew up

Russian air strikes also hit a municipal swimming pool complex in Mariupol where civilians, including women and children, had been sheltering, the head of the Donetsk regional administration, Pavlo Kyrylenko, said on Telegram.

“Now there are pregnant women and women with children under the rubble there,” he said.

“My heart breaks from what Russia is doing to our people,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Wednesday night after the theatre strike, and just hours after he delivered a speech via video to the US Congress that garnered several ovations.

The Russian defence ministry denied bombing the theatre or anywhere else in Mariupol on Wednesday.

On Thursday, Russian artillery destroyed a school and a community centre in Merefa, a city near the north-east city of Kharkiv, according to Merefa’s mayor Veniamin Sitov.

There were no known civilian casualties.

The Kharkiv region has seen heavy bombardment as stalled Russian forces try to advance in the area.

Has the Russian ground offensive stalled? Global Security Editor Rohit Kachroo reports live from Kyiv

Also on Thursday, a missile was downed over Kyiv but led to the death of one resident. Others have been injured.

Six nations have called for a UN Security Council meeting on Ukraine on Thursday afternoon, ahead of an expected Friday vote on a resolution demanding protection for Ukrainian civilians “in vulnerable situations.”

“Russia is committing war crimes and targeting civilians,” Britain’s UN Mission tweeted, announcing the call for the meeting that was joined by the US, France and others.

“Russia’s illegal war on Ukraine is a threat to us all.”

The Red Cross said eight days ago it was "apocalyptic" inside Mariupol as Russia continues its brutal invasion, as Senior International Correspondent John Irvine reports

This video contains distressing images

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.

Russian troops shelled areas in and around the city on Wednesday, including a residential neighbourhood just 1.5 miles (2.5 kilometres) from the presidential palace. A 12-storey Kyiv apartment building erupted in flames after being hit by shrapnel.

Speaking to Germany's Parliament on Thursday morning after the latest attacks, Mr Zelenskyy accused the country of putting its economy before Ukraine's security in the run-up to the Russian invasion.

He also noted Germany’s hesitancy when it came to imposing some of the toughest sanctions on Russia for fear it could hurt their economy.

He also called for more help for his country, saying thousands of people have been killed in the war that started almost a month ago, including 108 children.

Referring to the dire situation in the besieged city of Mariupol, he said: “Everything is a target for them,” including “a theatre where hundreds of people found shelter that was flattened yesterday.”

(PA Graphics) Credit: PA Graphics

It comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin called for a “self-purification” to rid his country of anyone who questions his invasion.

Mr Putin went on television to excoriate Russians who do not back him, even as both sides expressed optimism over efforts to negotiate an end to the fighting.

Russians “will always be able to distinguish true patriots from scum and traitors and will simply spit them out like a gnat that accidentally flew into their mouths,” he said.

“I am convinced that such a natural and necessary self-purification of society will only strengthen our country.”

He said the West is using a “fifth column” of traitorous Russians to create civil unrest.

“And there is only one goal, I have already spoken about it — the destruction of Russia,” he said.

Vladimir Putin appeared to warn his oppressive rule could get worse. Credit: AP

The speech appeared to be a warning that his authoritarian rule, which had already grown tighter since the invasion began on February 24 - shutting down Russian news outlets and arresting protesters - could grow even more repressive.

But it also came amid signs that talks were finally making progress.

Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said after Tuesday’s meeting that a neutral military status for Ukraine was being “seriously discussed” by the two sides, while Mr Zelenskyy said Russia’s demands for ending the war were becoming “more realistic.”

Wednesday’s talks, held by video, appeared to wade more deeply into technicalities.

ITV News US Correspondent Emma Murphy reports from Washington as the US toughens its rhetoric towards Russian President Vladimir Putin

Listen to our podcast for the latest analysis on the invasion

Mr Zelenskyy’s adviser Mikhailo Podolyak said Ukraine demanded a ceasefire, the withdrawal of Russian troops and security guarantees for Ukraine from several countries.

“This is possible only through direct dialogue” between Mr Zelenskyy and Mr Putin, he tweeted.

An official in Mr Zelenskyy’s office told The Associated Press that the main subject under discussion was whether Russian troops would remain in separatist regions in eastern Ukraine after the war and where the borders would be.

The official said Ukraine was insisting on the inclusion of one or more Western nuclear powers in the negotiations and on a legally binding document with security guarantees for Ukraine. In exchange, the official said, Ukraine was ready to discuss a neutral status.

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