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A theatre where hundreds of people had taken shelter in Mariupol was bombed today, according to local authorities, as hundreds of thousands of people remain trapped in the coastal Ukrainian city that has been encircled for weeks by Russian forces.

Local Ukraine MP Dmytro Gurin accused the Russians of knowingly dropping a 1000-kilogram bomb on the building, and said acts of “mass murder” were now being carried out by Russian forces in Mariupol.

It had so far been impossible to start a rescue effort of the bombed out theatre because of the constant shelling, Mr Gurin told Today.

Mariupol City Council said Russian forces had 'purposefully and cynically' destroyed the Drama Theater in the heart of Mariupol, which is shown here in before and after pictures.
Mariupol City Council said Russian forces had ‘purposefully and cynically’ destroyed the Drama Theater in the heart of Mariupol, which is shown here in before and after pictures. (9News)

Just 20 minutes before the airstrike, an interview on Ukraine TV had revealed the building was being used as a shelter, he said.

“They just knew that it was bomb shelter and dropped 1000 kilogram bomb on this dramatic theatre and destroyed – the building is destroyed.”

Mariupol City Council, who shared an image of the destroyed building, said Russian forces had “purposefully and cynically destroyed” the theatre in the heart of Mariupol.

“The plane dropped a bomb on a building where hundreds of peaceful Mariupol residents were hiding,” it said.

CNN has geolocated the image and confirmed it is of the theatre in the south-eastern port city.

A theatre where hundreds of people had taken shelter in Mariupol was bombed. (CNN)
Russia Ukraine
A community theatre in Mariupol, Ukraine, where hundreds of people were sheltering, has been hit by a Russian bomb (Today)
Russian attacks in Ukraine are continuing despite some optimism in peace talks. (AP)

Videos of the aftermath showed a fire raging in the theatre’s ruins.

The number of casualties is unknown, authorities said.

“It is still impossible to estimate the scale of this horrific and inhumane act, because the city continues to shell residential areas,” the council wrote on Telegram.

“It is known that after the bombing, the central part of the Drama Theatre was destroyed, and the entrance to the bomb shelter in the building was destroyed.”

‘It is just mass murder’

Mr Gurin said Russian military tactics had shifted gears after early setbacks.

“Three weeks ago when the war started, we had ordinary war, army against army,” he told Today.

“And all the world could see that Ukraine can beat Russia on the battlefield … and so they changed tactics, and they decided if we will resist, so let’s kill (us) all.

“What is going on in Mariupol, it is a medieval siege.”

He said what was taking place now was “not the war any more, it is just mass murder”.

The city is left without power and thousands of people have no access to food, heat, or water.

Premature babies who were left behind by their parents lie in a bed in hospital number 3 in Mariupol, Ukraine

Innocents of war lie in besieged Ukrainian hospital

Petro Andruishchenko, an adviser to the mayor of Mariupol, described the theatre as the largest shelter “in number and size” in the city’s centre.

“According to preliminary data, more than a thousand people were hiding there,” he said.

“The probability of getting there to dismantle the rubble is low due to constant shelling and bombing of the city.”

The city has no electricity, water, food, with residents melting snow or dismantling heating systems for a drop to drink, he said on Tuesday.

Mariupol has been besieged by Russian forces since March 1.

After weeks of failed attempts to establish safe civilian evacuation corridors, about 20,000 people managed to leave the city on Tuesday, Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vereshchuk said.

The theatre attack comes just a day after a Ukrainian official accused Russian troops of holding some 400 people captive at Mariupol’s Regional Intensive Care Hospital.

A woman walks past building damaged by shelling in Mariupol
A woman walks past building damaged by shelling in Mariupol (Evgeniy Maloletka / AP)

“It is impossible to find words that could describe the level of cruelty and cynicism with which the Russian occupiers are destroying the civilian population of the Ukrainian city by the sea. Women, children, and the elderly remain in the enemy’s sights. These are completely unarmed peaceful people,” the city council said.

“We will never forgive and never forget,” it added.

The unfolding humanitarian catastrophe has enraged local officials.

“These bastards are trying [to] physically destroy Mariupol and the people of Mariupol, which have been a symbol of our resistance,” Pavlo Kyrylenko, head of Donetsk region administration, said on Facebook Wednesday.

He said the “fate is unknown” of the hundreds of people sheltering in the theatre “as the entrance to the bomb shelter is blocked by rubble,” he said.

“The Russians are already lying, [saying] that the headquarters of the Azov Regiment was there. But they themselves are well aware that there were only civilians,” he said.

After Russia bombed a maternity hospital on March 9, its Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov alleged without evidence that the hospital was the ultra-nationalist militia Azov battalion’s base and that all patients and nurses had left.

Firefighters extinguish fires in an apartment building hit by shelling in Kyiv
Firefighters extinguish fires in an apartment building hit by shelling in Kyiv (Felipe Dana / AP)

A Russian Ministry of Defence spokesperson later denied in a briefing that Russia had shelled the maternity hospital at all, calling it a “provocation”.

Mariupol has been reduced to a battle zone, with the city’s deputy mayor telling CNN on Tuesday that Russia has been bombarding the city with missiles, saying that they counted 22 aircraft on Monday “which were bombing our city, and at least 100 bombs.

“Residents who fled the city have described conditions there as “unbearable” and “just hell”.

On Tuesday, shocking drone footage and satellite photos showing rising plumes of thick smoke and destroyed buildings emerged, underscoring the sheer devastation wrought by the Russian bombardment.

As many as 2,500 civilians have died in Mariupol, Ukrainian officials estimate, and hundreds of thousands of people are trapped in the city — with officials warning those who remain are without electricity, water and heat.

A satellite image shows a large black plume of smoke rising from the Kherson International Airport
A satellite image shows a large black plume of smoke rising from the Kherson International Airport (Planet Labs, PBC)

In the video address, Volodymyr Zelenskyy invoked the Pearl Harbour and September 11 attacks to convey the scale of what Ukraine was facing.

Mr Zelenskyy called for a no-fly zone to be imposed over Ukraine, along with foreign fighter jets for his country’s military.

US President Joe Biden, along with the rest of NATO, have held back from imposing a no-fly zone over Ukraine, for fear of becoming involved directly in the conflict.

But Mr Biden did pledge further shipments of weapons, including anti-aircraft missiles and drones.

In a glimmer of hope, Russian and Ukraine officials have both expressed cautious optimism as peace talks continue.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison also spoke with Mr Zelenskyy overnight, expressing admiration for Ukraine’s courage in the fact of the invasion.

Australia could seek to impose sanctions on Russian oligarchs who have a stake in the Gladstone refinery in Queensland.

Source: 9News

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