Report of ‘a miracle’ emerges after alleged Russian bombing of shelter holding mostly women and children

Amid the scenes of carnage and senseless devastation in the Ukrainian War, there are signs of a miracle.

The location is Mariupol, the city in eastern Ukraine that has been subjected to ferocious fighting and incessant Russian shelling and airstrikes. On Wednesday, city officials reported that a Russian bomb had leveled the Mariupol Drama Theater, which was sheltering over 1,000 Ukrainians, mostly women and children.

“A plane dropped a bomb on a building where hundreds of peaceful Mariupol residents were hiding,” the city officials wrote in a statement. “It is still impossible to estimate the scale of this horrific and inhumane act.”

The bombing was all the more unconscionable as the Russian word for “children” was reportedly written in large white letters outside the building, a pathetic and futile plea for mercy that was clearly visible in satellite imagery.

Attempts to rescue any possible survivors had to be scrapped due to the threat of ongoing Russian airstrikes in the area, and the thought of anyone surviving the horrific destruction of the theater was almost unimaginable.

But there are cautious signs of hope in the beleaguered city as survivors have emerged from the ruins.

“It’s a miracle,” tweeted Illia Ponomarenko, a reporter with the Kyiv Independent, reflecting the feelings of a nation that has been sorely in need of good news in recent weeks. “[C]ivilians that were hiding in a basement at the Drama Theater in Mariupol survived the air strike. Now they are getting evacuated from underneath the ruins.”

Petro Andrushchenko, an advisor to the mayor of Mariupol, provided further hopeful updates. “The bomb shelter held,” he said in an interview with the Reuters news agency. “Now the rubble is being cleared. There are survivors. We don’t know about the victims yet.”

Details on the situation are sketchy, but there is reason to believe that many if not most of the people sheltering in the theater survived the strike. The Russians, meanwhile, have denied any responsibility for the destruction of the theater.

Instead, they blame the infamous Azov Battalion, a Ukrainian far-right militia repeatedly denounced by the Kremlin for its neo-Nazi sympathies. The group even figured in Putin’s pretext for invading the country—”to demilitarize and denazify Ukraine,” in his words.

The Russians claim not to be in the business of bombing cities and civilian facilities, but they’ve offered no evidence that the Azov Battalion planted explosives in the Mariupol theater in a deliberate attempt to discredit Russia on the world stage.

And it’s becoming increasingly difficult for Russia to shirk the blame for the civilian death toll and widespread devastation in Mariupol, which the invading forces have singled out for a punishing siege. The city has become a scene of horror like nothing Europe has experienced since the Second World War. Russian forces have blockaded the port city for over two weeks, severing its desperate inhabitants from much-needed food, water, and power.

Officials have estimated that the Russian bombardment has killed over 2,000 civilians in Mariupol so far—and that’s a number that’s likely to increase in the coming days.

But if the stories of miraculous survivors emerging from the bombed Mariupol Drama Theater are true, the city has at least one reason to give thanks amid the horrors of the last few weeks.


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Todd Jaquith


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