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130 people rescued from bombed Mariupol theater as crews search for hundreds more

A satellite of the Mariupol theater from Monday, before it was bombed. The word "Children" is written in white on the pavement.
Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies
A satellite of the Mariupol theater from Monday, before it was bombed. The word "Children" is written in white on the pavement.

Updated March 18, 2022 at 10:57 AM ET

At least 130 people have been pulled from the Mariupol theater that was hit by a Russian airstrike, but hundreds more remain under the rubble as rescue crews work to find them, according to Ukrainian member of parliament Sergiy Taruta.

As many as 1,000 or more people were in the theater and its shelter Wednesday at the time of the attack, Ukrainian officials say. But it remains unclear how many might have survived. The theater's bomb shelter has three separate sections, Taruta said in an update, and it's not known if all of those portions remain intact.

The Azov Battalion, a paramilitary unit that is part of Ukraine's national guard, posted images online showing the devastated building.

Satellite imagery from March 14 shows that the word "Children" (Дети) had been written in Russian on the ground in front of and behind the red-roofed theater, according to Maxar Technologies. That same message is frequently seen on cars and elsewhere during the war, as civilians hope Russian forces will avoid firing on them.

The search and rescue work is complicated by a number of factors, Taruta said, including the lack of critical services in Mariupol, which has been under siege for weeks, and a scarcity of doctors to treat the wounded.

Italy is pledging to help rebuild Mariupol's Drama Theater as soon as possible.

"Theaters of all countries belong to the whole humanity," Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini said via Twitter.

Ukrainian officials shared footage of the devastated theater on Thursday, with the Mariupol City Council saying the central part of the large building was destroyed.

People in Mariupol have been living under siege since Russian forces isolated it and began shelling the port city.

The city council said more than 350,000 Mariupol residents continue to hide in shelters and basements. The city has been encircled by Russian troops for 16 days — and fighting is raging on its outskirts.

The city council says that, on average, 50 to 100 bombs have been dropped on the city per day, Frayer reports.

Residents have been desperate to flee, as attacks disrupted critical services and infrastructure. Several attempts to establish humanitarian corridors have been marred by continued fire, but some people have managed to flee. In the past two days, the city's mayor said via Telegram, 6,500 private cars were able to leave the city.

Russia's military is razing Mariupol to the ground, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Thursday.

"They just destroy everything there. Everything and everyone who is there," Zelenskyy said in a speech to German lawmakers. "Hundreds of thousands of people are under shelling around the clock. No food, 24 hours a day without water, no electricity, 24 hours a day without communication. For weeks."

This story originally appeared in the Morning Edition live blog.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.