HUNDREDS of starving Ukrainian families were last night still trapped under the ruins of the theatre blitzed by tyrant Vladimir Putin’s bombers.
Fears were mounting that the shelter could become their tomb as his Russian forces continued to shell rescuers clawing at rubble to reach them.
Many civilians cowering from constant bombardment in the basement of the building in port city Mariupol are feared to have died in the atrocity on Wednesday.
Putin’s warjets hammered the site even though the ground beside it had been clearly marked with the word “children” in Russian.
And 1,300 people were feared to be trapped in the blacked-out chasm with no, food or water in freezing temperatures as officials revealed 350 got out alive.
Serhiy Taruta, a Ukrainian MP originally from Mariupol, said: “No one understands. Services that are supposed to help are demolished, rescue and utility services… are physically destroyed.”
He added that without swift rescue this would mean that “all the survivors of the bombing will either die under the ruins of the theatre, or have already died”.
The horror marked a new low in evil pariah Putin’s “special operation” in Ukraine — as refugees who fled the city recounted the nightmare of seeing victims blown to pieces or burned alive.
Russian forces were last night locked in battles near the centre of the strategically vital coastal hub where 90 per cent of buildings have now been damaged or destroyed in just 23 days.
Putin needs the city to fall to create a corridor between the snatched eastern enclaves in Donbas and the Crimean peninsula he grabbed in 2014.
But Ukrainian resistance fighters were continuing to hold back the advance last night as the once prosperous trading centre of 450,000 people was turned into a smoking wasteland.
Hero president Volodymyr Zelensky saluted their struggle yesterday and blasted Russia for showing civilians no mercy as they fought to free those trapped in the theatre.
He said: “There are still hundreds of Mariupol residents under the rubble. Despite the shelling, despite all the difficulties, we will continue the rescue work.”
Ukraine’s human rights ombudswoman Lyudmyla Denisova revealed harrowing details of the new ordeal facing theatre victims.
She said: “Rescuers are working but there is only this information: 130 people are alive and have been taken out. The rest are waiting for help. According to our data there are still more than 1,300 people there who are in these basements, in that bomb shelter.”
Ukrainian MP Dmytro Gurin, originally from Mariupol, confirmed the shelter in the basement of the building withstood Wednesday’s attack by a Russian fighter-bomber.
Officials outlined the total collapse of services in the city.
Putin forces have blitzed civilian sites including maternity and children’s hospitals, a swimming pool shelter and a shopping centre since his offensive began on February 24.
Local authorities say at least 2,400 people have been killed in Mariupol but the figure is likely to be far higher as entire neighbourhoods have been levelled.
Respected defence expert Paul Beaver told UK Times last night: “We have seen horror in this campaign in Kharkiv and other cities — but what is happening in Mariupol is on another level.
“Putin has clearly instructed his commanders to take the city by all means necessary and it is civilians who are paying the terrible price.”
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