Ukraine conflict: Mariupol theatre hit by Russian air strike had ‘children’ written on pavement in Russian - satellite images show

Satellite imagery shows a destroyed theatre in Ukraine where civilians were sheltering had the word “children” written in Russian on the pavement outside the building.

A Russian air strike ripped apart a theatre where hundreds of people have been living in the besieged city of Mariupol, Ukrainian officials said.

But reports suggest the bomb shelter contained at the theatre appears to have survived the strike intact.

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Ukrainian MP Dmytro Gurin told the BBC: "The [theatre] building is destroyed, we have more than 1,000 women and children in the bomb shelter, in the basement.

"Minutes ago we had an information that the bomb shelter survived and people there survived.

"We don't know yet whether we have wounded people, or killed people. But it looks like most of them have survived and are OK."

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

The bombardment of the theatre, which had become a makeshift shelter as combat tore across the port city over the past three weeks and made thousands homeless, left many people buried in the burning rubble, Ukraine's foreign ministry said in a statement. There was no immediate word on how many people were killed or injured.

This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows the Mariupol Drama Theater in Mariupol, Ukraine on Monday, March 14, 2022. Ukrainian officials say Russian forces destroyed the theatre in the city of Mariupol where hundreds of people were sheltering.The Maxar satellite imagery firm said images from Monday showed the word children had been written in large white letters in Russian in front of and behind the building. (Maxar Technologies via AP)

At least as recently as Monday, the pavement in front of and behind the theatre was marked with huge white letters spelling out "CHILDREN" in Russian, according to images released by the Maxar space technology company.

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"My heart breaks from what Russia is doing to our people," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Wednesday night, 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.

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".

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"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."

Mr Putin appeared on television to excoriate Russians who do not back him over the conflict, despite 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."

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