Italy Offers to Help Rebuild Ukrainian Theater Destroyed by Bomb with Civilians Sheltered Inside

Italy’s minister of culture said his proposal to rebuild “as soon as possible” was approved by the Italian government: “Theaters of all countries belong to the whole humanity,” he added

Mariupol, Ukraine theater bombed
Mariupol, Ukraine, in the wake of an attack during the Russian invasion. Photo: EyePress News/Shutterstock

As rescue workers in Mariupol, Ukraine, have pulled survivors from the wreckage of the besieged city's theater, where civilians sheltered before apparent Russian bombs hit on Wednesday, Italy's minister of culture said his country will help rebuild the edifice "as soon as possible."

"Italy is ready to rebuild the Theatre of #Mariupol. The cabinet of Ministers has approved my proposal to offer #Ukraine the resources and means to rebuild it as soon as possible," Dario Franceschini wrote on Twitter on Thursday. "Theaters of all countries belong to the whole humanity #worldheritage."

Officials have said hundreds of civilians sought safety in the theater as invading Russian forces devastated the city of Mariupol, where residents resorted to burying their dead in a mass grave on the outskirts of town.

"On 16 March, Russian air force dropped a powerful bomb on the building of the drama theatre in Mariupol," the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine said Wednesday, noting that the building was a "sanctuary" for residents whose homes had been destroyed by Russian forces.

The word "children" was written in Russian outside two sides of the building. But that was not enough to prevent an attack from above.

Mariupol, Ukraine theater

The Ukrainian parliament's human rights commissioner, Liudmyla Denisova, said Friday that 130 survivors had been rescued from the rubble so far, according to reports.

"There are still more than 1,300 people there who are in these basements, in that bomb shelter," Denisova said, citing data from Ukrainian officials. "We pray that all of them will be alive, but at the moment there is no information about them."

The city council in Mariupol, which has been surrounded by Russian invaders since late February, said more than 1,000 people — mostly women, children and the elderly — were sheltering in the theater, according to Reuters.

"The bomb strike demolished the central part of the theatre building, causing large numbers of people to be buried under the debris," Ukraine's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in its initial report. "The assessment of the exact number of persons affected is currently impossible due to ongoing shelling."

Denisova, the human rights commissioner, called the attack "an act of genocide and a terrible crime against humanity."

Russia has denied bombing the theater in Mariupol and targeting civilians across Ukraine.

The fighting in Ukraine continues some three weeks after Russian forces launched a large-scale invasion on Feb. 24 — the first major land conflict in Europe in decades.

Mariupol, Ukraine theater bombed
A theater in Mariupol, Ukraine. EyePress News/Shutterstock

Details change by the day, but hundreds of civilians have already been reported dead or wounded, including children, though casualties are said to be vastly underreported.

More than 3 million people have fled Ukraine since the fighting began, the United Nations says.

"You don't know where to go, where to run, who you have to call. This is just panic," Liliya Marynchak, a 45-year-old teacher in Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine, told PEOPLE of the moment her city was bombed — one of numerous accounts of bombardment by the Russians.

The invasion, ordered by Russian leader Vladimir Putin, has drawn condemnation around the world and increasingly severe economic sanctions.

With NATO forces massing in the region around Ukraine, various countries have also pledged aid or military support to the resistance. Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for peace talks — so far unsuccessful — while urging his country to fight back.

Putin insists Ukraine has historic ties to Russia and he is acting in the best security interests of his country. Zelenskyy vowed not to bend.

"Nobody is going to break us, we're strong, we're Ukrainians," he told the European Union in a speech in the early days of the fighting, adding, "Life will win over death. And light will win over darkness."

The Russian attack on Ukraine is an evolving story, with information changing quickly. Follow PEOPLE's complete coverage of the war here, including stories from citizens on the ground and ways to help.

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