School where hundreds were believed to be sheltering is bombed in Mariupol as fighting rages for key port city

Lviv, Ukraine CNN  — 

An adviser to the mayor of Mariupol has said officials in the besieged Ukrainian city are struggling to find out exactly how many people survived after an art school was bombed by Russian forces on Sunday morning.

“So far, there is no exact operational data on how many people were hiding in the shelter or the number of casualties,” Petro Andrushenko said in a social media post. “I expect we will have it later today. But the situation is difficult and there is nowhere to get the data from.”

Earlier, the city council said the building was acting as a shelter for an estimated 400 people.

The information black hole reflects a similar lack of clarity about how many people survived an attack four days ago on a theater in Mariupol that was also being used as a shelter, possibly for up to 1,300 people.

The number of people reported to have survived that bombing – put at 130 – has been unchanged for several days.

It is indicative of the almost total collapse of basic services and communications in a city that is increasingly bearing the brunt of Russia’s fierce assault on the country.

A local resident is seen in the cellar of a house in Mariupol, Ukraine on March 18, 2022.
Residents leave the city of Mariupol which has seen intense fighting in recent weeks.

“The city continues to be shelled both from the sky and the sea,” Andrushenko wrote on his Telegram channel Sunday. “It seems the occupiers are so eager to wipe out Mariupol that they are ready to cover themselves with fire.”

Four of the seven established humanitarian corridors out of Mariupol were operational on Sunday, according to Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk, and almost 7,300 people were evacuated.

Among them, 3,900 people were evacuated by buses and private transport from Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia.

Ukraine government and city officials rejected a call by the Russian Ministry of Defense for Mariupol authorities to surrender the city to Russian forces by 5 a.m. local time Monday, a move reported by the Russian state media outlet, RIA Novosti.

“There can be no discussion of any surrender or of laying down arms,” said Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vereshchuk in an interview late Sunday.

“I have already informed the Russian side about it. I wrote: ‘Instead of wasting your time to write an 8-page letter – open the corridor,’” Vereshchuk said, adding Ukraine has informed the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross and is “awaiting a response from the international community. This is a conscious manipulation and true hostage taking.”

Russia was offering to open humanitarian corridors to the city by 10 a.m. Monday and “wants to receive a written response from Kiev to these proposals before 5:00,” RIA Novosti reported, citing the head of Russia’s National Center for Defense Management, Colonel-General Mikhail Mizintsev.

“From 10 am to 12 o’clock - for all armed units of Ukraine and foreign mercenaries is a temporary suspension of fighting along the route agreed with Ukraine. From 12 o’clock, there will be a simultaneous passage of humanitarian convoys with food, medicine and basic necessities,” Mizintsev said, according to the report.

Andrushenko said people trying to flee the city in their cars were being shot at by Russian forces.

“Evacuation is difficult – difficult but moving. The Russians are doing everything to complicate things. Last night, cars trying to drive towards the village of Melekine [6 miles west of the city center] were fired upon.”

Other residents looking to flee were having their cars seized from them at a checkpoint just outside Mariupol, he said.

Meanwhile, Mariupol City Council said in a statement on Saturday night that residents of the city were being taken to Russian territories against their will by Russian forces.

“Over the past week, several thousand Mariupol residents have been taken to Russian territory. The occupiers illegally took people from the Livoberezhny district and from the shelter in the sports club building, where more than a thousand people (mostly women and children) were hiding from the constant bombing,” the statement read.

According to Colonel-General Mizintsev almost 60,000 residents of Mariupol “found themselves in Russia in complete safety,” RIA Novosti reported.