The mayor of the beleaguered Ukrainian port of Mariupol called for a Russian strike on a local theater where civilians were harboring a “terrible tragedy” in a video late Wednesday.

“Today there was a terrible tragedy, another tragedy, in our already mutilated Mariupol, of which practically nothing remains,” Mayor Vadym Boychenko said in a video posted on Telegram.

He said a “direct strike” hit the theater on Wednesday, and he blamed Russian forces, who denied responsibility. Satellite images from before the attack showed the word “children” written in Russian in large white letters on the floor on both sides of the theatre.

“We live in a frightening time called war. … We want to close our eyes and forget, like a bad dream, everything that is happening to us now – but we open them and see the war again, we see the devastation, we see all this horror,” he added. in the dark video address.

“We know that unfortunately today many were unlucky,” Boychenko said. However, no official figures had been published on the victims Thursday morning. While the fate of hundreds of residents who had taken refuge in the Mariupol theater remained uncertain, Ukrainian officials said Thursday that rescue efforts were hampered by rubble and continued shelling.

Serhiy Taruta, a Ukrainian politician, wrote on Facebook that there was “good news” on Thursday and many people came out of the theater alive. Oleksiy Honcharenko, a deputy from Odessa, said on Telegram that the bomb shelter in the basement of the theater withstood the hit and that, despite the debris, “people come out of the shelter safe and sound. !”

The BBC reported that a Ukrainian lawmaker, Dmytro Gurin, whose parents were in the city, said more than 1,000 people had sought safety in the theatre, including children, but it appeared “the most of them had survived,” he said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky denounced the bombing and compared the Russian bombing of Mariupol to the Nazi siege of Leningrad during World War II. “Our hearts are broken by what Russia is doing to our people. To our Mariupol,” Zelensky said in a video address, one of several appeals he made on Wednesday.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on Thursday denied that Moscow had bombed the theater, calling it a “lie”. She added: “The Russian armed forces do not bomb cities, and everyone knows that. … The truth will come out again.

Boychenko, the mayor of Mariupol, promised to raise his city from the ruins. Mariupol faced intense attacks from Russian forces as a strategic southern port and was largely cut off from the outside world for weeks. A maternity hospital made headlines last week after being bombed. Ukrainians blamed Russian forces; Moscow claimed, without evidence, that the hospital had been emptied of patients and used as a base for Ukrainian military activity.

David L. Stern, Mary Ilyushina and Amar Nadhir contributed to this report.