Ukrainian officials say 300 dead in Russian airstrikes on Mariupol theater sheltering children

Russians knowingly bombed Mariupol theater sheltering children

Bill Hemmer discusses Russia’s indiscriminate shelling in effort to wear down Ukrainians on ‘The Story.’

Officials representing Mariupol, a Ukrainian port city devastated by Russian missile attacks, announced Friday that some 300 people have died after Russian forces attacked a theater sheltering civilians on March 16, citing eyewitnesses.

Russian forces bombed the theater where Mariupol officials claim thousands of civilians had taken refuge. Satellite footage shows the word for “children” written in Russian on the ground near the theater in an apparent signal to airborne Russian soldiers not to attack.

The word "children" is written in large white letters (in Russian) in front of and behind the Mariupol Drama Theater, which was bombed on March 16, 2022.
(Satellite image (c) 2022 Maxar Technologies/Getty Images)

“Unfortunately, we start the day with bad news,” a Telegram message from Mariupol’s official government page reads. “Eyewitnesses reported that about 300 people died in the [Donetsk Regional Drama Theatre] as a result of bombing by a Russian plane.”

Officials said the theater had been a staple in the coastal community before Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, and it became “the last refuge for hundreds of innocent people,” calling Russian forces “fascists of the 21st century” who were “not stopped by the inscription of CHILDREN.”

The drama theater, damaged after shelling, in Mariupol, Ukraine, March 17, 2022
(Azov Battalion via AP)

“There can be no explanation for this inhuman cruelty. There will never be forgiveness for those who brought destruction, pain and suffering to our home,” officials said in the Telegram post.

Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign affairs minister, called the attack a “horrendous war crime” in a Wednesday tweet.

“Massive Russian attack on the Drama Theater where hundreds of innocent civilians were hiding,” he wrote. “The building is now fully ruined. Russians could not have not known this was a civilian shelter. Save Mariupol! Stop Russian war criminals!”

Mariupol’s deputy mayor, Sergei Orlov, told the BBC that between 1,000 and 1,200 people had sought refuge in the building. 

Mariupol has been rocked by devastating Russian attacks over the past several weeks. Airstrikes and shelling have previously hit a maternity hospital, a church and apartment towers in the city, leaving civilians without electricity, heat, water, food, cellphone signal and internet. There have also been reports of Russian forces blocking aid and evacuation buses from entering the strategically located city on the Black Sea. 

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