Russian forces have reportedly bombed a theater located in the center of the besieged Ukrainian port town of Mariupol where civilians were sheltering, possibly killing hundreds.
According to Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s minister of foreign affairs, Russian forces bombed the Donetsk Academic Regional Drama Theater in Mariupol, a city under heavy bombardment from the Russians. He said that “hundreds of innocent civilians were hiding” inside the theater as they attempted to survive the Russian siege of the city.
“The building is now fully ruined,” he tweeted Wednesday. He added that Russia had to have known that civilians were inside.
Satellite images taken on March 14, and provided to VICE News by Maxar Technologies, shows the world “children” written in Russian being displayed in large letters in front of and behind the theater.
Serhiy Orlov, Mariupol's deputy mayor, told the BBC there may have been upwards of 1,200 people in the building seeking shelter from the bombing.
Mariupol, a port city in southeastern Ukraine, is in the midst of a Russian shelling campaign so vicious that Peter Maurer, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said civilians there “face a waking nightmare.”
“Sheltering in freezing basements, desperately needing food, water, medicine,” he tweeted on Wednesday. “Parties involved in the fighting must reach a concrete humanitarian agreement. In the name of humanity, this cannot continue.”
Russian media blamed the attack on Ukraine’s ultra-nationalist Azov Battalion. On Telegram, an account associated with the Mariupol City Council said the civilian toll is not known but the main building of the theatre has been destroyed and the bomb shelter inside the building partially destroyed.
“A plane dropped a bomb on a building where hundreds of peaceful residents were hiding,” they wrote in Ukraine, which VICE translated to English. “It is still impossible to estimate the scale of this horrific and inhumane act.”
“It is impossible to find words that could describe the level of cruelty and cynicism with which the Russian occupiers are destroying the civilian population of the Ukrainian city by the sea. Women, children, and the elderly remain in the enemy's sights.”
On Wednesday, a devastating Associated Press story was released that showed the brutal toll on the citizens who remain in the city as it is bombarded by Russian troops. The roads leading out of the city are mined, meaning there’s no escape from the constant shelling.
There was so much devastation that locals had to dig a mass grave where they threw the bodies of the men, women, and children killed by the shelling. Many key buildings, like hospitals, fire halls, schools, and churches have all been shelled in the besieged town of 43,000.
Before today's attack on the theater, it was estimated that more than 2,500 people had already been killed.
Earlier in the week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy remarked on the devastating treatment of Ukraine’s tenth-largest city.
“They have a clear order to hold Mariupol hostage, to mock it, to constantly bomb and shell it,” he said.