Officials in Ukraine said on Wednesday that Russian forces bombed a theater where civilians were sheltering in the besieged Ukrainian port city of Mariupol.
The Mariupol council posted an image of the city’s theater, showing it had sustained heavy damage in today’s attack.
The Russian defense ministry has denied attacking the theatre.
Russian forces had “purposefully and cynically destroyed the Drama Theater in the heart of Mariupol,” it said. It added that the plane dropped a bomb on a building where hundreds of peaceful Mariupol residents were hiding.
It said casualty numbers were being confirmed.
Ukraine’s Foreign Affairs Minister Dmytro Kuleba called the assault “another horrendous war crime,” which targeted “hundreds of innocent civilians” in hiding.
Another horrendous war crime in Mariupol. Massive Russian attack on the Drama Theater where hundreds of innocent civilians were hiding. The building is now fully ruined. Russians could not have not known this was a civilian shelter. Save Mariupol! Stop Russian war criminals! pic.twitter.com/bIQLxe7mli
— Dmytro Kuleba (@DmytroKuleba) March 16, 2022
“Over 1,000 people” were sheltering in Mariupol’s theater
According to CNN, the council added on its Telegram channel: “It is still impossible to estimate the scale of this horrific and inhumane act, because the city continues to shell residential areas. It is known that after the bombing, the central part of Mariupol’s Drama Theater was destroyed, and the entrance to the bomb shelter in the building was destroyed.”
It added: “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. These are completely unarmed peaceful people.”
Sergei Orlov, Mariupol’s deputy mayor, told the BBC that between 1,000 and 1,200 people were there.
Multiple reports that Russian forces dropped a bomb on Mariupol drama theatre where (at least until yesterday) hundreds of people were taking refuge. If confirmed refugees were still inside, this would be potentially the worst civilian harm incident and an undisputable war crime. pic.twitter.com/sDfhHULLCM
— Christo Grozev (@christogrozev) March 16, 2022
Last week footage appeared which showed dozens of people taking shelter at Mariupol’s Drama Theater.
Mariupol has been encircled by Russian forces, and an estimated 300,000 are trapped with no running water, electricity or gas. Food and medical supplies are running low, and Russia has not allowed the delivery of humanitarian aid.
The city has been under constant Russian shelling since the start of the war, and entire neighborhoods have been turned into wastelands.
Last week a Russian strike hit a children’s and maternity hospital in Mariupol – which had already suffered days of shelling.
President Zelensky tweeted footage from the incident — which he described as a “direct strike” — showing destroyed rooms along a corridor in the building.
“People, children are under the wreckage. Atrocity! How much longer will the world be an accomplice ignoring terror?” the Ukrainian president asked.