Mariupol theatre airstrike

On 16 March 2022, during the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Russian Armed Forces[1][3] bombed the Donetsk Academic Regional Drama Theatre in Mariupol, Ukraine. It was used as an air raid shelter during the siege of Mariupol, sheltering a large number of civilians. The estimations of the number of deaths that occurred due to the bombing have varied, from at least 12 and "likely many more"[1] (Amnesty International) to 600 (Associated Press).[2][a]

Mariupol theatre airstrike
Part of the siege of Mariupol during the Russian invasion of Ukraine
Damage to the theatre after the airstrike
LocationDonetsk Regional Drama Theatre
Mariupol, Ukraine
Date16 March 2022 (2022-03-16) (UTC+3)
TargetCivilians using the theatre as an air raid shelter
Attack type
DeathsEstimates range from 12[1] to over 600[2]
Perpetrators Russian Armed Forces

The Ukrainian government accused the Russian Armed Forces of deliberately bombing the theatre while it was sheltering civilians.[5] Russia denied the allegations.[6] The Russian claim has been refuted by independent investigations.

The theatre is among the Ukrainian heritage and cultural sites destroyed during the invasion.[7] The attack has been classified as a war crime by both the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and Amnesty International.[1][8]


The theatre in May 2021, ten months before the airstrike

On 24 February 2022, the Russian Armed Forces, working together with pro-Russian militias, besieged the port city of Mariupol, leading to heavy casualties. Supplies such as food, gas, and electricity were cut off during the siege.[9] By 17 March, the mayor of Mariupol, Sergiy Orlov, estimated that 80–90 per cent of the city had been destroyed due to shelling.[10]

Mariupol city council officials stated that the theatre was the largest single air raid shelter in the city, sheltering 500[3] to 1,200[5] civilians, and at the time of the attack, women and children were sheltering in it.[11]

Satellite images of the theatre taken on 14 March show the word "children" (Russian: "дети") spelled out in two locations on the square outside the theatre. The message was an attempt to identify the building to attacking forces as a civilian air raid shelter containing children, and not a military target.[12]


The severely damaged theatre (view from the road)[13]

On 16 March 2022, Ukraine accused Russian forces of shelling civilian areas in Mariupol. Artillery hit numerous locations, including a swimming pool building and a vehicle convoy;[14] shelling then struck the theatre, reducing the building to rubble.[15]

The time of the attack on the Donetsk Regional Academic Drama Theatre was shortly after 10 am.[1]

The bomb shelter in the basement of the theatre survived the bombing, but many people were still trapped underneath the burning rubble.[16] A member of the Ukrainian parliament from Mariupol, Dmytro Gurin, said that the rescue efforts were hampered due to continued attacks on the area by Russian forces.[17]

On 25 March, videos allegedly showing the immediate aftermath of the attack emerged on social media: a first video showed people covered in dust descending from the partially destroyed upper floors of the building; and a second video showed the site of the impact.[18]



On 17 March, the number of casualties was unclear; some emerged alive.[19]

By 18 March, around 130 survivors had been rescued.[20][21] The Mariupol City Council stated that according to initial information, no one had been killed, although one person was gravely wounded.[22]

On 25 March, the Mariupol City Council estimated that about 300 people had been killed as a result of the airstrike.[23][24]

On 25 March, The Washington Post published an investigation that cited witnesses that said that all families that had been sheltering in the theatre's basement had escaped unscathed and evacuations had begun before the bombing.[25]

On 4 May, the Associated Press (AP) published an investigation with evidence pointing to 600 dead in the airstrike. Many survivors estimated that around 200 people –including rescuers– had escaped through the main exit or one side entrance; the other side and the back were crushed.[2]

On 7 June 2022, Human Rights Watch and Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group separately announced that Ukrainian refugees, as well as civilians forcibly deported to Russia, were being pressured and intimidated to implicate Ukrainian military personnel in war crimes. This includes a case where a refugee was pressured to implicate the Azov Regiment in the theatre airstrike.[26]



Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused Russia of committing a war crime.[12]

Russian media have widely reported that the Russian Ministry of Defence denied responsibility for the bombing and accused the Azov Regiment of planning and carrying out the theatre bombing instead.[9][12] They claimed that no Russian forces carried out air strikes within the city and blamed Azov Regiment for "taking hostages" of civilians and blowing up the upper floors of the theatre.[27]

Italy's Minister of Culture, Dario Franceschini, made an offer to the Ukrainian government to rebuild the theatre.[28]

Independent reports


On 13 April, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) published a report which covered the Mariupol theatre airstrike.

Russia does not claim that it was a legitimate target but that it was blown up by the Ukrainian Azov battalion. The Mission did not receive any indication that this could be the case... This incident constitutes most likely an egregious violation of IHL and those who ordered or executed it committed a war crime.[8]: 48 

On 4 May, the Associated Press published an investigation of the airstrike, increasing the Ukrainian government's estimate of about 300 to 600 dead. It also refuted Russian claims that the theatre was demolished by Ukrainian forces or served as a Ukrainian military base:[2]

None of the witnesses saw Ukrainian soldiers operating inside the building. And not one person doubted that the theater was destroyed in a Russian air attack aimed with precision at a civilian target everyone knew was the city’s largest bomb shelter, with children in it.

On 30 June 2022, Amnesty International concluded that the airstrike was perpetrated by Russian forces which used two 500 kilograms (1,100 lb) bombs, and that it is a war crime.[1]

Many people were injured and killed in this merciless attack. Their deaths were likely caused by Russian forces deliberately targeting Ukrainian civilians. The International Criminal Court, and all others with jurisdiction over crimes committed during this conflict, must investigate this attack as a war crime. All those responsible must be held accountable for causing such death and destruction.

Amnesty International believes that at least a dozen people were killed by the strike and likely many more, and that many others were seriously injured. This estimate is lower than previous counts, reflecting the fact that large numbers of people had left the theatre during the two days prior to the attack, and most of those who remained were in the theatre’s basement and other areas that were protected from the full brunt of the blast.[1]



On July 11, 2022 Ukrainian media reported that the theatre rubble was cleared by Russians and bodies of victims were allegedly taken away to an unknown place.[29][30][31]

A Potemkin village styled scene has been built around the ruins of the theatre.[32]

In February 2023, Russian journalist Maria Ponomarenko [sv] was sentenced to six years in prison under Russia's war censorship laws for publishing information about the Mariupol theatre airstrike.[33]

On 29 March 2023 InformNapalm published a report in which they accused Colonel Sergey Atroshchenko, commander of the 960th Assault Aviation Regiment of the Russian Air Force (VVSR) of leading the assault, which started from the Primorsko-Akhtarsk airbase in Krasnodar Krai.[34]

See also



  1. ^ At least 11 (eleven) are confirmed by a Russian source.[4]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Ukraine: Deadly Mariupol Theatre Strike 'A Clear War Crime' By Russian Forces". Amnesty International. 30 June 2022. Archived from the original on 9 July 2022. Retrieved 30 June 2022.
  2. ^ a b c d Hinnant, Lori; Chernov, Mstyslav; Stepanenko, Vasilisa (4 May 2022). "AP evidence points to 600 dead in Mariupol theater airstrike". Associated Press. Archived from the original on 4 May 2022. Retrieved 16 June 2022.
  3. ^ a b "Ukraine: Mariupol Theater Hit by Russian Attack Sheltered Hundreds". Human Rights Watch. 16 March 2022. Archived from the original on 17 March 2022. Retrieved 16 March 2022.
  4. ^ "В Мариуполе при разборе завалов драмтеатра нашли тела 11 человек" [In Mariupol, during the analysis of the rubble of the drama theatre, the bodies of 11 people were found]. (in Russian). 24 April 2022. Archived from the original on 11 July 2022. Retrieved 11 July 2022.
  5. ^ a b Bachega, Hugo (16 March 2022). "Ukraine war: Russia attacks theatre sheltering civilians, Mariupol says". BBC News. Archived from the original on 17 April 2022. Retrieved 16 March 2022.
  6. ^ "Russia accuses Ukraine of trying to frame it over Mariupol theatre attack". Reuters. 17 March 2022. Archived from the original on 18 April 2022. Retrieved 4 May 2022.
  7. ^ Cascone, Sarah (23 March 2022). "A Mariupol Museum Dedicated to One of Ukraine's Most Important Realist Painters Has Reportedly Been Destroyed by Russian Airstrikes". Artnet News. Archived from the original on 2 May 2022. Retrieved 5 May 2022.
  8. ^ a b Benedek, Wolfgang; Bílková, Veronika; Sassòli, Marco (13 April 2022). "Report on Violations of international Humanitarian and Human Rights Law, War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity Committed in Ukraine since 24 February 2022" (PDF). OSCE. Warsaw. Archived (PDF) from the original on 7 June 2022. Retrieved 14 April 2022.
  9. ^ a b "Historic Theater Sheltering Mariupol Civilians Hit By Air Strike, Number Of Casualties Unknown". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. AP, AFP, dpa, and BBC. 16 March 2022. Archived from the original on 8 June 2022. Retrieved 17 June 2022. Up to 1,200 people may have been inside the theater, the city's deputy mayor Serhiy Orlov said.
  10. ^ Tondo, Lorenzo (17 March 2022). "Survivors leaving basement of Mariupol theatre after airstrike, say officials". the Guardian. Archived from the original on 6 April 2022. Retrieved 17 March 2022.
  11. ^ Lister, Tim (16 March 2022). "Russia bombs theater where hundreds sought shelter and 'children' was written on grounds". CNN. Archived from the original on 16 March 2022. Retrieved 16 March 2022.
  12. ^ a b c Hayes, Andy (16 March 2022). "Ukraine war: People buried under rubble after Mariupol theatre sheltering hundreds is hit by Russian bomb, officials say". Sky News. Archived from the original on 16 March 2022. Retrieved 16 March 2022.
  13. ^ Росіяни завдали авіаудару по Драмтеатру і басейну "Нептун" у Маріуполі, а також з Градів обстріляли авто колону, що йшла на Запоріжжя [The Russians launched an air strike on the Drama Theatre and the Neptune swimming pool in Mariupol, as well as fired on a convoy going to Zaporizhia from Grady]. Донецька обласна державна адміністрація [Donetsk Regional State Administration] (Press Release). 16 March 2022. Archived from the original on 15 May 2022. Retrieved 31 March 2022.
  14. ^ "Войска РФ нанесли удар по бассейну "Нептун" в Мариуполе, где прятались беременные (видео)" [Russian troops attacked the Neptune pool in Mariupol, where pregnant women were hiding (video)]. ФОКУС (in Russian). 16 March 2022. Archived from the original on 7 April 2022. Retrieved 1 April 2022.
  15. ^ "Mariupol: Russia accused of bombing theatre and swimming pool sheltering civilians". the Guardian. 17 March 2022. Archived from the original on 16 March 2022. Retrieved 17 March 2022.
  16. ^ Mayer, Chloe (17 March 2022). "'It's a miracle': Mariupol theater victims survive Russian bombing". Newsweek. Archived from the original on 8 April 2022. Retrieved 1 April 2022.
  17. ^ "Mariupol theatre: 'We knew something terrible would happen'". BBC News. 17 March 2022. Archived from the original on 12 April 2022. Retrieved 17 March 2022.
  18. ^ @K_Loukerenko (25 March 2022). "First known to me footage of the Mariupol Drama theatre soon..." (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  19. ^ Butenko, Victoria (17 March 2022). "People are emerging from the bombed Mariupol theater building, Ukrainian official says". CNN. Archived from the original on 6 April 2022. Retrieved 17 March 2022.
  20. ^ Sabin, Lamiat (18 March 2022). "Ukraine says 130 people rescued so far from bombed Mariupol theatre". The Independent. Archived from the original on 18 March 2022. Retrieved 18 March 2022.
  21. ^ "Zelenskyy: 130 rescued, 'hundreds' under Mariupol theatre rubble". Archived from the original on 12 April 2022. Retrieved 22 March 2022.
  22. ^ "130 Rescued in Ukrainian Theater Bombing, Search for Missing Continues". Voice of America. 18 March 2022. Archived from the original on 19 March 2022. Retrieved 18 March 2022.
  23. ^ "Ukraine fears 300 people were killed in Mariupol theatre bombed by Russia as families sheltered". 25 March 2022. Archived from the original on 25 March 2022. Retrieved 25 March 2022.
  24. ^ "Satellite images show apparent devastation, hunger in Mariupol". NBC News. 30 March 2022. Archived from the original on 9 April 2022. Retrieved 1 April 2022.
  25. ^ "Inside the Mariupol theater attack: 'I heard screams constantly' - the Washington Post". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 10 November 2022. Retrieved 12 January 2023.
  26. ^ Lanting, Bert (7 June 2022). "HRW: Oekraïense vluchtelingen in Rusland worden onder druk ondervraagd" [HRW: Ukrainian refugees in Russia are interrogated under pressure]. de Volkskrant (in Dutch). Retrieved 8 June 2022.
  27. ^ "Azov battalion militants blow up Mariupol theater building — Defense Ministry". TASS. 16 March 2022. Archived from the original on 25 March 2022. Retrieved 2 April 2022.
  28. ^ "Ukraine: Italy ready to rebuild Mariupol theatre says min". ANSA. 17 March 2022. Archived from the original on 7 April 2022. Retrieved 17 March 2022.
  29. ^ "Россияне разобрали завалы и вывезли тела из Драмтеатра Мариуполя – установить количество жертв невозможно" [Russians have dismantled rubble and have moved bodies elsewhere from Mariupol Drama Theatre – It's impossible to identify exact amount of victims]. (in Russian). Archived from the original on 31 May 2022. Retrieved 11 July 2022.
  30. ^ "Оккупанты разобрали завалы и вывезли тела из драмтеатра Мариуполя – советник мэра" [Occupants have dismantled rubble and took bodies from Mariupol Theatre away – Mayor adviser]. ТСН.ua (in Russian). 20 May 2022. Archived from the original on 23 June 2022. Retrieved 11 July 2022.
  31. ^ Лукащукова, Елизавета (3 May 2022). "Тяжелую технику привлекли к разбору завалов драмтеатра в Мариуполе" [Heavy equipment was involved in the analysis of the rubble of the drama theater in Mariupol]. Ямал-Медиа. Retrieved 11 July 2022.[permanent dead link]
  32. ^ The Russian coverup of the destroyed Mariupol Drama Theater observed on November 30. - Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies. Archived 4 December 2022 at the Wayback Machine
  33. ^ "Russia Jails Anti-War Journalist 6 Years for 'Fake News'". The Moscow Times. 15 February 2023.
  34. ^ "Hacking a Russian war criminal, commander of 960th Assault Aviation Regiment". 29 March 2023.
External image
  A satellite image by Maxar Technologies shows the aftermath of the bombing. The word 'children' (Russian: дети) written in large white letters on the pavement is visible at the front and rear of the building.