ukraine war

Investigation Finds Mariupol Theater Death Toll Much Higher Than Reported

Photo: Sergei Ilintsky/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

An in-depth investigation conducted by the Associated Press found that roughly 600 people were killed when Russian forces bombed a theater in Mariupol on March 16 — about twice as many as the Ukrainian government had originally estimated.

Relying on accounts from 23 survivors of the massacre as well as a 3-D model of the building’s floor plans, the AP attempted to gauge how many people were in the Donetsk Academic Regional Drama Theater when Russia destroyed it, and how many survived. The theater had served as a refuge for trapped Mariupol residents attempting to survive the devastating invasion and siege of their city. The bombing was the single deadliest attack on civilians of the war so far.

Survivors the AP spoke to estimated that about 1,000 people were inside the theater when the bombs fell, and that only around 200 survived, at most — so the new estimate may actually be conservative.

Days before the strike, in an effort to deter airstrikes, Ukrainians wrote the world children in large Cyrillic letters on the ground outside the theater — text that was visible even from satellites. The bombing was met with global outrage, as baseless claims that it was staged by Ukraine circulated through Russian social media.

Residents of Mariupol, a strategically important city in southern Ukraine, have faced some of the most hellish conditions in the country since early March, when Russian forces moved in. As Russia barraged the city with bombs, it lost power, cell-phone connections, and consistent access to food and water. Since then, Russia has destroyed a large portion of the city’s buildings. Officials estimate that about 20,000 civilians have been killed, though the number is likely to change when more information comes out.

Those who have escaped have shared stories of privation and resilience.

Despite the consistent bombardment and destruction, Russia has still not managed to fully capture the city — a sign of the country’s weaker-than-expected overall military effort. A last pocket of Ukrainian soldiers, along with some civilians, have been holed up at Mariupol’s enormous Azovstal steel plant for weeks. This week, Russia launched a renewed assault to take the plant.

Mariupol Theater Death Toll Likely Much Worse Than Reported