The death toll from the Russian bombing of the Mariupol theater is close to 600, not 300 as previously thought, according to the Associated Press. These estimates are based on eyewitness accounts and an analysis of the situation in the theater before the explosion.
The March 16 attack “actually resulted in more deaths than previously thought,” the PA said in a statement published Wednesday. The agency estimates that about 600 people died in and around the theater. The Associated Press spoke with 23 witnesses – bomb survivors and rescuers. PA journalists also took into account the accounts of people who described how life was built in the theater building, which became a shelter for civilians, and in which rooms people took refuge.
The journalists also analyzed the theater’s plans, photographs and writings taken before and after the Russian bombing.
“All witnesses say at least 100 people were outside, near the field kitchen, and no one survived. They also say that the corridors and corridors inside the building were crowded and covered about three square meters per person,” the AP said. Most of the survivors estimated the number of people in the theater at the time of the bombing to be about 1,000. The survivors were able to get out of the main and side entrances. The back and other sides of the building collapsed.
The Associated Press reports that the first people to hide in the building of the Drama Theater in the first days of March, Russian troops began to besiege Mariupol. The first tenants were actors, administrative staff, artists – only 60 people. City officials soon set aside the building for shelter because of its large basements and thick walls, and 600 people gathered on the first day, AP Ołena Bila, who has worked in the theater for 19 years, was told. The AP recalls that the number of spectators in the theater was 600 people.
“Every day, more and more people came to find themselves in the corridors. A group of 16 people set up a security committee to protect the front entrance,” the AP reported. As of March 15, about 1,200 people had gathered in the building, according to the agency. People “slept in office rooms, corridors, boxes and basements,” in halls, locker rooms, and in the audience. However, people did not sleep on the stage – there, under the dome, were kept cats and dogs.
The AP further describes that Mariupol was already without water, food and electricity in mid-March. Meanwhile, “the theater has become a place where everyone can get food and water provided by the Red Cross, or possible evacuation news.” There was a water tank in front of the theater and an outdoor kitchen next to it. “People flocked to the theater as the most likely point of any evacuation,” the Associated Press reported.
Witnesses told the AP that all newcomers to the building were registered at the entrance. Visitors bought something unique in Mariupol: hot tea.
The Russian raid took place on March 16 at around 10. In the morning, the bomb hit the stage and the kitchen. The AP describes the accounts of several witnesses who approached. Among them is Maria Kutniakova, whose family and neighbors took refuge in the theater in the morning. Then, as can be seen from their report, the first floor, like the first and second floors of the theater, was already full. The Kutniak family found an empty space on the third floor, near the window. It was a giant that threatened to be covered with glass during the fire. But only because this place near the window was free, the Kutnyakovs took it. Maria told the AP that she went to all parts of the building in search of space and that the rooms were full of people.
Another witness, Dmitry Yurin, was on his way to the theater for food and water when the bomb exploded. The shock wave of the explosion knocked him to the ground; The man rushed to the rescue and began to pull people out from under the rubble. “Most of the bodies were left inaccessible in the lower parts of the building, which was damaged by the fire,” the Associated Press reported.
The agency also shows the account of Yulia Maruchnenko, who lives near the theater. The woman was given first aid and fled to the building after the blast, but was unable to help again – she saw scattered bodies, severed limbs and human bones. He and two police officers told the PA that several people had been rescued from the rubble, the last one being a woman named Nadija, six hours after the attack. Nadija said the force of the blast rejected her husband and son, and both died under the rubble.
The AP quoted two experts as saying that the scale of the damage was a 500-kilogram bomb dropped by a Russian military plane. The agency reminds that the word “Children” was painted in front of and behind the theater building about a week before the attack – so big that you can see it in satellite photos. Witnesses deny the Russian version that the theater served as a military base: none of the witnesses saw Ukrainian soldiers inside.
“No one doubts that the theater was accurately destroyed by a Russian air strike on a civilian target. Everyone knew that this building was the largest shelter for civilians and that there were children there,” the AP said.