Mariupol theater airstrike was ‘a manifest war crime’ committed by the Russian military, Amnesty International says

LONDON — The Russian military committed “a manifest war crime” when its forces shelled a packed theater in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol in March, Amnesty International said Thursday.

The London-based international human rights group has released a new report documenting the unfolding of the deadly blitz at the Donetsk University Regional Drama Theatre, citing interviews with numerous survivors and witnesses as well as “extensive digital evidence which included photographs, videos, radio intercepts, satellite imagery and radar data. The report concluded that the evidence indicates that the attack “was almost certainly an airstrike carried out by the Russian military”, with the theater as the “intended objective”.

“After months of rigorous investigation, analysis of satellite imagery and interviews with dozens of witnesses, we have concluded that the attack was a clear war crime committed by Russian forces,” the court said Thursday. Secretary General of Amnesty International, Agnès Callamard, in a press release.

Emergency management specialists and volunteers remove debris from the Donetsk University Regional Drama Theater, destroyed during Russia’s war against Ukraine, in the southeastern port city of Mariupol Ukraine, April 25, 2022.

Alexander Ermoshenko/Reuters, File

As many as 1,500 civilians had taken refuge in the large Donetsk Regional Academic Drama Theater in central Mariupol when it was hit on March 16, according to the Ukrainian government. Russian forces had been relentlessly bombarding the strategic port city in southeastern Ukraine since launching an invasion on February 24. Satellite images taken before the attack showed huge white Cyrillic letters written on the pavement in front and behind the building, spelling out the Russian word for ‘children’ – ‘deti’ – to alert warplanes of those in the way. inside.

According to Amnesty International’s report, Russian warplanes most likely attacked the theater-turned-shelter using two 500-kilogram bombs that struck close together and detonated simultaneously. The strike took place on a clear morning and landed inside the main theater structure, which the report said was a cultural monument and the only large building in the middle of a large park in Mariupol. The civilian character of the theater and the presence of many civilians “was evident”, according to the report.

About a week after the attack, the Mariupol City Council said the death toll was around 300, citing eyewitnesses. A subsequent Associated Press investigation found evidence that the strike was far deadlier than originally anticipated, killing nearly 600 people inside and outside the building. The AP called it “the deadliest known attack on civilians to date” in Russia’s war on Ukraine.

A drone view shows the Donetsk Regional Academic Drama Theater destroyed during Russia’s war against Ukraine, with the Russian word for ‘children’ written in large white Cyrillic letters on the sidewalk, in the port city from Mariupol, southeast Ukraine, April 10, 2022.

Pavel Klimov/Reuters, File

It is still unclear exactly how many people were killed, but Amnesty International said the death toll was likely much lower than previously reported. Based on a review of testimonies and other sources, the organization estimates that “at least a dozen people died in the attack, but also that it is likely that many more deaths remain unreported. “, according to the report.

“Many people were injured and killed in this ruthless attack. Their deaths were likely caused by Russian forces deliberately targeting Ukrainian civilians,” Callamard said. “The International Criminal Court, and all other courts 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 so much death and destruction. “

The Russian army claimed to have fully captured Mariupol in late May, after a nearly three-month siege that reduced the city of 430,000 people to rubble. The victory secured a coastal corridor between Russia and the Crimean peninsula, which Moscow forcibly annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

“In the air and on the ground, Russian forces have engaged in a series of well-documented and deliberate killings of civilians in Ukraine,” Callamard added. “Thorough investigations are urgently needed to hold the perpetrators accountable for the serious injuries and loss of civilian life they caused, as well as the extensive damage to civilian infrastructure.”

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