What happened to the Mariupol theater, bombed by Russian troops: “We survived”

Of Andrea Nicastro

The Mariupol theater in Ukraine was bombed on Wednesday 16 March: there were hundreds of people in the structure. The death toll is not yet clear. Two Ukrainian parliamentarians said there are survivors: 130 people left alive

ZAPORIZHZHIA (UKRAINE) – If Russia hadn’t invaded Ukraine, today the show Frida would be staged at the Mariupol Theater of Dramatic Art, on the story of Frida Kahlo. If Russia had not invaded Ukraine, yesterday in the foyer and underground storage rooms of the theater there would have been only sets and old costumes and no more than a thousand displaced persons. If Russia hadn’t invaded Ukraine, today we shouldn’t dig in the rubble of a theater to look for the survivors.

A high-potential bomb hit the roof of the white theater of Mariupol yesterday, Wednesday 16 March. collapsed the roof, the pediment with the statues of the arts, the neoclassical columns.

Inside, just to shelter from the bombing, in recent days mainly women and children had taken refuge
. One thousand, twelve hundred peoplesays the deputy mayor Serhiy Orlov. We know the theater housed at least 500 civilians, said Belkis Wille, a Human Rights Watch contact.

Ukrainian MP Dmytro Gurin said today that there may be survivors: we had information that the underground shelters resisted the attack, but most of them appear to have survived and are well. Information confirmed by another parliamentarian, Olga Stefanyshyna, according to which 130 people have so far come out alive from the theater. The bomb shelter near the Mariupol Drama Theater has resisted – he told the Ukrinform news agency – About 130 people have already been rescued. The blocks have been dismantled.

We don’t know how many people there were in there. Certainly, those who survived will still feel the bombs exploding, hunger, thirst, fear as in these terrible two weeks of siege.

In Mariupol there are three hundred, four hundred thousand human beings, locked up in their city and left without light, heating, food, water, medicine. Bombed, at any time, in any corner. Yesterday while 6,500 citizens managed to get out of the city, other civilian convoys were bombed, injuring at least five people, including a child.

Those of the theater they came from the eastern districts of the city, those affected since the first days of the war, the areas where, it was said, it was not sensible to stay because they were too close to the fighting line. Over there, in the far outskirts, it was easy to see the movements of Ukrainian troops so as not to think that a Russian bomb chasing some military jeep could not have hit civilian homes as well. So better go downtown. Even though it was uncomfortable to leave the houses, the beds, the privacy. It is more prudent to go to the good living room of the city, where the flower beds are well cared for, there is the historic carousel of horses and a beautiful ice skating rink to take advantage of the cold season. Who would ever fight in a favor like that?

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That was how it was thought two weeks ago. The idea was that it was a war between soldiers which, perhaps, could also affect civilians. But if it had happened it would have been by mistake, collateral damage. After all, it was enough to listen to the Kremlin: Moscow fights to help the Russians living in Ukraine oppressed by local Nazis. Why would she want to ruin the park where these Russians take children to play? Bomb the houses where these Russians live? Attacking the theater, then: unthinkable. The building, almost a Greek temple in its pomp, had survived intact the first and second world wars, the invasion of the Hitlerite Nazis and the repression by Lenin’s Bolsheviks on Don Nestor Makhno’s anarchist Cossacks.

The 1st of March, the first day of complete encirclement of the city-port, the theater began to fill up. The municipality has opened its doors precisely to accommodate those who could no longer leave the besieged city, but did not want to stay close to the fighting. As the hours go by, the theater turned into a camp. The management was entrusted to a woman. Already on the first day, there were 6 sick children with high fevers who were kept, with their mothers, in the management office. The others were scattered among the foyer, stalls and stage. Few mattresses and lots of blankets spread out on the floor to mark the place of each family. People only went underground during the air raid. For the rest, he was trying to make a living, with black and white photos of the most famous actors of Ukraine and Russia looking at them from the walls.

Ukrainian soldiers also passed several times a day to bring hot food, water, wooden boards to close the windows, so that they would not fall on the evacuees in the event of a nearby bombing, due to the displacement of air. A pity to spoil the historical jambs like this, an old man had complained. In the square everything still seemed as if after a Sunday of celebration, suspended. The carousel wrapped in red and white striped plastic, the skating rink that melted and flooded the paths. Who knows how long it will take to form ice again? The bomb yesterday afternoon. The collapsed white theater. A deputy from Kiev was the first to announce it. The deputy mayor confirmed it.

A Russian bomb had already fallen on a municipal swimming pool on Monday. Even that used as a refuge for displaced people during the first week of the siege. Then it was fortunately abandoned. The fighting had gotten too close, the people at the pool sought more cover, some might even have gone to the theater. It seems there was only one woman and her baby left. No one, since Monday, has been able to look for them.

The Russians deny hitting civilian buildings. Looking at the satellite images, some taken with drones, a bizarre statement, from an alternative reality, given that entire Soviet apartment blocks are burned like matches, entire neighborhoods have been crumbled by cannon fire. In the case of the theater, then, the Russian command makes it known that it has had a precious tip from a spy infiltrated in the infamous Azov Battalion, the one suspected of neo-Nazi sympathies. The informant would explain that the main command center of the Battalion was actually installed in the theater. The bomb would then go precise on the target, to eliminate a den of enemies. Or, specify to make a massacre. It is now clear: after the bombing of the maternity and pediatric hospital, after 400 health workers and patients are prisoners in the only hospital left in the city, after the cruelty of not sending aid, not supplying electricity, destroying the boilers , clear that Mariupol’s martyrdom is a strategic goal, more a psychological weapon. The more the city of Maria suffers the sooner all other cities of Ukraine will understand how dangerous it is to resist. Everyone will understand that there is no limit to ferocity, that the Russian butcher will continue to work at full capacity, that no one should expect mercy.

From Mariupol they swear instead that the Russians knew that the theater was full of civilians. Even the readers of the Courier service, because the fugitives from the besieged city had told it on Tuesday. And the Russian pilots certainly knew it too. Satellite photos show that the evacuees had written in Cyrillic in the theater grounds and in front of the colonnade twice the same four-letter Russian word: deti. And deti means children.

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