KYIV, Ukraine: About 300 people were killed in the Russian airstrike last week on a Mariupol theater that was being used as a shelter. Ukrainian authorities said on Friday in what would make it the war’s deadliest known attack on civilians yet.
The bloodshed fueled allegations Moscow is committing war crimes by killing civilians. Whether deliberately or by indiscriminate fire, with a NATO official saying. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war is “unprovoked, illogical and also barbarian.”
For days, the government in the besieged and ruined port city was unable to give a casualty count for the March 16 bombardment of the grand. Columned Mariupol Drama Theater, where hundreds of people were said to be taking cover. The word “CHILDREN” was printed in Russian in huge white letters on the ground outside to ward off the aerial attack.
In announcing the death toll on its Telegram channel Friday, the city government cited eyewitnesses. But it was not immediately clear how witnesses arrived at the figure or whether emergency workers had finished excavating the ruins.
U.S. President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said the theater bombing was an “absolute shock. Particularly given the fact that it was so clearly a civilian target.” He said it showed “a brazen disregard for the lives of innocent people.”
The scale of devastation in Mariupol, where bodies have been left unburied amid bomb craters and hollowed-out buildings, has made information difficult to obtain.
But soon after the attack, the Ukrainian Parliament’s human rights commissioner said. More than 1,300 people had taken shelter in the theater, many of them because their homes had been destroyed. The building had a basement bomb shelter, and some survivors did emerge from the rubble after the attack.
Mircea Geoana, NATO’s deputy secretary-general said. “This is a barbaric war, and according to international conventions, deliberate attacks on civilians are war crimes,”
He said Putin’s efforts to break Ukraine’s will to resist are having the opposite effect. “What he’s getting in response is an even more determined Ukrainian army and an ever more united West in supporting Ukraine.”
The Russian military said 1,351 of its soldiers have died in Ukraine and 3,825 have been wounded, though it was not immediately clear if that included pro-Moscow separatist forces fighting in the east or others, not part of the Defense Ministry, such as the National Guard. Earlier this week, NATO estimated that 7,000 to 15,000 Russian soldiers have been killed in four weeks of fighting.
Britain’s Ministry of Defense said Ukrainian forces have been counterattacking and have been able to reoccupy towns and defensive positions up to 35 kilometers (22 miles) east of Kyiv as Russian troops fall back on their overextended supply lines. In the south, logistical problems and Ukrainian resistance are slowing the Russians as they look to drive west toward the port of Odesa, the ministry said.
Tens of thousands of people have left Mariupol in the past week, most of them driving out in private cars through dozens of Russian checkpoints.
For the vulnerable the elderly, children, and others unable to join millions heading westward. Food shortages are mounting in a country once known as the breadbasket for the world.
In relentlessly shelled Kharkiv, hundreds of panicked people took shelter in the subway, and a hospital emergency room filled with wounded soldiers and civilians.
Mostly elderly women lined up stoically to collect food and other urgent supplies this week, as explosions thudded in the distance. Fidgeting with anticipation, a young girl watched as a volunteer’s knife cut through a giant slab of cheese, carving out thick slices, one for each hungry person.
Hanna Spitsyna took charge of divvying up the delivery of food aid from the Ukrainian Red Cross. Those waiting each got a lump of the cheese, dropped into plastic bags that people in line held open.
“Among those who stayed, there are people who can walk on their own, but many who cannot walk, the elderly,” Hanna said. “All these people need diapers, swaddle blankets, and food.”