Amnesty International gathers new evidence of Russian war crimes during airstrike on Mariupol drama theater

Anna Kholodnova

Amnesty International has gathered new evidence of a Russian war crime during an attack on a drama theater in Mariupol.

This is stated in a new investigation "Children: an attack on the Donetsk Oblast Academic Drama Theater in Mariupol."

Investigators believe the Russian military targeted the theater, knowing that hundreds of civilians were hiding there.

Amnesty International gathered testimonies from 52 survivors and eyewitnesses, 28 of whom were in or near the drama theater during the attack. Investigators also analyzed satellite images and radar data taken immediately before and immediately after the attack; verified photo and video materials from the archives of witnesses and social networks and researched two sets of architectural plans of the theater.

The exact number of victims is currently unknown, but Amnesty International says it may be lower than previously reported. Immediately after the attack, the Mariupol City Council said that about 300 people had died. The Associated Press said in its investigation that approximately 600 people could have died.

Amnesty International, meanwhile, points out that a large number of residents left the theater through "green" corridors shortly before the attack, including on March 14 and 15. And most of those who remained in the theater could be in safer areas of the building, including the front of the theater and the basement, which were protected from the direct explosion. Other people who were in the field kitchen on the street, on stage, and in the front rows were likely to be seriously injured and killed, investigators said.

Eyewitnesses told Amnesty International the full names of the four killed: Mykhailo Hrebenetskyi, Liubov Sviridova, Olena Kuznetsova, and Ihor Chystiakov. Respondents mentioned the names of three other people who, in their opinion, also died. Several eyewitnesses saw the dead bodies but did not identify them.

"Everything changed in one second. Everything shuddered... People started shouting. The basement was full of dust. I saw people dripping with blood," investigators quoted a teenage girl who was hiding in the basement with her boyfriend and mother during the blast.

Amnesty International also analyzed open sources. Their data show that the traditional media reported three victims, and information about three more victims was found on social networks. Amnesty has gathered evidence of at least 12 deaths. At the same time, many bodies have not yet been identified.

"There were many wounded… The police tried to pull people out from under the rubble… At first, I saw his [Mikhailʼs] hand. At first, I saw a familiar hand. You know the hands of your loved ones. His face was covered in blood. His body was made of bricks… I didnʼt want my mother to see it,” said Yevhen Hrebenetsky, who found his father Mykhailoʼs body in the concert hall.

Another eyewitness, Dmytro Symonenko, was with Liubov Sviridova a few minutes before she died of her injuries.

"She was seriously injured. She managed to crawl out from under the rubble... She asked us to remember her name because she felt she was dying,” he told Amnesty International.

Many other respondents told Amnesty International that they saw bloodied bodies and torn body parts, including legs and arms, in the rubble of the building after the attack.

In its investigation, Amnesty International turned, in particular, to a physicist to determine the actual mass of explosives needed to cause destruction of such magnitude as in the drama theater in Mariupol. He designed a mathematical model of an explosion in a theater, according to which the bombs used should contain 400-800 kg of explosives.

After analyzing the air bombs in the Russian armyʼs arsenal, Amnesty International concluded that the Russian military had struck with two 500-kilogram bombs of the same model. The total mass of the explosive in them is 440-600 kg. Most likely, the air strike was caused by one of the Su-25, Su-30, or Su-34 fighter planes, which were based at nearby Russian airfields and often flew over the south of Ukraine.

Amnesty International has also considered several alternative theories about who is responsible for the attack. Researchers deny statements by the Russian authorities about the involvement of the Ukrainian military. In addition, none of the 28 survivors of the attack and other witnesses interviewed by Amnesty International provided any information that the Armed Forces used the theater as a base for military operations or a place to store weapons.

  • The occupiers dropped a bomb on the drama theater in Mariupol on March 16. It has become a shelter for about a thousand people, including children and patients who need special medical attention.
  • At the end of May, the occupiers completed dismantling the rubble of the destroyed drama theater. The bodies were buried in a mass grave.