Ukraine: Mariupol theater hit by Russian attack shelters hundreds of people
(Dnipro) – The theater hit by a Russian attack on Mariupol on March 16, 2022 was home to hundreds of civilians, Human Rights Watch said today.
Pavlo Kirilenkoa, the governor of Ukraine’s Donetsk region, announced on March 16 that Russian forces had shelled the Donetsk Regional Drama Theater, where hundreds of residents had taken refuge in the besieged city of Mariupol. Petro Andryushchenko, assistant mayor of Mariupol, told Human Rights Watch that his office did not yet know whether or how many civilians had been injured or killed. In satellite images of the theater from March 14, the Russian word for “children” appears clearly written twice in large Cyrillic characters in front and behind the theater.
“Until we know more, we can’t rule out the possibility of a Ukrainian military target in the area of the theater, but we do know that the theater housed at least 500 civilians,” said lead researcher Belkis Wille. on crises and conflicts at Human Rights Watch. “This raises serious concerns about the intended target in a city where civilians have already been under siege for days and where telecommunications, electricity, water and heating have been almost completely cut off.”
On March 16, just hours before the attack, Human Rights Watch interviewed more than a dozen Mariupol residents who had fled the city the day before in a convoy of hundreds of private cars and arrived in Zaporizhzhia. Two people interviewed separately mentioned civilians taking refuge in the basement of the Mariupol theatre. One, a doctor, said she had visited the theater in the days before she left and that between 500 and 800 civilians were staying there. The other person, who had spent the past two weeks delivering food, water and medicine to shelters across the city, said he had brought aid to the theater on several occasions and that it housed between 500 and 700 civilians.
Human Rights Watch was unable to reach anyone in Mariupol by telephone on March 16 to determine whether any civilians had left the theater just before the attack. The doctor did, however, share four photographs of the theater she said she took on the morning of March 15, as she drove out of town, including one that shows groups of people in civilian clothes cooking food over an open fire and carrying the water. buckets just outside the theater. No military vehicles or personnel are visible in the photographs.
Human Rights Watch verified three videos posted on March 16 on a Telegram channel that posts videos and reports from Mariupol. One of these videos shows the building from afar with black smoke billowing from it. Two others, including one filmed from inside the park where the theater stands, show flames coming from the center of the badly damaged building. The satellite image with the word “children” shows the theater fully intact on March 14.
The laws of war require parties to the conflict to distinguish at all times between civilian objects and military objectives and each party to the conflict must do everything possible to verify that the targets are military objectives. If there is any doubt as to the use for military purposes of an asset normally intended for civilian purposes, such as a theatre, it is presumed that this is not the case. Directing an attack against a civilian objective is strictly prohibited, as are indiscriminate attacks and attacks having disproportionate effects on civilians, and may constitute war crimes.
Organized evacuations of civilians in Mariupol who want to leave should be facilitated, Human Rights Watch said. Parties must allow humanitarian access to neutral and independent providers to assist vulnerable civilians who may need assistance to leave, including persons with disabilities, the elderly, pregnant women, children, and those suffering from medical conditions. chronic or severe.