New satellite imagery shows bombed-out Mariupol theater

These images provided by Maxar shows the Mariupol Drama Theater  on March 14, left and on March 19, right. The word "children" is written in large white letters (in Russian) in front of and behind the theater.  (Maxar)
These images provided by Maxar shows the Mariupol Drama Theater on March 14, left and on March 19, right. The word "children" is written in large white letters (in Russian) in front of and behind the theater. (Maxar)

New satellite imagery collected Saturday morning shows the damage done to Ukraine’s stately Mariupol Drama Theater during Russian shelling this week. The image, which was provided to The Washington Post by Maxar Technologies, shows more than half the roof collapsed. The remaining portion is mangled, buckling inward. Rubble is visible on both sides of the building, and portions of the interior appear to be burned.

Mariupol, a southern Ukrainian port on the Sea of Azov, had been cut off from the outside world for more than two weeks when a Russian airstrike hit the theater Wednesday.

Hundreds of women, families with young children and the elderly had sought shelter in the theater this week, according to local officials. The Post was not able to verify that account. Little independent reporting is available from the besieged city. Internet access is scarce, if available at all, and many reporters and photographers covering Mariupol have left the city because of safety concerns.

The satellite imagery taken Saturday shows the Russian word for “children” written in large white letters on one side of the building. The word was seen on the front and back of the theater in imagery taken Monday.

“It is unlawful to target civilians, so intentionally targeting a shelter where civilians are known or believed to be located would clearly be a violation of international humanitarian law and therefore a war crime,” Oona A. Hathaway, a professor of international law at Yale Law School, said in an email to The Post after reviewing the images.

“The fact that the theater was clearly marked with the word ‘children’ when it was hit makes it more likely that this strike on the civilians sheltered there was intentional — and therefore a war crime,” she said.

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Last week, the Azov Battalion, a far-right paramilitary group that is now part of the Ukrainian national guard, posted a video from the theater that showed it full of families and children. In the video, which The Post reviewed, young children are seen playing, and a baby can be heard crying. A narrator says more than 1,000 people are inside, including sick children.

“There is pain and hurt here,” the narrator says. “It is hard here. Please help us. Please stop all of this.”

Video filmed by witnesses and previously verified by The Post in the hours after the strike shows flames and smoke rising from the center of the building.

Videos posted to Telegram on March 16 and verified by The Washington Post show damage to Mariupol's Drama Theater. (Video: Мариуполь Сейчас Админ via Telegram)

At least 130 people had been rescued from the bombed building, Petro Andryushchenko, an adviser to Mariupol’s mayor, said Friday. The fate of an estimated 1,300 others who had been sheltering there was unknown Saturday evening. Street fighting between Russian soldiers and Ukrainian forces around the theater has intensified, hindering search and rescue efforts, according to Ukrainian officials.

Ukrainian politicians, including President Volodymyr Zelensky, condemned the attacks. The Russian Defense Ministry denied involvement in the bombing Wednesday, saying its forces “did not carry out any tasks related to strikes against ground targets in the city of Mariupol.” It said, without evidence, that the Azov Battalion was responsible for the incident.

The theater is one of several attacks in Mariupol that appear to be aimed at civilian targets. Last week, a maternity hospital was destroyed by Russian bombing.

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Video verified by The Washington Post shows damage to a maternity hospital in Mariupol on March 9. (Video: Telegram)

Airstrikes left at least one crater that appears to be more than 20 feet deep in a main road. A technical university, the state emergency services building and residential areas have been damaged in Russian strikes, according to videos and photographs verified by The Post and additional satellite imagery taken on Friday by Maxar Technologies.

On Friday, some people fleeing Mariupol said tanks had fired into the resource-starved city all night. They said they had rationed food and resorted to looting or bartering. Those who left had packed family members and pets and a few items into their cars in a rush to escape.

Another satellite image from Friday shows cars clogging a road out of besieged Mariupol.

Elyse Samuels contributed to this report.