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300 sheltering civilians killed in Russian airstrike on theatre in Mariupol, Ukraine

On Wednesday 16 March 2022, a Russian airstrike targeted a theatre in Mariupol where about 1,300 civilians, mostly women and children, were sheltering from aerial and ground bombardments across the besieged Ukrainian city. A week later, local officials have announced the first estimated casualty figures from the attack, with at least 300 people killed. The search for survivors and the dead within the rubble of the theatre continues.

This strike marks the largest single loss of civilian life recorded by AOAV to date (25 Mar) since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began on 24 February 2022. At the very least, 47 other civilians have been killed and injured by explosive weapon use in incidents across Mariupol since 24 February 2022. It is the city with the highest civilian casualty rate in Donetsk, even before the theatre strike. It is important to note that the number of people killed and injured in Mariupol is likely to be far higher, as the severity of the violence will have prevented the full reporting of civilian casualties in English-language media, where AOAV gathers it’s data.

The situation for Mariupol’s civilians has been dire as Russian and Ukrainian forces battle for control of the Azov port city. Tens of thousands of people are believed to be trapped, unable to travel to humanitarian evacuation corridors due to the ferocity of the fighting. Running water and electricity has been cut off for weeks, and essential supplies of food and medicine are scarce. The Mariupol City Council has said that deaths from starvation are rising.

The fatal airstrike on the Donetsk Regional Drama Theatre is not the first Russian attack to target civilians, primarily women and children.

On 9 March 2022, in an event that made global headlines, a Russian airstrike targeted a maternity hospital in Mariupol. At least three people were killed and 17 injured, though casualty figures are likely to rise as the wounded tragically become the dead. Days after the attack, a pregnant woman and her baby died of injuries the mother sustained in the airstrike.

On 11 March, 56 civilians were reportedly killed when a Russian tank fired shells into a care home in Kreminna, Luhansk. Most of those killed were elderly residents.

On 17 March, a Russian rocket struck a school in Merefa, Kharkiv, killing 21 people sheltering inside, and injuring 25 more.

According to AOAV data (up to 25 March 2022) there have been at least 1,570 casualties from explosive weapon use since the Russian invasion began (24 Feb – 25 Mar), across 111 incidents. At least 1,210 civilian casualties were recorded (817 killed, 393 injured). Among the civilian casualties were at least 57 children, 20 women and 46 men;

The vast majority of civilian casualties, 96% (1,166), have occurred in populated areas.

Ground-launched explosive weapons (missile strikes, artillery shelling, and rockets) have caused 48% (582) of civilian casualties. Air-launched explosive weapons (specifically air strikes) have caused 47% (570) of civilian casualties. 4% (53) of civilian casualties have been caused by multiple types of explosive weapons, and >1% (5) of civilian casualties have been caused by naval-launched weapons and landmines.

Civilian casualties from explosive weapons have been recorded in Donetsk (429 civilians), Kharkiv (174), Kyiv (179), Chernihiv (135), Luhansk (74), Mykolaiv (64), Sumy (37), Zhytomyr (36), Zaporozhzhia (30), Rivne (29), Odessa (10), Vinnytsia (6), Kherson (3), Dnirpopetrovsk (3), and Cherkasy (1).

The location-types in which civilian casualties have been reported are urban residential areas (345 civilian casualties), entertainment venues (300), Multiple urban spaces (127), hospitals (99), schools (94), villages (94), no location information (36), public buildings (30), commercial premises (33), other (13), armed bases (9), roads (7), town centres (6), transport related infrastructure (6), hotels (3), agricultural land (2), and markets (1).

For regularly updated data on civilian casualties from explosive weapon use in Ukraine, follow this link.