Authorities in the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol say that according to eyewitness accounts, about 300 civilians died in a Russian air strike on a historic theater that was being used as a bomb shelter by hundreds of civilians.

Mariupol’s city council wrote on Telegram on March 25 that although “no one wants to believe what happened, the words of those who were inside the building at the time of the terrorist act say otherwise.”

Since the March 16 attack on the Mariupol Drama Theater, Ukrainian authorities have held back on giving any death toll, saying they were still trying to establish verified numbers but were being hampered by continued Russian shelling in nearby neighborhoods.

City authorities had written “deti” (children in Russian) in large letters on the ground in front and behind the theater, where, according to the authorities, up to 1,200 civilians were hiding when a Russian military plane bombed and destroyed the historic building.

In aftermath of the air strike on the Mariupol Drama Theater, the words for "children" can still be seen.
In aftermath of the air strike on the Mariupol Drama Theater, the words for “children” can still be seen.

“The Drama Theater in the heart of Mariupol has always been the city’s calling card,” the city council said in its post.

“Now there is no more drama. In its place appeared a new point of pain for the people of Mariupol, the ruins that became the last refuge for hundreds of innocent people.”

The attack sparked outrage around the world and raised allegations that Russia was committing war crimes in its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Despite ample, concrete evidence of Russian attacks on civilian areas documented by reporters, including RFE/RL correspondents on the ground, Moscow denies targeting civilian areas.

Mariupol, which had a population of 400,000 before the war, has been reduced to rubble, with thousands of civilians dead and tens of thousands still seeking a route out of the city to safety as basic supplies dwindle.

Russian forces appear intent on cutting the city off from the Sea of Azov and link the Crimea Peninsula — which was seized by Moscow in 2014 — to territory controlled by Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.