600 civilians died in March theater bombing in Mariupol

A woman is carried out of a bus with people who fled from Mariupol, Tokmak and Berdyansk as they arrive to a reception center for displaced people in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, Tuesday, May 3, 2022. Thousands of Ukrainian continue to leave Russian occupied areas. Francisco Seco, AP

Evidence suggests close to 600 civilians died in the Russian airstrike on the Mariupol drama theater on March 16 that horrified the world and helped galvanize support for Ukraine’s effort to repel the invasion, according to an Associated Press investigation.

The theater had been used as a bomb shelter in the early days of Russia’s siege of the port city and had large warnings visible from the sky reading, “children.”

AP’s death total is twice the city government’s estimate and marks the deadliest single known attack against civilians in the war. AP said its journalists drew on accounts of 23 survivors, rescuers and people intimately familiar with the shelter operating at the Donetsk Academic Regional Drama Theater. It also used two sets of floor plans of the theater, photos and video taken inside before, during and after that day.

Most witnesses said around 1,000 people were in the theater at the time of the assault.

Dozens of nations have provided military and/or humanitarian aid to Ukraine. The U.S. has committed $3.7 billion in weapons and other aid and President Joe Biden is seeking an additional $33 billion from Congress.

Meanwhile, over 5 million refugees have fled Ukraine since Russia invaded. The United States in March pledged to accept 100,000 Ukrainians and individuals who have been displaced due to the war, and the Biden administration extended the eligibility for Ukrainians for temporary protected status in mid-April, which allows them to stay in the United States for 18 months and apply for work permits.


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