Russian authorities in the occupied Ukrainian city of Mariupol have begun demolishing most of their drama theatre. According to the Ukrainian authorities, hundreds died there in an air raid in March.
Video posted on both the Ukrainian and Russian websites on Friday showed how heavy equipment destroyed much of the theater while leaving the front façade intact.
Ukrainian officials denounced the demolition to cover up the deaths in the March 16 bombing and to wipe out Ukrainian culture. Russian officials said it was part of plans to rebuild the theater in a city that is firmly under their control.
“The Mariupol Theatre no longer exists,” wrote Ukrainian Minister of Culture Oleksandr Tkachenko on Facebook.
“The occupiers are removing traces of their crimes and it doesn’t matter to them whether it is a cultural heritage or whether it belongs to another culture.”
The Drama Theatre in Mariupol no longer exists. This is an attempt to hide the evidence of the intentional killing of Ukrainians by Russians forever. The aggressor country doesn’t even try to hide its intention to wipe everything out 🇺🇦 No amount of lies can help escape justice @UNESCO pic.twitter.com/im7gjwsNAZ
— Tkachenko Oleksandr (@otkachenkoua) December 23, 2022
Civilians had sought refuge in the theatre from the bombardment, and large signs had been set up on both sides of the building simply saying “children.” According to Ukrainian officials, at least 300 people were killed when Russian forces bombed the theater, although according to some estimates, the death toll was higher.
Russia denied deliberately bombing the theatre.
Russian state news agency TASS quoted theater director Igor Solonin as saying that the demolition affected “only the part of the building that cannot be restored,” and that the reconstruction would be completed by the end of 2024.
The bombing of the theater was part of a protracted Russian siege of Mariupol, a port on the Sea of Azov that is seen as crucial for Russian supply lines between areas controlled by its forces in southern and eastern Ukraine. Mariupol had withstood Russian attacks for more than two months, leaving most of its buildings in ruins.
The Ukrainian Center for Strategic Communications and Information Security (Stratcom) said the ruins of the bombed-out theater were “a nuisance to the Russians and served as proof of their crime.”
“Even without physical access to the scene of the tragedy, the Ukrainian and international investigations have sufficient reasons to conduct an investigation,” the Stratcom Center wrote in a Twitter thread.
Russian occupiers destroy the ruins of the Drama Theatre in Mariupol, where hundreds of civilians were killed in a bombing raid by Russian aircraft on March 16. These ruins were a nuisance to the Russians and served as proof of their crime. 1/ pic.twitter.com/62fE1rgBjO
— Stratcom Centre UA (@StratcomCentre) December 23, 2022
Russian workers demolish at least one bombed building a day and haul away broken bodies with the rubble, the Associated Press news agency reported on Friday.
Russian military convoys rumble along the wide avenues of a city that is rapidly becoming a garrison town, and Russian soldiers, construction workers, administrators and doctors replace the tens of thousands of Ukrainians who have died or left.
Many of the city’s Ukrainian street names are reverting to Soviet ones. The Peace Avenue, which runs through Mariupol, is called Lenin Avenue. Even the large sign announcing the name of the city at the entrance was Russified and repainted with the red, white and blue colors of the Russian flag and Russian spelling.
Eight months after Mariupol fell into Russian hands, Russia is destroying all remnants of Ukraine from Mariupol — along with the evidence of war crimes buried in its buildings, according to the AP.