Mariupol theater bombing death toll likely closer to 600

Approximately 600 civilians were killed in the airstrike on a theater in Mariupol, Ukraine, in March, the Associated Press reported Wednesday — a figure that is twice the city government's official estimate.

The news service relied on accounts of nearly two dozen survivors, rescuers and people intimately familiar with the theater, which was being used as one of the main shelters in the besieged port city when it was bombed on March 16.

If the estimate is accurate, it would mark the deadliest single attack on civilians in Russia's war on Ukraine to date.

Drone footage taken in Mariupol last month showed the remnants of the bombed-out theater. According to Reuters, which published the aerial footage, the Russian word for "children" was written on the ground at the time of the attack.

The damaged and partially missing roof of a theater building.
Damage from the March 16 attack on the Mariupol theater. (Reuters Video)

At the time, the Mariupol City Council estimated that about 300 people were killed in the theater bombing but warned that the actual death toll had been difficult to gather due to constant shelling by Russian forces.

Meanwhile, heavy fighting was reported Wednesday at the Azovstal steel plant. Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boichenko said his office had lost contact with troops inside the factory, which had emerged as the last pocket of organized resistance in the siege.

An estimated 2,000 troops and up to 1,000 civilians were believed to be holed up in nuclear bunkers underneath the structure. About 100 civilians were able to leave the sprawling mill Monday, but evacuation efforts have since stalled.

A destroyed theater building.
The destroyed theater building in Mariupol, Ukraine. (Ukrainian Interior Ministry/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Boichenko said about 30 children were waiting to be evacuated from the plant when his office lost contact with the troops.

According to the United Nations human rights office, at least 3,238 civilians, including more than 200 children, have been killed in Ukraine since Russia’s invasion began on Feb. 24, though the agency believes the actual death toll is likely much higher.

Russia has denied targeting civilians.