Mariupol has become a symbol of Russian troops’ cruelty to civilians in Ukraine. The rescue teams are searching this Thursday for survivors of the bombing, 24 hours earlier, of a theater in which hundreds of people had taken refuge from the siege to which they have been subjected for 13 days. Two large billboards, visible from the air, with the word “children” in Russian failed to stop the attack that destroyed the city’s Drama Theater. Although the number of dead and wounded is still unknown, a halo of hope has arrived this Thursday when it was learned that the theater’s anti-aircraft shelter resisted the attack. “Now the rubble is being removed. There are survivors. We still don’t know the number of victims,” Mariupol mayoral adviser Petro Andrushchenko told Reuters by phone, after noting that rescue work is underway.
The situation is desperate for the inhabitants of Mariupol, besieged by Russian troops for more than two weeks, without heating or running water, and which for the first time this week was able to evacuate some 20,000 civilians. Located on the shores of the Sea of Azov, for days it has been one of the main targets of attacks by Russian soldiers, who on several occasions have prevented the promise of facilitating humanitarian corridors to allow the population to leave. The city was already the scene last week of an attack on a mother-child hospital.
After this Wednesday the Ukrainian Foreign Minister, Dmitro Kuleba, described the bombing of the theater “in which hundreds of innocent civilians were hiding” as a “war crime” – according to the deputy mayor of Mariupol, Serhii Orlov, between 1,000 and 1,200 people – and ensured that “the Russians could not ignore that it was a refuge for civilians”, the Russian authorities denied that their country had carried out a bombardment from the air on that building, according to Defense Ministry sources cited by the RIA agency. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on Thursday called the Ukrainians’ accusation a “lie.” “Russia’s armed forces do not bomb towns and cities,” she has argued, a claim the Kremlin consistently makes.
The situation in Mariupol has been described as “apocalyptic” by the Red Cross due to the lack of basic supplies that people need to survive and the constant Russian bombardment. The population has had to improvise fires in the street to cook and has buried the dead in mass graves due to the large number of deaths. The number of deaths amounts to 2,500 civilians and 200,000 people need to be evacuated urgently, according to the Ukrainian authorities.
Join EL PAÍS to follow all the news and read without limits.
The city, which had about 400,000 inhabitants before the Russian invasion began on February 24, is key to Vladimir Putin, since it is the last large town in Ukrainian hands with access to the Azov Sea. If Moscow takes it over, it could create a corridor from the Donbas area, where the pro-Russian territories of Donetsk and Lugansk are located, to the Crimean peninsula, illegally annexed by Russia in 2014 after a referendum that the international community does not recognize. .
The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Karim Khan, who visited western Ukraine and Poland on Wednesday to assess the consequences of the conflict on the ground, sent a “very clear” message to “all those who are participating in the hostilities”. He warned that his office is empowered to take measures to ensure that those who have not acted in accordance with the international human rights convention and have committed international crimes are held accountable in accordance with the provisions of the Rome Statute. Khan reported that they are already “actively” collecting evidence in order to meet that goal, and stressed that they carry out their work independently and impartially. “It is essential that the Russian Federation actively participate in this investigation and I am ready to meet with them,” he said in a statement.
“If the attacks are intentionally directed against the civilian population, it is a war crime that my office can investigate and prosecute. If the attacks intentionally target civilian targets, including hospitals, it is a crime that my office can investigate and prosecute. Those who take part in this type of hostility, whether as members of the armed forces, militias or in self-defense groups, should know that even if they wear a uniform or carry weapons, they are not exempt from responsibility and, in fact, have a legal responsibility. extra,” he said.
Neither Ukraine nor Russia are signatories to the Rome Statute, the founding convention of the ICC, so, in principle, they fall outside the jurisdiction of this court. However, kyiv has empowered the court to investigate possible crimes committed since 2014, with the Russian annexation of Crimea.