An art school in Mariupol, Ukraine where hundreds of civilians were taking refuge, was bombed Sunday, Ukrainian officials said, accusing the Russian military of targeting the school.
Mariupol, a coastal city home to some 400,000 people, has been subjected to a brutal bombardment since the invasion began four weeks ago, hampering efforts to rescue those trapped by the siege with little food, electricity, or water.
Around 400 women, children, and elderly people, were sheltering inside Art School No. 12 in eastern Mariupol, local officials said. The constant warfare has made it difficult for aid workers to reach the rubble and assess casualties. Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko said in a statement that many are feared dead, but some may have fled the building ahead of the attack.
“We still have to work it out,” Boychenko said. “This is what we are hoping.”
The accusation followed reports last week that Russian shelling targeted the Mariupol Drama Theater, where approximately 800 residents were said to have been sheltering. Satellite imagery shared with The Washington Post showed the mangled, blackened remains of the once regal building. Half of its roof had collapsed, and parts of the interior appeared scorched.
Ten days earlier, a maternity hospital was reportedly hit by an airstrike. Russia has denied involvement in that airstrike, or any others targeting known civilian refuges.
Mariupol, a strategically valuable southern port, has been cut off from the outside world for more than two weeks, making it difficult to independently verify ground reports. Internet access inside the city is limited and many reporters and photographers that had been covering Mariupol have since been forced to flee.
Russia’s unprovoked war on Ukraine has sparked a humanitarian crisis unseen in Europe since World War II, with over 2 million refugees seeking asylum in neighboring countries. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reported Sunday that 902 civilians have been killed and over 1,400 have been wounded so far in the conflict. However, the UN warned the true figure is likely “considerably higher.”
Russian forces have encircled most major cities in Ukraine, and several global watchdog organizations have reported indiscriminate bombing in populated urban areas that have not spared residential buildings or cultural landmarks.
In late February, the Ivankiv Historical and Local History Museum, located about two hours outside Kyiv, was shelled by Russian troops, resulting in the loss of roughly 25 paintings by celebrated Ukrainian folk artist Maria Primachenko.
Emine Dzheppar, Ukraine’s deputy minister of foreign affairs, shared footage on social media that appeared to show the museum in flames. “Having no culture of their own, they destroy all the heritage of other nations.” Dzheppar wrote on Twitter, referring to the Russians who ignited the blaze.
Earlier this month, a Russian missile struck near the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center in Kyiv, a site where over 30,000 Jews were killed by the Nazis during World War II. Five people were killed during the attack and a building the center planned to use for a new museum was damaged.