Mariupol Theatre Memories: «Everyone in the concert hall, the dressing rooms, in the field kitchen on the street, died»

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Mariupol resident Maria Kutnyakova talks about the bombing of the Mariupol Drama Theater by the Russian plane. The material published by «Azov» regiment.
Photo: Azov regiment

Photo: Azov regiment

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«We came to the theater on the morning of March 16: me, my sister, my mother, and three neighbors. We slept in the corridor for 6 days and did not go outside, there was no food, and it was cold. We hoped for humanitarian aid, so we came to the theater. There were a lot of people, we went into the hall, and we were told to register. Registration was in the wardrobe, in the hall on the first floor. My friend Dima turned out to be the registrar. I asked him about everything. He said that about 600 people now live in Drama, but many people from nearby houses came to the theater every day: for news, to look for loved ones, to ask for water and food. There were also people in the square in front of the theater, they were waiting for humanitarian aid and the possibility of evacuation, so there were many people in the theater.

We registered and went to look for a place. People were everywhere: there was not enough space for everyone in the bomb shelter and basement, so all the floors and the concert hall were filled with people. We found a free place only on the third floor. We unpacked and drank tea given to us by volunteers. We were very happy because it was warm here, a lot of friendly people, volunteers promised lunch. Sunny, quiet, near the square… Paradise after the previous hell.

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My uncle lives next to the theater and I went to see him. I left for 15 minutes. When I returned, I heard the plane. I leaned against the wall, heard an explosion somewhere, and went to the theater. From Kuinji Street, I saw smoke above the park and a huge piece of the red roof of the theater lying on the ground.

I did not understand what was happening. I started running to the theater, but it was ruined, there was no roof, one wall collapsed and part of it was on fire.

The first thing I heard was a lot of names. People ran and shouted names. And I started shouting the names of my relatives. The wounded lay in the park. People ran out of the theater and fled in different directions. I ran through the main entrance to the theater. The front of the theater suffered the least. There were many people in the hall on the first floor. Some were safe, some were injured. I ran on and saw through the open door to the concert hall that the roof had fallen. The chandelier lay broken, above my head – a piece of sky.

Two stairs led to the upper floors, one collapsed. I rose by others. The wounded also lay in the hall on the second floor. And on the third floor, I didn’t find my family…

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I ran outside to enter the theater from the back door and shouted our surname again. I heard someone shouting our surname too and the sound coming from the ground. From below. Then I thought I was crazy that the dead answered me. But the cry continued.

In the wall of the theater, I saw open doors and stairs leading down. At the bottom of the stairs, I saw my sister, who was covered in ash and dust. I asked, «Halya, where’s Mom?» And then, my mother climbed the stairs. It was the entrance to the bomb shelter.

It turned out that at the time of the airstrike, my mother was near the medical center in the corridor of the first floor near the back door. She was partially pelted with stones, but two guys dug her up and helped her down to the bomb shelter, which was not damaged. My sister and a neighbor were on the third floor. Mom came out of the bomb shelter, found them, and led them down. All of them received minor injuries.

People started leaving the bomb shelter because the building was on fire and everyone was shouting to get out. The wounded were lying in the park, I helped the elderly woman with wounds to get out of the basement. About 200 people left the theater, all of them running in different directions: the railway station, the Philharmonic, and the bomb shelters in the «stalinky» [houses built in times of Stalin] around the theater.

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We left the theater about 40 minutes after the hit. I think people were still coming out, but everyone who was in the concert hall, the dressing rooms around it, the offices on both sides, in the field kitchen on the street, died. 3 floors and a roof collapsed on them.

We ran to the Philharmonic. On the way, they met patrols near the building of SBU [Security Service of Ukraine], who went to dismantle the debris. About 50 people from the theater came to the Philharmonic. An hour later, the men went to the theater to help the wounded, they went 3 times, and carried the wounded to the bomb shelter of the third hospital.

The military also helped transport people to other places, but the Russian occupiers continued to shoot from «Grads» and interfere with rescuing people.

The next morning, people went to the theater again, but everything burned down. It was no one to rescue. In my opinion, at least a few hundred people died there. Yes, the bomb shelter lasted, but people were everywhere: sleeping in the corridors, on the stairs, in the theater, and in the square. The Russians guessed the time when there were the most people waiting for the humanitarian aid and the green corridor.

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When we came to the Philharmonic, the Russians started to bomb it with the «Grad» too. There were a lot of people there. The next day, we went on foot to the village of Melekyne.

I talked to people who lived in the theater for a long time. People arranged everything there: they collected medicine, gathered warm things, arranged the kitchen, collected water… There was a commandant and volunteers. There was an incredible atmosphere of mutual support. I have been to the theater hundreds of times for performances and concerts. But the theater became the heart of Mariupol during the war. And Russians destroyed it. We heard a delusion in the occupied territories that someone allegedly mined and blew it up. This is a lie. There was not a single soldier, or a territorial defender there. Only civilians. I hope many people were able to escape…

Then, we learned that Neptune [indoor swimming pool], schools, and other shelters were also bombed… This is mass murder, this is genocide.

By Maria Kutnyakova, translated by Kateryna Bortniak

Published on the Medium page of «Azov»

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