The Russian Defense Ministry is trying to deflect accusations of an airstrike on the Mariupol Drama Theater building which served as a bomb shelter for more than a thousand civilians. The TASS report entitled «Russian Defense Ministry rejects Kiev's accusations of an airstrike on Mariupol theater» says:
«Militants of the Azov nationalist battalion blew up a theater building in Mariupol they had mined, the Russian Defense Ministry told journalists.
The Russian Defense Ministry denied Kiev's accusations of an air strike on the Mariupol drama theater building, where civilians might have been held hostage.
«On the day of March 16, Russian aviation did not carry out any tasks related to striking ground targets within the city of Mariupol. According to reliable sources, militants of the Azov nationalist battalion committed a new bloody provocation by blowing up a theater building they had mined,» the defense ministry spokesman said.
According to the ministry, «it was previously known from refugees who escaped from Mariupol that Nazis of the Azov battalion could hold civilians hostage inside the theater building, using the upper floors as firing points.»
«Given the potential danger to the lives of civilians and the provocation with Hospital No. 3 in Mariupol, perpetrated by the nationalists on March 9, the theater building in the city center was never considered a target for air strikes,» the Defense Ministry spokesman said.»
The claim of the theater's upper floors being used as firing points already looks a bit strange: the building has only five floors and it is far from being the tallest in the area (note the spires on the left of it in the photograph).
And it was impossible to control anything but the square near the theater building from there.
But more importantly, the scenario offered by the Russian military looks completely absurd. According to their logic, the Azov battalion (actually, a regiment within the National Guard) first utilized the building as a firing point, using the civilians gathered there as a shield, and then for some reason decided to blow it up in such a way as to destroy it almost completely. And this was just when street battles had started on the outskirts of Mariupol, i.e. it would not have been expedient to lose firing points in the city center.
Mikhail Podolyak, adviser to the head of the Ukrainian presidential office, stated that a heavy-duty aerial bomb had been dropped on the theater. Petro Andriuschenko, adviser to the mayor of Mariupol, clarifies: a 1,000-kilogram bomb.
According to satellite imagery, large signs saying «children» were installed in front of the theater facades to warn the Russian bomber pilots. Apparently, the warning did not work.
Luckily, the bomb shelter under the theater held and the people survived.