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16 Mar, 2022 19:11

Civilians feared trapped and killed in Mariupol theater explosion

Russia denies responsibility, claiming neo-Nazi Azov militants blew up the building, in which it says they had been held hostage
Civilians feared trapped and killed in Mariupol theater explosion

Responding to claims by Ukraine that an airstrike had destroyed a theater in Mariupol and killed civilians sheltering there, the Russian Defense Ministry has claimed there have been no such strikes against ground targets in that city. Instead, it accused Ukraine’s neo-Nazi Azov Battalion of having bombed its own civilian hostages.

The Russian military said it was aware of reports that Azov militants had kept civilians inside the theater as a human shield, and had not considered the building a target for airstrikes for that reason, Major-General Igor Konashenkov said in a statement.

“Previously, it was known from the refugees who got out of Mariupol that the Nazis of the Azov Battalion might be holding civilians hostage in the theater building, using the upper floors as firing points,” Konashenkov said. 

Taking into account the potential danger to those sheltering, and what he alleged was “the provocation already carried out by the nationalists on March 9 at Hospital No. 3 in Mariupol, the theater building in the city center was never considered a target for destruction,” he added.

According to Konashenkov, the “available reliable information” indicated that the Azov militants had committed what he called “a new bloody provocation by blowing up the theater building they had mined.”

The paramilitary unit, the emblem of which depicts Second World War Nazi symbols, has allegedly made Mariupol its base, and reportedly forbade civilians from fleeing to safety as Russian forces and fighters from the Donetsk People’s Republic surrounded the city.