Ukraine authorities said on Sunday that Russia bombed an art school in the besieged port city of Mariupol in which around 400 people were sheltering. According to various sources, including CNN and The Washington Post, Mariupol city council officials accused Russian troops of having destroyed the building over the weekend; the number of casualties is not yet known. Russia denies targeting civilians.
Officials at Mariupol city council posted a message on the messaging service Telegram on 20 March, stating: “Yesterday, the Russian occupiers dropped bombs on the G12 art school in the Left Bank district of Mariupol, where about 400 Mariupol residents were hiding: women, children and the elderly. It is known that the building was destroyed, and […] people are still under the rubble. Information on the number of victims is being clarified.” The Art Newspaper could not independently verify the claim.
Last week, a theatre in Mariupol was also attacked, where around 1,200 people had gathered. The Washington Post reports that “with communications cut and street fighting preventing rescue efforts at both the Mariupol Drama Theater and the art school, information on how many people might be trapped under the rubble [at both locations] is likely to remain scant until there is a lull.” Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said that 130 people had been saved after the theatre bombing.
Russian troops have been advancing into Mariupol for over a week, causing a near-total communications blackout. Mariupol, a city of around 450,000 people on the Azov Sea in Ukraine's south east, is a strategic port. “If Mariupol falls, it would give Russia control of one of Ukraine's biggest ports and create a land corridor between Crimea and the Russian-backed regions of Luhansk and Donetsk,” says a BBC report. Officially, at least 2,400 people in Mariupol have died, reports the New York Times, but this number is likely higher according to Al Jazeera.