“I stood on the edge of the abyss”: memories of a man who survived the blow to the Mariupol Drama Theater


On March 16, 2022, Russian aircraft hit the building of the Mariupol Drama Theatre, which became a bomb shelter for the citizens. The exact number of those who died from the airstrike is still unknown, but it is hundreds of people. Read about what happened inside the theater and how people felt in the material of Channel 24.

On the square near the Mariupol Drama Theater, “CHILDREN” was written in large letters in Russian – a warning that there were children in the building. Despite this, the Russian military dropped two 500-kilogram bombs on the theater from a fighter aircraft, which detonated simultaneously.

Alexey Budnikov (surname changed at the request of the hero – Channel 24) was born and raised in Mariupol. After February 24, when the Russians began to kill the city, he volunteered and looked for opportunities to take his mother out of the city and leave on his own. He understood that it was dangerous for him, as one of the activists of the National Corps, to remain in the city.

The first five attempts to leave the city were unsuccessful. One of them nearly cost the young man his life.

On the morning of March 16, Alexey came with a friend to the drama theater building. From the neighbors I learned that buses come there, on which you can leave the city. There was no other information besides rumors in the city. The man did not really believe in the possibility of an organized evacuation, but he did not stop trying to leave.

Alexey survived the blow to the Mariupol Drama Theater. He says that since then he considers March 16 his second birthday. About what he remembers about this blow, the man told the Channel 24 website . Next is direct speech.

When we approached the drama theater, we saw a lot of people standing by the flower shops, just like at the train station. Many were with suitcases, with their pets, holding children in their arms. Many stood with their thumbs up – they were catching a car. Cars left in caravans and hardly stopped.

From this parking lot we entered the premises of the drama theater. We stayed there for about 20 minutes. We did not have time to go deeper into the place where the epicenter of the explosion was, where there were more people.

The theater hall was filled with people. Someone was lying on the floor on mattresses, older people were sleeping on theater chairs. We talked to a young girl on crutches. She was the administrator of one of the floors. It turned out that she was from the East. She came under fire and injured her leg. And she remained to live in the theater with her grandmother and younger brother. Parents are military personnel. We asked her if it was true that evacuation buses were coming here. She looked skeptically like this: “Are you kidding me? What kind of buses can be here?” And sarcastically added that you can leave the city either on foot or on crutches.

We've already started going out. On the stairs my friend met acquaintances. We stopped to talk to them about leaving. During this conversation, we did not notice how everything had changed.

The blow was very strong. Everything seemed to be falling apart. Terrible crackle in the air. Everything was trembling, as if a terrible earthquake had begun. There were portraits of actors from the walls. Dust rose like a wall. Only the silhouettes of people were visible. The screams and screams began.

My friend, in a panic, fled into the open basement. I began to choke on the dust. At first I ran to the basement, but there were too many people, they began to push me away. I realized that I needed to run away. I saw a guy pulling a girl in a bright crimson sweater upstairs, to where there is fresh air. Ran after them. Focused on a bright sweater. The couple ran to the second floor, and I ran to the third.

There was no longer a window on the third floor, it was shattered by the blast wave. Just caught his breath – the arrivals began again. That is, this plane dropped a bomb and flew away. But shelling with other weapons did not subside. The cannonade became continuous.

When the dust cleared, I looked out the broken window. The first thing I noticed was that there was almost nothing left of the third floor of the department store. I looked back and realized that I was standing at the edge of an abyss. Near me, the roof collapsed to the first floor.

I saw a woman who was screaming and looking for someone. Her forehead was covered in blood. I told her to get down. But she was so shocked that she didn't hear me. I started going down alone. In parallel, I managed to film a little what is happening on the phone.

Video that Alexey was able to transfer to the media:

I saw people coming down, all covered in dust. I saw an old woman who was lying quite still. He passed by a woman frozen on the stairs in a fetal position, clutching the railing in a death grip.

Having gone down to the first floor, I did not immediately see where to go. Part of the walls, decorative trees, curtains – everything fell. In the hole in the wall, I again saw this girl on crutches. She was crying terribly, some man stroked her head and reassured her.

When I felt that the panic receded, I oriented myself a little. People left through the central door. Or rather, they ran away. When I ran away, I saw that a young mother and a girl with a backpack of 6 years old were standing nearby. I felt sorry for them. I remembered the volunteer hub where I helped after February 24th. There were shelters. There were already other children there. I offered to take them there – it was safer there. She agreed.

When we had already passed the parking lot at the drama theater, another shelling began. The girl's mother was frightened and refused to go further. I still feel guilty that I didn't take them with me. But at that moment I did not understand what would happen next. When I saw that she had stayed, I ran into the first entrance I came across to hide from shelling.

Note. A few days after this tragedy, Alexei and his mother were able to leave the city for the territory controlled by Ukraine.

How many people died as a result of this attack, it is still impossible to reliably establish. The figures range from 300 to more than 1,000 dead.

International human rights organizations describe the March 16 airstrike on the drama theater in Mariupol as one of the many war crimes committed by the Russians in Mariupol.

A few days before this tragedy, on March 9, 2022, the invaders launched an airstrike on a children's hospital and a maternity hospital in Mariupol. Russian bombs killed three people, including a child, and 17 others were injured.

At the disposal of the American Sky News came the data that pregnant women who had previously escaped from the bombed-out maternity hospital in Mariupol were transferred to the drama theater.

At the end of December 2022, the occupation authorities demolished the ruins of a theater in Mariupol, which can be regarded as an attempt to cover up a war crime committed.

Russian attacks on Mariupol using various types of weapons continued for about 3 months. During this time, the invaders did not provide any opportunity for civilians to leave the city. As a result, according to various estimates, tens of thousands of civilians died in Mariupol.

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