A City Within a Building: The Russian Airstrike on the Mariupol Drama Theater, 2024

Installation view: The Ecologies of Peace. Works from the TBA21 Collection, Centro de Creación Contemporánea de Andalucía C3A, Córdoba, Spain, 2024. Photo: Imagen Subliminal (Rocio Romero y Miguel de Guzmán).
C3A Córdoba

On the tragic morning of March 16, 2022, at 10:05, a Russian aircraft attack destroyed The Donetsk Regional Academic Drama Theatre of Mariupol. The word Дети (children) was painted on the ground at the front and rear of the building, recognizable on satellite images, and clearly signaling that the building had been converted into a civilian shelter. During a period of over three weeks, following the Russian full-scale invasion of Mariupol, the theater had turned into a self-organized commune in an act of civil resistance, a “city within a building.” 1500 individuals were seeking refuge in the theater. More than 600 were killed in the airstrike.
A City Within a Building: The Russian Airstrike on the Mariupol Drama Theater by the Kyiv and Berlin–based Center for Spatial Technologies (CST) with the support of Forensic Architecture / Forensis, examines the three-week period between the start of the full-scale Russian invasion and the theater’s annihilation. It analyzes the bombing of the Mariupol Drama Theater as an emblem of Russia’s strategies of terror. Part of the installation consists of a timeline of activity at the Mariupol Drama Theater, which captures the history of the building and the daily activities of its inhabitants, from communal food preparation, water distribution, and leisurely moments to the minutiae of its destruction and collapse. The theater was built in the late 1950s during the Soviet regime as part of a strategy to implement a new “de-ukranized” socio-cultural identity. It was erected over the ruins of the Church of St. Mary Magdalene, a significant Ukrainian church destroyed in 1933 during the Holodomor, the famine deliberately engineered to suppress a Ukrainian independence movement. The surrounding area holds a theological aura for Mariupol residents as a historical site that commemorates the invasions of Ukraine by the Soviets and the Nazis. Following the attack, the occupying Russian forces attempted to erase evidence related to the air bombing by boxing in the theater’s ruins with scaffolding and bulldozing the part of it that was hit by the air bomb. Currently, the building is undergoing “reconstruction.”
With no access to the site and the systematic destruction of both physical and digital evidence, A City Within a Building relies on three key elements of forensic methodology: the 3D model and digital reconstruction of the theater, largely based on the plans and scans of a near-identical theater in the Ukrainian city of Poltava; the collection and analysis of thousands of social media posts, photographs, and videos; and the assembling of the voices of members of the Mariupol Theater diaspora within the digital project of reconstruction. So-called “situated testimonies” by participating witnesses allowed survivors to “walk” through the virtual space and model different aspects of the building as they remembered it. This process facilitated the recollection of this complex traumatic event, turning the model into an increasingly rich assemblage of collective memory. Through hours of interviews with survivors of the attack, CST carefully reassembles the living world of the theater, exploring with great sensitivity the emerging interactions of memory, space, and trauma. 
Although CST’s installations are often presented in exhibition or performance spaces, their primary goal is to introduce the evidence of a crime before international criminal courts and other legal and political institutions.
 The Center for Spatial Technologies (CST) is based between Kyiv and Berlin and was founded in 2018.

Mariupol Drama Theater Spatial Archive
Center for Spatial Technologies website