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Helsinki protest showcases 210 shoes to show child death toll in Ukraine’s Mariupol

Rows of small shoes were placed next to candles in Helsinki during a protest on Sunday to draw attention to children killed during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, particularly in the battered port city of Mariupol.

There were shiny black boots. Tiny and cozy slippers. Pink and purple sneakers.

In total there were 210 pairs. They symbolized the total number of young lives that Ukrainian officials say were lost in the southeastern city of Mariupol, especially when the Drama Theater – where hundreds of civilians were sheltering – was hit on March 16.

The humanitarian crisis is worsening in Mariupol, where at least 5,000 residents have died in the month since Russian forces besieged it, its mayor said last week on Telegram, citing preliminary estimates. Mayor Vadym Boychenko, who also cited a bombed hospital, condemned the “deliberate destruction of the civilian population of Mariupol” and estimated that 90% of the city’s infrastructure had been wiped out. The Washington Post was unable to confirm these counts.

Witnesses told the Washington Post at the time that a white flag was tied to the top of the drama theater to let Russian troops know that children were inside. The word “children” was also written in large white letters in Russian in front and behind the theater, satellite images revealed. The building, when struck, was reduced to rubble.

At Sunday’s demonstration — organized by the Ukrainian Association in Finland, which was founded in 1997 to represent Ukrainians residing in the country – the shoes were laid outside the Finnish National Theatre. The aim was to draw attention to what the group called “Russian war crimes”.

Organizers said they wrote the “children” of the world on each side of the National Theater – as those of the Mariupol Drama Theater did.

A set of child-sized yellow jumpsuits were also placed at the protest scene, lying face down on the floor, a stuffed animal next to them.

“The purpose of the event is to draw public attention to the inhuman crimes committed by the Russian military against the Ukrainian people,” the organization wrote on Facebook, calling on people to join them. the event.

Of the approximately 100,000 civilians remaining in the city, most are without food, water or adequate heating. Internet access is also scarce.

Its strategic position on the Sea of ​​Azov, between the pro-Russian areas of Donbass and the Crimean peninsula annexed by Russia, made it a key target of Moscow’s military offensive.

Inside the Terror at the Bombed Mariupol Theater: ‘I Heard Screams Constantly’

The Red Cross warned recently that a path out of the besieged city appeared to have landmines and those who tried to flee faced a “long and difficult journey”.

Pascal Hundt of the International Committee of the Red Cross Told Sky News on Sunday that “it really was hell” in the city.

Boychenko, the mayor of Mariupol, said last week that hospitals were attacked in the bombardment and 50 people burned to death in one of the city’s health facilities.

Julian Duplain in London contributed to this report.