Ukrainian Archive
Ukrainian Archive


Investigation into Attacks on St. Michael the Archangel Cathedral in Mariupol

August 22, 2023

During the siege of Mariupol by Russian and Russian proxy forces from 24 February 2022 until 20 May 2022, the Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel was severely damaged by artillery fire, collapsing one of the domes and leaving entry and exit holes in the walls.

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Initial summary

  • Location of incident: Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel, Mariupol, Ukraine
  • Sites affected: Cathedral and grounds (47.0962, 37.6600)
  • Date of attack: No earlier than 24 February 2022, no later than 12 March 2022
  • Reported damage: Major structural damage to cathedral from several projectiles
  • Type of attack/munition likely used: direct fire weapons, possibly artillery


During the siege of Mariupol by Russian and Russian proxy forces from 24 February 2022 until 20 May 2022, the Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel was severely damaged by artillery fire, collapsing one of the domes and leaving entry and exit holes in the walls. 


This investigation examines a variety of open-source documentation pertaining to alleged attacks affecting St. Michael the Archangel Cathedral, in Mariupol, Donetsk Oblast no earlier than 24 February 2022, no later than 12 March 2022, during the first month of the full scale invasion of Ukraine. Analysis on these materials was conducted by cross-referencing a combination of open-source visual content and public information. Specific methodologies are described in greater detail on the Methods section of Ukrainian Archive’s website.

This investigation was also undertaken with an awareness of international humanitarian law, which imposes limits to how parties to a conflict may conduct hostilities and under which civilians and civilian objects – including in particular hospitals, medical personnel, and objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population – are protected. If proved, actions that violate these protections may constitute war crimes and human rights violations.

Through collection, verification, and analysis  of the investigative findings from these incidents, the authors hope to preserve critical information that may be used for advocacy purposes or as evidence in future legal proceedings seeking accountability.

Data ethics

The authors have strived to incorporate a “risk minimisation” ethical framework into its processes. Due to the repeated targeting of hospitals, medical facilities, and medical personnel since 2014, particularly by Russian-backed DPR/LNR “people’s militias” and by Russian Federation armed forces, additional precautions and ethical issues were taken into consideration.

The Ukrainian Archive supports transitional justice, as without accountability sustainable peace is very difficult to achieve. In order to help establish that digital content is what it purports to be, rigorous verification steps, guided  by the Berkeley Protocol, must be taken to authenticate the  findings.

Background on the affected area


Before the war Mariupol was a major industrial port, and the largest city in the Ukrainian controlled parts of the Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts. In 2014 pro-Russian militias, backed by paramilitaries and regular forces from Russia itself made an unsuccessful attempt to occupy the city as they had done in Slovyansk, Kramatorsk, Luhansk, and Donetsk. Ukraine managed to retain control of the city, but the line of contact between Russian/DPR and Ukrainian controlled areas was less than 20 km from the city. Mariupol was until 24 February 2022 the largest city under Ukrainian control in both the Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts which are sometimes collectively referred to as the Donbas region. 

Distance from Mariupol to Russian/DPR held territory, 2014-22 line of control marked in red.

When Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022 Mariupol was the site of heavy fighting from the first days of the conflict, owing to its proximity to Russia and the unrecognized DPR. The city was surrounded by early March 2022 and by 17 March the local Ukrainian Territorial Defense reported that Russia controls about half of Mariupol, including all the land on the eastern shore of the Kalmius River. Ukrainian troops, surrounded and cut off from supply, made a last stand at the Azovstal Steel Works, only surrendering on 16 May following orders to do so from Kyiv. The city suffered widespread destruction, with estimates of total casualties among the population ranging into the tens of thousands.   

Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel 

The cathedral was laid down in 1995 and finished in 1998, and was part of a general religious revival in the former Soviet states following the dissolution of the USSR in 1991. The most valuable religious relic at the church is an early 19th century copy of the Mother of God of the Life-giving Spring, a famous Orthodox icon. The church and its surrounding grounds offer a sought-after view of the surrounding countryside, sea, villages, and Azovstal. There are two other structures that are part of the cathedral complex: the administrative building, and a monument to St. Ignatius, the patron saint of Mariupol. The church belonged to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate), which was considered a pro-Russian denomination prior to the war both in Ukraine and in Russia.

What happened (and when)? 

Summary of online reporting

The earliest news reports showing damage to the cathedral were published on 25 March 2022 on the official Facebook account of the Donetsk Oblast Diocese of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. These were soon shared on social media by a correspondent from the BBC Russian service, and circulated widely in Ukrainian media over the following days, ascribing blame to Russian shelling. News of damage to the church made its way into international media as well, BBC featuring it in an English-language story about damage to religious sites in Ukraines. While Russian outlets were slower to report on the damage, two major state-run news agencies, Izvestia and Komsomolskaya Pravda published reports which featured damage to the cathedral, without assigning blame.    

Earliest image of damage to the cathedral


The location of the cathedral is readily available online. The complex is situated on the eastern bank of the Kalmius River atop a hill overlooking the city and the Sea of Azov at coordinates 47.0962, 37.6600. It consists of three main parts: the cathedral itself, the administrative building which housed a Sunday school, a cafeteria for the needy, and a space for performing baptisms of children, and finally a statue of Metropolitan Ignatius, a Greek Orthodox monk who brought the first Orthodox community to Mariupol from Crimea and who is considered to be the city’s patron saint.

Location of Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel in Mariupol (marked in red) on a 2023 Google Maps image. 

Map of cathedral and grounds with structures labeled on a prewar Google Earth image from June 2021.


The earliest available ground-based images of damage to the cathedral were published on 25 March 2022 on the official Facebook account of the Donetsk Oblast Diocese of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. However, Google Earth Pro satellite imagery of the site clearly indicates widespread damage to the complex as early as 13 March 2022. This discrepancy is likely caused by the well-documented communications outages experienced in Mariupol at the start of the siege by the armed forces of the Russian Federation and the DPR in early March 2022. Since there were no reports of damage to the cathedral in the first several days of the war, there is strong evidence to suggest that the damage was caused sometime between the beginning of communication outages on 3 March  and 12 March 2022 when a satellite recorded damage to the cathedral complex. No satellite imagery of the site throughout that time period was located. 


Damage to the cathedral complex visible on satellite imagery from 13 March 2022 on Google Earth. 


Damage to Monument to St. Ignatius

The monument to St. Ignatius was completely destroyed. This is confirmed by an image posted by the Greek diaspora organization Azovgreeks (Mariupol has a very old Greek community). 

Before and after images of the monument, by Azovgreeks

The damage shown in the 2022 photo by Azovgreeks closely resembles that damage seen on satellite imagery.

Image by Azovgreeks (left) and Maxar imagery from March 2022. The destroyed statue is marked in yellow and the nearby shallow crater is marked in orange by the Ukrainian Archive.  

Damage to Cathedral

The eastern side of the cathedral sustained significant damage. This includes extensive damage to the domes, as well as holes, likely caused by munition impacts in the eastern facade of the cathedral.

Image of cathedral from 25 March by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church compared to prewar image, holes left by fighting marked in yellow, damaged domes marked in red, and cardinal direction indicator added by Ukrainian Archive.  

It is evident from the damage to the outside of the structure that the interior of the cathedral was affected. Images from inside the cathedral published on 03 August 2022 by the pro-Kremlin publication Argumenty i fakty.  show scaffolding and damage to the walls. It is important to note that this footage was made several months after the attack, so the full extent of the damage that was originally sustained is difficult to establish. No later or earlier images from inside the cathedral were located. 

Damage to the inside of the cathedral, published on 03 August 2022 by Argumenty i Fakty.

The south side of the cathedral was also damaged. The Azovgreeks prewar photo can be compared to a photo published by Argumenty i Fakty

Azovgreek photo from before the war (left), Argumenty i fakty photo from August 2022(right). Damage consistent with munitions marked with purple circles by Ukrainian Archive. 

Damage to Administrative Building

The administrative building, which also housed a Sunday school, was extensively damaged. Large sections of the roof have been destroyed, with the south side of the structure heavily damaged by direct impacts.

South side of the administrative building, damage to walls marked with yellow circles and damage to roof indicated with red rectangle by Ukrainian archive. Prewar image from an official Facebook page on left, wartime image by Russian correspondent on the right. 

Munitions used

It is difficult to establish the exact types of munitions used, or whether multiple types of munitions were used. Both the cathedral and the administrative building remained standing after Russian forces occupied the area, making munitions such as cruise missiles, artillery greater in caliber than 120mm, airplane-delivered munitions, or thermobaric artillery, unlikely culprits as such munitions would likely have caused catastrophic damage to the structures in the event of a direct impact and would have left craters several meters across if they landed nearby and missed. No such craters can be observed on satellite imagery. Additionally, the damage is inconsistent with that left by Soviet-produced small arms, so rifle-caliber weapons can also be ruled out.

Damage to the cathedral complex visible on satellite imagery from 13 March 2022 on Google Earth.

Images of the eastern and southern walls of the cathedral and the southern wall of the administrative building show a large number of holes of a similar size, consistent with those caused by a direct impact from a munition such as a tank shell or a self-propelled gun. Human Rights Watch identified similar damage as caused by a direct-fire weapon in the armed conflict in Tigray.

Image from Human Rights Watch report. Showing damage to a building from direct-fire systems on 22 November 2020, Tigray. © 2020 Eduardo Soteras for Agence France Press

Image of cathedral from 25 March by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church compared to prewar image, holes left by direct-impact weapons marked in yellow, damaged domes marked in red, and cardinal direction indicator added by Ukrainian Archive. 

South side of the administrative building, direct-fire damage to walls marked with yellow circles and damage to roof indicated with red rectangle by Ukrainian archive. Prewar image from an official Facebook page on left, wartime image by Russian correspondent on the right.

These impacts look very similar to damage caused by 120-mm and 105-mm caliber shells available in images released by Rheinmetall and Armor Magazine. These shells are equivalent to the Soviet-designed 125-mm and 100-mm guns used by the armed forces of the Russian Federation and its proxies.

Image from 2017 by Rheinmetall showing effect of a D11 shell on a brick wall (left), April-June 2013 issue of Armor Magazine (right) featuring impact of 105 mm shell on a reinforced wall. 

The damage to the cathedral and the administrative building is consistent with direct-fire weapons such as tanks and field artillery, both of which were used by Russian forces in and around Mariupol. However, it is impossible to make a definitive determination on the type or caliber of weapons system used because of the large variety or weapons systems deployed inside the city. This includes not just conventional land-based weapons, but also naval bombardment, attacks from the air by helicopter, airplane, and drone, as well as ballistic missile strikes. This vast array of weaponry was concentrated in a fairly small geographical area in and around Mariupol. 

Victims of the attacks

Resulting damage


In an interview given to the Russian government-controlled Izvestia by a woman who is said to be a parishioner, there is mention of services at the church having resumed. However, no active social media accounts, announcements about services at the church, or any other signs of renewed activity have been located. Footage posted on the Telegram channel of Konstantin Ivashchenko, the Russian-appointed administrator of Mariupol, on 29 December 2022 shows scaffolding and boarded up windows in the cathedral, indicating that the cathedral had not yet been fully repaired by the start of 2023, but that some efforts were underway to repair it or prevent it from falling further into disrepair. On 3 July 2023 pro-Kremlin outlet Komsomolskaya Pravda announced that the reconstruction of the cathedral will be financed by the Kadyrov Fund.

screenshot 2023 08 22 at 17 58 17

Scaffolding and boarded windows on the north side of the cathedral in a screenshot of Ivashchenko’s video from 29 December 2022.

On Planet Labs imagery from 23 April 2023, it is also evident that the destroyed domes have not been repaired, and blue coverings have been installed to seal the inside of the structure from the elements. One such blue covering is also visible in a pro-Kremlin news article published on 31 May 2023.

Planet Labs image from 23 April 2023 (left), image from the pro-Kremlin ZOV Mariupol publication from 31 April 2023. Blue covering marked in orange by Ukrainian Archive. 

Administrative Building The administrative building was heavily damaged during the attack, and was demolished by Russian military or civilian authorities sometime between 18 October and 20 December 2022. This is evidenced by the shadows cast by the building and surrounding structures, which are visible on satellite imagery by Planet from 18 October and 20 December 2022. As of the writing of this report, there has been no significant change to the site of the administrative building since that time.

Planet Labs satellite imagery showing the administrative building casting a shadow on 18 October 2022 and casting no shadow on 20 December 2022.

Monument to St. Ignatius

Unlike the administrative building or the cathedral the monument does not cast a large enough shadow to be observed via satellite. No information regarding the further fate of the monument was found.

Potentially responsible

To determine which party might have been responsible for damaging the site, the damage caused to various sides of the structures were compared and analyzed against a timeline of the capture of Mariupol by Russian forces. The cathedral is located in the Livoberezhnyi District of the city, which was shelled starting on 24 February 2022. Frequent shelling continued, with images of damage from 25 February, and reports of continued shelling from 28 February. Several days later on 02 March the Mariupol city authorities reported damage to a maternity hospital in the district (not to be confused with the better-known 09 March maternity hospital bombing in a different district of Mariupol). During this time, Russian sources also delivered news of advances by their units around Livoberezhnyi District along the coastal suburbs, placing their route of advance to the southeast of the cathedral from the suburb of Shyrokyne to the Azovstal Steelworks.

Reported route of advance (red) by Russian and DPR forces in southeast Mariupol in March-April 2022 on Google Maps. Cathedral, Azovstal Steelworks, and Shyrokyne labeled by the Ukrainian Archive.   

The BBC created a compilation of maps by the Institute for the Study of War, which outline the Russian advance into Mariupol. Based on these maps, it appears that on 12 March 2022, when the earliest evidence of damage to the cathedral was recorded on satellite, the cathedral was in Ukrainian-controlled territory. found. A BBC analysis of maps compiled by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) only shows the cathedral becoming disputed territory sometime between 17 March and 04 April, well after the extensive damage appeared on satellite imagery.

BBC compilation of maps showing assessed Russian control over Mariupol. Approximate site of the cathedral marked with a green square by Ukrainian Archive. 

Artillery, mortars, and tanks, which are the most likely weapons systems used to attack the cathedral, are used to weaken enemy positions before a direct assault, therefore such weapons usually cause destruction in areas controlled by the opponent of the party using the weapon. Most of the damage caused to the cathedral and the administrative building is found on the southern and eastern walls of the buildings (see resulting damage). Meanwhile, the northern and western walls of the buildings received much less damage.

Getty Images image from BBC article showing the relatively in-tact western and northern sides of the administrative building and cathedral.

Given this pattern of damage, the munitions that caused this damage was likely fired from the southeast of the cathedral, an area which Russian forces captured before the cathedral itself, therefore indicating that Russian forces likely caused damage to the cathedral complex.

Attacks on cultural heritage may constitute a breach of the jus ad bellum and/or a violation of International Humanitarian Law. A prominent exception to this rule, is when the “that cultural property has, by its function, been made into a military objective.” However, even then the danger posed by that military presence must be weighed against the damage caused. Based on this understanding of jus ad bellum, the cathedral might have been considered a legitimate target for Russian forces had a significant presence of Ukrainian military assets been documented at the cathedral. Claims of such Ukrainian military presence were made in Russian news, according to which Ukrainians were holed up around the church for a week. The article did not provide any further details or evidence for this claim, nor were any images provided either in satellite imagery or from the ground indicating the construction of fortifications, presence of military vehicles or tracks left by them, trenches, fighting positions, and communications equipment - images which might be indicative of a significant military presenseIt is of note that a smaller military such as that of a scouting party of a sniper team, might not show such indicators.


Since a direct military benefit to destroying the cathedral cannot be established, whichever side destroyed the cathedral likely violated jus ad bellum and possibly committed a war crime. Based on the analysis of the damage to the structures of the cathedral complex, it was determined that the projectiles most likely originated to the south and to the east of the cathedral. Since Russian forces pushed from that direction toward central Mariupol, they were the only force which had a discernible reason to fire in the direction of the cathedral. Additionally, the accusations floated by the Russian media that there were Ukrainian troops at the cathedral is not supported by satellite imagery of the site, which shows no signs of a major battle or even basic fortifications. Given these findings it is likely that Russian forces attacked the cathedral at some point between 24 February 2022 and 13 March 2022, the period between when the invasion of Ukraine began and when the first satellite imagery showing damage to the site was produced.


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