Ukrainian Archive
Ukrainian Archive


Investigation into the Destruction of the Mariupol Synagogue

November 21, 2023

During the 2022 siege of Mariupol by the Russian Federation the city's only functioning synagogue was destroyed. This investigation examines the circumstances surrounding this event and who is possibly responsible.

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Initial summary

  • Location of incident: Myru Ave, 37, Mariupol, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine (47.0949, 37.5551) 
  • Sites affected: Mariupol Synagogue  
  • Date of attack: 24 March 2022 
  • Reported damage: Extensive damage to building, contents completely destroyed
  • Type of attack/munition likely used: Possibly BM-21 Grad 122-mm HE


From the start of the 2022 invasion of Ukraine by Russia, the strategically important southeastern port city of Mariupol was heavily bombarded and extensively damaged, with 32% of structures showing damage visible on satellite imagery. During the battle for Mariupol, which lasted from 24 February 2022 until 20 May 2022, Mariupol’s only active synagogue was destroyed. The building appears extensively damaged, with its roof allegedly gone and other key structural elements allegedly collapsed or damaged. 


This investigation examines a variety of open-source documentation pertaining to alleged attacks affecting the synagogue on 37 Myru Avenue, Mariupol, Donetsk Oblast no earlier than 24 March 2022, no later than 25 March 2022, during the first month of the full scale invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation and its proxies. 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 their processes. Due to the repeated targeting of hospitals, medical facilities, and medical personnel since 2014, particularly by Russian-backed “Donetsk/Luhansk Peoples Republics” (hereafter  “D/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, were taken to authenticate the  findings of this investigation.

Background on the affected area


Before the war Mariupol was a major industrial port, and the largest city in the south of the Ukrainian controlled part Donetsk oblast. 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 ”D/LNR” 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 the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, which are sometimes collectively referred to as the Donbas region. 

maripul map

Image from Livemap.ua from Mariupol (west of the line of contact) to Russian/DPR (east of the line of contact) 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 “DNR”. The city was allegedly surrounded by early March 2022. By 17 March 2022, the local Ukrainian Territorial Defense reported that Russia controlled about half of Mariupol, including all the land on the eastern shore of the Kalmius River. A digital timeline of the events in Mariupol confirms this narrative. 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. Mariupol Jewish Community

A Jewish community had existed in Mariupol since the middle of the 1800s. Like almost all of Ukraine’s Jewish communities it was decimated by the Holocaust during the Nazi occupation of Mariupol between 1941-1943. On the eve of WWII in 1939 over 10,000 Jews lived in Mariupol and accounted for approximately 5% of the city’s population. The vast majority of Jewish residents of Mariupol were murdered by the Nazis in a series of mass executions by the end of November 1941. The Jewish community never returned to its former size, accounting for just over 1,000 people in 2001, the last time an official census was conducted. Following Ukraine’s independence and the lifting of the Soviet ban on free religious practice, the Jewish community’s first synagogue and cultural center opened in a small building on Kharlampievska Street 07. As the community built up resources and grew, it moved to a larger building at Myru Avenue 37 in 2020. While this investigation focuses on the attack at the Myru 37 address, the old location on Kharlampievska was also reportedly seriously damaged. Following the siege of the city, many Jews fled Mariupol, leading some experts to make dire predictions about the future of the Jewish community in Mariupol.   

What happened (and when)? 

Summary of online reporting

The earliest media report on the destruction of the synagogue was published by Jewish News, a Ukrainian Jewish community publication, citing a Facebook post with video of the synagogue. The earliest official mention of the destruction of the synagogue came from the Mariupol City Council Telegram channel on 18 May 2022. The link to this post was disseminated in a news bulletin by Ukrinform, Ukraine’s official state news broadcaster the same day. Beyond that, the destruction of the synagogue received little reporting, possibly because of the wider destruction of Mariupol at the time.    


The synagogue is located at 37 Myru Avenue, Mariupol, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine (47.095, 37.554). The official Facebook page of the Jewish community of Mariupol posted an announcement to mark the opening of the new synagogue, providing the address shown above.

Facebook images of Building at 37 Myru Avenue which housed the synagogue (left), detailed image of synagogue entrance marked by yellow box (right).

In a 2021 streetview image of the building on Google Earth we can see the same buildings at this address, the synagogue, purple decorations of the beauty salon next door, as well as the red double-decker bus advertisement on the building next door. 

Google Earth street view image from 2021 (left) and the image posted on the Jewish Community of Mariupol Facebook page in 2020 (right). Entrance to synagogue marked in yellow, advertisement on beauty salon marked in purple, red bus advert marked in red. 

These same features can be identified in a video posted to Facebook by a prominent member of the Jewish Community of Mariupol on 08 May 2022.

Comparison of 08 May 2022 screenshot (left) with 10 September 2020 image (right). Entrance to synagogue marked in yellow, advertisement on beauty salon marked in purple, red bus advertisement marked in red. 

All of these sources—including a sign indicating the building is a synagogue—consistently identify the building as the synagogue and the site of the attack as well as its location at 37 Myru Avenue, Mariupol, Ukraine, Donetsk Oblast. 

An image from 10 September 2020 on the Jewish Community of Mariupol Facebook page, showing a banner on the building where the word “Synagogue” written on a banner above the entryway. 

The building is also identifiable through satellite imagery. The distinctive arrangement of windows and location of the lane just west of the building, as well as the color of the building’s outer walls are all consistent. Synagogue pictured in prewar imagery (2021) and in prewar satellite imagery (2021). Distinctive facade of building marked in yellow and alley marked in red by Ukrainian Archive. 


This synagogue was most likely damaged during a bombardment of the neighborhood on 23 or 24 March 2022. A satellite image from 24 March 2022 of the site from Planet shows the neighborhood partially obscured by smoke, with at least two large fires visible in buildings close to the site—suggesting an attack had occurred in the area.  

Planet image showing the neighborhood of the synagogue in the aftermath of either a bombardment or fighting. Synagogue marked with yellow, fires marked in red.

Unfortunately, the 24 March image is not clear enough to definitively show that damage was done to the synagogue on that specific day, however imagery from 21 March and 25 March does suggest the synagogue was hit on 23 or 24 March. On imagery from 21 March from Planet the synagogue is clearly visible with its roof intact, while the 25 March image from Google Earth Pro shows the building with its roof collapsed. Changes to the roof of the only conjoint building follow the exact same chronology.  

Planet image from 21 March 2022 showing the roof of synagogue and its conjoint building (yellow) intact (left), Google Earth Pro image from 25 March 2022 showing both buildings with roof missing (right).   

This timeline is consistent with The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) assessment of areas of control within Mariupol on 23 March, 24 March, and 25 March 2022. The maps show a successful Russian advance through the center of the city, with the lines of control approaching, but not reaching the synagogue.

Location of the synagogue (green circle, added by Ukrainian Archive) on ISW assessed control of Mariupol on 23 March, 24 March, and 25 March 2022.  


As a result of the attack only the outer walls of the structure remained standing. The roof and its support beams are scattered throughout the building, while a part of the second floor has also collapsed onto the first floor. A former employee at the synagogue wrote that the damage was so severe that she was unable to find where her office was located on a video of the site: “I received this video today… and watched it several times, trying to find my office among the ruins. I couldn’t find it… This was my entire life for the past 16 years… This is my second home… This is the Mariupol Synagogue.” While it is unknown if parts of the structure are salvageable, the space and property of the synagogue was destroyed and rendered unusable.  

Comparison of Planet imagery from 21 March 2022 (left) and 28 March 2022 (right). The absence of a roof on the latter image is clearly visible.

Munitions used 

Given the severity and scale of the fighting in Mariupol, it is difficult to determine precisely what weapons were used to destroy the synagogue. However, several factors suggests an MLRS bombardment is the likely cause of the damage. First, a report of an MLRS strike on 24 March 2022 which killed a man on his way to the synagogue to look for information on evacuations. The man’s relative was with him and later recounted the story. This information indicates that there was an MLRS strike in Mariupol on the day the synagogue was destroyed. Second,  the damage observed on the video of the destroyed synagogue seems to be consistent with damage caused by BM-21 Grad rockets, by far the most common MLRS system in service with the Russian armed forces. According to AOAV  “Buildings usually don’t suffer serious structural damage from Grad [BM-21] rockets unless they sustain a direct hit. Even then, the explosive quantity contained in a single rocket is unlikely to cause building collapse.” All four of the synagogue’s walls are left standing, with the outer side relatively unscathed, but with extensive internal damage and missing roof,  bearing a close resemblance to an image used by AOAV as an example of a structure that has been hit by a BM-21 rocket.

Screenshot of the synagogue from damage video, sample image of a building that took a direct hit from a 122mm BM-21 Grad MLRS in a previous Russian attack on Mariupol in 2015.

The third and final factor is the widespread nature of the damage. The BM-21 can fire a salvo of up to 40 122-mm rockets, and was designed to saturate a large open area with artillery fire. By design this weapon is not accurate or precise and each individual rocket can deviate by as much as 80 meters to either side of the intended target and 150 meters on either side of the target. This is consistent with the widespread damage and fires visible on Planet imagery from 24 March 2022 Planet imagery from 24 March 2022 showing fires and damage in the neighborhood surrounding the synagogue covering a wide area consistent with a salvo from an BM-21 Grad.

Although these factors indicate that the damage was possibly caused by a BM-21 Grad strike,  Ukrainian Archive is unable to definitively conclude the munition used in this attack as a result of a lack of audiovisual imagery of the attack or munition remnants.

Victims of the attacks

There is no available public source information on casualties from the strike, as is the case with casualty figures for the siege of Mariupol in general. However, there is information which suggests that one person was killed as a result of “rocket bombardment.” The witness account, published in Vesty, an Israeli Russian-language publication reads:

“On 24 March Sergei and his 16-year old nephew left their Mariupol flat and set out for the synagogue in order to find a way to leave the city. Both knew this was dangerous, but for them it was the only possible way to get any information about evacuations.

When both were out in the street, a bombardment began. [His nephew] said that as they were trying to find cover, Sergei was hit by shrapnel from the rockets…” Regrettably, Ukrainian Archive could not independently verify the reports of this fatality.

Resulting Damage

The physical damage done to the synagogue appears to be extensive. The video of the destruction indicates that the roof and its supporting beams have completely collapsed into the building. Part of the second floor has also collapsed, with only a small section remaining by the far northern wall of the building.

Screenshot from Facebook video of damage to the synagogue. Elements of the roof marked in green, remaining part of the second floor marked in blue, sky visible through the top of the building. All markings added by Ukrainian Archive

This damage can also be seen on Google Earth Pro satellite imagery of the site from 25 March 2022. In the image the inside structures of the building are clearly visible, confirming that the roof collapsed as a result of the strike, and not at a later date. 

Google Earth Pro image from 25 March 2022 showing the roof of the synagogue completely collapsed into the building.

The latest available satellite imagery at the time of writing of this report is from Planet from 28 August 2023. The building stands in the same condition without a roof or any evidence of reconstruction.

Planet image from 28 August 2023 showing the synagogue standing without a roof or any signs of reconstruction.

The physical destruction of the synagogue has also caused considerable damage to the Jewish community of Mariupol. Before the start of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation on 24 March 2022, the synagogue was at the center of Jewish life in the city. Aside from religious services, one of its functions was to provide meals and other essentials to the elderly, among which was a 91-year-old Holocaust survivor, who did not survive the siege of Mariupol. With the synagogue destroyed, along with the former synagogue used by the community, as well as the widespread destruction caused in Mariupol, much of the Jewish community of the city has sought to leave. Exact numbers for how many people remain in Mariupol are unavailable, and while the city remains actively contested territory they are unlikely to become available. However, Vladislav Davidzon, a subject matter expert interviewed by the American Jewish Committee provided a stark assessment of the future of the Jewish community of Mariupol.

“There were a lot of Jews in Mariupol, thousands of Jews. Many of them who survived World War II. Certainly the Mariupol Jewish community has no future. None. Absolutely none. For the obvious reasons. The demographics of the Jewish communities have all changed and we’re gonna see over time how all this plays out and sorts itself out.”

Potentially responsible

The assessed territorial control over the impact site at the time offers a suggestion for the party potential responsible for the attack . ISW’s assessment of territorial control in Mariupol on 23 March, 24 March, and 25 March, around the attack date, shows that at no point during these three days did Russian forces control the area. 

Location of the synagogue (green circle) on ISW assessed control of Mariupol on 23 March, 24 March, and 25 March 2022.  

The damage to the synagogue and the surrounding structures appears to be consistent with an MLRS strike on the targeted location. Because of the inherent inaccuracy of the BM-21 Grad and its 122-mm rockets, the weapon system carries an increased risk of “friendly fire” incidents if used to bombard areas where the warring parties are in close proximity.  Due to this limitation, it is usually used to attack areas some distance behind the line of contact. On 24 March 2022 the synagogue was several kilometers behind the Ukrainian front lines, making it much more likely that Russian forces and not Ukrainian forces would target this area, as the site was located away from Russian positions. Because of the inaccuracy of this weapon it is impossible to know for certain what the intended target of the bombardment was, or whether the intent was to shell a particular location on a grid rather than a specific target, as this weapon was designed to do.

Since this is a religious site, it is protected under the laws of armed conflict, unless it was being used for military purposes. There is no publicly available information to suggest that this was the case. Military presence in a building will usually entail fortifying windows and entrances with sandbags. Sites that had a military presence will often have remnants of ammunition containers, spent casings, and other military-related items. None of these items are visible on satellite imagery or photographs and videos of the synagogue. Continuous military presence at the site would also likely be reflected on satellite imagery with small changes to the building or its immediate surroundings that result from regular movement of people and vehicles. However, in the case of the Mariupol synagogue, no such changes are visible. Planet imagery of the synagogue (left to right): 12 October 2021; 10 March 2022; 21 March 2022.


On 24 March 2022 the synagogue on 37 Myru Avenue, Mariupol, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine was extensively damaged in a possible MLRS bombardment. Since this site was over a kilometer behind Ukrainian front lines, the available outlined findings suggest that Russian Armed Forces are likely responsible for the attack.  There is no information available  that the synagogue was used for military purposes, making the destruction of the synagogue a possible violation of the laws of armed conflict. 


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