“Elyzaveta Fatayeva was sitting on a blanket in the basement, next to her boyfriend, when the theater exploded above her.”
So begins grantee James Verini’s haunting, mesmerizing reconstruction of what remains “the single most lethal act of violence against Ukrainian civilians”—Russia’s destruction of the Donetsk Regional Academic Drama Theater, where hundreds of civilians had sheltered last February and March during Russia’s siege of the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol.
“It is difficult to imagine Russian forces didn’t know what they were doing when they destroyed the theater,” Verini writes, “where the temporary residents had painted the Russian word for ‘CHILDREN’ so large on the grounds outside that it could be seen in satellite imagery.”
Verini and photographer Paolo Pellegrin, in their story for The New York Times Magazine, recapture the weeks of the siege and the theater’s destruction as no other journalists have done, by focusing on the individual stories among the estimated 1,500 people who sheltered in the theater, many in the basement and others in dressing rooms, stockrooms, and on the theater’s stage.
Among the many heartbreaking stories Verini tells is that of a taxi driver, his wife, and son, all of them sheltering in what had been an opera box overlooking the stage. When the bombs struck, the ceiling above them collapsed. The wife and son survived; the husband did not.
Mariupol is now under Russian control, making all the more essential the meticulous documentation by Verini and Pellegrin, including dozens of interviews with survivors now relocated across Ukraine and beyond. Their report is the third of three by Verini and Pellegrin we have supported this year, the first one recounting conditions and attitudes in eastern Ukraine on the eve of war and the second on the Russian siege of the northeastern city of Kharkiv.
Also this week, a poignant story for PBS NewsHour, produced in partnership with Retro Report, on Ukrainian Holocaust survivors being evacuated out of harm’s way—some of them to nursing homes in Germany, the country that under Nazi rule was responsible for killing 1.5 million Ukrainian Jews.
The Pulitzer Center-supported story “A Mother Watches Helplessly as Her Teenage Boy Deteriorates in a Texas Youth Prison,” by Lisa Armstrong for The Texas Tribune, has helped change one family for the better.
“The Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD) has a long and well-documented history of neglect and abuse,” Armstrong writes. The story follows one boy who has lived in detention since he was 11, his deteriorating mental health as a result of poor living conditions, and his mother’s struggle to get him out. The boy featured in this story was removed from isolation and allowed to attend school.
Texas state Rep. Carl Sherman read the story and requested information from the boy's mother so that his office could investigate. The boy's mother was also invited to speak before the Texas Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights.
This message first appeared in the September 9, 2022, edition of the Pulitzer Center's weekly newsletter. Subscribe today.
Click here to read the full newsletter.