Ukraine says dozens killed in attack on rail station packed with evacuees
At least 50 people were killed and dozens wounded on Friday when a missile hit a railway station in eastern Ukraine packed with evacuees, Ukrainian authorities said, as the region braced for a major Russian offensive.
The state railway company initially said rockets had struck a station in the city of Kramatorsk, which was being used for the evacuation of civilians from areas under bombardment by Russian forces.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky later said in a statement via Facebook that a Tochka-U short-range ballistic missile was used in the attack.
Pavlo Kyrylenko, governor of the Donetsk region, said thousands of civilians had been at the station at the time of what described as a deliberate attack. Many of the wounded were in serious condition, he said.
“They wanted to sow panic and fear, they wanted to take as many civilians as possible,” he said. Kyrylenko published a photograph online showing several bodies on the ground beside piles of suitcases and other luggage. Armed police wearing flak jackets stood beside them.
Russia’s defence ministry denied Russian forces carried out the strike. Moscow has denied targeting civilians since invading Ukraine on Feb. 24, in what it calls a “special military operation” to demilitarize and “denazify” its neighbour. Ukraine and Western supporters call that a pretext for an unprovoked invasion.
Another photo showed rescue services tackling what appeared to be a fire, with a pall of grey smoke rising into the air.
Zelensky said no Ukrainian troops were at a railway station at the time of the strike.
He told the Finnish parliament the attack was carried out “on an ordinary train station, on ordinary people; there were no soldiers there.”
Three trains carrying evacuees were blocked in the same region of Ukraine on Thursday after an air strike on the line, according to the head of Ukrainian Railways.
Ukrainian officials say Russian forces have been regrouping after withdrawing from the capital Kyiv’s outskirts, preparing for a new offensive to gain full control of the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, collectively known as the Donbas and partly held by Moscow-backed separatists since 2014.
Ukraine’s military general staff said on Friday that Russian forces were focused on capturing the besieged southeastern port of Mariupol, fighting near the eastern city of Izyum and breakthroughs by Ukrainian forces near Donetsk.
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell condemned what he called the “indiscriminate attack” in Kramatorsk. “This is yet another attempt to close escape routes for those fleeing this unjustified war and cause,” he said on Twitter.
While efforts to evacuate civilians from the east and south of Ukraine remained at risk of a Russian onslaught, residents of areas north of Kyiv recaptured from Russian forces were still coming to terms with the horror of a month-long occupation.
Borodyanka ‘more dreadful’ than Bucha
After civilian deaths in the city of Bucha were widely condemned by the West as war crimes, Zelensky said the situation in Borodyanka — another community northwest of Kyiv — was “significantly more dreadful.”
He offered no further detail or evidence that Russia was responsible for civilian deaths in the town.
As rescue teams there searched through the rubble of a charred apartment block with its middle section razed to the ground, families looking for relatives watched.
“My mother, my brother, brother’s wife, his mother and father-in-law, are still there, as well as other people who were there in the basement,” resident Vadym Zagrebelnyi told Reuters.
Russia has denied targeting civilians and says images of bodies in Bucha were staged to justify more sanctions and derail peace negotiations.
Hundreds trapped in school basement
In Yahidne, a village north of the capital, residents recounted how more than 300 people were trapped for weeks by Russian occupiers in a school basement, with names of those who did not survive the harsh conditions or were killed by soldiers scrawled on the wall.
Russia’s invasion has killed or injured thousands, seen more than four million people flee abroad, turned cities into rubble and led to sweeping sanctions that Moscow says put its economy in the most difficult situation in three decades.
On Friday, Britain joined Washington in blacklisting President Vladimir Putin’s daughters, Katerina Tikhonova and Maria Vorontsova. The pair will be subject to a travel ban and asset freeze.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen visited Bucha on Friday, the site where Ukrainian officials have said hundreds of civilians have been found dead since Russian troops withdrew last week.
“It is the unthinkable has happened here. We have seen the cruel face of Putin’s army. We have seen the recklessness and cold-heartedness with which they have been occupying the city,” she said.
Von der Leyan was also in Kyiv, travelling from Brussels to the Ukrainian capital to offer Zelensky reassurance over his bid for EU membership. She told reporters the most important message she was bringing to Zelensky was that there “will be the EU path” for Ukraine.
EU coal embargo
The bloc on Thursday signed off on another round of sanctions, including a coal embargo with a 120-day wind-down period sought by Germany, and has said it will look at banning oil imports next.
Still, Ukraine continues to plead for more military support from its allies and a total ban on Russian oil and gas imports.
“Ukraine needs weapons which will give it the means to win on the battlefield and that will be the strongest possible sanction against Russia,” Zelensky said in a late Thursday video address.
Moscow, which has previously acknowledged its military move into Ukraine has not progressed as quickly as it wanted, on Thursday also acknowledged its rising death toll.
“We have significant losses of troops,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told Sky News. “It’s a huge tragedy for us.”