KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — A missile struck a train station in eastern Ukraine where thousands of people had gathered on Friday, killing at least 52 people and injuring dozens more in an attack against a crowd of mostly women and children trying to flee another impending Russian offensive. , Ukrainian authorities said.
The attack, denounced by some as yet another war crime in the 6-week conflict, came as workers unearthed bodies from a mass grave in Bucha, a town near the Ukrainian capital where dozens of murders were documented after a Russian withdrawal.
Photos from the Kramatorsk station showed the dead covered in tarpaulins and the remains of a rocket painted with the words ‘For the children’, which in Russian implied the children were avenged by the strike, although the exact reason remains blurry. About 4,000 civilians were in and around the station, responding to calls to leave before fighting escalated in the Donbass region, Ukraine’s prosecutor general’s office said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who says he expects a harsh global response, and other leaders have accused the Russian military of deliberately attacking the station. Russia, in turn, blamed Ukraine, saying it was not using the type of missile that hit the station – a claim denied by experts.
Zelenskyy told Ukrainians in his Friday night video address that efforts would be made “to establish every minute who did what, who gave what orders, where the missile came from, who carried it, who gave the command and how this strike was agreed upon”. .”
Pavlo Kyrylenko, the regional governor of Donetsk in Donbass, said 52 people had been killed, including five children, and dozens more injured.
“There are a lot of people in serious condition, without arms or legs,” said Kramatorsk Mayor Oleksandr Goncharenko, adding that the local hospital was struggling to treat everyone.
British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace denounced the attack as a war crime, and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called it “completely unacceptable”.
“There are almost no words for this,” European Union Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told reporters in Ukraine. “The cynical behavior (of Russia) has almost no mark.”
Ukrainian authorities and Western officials have repeatedly accused Russian forces of atrocities in the war that began with an invasion on February 24. More than 4 million Ukrainians have fled the country and millions more have been displaced. Some of the most gruesome evidence has been found in towns around Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, from where Russian President Vladimir Putin’s troops have withdrawn in recent days.
In Bucha, Mayor Anatoliy Fedoruk said investigators had discovered at least three sites of mass shootings of civilians and continued to find bodies in courtyards, parks and city squares – 90% of which had been shot.
Russia falsely claimed that Bucha’s scenes were staged.
On Friday, workers removed corpses from a mass grave near a church in the pouring rain, lining up black body bags in rows in the mud. About 67 people were buried in the grave, according to a statement from Attorney General Iryna Venediktova’s office.
“Like the Bucha massacres, like many other Russian war crimes, the missile attack on Kramatorsk should be one of the charges in court that must be upheld,” Zelenskyy said, his voice rising in anger on Friday. evening.
He spoke on this subject in an interview taken from CBS’s “60 Minutes” broadcast on Friday, citing communications intercepted by the Ukrainian security service.
“There are (Russian) soldiers talking with their parents about what they stole and who they kidnapped. There are records of (Russian) POWs who admitted to killing people,” he said. “There are pilots in prison who had maps with civilian targets to bomb. Investigations are also being conducted based on the remains of the dead.
Zelenskyy’s comments echo Der Spiegel reports that the German foreign intelligence agency had intercepted Russian military radio traffic in which soldiers may have discussed killings of civilians in Bucha. The weekly also reported that the tapes indicated the Russian mercenary Wagner Group was involved in atrocities there.
German government officials have neither confirmed nor denied the report, but two former German ministers filed a war crimes complaint on Thursday. Russia has denied that its military was involved in war crimes.
After failing to take kyiv in the face of fierce resistance, Russian forces have now set their sights on Donbass, the predominantly Russian-speaking industrial region where Moscow-backed rebels have been fighting Ukrainian forces for eight years and control some areas.
A senior US defense official said on Friday that the Pentagon believes some of the retreating units were so badly damaged that they are “for all intents and purposes wiped out.” The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal military assessments.
The official said the United States believed Russia had lost between 15% and 20% of its overall combat power since the start of the war. As some combat units pull back for resupply in Russia, Moscow has added thousands of troops around Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, he said.
The affected station is in Ukrainian government-controlled territory in the Donbass, but the Russian Defense Ministry has accused Ukraine of carrying out the attack. So have Moscow-backed separatists in the region, who work closely with regular Russian troops.
Western experts have refuted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov’s claim that Russian forces “do not use” this type of missile, saying Russia used it during the war. An analyst added that only Russia would have reason to target rail infrastructure in the Donbass.
“The Ukrainian military is desperately trying to reinforce units in the area…and the railway stations in this area on Ukrainian-controlled territory are essential for the movement of equipment and people,” said Justin Bronk, researcher at Royal United Services. Institute of London.
Bronk pointed to other occasions when Russian authorities tried to deflect blame by claiming that their forces were no longer using an older weapon “to sort of cover their tracks and try to sow doubt.” He suggested that Russia specifically chose the missile type because Ukraine has it too.
A Western official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the intelligence, also said Russian forces used the missile – and that given the location and impact of the strike, it was “probably” from Russia.
Ukrainian officials have pleaded almost daily with Western powers to send more weapons and punish Russia further with sanctions and the exclusion of Russian banks from the global financial system.
NATO countries agreed on Thursday to increase their arms supply, and Slovak Prime Minister Eduard Heger announced during a trip to Ukraine on Friday that his country had donated its S-300 air defense system from the Soviet era to Ukraine. Zelenskyy had appealed for S-300s to help the country “close the skies” to Russian fighter jets and missiles.
US and Slovak officials said the US would next deploy a Patriot missile system to Slovakia.
After meeting Zelenskyy on Friday, during which he urged the EU to impose a full embargo on Russian oil and gas, von der Leyen handed him a questionnaire which is a first step in applying to join the EU. EU. She said the process of filling out the questionnaire could take just a few weeks – an unusually fast turnaround; Zelenskyy joked in English that they would have the answers in a week.
Elsewhere, in anticipation of intensified attacks by Russian forces, hundreds of Ukrainians fled villages that were either under fire or occupied in the southern regions of Mykolaiv and Kherson.
In northeast Kharkiv, Lidiya Mezhiritska stood in the wreckage of her home after overnight missile strikes turned it to rubble.
“The ‘Russian world,’ they say,” she said, wryly invoking Putin’s nationalist justification for invading Ukraine. “People, children, old people, women are dying. I don’t have a machine gun. I would definitely go (fight), regardless of my age.
Anna reported from Bucha, Ukraine. Robert Burns in Washington, Jill Lawless and Danica Kirka in London, and Associated Press reporters around the world contributed to this report.