KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Civilian evacuations advanced through battle-scarred areas of eastern Ukraine on Saturday, a day after a missile strike killed at least 52 people and injured more than 100 at a train station where thousands of people were clamoring to leave ahead of a planned Russian assault.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has demanded a tough global response to Friday’s train station attack in Kramatorsk, calling it the latest example of war crimes committed by Russian forces that should motivate the West to do more to help his country to defend themselves.
“All global efforts will be directed to establish every minute of who did what, who gave what orders, where the missile came from, who carried it, who gave the order and how this strike was agreed” , Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address. , his voice rising in anger.
Russia has denied responsibility and accused the Ukrainian military of firing at the station in an attempt to blame Moscow for the civilian casualties. A Russian Defense Ministry spokesman detailed the missile’s trajectory and Ukrainian troop positions to bolster the argument.
Western experts and Ukrainian authorities insisted that Russia launch the weapon. The remains of the rocket had the words “For Children” in Russian painted on it. The wording seemed to suggest the missile was sent to avenge the loss or subjugation of children, though its exact meaning remained unclear.
As trains did not leave Kramatorsk on Saturday, panicked locals boarded buses or sought other ways out, fearing the kind of relentless assaults and occupations by Russian invaders that have led to shortages food, demolished buildings and killed other towns elsewhere in Ukraine.
“It was terrifying. Horror, horror,” a resident told British broadcaster Sky, recalling the train station attack. “God forbid, to go through that again. No, I do not want.
Ukraine’s national railway company said in a statement on Saturday that residents of Kramatorsk and other parts of the disputed Donbass region could flee through other stations. Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said 10 evacuation corridors were planned for Saturday.
Russia withdrew its troops from northern Ukraine and focused on Donbass after failing to capture the capital, kyiv. Western military analysts said a long arc of territory was under Russian control, from Kharkiv – Ukraine’s second-largest city – in the north to Kherson in the south. But Ukrainian fighters continued to repel the attacks and hold their ground, according to Western assessments.
On Saturday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Zelenkyy met in Kyiv in what Johnson’s office called a “show of solidarity with the Ukrainian people.” The unannounced visit which came a day after Johnson pledged an additional 100 million pounds ($130 million) in high-quality military equipment to Ukraine.
The train station attack came as Ukrainian authorities worked to identify victims and document possible war crimes committed by Russian soldiers in northern Ukraine. The mayor of Bucha, a town near kyiv where graphic evidence of civilian killings emerged after the Russians withdrew, said search teams were still finding the bodies of people shot at close range in yards, parks and city squares.
On Friday, workers dug up the bodies of 67 people from a mass grave near a church, according to Ukraine’s prosecutor general. Russia falsely claimed that Bucha’s scenes were staged.
Ukrainian authorities and Western officials have repeatedly accused Russian forces of committing atrocities in the war that began with Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion. A total of 176 children have been killed in Ukraine since the start of the war, while 324 others have been injured, the country’s attorney general’s office said on Saturday.
Ukrainian authorities have warned they expect to find more killings once they reach the southern port city of Mariupol, which is also in Donbass and has been subjected to a month-long blockade and intense fighting.
As journalists who had been largely absent from the city began to return, new images emerged of the devastation of an airstrike on a theater last month that reportedly killed hundreds of civilians seeking refuge.
Military analysts had predicted for weeks that Russia would succeed in taking Mariupol, but said Ukrainian defenders were still fighting. The city’s location on the Sea of Azov is key to establishing a land bridge from the Crimean peninsula, which Russia seized from Ukraine eight years ago.
Some of the most gruesome evidence of atrocities has been found in Bucha and other towns around kyiv, from where Russian troops have retreated in recent days. An international organization formed to identify the dead and missing from the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s is sending a team of forensic experts to Ukraine to help put names to the bodies.
In an interview taken from US television channel CBS’s “60 Minutes” aired on Friday, Zelenskyy cited communications intercepted by Ukraine’s security service as evidence of Russian war crimes. The authenticity of the recordings could not be independently verified.
“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.
Many civilians now trying to evacuate are used to living in or near a war zone, as Moscow-backed rebels have been fighting Ukrainian forces since 2014 in Donbass.
The same week Russia invaded Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized the independence of separatist-controlled areas and said he planned to send troops to protect residents of the predominantly Russian-speaking industrial region. .
Although Kramatorsk station is in Ukrainian government-controlled territory in the Donbass, the separatists, who work closely with Russian troops, have blamed Ukraine for the attack. Western experts, however, rejected Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov’s claim that Russian forces “do not use” Tochka-U missiles, the type that hit the station.
The deaths of civilians at the train station prompted fresh expressions of outrage from Western leaders and promises that Russia would face further reprisals for its actions in Ukraine. On Saturday, the Russian Defense Ministry attempted to counter the prevailing international narrative by again raising the specter of Ukraine planting false flags and disinformation.
A ministry spokesman, Major General Igor Konashenkov, claimed that Ukraine’s security services were planning a “cynically staged” media operation in Irpin, another town near Kyiv. Konashenkov said the plan was to show – wrongly, he said – more civilian casualties at the hands of the Russians and to stage the murder of a fake Russian intelligence team that intended to kill witnesses. The claims could not be independently verified.
Ukrainian officials have pleaded almost daily with Western powers to send in more weapons and punish Russia further with sanctions, including the exclusion of Russian banks from the global financial system and a full European Union gas embargo. and Russian oil.
Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer said during a visit to Kyiv on Saturday that he expected more EU sanctions against Russia, but he has defended his country’s opposition to it so far. stoppage of Russian gas supplies.
A set of sanctions imposed this week “will not be the last”, the Chancellor said, acknowledging that “as long as people are dying, each sanction remains insufficient”. Austria is militarily neutral and is not a member of NATO.
Nehammer was the latest in a parade of senior EU27 leaders to visit Zelenskyy. The EU’s chief executive, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, on Friday handed the Ukrainian president a questionnaire that could lead to Ukraine joining the bloc of 27 member countries.
Zelenskyy ironically promised to expedite a response.
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.