At least 39 people were killed – including two children – and 87 wounded in a Russian rocket strike on a railway station in east Ukraine today, as thousands of desperate civilians tried to evacuate to safer parts of the country.
The strike was on Kramatorsk’s busy station, with graphic pictures on Friday showing bodies strewn across floor outside, lying amongst abandoned luggage and children’s prams. Some had already been put into green body bags, while other photos showed smoke rising from the station as firefighters rushed to the scene.
Pictures also showed the wreckage of a large missile lying on the grass outside the station. White Russian text was shown written down the side of its casing, which read: ‘For (our) Children.’
Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky took to Instagram to decry the attack, and confirmed the reports of casualties. ‘[Russian forces] are cynically destroying the civilian population. This is an evil that has no limits. And if it is not punished, it will never stop,’ he wrote. He later said no Ukrainian soldiers were at the station.
The Mayor of Kramatorsk Oleksander Honcharenko said there were around 4,000 people at the city’s railway station when it was hit by at least two rockets. He said most were women, elderly and children preparing to evacuate to safer regions as Russia focuses its troops in eastern Ukraine.
Regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko also said thousands of people were there at the time of the strikes, and later gave an updated death toll – saying at least 39 people were killed and 87 wounded – after it was initially reported 30 were killed. In an online post, he said many of the wounded were in a serious condition.
From the pictures, military commentators said the missile used in the attack was a Soviet-era Tochka U missile – accurate to within 200 to 500 feet. The station is found in the centre of Kramatorsk – a town of more than 150,000 people. Both Russian and Ukraine both still use the missiles, and the evacuations would have been known about.
According to Russian news agency RIA Novosti, Moscow’s defence agency denied the attack, saying the missile was of a type used only by the Ukrainian military, and similar to one that hit the centre of the city of Donetsk on March 14, killing 17 people, RIA reported. However pictures from the scene show it was painted green, while Ukrainian versions are painted grey, according to experts.
TASS – another state-run news agency – reported that Donetsk separatist commander Eduard Basurin said the attack on the station was Ukrainian ‘provocation’ against Russia.
Since launching its invasion on February 24, Moscow has repeatedly denied targeting civilians and civilian buildings, despite mounting evidence showing otherwise. Western nations have warned that Russia might employ false flag attacks in an attempt to justify its actions in Ukraine.
Kramatorsk is found in the east of the country, about 50 miles north of Donetsk and 80 miles west of Luhansk. Pictures this week have shown hundreds of people at the station boarding trains heading west.
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 for a new offensive, and that Moscow plans to seize as much territory as it can in the Donbas – an eastern industrial region in eastern Ukraine where many speak Russian as second language, and where Moscow-backed rebels have been fighting Ukrainian forces for eight years.
Local authorities have been urging civilians to leave while it is still possible and relatively safe to do so.
The strike was on Kramatorsk’s train station, with graphic pictures on Friday showing bodies strewn across floor outside, lying amongst abandoned luggage
Pictured: A scene of devastation outside the train station on Friday after ‘Russian’ missiles struck, killing more than 30 people
Regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said thousands of people were at the train station at the time of the strike, preparing to evacuate to safer regions as Russia focuses its troops in eastern Ukraine. Pictured: Body bags are seen outside the station
Kramatorsk is found in the east of the country, about 80 miles west of Luhansk. Pictures this week have shown hundreds of people at the station boarding trains heading west
Pictured: Green body bags are shown outside the station on Friday after a Russian missile struck it, killing more than 30
Ukrainian police inspect the remains of a large rocket with the words ‘for our children’ in Russian next to the main building of a train station in Kramatorsk, eastern Ukraine, that was being used for civilian evacuations. It was hit by a rocket attack killing at least 30 people, on April 8, 2022
Pictured: Smoke rises from the station on Friday as firefighters work at the scene
‘The occupiers hit the Kramatorsk railway station with a Point-U, where thousands of peaceful Ukrainians were waiting to be evacuated… About 30 people died, about 100 people were injured to varying degrees,’ Zelensky wrote in an Instagram after the attack.
‘Police and rescuers are already on the scene. Russian non-humans do not abandon their methods. Lacking the strength and courage to stand up to us on the battlefield, they are cynically destroying the civilian population. This is an evil that has no limits. And if it is not punished, it will never stop,’ he added.
Pavlo Kyrylenko, governor of the Donetsk region, 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.
Another photo showed rescue services tackling what appeared to be a fire, with a pall of grey smoke rising into the air. ‘The ‘Rashists’ (‘Russian fascists’) knew very well where they were aiming and what they wanted: they wanted to sow panic and fear, they wanted to take as many civilians as possible,’ he wrote in an online post.
‘They (Russian forces) wanted to hit the station,’ Mayor Honcharenko said, a view shared by presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych. ‘It must be understood that such strikes are preceded by a thorough reconnaissance of the target, at least by drones, gunners on the ground – it’s too expensive a missile and too difficult and risky to organise such strikes,’ Arestovych said.
‘They (Russian forces) could clearly see that they were striking civilians early in the morning, that there were thousands of people trying to evacuate at the station at that time – families, children, the elderly.’
AFP journalists on the scene saw at least 20 bodies of people grouped and lying under plastic sheets next to the station. Blood was pooling on the ground and packed bags were strewn outside the building in the immediate aftermath of the attack.
The journalists said four cars next to the station had been destroyed and the remains of a large rocket with the words ‘for our children’ in Russian were lying adjacent to the main building.
Bodies were later seen being loaded onto a military truck.
Railway has been seen as one of the few remaining safe modes of travel available to Ukrainians. Millions have fled west and into neighbouring countries by train. According to the UN, more than 4 million have left Ukraine.
Speaking during a visit to NATO ally Romania, Britain’s defence secretary Ben Wallace called alleged attack by Russia on the station a war crime.
‘Not very far away, this morning in a place called Kramatorsk, what appears to be a Russian missile struck civilian people queuing for trains to seek a safer place from the war,’ he said, speaking from an air field.
‘The striking of civilian critical infrastructure is a war crime. These were precision missiles aimed at people trying to seek humanitarian shelter. It’s not the first time – in fact it’s sadly a repeat of many occasions when the Russian state, president Putin and his generals seek to take the war out on civilians, civilian areas and civilian national infrastructure,’ he continued.
‘Whatever happens in Ukraine, we must not let the international community forget that. What Putin is doing today, is building his own cage around himself – that sanctions on his activities must not be freely lifted to allow him to go back to his superyachts and normality. What we are seeing is a criminal endeavour on a free and sovereign country – and Britain and Romania and other NATO allies will not stand by.’
Britain’s Foreign Secretary Liz Truss also warned Russia that targeting civilians is a war crime. She tweeted: ‘Appalled by the horrific reports of Russian rocket attacks on civilians at Kramatorsk railway station in eastern Ukraine. The targeting of civilians is a war crime. We will hold Russia and Putin to account.’
This is a breaking news story. More to follow…
Pictured: An abandoned children’s pram is seen outside the station on Friday, where bodies are shown strewn across the ground amidst the debris
Pictured: A blackened car is shown outside the station following the Russian air strike on Friday. A body lies next to it
This general view shows personal belongings of victims and burnt-out vehicles after a rocket attack on the railway station in the eastern city of Kramatorsk, in the Donbass region on April 8, 2022
Ukrainian soldiers clear out bodies after a rocket attack killed at least 30 people on April 8, 2022 at a train station in Kramatorsk, eastern Ukraine, that was being used for civilian evacuations
Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky wrote in an Instagram after the attack: ‘The occupiers hit the Kramatorsk railway station with a Point-U, where thousands of peaceful Ukrainians were waiting to be evacuated… About 30 people died, about 100 people were injured to varying degrees. Police and rescuers are already on the scene. Russian non-humans do not abandon their methods. Lacking the strength and courage to stand up to us on the battlefield, they are cynically destroying the civilian population. This is an evil that has no limits. And if it is not punished, it will never stop.’
The Civilians in eastern Ukraine struggled to evacuate Friday as Russia redirected its firepower, with Zelensky warning of ‘even more horrific’ devastation being uncovered around the capital.
Ukrainian allies tightened the screws on Moscow further in response to shocking images from Bucha and other regions around Kyiv, with the European Union announcing an embargo on Russian coal and a ban on Russian vessels at its ports.
And at the United Nations, the General Assembly voted to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council, only the second-ever suspension of a country from the body.
‘Russia’s lies are no match for the undeniable evidence of what is happening in Ukraine,’ US President Joe Biden said, calling Russia’s actions in the country ‘an outrage to our common humanity.’
More than a month into President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, Moscow has shifted its focus after stiff resistance put paid to hopes of an easy capture of the country.
Instead, troops are being redeployed towards the east and south, aiming to create a long-sought land link between occupied Crimea and the Moscow-backed separatist statelets of Donetsk and Lugansk in Donbas.
‘In the north, Russian forces have now fully withdrawn from Ukraine to Belarus and Russia,’ Britain’s defence ministry said. ‘At least some of these forces will be transferred to east Ukraine to fight in the Donbas,’ it added, noting that troops would need ‘significant replenishment’ and a mass redeployment would take at least a week.
Heavy shelling has already begun to lay waste to towns in the region, and officials have begged civilians to flee, but the intensity of fighting is starting to hamper evacuations.
Lugansk governor Sergiy Gaiday said Russian shelling had damaged a railway route being used by evacuees in the town of Schastia, north of Lugansk. ‘The railway was damaged. Train evacuation is in question. Thousands of people are still in the cities of Lugansk region,’ he wrote on Facebook.
And in Donetsk, the head of the regional military administration Pavlo Kyrylenko said three evacuation trains had been temporarily blocked after a Russian airstrike on an overpass by a station.
But officials continued to press civilians to leave where possible.
‘There is no secret – the battle for Donbas will be decisive. What we have already experienced, all this horror, it can multiply,’ warned Gaiday. ‘Leave! The next few days are the last chances. Buses will be waiting for you in the morning,’ he added.
APRIL 6: Civilians gather at the train station to be evacuated from combat zones in Kramatorsk, Donetsk Oblast after being told by Ukrainian authorities to evacuate the eastern regions of the country in anticipation of Russia re-focusing its military invasion on the Donbas region
Pictured: Civilians board trains as they are being evacuated from combat zones in Kramatorsk, Donetsk Oblast, in eastern Ukraine on April 6, 2022
A barrage of shells and rockets was already hammering the industrial hub Severodonetsk, the easternmost city held by Ukrainian forces in Donbas, leaving buildings engulfed in flames.
‘Every day it’s worse and worse. They’re raining down on us from everywhere. We cannot take it anymore,’ said Denis, a man in his forties with a pale, emaciated face. ‘I want to escape this hell.’
Around the capital meanwhile, residents and Ukrainian officials returning after the Russian redeployment are trying to piece together the scale of the devastation.
Violence in the town of Bucha, where authorities say hundreds were killed – including some found with their hands bound – has become a byword for allegations of brutality inflicted under Russian occupation.
But Zelensky warned worse was being uncovered.
‘They have started sorting through the ruins in Borodianka,’ northwest of Kyiv, he said in his nightly address. ‘It’s much more horrific there, there are even more victims of Russian occupiers.’
Violence in the area has caused massive destruction, levelling and damaging many buildings, and bodies are only now being retrieved.
Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova said Thursday that 26 bodies had been recovered from two destroyed apartment buildings so far.
‘Only the civilian population was targeted: there is no military site here,’ she said, describing evidence of war crimes ‘at every turn’.
Fresh allegations emerged from other areas too, with villagers in Obukhovychi, northwest of Kyiv, telling AFP they were used as human shields.
And in besieged Mariupol, even the pro-Russian official designated ‘mayor’ of the destroyed city acknowledged that around 5,000 civilians had been killed there.
Civilians gather at the train station to be evacuated from combat zones in Kramatorsk, Donetsk Oblast, in eastern Ukraine on April 6, 2022
Moscow has denied targeting civilians in areas under its control, but growing evidence of atrocities has galvanised Ukraine’s allies to pile on more pressure.
On Thursday, the EU approved an embargo on Russian coal and the closing of its ports to Russian vessels as part of a ‘very substantial’ new round of sanctions that also includes an export ban and new measures against Russian banks. In addition, it backed a proposal to boost its funding of arms supplies to Ukraine by 500 million euros, taking it to a total of 1.5 billion euros.
In a show of support, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen also headed to Kyiv on Friday with the bloc’s diplomatic chief Josep Borrell for talks with Zelensky.
And the Group of Seven industrialised nations agreed to more sanctions, including a ban on new investments in key sectors and fresh export restrictions, as well as the phasing out of Russian coal.
At the United Nations, 93 of the General Assembly’s 193 members voted to suspend Russia from the body’s rights council over its actions in Ukraine.
Russia blasted the move as ‘illegal and politically motivated’, while Biden said it confirmed Moscow as an ‘international pariah’.
Ukraine has welcomed new measures on Moscow, as well as the UN suspension, but it continues to push for more support. ‘Ukraine needs weapons that will allow us to win on the battlefield, and this will be the strongest sanction,’ Zelensky said in his address, echoing calls from his foreign minister, who earlier asked NATO for heavy weaponry, including air defence systems, artillery, armoured vehicles and jets.
‘Either you help us now – and I’m speaking about days, not weeks – or your help will come too late, and many people will die, many civilians will lose their homes, many villages will be destroyed,’ Dmytro Kuleba said after meeting NATO foreign ministers in Brussels.