KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Civilian evacuations advanced in patches of battle-scarred eastern Ukraine on Saturday, a day after a missile strike killed at least 52 people and wounded more than 100 at a train station where thousands were clamoring to get out before an expected Russian attack.
Following the Kramatorsk attack, several European leaders went out of their way to show solidarity with Ukraine, with the Austrian Foreign Minister and the British Prime Minister visiting kyiv, the capital Russia could not capture and where the troops withdrew days ago. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, where Johnson’s office said they discussed “long-term support” from Britan.
Ukrainian authorities have asked civilians to leave ahead of an imminent intensified offensive by Russian forces in the east. With trains not running out of Kramatorsk on Saturday, terrified residents boarded buses or found other ways to leave, fearing the kind of relentless raids and occupations by Russian invaders that caused food shortages, demolished buildings and death to other cities elsewhere in Ukraine.
“It was terrifying. The horror, the horror,” a resident told Britain’s Sky broadcaster, recalling Friday’s attack. “God forbid, living through this again. No, I do not want to.
Ukraine’s state railway company said in a statement that residents of Kramatorsk and other parts of the country disputed region of Donbas he could flee through other train stations. Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said 10 evacuation corridors were planned for Saturday.
More than six weeks after Russia first invaded Ukraine, it withdrew its troops from the northern part of the country, around kyiv, and refocused on the Donbas region in the east. Western military analysts said an arc of territory in eastern Ukraine was under Russian control, from Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, in the north to Kherson in the south. But Ukrainian counterattacks threaten Russian control of Kherson, according to Western assessments, and Ukrainian forces are repelling Russian attacks elsewhere in the Donbas region in the southeast.
Zelenskyy called the train station attack the latest example of war crimes by Russian forces and said it should motivate the West to do more to help his country defend itself.
“All world efforts will be directed at establishing every minute who did what, who gave what orders, where did the missile come from, who transported it, who gave the command and how this attack was agreed upon,” Zelenskyy said in his late-night video address. . , his voice rising with anger.
Russia denied responsibility and accused the Ukrainian military of firing on the station to blame Moscow for the civilian casualties. A spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry detailed the trajectory of the missile and the positions of the Ukrainian troops to strengthen the argument.
Western experts and Ukrainian authorities insisted that Russia launched the weapon. The remains of the rocket were painted with the words “For the children” in Russian. The phrase seemed to suggest that the missile was sent to avenge the loss or subjugation of the children, although its exact meaning remained unclear.
Western experts rejected Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov’s claim that Russian forces “do not use” Tochka-U missiles, the kind that hit the Kramatorsk train station, which is in Ukrainian government-controlled territory. in the Donbas.
The 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 killings of civilians emerged after the Russians withdrew, search teams said they were still finding the bodies of people shot at close range in courtyards, parks and city squares.
On Friday, workers unearthed the bodies of 67 people from a mass grave near a church, according to Ukraine’s prosecutor general. Russia has falsely claimed that the scenes in Bucha were staged.
Ukrainian authorities and Western officials have repeatedly accused Russian forces of committing atrocities in the war that began with the invasion of Russia on February 24. A total of 176 children have died, while 324 more have been injured, the country’s Attorney General’s Office said on Saturday.
In an interview with excerpts from US broadcaster CBS’s “60 Minutes” that aired on Friday, Zelenskyy cited communications intercepted by the Ukrainian security service as evidence of Russian war crimes. The authenticity of the recordings could not be independently verified.
“There are (Russian) soldiers talking to their parents about what they stole and who they kidnapped. There are recordings of (Russian) POWs admitting to killing people,” he said. “There are pilots in prison who had maps with civilian targets to bomb. Investigations are also being carried out based on the remains of the dead.”
Ukrainian authorities have warned that they expect to find more mass killings once they reach the southern port city of Mariupolwhich is also in the Donbas and has been subject to a month-long blockade and heavy fighting.
As journalists who had been largely absent from the city began to return, new images emerged of the devastation of an airstrike in a theater last month that allegedly 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 putting up a fight. The city’s location on the Sea of Azov is critical to establishing a land bridge from the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia seized from Ukraine eight years ago.
Many civilians now trying to evacuate are used to living in or near a war zone because Moscow-backed rebels have been fighting Ukrainian forces since 2014 in Donbas.
The same week that Russia invaded Ukraine, russian president vladimir putin It recognized the independence of separatist-controlled areas and said it planned to send troops to protect the mostly Russian-speaking residents of the industrial region.
Ukrainian officials have pleaded with Western powers almost daily to send more weapons and punish more Russia with sanctionsincluding the exclusion of Russian banks from the global financial system and a full European Union embargo on Russian oil and gas.
The death of civilians at the train station prompted renewed expressions of outrage from Western leaders and promises that Russia would face further retaliation for its actions in Ukraine. On Saturday, the Russian Defense Ministry tried to counter the dominant international narrative by again raising the specter of Ukraine planting false flags and misinformation.
A ministry spokesman, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, alleged that Ukraine’s security services were preparing a “cynically staged” media operation in Irpin, another city near kyiv. Konashenkov said the plan was to show (falsely, he said) more civilian casualties at the hands of the Russians and to stage the assassination of a fake Russian intelligence team that intended to kill the witnesses. The claims could not be independently verified.
Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer said during a visit to kyiv on Saturday that he expects more EU sanctions against Russia, but defended his country’s opposition so far to cutting Russian gas deliveries.
A package of sanctions imposed this week “will not be the last,” the foreign minister said, acknowledging that “as long as people die, each sanction remains insufficient.” Austria is militarily neutral and is not a member of NATO.
Johnson’s visit, which was not announced in advance, came a day after the UK pledged an additional 100 million pounds ($130 million) of high-quality military equipment for Ukraine.
Anna reported from Bucha, Ukraine. Robert Burns in Washington, Jill Lawless and Danica Kirka in London, and Associated Press journalists from around the world contributed to this report.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine