Ukraine said at least 50 people were killed on Friday and scores more injured in a rocket strike on a train station in eastern Ukraine crowded with civilians fleeing the threat of a major Russian offensive in east of the country.
As regional authorities rushed to evacuate vulnerable people, European Union leaders traveled to Kyiv to offer Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky their support and accelerate Ukraine’s path to EU membership .
Zelensky called the strike on the Kramatorsk station in the eastern Donetsk region a deliberate attack on civilians. The town’s mayor estimated that around 4,000 people had gathered there at the time.
Regional Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said the station was hit by a Tochka U short-range ballistic missile containing cluster munitions which exploded in midair, spraying small, deadly bomblets over a wider area.
“They wanted to take as many civilians as possible,” he said, adding that evacuations by rail from the area, where Ukrainian officials anticipate a further push by Russian forces, would continue.
Reuters was unable to verify what happened in Kramatorsk.
Cluster munitions are banned under a 2008 convention. Russia has not signed it but has previously denied using such weapons in Ukraine.
In Washington, a senior defense official said the United States ‘did not accept the Russians’ denial that they were not responsible’ and believed Kyrylenko had correctly identified the type of missile used in the attack .
The Russian Defense Ministry, quoted by the RIA news agency, said the missiles which allegedly hit the station were used only by the Ukrainian army and that the Russian armed forces had no assigned targets. in Kramatorsk on Friday.
Zelensky said no Ukrainian troops were at the station.
“Russian forces (fired) on an ordinary train station, on ordinary people,” he told the Finnish parliament in a video address.
Kramatorsk Mayor Oleksander Honcharenko told an online briefing that some victims of the attack had lost a leg or an arm.
The wreckage of the missile bore the words “(it’s) for children” on its side. Russia has for years accused Ukraine of killing civilians, including children, in strikes in separatist-held eastern Ukraine.
Referring to the message, EU chief executive Ursula von der Leyen told a press conference in Kyiv: “Cynical behavior has almost no reference anymore… It’s incredible.”
Ukrainian officials said the Russian army was regrouping after retreating east from the area around kyiv, where a forensic team began exhuming a mass grave in the town of Bucha on Friday.
The discovery of the tomb last week prompted the West to toughen sanctions against Russia and speed up arms deliveries to Ukraine.
Since Russian troops withdrew from Bucha, Ukrainian officials say hundreds of dead civilians have been found there.
Visiting the city on Friday, von der Leyen said “the unthinkable” had been witnessed.
She then handed Zelensky a questionnaire to serve as a starting point for the EU to decide on membership, telling him: “It won’t be a matter of years as usual to form this opinion but I think a matter of weeks.”
Russia denies Bucha killings
Russia has called allegations that its forces executed civilians in Bucha a “monstrous fake” aimed at disparaging its military.
Moscow has denied targeting civilians since its February 24 invasion of Ukraine in what it calls a “special military operation” to demilitarize and “denazify” its neighbor.
Ukraine and Western supporters call it a pretext for an unprovoked invasion that displaced a quarter of the population and killed or injured thousands.
Ukrainian officials now expect an attempt by Russian forces to take full control of Donetsk and the nearby city of Luhansk, both of which have been partly held by Moscow-backed separatists since 2014.
The Kremlin said on Friday that the “special operation” could end in the “foreseeable future”, with its goals achieved thanks to the work of the Russian military and peace negotiators.
Russian forces have failed to take any of the major cities so far, however, facing surprisingly strong Ukrainian resistance and being dogged by what Western intelligence officials say have been problems with logistics, supplies and morale. .
kyiv has called on its allies to deliver more of the heavier weapons needed to respond and on Thursday secured a new commitment from the NATO alliance to supply a wide range of weapons.
Slovakia has donated its S-300 air defense system to Ukraine, Prime Minister Eduard Heger said on Friday, while Britain will send an additional 100 million pounds ($130 million) in military support, said Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
In Prague, defense sources said the Czech Republic had delivered tanks, rocket launchers, howitzers and infantry fighting vehicles, and would ship more.
Trapped in the school basement
Meanwhile, residents of areas north of kyiv still accepted the month-long occupation.
In the village of Yahidne, residents told how more than 300 people were trapped for weeks in a school basement, with the names of those who did not survive or were killed by soldiers scribbled on the wall.
Reuters was unable to independently verify the villagers’ accounts. Reporters saw a freshly dug grave and two bodies wrapped in white plastic sheeting.
Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova said authorities had found 650 bodies, including 40 children, in the Kyiv region.
The West has imposed more sanctions on Russia since the footage surfaced, with Washington sanctioning major Russian lenders and President Vladimir Putin’s daughters, a move echoed by Britain on Friday, while the EU banned trade for nearly US$22 billion, including Russian coal.
Zelensky urged Brussels to also ban Russian oil and gas.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, in Kyiv with van der Leyen, said a possible oil ban would be discussed on Monday, but called oil sanctions a “big elephant in the room” given concerns about its impact on the European economy and its consumers.
Von der Leyen said the EU must monitor Russian attempts to circumvent existing sanctions and impose tougher ones if necessary.