52 dead in station bombing as civilians flee eastern Ukraine

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Ukrainian servicemen carry a body after Russian shelling at the railway station in Kramatorsk on Friday. (AP pic)

AFP

KRAMATORSK: A missile strike on a train station in eastern Ukraine killed dozens on Friday, as civilians raced to evacuate, fearing a looming Russian offensive in the region.

World leaders condemned the attack in Kramatorsk, the capital of Donetsk, with US President Joe Biden accusing Russia of being behind a “horrific atrocity” that the French condemned as a “crime against humanity”.

At least 52 people including five children were killed, the regional government said, while President Volodymyr Zelensky reported 300 wounded, saying the strike showed “evil with no limits”.

Zelensky said the bombing had been reported in Russia before the missiles had even landed and called for “a firm global reaction to this war crime” and more weaponry to counter Moscow’s aggression.

“I am sure that the victory of Ukraine is just a matter of time and I will do everything to reduce this time,” he added.

AFP journalists saw the bodies of at least 30 people under plastic sheets next to the station, amid pools of blood and bags nearby packed with the remains of a large rocket.

Body parts, broken glass and abandoned baggage lay scattered around the station and across the platform.

“I’m looking for my husband. He was here. I can’t reach him,” a woman sobbed, holding her phone to her ear.

Another woman in a state of shock told AFP: “I saw people covered in blood entering the station and bodies everywhere on the ground.”

Russia denied being behind the bombing, which came with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell in Kyiv for talks with Zelensky and to visit the scene of civilian killings in the town of Bucha.

Russia faces “decay” because of ever tougher sanctions and Ukraine had a “European future”, Von der Leyen said at a news conference with Zelensky.

Six weeks into President Vladimir Putin’s invasion, Moscow has shifted its focus to eastern and southern Ukraine after stiff resistance ended plans to swiftly capture the capital Kyiv.

‘All this horror’ 

Russian troops appear set on creating a long-sought land link between occupied Crimea and the Moscow-backed separatist statelets of Donetsk and Lugansk in Donbas, where civilians have been urged to flee heavy shelling laying waste to towns and complicating evacuation efforts.

“There is no secret – the battle for Donbas will be decisive. What we have already experienced – all this horror – it can multiply,” warned Lugansk regional governor Sergiy Gaiday.

In the south, the Black Sea port city of Odessa girded for rocket attacks, imposing a weekend curfew.

Residents and Ukrainian officials returning after a Russian withdrawal from an area near Kyiv were taking stock of the scale of the devastation.

Bucha, where authorities say hundreds were killed – some with their hands bound – has become a byword for the brutality allegedly 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 is much more horrific there. There are even more victims of Russian occupiers.”

Conflict in the area has wrought massive destruction and bodies are only now being retrieved, with 27 recovered from two destroyed buildings, according to Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova.

Fresh allegations emerged from Obukhovychi, northwest of Kyiv, where villagers told AFP they were used as human shields.

‘Help us now’ 

Moscow has denied targeting civilians but growing evidence of atrocities has galvanised Ukraine’s allies in the EU, which has approved an embargo on Russian coal and the closure of its ports to Russian vessels.

The bloc has frozen €30 billion in assets from blacklisted Russian and Belarusian individuals and companies, it said Friday.

En route to Kyiv, Borrell told journalists the EU would supply €7.5 million to train Ukrainian prosecutors to investigate war crimes, which Russia is accused of committing.

At the United Nations General Assembly, 93 nations voted Thursday to suspend Russia from the body’s human rights council prompting accusations from Moscow that the move was “illegal and politically motivated”.

“Russia’s lies are no match for the undeniable evidence of what is happening in Ukraine,” Biden said, calling the invasion “an outrage to our common humanity”.

Ukraine has welcomed new pressure on Moscow but it continues to push for harsher sanctions and more heavy weaponry.

“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,” Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said after meeting Nato foreign ministers in Brussels.

Britain said Friday it was sending Ukraine more “high-grade military equipment” including Starstreak anti-aircraft missiles and 800 anti-tank missiles, while Slovakia said it had given Ukraine an S-300 air defence system.