KIEV, Ukraine (AP) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he wanted a tough global response against Russia after his forces fired a missile at a crowded train station, killing at least 52 people.
Zelenskyi’s voice rose in anger in his late-night address late Friday when he said the strike at the Kramatorsk train station, where 4,000 people were trying to flee a looming Russian offensive in the east, was another war crime.
Russia denied responsibility for the strike. Children were among those killed and dozens of people were seriously injured.
Photos taken after the attack showed tarpaulin-covered bodies and the remains of a rocket with the words “For the Children” painted on it in Russian. The Russian wording seemed to indicate that the missile was sent to avenge the loss or subjugation of children, although its exact meaning remained unclear.
The strike seemed to shock world leaders.
“There are almost no words for this,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told reporters during a visit to Ukraine. “The cynical behavior (of Russia) has almost no standard anymore.”
The attack came as workers elsewhere in the country were digging up bodies from a mass grave in Bucha, a town near Kyiv, where vivid evidence of dozens of murders had been found was created after the withdrawal of the Russian armed forces.
“Like the Bucha massacres, like many other Russian war crimes, the rocket attack on Kramatorsk should be one of the indictments before the tribunal that must be held,” Zelenskyy said.
He said efforts were being made “to determine every minute who did what, who gave what orders, where the missile came from, who transported it, who gave the order and how this attack was arranged.”
After Kyiv, despite fierce resistance, failed to Russian forces have now targeted the eastern Donbass region, the predominantly Russian-speaking industrial area where Moscow-backed rebels have been fighting Ukrainian forces for eight years and controlling some locations.
Although the station is located on the territory of Donbass controlled by the Ukrainian government, Russia blamed Ukraine for carrying out the attack. So are the region’s Moscow-backed separatists, who work closely with Russian troops.
However, Western experts dismissed Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov’s claim that Russian forces “do not use” this type of missile. A Western official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence, said Russia’s forces deployed the missile – and given the location and impact of the attack, it was likely Russia’s.
Justin Bronk, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London, added that only Russia would have reason to target Donbass railway infrastructure, as it is vital to the Ukrainian military’s efforts to reinforce its units.
Bronk pointed to other occasions when Russian authorities have attempted to deflect blame by claiming their forces are no longer using an older weapon “to kind of muddy the waters and try to create doubt.” He suggested that Russia specifically chose the type of missile because Ukraine also has them.
British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace condemned the attack as a war crime and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called it “completely unacceptable”.
Ukrainian authorities and Western officials have repeatedly accused Russian forces of atrocities in the war that began with an invasion on February 24th. More than 4 million Ukrainians have fled the country and millions more have been displaced. Some of the most gruesome evidence has been found in towns around the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, from which Russian President Vladimir Putin’s troops have withdrawn in recent days.
In Bucha, Mayor Anatoliy Fedoruk said investigators found at least three sites of mass shootings of civilians and still found bodies in yards, parks and city squares — 90% of them shot.
Russia falsely claimed that the scenes were staged in Bucha.
On Friday, in pouring rain, workers pulled bodies from a mass grave near a church and lined black body bags in the mud. About 67 people were buried there, according to a statement by Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova.
In an interview with CBS’ 60 Minutes that aired on Friday, Zelenskyy cited communications intercepted by Ukraine’s security services as evidence of Russian war crimes.
“There are (Russian) soldiers who talk to their parents about what they stole and who they kidnapped. There are records of (Russian) POWs who have admitted killing people,” he said. “There are pilots in prison who had maps of civilian targets to bomb. Investigations are also being carried out on the remains of the dead.”
Zelenskyi’s comments echo reports in the German news magazine Der Spiegel that German foreign intelligence services intercepted Russian military radio traffic, in which soldiers may have been discussing killings of civilians in Buka. The weekly also reported that the records indicated that the Russian mercenary group Wagner was involved in atrocities there.
German government officials would neither confirm nor deny the report, but two former German ministers filed war crimes charges on Thursday. Russia has denied its military was involved in war crimes.
Elsewhere, hundreds of Ukrainians fled villages either under shelling or occupied in the southern Mykolayiv and Kherson regions in anticipation of increased attacks by Russian forces.
Ukrainian officials have been asking western powers on an almost daily basis to send more weapons and continue to punish Russia with sanctions. Exclusion of Russian banks from the global financial system and a total EU embargo on Russian gas and oil.
The NATO countries agreed Thursday to increase their arms shipments, and Slovakia’s Prime Minister Eduard Heger announced on a trip to Ukraine on Friday that his country had donated its Soviet-era S-300 air defense system to Ukraine. Zelenskyy had asked for S-300s to help the country “close the skies to Russian fighter jets and missiles”.
A senior US defense official said Friday the Pentagon believes some of the retreating Russian units are so badly damaged that they are “exterminated in every way.” The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal military assessments.
The official said the US believes Russia has lost between 15 and 20 percent of its combat capability overall since the war began. While some combat units are withdrawing to be resupplied in Russia, Moscow has added thousands of troops around Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, he said.
In Kharkiv, Lidiya Mezhiritska found her house in ruins after nighttime rocket attacks reduced it to rubble.
“The ‘Russian world,’ they say,” she said, ironically invoking Putin’s nationalist justification for invading Ukraine. “People, children, old people, women are dying. I don’t have a machine gun. I would definitely go (fight), regardless of age.”
Anna reported from Bucha, Ukraine. Robert Burns in Washington, Jill Lawless and Danica Kirka in London, and Associated Press journalists around the world contributed to this report.
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