Ukrainian Presidentsaid he wanted a tough global response after a missile hit a train station where civilians were trying to escape a forthcoming Russian offensive, killing at least 52 people. Zelenskyi’s voice rose in anger during his late-night address late Friday as he announced the strike on March 27 in the East constituted another war crime that would have to be examined by an international tribunal.
Five children were among the dead and dozens of people were seriously injured, Ukrainian officials said.
“All the efforts in the world will be directed to determining 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,” the president said.
Russia denied responsibility for the attack and accused the Ukrainian military of firing the missile as a false flag operation so Moscow would be blamed for civilian killings. A spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry explained the missile’s trajectory and Ukrainian troop positions to support the argument.
Ukraine’s state-owned railway company said in a statement that residents of the country’s contested Donbass region, where Russia has refocused its forces after failing to capture Ukraine’s capital Kyiv, could flee via other train stations on Saturday.
“The railroad doesn’t stop keeping everyone safe,” the messaging app Telegram said in a statement.
Photos taken after Friday’s rocket attack showed bodies covered in tarpaulin and the remains of a rocket with the words “For the Children” painted in Russian on it. The specific Russian expression has a meaning more like “on behalf of children” or “in retaliation for an attack on children” than “directed against children”.
The attack came as workers were digging up at least 67 bodies from a mass grave near a church elsewhere in the country, a town near Kyiv where vivid evidence of dozens of murders has surfaced following the withdrawal of Russian forces. Russia has falsely claimed that the scenes in Bucha were staged.
Mayor Anatoliy Fedoruk said investigators found at least three sites of mass shootings of civilians and still found bodies in yards, parks and town squares – 90% of them victims who had been shot.
Some of the most gruesome evidence yet has been found in Bucha and other towns around Kyiv, from which Russian President Vladimir Putin’s troops have withdrawn in recent days. An international organization set up to identify the dead and missing from the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s is sending a team of forensic scientists to Ukraine to help name bodies that would otherwise remain anonymous in the fog of war .
In an excerpt from 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 confessed to killing people,” he said. “There are pilots in prison who had maps of civilian targets to bomb. Investigations based on the remains of the dead are also being conducted.”
Zelenskyi’s comments echoed reports in the German news magazine Der Spiegel that the German foreign intelligence service had intercepted radio traffic from the Russian military, in which soldiers may have discussed killings of civilians in Bucha. 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.
After the occupation of Kiev failed despite stiff opposition, Russian forces have targeted Donbass, the predominantly Russian-speaking industrial region where Moscow-backed rebels have been fighting Ukrainian forces and controlling part of the area for eight years.
Although the Kramatorsk train station is located in Donbass territory controlled by the Ukrainian government, the separatists, who work closely with Russian troops, blamed Ukraine for the attack.
Western experts, however, dismissed Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov’s claim that Russian forces “are not using Tochka-U missiles” as they hit the station. A Western official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence, told the Associated Press that Russian 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, pointed to other instances where Russian authorities have tried to deflect blame by claiming their forces are no longer using older weapons “to kind of muddy the waters.” and try to create doubt. He suggested that Russia specifically chose the Tochka-U because Ukraine also owns it.
Ukrainian authorities and Western officials have repeatedly accused Russian forces of committing atrocities in the war that began with the February 24 invasion of Russia. A total of 176 children have been killed and 324 others injured in Ukraine since the war began, the country’s Attorney General’s Office said on Saturday.
Ukrainian authorities have warned that they expect to find evidence of more mass killings once they reach the southern port city of Mariupol, also in the Donbass region and subjected to a month-long Russian blockade.
A senior US defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal military assessments, said Friday that the Pentagon believes Russia has lost between 15% and 20% of its combat capability overall since the war began. While some combat units are withdrawing to be resupplied in Russia, Moscow has been adding thousands of troops around Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, in the east of the country, the official said.
Ukrainian officials have been pleading on an almost daily basis for Western powers to send in more arms and further punish Russia with sanctions, including banning Russian banks from the global financial system and a full European Union embargo on Russian gas and oil.
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 die. I don’t have a machine gun. I would definitely go (fight) regardless of age.”