A missile hit a train station where thousands of people had flocked to flee in eastern Ukraine, killing at least 52 people Friday, Ukrainian authorities said, while warning they expect to find more evidence of war crimes in areas abandoned by Russian troops.
Photos from the scene showed bodies covered with tarps on the ground and the remnants of a rocket with the words “For our children” painted on it in Russian.
About 4,000 civilians were in and around the station, the office of Ukraine’s prosecutor-general said, adding that most were women and children heeding calls to leave the area before Russia launches a full-scale offensive in the country’s east.
The Russian Defense Ministry denied attacking the station in Kramatorsk, a city in Ukraine’s contested Donbas region, but President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other Ukrainian leaders accused Russia’s military of deliberately targeting a location where only civilians were assembled.
“The inhuman Russians are not changing their methods. Without the strength or courage to stand up to us on the battlefield, they are cynically destroying the civilian population,” the president said on social media. “This is an evil without limits. And if it is not punished, then it will never stop.”
Britain’s Defense Minister Ben Wallace denounced the attack, saying “the striking of civilians and critical infrastructure is a war crime.”
“These were precision missiles aimed at people trying to seek humanitarian shelter,” Wallace said.
Pavlo Kyrylenko, the regional governor of Donetsk, which lies in the Donbas, said that at least 50 people were killed, including five children, and many dozens more were wounded.
“The people just wanted to get away for evacuation,” Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova said while visiting Bucha, a town north of Kyiv, Ukraine's capital, where journalists and returning Ukrainians discovered scores of bodies on streets and in mass graves after Russian troops withdrew.
Venediktova spoke as workers pulled corpses from a mass grave near a church under spitting rain. Black body bags were laid out in rows in the mud. None of the dead were Russians, she said. Most of them had been shot. The prosecutor general's office is investigating the deaths, and other mass casualties involving civilians, as possible war crimes.
After failing to take Ukraine’s capital and withdrawing from northern Ukraine, Russia has shifted its focus to the Donbas, a mostly Russian-speaking, industrial region in eastern Ukraine where Moscow-backed rebels have been fighting Ukrainian forces for eight years and control some areas. The train station is located in government-controlled territory.
Ukrainian officials warned residents this week to leave as soon as possible for safer parts of the country and said they and Russia had agreed to establish multiple evacuation routes in the east.