What Happened on Day 44 of Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

At one point, hundreds of women, children and the elderly were huddled on the platforms of the Kramatorsk train station, listening to the pleas of Ukrainian officials imploring them to flee in the face of a feared Russian attack.

The next moment, death rained from the air.

At least 50 people were killed and many more wounded in a missile attack on Friday morning that left bodies and luggage strewn on the ground and turned the Kramatorsk station into the site of another atrocity in the six-week war.

“There are only children!” a woman cried in a video of the aftermath.

The missile struck as officials in Kramatorsk and other towns in eastern Ukraine warned civilians to leave before Russian forces mounted what is expected to be a breakthrough in the region, where their troops have been regrouping after to withdraw from the areas around kyiv, the capital. .

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said Russia had struck the station with what he identified as a Tochka-U short-range ballistic missile when “thousands of peaceful Ukrainians were waiting to be evacuated.”

Credit…Fadel Senna/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“Lacking the strength and courage to face us on the battlefield, they are cynically destroying the civilian population,” Zelensky said. “This is an evil that has no limits. And if it is not punished, it will never stop.”

Russian officials, denying responsibility, said a Ukrainian battalion had fired the missile in what they called a “provocation.” The Russian Defense Ministry said that Tochka-U missiles are only used by the Ukrainian armed forces and that Russian troops did not carry out any attack on Kramatorsk on Friday.

A senior Pentagon official said the United States believed Russian forces had fired the missile. “They originally claimed a successful strike and then only retracted when there were reports of civilian casualties,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a confidential intelligence assessment.

The train station was attacked as a major European Union delegation was visiting the Zelensky government, and images of another mass murder sparked fresh Western outrage.

It was not immediately clear if one or more missiles hit the station, and there was no way to independently verify the origin of the attack. Several parked cars were also hit, catching fire and turning into charred casings. The waiting room was full of bodies and belongings.

After the attack, Ukrainian police inspected the remains of a large rocket next to the train station with the words “for our children” written in Russian. It was unclear who had written the message and where the rocket had come from.

Kramatorsk Mayor Oleksandr Honcharenko said 4,000 people were at the station when it was attacked, the vast majority of them women, children and the elderly. At least two children were among the dead, he said.

The head of the military administration in the region, Pavlo Kyrylenko, said 50 people had died, including 12 who died in hospital. Another 98 were injured, including 16 children, he said.

After the attack, Kramatorsk officials said they were trying to find cars and buses to evacuate civilians to western areas that are supposed to be less vulnerable to Russian attacks.

Credit…Andriy Andriyenko/Associated Press

Ukraine’s rail service said the evacuations would come from nearby Sloviansk, where shelters and hospitals have been stocked with food and medicine in anticipation of an impending Russian offensive.

Western countries, which have been sending weapons to Ukraine and tightening sanctions on Russia to punish President Vladimir V. Putin for the invasion, saw the Kramatorsk massacre as a new justification for stepping up their efforts.

“The attack on a Ukrainian train station is yet another horrific atrocity committed by Russia, hitting civilians trying to evacuate to safety,” President Biden said. On twitter. He promised to send more weapons to Ukraine and work with allies to investigate the attack “while we document Russia’s actions and hold them accountable.”

President Emmanuel Macron of France called the strike “abominable.”

“Ukrainian civilians are fleeing to escape the worst,” he wrote on Twitter. “Your weapons? Strollers, stuffed animals, luggage.

The station was attacked when Slovakian President Eduard Heger and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen were traveling to kyiv in a show of support for Mr. Zelensky and his country’s bid for European Union membership. .

Mr Heger Announced that Slovakia had given Ukraine an S-300 air defense system to help defend against Russian missiles and airstrikes.

Credit…Andriy Andriyenko/Associated Press

To make the transfer possible, the Pentagon said it would relocate a Patriot missile system, operated by US service members, to Slovakia. It was the latest buildup of weapons and troops along NATO’s eastern flank as the alliance seeks to deter any Russian incursions.

“Now is not the time for complacency,” Biden said in a statement announcing the Patriot repositioning. “As the Russian military repositions itself for the next phase of this war, I have directed my administration to continue to spare no effort to identify and provide the Ukrainian military with the advanced weapons capabilities it needs to defend its country.”

The attack on the train station came after Russian forces spent weeks bombing schools, hospitals and apartment buildings in an apparent attempt to subdue Ukraine by indiscriminately targeting civilian infrastructure, ignoring Geneva Convention protections that can turn such actions into war crimes.

Last month, some 300 people were killed in an attack on a theater where hundreds had taken refuge in the battered port of Mariupol, Ukrainian officials said. In recent days, mounting evidence has pointed to atrocities in the devastated suburbs of kyiv, where bodies bound and shot in the head were found by Ukrainian troops after Russian forces withdrew.

Mrs. Von der Leyen visited one of those suburbs, Bucha, on Friday before meeting with Mr. Zelensky.

“It was important to start my visit in Bucha,” he wrote on Twitter. “Because in Bucha our humanity was shattered.”

Russia has said that its troops have been falsely accused and that the evidence against them is false.

The repercussions of the fighting are spreading far beyond Europe. The United Nations reported Friday that global food prices rose sharply last month to their highest levels as the invasion sent shockwaves through global markets for grains and vegetable oils. Russia and Ukraine are major suppliers of wheat and other grains to the world.

Credit…Andriy Andriyenko/Associated Press

The report on rising prices came as the British government said Russia was headed for its “deepest recession since the collapse of the Soviet Union,” estimating the economy could contract by as much as 15 percent this year.

On Friday, the European Union formally approved its fifth round of sanctions against Moscow, which included a ban on Russian coal and restrictions on Russian banks, oligarchs and Kremlin officials. The coal ban, which will cost Russia some $8.7 billion in annual revenue, takes effect immediately for new contracts. However, at Germany’s insistence, existing contracts were given four months to finish, softening the blow for both Russia and Germany.

However, Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, meeting German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in London on Friday, applauded what Johnson called Germany’s “seismic decision” to move away from Russian fuel. Britain has pushed for a complete ban on Russian energy, a move that Germany, which heats half its homes with Russian gas, has resisted.

Johnson acknowledged the obstacles to transforming Germany’s energy system “overnight,” but said “we know that Russia’s war in Ukraine will not end overnight.” Scholz said that Putin had tried to divide the European powers, but “will continue to experience our unity.”

On Friday, Russia retaliated for some of the West’s punishments, declaring 45 Polish embassy and consulate employees persona non grata and ordering them to leave Russia. Poland had expelled the same number of Russian diplomats.

Russia’s Justice Ministry also said it had revoked the registration of several prominent human rights groups in the country, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, which accused Russian troops of committing war crimes in Ukraine. The ministry accused the groups of violating an unspecified Russian law. The decision means that the organizations can no longer operate in Russia.

Human Rights Watch said forcing his office to close would not change his resolve to denounce Russia’s turn to authoritarianism. The group said it had been monitoring abuses in Russia since the Soviet era.

“We found ways to document human rights abuses then, and we will in the future,” he said.

Credit…Anatolii Stepanov/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

megan special reported from Krakow, Poland, and michael levenson from New York. The report was contributed by jane arraf from Lviv, Ukraine, aurelien breeden from Paris, Ivan Nechepurenko from istanbul, Matina Stevis-Gridneff from Brussels, Michael D. Shear Y Eric Schmitt of Washington, and Mark Landler Y Chris Stanford From london

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