Horror pictures emerge of Russian rocket attack on Ukraine railway station as death toll rises
Thousands of civilians – mostly women, children and elderly – were in the vicinity of the train station, trying to leave the area
The governor of Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region on Thursday accused Russian forces of firing cluster munitions at a rail station in the city of Kramatorsk in an attack that killed at least 39 people.
Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko published a photograph online showing several bodies on the ground beside piles of suitcases and other luggage, but did not share what evidence he had of the type of weapon used for the attack. Reuters was not immediately able to verify his allegation.
"If at the beginning they exclusively ... targeted railway tracks, then now it's not only tracks, but also firing a missile containing cluster munitions which are meant for people. This is absolute confirmation that this (strike) was intended against civilians," Kyrylenko said in an online briefing.
Russia denies targeting civilians.
The Russian defence ministry was quoted by RIA news agency as saying the missiles said to have struck the station were used only by Ukraine's military and that Russia's armed forces did not have any targets assigned in Kramatorsk on Friday.
More than 30 people were killed and over 100 were wounded in the Russian rocket strike on a railway station in east Ukraine on Friday as civilians tried to evacuate to safer parts of the country, the state railway company said.
It said two Russian rockets had struck a station in the city of Kramatorsk which is used for the evacuation of civilians from areas under bombardment by Russian forces.
"Two rockets hit Kramatorsk railway station," Ukrainian Railways said in a statement.
It later added: "According to operational data, more than 30 people were killed and more than 100 were wounded in the rocket attack on Kramatorsk railway station."
Russia did not immediately comment on the reports of the attack and the casualty toll. Moscow has denied targeting civilians since invading Ukraine on Feb. 24.
Three trains carrying evacuees were blocked in the same region of Ukraine on Thursday after an air strike on the line, according to the head of Ukrainian Railways.
Ukrainian officials say Russian forces have been regrouping for a new offensive, and that Moscow plans to seize as much territory as it can in the eastern part of Ukraine known as Donbas bordering Russia.
Local authorities in some areas have been urging civilians to leave the while it is still possible and relatively safe to do so.
Overnight, Russia gave the most sombre assessment so far of its invasion of Ukraine, describing the "tragedy" of mounting troop losses and the economic hit from sanctions, as Ukrainians were evacuated from eastern cities before an anticipated major offensive.
Russia's six-week long incursion has seen more than 4 million people flee abroad, killed or injured thousands, turned cities into rubble and led to sweeping sanctions on its leaders and companies.
In a symbolic move, the U.N. General Assembly suspended Russia from the U.N. Human Rights Council, expressing "grave concern at the ongoing human rights and humanitarian crisis". Russia then quit the council.
Russia has previously acknowledged its attack has not progressed as quickly as it wanted but on Thursday Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov lamented the rising death toll.
"We have significant losses of troops," he told Sky News. "It's a huge tragedy for us."
Russia is facing its most difficult economic situation for three decades due to unprecedented Western sanctions, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said. The U.S. Congress removed its "most favored nation" trade status in a further blow.
Russia says it launched what it calls a "special military operation" on Feb. 24 to demilitarise and "denazify" Ukraine. Kyiv and its Western allies reject that as a false pretext.
Following new restrictions after the killing of civilians in the town of Bucha that were widely condemned by the West as war crimes, Ukraine called on allies to stop buying Russian oil and gas, amid divisions in Europe, and to boost it militarily.
"Ukraine needs weapons which will give it the means to win on the battlefield and that will be the strongest possible sanction against Russia," President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a video late on Thursday.
He also said the situation in Borodianka - another town northwest of Kyiv retaken from Russian forces - is "significantly more dreadful" than in Bucha, without citing any evidence.
Video from Borodianka showed search and rescue teams using heavy equipment to dig through the rubble of a building that collapsed. Hundreds of people were feared buried.
Russia has denied targeting civilians and says images of bodies in Bucha were staged to justify more sanctions against it and derail peace negotiations.
The EU's ambassadors agreed a fifth sanctions package on Russia with a coal embargo containing a 120 day wind-down period to give member states time to find alternative suppliers, following pressure from Germany to delay the measure.
Ukraine accused Hungary of undermining EU unity after Budapest said it was prepared to pay roubles for Russian gas, a Kremlin demand that most in the West had resisted.
On the battlefield, Ukraine says after withdrawing from Kyiv's outskirts, Russia is regrouping to try to gain full control of the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, which have been partly held by Russian-backed separatists since 2014.
The besieged southern port of Mariupol, where the mayor said over 100,000 people were still trapped, was also a target.
"Evacuate! The chances of saving yourself and your family from Russian death are dwindling every day," Luhansk governor Serhiy Gaidai said.
Authorities in Dnipro, a city in central-eastern Ukraine, also urged women, children and the elderly to leave.
British military intelligence said Russian forces were shelling cities in the east and south and had advanced further south from the city of Izium, which is under their control. Reuters could not immediately verify the report.
Both sides have traded accusations of abuse, with Moscow opening a criminal investigation into a Russian soldier's allegations that he was beaten and threatened with death while being held in Ukraine as a prisoner of war.
Separately, a social media video verified by Reuters and geolocated to an area west of Kyiv appears to show Ukrainian forces shooting and killing a captured and badly wounded Russian soldier.
NATO members agreed to strengthen support to Ukraine on Thursday.
Ukraine has received about 25,000 anti-aircraft weapons systems from the United States and its allies, the top U.S. general said, and Washington is looking into what new support it could send.
In a video address posted on YouTube, Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov made a plea for heavier, more modern weapons as Russia concentrated its forces for a major attack.
Russia has “drawn conclusions and changed tactics” and is now focusing on long-range strikes from the air, he said.
As a result, Ukraine needs air defence systems, long-range artillery, tanks and anti-ship missiles, Reznikov said.
Zelenskiy's government says starving Russia's war machine is the only way to bring it to a settlement at on-and-off peace talks.
On Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said a draft peace deal from Kyiv contained "unacceptable" elements and deviated from previously agreed proposals. Read full story
Ukrainian negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak told Reuters Lavrov was not directly involved in negotiations and his statements were "of purely propagandistic significance" aimed at diverting attention from the killings in Bucha.
Ukraine's prosecutor general, Iryna Venediktova, said in the Kyiv region, which includes Borodianka, Bucha and other towns and villages such as Irpin, authorities had found 650 bodies, with 40 of them children.
Bucha's mayor has said dozens were the victims of extra-judicial killings carried out by Russian troops. Reuters could not independently verify those figures.
Accounts by at least a dozen residents of one apartment complex in Bucha painted a picture of violence and intimidation by Russian soldiers.
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