At least 40 people, including children, have been killed in a Russian rocket strike on a train station in eastern Ukraine, the mayor of Kramatorsk has said.
Kramatorsk train station was being used by refugees hoping to flee areas under bombardment in eastern Ukraine.
Mayor Oleksander Honcharenko told the BBC World Service this afternoon: “It happened at about 10.30am, at that time we had about 4,000 people on the railway station, waiting for the first train.”
Donetsk governor Pavlo Kyrylenko, said on Telegram that most of those attempting to evacuate to safer areas of the country from the station were elderly people, women and children.
“The ‘Rashists’ (‘Russian fascists’) knew very well where they were aiming and what they wanted: they wanted to sow panic and fear, they wanted to take as many civilians as possible,” he said.
In an image taken outside the station on Friday morning, one of the fallen missiles appears to have the words “for the children” inscribed on the side.
It remains unclear what the message means, though interpretations made by those in Ukraine are that the missiles have been sent in revenge for children killed by Ukrainian forces.
The meaning of the message is yet to be independently verified and it has not yet been possible to determine who was responsible for writing it on the side of the missile.
Russian propaganda narratives accuse Ukraine of bombing children in separatist Donetsk and Luhansk regions. The Kremlin has tried to justify the war as a “liberation” of those regions and revenge for such alleged attacks.
Russia’s defense ministry has issued a denial that it attacked the station through the RIA news agency. It has suggested the attack was committed by Ukraine, saying that a missile used in the strike was only used by the Ukrainian army.
The Kremlin has denied targeting civilians since the invasion was launched on February 24 despite being contradicted by extensive evidence.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky condemned the attack on Instagram, writing that if Russia was not punished for its actions “it will never stop”.
“Lacking the strength and courage to stand up to us on the battlefield, they are cynically destroying the civilian population,” wrote Mr Zelensky.
“This is an evil that has no limits. And if it is not punished, it will never stop. ”
Ben Wallace, the UK’s Secretary of Defense, stated that “the striking of civilian infrastructure is a war crime” in the aftermath of the attack.
“These were precision missiles aimed at people trying to seek humanitarian shelter,” he said. “Whatever happens in Ukraine, we must not let the international community forget that what Putin is doing today is building his own cage around himself.”
Mr Kyrylenko posted an unverified photograph online showing several bodies on the ground beside piles of luggage, with armed police wearing flak jackets stood beside them.
Three trains carrying evacuees were blocked in the same region of Ukraine yesterday after an air strike on the line, the head of the state railway has said.
Eyewitness Nathan Mook, CEO of the World Central Kitchen charity, told the BBC he had been at that station moments before the attack.
“We were driving by the station over an overpass, we could see well over a thousand people. It was crowded, just like it was yesterday and the day before, ”he said.
He said he then heard around five to 10 explosions “two minutes after we had driven by”.
When they returned to the station, Mr Mook said he saw: “the remnants of one of the missiles in the parking lots, blown out windows, a couple dozen casualties.”
It comes as Ukrainian officials have said Russian forces are regrouping for a renewed offensive in the Donbas region.
The UK’s Ministry of Defense echoed these claims in its latest intelligence update on Friday, saying Russian troops had “fully withdrawn” from the north to Belarus and Russia.
It added that “at least some” will be transferred to East Ukraine to fight in the Donbas, but would require “significant replenishment” before redeployment.
Local authorities in some areas of eastern Ukraine have been urging civilians to leave while it is still possible and relatively safe to do so.