Ukraine: evacuation of civilians to the east, Zelensky reiterates readiness to negotiate with Moscow

KRAMATORSK: After a deadly strike on a railroad station in eastern Ukraine where civilians tried to flee, evacuations continued across the region on Saturday amid fears of an imminent Russian offensive.

In this tense context, and although he called for a “strong global response” following the bombing of the Kramatorsk railway station, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky confirmed that Kyiv is “always ready” to negotiate with Russia, stalled after the discovery of atrocities in the liberated cities.

“We are ready to fight and at the same time look for diplomatic ways to stop this war,” he assured during a press conference with Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer, visiting Kyiv and Bucha, a small town near the capital that has become a symbol of the atrocities of the Russian invasion .

Zelensky called the attack on the Kramatorsk station a war crime. “All participants will be held accountable,” he said in a video message. According to the latest report from local authorities, 52 people, including 5 children, were killed in Friday’s rocket attack.

US President Joe Biden called the “terrible atrocities” committed by Moscow and French diplomacy a “crime against humanity.”

Moscow denied responsibility for the strike, saying it did not have a missile that could be used, before condemning the Ukrainian “provocation”.

A senior US Department of Defense official rejected the Russian authorities’ arguments.

“I note that initially they reported a successful strike, and retreated only after reports of civilian casualties,” he said.

The Russian Defense Ministry did indeed announce earlier on Friday that the Russian army had destroyed “weapons and other military equipment at the stations of Pokrovsk, Slavyansk and Barvinkovo” with precision-guided missiles, settlements located near Kramatorsk, the “capital”. part of Donbas still under Ukrainian control.

The missile landed around 10:30 am (0730 GMT), just as hundreds of evacuation candidates were gathering at the city’s train station to escape the Donbass, which is now a priority for the Russian army.

AFP reporters saw at least 30 bodies in body bags or under tarpaulins. The sidewalks were covered in blood, and the platforms were littered with abandoned suitcases, soft toys, and food.

The remnants of the rocket were still visible on the square near the railway station: “For our children” was written in Russian, a repeated expression of pro-Russian separatists in relation to their children, who have been killed since the beginning of the first war in Donbass in 2014.

On Saturday, the evacuation of civilians continued by road. Minibuses and vans came to pick up dozens of bombing survivors who were sleeping in a Protestant church in the city center near the train station, AFP reporters said.

Arriving on Friday in Ukraine on a visit in support of European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen condemned the “disgusting attack.”

She traveled with EU diplomat Josep Borrell to Bucha, a city where dozens of civilian-clothes corpses of Russians, some with their hands tied behind their backs, were found in early April after troops left.

“My instinct tells me: if this is not a war crime, then what is a war crime?” said Mrs. von der Leyen. “We saw with our own eyes that the destruction in this city was directed against civilians.”

Theme: Donbass

Having withdrawn its troops from the Kiev region and northern Ukraine, Russia has made its priority the total conquest of Donbass, part of which has been controlled by pro-Russian separatists since 2014.

President Vladimir Putin wants to achieve this goal before the May 9 military parade commemorating the end of World War II, the most important holiday in Russia, observers say.

In anticipation of a massive offensive, local authorities in eastern Ukraine are trying to evacuate civilians.

In Lozovaya, about 100 km west of Kramatorsk, about 15,000 people have already left the city, and another 50,000 people, Oleg Sinegubov, head of the regional military administration, said.

Departure is arranged by train and car, he said, mentioning that the fighting was taking place “nearby”.

Local authorities have announced that the strike-threatened large port of Odessa in the southern Black Sea will be placed under curfew from Saturday evening until Monday morning.

New sanctions

After the revelations of violations in Ukraine, Russia was suspended on Thursday by a UN Human Rights Council vote and became the target of new Western economic sanctions, which, however, do not prevent the ruble, the Russian currency, from strengthening again. for the last month.

The Central Bank of the Russian Federation even announced on Friday that it would resume the sale of foreign currency from April 18, which was suspended in early March.

London has decided to impose sanctions on the two daughters of Vladimir Putin and the daughter of diplomat chief Sergei Lavrov, saying it wants to attack “the luxurious lifestyle of the Kremlin’s inner circle.”

The EU has also blacklisted two daughters of the Russian president.

On Thursday evening, he had already passed a new set of punitive measures, including an upcoming halt to Russian coal imports. This is the first time that the Europeans have hit Russian energy, on which they are very dependent.

Brussels is also planning new sanctions against Russian banks, as well as closing European ports to Russian ships.

Kyiv is calling for an “immediate” supply of weapons to counter a new Russian offensive in the East.

The UK has announced the shipment of additional anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles. And Slovakia “gave” Soviet-designed S-300 air defense systems to Kiev.

Germany, for its part, indicated that it had practically exhausted its ability to supply Ukraine with equipment taken from the reserves of its army, the Bundeswehr, but was working on deliveries carried out directly by the military industry.

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