Lviv – Ukraine urged civilians in the eastern Luhansk region on Saturday to flee from amassing Russian forces after officials said more than 50 people trying to evacuate by rail from a neighbouring region were killed in a missile attack the previous day.
Air-raid sirens sounded in cities across eastern Ukraine, which has become the focus of Russian military action in recent weeks following a withdrawal from areas close to Kyiv.
“They are amassing forces for an offensive,” Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai in a televised address in which he urged remaining civilians to flee shelling that he said had intensified in recent days.
Russia’s invasion, which began on February 24, forced more than four million people to flee abroad, killed or injured thousands, left a quarter of the population homeless, and turned cities into rubble.
The civilian casualties triggered a wave of international condemnation, in particular over the deaths in the town of Bucha, which was until last week occupied by Russian forces.
Russia denied targetting civilians in what it calls a “special operation” to demilitarise and “denazify” its southern neighbour.
Ukraine and Western nations have dismissed this as a baseless pretext for war.
Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskiy called for a “firm global response” to Friday’s missile attack on a train station crowded with women, children, and the elderly in the Donetsk region city of Kramatorsk, a hub for civilians fleeing the east.
The attack left shreds of blood-stained clothes, toys, and damaged luggage strewn across the station’s platform.
City mayor Oleksander Honcharenko, who estimated 4 000 people were gathered there at the time, said on Saturday that the death toll had risen to at least 52.
Russia’s defence ministry denied responsibility, saying in a statement the missiles that struck the station were used only by Ukraine’s military and that Russia’s armed forces had no targets assigned in Kramatorsk on Friday.
Russian state television described the attack as a “bloody provocation” by Ukraine.
Honcharenko said he expected about 50 000 to 60 000 of Kramatorsk’s population of 220 000 to remain within a week or two as people flee the violence.