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Russia accused of war crimes in missile attack on Ukrainian train station


Russia is again being accused of war crimes after a missile attack struck a train station in eastern Ukraine. It was crowded with civilians who were trying to escape the conflict, and at least 52 people were killed. About a hundred are being treated at hospitals. NPR's Eyder Peralta is in Kyiv. And we should caution you; our report contains some painfully graphic descriptions. Eyder, thanks for being with us.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: What more are we learning about this attack?

PERALTA: So we know that a missile hit a train station in the town of Kramatorsk, Scott, at about 10 a.m. yesterday. And this happened when there were thousands of people trying to evacuate. So as you said, 52 people are dead. Among them were five children. And the images that are coming out of there are horrific. On the outside of the station, you know, we're seeing lifeless bodies surrounded by all the luggage that was left behind as people fled. And near the platforms, rescue workers are recovering body parts. The Ukrainian government says this was a Russian missile strike. The Russians deny it, but the Ukrainians say that this fits a pattern, that the Russians are trying to terrorize Ukrainians by launching these types of attacks, attacks that target areas full of civilians.

SIMON: And what has the leadership of Ukraine - and, for that matter, some world leaders have - said about the attack?

PERALTA: President Zelenskyy is calling this a war crime. And yesterday the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, was here in Kyiv. And she visited a mass grave just north of here. It's a town where buildings were flattened and bodies were strewn along the streets. And she said that after what she saw, it was clear that humanity had been shattered. And she said that this was a conflict about big ideas. Let's listen.


URSULA VON DER LEYEN: Will heinous devastation be winning? Or will it be humanity that is prevailing? Or will the right of might be the rule, or will it be the rule of law? And this is what is at stake in this war.

PERALTA: The EU did impose more sanctions on Russia, and yesterday the United Nations voted to kick Russia out of the Human Rights Council.

SIMON: Eyder, why was this particular station so busy? And are people still being encouraged to leave knowing that represents some risk?

PERALTA: Yeah. Look; what's happening here is that the Ukrainian government believes that the Russian troops that have retreated from the capital region are regrouping in Belarus. And the Ukrainian government says that sometime in the near future they will begin attacking in the east. So people are trying to get ahead of that, and they're rushing to train stations. And this is one of the important stations in that part of the country.

Now, authorities here are saying that civilians should still continue to evacuate. And because the Kramatorsk train station is now inoperable, they have started bussing people to another nearby station. I've been talking to people out east, and they say that in the past few days, shelling has intensified. They tell me that they're sleeping in basements because as the sun comes down, the fighting gets worse. And so people are taking these warnings seriously. And I think there's a lot of worry that attacks like these can really slow down the process of getting civilians to safety.

SIMON: NPR's Eyder Peralta in Kyiv, thanks so much.

PERALTA: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.