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Train station strike in eastern Ukraine takes brutal toll on civilians

Burned-out cars sit outside a train station in Kramatorsk, eastern Ukraine, that was being used for civilian evacuations, after it was hit by a missile strike on April 8, 2022. (Wojciech Grzedzinski for The Washington Post)
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KRAMATORSK, Ukraine — Hundreds of people had gathered at the red-brick train station in this eastern Ukrainian city in recent days, eager to flee what local officials warned was a looming Russian offensive.

The crowds assembled Friday morning ahead of an arriving train, jostling for space on the platform and in the main hall. It was then that at least one missile struck the station, tearing through the evacuees, at least 50 of whom were killed. Another 98 were wounded, according to the regional governor.

A Russian missile attack struck the Kramatorsk train station in Ukraine on April 8 as evacuees were waiting to escape the region. (Video: The Washington Post)

Washington Post reporters arrived at the train station in Kramatorsk, a city in the Donetsk region, about 15 minutes after the attack and counted at least 20 dead, including children. A large piece of a missile had landed about 100 yards from the building entrance. On one side, the words “for the children” were written in Russian.

Witnesses said that an initial explosion was followed by four to five blasts that they believed were caused by “cluster bombs” that struck outside the building where a large crowd had assembled for an arriving train.

It was a gruesome scene of carnage and chaos as Ukrainian police and military collected and covered bodies with pieces of shredded tarp. Blood-spattered luggage and personal items littered the station and platform, while a maimed dog shivered next to one of the victims.

More mangled human remains were transferred to black bags being loaded onto a truck. A long, heavy trail of blood could be seen leading from a bench toward the entrance of the building.

“There were people everywhere. Torn-off limbs, flesh, bone, pieces of people everywhere,” said Yelena Khalenmonva, a local resident who was inside the station waiting for a train when she heard the blasts.

The explosions shattered the train station windows, sending glass shards into a waiting area packed with evacuees, including women and children, Khalenmonva said.

“An old man missing his leg, another person missing their head,” she said.

Outside, Khalenmonva found her 27-year-old son, Vladyslav Kopichko, on the ground with five other bodies covered in flesh and other remains. He was alive but gravely injured, with shrapnel sprayed across his entire body and further wounds to his back and leg.

At the hospital, where medical staff treated Kopichko’s wounds in the hallway, he said that he was knocked to the ground by the first explosion and that another person fell on top of him, shielding him from the worst of the blast.

“I was saved by the body that fell on me,” he said. “They were completely torn to pieces.”

Anton Ladygin, 18, had spent two days at the train station waiting to be evacuated. On Friday, he was standing outside with his girlfriend and dog when the missile struck nearby.

He fell to the ground after hearing the first blast and threw himself on top of his girlfriend as the explosions continued around them.

“People were screaming. There were explosions everywhere,” he said.

Survivors described severe casualties among those seated in two outdoor waiting areas on the train platform. Bags of food and children’s toys were scattered on the ground near blood-soaked wooden benches.

Alexander Pluschev had just left the bathroom in one of those areas when he heard an explosion and felt a sharp, searing pain in his leg — a shrapnel wound.

“How could they hit the train station when they knew so many civilians were here?” he said while waiting for treatment inside a hospital.

Russia’s war dead belie its slogan that no one is left behind

The wounded were ferried to two separate medical facilities in Kramatorsk, including Town Hospital Number 3. There, medical staff struggled to cope with more than 40 casualties, including many with catastrophic injuries from shrapnel. All five of their operating rooms were full.

In the hallways, medical personnel treated more than a dozen patients, applying pressure to wounds or tightening tourniquets. A man lying on the floor screamed in pain as military medics rushed to seal his gushing wound.

“I need tape, give me tape!” yelled the woman who was treating him.

Inside an operating room, surgeons struggled to stabilize a grievously wounded patient as they convulsed from blood loss. In another, doctors prepared to amputate the leg of a child injured in the blast.

Members of the Ukrainian armed services rushed three injured children down the chaotic hospital corridor to idling ambulances to receive further treatment in the city of Dnipro.

“We do not know yet how many children were killed and injured in the attack, but we fear the worst,” Murat Sahin, Ukraine representative for the United Nations Children’s Fund, said in a statement Friday.

Back at the train station, two hours after the blast, police officers were still gathering belongings left by those that fled for their lives.

“Is this going to be the next Mariupol?” said a sobbing station attendant, referring to the besieged Ukrainian city that has suffered some of the most brutal bombardments of the war.

Adela Suliman in London; Mary Ilyushina in Riga, Latvia; and Annabelle Chapman in Paris contributed to this report.

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