A few minutes before it became clear that women, children and elderly people were among the at least 39 dead and nearly 100 known to be injured when a missile struck the Kramatorsk train station in eastern Ukraine, Russian soldiers were bragging about the hit on Telegram.
The missile struck the main evacuation center in the area and seemed to herald the beginning of an intensified offensive that Russia warned was coming.
Minutes later, the messages, which included claims to have successfully obliterated “a crowd of Ukrainian militants at the Kramatorsk railway station,” were edited or disappeared altogether, according to several accounts by journalists in the region.
Journalists who had visited the train station in recent days documented hundreds of people crowded onto platforms waiting to evacuate. The local governor said there were as many as 4,000 people waiting to evacuate when rockets struck the building. A Russian Defense spokesperson denied the attack, calling it a “provocation” instead.
Ukrainian military officials posted photos of the aftermath on Telegram, which showed mangled corpses and suitcases on the tracks. “The ‘Rashists’ knew very well where they were aiming and what they wanted,” regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko told Reuters, referring to a nickname for Russian fascists. “They wanted to sow panic and fear, they wanted to take as many civilians as possible.”
Tetiana Ihnatchenko, spokesperson for the Donetsk regional administration, told CNN that the Russian military knew the station would be full of civilians. “[Evacuations] have been going on since February 26, and the Russians knew that thousands of people are there every day,” she said. “I believe that’s what they were counting on.”
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky called the act another atrocity. “The inhuman Russians are not changing their methods,” he said, according to the Associated Press. “Without the strength or courage to stand up to us on the battlefield, they are cynically destroying the civilian population. This is an evil without limits. And if it is not punished, then it will never stop.”
Russia also hit at least two residential houses in the once-picturesque port city of Odesa on Friday. It is unclear if there are any victims in that attack.
And north of Kyiv, Zelensky warned that the razed city of Borodianka is “significantly more dreadful” thank Bucha, where Russian troops are blamed for grisly executions and indiscriminate shelling of civilians. At least 300 people are known to have died there.