Residents of eastern Ukraine were met Saturday by the sound of air raid sirens. The region’s governor is warning civilians to evacuate immediately as Russia increases shelling in the area. Governor Serhiy Gaidai told a public television station that Russia is “amassing an offensive” on the one-third of the population that remains in Ukraine’s Luhansk region.
Military analysts say Russian President Vladimir Putin is redirecting the invasion to eastern Ukraine, after the military met stiff resistance and withdrew from areas around Kyiv in the north. The British Defense Ministry expects increased shelling to continue in the south and east as Russia attempts to create a route between Crimea and the Donbas region. Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula in 2014.
Appeal for ‘firm global response’
At least 52 people, including five children, died Friday, with scores more injured while trying to evacuate as two missiles hit a train station in the eastern city of Kramatorsk, in the Donetsk region of Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called the strike a deliberate attack on civilians and said he expects a “firm global response” to what he labeled “a war crime.”
“Without the strength or courage to stand up to us on the battlefield, [Russian troops] are cynically destroying the civilian population,” Zelenskyy said on social media.
Russia denied carrying out the missile strike and in turn blamed Ukraine, saying it does not use the short-range kind of missile — the Tochka-U — that hit the station.
However, the website Defence Blog reported on March 31 that a convoy of Russian military vehicles were carrying the Tochka-U missiles — known in the West as the SS-21 or Scarab-B — had been photographed as part of Russia’s invasion force into Ukraine.
In an interview Saturday with The Associated Press, Zelenskyy seemed frustrated when asked whether his country had received enough weapons and other equipment from the West.
“Not yet,” he said, switching to English for emphasis. “Of course, it’s not enough.”
In an interview scheduled to air on U.S. television Sunday on the CBS program “60 Minutes,” Zelenskyy said, “We are defending the right to live. I never thought this right was so costly.”
Zelenskyy says in the interview that Ukraine has imprisoned Russian pilots who had maps with civilian targets designated for bombing.
Accusations of war crimes also were made by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who spoke Saturday after seeing the devastation in Bucha, a town near Kyiv.
Mass graves of civilians were unearthed in Bucha after Russian forces left the area. Von der Leyen said, “If this is not a war crime, what is a war crime, but I am a medical doctor by training and lawyers have to investigate carefully.”
Russian officials have called the Bucha killings a “monstrous forgery.”
The Russian invasion has forced more than 10 million people from their homes in Ukraine or from the country and has killed and maimed thousands.
Russia is denying the killing of patients at a destroyed maternity hospital in Mariupol and has blamed Ukrainian missile strikes. Mariupol’s mayor says 50 people burned to death in shelling of the city. The Associated Press has documented at least 37 Russian attacks on medical buildings since the war began.
British PM visits Kyiv, brings more aid
Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson met Saturday in Kyiv with Zelenskyy, as first seen in a tweet by the British Embassy in Ukraine.
After Friday’s attack on the Kramatorsk railway station, Britain announced additional financial and military aid for Ukraine, to include anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles and nearly $130 million worth of high-tech equipment. Johnson called the shelling of the station “unconscionable” and said it is “a war crime indiscriminately to attack civilians.”
The city’s mayor estimated there were 4,000 women, children, and elderly inside the station trying to evacuate the vulnerable region when it was struck.
Following the lead of the United States, Britain also is placing travel restrictions on and freezing the financial assets of Putin’s adult daughters, Katerina Vladimirovna Tikhonova, 35, and Maria Vladimirovna Vorontsova, 36, along with the daughter of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Before Johnson’s visit, Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer also met face-to-face with Zelenskyy Saturday and promised more EU sanctions against Russia.
“As long as people are dying,” Nehammer said, “every sanction is still insufficient.”
Nehammer also pledged to send Austrian embassy staff back to Kyiv, now that Russian forces have retreated.
VOA’s Heather Murdock contributed to this report from Bucha, Ukraine.