‘Deliberate war crime’: horror as Russian missile hits civilian convoy | Ukraine

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IIn the dirt parking lot of a sprawling auto parts market just outside the city of Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, bodies told horrific stories of when a Russian missile hit a civilian convoy, killing 25 people and injuring dozens more.

An older middle-aged man was slumped in his car, one hand holding the steering wheel. Not far away, partially covered with a sheet, another person seemed to be kneeling, collapsed next to the wheeled suitcase she was pulling.

Two women, limbs broken and twisted, lay where it appeared they had spoken next to a car in a line of smashed vehicles waiting to form into a convoy which – in a dark irony – would have taken them into the Russian occupation. territory to the south, approved for entry by Russian forces.

While some died instantly, others managed to escape from their cars and take a few short steps before dying. Police and soldiers slipped the bodies of the dead into black bags and searched wallets and purses for identification.

At 7:15 a.m. Friday, dozens of cars had gathered to wait for a routine convoy to leave for Russian-occupied territory that begins 20km away. About 150 cars are allowed daily by Russians to make the journey south to cities such as Mariupol and Melitopol.

The aftermath of Friday morning’s missile strike. Photograph: Kateryna Klochko/AFP/Getty Images

Cars and minivans were full of items to bring to families still in the South – children’s bedding and toys, clothes and food. Some travelers reportedly hoped to pick up relatives to bring them back to Ukrainian-held territory, fearing that Russia’s annexation of four regions of Ukraine could leave many people trapped.

At that moment, a Russian S-300 missile slammed into the ground 10 meters from the cars as they waited for an escort for their journey. The blast tore through metal, shattered windshields and blew the windows of food kiosks and shops a great distance.

Volodymyr Marchuk, a spokesperson for the local governor’s office, told The Guardian what happened. “[The car parts market] is a logistics hub for people to travel to the territories temporarily occupied by Russia. Russians only accept 150 cars a day, so we created a program where people could go there to register and get their number in the queue.

“At 7.15am this morning there was a large number of cars waiting their turn to cross, mostly people wanting to drop off aid for relatives. Maybe picking up people wanting to leave on the way back. .

“It was the queue they hit with an S-300 missile. There’s no doubt that it was a deliberate war crime. They still say they’re aiming for a military object and they hit something else. But there are no military objects near this site. That is why there is no doubt that this is a terrorist act.

The body of one of the victims is covered with a blanket
The body of one of the victims is covered with a blanket. Photography: Atef Safadi/EPA

With dozens of injured people transported to local hospitals, rescuers continued the grim task of identifying and removing the bodies.

Among the dead were eight people who were traveling with drivers from Help People, a Ukrainian NGO, including a three-month-old child. The group’s founder, Alex Voronin, said they intended to travel to Melitopol to meet family members.

“We had a car and a minibus to go to Melitopol. Of this group, two survived, a nine-year-old boy and his mother, but their condition is unknown. They went to their families who live there. They were trying to get home, collect things and help relatives to be evacuated.

He added: “Every day there are a lot of vans going to Melitopol and Mariupol, but the rules for Russians have become stricter. There is only one road – the Greenway, as we call it.

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Standing in the road near the parking lot, Dalina Yakushava, 48, had arrived after the explosion to see if she could confirm her place in a convoy.

“This is where people are invited to come and register by the authorities to join a convoy. You sign up online but I came to make sure my permission had been received,” she said. “I live in Mariupol. We just took our daughter to Poland but we have to go back because my parents are there. It’s terrible but it’s ours. There were many cars waiting to leave this morning as no one was able to enter the occupied areas for a week. »

On Friday, the traffic was in both directions. A short drive down the same road to Russian lines, hundreds of cars lined up near a Ukrainian checkpoint waiting for an escort, their occupants relieved to cross.

On Friday, Ukrainian citizens fled occupied parts of eastern Ukraine
On Friday, Ukrainian citizens fleeing the occupied eastern regions of the country. Photography: Atef Safadi/EPA

At the start of the queue, Nadya Nekustorova was playing with her 11-month-old daughter, Maria, as her husband, Dymytro, looked on.

“We come from Melitopol,” Nadya said. “We won’t go back until it’s back under Ukrainian control. My parents are staying, which is worrying, but we wanted to leave because the Russians said they would close the crossing to men from October 1st. We realized this might be our last chance. The Russians came to ask us if we were voting [sham] referendum. We said no, so it looked like we had to leave.

“It was a joke,” Dymytro said. “They were all voting for themselves. The ballot was an A4 copy. There were no seals or numbers to identify that the vote was genuine. Everything was wrong. My brother has rented an apartment in Zaporizhzhia, so we will stay with him.

Ukraine: footage shows aftermath of deadly Russian strike on civilian convoy – video

Further down the line of cars, Alla Votovska, 68, and her son Viktor said they waited four days to arrive at the checkpoint from a village near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

“Everyone is trying to leave,” Viktor said. “But they only let a few cars leave our village every day, so we had to keep coming back. Others are also trying to leave via Crimea for Poland and Europe. Half our village is gone.

Suddenly the cars started moving, heading towards Zaporizhzhia on a road that would lead them past the dead whose convoy had not been so lucky.

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