That said EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Saturday Russian forces appeared to have committed war crimes by targeting civilians Ukraine, but she said lawyers need to investigate the alleged incidents. She left Ukraine after a visit and said she saw the destruction in the city of Bucha, near Kyiv, with her own eyes on Friday.
The forensics team on Friday began exhuming a mass grave containing the bodies of civilians local officials say were killed while the Russians occupied the city.
“My instinct is: if this isn’t a war crime, what is a war crime, but I’m a doctor by training and lawyers need to investigate carefully,” von der Leyen said on a train leaving Ukraine on Saturday.
“I saw the photos that (Prime Minister of Ukraine) Denys Shmyhal showed me: killing people as they pass by. We could also see with our own eyes that the destruction in the city is aimed specifically at the lives of civilians – a military target,” she said, referring to Bucha.
On Friday, the same day that von der Leyen and the EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell visited Kyiv and its outskirts, Ukraine and its allies blamed Russia for a rocket attack that killed at least 52 people at the Kramatorsk train station in eastern Ukraine were killed.
The Russian Defense Ministry was quoted by the RIA news agency as saying that the missiles that allegedly hit Kramatorsk station were only used by the Ukrainian military and that Russian forces had not assigned any targets in Kramatorsk on Friday.
Von der Leyen said the EU is working with Ukraine on a joint investigative team to gather evidence of possible war crimes for future trials.
“It’s extremely important that it’s well documented to avoid losing in court because the evidence isn’t good enough,” von der Leyen said.
The chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, Karim Khan, said last month he had launched an investigation into possible war crimes in Ukraine.
Ukraine on Saturday urged civilians in the eastern Luhansk region to flee Russian shelling after officials said more than 50 civilians were killed in a missile attack trying to evacuate by train from a neighboring region.
Air raid sirens rang out across much of eastern Ukraine on Saturday morning, officials said, as Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai made a televised address urging people to leave the country as Russia gathers forces for an offensive.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for a “firm global response” to Friday’s rocket attack on a Kramatorsk train station in the Donetsk region crowded with women, children and the elderly.
The city’s mayor, who had gathered an estimated 4,000 people there at the time, said at least 52 had died.
Russia’s Defense Ministry denied responsibility for the attack, saying in a statement that the missiles that hit the station were used only by the Ukrainian military and that Russian forces did not assign targets in Kramatorsk on Friday.
All statements made by the Ukrainian authorities about the attack were “provocations”, it said.
Russia’s invasion, which has already lasted more than six weeks, has forced more than 4 million people to flee abroad, killed or injured thousands, left a quarter of the population homeless and reduced cities to rubble.
The Kremlin said on Friday that what it calls a “special operation” to demilitarize and “denazify” Russia’s southern neighbor could end any time soon with its goals being achieved through the work of Russia’s military and peace negotiators.
But NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, whose organization, like Ukraine, has rejected Russia’s arguments as a pretext for an unprovoked invasion, warned the war could last months or even years.
The General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said Moscow was preparing for a push to try and take full control of the eastern Donbass regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, which have been held in part by Moscow-backed separatists since 2014, after the armed forces exited of the Kyiv region were deducted.
Britain’s Defense Ministry said in a briefing it expects airstrikes in the south and east to increase as Russia attempts to build a land bridge between Crimea – which Moscow annexed in 2014 – and the Donbass, but Ukrainian forces thwarted the advance.
Ten humanitarian corridors to evacuate people from besieged regions have been agreed for Saturday, including one for people evacuated by private transport from the devastated southeastern port city of Mariupol, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.
Kramatorsk Mayor Oleksander Honcharenko said he expects only 50,000 to 60,000 of his town’s 220,000 residents to remain within a week or two.
Regional Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said the Kramatorsk station was hit on Friday by a Tochka-U short-range ballistic missile containing cluster munitions, which detonated in mid-air and sprayed bombs over a larger area.
Cluster munitions are banned under a 2008 convention. Russia has not signed it, but previously denied the use of such weapons in Ukraine.
Reuters could not verify the details of the attack.
In Washington, a senior defense official said the United States had not accepted the Russian denial and believed Russian forces had fired a short-range ballistic missile in the attack on the train station.
The European Union and Britain jointly condemned the incident, which took place on the same day that European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen visited Kyiv to show solidarity and speed up Ukraine’s accession process.
Friday’s attack added to a wave of international outrage over the high civilian casualty toll, after hundreds of bodies were discovered in the town of Bucha, near Kyiv, after Russian soldiers withdrew.
Russia has described allegations that its troops executed civilians there as a “monstrous fabrication”.
Visiting the city on Friday as a forensic team began exhuming a mass grave in Bucha, von der Leyen said she witnessed the “unthinkable”.
She later handed Zelenskyy a questionnaire that served as a starting point for the EU’s decision on membership.
The bloc also overcame some divisions to pass new sanctions, including import bans on coal, timber, chemicals and other products, and freezes on EU assets owned by Putin’s daughters and other oligarchs.
In a video speech, Zelenskyy said the West must do more, including an energy embargo and cutting off all Russian banks from the global financial system.
https://www.independent.ie/news/russian-forces-appear-to-have-committed-war-crimes-says-ursula-von-der-leyen-as-ukraine-urges-civilians-to-flee-41536610.html Russian forces appear to have committed war crimes, Ursula von der Leyen says, while Ukraine urges civilians to flee