A Russian missile attack killed 22 civilians and set a passenger train on fire in eastern Ukraine on the country’s Independence Day, according to officials in Kyiv.
In a video address to the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the attack set fire to train carriages in Chaplyne, a town of about 3,500 people in the Dnipropetrovsk region.
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“Rescuers are working, but, unfortunately, the death toll could increase,” he said.
“Chaplyne is our pain today. As of this moment there are 22 dead,” he said in a later evening video address, adding Ukraine would hold Russia responsible for everything it had done.
Zelenskyy aide Kyrylo Tymoshenko later said Russian forces had shelled Chaplyne twice. A boy was killed in the first attack when a missile hit his house, and 21 people died later when rockets hit the railway station and set fire to five train carriages, he said in a statement.
There was no immediate comment from Russia. It denies targeting civilians. The United States condemned the attack.
“Russia’s missile strike on a train station full of civilians in Ukraine fits a pattern of atrocities. We will continue, together with partners from around the world, to stand with Ukraine and seek accountability for Russian officials,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Twitter.
The attack on Wednesday came after Zelenskyy had warned that Russia “may try to do something particularly nasty” to disrupt celebrations as Ukraine marked the 31st anniversary of its independence. Wednesday also marked the six-month point in the war.
Residents of the capital, Kyiv, which has been largely spared in recent months, woke up on Wednesday to air raid sirens, but no immediate raids followed.
Russian bombardments were reported in the country’s east, west and central areas, with the deadliest reported attack at the train station.
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, speaking on Wednesday at a meeting of his counterparts from a security organisation dominated by Russia and China, claimed the slow pace of Moscow’s military action was due to what he said was an effort to spare civilians.
“Undoubtedly, it slows down the pace of the offensive, but we do it deliberately,” he said.
He also criticised the US and its allies for “continuing to pump weapons into Ukraine,” saying the aid is dragging out the conflict and increasing casualties.
Russian forces have repeatedly targeted civilian areas in cities, including hospitals and a Mariupol theatre where hundreds of people were taking shelter.
At Kyiv’s Maidan Square, thousands of residents posed for pictures next to burned-out Russian tanks put on display. Many revellers ignored the sirens and took to the streets to celebrate their nation’s independence.
“I can’t sleep at night because of what I see and hear about what is being done in Ukraine,” said a retiree who gave only her first name, Tetyana, as quoted by the Associated Press news agency. “This is not a war. It is the destruction of the Ukrainian people.”
In a message to the country, Zelenskyy exulted over Ukraine’s success in fending off Moscow’s forces since the invasion.
“On February 24, we were told: You have no chance,” he said. “On August 24, we say: Happy Independence Day, Ukraine!”
Zelenskyy had warned in a statement prior to the attack on Chaplyne’s train station that “brutal strikes” were a possibility. “Please strictly follow the safety rules. Please observe the curfew. Pay attention to the air sirens,” he said.
US President Joe Biden said Independence Day would be bittersweet for many Ukrainians, as “thousands have been killed or wounded, millions have been displaced from their homes, and so many others have fallen victim to Russian atrocities and attacks.”
“But six months of relentless attacks have only strengthened Ukrainians’ pride in themselves, in their country, and in their 31 years of independence,” he said.
Outgoing British Prime Minister Boris Johnson marked the holiday with a visit to Kyiv — his third since the war broke out — and other European leaders used the occasion to pledge unwavering support for Ukraine.
In Germany, Chancellor Olaf Scholz rebuked the Kremlin for its “backward imperialism” and declared that Ukraine “will drive away the dark shadow of war because it is strong and brave, because it has friends in Europe and all over the world.”