Kiev: Russia’s Defence Ministry has confirmed that its forces were behind Wednesday’s missile strike on a railway station in central Ukraine that Kiev said left at least 25 people dead, including civilians.
However, Russian Defence Ministry spokesperson Igor Konashenkov claimed that more than 200 Ukrainian soldiers on their way to fight in the Donbass region had been killed in the attack in the central Dnipropetrovsk region town of Chaplyne, dpa news agency reported.
No evidence was produced to support the claim that so many soldiers died, however. Konashenkov added that the rocket hit a part of the station used by the Ukrainian military and that military equipment had also been destroyed.
The Ukrainian authorities said that 25 people, including two children, had died in the attack, while at least 30 others were injured.
The deputy head of the Ukrainian presidential office, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, said that both residential areas and railway infrastructure in Chaplyne had been targeted by Russian forces.
Tymoshenko said that an 11-year-old who was crushed under rubble and a 6-year-old killed in a car fire near the train station had been among the victims.
Neither the Russian nor the Ukrainian claims could be independently verified.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky condemned the attack, which was carried out on Ukraine’s Independence Day, which fell six months to the day after the Russian invasion began.
US President Joe Biden called Zelensky on Thursday to offer him his moral support and to promise Washington’s continuing backing for Kiev as the war entered its seventh month.
Ukrainian train stations and rail infrastructure have repeatedly been targeted during the war. In April, at least 57 people died in an attack on a train station in the city of Kramatorsk in the eastern Donbass region.
Another recurring feature has been Russian efforts to take control of Ukrainian nuclear plants, which has led to worries that a miscalculation could result in a nuclear catastrophe.
Kiev said on Thursday that Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, which is occupied by Russian forces, had been disconnected from the Ukrainian electricity grid, though Ukrainian nuclear agency Enerhoatom stressed that the plant’s power supply, which is vital for its safetly, was being maintained.
In his Thursday night video address, Zelensky called on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to act with greater urgency over the contested plant: “Every minute that the Russian military remains at the nuclear power plant means the risk of a global radiation disaster,” he stressed.
Moscow said that the last two last operational reactors at the plant had been forced to temporarily shut down due to Ukrainian shelling, though the Russian-installed governor of the Zaporizhzhya region, Yevgeny Balitsky, said on Telegram that one of the reactors had subsequently been restarted.
Kiev and Moscow have repeatedly blamed each other for the shelling of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant. According to Enerhoatom, all four of the power plant’s supply lines have now been damaged by Russian shelling.
Washington blasted Russia’s attempts to claim the plant and the energy it produced on Thursday.
“No country should turn a nuclear power plant into an active war zone,” said deputy State Department spokesperson Verdant Patel, adding that it was very clear that the energy produced at Zaporizhzhya belonged to Ukraine.
Also on Thursday, the Cluster Munitions Coalition (CMC) cited observers as saying that internationally-banned cluster munitions have been used in by Russian forces in Ukraine. Calling the reports “shocking,” the CMC said that the munitions had caused hundreds of casualties since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine began in February.
“Preliminary data indicates at least 689 casualties reported
during cluster munition attacks in Ukraine for the first half of 2022. Many casualties may have gone unrecorded,” it added.
An 2008 international treaty bans cluster munitions, though many key countries, including the United States and Russia, are not signatories to the agreement.
In another hint that the war could still escalate, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday ordered a 137,000-person expansion of the Russian army, growing its entire personnel to over 2 million, including some 1.15 million troops. No official reason was given for the increase.