In a bombed-out transit center in southern Ukraine, the horrors of war

In a bombed-out transit center in southern Ukraine, the horrors of war

Hundreds of people waited Friday morning to join a convoy that would allow them to return to southern Ukraine under Russian control. At least 25 died as strikes annihilated the scene on the Ukrainian side, leaving a landscape of utter devastation.

Viktor, 56, owed his rescue to nothing but a craving for coffee and a survival reflex. “The waitress had just handed it to me. And there +bang+. She was scared and left the cafe. A few minutes later there was another explosion. Now she’s on the floor,” dead, he says.

“I managed to hide in a shed. But not her.”

Behind Viktor, the remains of a woman, her torso covered by a blanket, remained dog-eared on the ground next to a brown suitcase. A pool of blood froze near his face.

A few yards away, a young woman in a pink jacket lies on the ground, one leg bent at an impossible angle. Flies buzz around her face with her eyes closed, just as they buzz around the body of another woman lying face down on the floor next to her.

Both died between two rows of cars, the start of a convoy promised return to southern Ukraine under Russian control. Drivers and passengers waited at the Zaporizhia transit center for the green light, which Viktor says sometimes takes days or even weeks to arrive.

He, like Katia, another prodigy who asks to be called under a false name, had at least 300 cars waiting around 8am on Friday morning when death fell from the sky.

Three S-300 missiles hit the transit center and a small forest nearby, according to Ukrainian security forces. As is so often the case, the Russian side blamed the Ukrainian army.

The next landed in a parking lot about thirty feet from the head of the procession. A crater several meters deep shows the force of the impact.

– “Inhuman” attack –

Of the fifteen affected cars and vans seen by AFP, all windows have been blown out. Passengers, covered with a white sheet, are still inside.

When a soldier opens the door of a small sedan to free a corpse, he first throws that of a small dog on the ground. Then he pulls on his black jacket that of a man whose rigor mortis has frozen while sitting.

In an ambulance parked nearby, half a dozen bodies in black body bags are waiting to be evacuated. Others wait on the ground.

According to Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s Office, at least 25 people were killed and 50 wounded in an “attack by the Russian army on a humanitarian convoy in Zaporizhia,” a major city in southern Ukraine that is still under Kyiv control.

Kyrylo Tymoshenko, a confidante of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, called the attack “inhumane” while his chief of cabinet Andriï Yermak called the Russians “shameless creatures” and “terrorists”. The head of state called him the Russian leader “bloodthirsty scum”.

The strike came hours before his counterpart Vladimir Putin signed on for Russia’s annexation of southern Ukraine and Donbass (east).

Ironically, the victims of the day attempted to reach these occupied areas.

Kherson, like all of southern Ukraine and Donbass, “it’s Ukraine,” nevertheless affirms Katia, for whom “this referendum means nothing.” “I’m Ukrainian, not Russian,” she says.

She is a mother of two children and explains that they are being cared for by relatives in Dnipro, a large central city under Ukrainian control. If she returns to the south, it will only be “because I have no job or accommodation anywhere else”.


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