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Ukraine: At least 30 dead after Russian missile attack on evacuees at train hub

Vladimir Putin may have pulled out of northern Ukraine for the time being, but his methods precede the Russian arrival in force in the east. Ukraine has begun evacuating civilians from the government-controlled areas of Luhansk and Donetsk in anticipation of a major Russian offensive that aims to solidify the status quo ante and provide a face-saving exit from their disastrous war.

The Russians apparently don’t like to see civilians get out of the way:

Two missiles have struck the train station in the Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk, the head of Ukraine’s national rail system, Oleksandr Kamyshin, said on his official Telegram channel Friday.

Pavlo Kyrylenko, the head of Donetsk regional military administration, confirmed that first responders were reporting “dozens” of casualties following the attack.

“Russian fascists hit the Kramatorsk railway station with an Iskander missile strike,” Kyrylenko said on Telegram. “Police and rescuers are reporting dozens of dead and injured.”

Kyrylenko said thousands of people were at the station during the missile strike, amid the evacuation of residents from the Donetsk region to safer areas of Ukraine.

Kramatorsk got hit in the first days of the war too, but now will likely see even more intense fighting. The only way Putin can claim any victory at all now will be to completely sever the southeast from the rest of Ukraine block all access to the Sea of Azov. Mariupol is critical for that, but that city continues to hold out in a quasi-siege that has stalled for weeks. Russians want to flood into Luhansk and Donetsk to completely seize those territories and cut off Ukrainian lines of communication to Mariupol and the Sea of Azov. The rail lines will no doubt be of value to Russia later if they can succeed, but for now they want to deny their use to the Ukrainians … regardless of its use as an evacuation line at the moment.

In other words, it’s an atrocity — but Russian atrocities keep multiplying. The Associated Press reports that the body count in Kramatorsk has hit at least thirty, but the Ukrainians are finding far worse as they re-invest the areas Russians are abandoning in the north:

Ukrainian leaders predicted more gruesome discoveries would be made in reclaimed cities and towns as Russian soldiers retreat to focus on eastern Ukraine, where officials said a Russian rocket attack on a packed train station used to evacuate civilians killed over 30 people Friday.

Hours after warning that Ukraine’s forces already had found worse scenes of brutality in a settlement north of Kyiv, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that “thousands” of people were at the station in Kramatorsk, a city in the eastern Donetsk region, when it was hit by a missile. …

In his nightly video address, Zelenskyy predicted more gruesome discoveries would be made in northern cities and towns the Russians withdrew from the concentrate on eastern Ukraine. He said evidence of civilians killed at close range and dumped on streets in Bucha already had surfaced in a worse way in Borodianka, another settlement outside the capital.

Zelensky again challenged the world to answer the Russian atrocities as they continue to mount:

“And what will happen when the world learns the whole truth about what the Russian troops did in Mariupol?” Zelenskyy said late Thursday, referring to the besieged southern port that has seen some of the greatest suffering since Russia invaded Ukraine. “There on every street is what the world saw in Bucha and other towns in the Kyiv region after the departure of the Russian troops. The same cruelty. The same terrible crimes.”

This latest atrocity has produced a specific reaction. Slovakia, a country with ethnic ties to both Ukraine and Russia, has transferred the most advanced Russian anti-aircraft system that European nations have in their inventories. It’s not MiGs, but the S-300 will definitely put a dent in Russia’s fumbling efforts to claim air superiority:

It’s not clear which S-300 Slovakia has to transfer. The S-300P is for anti-aircraft only, and is the older of the series. The S-300V, developed in the early 1980s, has anti-ballistic-missile capabilities. Those systems began widespread distribution in the late 1980s, but it’s not clear how many of those would have been sent to the Soviet-dominated states in eastern Europe before the collapse of the Iron Curtain in 1990.

By the way, Slovakia wouldn’t have given those up without a promise of replacement by the US or UK. They’ll likely be getting upgrades for air defense systems shortly, a quieter version of the proposed swaps of older MiGs for US fighters that the Biden administration first encouraged and then quashed. Ukraine will need more such systems to discourage sorties by Russian pilots, but this is at least a start. If you want to read more on the deployment of S-300s and S-400s in the Russian doctrine of anti-access area denial or A2AD, read this January 2017 analysis at CSIS.

Ukraine understands the significance of interlocking and overlapping deployments of multiple S-300s:

Would that have prevented or blocked the missile attack on Kramatorsk? It’s unclear what exactly hit the train station. Christopher Miller reports that it was a Tochka-U strike, a ballistic missile from a self-propelled artillery system that an S-300V system theoretically could have countered. A robust systematic air defense of multiple S-300Vs might have discouraged such an attack. But that’s a big might, since Russians have proven to be remarkably ready and willing to commit war crimes against fellow Slav civilians since the start of this war.

It’s the most barbarous conduct seen from a European nation since World War II, and it makes Vladimir Putin’s claims to be fighting Nazis look like the world’s worst case of projection — ever.