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UK PM visits Ukraine after deadly railway station attack

Kyiv, Ukraine | April 9, 2022, Saturday @ 15:15 in World » GENERAL | By: AFP | Views: 1699
UK PM visits Ukraine after deadly railway station attack

(FILES) Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson (R) listens as Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses by video link attendees attending a meeting of the leaders of the the Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF), a coalition of 10 states focused on security in northern Europe, at Lancaster House, in London on March 15, 2022. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is on Tuesday hosting a summit with leaders from Nordic countries and Russia's Baltic neighbours. (JUSTIN TALLIS / POOL / AFP)

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(AFP) - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson paid an unannounced visit to Kyiv Saturday in a "show of solidarity" with Ukraine a day after a missile strike killed dozens at a railway station in the country's east.

Six weeks into Russia's invasion, Moscow has shifted its focus to eastern and southern Ukraine after stiff resistance ended plans to swiftly capture the capital.

Western leaders mobilised to back President Volodymyr Zelensky as details emerged of the devastating attack on Kramatorsk's station with civilians seeking to flee a feared Russian offensive.

Johnson tweeted that Britain was "setting out a new package of financial and military aid which is a testament of our commitment to his country's struggle against Russia's barbaric campaign".

As part of the solidarity campaign, a global pledging event for Ukrainian refugees raised 10.1 billion euros ($11 billion), European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said in Warsaw.

With thousands killed in fighting and more than 11 million fleeing their homes or the country, Zelensky said the Kramatorsk strike marked a fresh atrocity that required Western action.

"This is another Russian war crime for which everyone involved will be held accountable," he said in a video message, calling for "a firm global response to this war crime".

Zelensky later said he was "still ready" to continue talks with Russia to resolve the conflict, after talks with visiting Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer.

US President Joe Biden accused Russia of being behind a "horrific atrocity" in Kramatorsk, the de facto capital of the Ukrainian-controlled Donetsk region, and France condemned the strike as a "crime against humanity".

Moscow denied responsibility for the rocket attack on Friday morning, which killed 52 people including five children and injured a further 109 victims, according to the latest official count.

The Ukrainian president said the bombing had been reported in Russia before the missiles had even landed and called for more weaponry to counter Moscow's aggression.

"I am sure that the victory of Ukraine is just a matter of time, and I will do everything to reduce this time," he added.

- 'For our children' -

Minibuses assembled at a church in Kramatorsk to collect shaken evacuees on Saturday. Almost 80 people, most of them elderly, took shelter overnight in the building, not far from the targeted station.

"There were around 300 to 400 people who rushed here after the strike," Yevgeny, a member of the Protestant church, told AFP.

"They were traumatised. Half of them ran to shelter in the cellar, others wanted to leave as soon as possible. Some were evacuated by bus in the afternoon (on Friday)."

The station in Kramatorsk was being used as the main evacuation hub for refugees from the parts of the eastern Donbas region still under Ukrainian control.

AFP reporters at the station saw the remains of the missile tagged in white paint with the words "for our children" in Russian. The expression is frequently used by pro-Russian separatists in reference to their losses since the start of the first Donbas war in 2014.

The governor of Donetsk claimed a missile with cluster munitions was used in the attack, according to remarks published by the Interfax news agency.

The strike came as von der Leyen and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell were in Kyiv for talks with Zelensky and to visit the scene of civilian killings in Bucha.

Russia faces "decay" because of ever tougher sanctions and Ukraine had a "European future", von der Leyen said at a news conference with Zelensky.

"My instinct says: If this is not a war crime, what is a war crime?" she said of the Bucha killings, calling for a thorough investigation.

Russian troops appear to be seeking to create a long-sought land link between occupied Crimea and the Moscow-backed separatist territories of Donetsk and Lugansk in the Donbas region.

"It's clear that the war will be decided in the battle of Donbas," Borrell said on Saturday as he and von der Leyen left Ukraine.

Civilians have been urged to flee the heavy shelling there that has laid waste to towns and complicated evacuation efforts.

The defence ministry in Moscow said Saturday that Russian forces had destroyed an ammunition depot in the Dnipro region, and struck 85 Ukrainian military targets in the previous 24 hours.

"There is no secret -- the battle for Donbas will be decisive. What we have already experienced -- all this horror -- it can multiply," warned Lugansk regional governor Sergiy Gaiday.

In the south, the Black Sea port city of Odessa braced for rocket attacks, imposing a weekend curfew.

Residents and Ukrainian officials returning after a Russian withdrawal from an area near Kyiv, meanwhile, were taking stock of the scale of the devastation.

Bucha -- where authorities say hundreds were killed, some with their hands bound -- has become a byword for the brutality allegedly inflicted under Russian occupation.

But Zelensky warned worse was being uncovered.

"They have started sorting through the ruins in Borodianka," northwest of Kyiv, he said. "It is much more horrific there. There are even more victims of Russian occupiers."

- Sanctions bite -

Moscow has denied targeting civilians, but growing evidence of atrocities has galvanised Ukraine's allies in the EU, which has approved an embargo on Russian coal and the closure of its ports to Russian vessels.

The bloc has frozen 30 billion euros in assets from Russian and Belarusian individuals and companies, it said Friday.

It also blacklisted Putin's two adult daughters and more than 200 others as part of its latest sanctions package, according to an official list.

The United States and Britain had already sanctioned the Russian leader's daughters.

Borrell has pledged the EU would supply 7.5 million euros to train Ukrainian prosecutors to investigate war crimes allegedly committed by Russia. He was to meet with the International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor on Sunday.

Ukraine has welcomed new pressure on Moscow, but it continues to push for harsher sanctions and more heavy weaponry.

"Either you help us now -- and I'm speaking about days, not weeks -- or your help will come too late and many people will die, many civilians will lose their homes, many villages will be destroyed," foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said after meeting NATO foreign ministers in Brussels.

Britain said Friday it was sending Ukraine more "high-grade military equipment" including Starstreak anti-aircraft missiles and 800 anti-tank missiles, while Slovakia said it had given Ukraine an S-300 air defence system.

Western companies have joined the effort to isolate Russia, with US video hosting service YouTube blocking the channel of the Russian lower house of parliament. Russian officials warned of reprisals.

As sanctions bite, credit rating agency S and P Global Ratings downgraded Russia's foreign currency payments rating to "selective default" after Moscow paid a dollar-denominated debt in rubles this week.

© Agence France-Presse 

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