In interviews with Washington Post reporters on Thursday, the civilians described the reason for their trip. Some were medics, crossing battle lines to perform life-saving surgeries in hospitals that Russian forces failed to adequately restock. Others were ordinary civilians trying to rescue loved ones too old or infirm to make the journey themselves.
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“What choice do I have? He is from my family,” said one man, Serhiy, as he waited to join the convoy, asking that his surname not be used for fear of his safety. Serhiy said he understood the danger but saw no other option.
Many residents of occupied Ukrainian territory who stayed at home after the invasion and takeover by Russian forces have finally decided to flee in recent days, following Putin’s announcement of his annexation plans.
Early Friday, as the convoy waited to depart, three missiles slammed into the ground around the vehicles, eyewitnesses at the scene said.
It was unclear which bodies lay under the blankets and tarpaulins that assembled security forces and medics used to wrap the dead.
Some of the victims fell next to their cars or into the bushes where they had rushed to safety.
Hours after the attack, several shell-shocked survivors were still there, lost. When one of them received a phone call, he would pick up and simply say, “I’m here. I’m alive,” then hung up.
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At least 25 people were killed in the strikes, officials said.
In local hospitals, operating theater surgeons were battling to save the lives and limbs of at least 15 other victims of the missile attack.
Ukrainian officials said the missiles appeared to have been fired from an S-300 surface-to-air system.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has in recent days accused Russia of firing missiles at civilian infrastructure and other non-military targets. Zelensky denounced the longer-range strikes as an act of cowardice after the disorderly retreat of Russian soldiers from the northeast Kharkiv region.