Attacks on Ukraine’s rail system could be war crimes, experts say

Russia attack on a Ukrainian train station which killed more than 20 people this week is the latest in a series of strikes on the country’s rail system which some international lawyers say could be war crimes.

While Russia claimed it targeted the train because it was carrying Ukrainian troops and equipment on Wednesday, an Associated Press reporter on the ground said there were no visible indications that Ukrainian troops were among the dead, including children. If civilians were the target, experts said Thursday, the attack could be considered a war crime.

“A train station is generally a civilian object and should not be the target of attack,” said Jennifer Trahan, clinical professor at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs.

Wednesday’s attack in Chaplyne, a small village in southeastern Ukraine, was one of the deadliest in months on the country’s vast rail network. In the more than six months since Russia invaded Ukraine, the AP and the PBS series “Frontline” have independently verified more than 40 attacks on civilian infrastructure that could be considered war crimes. Three of them hit the country’s rail infrastructure and seven involved local bus stops, killing more than 100 civilians. In these attacks, there has been little evidence to support Moscow’s claims that Ukrainian troops were the target.

Wednesday’s deadly strike came as Ukrainians defiantly celebrated their independence day while remaining on high alert for threats that Russia would use to stage attacks.


This story is part of an ongoing investigation by The Associated Press and the PBS series “Frontline” which includes the Monitoring of war crimes in Ukraine interactive experience and an upcoming documentary.


More than 50 people, including children, were on their way to flee Donbass when they were killed in a Russian attack on a train station in Kramatorsk in April. Photos from the aftermath showed corpses and abandoned luggage strewn around the station. The wagons were crushed and hollowed out by the fire.

Mykola Lukashuk, chairman of the Dnipropetrovsk Regional Council, told a press briefing on Friday that the shelling of Chaplyne caused a fire in five carriages of the train. A family, including a 17-year-old girl, was killed when their car was hit while returning from Donetsk.

“People were being evacuated from Pokrovsk, Donetsk region, and a train was going from there to Lviv,” Lukashuk said.

Deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential office Kyrylo Tymoshenko said on Thursday an 11-year-old boy died under the rubble of a nearby house and a 6-year-old child died in a car fire near the train station. .

Tetyana Kvitnytska, deputy head of the Dnipropetrovsk regional health department, told the AP that those involved in Wednesday’s attack suffered head injuries, broken limbs, burns and shrapnel wounds. of shells.

“There is no such war crime that the Russian occupiers have not yet committed on the territory of Ukraine,” said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. told the UN Security Council Wednesday.

The Russian Defense Ministry said an Iskander missile was used to carry out the attack and that 200 reservists “were destroyed as they made their way into the combat zone”. An AP reporter who visited the scene said no Ukrainian troops were visible among the dead.

Although some members of the military were among the dead, the attack could still violate the laws of war if it disproportionately injured civilians.

“If you’re going to kill a small number of soldiers rather than a large number of civilians, that’s a war crime,” said Michael Newton, a professor at Vanderbilt University School of Law and program director. international legal studies.

Iskander missiles are expensive precision-guided missiles and are not used for trivial missions, said Frank Ledwidge, a visiting fellow at the Transatlantic Dialogue Center in Kyiv and a former British military intelligence officer.

“The takeout is a deliberate strike on a civilian target to cause civilian casualties with the aim of disrupting civilian rail traffic throughout Ukraine,” he said.

In May, Russia used sea- and air-launched precision missiles at strike electrical installations in five stations mainly in Lviv after claiming that the West was using the railways to deliver arms to Ukraine.

It’s not just stations that have become targets. Dozens of civilians waiting for buses were killed in similar attacks. The AP counted seven incidents in which civilians waiting for a bus were killed. Photos of their bodies lying in pools of blood were shared on Telegram after the fact. In Mykolaiv, five people were killed and a dozen were injured at a bus stop in a Russian attack on July 29. Mykolaiv Mayor Oleksandr Senkevych said on Telegram at the time that Russian forces fired cluster munitions at a crowded intersection around 10 a.m.


Editor’s Note: The AP and “Frontline” collect information from organizations, including the Center for Information Resilience, Bellingcatthe International partnership on human rightsthe Ukrainian Health Center and Physicians for Human Rights to inform the Monitoring of war crimes in Ukraine interactive experience.


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