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Children’s bodies and wreckage of civilian convoy shot by Russian artillery in Ukrainian backstreet – National

KUPIANSK-VUZLOVYI, UKRAINE — A pink children’s hat lay on the gravel next to the metal chassis of a burned minibus and the frames of five burnt cars.

On September 25, 26 Ukrainians were killed when a convoy of civilian vehicles was targeted on this back road southeast of the city of Kharkiv. Nine of his passengers were children.

Andrii Checheniv said he arrived an hour after the attack and saw their bodies.

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Russia’s notorious state media were quick to blame the Ukrainian military. But a Ukrainian war crimes investigation determined that the shootings came from Russian-controlled territory.

The shell fragments found at the scene were of the same type used in heavy artillery mounted on Russian armored vehicles, said Oleksandr Filchakov, prosecutor of the Kharkiv region.

Children’s hats on the road where Russian troops shelled a civilian convoy on September 25th.

Anna Blasenko/Global News

A group of 48 civilians who were attacked around 9 am that morning were part of a systematic evacuation of the city under bombardment. The sign behind the minibus read “Children”.

But like many atrocities over the past nine months, these deaths show a disregard for civilian lives that has characterized President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

So far, 18 bodies have been identified that were recovered from the scene. One of the dead was pregnant. Relatives said the bodies were awaiting release for burial. The casualty count is likely to rise as the investigation progresses.

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Witnesses told Global News that the convoy departed from Kupyansk Vuzrovy, a railway hub that has given it strategic value as the headquarters of the Russian military in the Kharkiv region of eastern Ukraine.

The city remained unarmed from the first hours of the war, as did its neighboring city of Kupiansk across the Oskir River.

However, once the Russians escaped the Ukrainian advance, they adopted a scorched earth tactic, setting fire to the main building they were using as an administrative center. City councils, tax offices, police, prosecutors and judges were all targeted.

A resident stands near rocket debris near his home in Kupyansk, Ukraine, on September 21. (AP Photo/Kostiantyn Liberov).

Due to the heavy shelling, local volunteers formed an evacuation party. Identified only as Dmitro, for seats in cars and minibuses he collected 6,000 hryvnia per person.

“I wanted my brother to go to Finland,” said Bohdan Solodky, who was in the fifth car in the row. Others were on their way to Poltava and Dnipro.

It was difficult for them to assess the dangers that lay ahead. They lived without a TV or phone signal for months. What they heard was that the bridge had been blown away and the only way out of the city was through Russian-controlled territory, so they chose their escape route accordingly.

They met at 7:30 am on September 25th and left an hour later.

It was my second attempt to escape the city. The day before, they had reached the village of Krylivka, but were turned back by the Russians.

This time, when they reached the same spot, all they saw was an abandoned tank and the corpses of Russian soldiers. They were advancing towards Svatove in the Luhansk region when the shooting began.

“Our first car was targeted,” said Olha Tereshchenko, who was fleeing in her car with her husband and son after their home was shelled three days ago.

“And soon in our car, a projectile hit,” she said. “I was stunned. When I turned around, the driver was already dead.” Her husband and her son also died.

Liudmila Potapova was in the third car with her parents, dog, and driver Mykola Bondarenko.

“Everything happened unexpectedly,” Potapova said in an interview. “Even we didn’t understand it at first. Explosions, artillery fire, automatic fire.”

Luidmyla Potapova survived a convoy attack near Kupyansk, Ukraine on September 25th.

Anna Blasenko/Global News

The father, who was in the passenger seat, injured his leg. She tried to get him out of the car, but then the shooting started.

“They fired directly into his head. I saw it personally,” Potapova said. “Bullets whistling overhead”

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Abandoning the car, the survivors crawled toward a row of trees beyond the gunshot. Potapova said she heard what sounded like a crying baby from the minibus.

Eight people reached the forest line. From there, they retreated in the direction they came, always hiding from any Russian vehicles they heard on the move.

“I understand they’re looking for us,” she said.

Abandoned vehicle shelled by Russian forces in September. 25, 2020,.

Anna Blasenko/Global News

Seven of them went home. One was seriously injured. The others tried to bandage him so he wouldn’t bleed. But he couldn’t walk, so they had to leave him.

“I’m sorry,” said Lyudmila’s mother, Tamara Halyshnikova.

When he ran into the scene at 10 a.m., Checheniv said he found children crawling over dead bodies inside minibuses. In the car, he saw one man still alive. Otherwise, there were only corpses there.

He said the minibus had not been burned at the time, meaning the Russian military later set it on fire in an attempt to cover up evidence of the crime.

Checheniv said he put the children in a car and drove to a hospital in Svatove. There was one-year-old Mikhailik, twelve-year-old sister-in-law Marina and five-year-old Polina.

He also took two adult women with him, but he couldn’t afford to accommodate all the wounded.

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With the help of the Red Cross and the prosecution team, most of the surviving children have since been reunited with their families. She was taken to Moscow for surgery and remains in the Russian capital.

The head of the Kharkiv Prosecutor’s Office, Ihor Chub, said at least two children were taken to the so-called Luhansk People’s Republic, referring to the pro-Russian enclave in eastern Ukraine.

“Law enforcement officers are currently working on ways to return these children to Ukraine,” he said.

Denys Derevianko, the father of one of them, said he had heard about the fate of his 10-year-old son Pavlo through Russian media.

“I recognized him and he said they were traveling and were going out through Russia. Through Russia to the Czech Republic where my wife’s aunt was, it was Russian-controlled territory.” said the father.

A Ukrainian war crimes investigator speaks to survivor Mykola Bondarenko at the scene of a convoy attack in the Kharkov area.

Anna Blasenko/Global News

Pablo said his mother had hit her head so hard that she died on the spot. Her brother, her 19-year-old Vlad, was also traveling with them. His body was found 1.5 kilometers from the scene.

Two days after the attack, Ukrainian forces liberated Kupyansk Vuzrovy and the wounded were taken to a hospital in Kharkov.

When reporters visited the scene last month, they could still smell the minibus that had been set on fire. A hole was seen in each car. The leading car was sideways. On the right was a railroad and after that was a forest area.

Survivor Mykola Bondarenko returned to the scene with a team from the Kharkiv War Crimes Office and security forces. He looked inside the car driven by his son who was among the dead.

“I don’t know what happened to him,” he said.

He said organizer Dmitro was not in the motorcade. His whereabouts remain unknown. There are rumors that he died. “I heard from some people I trust that they saw him killed.”

Civilians cross a damaged bridge over the Oskir River during evacuation in Kupyansk, Ukraine, on October 1 (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka).

Prosecutor Chub said he was consistent with survivors’ statements that the shelling came from the side of the front line occupied by the Russian Federation.

“Additionally, some witnesses emphasize that they passed through more than one Russian checkpoint before arriving at the place of execution. It shows that it was under control,” he said.

Another prosecutor, Filchakov, said some 30mm and 45mm high-explosive shells were found at the scene.

These were the same type fired by the Russian BMP2 and 3K Lynx armored vehicles.

Children’s bodies and wreckage of civilian convoy shot by Russian artillery in Ukrainian backstreet – National

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