First there was a loud bang, not like the other explosions. Then there was a short silence. Finally, a whistling noise began to be heard, the sound of something approaching at great speed. “I jumped under the bench and lay down on my side. If I hadn’t heard that sound, I wouldn’t have hidden and I could have died.”
On April 8, 2022, Vladislav Kopichko was one of more than 500 people who were at Kramatorsk station waiting for a train to take them from the Donetsk region, in eastern Ukraine, away from the battlefront. By 10:28 am, the site was attacked with cluster bombs. “While I was under the bench I heard one more explosion and then ten more explosions,” reports Vladislav. As he got up, he noticed that beside him was a dead man and that he himself had wounds on his back, pelvis and buttocks.
At least 58 people were killed in the attack on Kramatorsk station and more than 100 were injured, making it one of the deadliest bombings for civilians since the start of the Russian invasion a year ago. Ukraine blamed Russia, which denied responsibility and said it was the Ukrainians who mounted “a provocation”.
on one long report Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Tuesday that “evidence strongly indicates that the missile that killed and wounded civilians at Kramatorsk railway station was fired from Russian-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine.” The non-governmental organization accuses Russia of having committed a war crime.
Vladislav Kopichko was one of 69 people HRW interviewed in May last year when a team went to Kramatorsk to investigate the attack. More than 200 videos and photographs of the site, satellite images and areas previously occupied by Russian soldiers were also analysed. The organization believes it has identified the site from which the missile was launched, in Kunie, in the Kharkiv region.
A cluster bomb was used in the attack on the station: a Tochka-U ballistic missile – which both Russia and Ukraine have in their arsenals – carrying about 50 explosives inside. Fragmentation weapons are indiscriminately targeted as they burst in mid-air and scatter the smallest bombs over a large area. Many do not explode immediately and remain a hazard for years. There is a UN convention that prohibits their use, but neither Russia nor Ukraine are signatories.
“Between 14 and 19 May, HRW identified 32 separate impact sites where ordnance landed and detonated, including on the ground around the train station, on the roof of the station, on platforms, next to nearby shops and in the car park. east of the main entrance to the station,” says the report. The impact marks were spread “over an area of approximately 55,000 square meters, equivalent to almost ten football fields.”
Next to Kunie, which is close to Izium, the organization was in a place that during the Russian occupation was used as a military base. Satellite images and photographs from last year appear to show Tochka-U missile storage. “They would load them, then drive into the fields or forests nearby and shoot from there. I heard several launches”, told HRW a resident of the area, who preferred to remain anonymous.
Based on videos and photographs from the station, HRW concluded that in Kramatorsk there was “no one wearing military uniforms” or “military equipment or vehicles” at the time of the attack. “Even if the use of the station and railway facilities in Kramatorsk were for military purposes, the April 8 attack would have been illegally disproportionate,” the report reads. “Bombing a train station in the morning, when it was full of civilian passengers, families and workers, instead of doing it at night, when it would be much less crowded, shows disrespect for the lives of civilians”, accuses HRW.
This is not the first time the organization has accused Russia of using cluster weapons in Ukraine. This will have happened right in the first days of war in Kharkiv, for example. “The brutal effects of cluster weapons on crowds of people should send a clear message to Russian forces to stop using these banned weapons,” said HRW researcher Richard Weir.