Ukraine blames insurgents for the massacre of fleeing refugees in 'missile' strike
Ukraine accused pro-Russian rebels of killing dozens of fleeing refugees in a missile strike in the east of the country yesterday, a claim that was strongly denied by the separatists.
Ukraine's National Security and Defence Council (SNBO) called the attack a "bloody crime" and said that dozens of civilians "including women and children" had died.
Grad missile launchers and mortars "passed to the bandits by the Russian Federation" were used to fire on a convoy of refugees trying to leave the war zone, said Andriy Lysenko, an SNBO spokesman.
"The rebels were expecting the convoy and destroyed it entirely. We haven't been able to count the number of victims . . . dozens (were killed)," Mr Lysenko said in a briefing to journalists.
Russia denies passing weapons to the rebels, who have been fighting government forces since April, and a separatist leader said Ukrainian forces themselves were likely to blame if the refugees had been hit.
Details of the alleged attack were thin, and the SNBO said it was clarifying the number of casualties.
Anatoly Proshin, a Ukrainian military spokesman, said the convoy had been hit by "a powerful artillery strike" between the villages of Khryashchuvatye and Novosvitlivka, near the city of Luhansk, a rebel stronghold.
"People were burned alive in the vehicles - they didn't have time to get out," he told the Ukrainian news channel 112.ua.
However, in a separate interview with the Ukrainskaya Pravda website, Mr Proshin said that although the convoy had been waving white flags, the refugees were being transported by the army in military vehicles.
Andrei Purgin, deputy prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, denied the rebels were involved.
"The Ukrainians themselves have bombed the road constantly with airplanes and Grads," he said. "It seems they've now killed more civilians like they've been doing for months now. We don't have the ability to send Grads into that territory."
The alleged shelling took place on the road that a Russian humanitarian aid convoy would probably take if it crosses the Ukrainian border and heads for Luhansk, as planned.
The convoy of 270 trucks has been parked on the Russian side of the border since last week as Moscow and Kiev haggle over the terms of its entry.
Russia and Ukraine's foreign ministers, Sergei Lavrov and Pavlo Klimkin, met for crisis talks with their German and French counterparts in Berlin at the weekend..
Mr Lavrov said last night that the two sides had reached an agreement on delivering the aid but there was no progress on a political settlement of the conflict. Ukraine said the talks had been "complex". (© Daily Telegraph, London)