Kiev accuses rebels of attacking civilian convoy, killing dozens
Dozens of people, including women and children, were killed fleeing fighting in eastern Ukraine today when their convoy of buses was hit by rocket fire, military spokesmen said.
Ukraine accused pro-Russian rebels of targeting the convoy, which it said was bearing white flags when it was hit near the eastern city of Luhansk. The separatists denied responsibility for the attack and one rebel leader suggested the incident might never have taken place.
"The rebels were expecting the convoy and destroyed it entirely," military spokesman Andriy Lysenko told journalists. "We haven't been able to count the number of victims ... dozens [were killed]."
The convoy had been in an area of fierce fighting between government forces and the separatists when it came under fire from rebel Grad and mortar launchers, the spokesmen said.
"A powerful artillery strike hit a refugee convoy near the area of Khryashchuvatye and Novosvitlivka. The force of the blow on the convoy was so strong that people were burned alive in the vehicles - they weren't able to get themselves out," military spokesman Anatoly Proshin told Ukrainian news channel 112.ua.
Describing the attack as a "bloody crime", Lysenko, said: "A lot of people have been killed including women and children. The number of the dead is being established."
A rebel leader denied his forces had the military capability to conduct such an attack, and accused Kiev forces of regularly attacking the area and also using Russian-made Grad missiles.
"The Ukrainians themselves have bombed the road constantly with airplanes and Grads. 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," said Andrei Purgin, deputy prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic.
Another rebel spokesman denied any civilian convoy had been struck, challenging the Kiev authorities to produce evidence.
"As far as I understand, there was no column of refugees in Luhansk region that fell under fire. We [...] did not shoot any convoys [of refugees] with Grads and moreover we did not shoot with any Grads from Russia," said Alexander Zakharchenko, the main rebel leader in Donetsk.