Ukraine's government and pro-Russian separatists are blaming one another for an attack that reportedly hit at least one bus carrying people who were fleeing the fighting near the eastern city of Luhansk. Ukraine made gains in that area over the weekend; it's not known how many people might have died in Monday's attack.
The attack used both mortars and missiles, Ukraine says. The government held a news conference about the strike Monday; NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson says that so far, it's unknown how many casualties might have been caused. She also notes that a lack of corroborating evidence, such as video, is leading some to doubt the official account.
Reuters quotes military spokesman Anatoly Proshin:
"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."
The agency also quotes Andrei Purgin, deputy prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic:
"The Ukrainians themselves have bombed the road constantly with airplanes and Grads [missile launchers]. 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."
International observers say a humanitarian crisis is brewing in Luhansk, where around 250,000 people have been without power and water for weeks, Soraya says. The conditions have prompted thousands to leave the city.
More updates from Ukraine:
- A Russian convoy of more than 200 trucks carrying humanitarian aid remains halted outside of Ukraine's border.
- The government says its forces moved deep into rebel-held Luhansk, but separatist fighters there also shot down a Ukrainian MiG 29 fighter jet this weekend.
- In Donetsk, the other large city controlled by separatists, heavy fighting has cut off the water supply.
- In Berlin, diplomatic talks between Ukraine and Russia, brokered by Germany and France, ended without a breakthrough.
In a report for Morning Edition today, Soraya spoke with a separatist military commander in Donetsk who goes by the nom de guerre Vargan, a bearded man who's 41 years old.
"Vargan says he was a conscript in the Soviet air force back in 1991," Soraya reports. "He has a Ukrainian ID but calls himself a 'simple Russian soldier.' Nevertheless, killing Ukrainian soldiers makes him unhappy."
"I don't want to fight against my brothers, and it is politicians who are making us do this," Vargan said of the violence.