The Russian missile missed the target by 200 meters. The crater is there, like the footprint of a giant, among the rubble of adjoining houses. 200 meters away is the Chaplino Train Station in eastern Ukraine. The Russian objective was military units stationed on the roads, according to the residents of the town. The attack occurred on August 24, the day on which Ukraine commemorates its independence, a sovereignty that Moscow wants to end with iron and fire. 25 people were killed, according to the office of President Volodymyr Zelensky. One of the dead was Vlad, an 11-year-old boy who lived a few meters from the crater. Two days later, his father had lost his voice, hoarse from crying so much.
Vera Yshenko was the grandmother of 6-year-old Matvi, another Chaplino child who died under Russian bombs. The woman stood guard Friday morning, hours before the funeral of her grandson, in front of the garden of her house with a death wreath on her lap and a toy under her arm, a small robot that she wanted to bury next to the coffin of her grandson. Yshenko feels anger, not only against the Russian invader, but also against the Ukrainian Army: “For independence day they warned that the Russians could intensify the bombing, but those military trains were at the station, and they knew they were a target. Why did they leave them there?
Chaplino is a humble district of 3,700 inhabitants, with one-story houses scattered among fields of sunflowers, walnut trees and half-paved streets. The core of the municipality are the train tracks and the station. The majority of its population is linked to the Ukrainian railway company, Ukrzaliznytsia. The town is a strategic railway hub between the city of Dnipro and the provinces of Donetsk and Zaporizhia; the latter in the middle of the war front, with the Russians occupying a good part of both territories. Chaplino is located just 40 kilometers from the Donetsk trenches. Its station has been a node for transporting goods, especially mining, but it is currently also an enclave through which military convoys circulate and operate. On Friday at noon, during the visit of this newspaper, a train loaded with artillery pieces, armored vehicles and military trucks left Chaplino heading west.
Crater caused by a Russian missile in the village of Cheplino, eastern UkraineCristian Segura
The military authorities did not give EL PAÍS authorization to access the station, alleging that it is a strategic infrastructure. The decision contrasts with the free passage that the Donetsk military government gave journalists last April at the Kramatorsk train station, when Russian Toshka-U missiles killed more than 50 civilians, passengers waiting to be evacuated away from the hottest war zone.
Join EL PAÍS to follow all the news and read without limits.
A press officer from the military administration of the Chaplino district accompanied this newspaper at all times during the tour of the municipality. Neither she nor her superiors wanted to confirm or deny that there were military units at the station at the time of the attack. Nor have they wanted to specify whether or not soldiers died. Mikola Karnauch, representative of the municipal administration, assured that she could not detail who the 25 dead civilians were, beyond the 5 dead in Chaplino. Karnauch added that they could be passengers and staff of the railway company.
The Russian Defense Ministry said that an Iskander missile had killed 200 reservist soldiers in Chaplino who were being transported to the Donetsk front, in addition to destroying 10 large-caliber weapons. A video released by Russian propaganda accounts, obtained from a person who recorded the firefighting efforts, showed that military trucks were being transported on at least one of the burned trains. The first rocket that fell on Chaplino hit the residential area and ended the life of little Vlad. An hour later, at 2:45 p.m. on Wednesday, the Russians corrected the coordinates and a second round of missiles hit the station premises.
The emergency services informed the Ukrainian state agency Ukrinform that eight projectiles hit Chaplino, all of them with low precision: in addition to the Iskander, the Russian artillery would have used Smerch multi-launch missiles and cluster bombs, a munition that distributes its impact in multiple small explosives and that are prohibited by 110 countries due to the indiscriminate damage they cause in a wide radius.
Cluster bombs in the yard
Elena Budnik, a resident of the station, saw the cluster bombs fall. On Friday, the day after the attack, Budnik, 65, is still picking up shell fragments that fell in her yard, shaded by apple trees and a vine. This former employee of the municipal movie theater speaks Russian and remembers that she studied engineering in St. Petersburg. Budnik emphasizes these biographical brushstrokes to add between tears: “We no longer want to know anything about Russia, we want to be free.” A local station from Dnipro province plays on the radio of a car parked in front of the gate of her house. The radio broadcasts an announcement from the Ukrainian Armed Forces, which is repeated every half hour, aimed at possible Russian soldiers who were listening to the frequency: “Surrender, you will be treated with dignity, you do not have to die for the regime of Vladimir Putin”.
Budnik admits that he imagined that something serious could happen at Chaplino, because the loading and unloading of military equipment is constant: “There were already other attempts to destroy the station, but the anti-aircraft defenses had worked.” Vera Yshenko remembers that at least last April the anti-aircraft batteries near Chaplino shot down several missiles.
Lidia Cherenitshenko, a retired employee of the Ukrainian railway company, collects broken glass from the windows of her house, a damage caused by the blast wave of a missile. Asked for the reasons why she believes that Russia attacked Chaplino, Cherenitshenko takes a few long seconds to dry her tears and meditate on her words. She is afraid that an attack will happen again. She looks suspiciously at the press representative of the military administration, but in the end she speaks: “The station was full of soldiers”.
Elena Budnik shows the remains of a Russian missile that fell in her yard, on August 24 in Chaplino, Ukraine. Cristian Segura
An Amnesty International report last July caused a stir in Ukraine by warning its Armed Forces that establishing military units in urban areas could cause civilian deaths. It is also common for military detachments not to spend the night in the barracks, for fear of Russian bombing, and the soldiers are distributed in hotels and residential buildings near the base. This has been verified by this newspaper in Dnipro, Kharkov and also in Donetsk. The Ukrainian government argues that on the zero front line, where the two Armies are fighting face to face —this is not the case with Chaplino—, it is impossible to fight avoiding civilian nuclei, so evacuation has become practically mandatory. The district where Chaplino is located is not within the evacuation zones.
“Only God knows what the Russians will do,” says Olena Maniko, mayor of the town, while distributing food packages, the day after the attack, that Christian entities had donated to the families of the victims. Visibly affected, she asks for an anxiolytic. In a statement that she published in May on the Facebook profile of the Chaplino community, the councilor already urged residents who lived near the tracks to stay away from the infrastructure during aerial alarms.
More than 5,500 civilians killed
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights had confirmed until August 22 that more than 5,500 civilians had lost their lives in the war in Ukraine, including 446 minors. This body assumes that the real number is “considerably higher.”
Follow all the international information on Facebook and Twitter, or in our weekly newsletter.
Subscribe to continue reading
read without limits