Two days after a Russian rocket attack hit a train station in the city of Kramatorsk in eastern Ukraine, killing more than 50 people, volunteer drivers in the Donetsk region are coming forward to help residents who are still looking for an expected attack from Russian troops.
“We don’t have much time,” said Yuroslav Boyko, who is from Kramatorsk. he leads Everything will be finea Ukrainian aid organization that has been working to evacuate people from Donetsk since the beginning of the Russian invasion.
As Russia continued to rally troops near eastern Ukraine over the weekend and hit residential areas there on Sunday, thousands of civilians fled eastern and southern Ukraine at the urging of local officials, who have warned people to escape while there is still time. is.
“In my estimate, the Donetsk region could be surrounded in three to four days,” said Mr Boyko. “We have to make sure that anyone who wants to leave can get out.”
Mr Boyko, 40, says he lost one of his volunteers, Roman Sementsov, in the attack in Kraamtorsk. In a Facebook post on Friday he praised Mr. Sementsov for helping thousands of people find safety.
Mr Boyko says he believes Russia deliberately targeted the station as it had served as an evacuation center since the invasion began. But the number of casualties could have been much greater, he added, noting that many trains had been canceled the day of the attack due to track damage from a Russian missile attack the night before.
“It was a happy coincidence that they weren’t functioning properly,” he said. Two train stations are still operational in the Donetsk region — in the cities of Sloviansk and Pokrovsk — but residents have been wary of gathering at stations since the attack, he said.
Since Friday, Mr Boyko says he has been inundated with calls from people hoping to volunteer and help with evacuations. He estimated that he had received nearly 70 requests from drivers on Sunday alone who would be ready to start their commute Monday.
“Every day the number is increasing,” he said. “These are ordinary people, from all over Ukraine, who just want to help.”
The volunteer fleet consists of at least 400 vehicles – including city buses and private vans – driven by about 1,000 volunteer drivers, who fan out daily to towns and villages in Donetsk to pick up passengers.
“We are now doing everything we can to avoid mass casualties,” he said, noting that organizers have redesigned evacuation routes to prevent large groups from gathering in open spaces.
For security reasons, passengers must contact volunteers directly to book tickets and will not be given pick-up locations or instructions until two hours prior to departure. Local officials have also been instructed not to advertise bus routes or timetables on social media too long before departure.
“We could see another Mariupol here,” Mr Boyko said, referring to the southern city that has been surrounded and bombed by Russian forces for weeks. “We hope our armed forces can maintain their positions, but they are outnumbered.”
SOURCE – www.nytimes.com