Two days after a Russian missile attack on a train station in the city of Kramatorsk, eastern Ukraine, killed more than 50 people, volunteer drivers across the Donetsk region are moving forward to help those civilians were still trying to flee from an expected attack from Russian forces.
“We don’t have much time,” says Yuroslav Boyko, from Kramatorsk. He’s at the top Everything’s gonna Be Alrighta Ukrainian aid organization that has been working to evacuate people from Donetsk since the Russian invasion began.
As Russia continued to strengthen its forces near eastern Ukraine over the weekend and attacked residential areas there on Sunday, thousands of civilians fled eastern and southern Ukraine at the urging of officials. local authorities, who warned people to escape while there was still time.
“By my estimation, the Donetsk region could be besieged within three to four days,” Boyko said. “We need to make sure that everyone who wants to leave can get out.”
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 said he believes Russia deliberately targeted the station, as it has served as an evacuation center since the start of the invasion. But the casualty toll could have been much worse, he added, noting that many trains were canceled on the day of the attack due to rail damage from a Russian missile attack the night before. prior to.
“It was a funny coincidence that they weren’t working properly,” he said. Two train stations are still operating in the Donetsk region – in the towns of Sloviansk and Pokrovsk – but residents have become wary of congregating in stations since the attack, he said.
Since Friday, Mr Boyko said he has been inundated with calls from people hoping to volunteer and help with the evacuation. He estimates that he received nearly 70 requests on Sunday alone from drivers who will be ready to begin departures on Monday.
“Every day the numbers are growing,” he said. “These are ordinary people, from all over Ukraine, who just want to help.”
A fleet of volunteer vehicles consisting of at least 400 vehicles – including city buses and private vans – operated by around 1,000 volunteer drivers who travel daily to towns and villages across Donetsk to pick up passengers .
We are doing everything we can to avoid mass casualties, he said, noting that organizers have redrawn evacuation routes to prevent large groups from congregating in open spaces.
For security reasons, passengers must contact volunteers directly to book tickets and may not be given a pick up location or directions until two hours before departure. Local officials have also been instructed not to advertise bus routes or schedules on social media too far before departure time.
“We might see another Mariupol here,” said Boyko, referring to the southern city that has been surrounded and bombarded by Russian troops for weeks. “We hope that our armed forces can hold their positions but they are outnumbered.”