[Warning: This post includes an image of graphic violence.]
IRPIN, Ukraine — A Russian force advancing on Kyiv fired mortar shells on Sunday at a battered bridge used by evacuees fleeing the fighting, sending panicked civilians running, kicking up a cloud of dust and leaving three members of a family dead on the pavement.
Crowds of hundreds have clustered around the damaged bridge over the Irpin River since Saturday. Ukrainian forces had blown up the bridge earlier to slow the Russian advance. Only a dozen or so Ukrainian soldiers were in the immediate area of the bridge on Sunday, not fighting but helping carry civilians’ luggage and children.
To cross a hundred yards or so of exposed street on the side of the bridge closer to Kyiv, people seeking to flee to the capital formed small groups and made a run for it together. Soldiers ran out, picked up children or luggage, and ran for cover behind a cinder block wall.
The mortar shells fell first 100 or so yards from the bridge, then shifted in a series of thunderous blasts into a section of street where people were fleeing.
As the mortars got closer to the stream of civilians, people ran, pulling children, trying to find a safe spot. But there was nothing to hide behind. A shell landed in the street, sending up a cloud of concrete dust and leaving one family — a mother, a father, a teenage son and a daughter who appeared about 8 years old — sprawled on the ground.
Soldiers rushed to help, but the woman and children were dead. The father still had a pulse but was unconscious and severely wounded.
Their luggage, a blue roller suitcase and some backpacks, was scattered about, along with a green carrying case for a small dog that was barking.
Ukrainian forces were engaged in contract nearby, but not at the site where civilians were moving along the street. Outgoing mortar rounds could be heard from a Ukrainian position about 200 yards away.
The shelling suggested either targeting of the evacuation routes from Irpin, something of which the Ukrainian authorities have accused the Russian army after a railroad track used for evacuations was hit on Saturday, or disregard for the risk of civil consequence.
Russian forces have for days been pushing through three small towns on Kyiv’s northwestern rim, Hostomel, Bucha and Irpin, and the fighting has driven evacuees from the area toward the capital.
Early Sunday morning, the city’s military commander, Oleksiy Kuleba, said in a televised statement that the routes out were so unsafe as to be in effect blocked. “Unfortunately, unless there is a cease-fire,” people could not get out, he said.
But civilians were still trying to escape, first to Kyiv and then perhaps west to somewhere safer.
Soldiers at the site also assisted a wounded member of the Territorial Defense Forces, the organization coordinating armed volunteers in the defense of the city. He had been shot in an arm.
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