Ukrainians describe chance survival from rocket attack
It was a simple gesture of politeness that saved her: a young man offered Olga Kukunyuk a seat on a bus transporting Ukrainians in search of pension payments in the war-torn east, but she remained standing.
Volnovakha: It was a simple gesture of politeness that saved her: a young man offered Olga Kukunyuk a seat on a bus transporting Ukrainians in search of pension payments in the war-torn east, but she remained standing.
"And today he is dead," Kukunyuk, 31, said at a hospital in Volnovakha, where she was being treated for wounds to her arm and leg, before breaking down in tears. "If I had been seated in his place, I would be dead."
Her 60-year-old father Anatoly did not survive either, dying in hospital from his wounds.
A rocket that exploded on Tuesday near the bus at a checkpoint at the entrance to the city of Volnovakha in eastern Ukraine, killed 13 people in the worst loss of civilian life in the conflict since a September truce supposed to bring peace.
Both sides in the conflict that has killed more than 4,700 people traded blame in the tragedy, part of a new wave of violence that has rocked eastern Ukraine with negotiations aimed at ending the war having stalled.
Ukrainian soldiers placed a wooden cross at the site of the bus tragedy and candles were placed on the ground while the country observed a day of national mourning on Thursday for the victims.
President Petro Poroshenko, in a clear reference to Russia, said ultimate responsibility rested with "those whose hand feeds (the rebels) and arms them."
Ukrainian authorities and soldiers in the area said pro-Russian rebels had fired some 40 Grad rockets around the checkpoint on the day the bus was hit.
The Russian foreign ministry`s rights envoy however blamed Ukraine`s military. Later, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov conceded that "there are... several versions (of the incident). We need to examine them."Wounded passengers from the bus were meanwhile left to cope with their injuries and the loss of family members in addition to what they had witnessed.
The incident also underlined the desperation among residents of eastern Ukraine, with a number of passengers having taken the bus to collect pension or welfare payments.
Kiev has cut off all financing to rebel-held areas, while banks have closed in the war-ravaged city of Donetsk, now a rebel bastion.
As a result, residents travel to government-controlled areas to collect their pensions, sometimes by presenting false proof of residence, while others go in search of working cash machines.
The bus had been travelling in the direction of Donetsk, with some passengers returning home after they had gone to government-controlled Volnovakha.
"It was completely full," said Valery Zubkov, 65, a retired Donetsk resident who had gone to visit his sister and was now being treated at the hospital in Volnovakha.
"After about 10 or 15 minutes, we were stopped at a checkpoint. Two minutes later, we heard a huge explosion."
All the windows were blown out and Zubkov managed to climb through one before being helped by a Ukrainian soldier, who brought him to a first aid post. At the hospital, his arm was in a cast, his leg shaking.
The chief doctor at the Volnovakha clinic, Oleksandr Bezugmy, said 18 people had been hospitalised after the incident.
Twelve were still being treated in stable condition, while two had died. One woman was evacuated to Mariupol on the coast of the Sea of Azov, the last major eastern city controlled by Kiev, while three others returned home.
"Many had come to collect their pensions, and just like that, there was this colossal tragedy," said an exhausted Bezugmy, 35.
Vladimir Khorodiajny, a 59-year-old sharing a hospital room with five others who were wounded, had gone to collect social payments for his wife.
Despite the risks, he said he will continue to travel between his hometown of Makiivka on the outskirts of Donetsk and areas controlled by Kiev.
"There is no other choice," he said.