Skip to main content

Civilian caravan attacked in Ukraine, military says

By Will Ripley and Victoria Butenko, CNN
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2236 GMT (0636 HKT)
  • Refugees came under attack in Luhansk on Monday, government officials say
  • A military spokesman says "terrorists" killed civilians, including women and children
  • Col. Andriy Lysenko says government forces have regained part of Luhansk city
  • He says pro-Russian rebels used Uragan rocket launchers in fighting for the first time

Kiev, Ukraine (CNN) -- Civilians, including women and children, have been killed in an attack on a caravan of refugees in Ukraine's eastern Luhansk region, the Ukrainian military said Monday.

The civilians were trying to escape fighting between pro-Russian rebels and the Ukrainian military but were not in an established humanitarian safety corridor when they came under fire, a military representative said.

The civilians were being escorted by the Ukrainian military from the towns of Khryaschuvate and Novosvitlivka when they were attacked at 9:40 a.m. local time (2:40 a.m. ET), the Kiev-recognized Luhansk Regional Government said.

A government representative confirmed that there had been "heavy gunfire" in the area and that the victims had been unable to call for help as mobile phone towers were down.

Ukrainian MiG shot down by separatists
Ukraine's rich donate to military
Ukrainian servicemen walk past an armored personnel carrier in the village of Peski, Ukraine, on Wednesday, November 19. Fighting between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian rebels in the country has left more than 4,000 people dead since mid-April, according to the United Nations. Ukrainian servicemen walk past an armored personnel carrier in the village of Peski, Ukraine, on Wednesday, November 19. Fighting between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian rebels in the country has left more than 4,000 people dead since mid-April, according to the United Nations.
Crisis in Ukraine
Photos: Crisis in Ukraine Photos: Crisis in Ukraine
Ukraine military fires on Russian convoy
Russian military convoy enters Ukraine

Ukrainian Col. Andriy Lysenko told CNN that "terrorists" had attacked the caravan with guns from Russia.

Lysenko later told media that preliminary information indicated that the attack had been an ambush. The caravan was almost destroyed, and tens of people were killed, he said. Lysenko said that people had been registering to leave with the caravan for several days before the attack.

Ukraine's state information agency reported that Grad launchers and mortars had been fired at those trying to leave the war zone.

There had been 25 battles in the past 24 hours, with government forces regaining part of the city of Luhansk, Lysenko said. "Luhansk is almost fully encircled, and the operation to free it is going on right now," he said.

The rebels had used Uragan rocket launchers for the first time, Lysenko said.

Ukraine on Sunday reported gains against the rebels, saying the army had entered Donetsk and raised the Ukrainian flag in front of the district's police offices. Ukrainian forces also regained control of the strategic town of Yasynuvata in Donetsk in the southeastern part of the country, according to the official Twitter account of President Petro Poroshenko.

On Monday, Russian state-run news agency RIA Novosti reported that the self-styled Donetsk People's Republic had announced the death penalty would be introduced "for the gravest crimes."

Once the war ended, the group would step "on the path of humanization of the criminal law," RIA Novosti quoted a DPR minister as saying, after a meeting of its council Sunday.

Humanitarian agencies say thousands of people in the region don't have access to water, electricity and proper medical aid.

Ongoing fighting downed power lines and stopped Donetsk city's water treatment plant from working Sunday, the City Council said. The Donetsk City Council announced on its website that the water supply would be cut off starting at 9 p.m. local time (2 p.m. ET). In a new statement Monday, it said the supply remained disrupted, with fighting hindering repairs.

Ukrainian officials acknowledged Sunday that a convoy of more than 260 Russian vehicles on the border is, in fact, carrying humanitarian aid, a statement on the Ukrainian Cabinet website said.

Ukraine received an inventory of the supplies Saturday, which was signed by the head of the regional International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) delegation to Russia.

But Col. Lysenko said Monday that failure to reach an agreement on safety with the ICRC had prevented a detailed inspection.

Map: Location of Russian convoy
Map: Location of Russian convoy

The convoy initially sparked fears that Russia was trying to use a humanitarian convoy as a cover for sending in more aid and weapons for pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine, which Russia and the rebels denied.

The ongoing fighting -- sparked last year by a political crisis over whether Ukraine would seek closer ties with Europe or Russia -- has left more than 2,000 people dead and just under 5,000 wounded in eastern Ukraine since mid-April, according to estimates from U.N. officials.

What's happening in Ukraine?

Progress reported in cease-fire talks

The foreign ministers of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France met in Berlin on Sunday to discuss the crisis in Ukraine.

"We discussed the question of how we can find ways to reach an urgently needed cease-fire in eastern Ukraine," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said. "We discussed the question of how we can improve and optimize controls at the Russian-Ukrainian border."

Steinmeir said progress had been made in certain areas and the parties were looking at further talks.

Russia's Foreign Ministry released a statement saying the talks focused on "the earliest possible termination of the hostilities, border control, humanitarian aid delivery to southeastern Ukraine, and creating the conditions for the earliest beginning of the process of political settlement."

"Some progress was made on all these issues," it said.

The United States and the European Union have applied steadily increasing sanctions against Russian officials, banks and other interests since March, when Russia annexed the Black Sea Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea. Russia's move came a month after Ukraine's parliament ousted pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych.

Yanukovych left office after violent protests against his government in the capital, Kiev. Those protests were motivated in part by his decision to back out of a trade deal with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia.

Aid or invasion? Question looms as Russian convoy nears Ukraine

Opinion: Why Vladimir Putin isn't going to make peace

CNN's Will Ripley and Victoria Butenko reported from Kiev.

Part of complete coverage on
October 3, 2014 -- Updated 0751 GMT (1551 HKT)
Reza Sayah looks into why thousands of Ukrainians have left their old lives to volunteer to fight.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 2048 GMT (0448 HKT)
CNN's Ralitsa Vassileva speaks to The New Republic's Linda Kinstler about Putin's motives with Ukraine and China.
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 1436 GMT (2236 HKT)
President Barack Obama speaks at the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly.
September 9, 2014 -- Updated 1258 GMT (2058 HKT)
Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 broke apart in the air after it was hit by a burst of "high-energy objects" from outside, a preliminary report by Dutch aviation investigators said Tuesday.
September 9, 2014 -- Updated 1134 GMT (1934 HKT)
"There were many scenes that defied logic," writes OSCE spokesman Michael Bociurkiw, who was one of the first international observers to arrive at the site.
September 3, 2014 -- Updated 1611 GMT (0011 HKT)
On a country road in eastern Ukraine, a scene of bucolic tranquility was suddenly interrupted by the aftermath of carnage.
September 2, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
In the city of Donetsk, the devastation wrought by weeks of fighting between pro-Russia rebels and Ukrainian forces is all too apparent.
September 1, 2014 -- Updated 0000 GMT (0800 HKT)
CNN's Diana Magnay reports from the front lines in the Ukrainian conflict.
September 1, 2014 -- Updated 1126 GMT (1926 HKT)
A few miles south of the town of Starobeshevo in eastern Ukraine, a group of men in uniform is slumped under a tree.
August 23, 2014 -- Updated 1343 GMT (2143 HKT)
A shopkeeper's mutilated body, relatives' anguish, homes destroyed ... this is Donetsk.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 1112 GMT (1912 HKT)
A 20-minute drive from Kiev takes you to a neighborhood that feels more like Beverly Hills than central Ukraine.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 1412 GMT (2212 HKT)
Photos illustrate the ongoing crisis in Ukraine as fighting continues to flare in the region.
July 31, 2014 -- Updated 1631 GMT (0031 HKT)
Future imports, exports between the EU and Russia are now banned -- but existing contracts continue.
July 20, 2014 -- Updated 1540 GMT (2340 HKT)
Some contend that larger weapons have come into Ukraine from Russia.
Learn more about the victims, ongoing investigation and the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 0925 GMT (1725 HKT)
The downing Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 put the pro-Russia rebels operating in Ukraine's eastern region center stage.