Ukrainian family's quest for safety ends in death

IRPIN, Ukraine – The bridge was just a shell of itself, blown up days earlier by Ukrainian soldiers determined to slow the Russian advan...


IRPIN, Ukraine – The bridge was just a shell of itself, blown up days earlier by Ukrainian soldiers determined to slow the Russian advance on the capital, Kiev, but battered as it was, it offered a lifeline to civilians desperate to flee the fight.

On Sunday, as Ukrainian refugees crowded near the entrance to the structure, calculating their chances of crossing the Irpin River safely, a family laden with backpacks and a blue wheeled suitcase decided to attempt their luck.

The Russian mortar hit just as they were crossing Kiev.

A cloud of concrete dust rose in the morning air. When it settled down, we could see Ukrainians madly fleeing the scene. But not the family. A mother and her two children lay motionless on the pavement, accompanied by a family friend.

Russian President Vladimir V. Putin has repeatedly denied that his forces were targeting civilians fleeing combat zones. He did it again on Sunday, a day after a railway line used to evacuate Ukrainians came under fire.

But only a handful of Ukrainian soldiers were near the bridge when the mortar shells started raining down. The soldiers there were not engaged in combat but helped the refugees transport their children and luggage to the capital.

“The army is the army and that’s one thing,” one soldier said bitterly. “But these are civilians, people who waited until the last moment.”

The bridge attack was seen by a New York Times crew, including photojournalist Lynsey Addario, a security adviser, and Andriy Dubchak, a freelance journalist who filmed the scene.

Since Saturday, hundreds of Ukrainians fleeing fighting in three towns on the west bank of Kiev have gathered around the bridge on their way to the capital, which is also in Moscow’s crosshairs.

Civilians crossing the bridge into Kyiv form small groups and run together about 100 meters while potentially being exposed to Russian fire. Ukrainian soldiers run alongside the civilians to help them and then return to take cover behind a cinder block wall.

But early Sunday morning, the regional governor announced that the roads out of Irpin were so dangerous that they were effectively blocked. “Unfortunately, unless there was a ceasefire,” he said, no one could get out.

But people kept trying, scrambling over the wreckage of the damaged bridge and rushing across the exposed street.

When the mortar shells hit, Ukrainian forces were engaged in clashes nearby, but not where civilians were moving along the street on the Kyiv side of the bridge. Outgoing mortar shells could be heard from a Ukrainian position about 200 yards away, far enough from the bridge to suggest that the Russians were deliberately aiming for the escape route or disregarding the risk of civilian casualties.

The Russian mortar shells fell first about 100 meters from the bridge, then moved in a series of thunderous claps into a section of street where people were fleeing.

As the mortars closed in on the stream of civilians, people ran, shooting children and trying to find a safe place. But there was nothing to hide behind.

When the family – a mother, her teenage son and a daughter who appeared to be about 8 years old – were seen sprawled on the ground, soldiers rushed to help but could do little for them or a described man as a family friend who had helped them escape.

The group’s luggage was scattered around them. A small green pet carrier was also nearby. We heard a dog barking.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Ukrainian family's quest for safety ends in death
Ukrainian family's quest for safety ends in death
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