As It Happens·Q&A

'It was catastrophic,' relief worker says of the Ukraine train station missile strike

At least 50 people are dead after a missile attack on a train station filled with evacuees in eastern Ukraine. Relief worker Nate Mook, who was near the station when the missiles hit, described the "complete carnage" that took place.

Warning: This story contains graphic descriptions of death.

This photograph taken on April 8, 2022 shows the train station, seen from a train car, after a missile strike in Kramatorsk, eastern Ukraine. World Central Kitchen CEO Nate Mook was near the station when the 'catastrophic' attack happened. (Fadel Senna/AFP via Getty Images)

Story Transcript

At least 50 are dead, scores more wounded, and vital infrastructure is destroyed after a missile struck a train station in Kramatorsk, Ukrainian authorities say. A relief worker who witnessed the attack described it as "complete carnage."

"It is generally known that these stations are filled with innocent people – with women, children, grandparents that are trying to leave," said Nate Mook, CEO of the humanitarian organization World Central Kitchen, which is helping distribute food in Kramatorsk and other affected areas in Eastern Europe. 

Regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said the station in the city of Kramatorsk was hit by a Tochka U short-range ballistic missile. The missile contained cluster munitions that explode in mid-air, spraying small lethal bomblets over a wider area. Kyrylenko said thousands of civilians trying to flee the eastern Ukrainian city were at the station at the time of what he described as a "deliberate" attack. 

Mook was near the train station when the missile hit, and told As It Happens guest host Dave Seglins about what he saw. Here is part of their conversation.

Nate, can you describe for me the moment this attack took place?

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We drove past the railway station on an overpass… I looked down and on the platform, I saw thousands of people, as had been there previous days. And we passed the station, probably not less than two minutes later, we heard the booms, we heard the explosions. There were probably five to 10 of them in quick succession… And we didn't know what they were from or what was going on. But we headed inside, ready to go down to our underground shelter. 

One of the warehouse workers told us that he had actually seen one of the missiles. It was that close as it was flying by. You could see the wings on the missile, he said. And it was one of them, at least, that he saw was intercepted by Ukrainian air defence. 

We were then notified that two of the missiles had struck the railway station where we had been planning to head next. So we headed over there to see what the scene was, and it was catastrophic.

What did you see?

The extent of the damage was very spread out all across the station platform and in the front of the station. There was broken glass and debris everywhere. There was actually a missile, whether it was the remnants of one or an unexploded missile or one that had been shot down, that was sitting in grass, in the parking lot. On this missile written in paint were the words "for the children" in Russian. 

The remains of a large rocket with the words 'for the children' in Russian is pictured next to the main building of a train station in Kramatorsk, eastern Ukraine, which was hit by a missile, killing at least 50 people. (Fadel Senna/AFP via Getty Images)

And there were cars that had just been put out, they had been on fire. There were people that were still in those cars as they burned. There were many bodies that had been collected from all across the railway platform. This is an area where we had been standing the day before.

The evacuation trains are prioritized for women and children, mothers and their kids, and also seniors and those with disabilities. The last couple of days, we've seen many people in wheelchairs. We've seen seniors being helped onto the trains by the amazing heroic railway workers. And there's a seating area on the platform. They had a tent there as well, where seniors could sit as they were leaving. And this is the area that was hit. And so it was just complete carnage on the platform. And we saw dozens of casualties ourselves and many people were being taken away in ambulances and on stretchers to the local hospitals by the time that we had arrived.

You've been on the ground in Ukraine for some time. What was it like to be in the midst of an attack like this one?

I've got to admit, it was shocking because these railway stations have been a lifeline for innocent civilians to be getting out of the cities as they are coming under attack. 

It is generally known that these stations are filled with innocent people … trying to leave. And so I think while there was certainly a sense that an attack was looming in Kramatorsk overall, because it has been said that this is going to be an area of focus now that Russian troops are regrouping and moving out of the north around Kyiv. I think there was sort of this idea that the train station in this area would not be a direct target.

Now, of course, we're starting to see the brutality of these attacks in this invasion and what is being done, and we've seen what's happened in places like Mariupol… But to experience, to see it, to realize there is no strategic value in striking a train station like this, with thousands of people evacuating... It is just murder, straight out. 

And so, you know, I think there's a sense of shock and just complete, you know, speechlessness of what happened today, of the brutality and the inhumanity of it all. And yet there is this determination by the Ukrainian people to fight and to do what they can to make sure that their people stay safe.

There's no way to to describe it other than it is intentional murder of civilians to traumatize, to terrorize, to really just create havoc and carnage.- Nate Mook, World Central Kitchen CEO

How do you make sense of the fact that these innocent civilians are being targeted?

I've been thinking about this a lot since I first got to Ukraine … seeing firsthand the impact, meeting the individuals, hearing the accounts of their stories. You sort of think at some point, something is going to make sense, you must be able to kind of reconcile what's going on — and you really can't. 

We were in a residential community in Kharkiv just a few days ago, delivering meals, when a shell hit not too far from us. And this is purely residential. There is nothing else there but apartment buildings where innocent people were living. There's no way to to describe it other than it is intentional murder of civilians to traumatize, to terrorize, to really just create havoc and carnage.

These people have been told to flee eastern regions. You've described them as being desperate to do so. A train station has now been hit. How is that going to affect people's ability to get out?

This is a great question and one that I think nobody really knows the full answer to. The railways were a lifeline…. Kramatorsk has been relatively peaceful in the past weeks, compared to some other cities in the east and certainly around Kyiv. And so it is not clear that passenger service will return on the trains here. This may be the end of train service to Kramatorsk, and that means that people will have to take buses out of the city by road. 

People here who are still in this city don't have vehicles. There's not a lot of cars in the streets… The mayor estimates there are still 80,000 to 90,000 people that are still in this city. However, many of them are either stuck in their homes or they're walking. People that had vehicles, that had the ability to leave, have already done so. 

Our job here was to support those that are stuck here, making sure they have the food supplies that they need, so we don't end up with a situation like Mariupol, where people are literally starving to death. And also to support these families as they're going on this long journey out of Kramatorsk. Our local team here that we are supporting and that lives here is determined to continue. And so we're going to do whatever we can to support them while keeping our team as safe as possible. 

Written by Olsy Sorokina with files from CBC News. Interview with Nate Mook produced by Morgan Passi. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.