Ukrainian family's dash for safety ends in death

A Ukrainian soldier runs to check on a family after a mortar round landed nearby as civilians tried to flee Ukraine, on March 6, 2022. PHOTO: NYTIMES

IRPIN (NYTIMES) - The bridge was just a shell of its old self, blown up days earlier by Ukrainian soldiers intent on slowing the Russian advance on the capital, Kyiv, but battered as it was, it offered a lifeline to civilians desperate to flee the fighting.

On Sunday (March 6), as Ukrainian refugees were milling near the entrance to the structure, calculating their odds of making it safely over the Irpin River, a family laden with backpacks and a blue roller suitcase decided to chance it.

The Russian mortars hit just as they made it across into Kyiv.

A cloud of concrete dust lofted into the morning air. When it settled, Ukrainians could be seen running madly from the scene.

But not the family. A mother and her two children lay still on the roadway, along with a family friend.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly denied that his forces are targeting civilians fleeing battle zones. He did so again on Sunday, a day after a railroad track used to evacuate Ukrainians came under fire.

But only a handful of Ukrainian troops were near the bridge when mortar shells began raining down. The soldiers there were not engaged in combat but in helping refugees carry their children and luggage toward the capital.

"The military is the military and that is one thing," one soldier said bitterly. "But these are civilians, people who waited until the last moment."

The attack at the bridge was witnessed by a New York Times team, including photojournalist Lynsey Addario. Since Saturday, hundreds of Ukrainians fleeing the fighting in three towns on Kyiv's western rim have clustered around the bridge to make their way to the capital. Civilians who cross the bridge into Kyiv form small groups and together run about 90m while potentially exposed to Russian fire.

A civilian crosses a blown up bridge in a village, east of the town of Brovary on March 6, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

But early on Sunday morning, the regional governor announced that the routes out of Irpin were so unsafe as to be effectively blocked. But people kept trying, scrambling over the debris of the damaged bridge and dashing across the exposed street.

When the mortar shells hit, Ukrainian forces were engaged in clashes nearby, but not where the civilians were moving along the street on the Kyiv side of the bridge. Outgoing mortar rounds could be heard from a Ukrainian position about 180m away.

Follow The Straits Times' live coverage on the Ukraine crisis here.

Remote video URL

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.