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Woman in wheelchair killed by Russian forces while evacuating border town, Ukrainian prosecutors say

<i>Libkos/Getty Images via CNN Newsource</i><br/>Another civilian was also killed during the shooting
Libkos/Getty Images via CNN Newsource
Another civilian was also killed during the shooting

By Svitlana Vlasova and Radina Gigova

The Russian military opened fire on civilians trying to evacuate the town of Vovchansk in the Kharkiv region, killing a woman while she was being pushed in a wheelchair by her husband, Ukrainian prosecutors said Tuesday.

Another civilian was also killed during the shooting, which took place on May 15, the Kharkiv Regional Prosecutor’s Office said, as intense battles between Ukrainian and Russian forces for control of the border town continue.

Russia has ramped up its offensive in the Kharkiv region in recent weeks, launching its most surprising operation in more than two years of war on May 10, when Russian forces crossed the border and subsequently took control of close to a dozen villages.

The 70-year-old husband told prosecutors the situation in Vovchansk had become unbearable because of the heavy fighting, so he found a wheelchair for his wife who was experiencing health issues, and the two left their home in the early hours of the night.

What followed adds to the repeating horrors that residents in the town and battlefield areas face daily, as Russia continues its push to claim control of more Ukrainian land.

Husband shared details of the shooting

The Kharkiv Regional Prosecutor’s Office said the husband, who “miraculously survived” the shooting in Vovchansk, shared the painful details of the harrowing ordeal.

The man said there was heavy shelling around 2 a.m. local time, and he told his wife they should evacuate, according to the investigation. Another resident of the embattled town joined them.

“The man found a wheelchair and put his wife in it because she had been having problems with her legs for a long time. The three of them set off in the direction of Kharkiv,” the prosecutor’s office said. “When the civilians were near the local hospital, the occupiers opened fire on them. The man who joined the couple and the woman died on the spot.”

The Russian military had opened fire on the evacuees from a five-story building, the husband told prosecutors.

“The wheelchair got stuck, I was pulling it by the handles,” he told prosecutors. “I leaned down and there was a machine gun burst,” he said. “I immediately shouted, what are you doing, we are civilians.”

Then he said he turned around and saw that his wife and the other resident were killed. He started screaming and didn’t know how to proceed.

He started pushing the wheelchair towards the hospital where he knew there were emergency personnel. A man at the hospital shouted at him, urging him to leave the body of his wife and come inside the building. But the man continued moving further with the body of his wife towards a flooded bridge, where he realized the two had to part ways. “She stayed in the wheelchair,” the man told prosecutors.

The man managed to reach the outskirts of the Vovchansk, where he met Ukrainian soldiers who took him to Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city.

Situation in Vovchansk worsening for civilians

Ukrainian authorities have repeatedly urged civilians to evacuate from Vovchansk and frontline areas because of the heavy fighting.

Ukrainian officials have previously said Russian forces have captured dozens of civilians in Vovchansk, and a top regional police officer has accused them of using civilians as “human shields.”

CNN is unable to independently verify the claims that Russia is using civilians as human shields and has contacted the Russian Defense Ministry for comment. Russia has not commented on whether its troops use civilians as human shields or target those trying to evacuate.

The Kharkiv Regional Prosecutor’s Office is “taking measures for a comprehensive investigation” into the shooting of civilians in the border town, it said. Prosecutors say they are working with law enforcement agencies to identify Russian soldiers who have “committed atrocities” in the region.

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