There was an awful near silence as the war crime investigators went about their business and the bodies of the victims were methodically packed into body bags.
We counted at least 15 body bags being loaded one on top of each other into a succession of ambulances. The death toll is higher and includes several children, one a baby just a few months old.
The attack was so swift and so deadly, when we arrived at the scene, many of the victims were still where they had died.
An elderly man’s hand was still clasping his steering wheel, frozen in time, his body slumped sideways onto the passenger seat.
Two young women were laying on the ground outside their vehicle, their legs at grotesque angles and flies massing round open wounds in their faces.
Perhaps they’d been chatting to each other when the missiles hit. A group were all in their seats in the van they were travelling in.
Someone had covered their bodies with thin white sheeting but you could still make out the front passenger, his mouth open, head back as he’d been killed.
The vehicles were packed with suitcases and medical packs the group were taking only a few miles down the road to help relatives, the elderly and the ill inside Russian-controlled territory.
According to Vladimir Putin, all this area is now Russian after he signed a decree annexing not only Zaporizhzhia but also Kherson and the two Donbas regions, Luhansk and Donetsk.
But in this clearing which was once the site for a car parts market, the Ukrainians who were gathering the DNA of their countrymen and women were digging in once again for a fight to hold on to their territory, but also a legal war which they’re determined to win.
“These are definitely war crimes,” the Ukrainian interior minister Denys Monastyrskyi told us after visiting the site.
“And Putin should pay for what he’s done.”
The aid convoy was a routine convoy. Up to 150 people met here daily first thing in the morning having got permission from the Russian authorities to visit the areas under Russian control.
They were planning to take out elderly or ill relatives who wanted to flee as well as deliver some provisions for those who didn’t want to leave their homes. They had no reason to suspect they would be the target of any attacks.
One witness, who asked only to be called Valeriy, said he couldn’t understand the questions about who had carried out this atrocity.
“I’m in shock from the rhetoric of journalists from Germany, from France, who ask who did this,” he told us.
“I speak with Russian soldiers just there (he points in the direction of the Russian-controlled areas) and even the Russian soldiers don’t think who did this… they know the Russian army bombed this.”
We spot Olga Linik on her telephone.
She’s obviously anxious and tells us she’s trying to find her parents. Her mother and father are both doctors and were in the convoy.
“I tried to persuade them to stay with me in Dnipro but they insisted they wanted to go and help people in the Russian areas,” she explains.
“My father rang me and I don’t know what’s happened but he said he tried to save my mother for an hour but I don’t know what happened.”
She breaks off to receive a call. It’s her father who comes out from amidst all the busted vehicles in the convoy and flings his arms around her, sobbing.
Her mother hasn’t made it.
The two walk off back into the bomb site where Olga and her father say their final goodbyes, arms around each other, their mother’s black body bag at their feet.
At the time of writing, according to the Ukrainian police 30 people in the convoy have died, including children, and 88 more have been injured, a number of them critically wounded, in a string of attacks on Zaporizhzhia throughout the day.
Many Ukrainians we spoke to attributed the spike in attacks to Russian losses on the battlefield.
But the attack on the civilian convoy also came hours before the Russian President publicly declared his country’s annexation of the four Ukrainian regions.
But the devastating civilian attacks only seem to have hardened the resolve of the Ukrainians and their leader with Volodymyr Zelenskyy slapping in his application for Ukraine to become a member of NATO.
It’s a threat which was said to have prompted his Russian counterpart to mount his “special operation” in the first place. The situation on the ground in Ukraine looks set to become a lot worse.
Also by cameraman Jake Britton, and producers Chris Cunningham and Artem Lysak in Zaporizhzhia.
Israel-Hamas war: UK sending one of its most lethal warships to Gulf to deter Iran-backed groups
The UK is sending one of its most lethal warships to the Gulf to deter growing threats to shipping from Iran and Iranian-backed groups in the wake of Israel’s war against Hamas.
The deployment of HMS Diamond, a Type 45 destroyer, with the ability to shoot missiles out of the sky, comes after Houthi rebels in Yemen hijacked an Israeli-linked cargo ship in the Red Sea last week and the US military had to rescue another vessel on Sunday.
Grant Shapps, the defence secretary, said he was beefing-up a long-standing Royal Navy maritime security operation in the Gulf to reduce the risk of the current crisis between Israel and Tehran-backed Hamas escalating into a regional conflict.
“This is a response to what’s happening in the region,” he told a group of reporters.
In a statement, the senior minister added: “It is critical that the UK bolsters our presence in the region, to keep Britain and our interests safe from a more volatile and contested world.”
The dispatching of a destroyer is the most substantial, publicly-declared military move by Britain since a Hamas attack on Israel on 7 October triggered war.
It follows the deployment of two support ships and surveillance aircraft to the region.
But the most significant attempts to de-escalate the crisis and deter Iran have come from the US, which has sent two huge aircraft carrier strike groups to the region and very unusually flagged the presence of a submarine.
The UK’s HMS Diamond will join a long-standing mission, dubbed Operation Kipion, which operates out of Bahrain and works with allied navies to provide additional maritime security to commercial shipping in the Gulf and the Indian Ocean.
The operation was particularly active in 2019 amid escalating tensions between the US, the UK and other allies with Iran when Donald Trump was the US president.
Equipped with a Wildcat helicopter, the Royal Navy destroyer will be joining HMS Lancaster, a Type 23 frigate, as well as three smaller minehunters and a Royal Fleet Auxiliary support ship, the Ministry of Defence said.
Mr Shapps said Arab leaders would welcome the enhanced British footprint as a stabilising presence. “We will be working in the region really to assure our many partners there.”
Concern about the security of vital commercial shipping routes in the region was heightened last week when Houthi militants seized the Galaxy Leader cargo ship.
A video released by the militants showed at least seven masked men, carrying what appeared to be AK-47s, drop from a helicopter and land on the top deck of the ship.
It purportedly showed the rebels successfully capturing the vessel raising both the Yemeni and Palestinian flags on board.
Israeli officials said the ship was British-owned and Japanese-operated. But ownership details in public shipping databases associated the ship’s owners with Ray Car Carriers, founded by Abraham “Rami” Ungar, who is known as one of the richest men in Israel.
Mission in Europe
Separately to the Gulf mission, the defence secretary also announced that a Royal Navy task force of seven ships will deploy with allies early next month on a mission in European waters to protect critical underwater infrastructure such as cables, which are known to be a high-value target for hostile states such as Russia.
The joint patrols will be the first operation by a UK-led grouping of 10 like-minded European nations called the Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF).
The mission will cover a wide area from the English Channel to the Baltic Sea.
The aim will be to deter threats to a mass of undersea communications lines, oil and gas pipelines and other critical infrastructure that criss-crosses over the seabed.
The UK contribution to the deployment will include two Royal Navy frigates, two offshore patrol vessels and mine countermeasures vessels, as well as a Royal Fleet Auxiliary landing ship – supported by a Royal Air Force P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft.
Hamas releases two Russian hostages after Kremlin negotiations
Hamas has released two Russian-Israeli dual nationals and handed them over to the Red Cross under a separate agreement negotiated between Hamas and the Kremlin.
Elena Trufanova, 50, and her mother Irina Tatti, 73, were released on Wednesday afternoon “in response to the efforts of the Russian President”, according to a statement by Hamas.
That brings to three the number of hostages with Russian citizenship who have been released since Sunday.
Ms Trufanova’s sister, Maria Leizerovich, told Sky News from Moscow that she was “overwhelmed” by the news, but that her fight was not over until Ms Trufanova’s son Alexander (Sasha) and his Israeli fiance Sapir Cohen were also released.
The family were kidnapped from Ms Trufanova’s home in Kibbutz Nir Oz on 7 October. Her husband Vitaly was killed in the attack.
The first sign Ms Leizerovich had that her sister was alive came almost three weeks later, when Ms Trufanova appeared in a hostage video released by Hamas.
“It was a great joy for us when we saw her there, no matter how crazy that sounds”, Ms Leizerovich told Sky News.
“It gave us hope that all our remaining relatives were also alive”.
Eight of the roughly 240 hostages originally taken by Hamas were Russian-Israeli dual nationals.
On Sunday, 25-year-old Roni Krivoi was the first to be released and was reunited with his parents at the Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv.
In video of that reunion released by the Israeli government, he appeared to be physically in good health.
Mr Krivoi’s aunt told Israeli radio that he had managed to escape his captors for four days when the building he was in was bombed, but that he was recaptured by Gazans and returned to Hamas.
Mr Krivoi had been working at the Nova music festival when he was taken hostage, and is the first adult male with Israeli citizenship to have been released so far by Hamas.
At a press conference in Moscow, relatives of the Russian-Israeli hostages said they had written a letter to Vladimir Putin asking for his help.
“Of course we wrote to Putin”, said Oxana Lobanova, whose son Alexander was kidnapped. “And of course we hope that Vladimir Vladimirovich will influence the situation. He stands strong for his citizens”.
Evgenia Kozlova’s son Andrei was working as a security guard at the Nova festival.
“No one knows if he is alive now,” she said. “We don’t know where is he, in what conditions he’s being kept. We don’t know what he eats or if he sees the sun.
“We can only guess, based on the hostages who’ve already been realised, what is happening to him and it does not reassure us.”
In late October, a senior Hamas delegation travelled to Moscow for talks with Russian officials.
According to the foreign ministry, the talks focused on the immediate release of foreign hostages and the evacuation of Russian and other foreign citizens from the Gaza Strip.
One month later it would appear that deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov’s dealings with Hamas are beginning to bear fruit.
Thai hostage negotiator thanks Iran for support – and says Hamas justified in taking captives
Thai nationals were the single largest group of foreign nationals held by Hamas in Gaza and the highest number killed in Israel – the fact that 17 were quickly freed is considered a diplomatic achievement.
Behind the scenes, Thailand officials have been quietly working away at trying to get their citizens freed, attending meetings in Qatar and Iran.
At the centre of the Thai negotiating team is Lerpong Sayed, a Thai Muslim who, in an exclusive broadcast interview, told Sky News Hamas was justified in taking hostages.
Dr Sayed in recent weeks has split his time between his home country and Iran, where he spoke to Hamas five times.
“We went there to negotiate as normal people, not politicians. Hamas saw this. They saw us as Thai Muslims,” he told me in an interview that provides a window into his high-level talks.
“They promised that if there was a ceasefire Thai people would be released in the first group.
“Now we can obviously see Thais are among the first citizens freed compared to 20 other nationalities.”
Dr Sayed is part of a small team of three people working on behalf of the Thai House Speaker, Wan Muhammad Noor Matha, and the Shia Muslim leader in Thailand, Syed Sulaiman Husaini.
Thailand’s population of 70 million people is predominantly Buddhist and has largely peacefully co-existed with its sizeable Muslim minority.
On Tuesday, the Thai foreign minister went to Israel to meet with the hostages who were freed last week – the first group of captives released by Hamas as part of a truce deal with Israel.
The hostages are due to return to Thailand on Thursday.
Most went to Israel to work as farm labourers. On 7 October, when Hamas launched its attack, many were working in farms on the border. Before the war, 30,000 Thai labourers worked in Israel, predominantly in the agricultural sector.
Dr Sayed says the Thai government’s talks with the Qataris partly helped secure the release of Thais, but he firmly believes it was Thailand’s historic relationship with Iran that proved critical.
“I’d like to thank Iran – both the government and the people who have been supportive in negotiating with Hamas.”
Other analysts have suggested an agreement mediated by Qatar and Egypt was the pivotal factor in securing the release of hostages.
Iran has said it facilitated the release, while Hamas said it was due to the efforts of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.
For his part, Dr Sayed is confident that the Thai hostages have been treated well.
He says he knows they’ve told their families “they were well taken care of, well looked after, given shelter, clothes, food and water and given mental support”.
The negotiator insists there were no conditions from Hamas on what the hostages could or couldn’t say, and dismisses the idea that the group, seen waving at hostages in increasingly highly produced videos, are using the hostage releases as a spectacle.
Controversially, he also says Hamas was justified in taking hostages.
It was, he argues, “to help the Palestinians”, citing the thousands of Palestinians in Israeli prisons and decades of what he sees as Israeli occupation and mistreatment.
From what he has seen and heard from Hamas, he believes the rest of the Thais being held in Gaza will be released. According to the Thai government, there are 15 still being held in Gaza.
But he said Hamas had given him an ominous warning for the Thai people and the Thai authorities: “The border area is disputed land and it’s war time and Hamas will consider anyone who works there is working for the outlaws.”
They will be very alarming words for the many Thais who are now looking to return, and are financially dependent on the considerable extra money they make in Israel.
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