Bodies, packed bags and stuffed animals were flung to the ground outside the Ukrainian train station in the city of Kramatorsk after two rockets slammed into the busy hub for evacuees.
Earlier in the morning, AFP saw dozens of people throng the station desperate to flee a feared Russian advance on eastern Ukraine.
"I was in the station. I heard like a double explosion. I rushed to the wall for protection," said a woman searching for her passport among the abandoned belongings on the ground.
"I saw people covered in blood coming into the station and bodies everywhere on the ground. I don't know if they were just injured or dead," the woman told AFP.
Twenty bodies, all dressed in civilian clothing, were grouped and lying under plastic sheets next to a kiosk daubed yellow and blue -- the colors of Ukraine's flag -- outside the station, where blood pooled on the ground.
Four burnt out cars could be seen nearby along with the military-green remains of a rocket lay just next to the building and scrawled with the words "for our children" in white paint.
The toll from the strikes rose throughout the morning with Ukraine's SBU security service saying least 39 people had been killed, including at least four children.
Kramatorsk had been hit by Russian strikes earlier this week but had been otherwise spared the destruction witnessed by other eastern Ukraine cities since Russia's invasion.
'Looking for my husband'
Moscow denied involvement in Friday's strike and accused Kyiv of carrying out the attack deliberately.
Ukrainian authorities had warned this week that time was running out to flee westwards in advance of an anticipated Russian attack.
Suitcases, stuffed animals, and bags were scattered around the station and across the platform, interspersed with human remains.
Rescue workers and men in camouflage ferried bodies onto a truck.
Prosecutors in the Donetsk region said in a statement that at the time of the attack there were approximately 4,000 civilians at the station, mostly women and children.
A policeman clearing away debris and collecting mobile phones from the ground next to the impact site, had one that was ringing on repeat.
"I'm looking for my husband. He was here. I can't reach him," a woman told AFP, sobbing and holding her phone to her ear.
The head of Ukraine's railway company, Alexander Kamyshin had said earlier that 100 were injured by two rockets hitting the station.
"This is a deliberate attack on the passenger infrastructure of the railway and the residents of Kramatorsk," Kamyshin said.
© 2022 AFP