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The incident took place at 9 a.m. this morning near the town of Marhanets, south of the main regional city of Dnipropetrovsk when a inter-city passenger bus attempted to cross the track, ignoring the warning of an approaching train.
The bus was smashed into a pile of metal by the blue locomotive, which was not pulling any cars. Television footage showed emergency workers piling bodies alongside the tracks outside the town of Marhanets in the Dnipropetrovsk region.
“The bus driver ignored the siren of the oncoming train,” said Lyudmila Bolshakova, spokeswoman for local police.
Witnesses said the driver also ignored a red light.
Ukraine’s Railways said the train driver saw the bus heading toward the tracks from 500 meters away and sounded the distress siren, which the driver ignored. The train driver applied the emergency brake system, but the locomotive was traveling at a speed of 75 kilometers per hour and was unable to stop in time.
Local railway officials said the bus was packed with commuters traveling from Marhanets to the nearby city of Nikopol, most of them heading for work.
The Dnipropetrovsk branch of the Emergency Situations Ministry said the casualties were on the bus, 38 people died on the spot and five more in the hospital. The victims included a child and two teenagers.
Some of the injured are critical conditions and the death toll could continue to rise.
President Viktor Yanukovych conveyed his condolences to the relatives of the victims and said a committee headed by Deputy Prime Minister Andriy Kluyev had been set up to investigate the cause and help the families.
A statement on the presidential website said Kluyev had already left for the scene of the tragedy.
“The head of state has ordered law enforcement agencies to carry out a detailed investigation to establish those responsible for the accident,” the statement said.
Yanukovych later declared a national day of mourning Wednesday.
Prime Minister Mykola Azarov ordered his government to pay the family of each of the dead passengers 100,000 hryvna ($12,600).
He also instructed transport officials to install automated crossing gates at all railway crossings to prevent cars, buses and trucks from ignoring signals.
Ukraine has a bad safety record due to the poor condition of many roads and drivers who regularly flout the rules. Officials said this was the deadliest auto accident in the country’s history.