A Russian missile hit a crowded shopping centre in the central Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk on Monday, killing and injuring scores of people, the Ukrainian authorities said.
Ukraine’s president, Volodoymyr Zelenskiy, said more than 1,000 people were inside the building at the time of the strike. Images from the scene showed giant plumes of black smoke and flames, with emergency crews rushing in to search for victims and put out fires.
Serhiy Kruk, the head of Ukraine’s state emergency service, said at 2am local time on Tuesday: “We continue to work at the site of the rocket attack on the shopping centre in Kremenchuk. The main tasks currently performed by rescuers are to carry out rescue operations, dismantle debris and eliminate fires. So far, 16 people have been killed and 59 injured, 25 of whom have been hospitalised.”
Ukrainian war crimes prosecutors told the Guardian earlier that 14 bodies had been found in the ruins, and one person died from their wounds in hospital. At least 40 missing persons reports had been submitted by locals searching for loved ones who had gone missing in the building.
When the missile struck, it ignited a massive fire that took 300 emergency workers more than four hours to extinguish.
Mykola Lukash, from the Kremenchuk district prosecutor’s office, said cranes would be brought in on Tuesday to help lift the collapsed roof of the shopping centre. “We haven’t found any children’s bodies. A lot of bodies are burnt. We need to carry out DNA tests. At the current moment 14 bodies were found here on the site and another one died in the hospital.”
Svitlana Rybalko, the head of communications of Poltava region State Emergency Service, said the exact number of casualties remained unclear and that “There might be survivors.”
As night fell in Kremenchuk, emergency workers and soldiers combed through blackened debris and twisted metal.
“We pulled out several bodies, but there are definitely more trapped under the rubble,” said Oleksii, 46, a firefighter. “This is normally a very crowded place.”
As night fell on the city, the burned-out building was illuminated by floodlights. Relatives who feared their loved ones had been inside the building waited across the street, many of them close to tears.
The attack came on the day of a G7 meeting in Germany where leaders discussed ways to punish Moscow for its invasion and pledged to stand with Ukraine “for as long as it takes”.
In a joint statement, the leaders of the G7 said Vladimir Putin’s attacks aimed at civilians were a “war crime”.
The statement said: “We, the leaders of the G7, solemnly condemn the abominable attack on a shopping mall in Kremenchuk.
“We stand united with Ukraine in mourning the innocent victims of this brutal attack. Indiscriminate attacks on innocent civilians constitute a war crime. Russian president Putin and those responsible will be held to account.
“Today, we underlined our unwavering support for Ukraine in the face of the Russian aggression, an unjustified war of choice that has been raging for 124 days.”
They said they would “continue to provide financial, humanitarian as well as military support for Ukraine, for as long as it takes”.
“We will not rest until Russia ends its cruel and senseless war on Ukraine.”
Russia had stepped up its missile strikes on Ukraine as the summit came closer, hitting the capital, Kyiv, on Sunday and launching 20 rockets from Belarusian territory, raising worries in Ukraine that Moscow is aiming to drag its key ally Belarus into the conflict.
Zelenskiy said on Telegram that the number of victims was “unimaginable”. He wrote: “The occupiers fired missiles at the shopping centre, where there were more than a thousand civilians. The mall is on fire, rescuers are extinguishing the fire, the number of victims is unimaginable. Russia continues to take out its impotence on ordinary citizens. It is useless to hope for decency and humanity from Russia.”
A rescue operation was under way and nine of the wounded were in a serious condition, said Kyrylo Tymoshenko, the deputy head of the presidential office.
Ukraine’s air force command said in a statement that Russia hit the mall, which is located near a railway station, with two X-22 cruise missiles that were fired by an unspecified number of Tu-22M long-range bombers. According to Kyiv, the planes fired their rockets while in the sky over the Kursk region, located near the Ukrainian border.
Commenting on the strike in his nightly video address, Zelenskiy called Russia “the largest terrorist organisation in the world”. He said: “Everyone in the world should know that buying or transporting Russian oil, maintaining ties with Russian banks, paying taxes and duties to the Russian state is giving money to terrorists.”
Lunin, the local governor, similarly called the attack an “act of terrorism against civilians,” noting there was no military target nearby that Russia could have been aiming at.
Kremenchuk is the site of Ukraine’s biggest oil refinery and stands on the banks of the Dnieper River. The city serves as the administrative centre of the Kremenchuk district in Poltava oblast.
Russia’s war in Ukraine: latest developments
There was no immediate comment from the Kremlin, which denies deliberately targeting civilians. Russia’s deputy UN ambassador, Dmitry Polyansky, claimed without providing evidence that reports of the attack had “many inconsistencies”.
He said: “We have to wait for what our ministry of defence says, but there are already too many conspicuous inconsistencies. This is exactly what the Kyiv regime needs to keep the focus on Ukraine before the Nato summit.”
Boris Johnson said the Russian attack on Kremenchuk, and the attack on Kyiv the previous day, would strengthen the resolve of G7 leaders. A UK government source said that when Johnson heard about the Kyiv strike, he told fellow leaders it was “stupid of Putin to do something like that when all of us are in the same place, because it is only going to make us feel more resolute and united.”
Meanwhile, Russian shelling on Monday of a residential area in Ukraine’s second largest city, Kharkiv, killed four civilians, the regional governor said.
Forces fighting for Russia are also mounting an all-out assault on the last Ukrainian stronghold in the eastern Luhansk region, where Russian troops hope to cut off the city of Lysychansk, having reduced its twin city, Sievierodonetsk, to rubble.
If Lysychansk falls, the entire province of Luhansk, which along with Donetsk makes up the Donbas region, could fall into Russian hands.
Russia’s Interfax news agency and pro-Russia separatist fighters said Russian troops had entered Lysychansk on Saturday after Ukrainian forces were ordered to withdraw from Sievierodonetsk. The claim could not be independently verified and there was no immediate comment from the Ukrainian side.
Serhiy Haidai, the governor of Luhansk province, said on Facebook that Russian and separatist fighters were trying to blockade Lysychansk from the south and that due to heavy bombardments the city “is almost unrecognisable”.
Late on Monday, Haidai also said that at least eight civilians were killed in a Russian missile attack on Lysychansk.
Source: The Guardian
BDST: 1111 HRS, JUNE 28, 2022