Monday’s Russian missile strike on a crowded shopping centre in central Ukraine has been strongly condemned by the United Nations and the West. G7 leaders have labelled it a war crime and vowed to hold President Putin accountable.
Firefighters and soldiers are searching for survivors in the rubble of the building in Kremenchuk, following the attack which is known to have killed at least 18 people and injured dozens. More than 30 people are missing, authorities say.
Early on Tuesday, family members of the missing lined up at a hotel across the street where rescue workers had set up a base.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called Russia the world’s “largest terrorist organisation” in the wake of the deadly bombing. More than 1,000 people were inside when two Russian missiles slammed into the building, he said.
Leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) major democracies, at a summit in Germany, said the attack was “abominable”.
“Indiscriminate attacks on innocent civilians constitute a war crime. Russian President Putin and those responsible will be held to account,” they wrote in a joint statement tweeted by the German government spokesperson.
At Ukraine’s request, the United Nations Security Council scheduled an emergency meeting in New York to discuss the attack.
The UN called the strike “deplorable”, stressing that civilian infrastructure “should never ever be targeted”, spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
At least 18 people were killed and 25 hospitalised, while about 36 were missing, said Dmytro Lunin, governor of the Poltava region, said on Tuesday. The number of dead is two more than Monday’s overnight figure, and there are fears that more bodies may be found. Emergency service said on Monday that 59 people had been injured.
Russia’s attack on Kremenchuk was one of several across Ukraine to hit civilians on Monday:
- At least eight were killed and 21 wounded in a Russian bombardment while collecting water in the eastern city of Lysychansk, regional authorities said.
- Russian forces shelled central districts of the city of Kharkiv, hitting apartment buildings and a primary school and killing five people and wounding 22, the regional governor said. Five children were among the injured, he added.
- Six people were reportedly injured including a child in a missile strike in the Odesa region, in southern Ukraine, that destroyed residential buildings and caused a fire.
The missile strike on Kremenchuk unfolded as Western leaders pledged continued support for Ukraine, and the world’s major economies prepared new sanctions against Russia, including a price cap on oil and higher tariffs on goods.
Zelenskyy said the mall presented “no threat to the Russian army” and had “no strategic value”. He accused Russia of sabotaging “people’s attempts to live a normal life, which make the occupiers so angry”.
In his nightly address, he said it appeared Russian forces had intentionally targeted the shopping centre. “Today’s Russian strike at a shopping mall in Kremenchuk is one of the most daring terrorist attacks in European history,” he added.
Kremenchuk Mayor Vitaliy Maletskiy wrote on Facebook that the attack “hit a very crowded area, which is 100% certain not to have any links to the armed forces”.
Kremenchuk lies some 330 kilometres southeast of Kyiv, and is more than 200 kilometres from the eastern front line.
In the first Russian government comment on the missile strike, UN representative Dmitry Polyanskiy alleged multiple inconsistencies that he didn’t specify, claiming on Twitter that the incident was a “provocation” by Ukraine. He later retweeted a post from another official Russian organisation appearing to hint the attack had been staged.
Russia has repeatedly denied it targets civilian infrastructure, even though Russian attacks have hit other shopping centres, theatres, hospitals, kindergartens and apartment buildings.
Images from the scene in the aftermath of the latest attack showed giant plumes of black smoke, dust and orange flames, with emergency crews rushing in to search broken metal and concrete for victims and put out fires.
Russia has increasingly used long-range bombers in the war. Ukrainian officials said Russian Tu-22M3 long-range bombers flying over Russia’s western Kursk region fired the missile that hit the shopping centre, as well as another that hit a sports arena in Kremenchuk.
The Russian strike echoed attacks earlier in the war that caused large numbers of civilian casualties — such as one in March on a Mariupol theatre where many civilians had holed up, killing an estimated 600, and another in April on a train station in eastern Kramatorsk that left at least 59 people dead.