Russian missile hits crowded shopping mall in Ukraine

KREMENCHUK, Ukraine: Rescuers searched the charred rubble of a shopping center on Tuesday for other victims of a Russian missile strike that killed at least 18 people and injured dozens in what Ukraine’s president called ” one of the most daring terrorist attacks in European history”.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said many of the more than 1,000 afternoon shoppers and workers inside the mall in the city of Kremenchuk managed to escape. Giant plumes of black smoke, dust and orange flame billowed from the wreckage as emergency crews scoured the shattered metal and concrete for victims. Drones swirled overhead, clouds of black smoke still emanating from the ruins hours after the fire was extinguished.

The death toll rose as rescuers searched the smoking rubble. Regional Governor Dmytro Lunin said at least 18 people were killed and emergency services reported more than 60 injured.

“We are working on dismantling the construction so that it is possible to bring machinery into it because the metal elements are very heavy and large, and dismantling them by hand is impossible,” said Volodymyr Hychkan, a service manager. emergency.

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At Ukraine’s request, the UN Security Council scheduled an emergency meeting in New York on Tuesday to discuss the attack.

In the Russian government’s first commentary on the missile strike, the country’s first deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, Dmitry Polyansky, alleged multiple inconsistencies which he did not elaborate on, claiming on Twitter that the incident was a provocation from Ukraine. Russia has repeatedly denied it was targeting civilian infrastructure, even though Russian attacks hit other shopping malls, theaters, hospitals, kindergartens and apartment buildings during the four-month war.

The missile strike came as Western leaders pledged continued support for Ukraine and the world’s major economies prepared new sanctions against Russia, including oil price caps and higher tariffs. on the goods. Meanwhile, the United States seemed ready to heed Zelenskyyy’s call for more air defense systems, and NATO planned to increase the size of its rapid reaction forces by almost eight times – to 300 000 soldiers.

Ukrainian State Emergency Service firefighters work to remove debris from a burned shopping center after a rocket attack in Kremenchuk, Ukraine, Tuesday, June 28, 2022. AFP PHOTO

Zelenskyyy said the mall posed “no threat to the Russian military” and had “no strategic value”. He accused Russia of sabotaging “people’s attempts to lead normal lives, which is what makes the occupiers so angry.”

In his evening speech, he said it appeared Russian forces had intentionally targeted the mall and added: “Today’s Russian strike on a mall in Kremenchuk is one of the most most audacious in European history”. He said Russia “has become the biggest terrorist organization in the world”.

Russia increasingly used long-range bombers during the war. Ukrainian officials said Russian Tu-22M3 long-range bombers flying over Russia’s western Kursk region fired missiles, one of which hit the shopping center and another a sports arena in Kremenchuk.

The Russian strike echoed previous attacks that caused large numbers of civilian casualties – such as one in March on a theater in Mariupol where many civilians had holed up, killing around 600 people, and another in April on a station in eastern Kramatorsk that killed at least 59 people.

“Russia continues to assert its impotence over ordinary civilians. It is futile to expect decency and humanity from it,” Zelenskyyy said.

The United Nations called the strike “deplorable”, stressing that civilian infrastructure “should never be targeted”, said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric. Leaders of the Group of Seven condemned the attack in a statement late Monday, saying “indiscriminate attacks on innocent civilians constitute a war crime. Russian President Putin and those responsible will be held accountable.”

The attack coincided with Russia’s all-out assault on the last Ukrainian stronghold in eastern Ukraine’s Luhansk province, “firing fire” at the town of Lysychansk from the ground and air, according to the local governor. At least eight people were killed and more than 20 injured in Lysychansk when Russian rockets hit an area where a crowd had gathered to get water from a reservoir, Lugansk Governor Serhiy Haidai said.

The dam was part of the intensified offensive by Russian forces aimed at wresting the eastern region of Donbass from Ukraine. Over the weekend, the Russian military and its local separatist allies forced Ukrainian government troops out of the nearby town of Lysychansk, Sievierodonetsk.

State emergency service volunteers and firefighters work to put out a fire at a burnt-out shopping center after a rocket attack in Kremenchuk, Ukraine, early Tuesday, June 28, 2022. AP PHOTO

State emergency service volunteers and firefighters work to put out a fire at a burnt-out shopping center after a rocket attack in Kremenchuk, Ukraine, early Tuesday, June 28, 2022. AP PHOTO

On Monday, west of Lysychansk, the mayor of the city of Sloviansk – potentially the next major battleground – said Russian forces fired cluster munitions, including one that hit a residential area. Authorities said the number of casualties has not yet been confirmed. The Associated Press saw one death: A man’s body lay hunched over a car door frame, his blood pooling on the floor from chest and head injuries. The blast blew out most of the windows of surrounding buildings and the cars parked below, littering the floor with shattered glass.

“Everything is now destroyed,” resident Valentina Vitkovska said in tears as she recalled the explosion. “We are the only people still living in this part of the building. There is no electricity. I can’t even call to tell the others what happened to us.”

Russian forces also struck other Ukrainian cities, killing at least five people and injuring 15 others in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, and hitting the key southern Black Sea port of Odessa. , where a missile attack destroyed residential buildings and injured six people, including a child, Ukrainian authorities said.

In Lysychansk, at least five high-rise buildings and the last road bridge were damaged over the past day, Haidai said. A crucial highway linking the city to government-controlled territory to the south has been rendered impassable. The city’s pre-war population of around 100,000 dwindled to less than 10,000.

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