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World leaders condemn Russian attack on Ukraine shopping centre

The Guardian logo The Guardian 28/06/2022 Lorenzo Tondo in Kremenchuk and Pjotr Sauer in Kyiv

World leaders have denounced Russia’s deadly strike on a shopping centre in the Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk as “abominable” and a war crime.

The search for survivors continues after the missile strike on a mall that had more than 1,000 people in it at the time, according to Ukraine’s president, Volodoymyr Zelenskiy.

The Ukrainian defence ministry said the strike was deliberately timed to coincide with the mall’s busiest hours and cause the maximum number of casualties.

Eighteen people are known to have been killed, according to Ukraine’s emergency services, and Serhiy Kruk, the head of Ukraine’s state emergency service, said 59 had been injured. At least 36 people were still believed to be missing, Ukrainian prosecutors told the Guardian at the scene.

Authorities estimate there were between 200 and 1,000 people inside the mall. Many managed to flee to a nearby bomb shelter when they heard an air raid siren.

“I left the building two minutes before the explosion,” said Yevhenia Semyonova, 38, a shop assistant at a sportswear store in the mall. “My colleagues who are working in bigger stores, like the supermarket for example, had to wait for the customers to get out before they could leave. We were lucky because there were no customers in our story during the alarm.”

In a joint statement, the leaders of the G7 condemned the “abominable attack” and noted that strikes aimed at civilians were a war crime, and they pledged “unwavering support” for Ukraine.

“We stand united with Ukraine in mourning the innocent victims of this brutal attack. Indiscriminate attacks on innocent civilians constitute a war crime. [Vladimir] Putin and those responsible will be held to account,” the statement said. “We will not rest until Russia ends its cruel and senseless war on Ukraine.”

Separately, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, called the attack an “abomination”. He said: “We share the pain of the victims’ families, and the anger in the face of such an atrocity. The Russian people have to see the truth.”


Video: Russia attacks shopping mall in Ukraine, killing several people (NBC News)

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A UN spokesperson, Stéphane Dujarric, said: “It is deplorable, to say the least. Any sort of civilian infrastructure, which includes obviously shopping malls, and civilians should never ever be targeted.”

Russia’s ministry of defence said on Tuesday morning that the fire was caused by “the detonation of stored ammunition for western weapons” located next to the mall, which Moscow claimed “wasn’t operating”.

The ministry said it conducted a “high-precision” strike on a hangar in Kremenchuk containing weapons supplied by US and European countries. No evidence was offered to back up the claims.

Ukraine’s air force command said Russia hit the mall, located near a railway station, with two X-22 cruise missiles that were fired by an unspecified number of Tu-22M long-range bombers.

Images from the scene showed giant plumes of black smoke and flames, and emergency crews rushing in to search for victims. It took 300 emergency workers more than four hours to extinguish the flames.

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,” Lukash said.

On Monday night, 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.”

Speaking at 2am local time, Kruk, the emergency services chief, said work was continuing at the site. He added: “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.”

Firefighters clear the rubble of the destroyed Amstor shopping centre in Kremenchuk. Photograph: Oleg Petrasyuk/EPA © Provided by The Guardian Firefighters clear the rubble of the destroyed Amstor shopping centre in Kremenchuk. Photograph: Oleg Petrasyuk/EPA

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.”

In his nightly video address, Zelenskiy also called Russia “the largest terrorist organisation in the world”.

Zelenskiy said on Tuesday he had spoken to the Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, before the alliances summit beginning in Madrid. In the phone call, Zelenskiy said, he “stressed the importance of a powerful missile defence system for Ukraine to prevent Russian terrorist attacks”.

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