Kremenchuk shopping center in central Ukraine hit by Russian airstrike, raising fears of mass casualties

At least 18 people were killed, Dmytro Lunin, the head of the Poltava region’s military administration, said on Tuesday. He had said earlier that the death toll could rise.

“Another 36 people are missing,” he said, adding that more than 1,000 people – including rescuers, police, doctors and volunteers – worked through the night. “We continue the search.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said after the strike that up to 1,000 people were in the mall before the airstrike was announced.

“Fortunately, as far as we know, at that time a lot of people managed to get out, they managed to get out, but there were still people inside, workers and visitors,” he said. he declares.

At least 58 people were injured, according to Ukrainian state emergency services, while Lunin said 25 people were admitted to intensive care at Kremenchuk hospital.

Video from the scene showed thick smoke billowing from the building, which was engulfed in fire. The mall is about one hectare – roughly the size of two football fields – and the strike happened around 4 p.m. local time, according to Volodymyr Solohub, a regional official in the local government of the Oblast of Poltava.

“We don’t know how many more people could be under the rubble,” Solohub said.

Zelensky called the strike “one of the most provocative terrorist attacks in European history”, in his evening video address.

“A peaceful city, an ordinary shopping center with women inside, children, ordinary civilians inside,” he said.

“Only totally insane terrorists, who should have no place on earth, can launch missiles at such an object. And it’s not an off-target missile strike, it’s a calculated Russian strike — exactly in this mall.”

The attack targeted a site in central Ukraine, far from the epicenter of the Russian war, which has recently been concentrated in the east of the country. Ukrainian officials said the attack was carried out by a Russian KH-22 missile, capable of carrying an explosive warhead of up to 1 tonne (2,240 pounds).

It came as G7 leaders were meeting at a summit in Germany that was primarily aimed at coordinating the Western response to the Russian invasion.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the meeting that the attack showed “the depths of cruelty and barbarism” of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Britain’s PA news agency reported.

“This appalling attack has shown once again the depths of cruelty and barbarism into which the Russian leader will sink,” Johnson said, according to the AP.

In a Tweeter On Monday, US President Joe Biden condemned the attack, saying: “Russia’s attack on civilians in a mall is cruel. We stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine.”

“As demonstrated at the G7 summit, the United States and our allies and partners will continue to hold Russia accountable for these atrocities and stand with Ukraine’s defense,” Biden added.

French President Emmanuel Macron called the attack an “abomination”, in a tweet that included video of the shopping mall on fire. “The Russian people must see the truth,” he said.

And Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitro Kuleba said on Twitter: “Russia is a disgrace to humanity and it must face the consequences. The answer should be more heavy weapons for Ukraine, more sanctions against Russia and more companies leaving Russia.”

These issues were on the table at the summit in Germany. The G7 pledged to continue supporting Ukraine “for as long as it takes” in a joint statement, and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told CNN on Monday that she will “not wouldn’t bet on Russia’s victory”.

Analysis: The tide is turning in the war in Ukraine as Russia advances east

The United States plans to announce as early as this week that it has purchased an advanced medium- and long-range surface-to-air missile defense system for Ukraine, a source familiar with the announcement told CNN.

However, despite the outward confidence of Western leaders, Russia has had military successes in eastern Ukraine in recent days.

Russian forces captured the city of Severodonetsk after weeks of fighting and also retook territory south of Lysychansk.

They knocked out most of the Ukrainian defenses in the Lugansk region and consolidated control of a belt of territory in the south, providing strategic advantages and blunting the effectiveness of Ukrainian counterattacks.

Russian forces have also stepped up their attacks in the Donetsk region, closing in slightly on the region’s industrial town belt that stretches south from Sloviansk through Kramatorsk to Kostiantynivka.

“Zelensky was very focused on trying to ensure that Ukraine was in as advantageous a position as possible on the battlefield in the coming months compared to the next few years, because he believes that a fierce conflict is not not in the interests of the Ukrainian people,” US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said after the Ukrainian president met virtually with G7 leaders.

Earlier, a source familiar with the matter told CNN that Zelensky told leaders he wanted the war to be over by the end of the year, before winter set in.

CNN’s Tim Lister, Vasco Cotovio, Sebastian Shukla, Kostan Nechyporenko and Sharif Paget contributed reporting.

Edwin S. Wolfe