Ukrainian officials said dozens of civilians were killed or injured in a Russian rocket attack on a busy shopping center in Ukraine’s central city of Kremenchuk.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a Telegram post that the number of casualties was “unbelievable”, citing reports that more than 1,000 civilians were inside at the time of the attack. Footage of the scene showed giant plumes of black smoke from a shopping center going up in flames as emergency services rushed in and spectators watched in distress.
Regional governor Dmytro Lunin said at least 11 were killed and more than 40 injured.
The strike came as leaders of the world’s largest economies prepared for new sanctions against Russia, including a price cap on oil and higher tariffs on goods. Meanwhile, the US was preparing to announce the purchase of an advanced surface-to-air missile system for Kiev, and NATO planned to increase the size of its rapid reaction forces nearly eightfold to 300,000 troops.
Zelensky said the target 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 anger the occupier so much”.
Russia calls strike ‘Ukrainian provocation’
An industrial town of 217,000 inhabitants before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Kremenchuk is located on the Dnipro River in the Poltava region and is the site of Ukraine’s largest oil refinery.
The Ukrainian army said the mall was hit by missiles fired by Russian Tu-22M3 long-range bombers from the air over the western region of Kursk.
The secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, Oleksiy Danilov, said one missile hit the mall and another hit a sports arena in Kremenchuk.
Russia’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Dmitry Polyanskiy, wrote on Twitter, without citing evidence, that the attack was a “Ukrainian provocation.”
“Exactly what [the] Kiev regime must first focus on Ukraine [the] NATO summit,” he said, referring to the alliance’s meeting in Madrid, which is set to begin Tuesday.
The attack had echoes of attacks earlier in the war that saw large numbers of civilian casualties – such as one in March on a Mariupol theater where many civilians had been holed up, killing an estimated 600, and another in April on a train station in the east. from Kramatorsk in which at least 59 people died.
“Russia continues to express its impotence on ordinary citizens. It makes no sense to hope for decency and humanity on its part,” Zelensky said.
Mayor Vitaliy Maletskiy wrote on Facebook that the attack “hit a very busy area, 100 percent certain it has no ties to the armed forces”.
The United Nations called the attack on the mall “deplorable”, stressing that civilian infrastructure “should never be targeted,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
Russians pour fire on Lysychansk
The attack took place as Russia launched a full-scale assault on the last Ukrainian stronghold in eastern Ukraine’s Luhansk province, according to the local governor “putting fire” on the city of Lysychansk from the ground and from the air.
At least eight people were killed and more than 20 were injured in Lysychansk when Russian missiles hit an area where crowds gathered to get water from a tank, Luhansk government leader Serhiy Haidai said.
Russian forces appeared to be mounting an offensive aimed at trying to wrestle Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region after forcing government forces from the neighboring city of Severodonetsk in recent days.
West of Lysychansk, the mayor of the city of Sloviansk — possibly the next major battlefield — said Russian troops fired cluster munitions into the city after dawn, including one that hit a residential area.
The number of dead and injured has yet to be confirmed, authorities said. The Associated Press saw one fatality: a man’s body was bent over a car door frame, with wounds to his chest and head.
The blast blew out most of the windows in the surrounding apartment buildings and in the cars parked below, leaving the ground strewn with broken glass.
“Everything has now been destroyed. We are the only people who still live in this part of the building. There is no power,” resident Valentina Vitkovska said in tears as she spoke about the explosion. “I can’t even call to tell others what happened to us.”
Deaths Reported Elsewhere
Overall, Zelensky’s office said at least six civilians have been killed and 31 others injured as part of intense Russian shelling of several Ukrainian cities in the past 24 hours – including Kiev and major cities in the south and east of the country. , but not counting the attack in Kremenchuk and the shelling of the eastern city of Kharkov, which killed at least five people and injured another 15.
It said Russian forces fired rockets that killed two people and injured five overnight in and near Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, and continued to attack the main southern port city of Odessa. A rocket attack destroyed residential buildings and injured six people, including a child, it said.
In Lysychansk, at least five high-rises in the city and the last road bridge were damaged in the past day, the regional governor said. A critical highway connecting the city to government-occupied territory to the south was rendered impassable by shelling.
The city had a pre-war population of about 100,000, of whom about one-tenth is left.
Analysts say Lysychansk’s location, high on the banks of the Siversky Donets River, is a major advantage for the city’s Ukrainian defenders.
“It’s a tough nut to crack. It could take the Russians many months and a lot of effort to storm Lysychansk,” said military analyst Oleh Zhdanov.
Allies pledge support to Ukraine
In other developments, in Germany’s Bavarian Alps, leaders of the Group of Seven countries unveiled plans to seek new sanctions and pledged to continue to support Ukraine “for as long as necessary”.
In a joint statement on Monday, after holding a video link session with Zelensky, the leaders underlined their “unwavering commitment to support the government and people of Ukraine in their courageous defense of their country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Elsewhere, Washington would announce the purchase of an advanced surface-to-air missile system for Ukraine.
In Brussels, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced plans to significantly expand the Alliance’s rapid response forces as part of his response to an “era of strategic competition”. The NATO Response Force currently has approximately 40,000 soldiers.
NATO will agree to provide Ukraine with further military support — including secure communications and anti-drone systems — when its leaders meet in Spain for a summit, Stoltenberg said.
The British Ministry of Defense said Russia will likely rely increasingly on reserve forces in the coming weeks of the war.
Analysts have said a reservist call by Russia could vastly alter the balance of the war, but also have political ramifications for President Vladimir Putin’s government.