‘Place collapsed’: Ukrainian mall survivors describe ‘hell’ from Russian attack

Survivors of the Russian rocket attack on a shopping center in central Ukraine on Monday described their experiences, with one simply calling it “hell”.

At Kremenchuk Public Hospital, five people are crammed into a room in an intensive care unit, their wounds bandaged in bloody bandages. Outside lies a corpse on a stretcher, covered with a blanket.

Yulia, a 21-year-old woman with deep cuts, said Monday was her first day at work at one of the stores in the mall.

The hospital is treating 25 injured in the attack, six of whom are in critical condition. Ukrainian authorities said on Tuesday that the strike killed at least 18 people and injured 59, while more than 40 are missing.

A patient in the hospital’s general ward, Ludmyla Mykhailets, 43, said she was shopping with her husband, Mykola, at an electronics store when the blast threw her into the air.

“I flew with my head forward and splinters hit my body. The whole place collapsed. Then I landed on the ground and I don’t know if I was conscious or unconscious,” she said, adding that she had broken her arm and her head had split open.

“It was hell,” added Mykola, 45, as blood seeped through a bandage around his head.

Outside the hospital, a small group of mall employees stood full of worry and sadness, as well as relief.

Roman, 28, said that upon hearing an air raid siren, they went to a nearby basement when the missiles struck. He added that many others had stayed indoors as management had allowed stores to remain open during air raid warnings three days ago.

Many Ukrainians are no longer responding to the now regular warning sirens as strikes become less frequent outside Ukraine’s war-torn eastern region.

Oleksandr Kovalenko, deputy director of the hospital’s surgery department, said Monday’s attack marked the sixth bombing of the city since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. “But never before have so many people been affected,” he added.

People lined up at a hotel near the mall on Tuesday to register the names of the missing, as rescuers continued to search the rubble for survivors.

The strike drew outrage worldwide, with G7 leaders denouncing it as “appalling” as they gathered for a summit in Germany.

“This is not an accidental hit, this is a calculated Russian attack,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in an evening video address. He said the death toll could rise.

He estimated that there were about 1,000 people in the mall at the time of the strike. Before the invasion, the city had 217,000 inhabitants.