Ukraine shopping center strike: at least 13 dead

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A Russian rocket attack on a shopping center in central Ukraine has killed at least 15 civilians and injured dozens, Ukrainian officials said Monday, making Kiev’s appeal to Western countries to send more advanced weapons urgent.

The strike in the city of Kremenchuk came amid a wider escalation of Russian attacks in recent days and when leaders of the Group of Seven met at a summit in the Bavarian Alps. The Pentagon said on Monday that Russia carried out about 60 missile strikes against Ukraine over the weekend, including an attack on an apartment building in Kiev, which killed one.

G-7 leaders from the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan condemned the attack on Monday, calling it “horrific” and promising “unwavering support” for Ukraine. “Arbitrary attacks on innocent civilians constitute a war crime,” their statement said. “We will not rest until Russia ends its cruel and senseless war against Ukraine.”

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Ukrainian officials urged G-7 leaders and other Western countries to provide Ukraine with more advanced weapons, including anti-missile systems that would protect their cities from Russian attacks.

Andriy Yermak, head of Ukraine’s presidential office, wrote on Twitter on Monday that the… attack showed Russia should be “designated as a state sponsor of terrorism” and called for more weapons. “We need missile defense,” he said.

Hours before Monday’s strike, President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke to G-7 leaders via video conference. He asked them for more heavy weapons, including anti-aircraft weapons, to force a Russian retreat before the winter, according to a person briefed on the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private conversations.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on Monday that President Biden has told Zelensky that the United States plans to provide Kiev with advanced air defense capabilities, although he did not provide more details.

According to Ukrainian officials, the Amstor shopping center was packed with shoppers on Monday afternoon when at least one rocket hit it. Videos shared from the crime scene show buildings going up in smoke and citizens taking cover. Dmitry Lunin, the governor of the Poltava region, said 40 people were injured, including two children, and 15 were killed. With the rescue mission still underway, officials warned that numbers are likely to rise.

Zelensky said in a Telegram message Monday that there were more than 1,000 civilians in the mall when the rocket hit, adding that the shoppers posed “no threat to the Russian military.” The final number of casualties, he said, was “impossible to imagine.”

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Kremenchuk, a city of more than 200,000 inhabitants before the invasion, is a major industrial center for the Poltava region. The Ukrainian Air Force Command said the mall was hit by at least one Kh-22 missile fired by Tu-22 M3 bombers operating in the Kursk region of Russia, near the Ukrainian border. Russian officials and state-run media have suggested, without evidence, that the attack on the mall was a deliberately staged provocation by Ukrainian forces.

Kh-22 missiles are long-range weapons originally designed for use against ships. In a publicly released note released earlier this month, the British Ministry of Defense warned that these Soviet-era weapons were used against land targets in Ukraine and that they were “highly inaccurate and could therefore cause serious collateral damage and casualties”.

A senior US defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity under Pentagon ground rules, said it is not clear why Russia has stepped up its attacks. One possibility is that Moscow is protesting the United States’ delivery of advanced M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems to Ukraine, the official said.