Russian missile hits crowded shopping mall in Ukraine

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KREMENCHUK, Ukraine — Rescuers searched the charred rubble of a shopping mall on Tuesday for more victims of a Russian missile strike that killed at least 18 people and injured dozens in what Ukraine’s president said of “one of the most daring terrorist attacks in European history”.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said more than 1,000 afternoon shoppers and workers were inside the mall in the city of Kremenchuk. Giant plumes of black smoke, dust and orange flame billowed from the wreckage as emergency crews scoured the shattered metal and concrete for victims. Drones swirled overhead, clouds of black smoke still emanating from the ruins hours after the fire was extinguished.

The death toll rose as rescuers searched the smoking rubble. Regional Governor Dmytro Lunin said at least 18 people were killed and 59 others sought medical assistance, 25 of whom were hospitalized. The region declared Tuesday a day of mourning for the victims of the attack.

“We are working on dismantling the construction so that it is possible to bring machinery into it because the metal elements are very heavy and large, and it is impossible to dismantle them by hand,” said Volodymyr Hychkan, a manager. emergency services.

Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova, who is investigating possible war crimes, said the missile attack was one of Russia’s “crimes against humanity”, noting that the Russian army “systematically shelled civilian infrastructure in order to scare people, to kill people, to sow terror in our towns and villages.

Venediktova stressed the need for Ukrainians across the country to remain vigilant, adding that they should expect a similar strike “every minute”.

Wayne Jordash, a British lawyer who works with Venediktova’s office to investigate possible war crimes, dismissed claims that a factory near the mall was a military object.

“Early indications are that the plant that was hit is a road construction plant, not a military target,” Jordash said. “We need to investigate whether there are any military targets nearby, and the early indications, as I said, are that there are no military targets nearby.”

At Ukraine’s request, the UN Security Council scheduled an emergency meeting in New York on Tuesday to discuss the attack.

In the Russian government’s first commentary on the missile strike, the country’s first deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, Dmitry Polyansky, alleged multiple inconsistencies which he did not elaborate on, claiming on Twitter that the incident was a provocation from Ukraine. Russia has repeatedly denied it was targeting civilian infrastructure, even as Russian attacks hit other shopping malls, theaters, hospitals, kindergartens and apartment buildings during the four-month war.

On Tuesday, Russian forces struck the Black Sea town of Ochakiv in the Mykolaiv region, damaging apartment buildings and killing two people, including a 6-year-old child. Six other people, including four children, were injured. One of them, a 3-month-old baby, is in a coma, according to local authorities.

The missile strike on Kremenchuk came as Western leaders pledged continued support for Ukraine and the world’s major economies prepared new sanctions against Russia, including oil price caps and higher tariffs on the goods.

The Group of Seven leaders condemned the attack in a statement late Monday, saying “indiscriminate attacks on innocent civilians constitute a war crime”, noting that “Russian President Putin and those responsible will be held accountable”.

The Russian strike echoed previous attacks that caused large numbers of civilian casualties – such as one in March on a theater in Mariupol where many civilians had holed up, killing around 600 people, and another in April on a station in eastern Kramatorsk that killed at least 59 people.

Zelenskyy said the mall 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 is what makes the occupiers so angry.”

In his evening speech, he said Russian forces had intentionally targeted the mall in ‘one of the most audacious terrorist attacks in European history’, denouncing Russia as ‘the biggest terrorist organization in the world’ .

Russia increasingly used long-range bombers during the war. Ukrainian officials said Russian Tu-22M3 long-range bombers flying over Russia’s western Kursk region fired missiles, one of which hit the shopping center and another a sports arena in Kremenchuk.

The United States seemed ready to heed Zelenskyy’s call for more air defense systems, and NATO planned to increase the size of its rapid reaction forces eightfold – to 300,000 troops.

The Kremenchuk attack coincided with Russia’s all-out assault on the last Ukrainian stronghold in eastern Ukraine’s Luhansk province, “firing fire” at the town of Lysychansk from the ground and tunes, according to the local governor. At least eight people were killed and more than 20 injured in Lysychansk when Russian rockets hit an area where a crowd had gathered to get water from a reservoir, Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai said.

The dam was part of the intensified offensive by Russian forces aimed at wresting the eastern region of Donbass from Ukraine. Over the weekend, the Russian military and its local separatist allies forced Ukrainian government troops out of the nearby town of Lysychansk, Sievierodonetsk.

On Monday, west of Lysychansk, the mayor of the city of Sloviansk – potentially the next major battleground – said Russian forces fired cluster munitions, including one that hit a residential area. Authorities said the number of casualties has not yet been confirmed. The Associated Press saw one death: A man’s body lay hunched over a car door frame, his blood pooling on the floor from injuries to his chest and head. The blast blew out most of the windows of surrounding buildings and the cars parked below, littering the floor with shattered glass.

“Everything is now destroyed,” said resident Valentina Vitkovska, in tears as she spoke of the explosion. “We are the only people who still live in this part of the building. There is no power. I can’t even call to tell others what happened to us.

Karmanau reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Oleksandr Stashevskyi in Kyiv, Ukraine contributed to this report.

Follow AP coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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