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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Missile strike hits crowded shopping center in central Ukraine

Videos showed a shopping center burning in the city of Kremenchuk. Ukrainian officials said a Russian missile strike hit the building, and estimated that 1,000 people may have been inside.

By Valerie Hopkins, Ivan Nechepurenko, Megan Specia and Dan Bilefsky

Hundreds of people were out shopping, chatting and meeting with friends in a shopping mall in central Ukraine on Monday, a rare moment of normalcy amid the horror of war. Then a Russian missile struck.

The attack left at least 16 dead and at least 10 missing at the shopping mall, near a railway station in the industrial city of Kremenchuk, located in Ukraine’s central Poltava region.

“People just burned alive,” Denys Monastyrskyi, Ukraine’s interior minister, said.

In four months of conflict characterized by indiscriminate violence, the strike was just the latest vivid and bloody example of Russia’s willingness to target civilians at a nonmilitary site, with people going about their daily lives.

The strike on Kremenchuk came after Russia, in a sudden escalation, fired more than 65 missiles at Ukraine over the weekend. On Monday, a strike in the northeastern city of Kharkiv killed five people and wounded 22, according to local authorities.

Group of 7 leaders meeting in Germany called the mall attack a “war crime” in a statement Monday night. Previous Russian targets have included a theater, a maternity hospital and people waiting in line for bread.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine dedicated most of his nightly address Monday to the strike, calling it “one of the most defiant terrorist attacks in European history.”

“Only totally insane terrorists, who should have no place on earth, can strike missiles at such an object,” Zelenskyy said, adding, “Russia will stop at nothing.”

In Kremenchuk on Monday, smoke filled the air after the attack and the ground was hot, as workers tried to clear the rubble and local residents desperately searched for the missing, according to city council officials.

Ukrainian officials said that as many as 1,000 people could have been inside the building at the time of the strike, although the exact number was not clear.

The Amstar mall, located in the city’s center, is not far from an industrial facility that is believed to be used to repair tanks. Until Monday, the center of the city had not been hit — Russian forces had only hit industrial targets and an oil refinery.

“When they hit infrastructure or factories, we can understand that someone was given the coordinates,” said Olha Usanova, a deputy mayor of Kremenchuk. “This is just destruction of civilians. I have no words for this horror.”

Serhiy Kruk, head of Ukraine’s emergency services, was quoted on Telegram as saying that “so far,” 16 people had been killed and 59 injured, 25 of whom were hospitalized.

The nearest bomb shelter to the mall was across the street, but “not everyone made it,” Monastyrskyi said. He said that an air raid siren had sounded, but many people ignored it.

Videos shot after the strike and posted online showed a fire raging as emergency workers frantically tried to extinguish the flame and civilians loaded the injured into ambulances. Footage that appeared to be captured by people running for the exits showed them navigating a thick cloud of debris and dust as they clambered over broken windows, doors and crumbling walls.

By Monday evening, Ukrainian media reported that 115 firefighters had managed to put out the massive blaze and rescuers were continuing to search through the debris for survivors.

Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said the strike had been carried out by a Russian X-22 missile weighing nearly 2,000 pounds, and had been fired from Russia’s Kursk region, near the border.

Kremenchuk had a population of almost 220,000 people before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began in late February.

Dmitry Polyanskiy, a deputy Russian ambassador to the United Nations, suggested on Twitter that the explosion and fire had been caused by the Ukrainians themselves. He described it as a “provocation” by Ukraine intended to keep attention on the country before an annual meeting of NATO countries in Madrid starting Tuesday.

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