A Russian missile strike hit a crowded shopping centre in the central Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk on Monday, killing and injuring scores of people, the Ukrainian authorities said.
Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said that more than 1,000 people were inside the building at the time of the strike.
Footage circulating on social media showed fire raging and smoke billowing from the shopping centre, with fire engines parked nearby.
Dmitry Lunin, the governor of the Poltava region, said 11 people were dead and 56 injured, numbers that he said could grow.
The attack came on the day of a G7 meeting in Germany where leaders discussed ways to punish Moscow for its invasion and pledged to stand with Ukraine “for as long as it takes”.
Russia stepped up its missile strikes on Ukraine as the summit came closer, hitting the capital, Kyiv, on Sunday and launching 20 rockets fired from Belarusian territory, raising worries in Ukraine that Moscow is aiming to drag its key ally Belarus into the conflict.
Zelenskiy wrote on Telegram that the number of victims was “unimaginable”.
“The occupiers fired missiles at the shopping centre, where there were more than a thousand civilians. The mall is on fire, rescuers are extinguishing the fire, the number of victims is unimaginable. Russia continues to take out its impotence on ordinary citizens. It is useless to hope for decency and humanity from Russia.”
A rescue operation was under way and nine of the wounded were in a serious condition, said Kyrylo Tymoshenko, the deputy head of the presidential office.
Ukraine’s air force command said in a statement that Russia hit the mall, which is located near a railway station, with two X-22 cruise missiles that were fired by an unspecified number of Tu-22M long-range bombers. According to Kyiv, the planes fired their rockets while in the sky over the Kursk region, located near the Ukrainian border.
Lunin, the local governor, called the attack an “act of terrorism against civilians,” adding that there was no military target nearby that Russia could have been aiming at.
Kremenchuk is the site of Ukraine’s biggest oil refinery and stands on the banks of the Dnieper River. The city serves as the administrative centre of the Kremenchuk district in Poltava oblast.
There was no immediate comment from Russia, which denies deliberately targeting civilians. The Kremlin-linked Telegram channel War on Fakes claimed without evidence that the mall had been shut down for several months and was “likely” used to store weaponry.
The prime minister, Boris Johnson, said the Russian attack on Kremenchuk, and the previous day on Kyiv, would simply “strengthen the resolve” of G7 leaders. A UK government source said that when Johnson heard about the Kyiv strike he told fellow leaders it was “stupid of Putin to do something like that when all of us are in the same place, because it is only going to make us feel more resolute and united”.
Meanwhile, Russian shelling on Monday of a residential area in Ukraine’s second largest city, Kharkiv, killed four civilians, the regional governor said.
Forces fighting for Russia are also mounting an all-out assault on the last Ukrainian stronghold in the eastern Luhansk region, where Russian troops hope to cut off the city of Lysychansk, having reduced its twin city, Sievierodonetsk, to rubble.
If Lysychansk falls, the entire province of Luhansk, which along with Donetsk makes up the Donbas region, could fall into Russian hands.
Russia’s Interfax news agency and pro-Russia separatist fighters said Russian troops had entered Lysychansk on Saturday after Ukrainian forces were ordered to withdraw from Sievierodonetsk. The claim could not be independently verified and there was no immediate comment from the Ukrainian side.
Serhiy Haidai, the governor of Luhansk province, said on Facebook that Russian and separatist fighters were trying to blockade Lysychansk from the south and that due to heavy bombardments the city “is almost unrecognisable”.