Russian long-range bombers struck a crowded shopping mall in Ukraine’s central city of Kremenchuk with a missile on Monday, raising fears of what President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called an “unimaginable” number of victims in “one of the most daring terrorist attacks in European history.”
Zelenskky said that many of the more than 1,000 afternoon shoppers and staff inside the mall managed to escape. Giant plumes of black smoke, dust and orange flames emanated from the wreckage, with emergency crews rushing in to search broken metal and concrete for victims and put out fires. Onlookers watched in distress at the sight of how an everyday activity such as shopping could turn into a horror.
The casualty figures were changing as rescuers searched the smoldering rubble into early Tuesday. Ukraine’s emergency services reported late Monday that at least 16 people were dead and about 60 wounded.
Soldiers worked into the night to lug sheets of twisted metal and broken concrete, as one drilled into what remained of the shopping center’s roof. Drones whirred above, clouds of dark smoke still emanating from the ruins several hours after the fire had been put out.
“We are working to dismantle the construction so that it is possible to get machinery in there since the metal elements are very heavy and big, and disassembling them by hand is impossible,” said Volodymyr Hychkan, an emergency services official.
At Ukraine’s request, the U.N. Security Council scheduled an emergency meeting in New York on Tuesday to discuss the attack.
In the first Russian government comment on the missile strike, the country’s first deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, Dmitry Polyansky, alleged multiple inconsistencies that he didn’t specify, claiming on Twitter that the incident was a provocation by Ukraine. Russia has repeatedly denied it targets civilian infrastructure, even though Russian attacks have hit other shopping malls, theaters, hospitals, kindergartens and apartment buildings.
The strike unfolded as the leaders of the world’s major economies get ready to pursue newon Russia, including a price cap on oil and higher tariffs on goods. Meanwhile, the U.S. prepared to announce the purchase of an advanced surface-to-air missile system for Kyiv, and NATO planned to nearly eightfold to 300,000 troops.
Zelenskyy said the target presented “no threat to the Russian army” and had “no strategic value.” He accused Russia of sabotaging “people’s attempts to live a normal life, which make the occupiers so angry.”
The Ukrainian military said the shopping center was hit by missiles fired by Russian Tu-22M3 long-range bombers from the skies over Russia’s western Kursk region.
The secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, Oleksiy Danilov, said that one missile hit the shopping center and another struck a sports arena in Kremenchuk.
The Russian strike carried echoes of attacks earlier in the war that caused large numbers of civilian casualties — such as one in March on awhere many civilians had holed up, killing an estimated 600, and another in April on a train station in eastern Kramatorsk that left at least 59 people dead.
“Russia continues to take out its impotence on ordinary civilians. It is useless to hope for decency and humanity on its part,” Zelenskyy said.
Mayor Vitaliy Maletskiy wrote on Facebook that the attack “hit a very crowded area, which is 100% certain not to have any links to the armed forces.”
The attack happened as Russia was mounting an all-out assault on the last Ukrainian stronghold in eastern Ukraine’s Luhansk province, “pouring fire” on the city of Lysychansk from the ground and air, according to the local governor.
Russian forces appeared to step up an offensive centering on trying to wrest the eastern Donbas region from Ukraine after forcing government troops out of the neighboring city of Sievierodonetsk in recent days.
Western leaders, meanwhile, pledged steadfast and continued support for Kyiv. NATO will agree to deliver further military support to Ukraine — including secure communication and anti-drone systems — when its leaders convene in Spain for a summit, according to the military alliance’s secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg.
To the west of Lysychansk on Monday, the mayor of the city of Sloviansk — potentially the next major battleground — said Russian forces fired cluster munitions on the city after dawn, including one that hit a residential neighborhood.
Authorities said the number of dead and wounded had yet to be confirmed. The Associated Press saw one fatality: A man’s body lay hunched over a car door frame, his blood pooling onto the ground from chest and head wounds.
The blast blew out most windows in the surrounding apartment blocks and the cars parked below, littering the ground with broken glass.
“Everything is now destroyed. We are the only people left living in this part of the building. There is no power,” said local resident Valentina Vitkovska, in tears as she spoke about the blast. “I can’t even call to tell others what had happened to us.”
Overall, Zelenskyy’s office said at least six civilians were killed and 31 others wounded as part of intense Russian shelling against various Ukrainian cities over the past 24 hours — including Kyiv and major cities in the country’s south and east, but not counting the attack in Kremenchuk and the shelling of the eastern city of Kharkiv where at least three people were killed and another 15 were wounded.
It said Russian forces fired rockets that killed two people and wounded five overnight in and near Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, and continued to target the key southern port of Odesa. A missile attack destroyed residential buildings and wounded six people, including a child, it said.
In Lysychansk, at least five high-rise buildings in the city and the last road bridge were damaged over the past day, the regional governor said. A crucial highway linking the city to government-held territory to the south was rendered impassable by shelling.
The city had a prewar population of around 100,000, approximately one-tenth of whom remain.
Analysts say that Lysychansk’s location high on the banks of the Siverskiy Donets River gives a major advantage to the city’s Ukrainian defenders.
“It’s a very hard nut to crack. The Russians could spend many months and much effort storming Lysychansk,” said military analyst Oleh Zhdanov.
In other developments, in Germany’s Bavarian Alps, leaders of the Group of Seven countries unveiled plans to seek new sanctions and pledged to continue supporting Ukraine “for as long as it takes.”
In a joint statement on Monday after they held a session by video link with Zelenskyy, the leaders underlined their “unwavering commitment to support the government and people of Ukraine in their courageous defense of their country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
The U.S. appeared ready to respond to Zelenskyy’s call for more air defense systems after Russian troops hit Kyiv with long-range missiles on Sunday. Washington was expected to announce the purchase of an advanced surface-to-air missile system for Ukraine.
In Brussels, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg announced the plans to greatly expand the alliance’s rapid-reaction forces as part of its response to an “era of strategic competition.” The NATO response force currently has about 40,000 soldiers.
Britian’s defense ministry said Russia is likely to rely increasingly on reserve forces in the coming weeks of the war.
Analysts have said a call-up of reservists by Russia could vastly alter the balance in the war but could also come with political consequences for President Vladimir Putin’s government.
Meanwhile, senior Biden administration officials havethat the White House is planning to announce this week the purchase of an advanced medium- to long-range surface-to-air missile defense system for Ukraine. CBS News correspondent Ed O’Keefe said Washington was expected to promise more artillery shells and radar systems, too, as it tries to meet the urgent requests coming from Ukraine’s leaders.
Mr. Biden and his fellow G-7 leaders, meeting Monday in Germany, were likely to hear a fresh appeal from Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy, who was to address them virtually from Kyiv. He told his own country on Sunday night, in a daily video address, that Ukraine neededimmediately to fight back against Russia’s invasion.
As CBS News correspondent Ramy Inocencio reports from the Ukrainian capital, Russia shattered weeks of relative calm in Kyiv byearly Sunday morning. It was an apparent show-of-force by the Kremlin as the Western leaders gathered in Germany to strengthen their military and economic support for Ukraine.