KYIV, Ukraine — A shopping center in Ukraine’s central Poltava region was hit by a Russian missile strike on Monday afternoon, the Ukrainian authorities said.
Ukraine’s president said an estimated 1,000 people were inside the building at the time of the strike. As rescuers combed the scene, Ukraine’s emergency services said that two people were confirmed dead and at least another 20 were injured.
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 near the railway station in the industrial city of Kremenchuk. 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.
Sitting on the Dnieper river, Kremenchuk is a major Ukrainian industrial hub with factories that produce railway cars and trucks. It is also home to Ukraine’s largest oil refinery, which has been targeted repeatedly by Russian missiles, according to the local news media, part of Moscow’s strategy to destroy the country’s fuel production and storage infrastructure.
President Volodymyr Zelensky said the shopping mall had posed “no danger to the Russian army,” in comments posted to Telegram. “No strategic value. Only the attempt of people to live a normal life, which so angers the occupiers. Russia continues to place its powerlessness on ordinary citizens. It is useless to hope for adequacy and humanity on its part.”
The strike on Kremenchuk came after Russia fired more than 65 missiles at Ukraine on Saturday and Sunday, including a strike in the capital, Kyiv, in which one person died.
Poltava’s regional governor, Dmytro Lunin, called the attack a “cynical act of terror against the civilian population” that constituted a “war crime.”
And Mr. Zelensky’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, decried the attack and called on Ukraine’s Western allies to give the country more defensive weapons.
“We need more weapons to protect our people, we need air defense systems,” he wrote on Telegram. “Russia must be recognized as a sponsor of terrorism. This evil must be punished.”
Pro-Kremlin journalists were quick to deny Russian involvement and offer alternative theories about what had caused the fire.
Andrei Rudenko, a reporter with the Russian state-run television network Rossiya, called the fire “a provocation” and cast doubt over the claim that 1,000 people had been in the mall by citing images of the empty parking lot in front of it.
“There is a feeling that they have set it all ablaze themselves and shot at it to make the picture look good,” he said in his channel on Telegram, a social messaging app.
Other pro-Russian commentators suggested that a major machine-building factory behind the shopping mall had been the target, saying that the mall itself was collateral damage.
Kremenchuk had a population of almost 220,000 people before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began in late February.
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