A Russian missile strike on a shopping mall in central Ukraine killed at least 13 civilians and left scores injured, Ukrainian officials said Monday, adding further pressure to Western countries to supply antimissile systems to protect cities far from the eastern front lines.
Ukrainian officials have said that Russia is deliberately attacking civilian targets and pleaded with Western nations for more supplies to defend themselves. In messages shared on social media, President Volodymyr Zelensky warned that there were more than a thousand civilians present when the mall strike hit and that the final number of victims could be “impossible to imagine”
Shoppers present at the mall were “no danger to the Russian army” and had “no strategic value,” Zelensky wrote on Telegram on Monday. It was “only the attempt of people to live a normal life, which so angers the occupiers.”
The rapid increase in missile strikes coincided with the Group of Seven summit in the Bavarian Alps of Germany. Leaders at the summit on Monday pledged to “stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes” with plans to increase the pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin through a price cap on Russian oil shipments, alongside other measures.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Monday that the “appalling” attack in Kremenchuk had shown “the depths of cruelty and barbarism” to which Putin would shrink, but that such acts only strengthened the resolve of G-7 nations to stand by Ukraine.
But Ukrainian officials have said they want more aid to protect themselves and end the war quickly. Speaking to G-7 leaders on a video conference just hours before the strike on Monday, Zelensky had asked them for more heavy weapons, including antiaircraft weapons, to force a Russian retreat before winter, according to a person briefed on the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private discussions.
U.S. National security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on Monday that President Biden has told Zelensky the United States intends to provide Kyiv with advanced air defense capabilities, though he did not provide more details.
Andriy Yermak, head of the Ukrainian presidential office, wrote on Twitter on Monday that the attack showed Russia should be “designated a state sponsor of terrorism” and called for more weapons.
“We need missile defenses,” he said.
The Amstor mall was crowded with shoppers on Monday afternoon when at least one missile struck it, according to Ukrainian officials. The Ukrainian Air Force Command said the mall had been hit by at least one Kh-22 missile fired by Tu-22 M3 long-range bombers operating in Russia’s Kursk region, near the border with Russia. Kremenchuk, a city of more than 200,000 before the invasion, is a large industrial center for the region.
Videos shared from the scene show buildings engulfed in smoke and civilians running for cover. Dmitry Lunin, the governor of the Poltava region, said 40 people were wounded, including two children, with 13 dead. With the rescue mission still ongoing, officials warned the number is likely to rise. Russian officials and reporters with state media outlets have suggested, without evidence, that the attack on the shopping mall was a deliberately staged provocation by Ukrainian forces.
Kh-22 missiles are long-range weapons that were originally designed for use against ships. In a publicly issued note released earlier this month, the British Defense Ministry warned that these Soviet-era weapons were being used against land targets in Ukraine and that they were “highly inaccurate and therefore can cause severe collateral damage and casualties.”
A senior U.S. defense official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the Pentagon, said Russia launched about 60 missile strikes on Ukraine over the weekend. The Pentagon is not sure why Russia boosted its strike tempo. One possibility is that Moscow is in protest of the United States delivering Ukraine advanced M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, the senior U.S. defense official said. Another is that the strikes are in response to the G-7 summit.
The strikes also come before Biden and other world leaders were due to arrive in Madrid for a NATO summit on Tuesday. Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Monday that the military alliance would sharply increase the number of forces it keeps at a high readiness level to 300,000 in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.