By Adam Taylor, David L. Stern, Dan Lamothe, and Isabelle Khurshudyan
A Russian missile attack on a shopping center in central Ukraine has killed at least 15 civilians and left scores injured, Ukrainian officials said Monday, adding to the urgency of Kyiv’s appeals to western nations to send more advanced weapons.
The strike in the town of Kremenchuk came amid a broader escalation of Russian attacks in recent days and as the leaders of the Group of Seven met at a peak in the Bavarian Alps. The Pentagon said Monday that Russia launched about 60 rocket attacks across Ukraine over the weekend, including one that hit a Kyiv apartment building and killed one.
G-7 leaders from the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan condemned Monday’s attack, calling it “abhorrent” and pledged “unwavering support” for Ukraine. “Indiscriminate attacks on innocent civilians constitute a war crime,” the statement said. “We will not rest until Russia ends its cruel and senseless war against Ukraine.”
Ukrainian officials have urged G-7 leaders and other Western nations to supply Ukraine with more sophisticated weapons, including missile defense systems, which they say would protect their cities from Russian attacks.
Andriy Yermak, head of Ukraine’s presidential office, tweeted Monday that the attack showed that Russia “should be labeled as a state sponsor of terrorism” and called for more weapons. “We need anti-missile defense,” he said.
Just hours before Monday’s strike, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke via video conference with G-7 leaders. He asked them for more heavy weapons, including anti-aircraft weapons, to force a Russian withdrawal before winter, according to a person briefed to the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private talks.
White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters Monday that President Joe Biden told Zelensky that the United States intends to equip Kyiv with advanced air defense capabilities, though he gave no further details.
According to Ukrainian officials, the Amstor shopping center was packed with shoppers on Monday afternoon when it was hit by at least one missile. Videos shared from the scene show buildings shrouded in smoke and civilians taking cover. Dmitry Lunin, the governor of the Poltava region, said 40 people were injured, including two children, with 15 dead. As the rescue mission is ongoing, officials warned the number is likely to increase.
Zelenskyy said in a Telegram message on Monday that more than 1,000 civilians were in the mall when the missile struck, adding that the shoppers “posed no threat to the Russian army.” The ultimate toll, he said, was “unimaginable.”
Kremenchuk, a city of more than 200,000 people before the invasion, is a major industrial center for the Poltava region. Ukraine’s Air Force Command said the mall was hit by at least one Kh-22 missile fired by Tu-22 M3 bombers operating in Russia’s Kursk region near the Ukrainian border. Russian officials and state media have claimed without evidence that the attack on the mall was a deliberate provocation by Ukrainian forces.
Kh-22 missiles are long-range weapons originally designed for use against ships. In a public statement released earlier this month, the UK MoD warned that these Soviet-era weapons were being used against land targets in Ukraine and that they were “highly inaccurate and could therefore cause serious collateral damage and casualties”.
A senior US defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity under ground rules laid down by the Pentagon, said it was not clear why Russia had stepped up its attacks. One possibility is that Moscow is objecting to the United States supplying Ukraine with advanced M142 high-mobility artillery missile systems, the official said.