Monday's Russian missile strike on a crowded shopping centre in central Ukraine has been strongly condemned by the United Nations and the West. G7 leaders have labelled it a war crime and vowed to hold President Putin accountable.
Firefighters and soldiers have been searching the rubble of the building in Kremenchuk, following the attack which is known to have killed at least 18 people and injured dozens. More than 30 people are missing, authorities say.
Ukraine's Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova, who is leading investigations into possible war crimes, visited the scene and said the bombing of the "civilian infrastructure" raised "a question of crimes against humanity".
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Tuesday called for Russia to be designated a "state sponsor of terrorism". On Monday he called Russia the world's "largest terrorist organisation" in the wake of the deadly bombing. More than 1,000 people were inside when two Russian missiles slammed into the building, he said.
Leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) major democracies, at a summit in Germany, said the attack was "abominable".
“Indiscriminate attacks on innocent civilians constitute a war crime. Russian President Putin and those responsible will be held to account,” they wrote in a joint statement tweeted by the German G7 presidency.
At Ukraine's request, the United Nations Security Council scheduled an emergency meeting in New York to discuss the attack. The UN called the strike “deplorable”, stressing that civilian infrastructure “should never ever be targeted”, spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
'No threat to Russian army'
At least 18 people were killed and 25 hospitalised in Kremenchuk, while about 36 were missing, said Dmytro Lunin, governor of the Poltava region, said on Tuesday. The number of dead is two more than Monday's overnight figure, and there are fears that more bodies may be found. Emergency service said on Monday that 59 people had been injured.
President Zelenskyy said the shopping centre 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”.
In his nightly address, he said it appeared Russian forces had intentionally targeted the shopping centre. “Today’s Russian strike at a shopping mall in Kremenchuk is one of the most daring terrorist attacks in European history,” he added.
Kremenchuk 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”.
Kremenchuk lies some 330 kilometres southeast of Kyiv, and is more than 200 kilometres from the eastern front line.
The missile strike on Kremenchuk unfolded as G7 leaders pledged continued support for Ukraine "for as long as necessary", and the world's major economies prepared new sanctions against Russia, including a price cap on oil and higher tariffs on goods.
The final statement Tuesday from the Group of Seven summit in Germany underlined their intent to impose “severe and immediate economic costs” on Russia. It left out key details on how the fossil fuel price caps would work in practice.
"Russia cannot and must not win and therefore our support for Ukraine and our sanctions against Russia will continue as long as necessary and with the necessary intensity in the coming weeks and months," French President Emmanuel Macron told a news conference after the G7 summit.
G7 leaders head from Bavaria to Madrid on Tuesday for a NATO summit that will be dominated by Russia's war on Ukraine. On Monday Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg outlined plans for a massive increase in rapid reaction troops on NATO's eastern flank, rising from the current 40,000 to 300,000.
Wave of Russian attacks hits civilians
Russia's defence ministry claimed on Tuesday that "high precision" missiles had struck warehouses stocking Western-supplied weapons, and that explosions had set fire to a nearby, disused shopping centre that it said was "closed".
A barrister who is working with the Ukrainian prosecutor's office to investigate possible war crimes, refuted claims that a military object was located nearby.
In an earlier, initial Russian government comment on the Kremenchuk missile strike, UN representative Dmitry Polyanskiy alleged multiple inconsistencies that he didn't specify, claiming on Twitter that the incident was a "provocation" by Ukraine. He later retweeted a post from another official Russian organisation appearing to hint the attack had been staged.
Russia has systematically denied it targets civilian infrastructure, even though Russian attacks have hit other shopping centres, theatres, hospitals, kindergartens and apartment buildings — killing and injuring thousands of people.
The attack on Kremenchuk was one of several launched by Moscow's forces across Ukraine to have hit civilians since the weekend:
Russian forces struck the Black Sea city of Ochakiv in the Mykolaiv region on Tuesday, damaging apartment buildings and killing two, including a 6-year-old child. A further six people, four of them children, were wounded. One of them, a 3-month-old baby, is in a coma, according to local officials.
At least eight were killed and 21 wounded in a Russian bombardment while collecting water in the eastern city of Lysychansk on Monday, regional authorities said.
In nearby Sloviansk — potentially the next major battleground — the mayor said Russian forces fired cluster munitions, including one that hit a residential neighborhood. Authorities said the number of victims had yet to be confirmed. AP reported seeing the body of one man who was killed.
Also on Monday, Russian forces shelled central districts of Kharkiv, hitting apartment buildings and a primary school and killing five people and wounding 22, the regional governor said. Five children were among the injured, he added.
The same day, authorities said six people were injured including a child in a missile strike in the Odesa region, in southern Ukraine, that destroyed residential buildings and caused a fire.
These attacks follow a barrage of missiles that struck Kyiv on Sunday, killing at least one civilian and injuring several in a residential area.
Ukraine's air force command said the shopping centre in Kremenchuk was hit by two long-range X-22 missiles fired from Tu-22M3 bombers that flew from Shaykovka airfield in Russia's Kaluga region. Officials said a sports arena in the city was also hit.
Russia has increasingly used long-range bombers in the war. The strike on Kremenchuk echoed earlier attacks that caused large numbers of civilian casualties — such as one in March on a Mariupol theatre where 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.