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Russia Missile Strike Hits Ukraine Mall06/28 06:22

   

   KREMENCHUK, Ukraine (AP) -- 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 missile strike unfolded as Western leaders pledged continued support for 
Ukraine, and the world's major economies prepared new sanctions against Russia, 
including a price cap on oil and higher tariffs on goods. Meanwhile, the U.S. 
appeared ready to respond to Zelenskyy's call for more air defense systems, and 
NATO planned to increase the size of its rapid-reaction forces nearly eightfold 
-- to 300,000 troops.

   Zelenskyy said the mall 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 center and added, "Today's Russian strike at a shopping 
mall in Kremenchuk is one of the most daring terrorist attacks in European 
history." He said Russia "has become the largest terrorist organization in the 
world."

   Russia has increasingly used long-range bombers in the war. Ukrainian 
officials said Russian Tu-22M3 long-range bombers flying over Russia's western 
Kursk region fired the missile that hit the shopping center, as well as another 
that hit a sports arena in Kremenchuk.

   The Russian strike echoed attacks earlier in the war that caused large 
numbers of civilian casualties -- such as one in March on a Mariupol theater 
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.

   "Russia continues to take out its impotence on ordinary civilians. It is 
useless to hope for decency and humanity on its part," Zelenskyy said.

   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."

   The United Nations called the strike "deplorable," stressing that civilian 
infrastructure "should never ever be targeted," U.N. spokesman Stephane 
Dujarric said. Group of Seven leaders issued a statement late Monday condemning 
the attack and saying that "indiscriminate attacks on innocent civilians 
constitute a war crime. Russian President Putin and those responsible will be 
held to account."

   The attack coincided with Russia's 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. At least 
eight people were killed and more than 20 wounded in Lysychansk when Russian 
rockets hit an area where a crowd gathered to obtain water from a tank, Luhansk 
Gov. Serhiy Haidai said.

   The eastern barrage was part of Russian forces' intensified offensive aimed 
at wresting the eastern Donbas region from Ukraine. Over the weekend, the 
Russian military and their local separatist allies forced Ukrainian government 
troops out of Lysychansk's neighboring city, Sievierodonetsk.

   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, including one that hit a residential neighborhood. Authorities said 
the number of victims 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," said resident Valentina Vitkovska, in tears 
as she spoke about the blast. "We are the only people left living in this part 
of the building. There is no power. I can't even call to tell others what had 
happened to us."

   Before Monday's attacks, 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, according to Zelenskyy's office. Shelling on Monday in Kharkiv, 
Ukraine's second-largest city, killed at least five people and wounded 15.

   Russian forces continued to target the key southern Black Sea port of Odesa. 
A missile attack destroyed residential buildings and wounded six people, 
including a child, Ukrainian authorities said.

   In Lysychansk, at least five high-rise buildings and the last road bridge 
were damaged over the past day, Haidai said. A crucial highway linking the city 
to government-held territory to the south was rendered impassable. The city's 
prewar population of around 100,000 has dwindled to fewer than 10,000.

   Analysts say that Lysychansk's location high on the banks of the Siverskiy 
Donets River gives a major advantage to 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 G7 
countries unveiled plans to seek new sanctions and pledged to continue 
supporting Ukraine "for as long as it takes." In a joint statement 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."

   Elsewhere, 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 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. 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 later this week, Stoltenberg said.

   Britain's defense ministry said Russia is likely to rely increasingly on 
reserve forces in the coming weeks. Analysts have said a call-up of reservists 
by Russia could vastly alter the balance in the war but could also come with 
negative political consequences for President Vladimir Putin's government.

 
 
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