A Russian missile strike hit a crowded shopping centre in the central Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk, killing at least 10 people and wounding 40, senior Ukrainian officials said.
The attack on Monday caused a huge fire and sent dark smoke billowing into the sky, footage circulated by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy showed.
“10 dead and more than 40 people have been injured. This is currently the situation in Kremenchuk as a result of the missile strike,” said Dmytro Lunin, head of the administration of Poltava.
Firefighters and soldiers were seen removing mangled pieces of metal as they searched for survivors.
“We don’t understand how many people could be remaining under the rubble,” the regional rescue service chief said on television.
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”.
“Russia continues to take out its impotence on ordinary civilians. It is useless to hope for decency and humanity on its part,” he said.
Al Jazeera’s Charles Stratford, reporting from Kyiv, said about half of those wounded were receiving treatment in hospital.
“Ukrainians are saying that there were no strategic targets that could have been aimed at in this attack,” Stratford said.
“What we do know is that the city’s bridge yesterday was hit by a Russian shell, according to the Ukrainian military, and at least one was killed and five others injured.”
Describing “terrifying pictures” of flames and smoke billowing from the shopping centre, Stratford said “the Kremlin tells the world that they are trying to avoid civilian casualties in this war.
“Kremenchuk is about 200km from the southern front line, and similar kind of distance to the east,” he said.
Mayor Vitaliy Maletskiy wrote on Facebook that the attack “hit a very crowded area, which is 100 percent certain not to have any links to the armed forces”.
The attack prompted condemnations from Ukrainian officials across the board, including foreign minster Dmytro Kuleba, who called for more heavy weaponry to be sent to Ukraine and further sanctions on Russia.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the attack on the mall demonstrates the “depths of cruelty and barbarism” of Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
“Putin must realise that his behaviour will do nothing but strengthen the resolve that the UK and every other G7 country stand by the Ukraine for as long as it takes,” he said.
Russian offensive escalating
The attack came as Russia was mounting an 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.
Russian forces appear to be stepping up longer-range attacks on the country after forcing Ukrainian troops out of the neighbouring city of Severodonetsk in recent days.
Western leaders, meanwhile, continue to pledge steadfast and continued support for Kyiv.
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 on Tuesday, according to the military alliance’s secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg.
The battle for Severodonetsk and Lysychansk is part of a stepped-up Russian offensive to take control of the broader Donbas region from Ukraine.