Source: www.nytimes.com : 2022-06-28 09:20:11 : Valerie Hopkins
KREMENCHUK, Ukraine — As emergency workers combed through the rubble of a destroyed shopping mall in central Ukraine on Tuesday morning, the death toll from a Russian missile strike the day before rose to 18, the city’s mayor said.
Fifty-nine people remained wounded and another 36 were still missing, Vitaliy Maletskiy, the mayor, wrote on Facebook. Hundreds of people had been inside the mall.
Ukraine’s top prosecutor, Irina Venediktova, arrived on the scene on Tuesday with a team of investigators to collect evidence about what she said constituted both a “war crime” under Ukrainian law and a crime against humanity.
About 60 people had sought medical help, the mayor said. At a hospital where the wounded were being treated, five people were in critical condition, according to the chief doctor, Oksana Korlyakova.
The prosecutor denounced what she described as the “systematic shelling of civilian infrastructure: hospitals, kindergartens, malls as you see here.”
“I am sure the Russians know very well that they are killing civilians,” Ms. Venediktova added. “For them it is not news, but they do it again and again.”
Russia’s defense ministry acknowledged in a statement on Tuesday that it had struck Kremenchuk with what it described as high-precision missiles. But it said the mall had been set ablaze by an explosion at its primary target, which it said was depots containing munitions for weapons systems supplied by the United States and European countries.
The claims could not be independently verified, and Ukraine’s interior minister said at a briefing for journalists on Tuesday that “there is no military object in a five-kilometer radius.”
In a small park next to the shopping center, a makeshift memorial of 16 vases filled with flowers had been set up. Somber visitors lit candles for the dead.
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said in an evening video address that the strike was intentional. “This is not an accidental hit — this is a calculated Russian strike,” he said.
This was the sixth and most deadly Russian missile strike on Kremenchuk, an industrial city that had a prewar population of 217,000. Although some residents have left, many displaced people have also arrived from places further east that have faced heavy bombardment, such as Kharkiv and Mariupol.
Among the wounded in Monday’s strike was Yulia, 22, who had fled to Kremenchuk from Kharkiv with her mother. They previously lived in Luhansk, a city that was occupied by Moscow-backed separatists in 2014.
Yulia and her mother, Larisa, had fled to Kharkiv after the earlier fighting, and then two months ago fled again to Kremenchuk because of heavy shelling in Kharkiv. She had found a job selling mobile phones in the shopping center.
“We hoped we would be safe here,” said Larisa, who did not feel comfortable sharing her last name. “This is a deep trauma for my soul.”
In the hours after the strike, pro-Moscow news outlets and social media channels were quick to dismiss the attack as staged by the Ukrainians.
“I want the world to know that this is not fake,” Larisa said. “People suffered, and it is very scary.”
Ivan Nechepurenko contributed reporting from Tblisi, Georgia.
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