Russia denied Tuesday that it fired missiles at a shopping mall in the Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk, claiming instead that it attacked a nearby depot of U.S. and European weaponry, causing an explosion that caused a fire in the mall.
Ukraine said that at least 18 persons were killed by a Russian missile assault against a shopping center in Kremenchuk on Monday. According to President Volodymyr Zelensky, at than a thousand people were inside when the rockets struck.
Russia's Ministry of Defense refused Ukraine's claim, stating that it had hit a legitimate military target in the city and that the shopping center was not in use.
Reuters could not independently corroborate the Russian story or Zelenskiy's accusation that Russia deliberately targeted civilians by bombing a shopping mall.
"In Kremenchuk, Russian forces struck a weapons depot storing arms received from the United States and Europe with high-precision air-based weapons," the Russian defense ministry stated in a daily battle statement.
"The detonation of stored ammunition for Western weapons caused a fire in a non-functioning shopping centre located next to the depot," the report continued.
The G7 referred to the attack as a war crime committed by Russia. In contrast, Zelenskiy referred to it as "one of the most defiant terrorist attacks in European history" and accused Russia of directly targeting people.
When reporters inquired about the Kremenchuk incident, the Kremlin directed them to the defense ministry's response. Russia accuses Ukraine of conducting attacks on Donbas civilians.
On Tuesday, attempts to collect survivors and bodies continued, and dozens of injured people were sent to hospitals.
In recent days, Ukraine has reported a significant increase in Russian assaults. On Sunday, a residential building in Kyiv was the target of the capital's first attack since early June.
In addition to the retail center, Ukraine said that Russian missiles also struck the eastern cities of Kharkiv and Lysychansk on Monday, one of the worst days for civilian casualties in recent weeks.
Monday, hours after the first casualties were reported from Kremenchuk, Russia's deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Dmitry Polyanskiy, accused Ukraine of using the incident to gain sympathy ahead of a June 28-30 summit of the NATO military alliance and cited "striking discrepancies" in Kyiv's account of the incident.
Russia has denied multiple times during its four-month operation against Ukraine that it targeted residential areas. Since Russia's invasion on February 24, at least 4,700 civilians have died, according to the United Nations.
President Vladimir Putin has stated on multiple occasions that the primary reason for the "special military operation" was to safeguard the Russian speakers of Donbas from persecution and attack by Ukraine.
Ukraine and its Western backers assert that Russia is launching an unjustified war against a sovereign nation fighting for its survival. According to Kyiv, Russia's claim of persecution of Russian speakers is a bogus excuse for the invasion.
After Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, the conflict in eastern Ukraine began, pitting Russian-backed forces against the Ukrainian military.
According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, about 14,000 people were killed between 2014 and 2022 due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.