Still, hopes that someone else would be found alive faded and global outrage grew.
Leaders of the Group of Seven Nations, which includes the United States, condemned what they did. called “horrible attack.” They concluded a summit on the war with a pledge to hurt the Kremlin economically and support Ukraine for “as long as it takes”. The mall strike and accompanying images of fiery wreckage have brought renewed attention to the heavy civilian toll of the war in the Kremlin after weeks of updates on the lingering struggle for control of eastern Ukraine.
Aerial platforms and cranes picked up large beams as workers toiled through mangled metal and rubble in the mall’s charred ruins. A strong smell of fire permeated the room.
Speaking to NBC News at the scene of the attack, Ukrainian Attorney General Iryna Venediktova said the attack will be examined as a possible war crime.
Yurii Ruseniuk, chief of the surgical department at a local hospital, told NBC News they had treated 26 injured people from the mall. Ruseniuk said he treated three patients, two of whom worked at the mall. The other had just stopped by to use the mall’s ATM when the attack happened.
Oleg Kovalenko, 56, who works as a mechanic at the local train station, said he was walking through a park next to the mall to his daughter’s birthday party when he heard a bang and a second sound that left his ears buzzing for hours.
The shock wave made his head spin and it took him a moment to realize that the explosion had knocked him off his feet. Kovalenko, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, said he had heard similar voices before.
“Everyone was on the floor: one grandmother fell over the couch, another fell when she was chasing her grandchild,” he said, sweeping up shards of glass just before the attack. “They were all alive, but still lying on the ground or crouching clumsily together. I got up and saw a column of black smoke rising.”
The governor of the region, Dmytro Lunin, said it was “the most tragic day” for the Poltava area in more than four months of the war, when he declared a regional day of mourning for the victims. Meanwhile, Zelenskyy denounced what he called “a calculated Russian attack.”
Russia’s defense ministry confirmed the attack, but said it struck a legitimate military target in Kremenchuk on Monday, describing it as a depot that housed weapons and ammunition supplied by the US and its European partners. The detonation of this ammunition, the Ministry said Tuesdaysparked a fire in what was reportedly an empty and disused shopping center nearby – despite stories from survivors and the presence of concerned families who feared their loved ones might be among the dead.
Russia has consistently denied that it intentionally targeted civilians in Ukraine, but locals insisted that the mall cannot be mistaken for anything else.
Kremenchuk is an industrial city with oil refineries, heavy machinery and chemical plants. The Amstor mall was a popular meeting place for residents, a place where younger people bought the latest gadgets from tech stores and older people took jobs in interior design. Considered the crown jewel of the mall, the grocery store offered products otherwise hard to find during the war — meats, foreign spices, oils, and rare liquors — allowing residents to celebrate special occasions or break tradition.
Natalia Katysheva, 47, a chemist at a municipal water treatment plant in the city, was a frequent shopper at the mall.
She said the attack happened on her way home from work, and her bus dropped her off 200 meters from the site of the fire. She and other riders watched as the smoke unfolded in the blue sky, burning plastic smoke and feeling the scorching heat coming from the mall—even from that distance.
“You know that if you visit the store often, the shopkeepers start to notice you. Maybe you don’t know their names and they don’t know your name, but a kind of bond develops between you when you visit the store,” Katysheva said. “I thought about the people who were in Amstor at the time of the attack. Maybe I didn’t know them like other people, but I felt for them.”