As the death toll in Russia’s airstrike on a Ukrainian shopping center full of civilians climbed to 20 on Tuesday, Russian defense officials took full responsibility for the attack—and then bragged about it as a successful military operation.
Igor Konashenkov, a spokesperson for Russia’s defense ministry, described the attack on the central Ukrainian city of Kremenchug in a Tuesday briefing, framing it as one of the Russian military’s successful strikes against Ukrainian “military facilities.”
He said the “high-accuracy strike” was conducted not on a shopping mall, but on an arms depot, and that it had successfully destroyed “Western-made weapons and ammunition” intended for Ukrainian troops in the Donbas. Bizarrely, he blamed a fire at the arms depot for the damage at the Amstor shopping mall, which he claimed was “non-functional.”
He made no mention of the 20 civilians killed. An additional 59 people were injured in the strike.
Russia’s version of events is sure to infuriate Ukrainian authorities, who at a Tuesday briefing at the bombed out mall called BS on the Kremlin narrative, showing reporters the children’s toys and consumer goods that were destroyed in what Ukrainian Interior Minister Denys Monastyrsky described as a “targeted hit on a civilian facility.”
Photos of what was described as fragments of a Russian missile found at the scene also circulated in Ukrainian media.
In addition to the 20 fatalities confirmed by the Ukrainian presidential office Tuesday, many more people remain unaccounted for. Kyrylo Tymoshenko, the deputy head of the presidential administration, put the figure at 40, while Monastyrsky said at least 21 remain unaccounted for. The head of the Poltava region, Dmytro Lunin, has said 36 people remain missing.
The death toll is expected to climb as rescuers continue to work at the scene.
“Rescuers will try to sort through the wreckage until tomorrow, and then the final number of dead will be clear,” Monastyrsky said, adding that most of the victims have not yet been identified, as the bodies are “badly burned.”
He said Ukrainian intelligence has already identified some of the Russian pilots involved in the attack, noting that “there is nothing here that would threaten any of the [Russian] military.”
Ukraine’s prosecutor general has vowed to take the matter to the Hague, as the United Nations Security Council prepared to gather for an emergency session Tuesday.
Family members and friends of shoppers who disappeared after the strike are still waiting near the scene for word on their fate.
“We sent him messages, called, but nothing,” one man, Kiril Zhebolovsky, told Reuters of his agonizing wait to find out what happened to his friend who was working in an electronics store in the mall.
The Monday attack came as Russian forces intensified their strikes during the G7 summit in Germany.
Vadym Denysenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister, said the Kremenchug strike should be seen not only as a warning from Putin to Western nations, but also a clear signal to Russia’s elite that he has no plans to back down in Ukraine.
“There is a very intense phase [of the war] right now, and in the near future, Putin will do everything in his power to intensify such strikes,” Denyskenko said in comments to local media Tuesday.
His warning came as authorities in Mykolaiv announced the fallout of more Russian aggression overnight. According to Governor Vitaliy Kim, a child was killed after Russian forces attacked the city of Ochakiv.
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