Sat. Mar 25th, 2023

Ukraine said it feared scores of civilians might be dead or injured after a Russian missile strike hit a crowded shopping mall in the center of the country Monday.

More than 1,000 people were inside at the time of the rocket attack, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.

“The number of victims is impossible to imagine,” he added in a post on the Telegram messaging app, sharing video that showed plumes of gray smoke rising above a building that was consumed in flames as people and first responders ran in front of it. 

Zelenskyy‘s office said it had confirmed that at least two people were killed and 20 others were injured, with nine of them in critical condition.

NBC News has not verified the numbers of any deaths from the incident, which took place in Kremenchuk, a city in the Poltava region on the banks of Ukraine’s Dnieper River.

Zelenskyy said the site did not present any danger or strategic value for the Kremlin. “Russia continues to take out its powerlessness on ordinary citizens. It is useless to hope for adequacy and humanity on its part,” the Ukrainian leader added. 

The mayor of Kremenchuk, Vitalii Maletskyi, also said in a Facebook post that the missile strike hit “a very crowded place, which is 100% not relevant to the hostilities.” He added that there were dead and injured, without specifying the number.

The attack took place just before 4 p.m. local time (9 a.m. ET), according to Ukraine’s State Emergency Service, which said that recovery efforts were ongoing with the help of 115 rescuers and 20 pieces of equipment. Efforts also continued to extinguish the flames, which covered more than 110,000 square feet and had filled the one-story building that houses the shopping center.

Maletskyi said the city had turned a local hotel into a contact point for those who had not heard from friends and relatives. A hotline number was created, as well.

National police chief Igor Klimenko said that he had deployed police forensic experts along with war crimes investigators to begin collecting evidence.

Russian forces also appear to have shelled the northeastern region of Kharkiv, according to local Ukrainian officials, who reported that three people were killed and 15 people, including children. were injured. That number, authorities said, is also expected to rise.

The strikes come just a day after Ukrainian officials blamed Russia for hitting two residential buildings in the capital, Kyiv, killing two people.

On Saturday, multiple missile strikes were reported by officials throughout the country, signaling that Russia was not limiting its assault to the eastern region of the Donbas, where Moscow has focused its fighting against Ukrainian troops in an effort to establish full control of the region. 

This is a developing story, please check back for further updates.

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