At least 16 people have died in a missile strike on a shopping centre in the Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk.
Some 1,000 civilians were estimated to be inside the busy mall at the time of the attack at around 15:50 local time, President Volodymyr Zelensky said.
The leaders of the G7 group of richest nations, who are meeting in Germany condemned the attack as “abominable”. “Indiscriminate attacks on innocent civilians constitute a war crime,” they said in a joint statement.
Russia has been blamed for the attack, which also injured at least 59 people, and there are fears the death toll will continue to rise. Pictures online showed the building engulfed in flames and thick black smoke billowing into the sky.
“A crime against humanity. This is an obvious and cynical act of terror against the civilian population,” the local governor Dmytro Lunin wrote on Telegram, also calling it a “war crime”.
Ukraine’s State Emergency Service, which gave updates on the death and injury toll, said 57 units were involved in battling the flames. Photos posted on its Telegram page show the blackened and charred shell of the building with the roof caved in. In one video taken shortly after the strike a man can be heard calling out: “Is anybody alive… anybody alive?” Soon after ambulances arrived to take the injured to hospital.
But there are still people missing, and as night fell, family members gathered at a hotel over the road, where rescue crews have set up a base, to wait for any news. Lights and generators have been brought to the site so crews can continue the search overnight, Reuters news agency reports. The central-eastern city of Kremenchuk is located about 130km (81 miles) from Russian areas of control.
President Zelensky said the mall had no strategic value to Russia, and was no danger to its occupying forces, “only the attempt of people to live a normal life, which so angers the occupiers”. He described the attack as one of the “most brazen terrorist acts in European history”.
The missile strike took place as the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the US and UK gathered in Germany for the G7 summit to discuss, among other things the toughening of sanctions against Russia.
In addition to strongly condemning the attack, a joint statement issued by the Western leaders vowed to “continue to provide financial, humanitarian as well as military support for Ukraine, for as long as it takes.”
The Kremlin is yet to respond to the attack, and has always denied targeting civilians.
Kremenchuk, in the Poltava province of Ukraine, is one of Ukraine’s largest an industrial cities, with a population of nearly 220,000 people in a 2021 census. It is not the first time the city has been hit by missiles, there was one strike recorded in April and another 10 days ago at a nearby oil refinery.
Hours after the shopping centre was targeted, eight civilians were killed and 21 more were wounded while collecting water in the eastern city of Lysychansk, the regional governor Serhiy Haidai said. He had only just ordered civilians to evacuate immediately because of the “real threat to life and health”.
Lysychansk is the last major city still held by Ukrainian troops in the eastern province of Luhansk, after Russia took control of its twin city, Severodonetsk.
Speaking after the shopping mall attack, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called it the “latest in a string of atrocities”, while UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it would strengthen the resolve of Western allies to stand by Ukraine.
“This appalling attack has shown once again the depths of cruelty and barbarism to which the Russian leader will sink,” Mr Johnson said.