KREMENCHUK, Ukraine (AP) — France’s president said Tuesday that Russia “cannot and should not win” in Ukraine, voicing the West’s continued support for Kyiv following Moscow’s horrific missile attack on a shopping mall that underscored the war’s terrible toll on civilians.
Ukrainian leaders denounced the strike, which killed 18 in the central city of Kremenchuk, as a war crime and a terrorist attack, and it drew swift condemnation from the Group of Seven leaders meeting in Europe at the time. It came as an unusually intense barrage of Russian fire all across Ukraine, including in the capital of Kyiv, drew new attention to a war that some fear could fade from the headlines as it drags on.
Speaking at the end of the G-7 summit in Germany, French President Emmanuel Macron appeared to address that concern, vowing that the seven leading industrialized democracies would support Ukraine and maintain sanctions against Russia “as long as necessary, and with the necessary intensity.”
“Russia cannot and should not win,” he said. He added that Monday’s attack on the mall was “a new war crime.”
As they have in other attacks, Russian authorities claimed that the mall was not the target.
How to counter Russia and back Ukraine will be the focus of a summit this week of the western NATO alliance, whose support has been critical to Kyiv’s ability to fend off Moscow’s larger and better equipped forces. Ukrainian leaders, however, say they need more and better weapons if they are to continue to hold off and even drive back Russia, which is pressing an all-out assault in Ukraine’s eastern region of the Donbas.
As Macron spoke, rescuers combed through the charred rubble of the shopping mall that authorities said was struck when more than 1,000 afternoon shoppers and workers were inside.
Kateryna Romashyna, a local resident, told The Associated Press that she had just arrived at the mall when there was an explosion. The blast knocked her down. When another came about 10 minutes later, she realized she needed to get away.
“I ran away from the epicenter with all of my strength,” she said. Fighting back tears, she added: “You have to be a real monster” to strike a shopping mall.
Many of those inside quickly fled the building when an air raid siren sounded and took shelter across the street, Ukrainian Interior Minister Denis Monastyrsky said. Several of the bodies of those who didn’t make it out in time are burned beyond recognition and their identification could take days, he said.
In addition to the 18 killed, authorities said 59 were wounded. Another 21 people are still missing, Monastyrsky said.
The attack recalled strikes earlier in the war that hit a theater, a train station, and a hospital. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called it “one of the most daring terrorist attacks in European history,” while the G-7 leaders said “indiscriminate attacks on innocent civilians constitute a war crime.”
At Ukraine’s request, the U.N. Security Council scheduled an emergency meeting in New York on Tuesday to discuss the attack.
As condemnation of the strike came in from many quarters, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov struck a defiant note, saying Russia would press its offensive until it fulfills its goals. He said the hostilities could stop “before the end of the day” if Ukraine were to surrender and meet Russia’s demands, including recognizing its control over territory it has taken by force.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Lt. Gen. Igor Konashenkov claimed that warplanes fired precision-guided missiles at a depot that contained Western weapons and ammunition, which detonated and set the mall on fire. Ukrainian officials have contradicted that, saying the mall was hit directly.
Konashenkov said the depot was near a factory for road construction equipment. Mykola Danileiko, a spokesman for that factory, confirmed that it was hit along with the mall, but insisted that there were no weapons there. Wayne Jordash, a British lawyer who is working with Ukrainian officials to investigate possible war crimes, meanwhile, said that initial indications were that there were no military targets nearby, but the investigation is ongoing.
Konashenkov also alleged that the mall was not in use, a false claim contradicted by witnesses.
Ukraine’s prosecutor general, Iryna Venediktova, said the missile attack was one of Russia’s “crimes against humanity,” noting that Moscow’s military has been “systematically shelling civilian infrastructure with the aim to scare people, to kill people, to bring terror to our cities and villages.”
Venediktova emphasized the need for Ukrainians across the entire country to remain alert, adding that they should expect a similar strike “every minute.”
On Tuesday, Russian forces struck the Black Sea city of Ochakiv, damaging apartment buildings and killing two, including a 6-year-old child. A further six people, four of them children, were wounded. One of them, a 3-month-old baby, is in a coma, according to local officials.
The unusually intense spate of fire in recent days came as the G-7 leaders gathered in Europe. They pledged continued support for Ukraine and the world’s major economies prepared new sanctions against Russia, including a price cap on oil and higher tariffs on goods.
Zelenskyy has called for more air defense systems from his Western allies to help his forces fight back. The U.S. appeared ready to respond to that call, and NATO’s support for Ukraine will be a major focus of its summit as the alliance turns its attention once again to confronting an adversarial Russia.
In a sinister warning as NATO leaders gathered in Madrid ahead of that summit, Russia’s state space corporation Roscosmos published satellite images and the precise coordinates of the conference hall where the meeting will be held.
It also posted the images and coordinates of the White House, the Pentagon and the government headquarters in London, Paris and Berlin — referring to them as “decision-making centers supporting the Ukrainian nationalists” in a message on the Telegram app. That wording echoes Russian President Vladimir Putin’s earlier warnings that he could target such centers in response to what he has called aggressive Western actions.