KYIV – The death toll has climbed to 18 people in a deadly Russian strike on a crowded shopping mall in the central Ukrainian region of Poltava.
Authorities say up to 1,000 people were inside the mall late afternoon on Monday when two missiles struck the Amstor shopping center in the city of Kremenchuk. 36 people are still missing.
Video from the scene showed huge clouds of black smoke and flame billowing from mall.
Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelenskyy called the Russian state "the largest terrorism organization in the world" in a daily video address posted after the attack.
"Only totally insane terrorists who have no place on earth would strike such an object," Zelensky said. He has been pressing world leaders, especially the U.S., to give Ukraine more advanced anti-aircraft and missile defense systems to guard against Russian air attacks.
Russia has been escalating bombardments of Ukrainian cities this week —attacks Moscow says are aimed at military installations but often hit purely civilian targets instead.
On Twitter, Russia's ambassador to the U.N. suggested Ukraine had fabricated the attack.
France's president Emmanuel Macron condemned the Russian missile attack as "an abomination." The United Kingdom's ambassador to Ukraine called it a "murderous Russian act." U.S. president Joe Biden said the attack was "cruel," after coming out of a G7 meeting in Germany where the U.S. and other countries mulled a price cap on Russian oil and gas.
The mall strike comes during a particularly bloody week in Ukraine, as Russia escalates cruise missile strikes, even in parts of the country that had been relatively shielded from fighting after Russia invaded this past February.
Three people died over the weekend after Russian airstrikes hit cities across Ukraine, including in one barrage on the capital of Kyiv.At least eight more people died Monday when Russian soldiers fired into a crowd of civilians in the town of Lysychansk, according to the Luhansk oblast governor, Serhiy Haidai