The death toll continues to grow after the Russian missile attack on the shopping mall Amstor in Kremenchuk, Poltava Oblast, on June 27.
At least 20 people were killed in the attack, according to Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of President Volodymyr Zelensky's office.
At a briefing on June 28, Interior Minister Denys Monastyrsky confirmed 18 deaths, but added that rescuers continue to retrieve fragments of bodies from under the debris.
Twenty-one people are missing, according to Monastyrsky. An estimated 1,000 people were inside the mall when the missile hit it mid-day on June 27.
Because of the massive fire that broke out after the Russian strike, there is no hope to find any survivors under the debris of the attacked mall, according to Monastyrsky.
Monastyrsky said the missile carrying more than 900 kilograms of explosives hit the far end of the shopping mall.
Fifty-nine people have been hospitalized. Nearly half of them are in critical condition, the State Emergency Service of Ukraine reported.
Relatives and friends of the missing people were in tears, asking the rescuers to find their loved ones, according to the minister, who had visited the scene of the attack in Kremenchuk, a city of 219,000 people some 330 kilometers south of Kyiv.
Monastyrsky said that most of the bodies found at the site have not been identified yet due to their severe burns, and relatives will need to take DNA tests to establish their identities.
Monastyrsky added that while experts from a special forensic laboratory continue their investigation, workers had already cleared 60 percent of the shopping center area.
He said that Ukrainian law enforcement has already identified the names of the pilots who carried out the attack, and collected remains of the Soviet long-range X-22 missile at the site.
Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova said that Russia’s June 27 attack on Kremenchuk will be investigated thoroughly in order for it to be potentially considered at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. Authorities will also investigate possible negligence by the staff of the mall who had to take measures to protect its employees and visitors, according to the Prosecutor General's Office.
Maksym Kovaliev, press officer of the Poltava Oblast administration, told the Kyiv Independent that the rescuers continue their search for victims.
Aside from the shopping mall, the Russian missile strike also hit a machinery plant in Kremenchuk, according to the local administration.
Kovaliev said that two people were wounded at the plant but he can’t disclose further information regarding the factory, including whether it can resume operation in the future.
A video of the Kredmash plant circulating on the internet shows significant destruction, where a large hole is surrounded by completely bombed-out buildings.
UN chief Antonio Guterres’s office said that the attack was “totally deplorable," while the G7 released a joint statement following the missile strike that “indiscriminate attacks on innocent civilians constitute a war crime."
French President Emanuel Macron called Russia's strike on the mall a “new war crime,” saying that Moscow “cannot and should not win" the war.
Located a few hundred kilometers away from the frontlines in eastern and southern Ukraine, relative peace has prevailed in Poltava Oblast throughout Russia’s full-scale war. Before the June 27 attack, two people were killed and more than seven people were injured in the region since Feb. 24, according to the Poltava Oblast Military Administration.
Russia has ramped up its attacks across Ukraine during the past few days, also hitting the city of Dnipro in central Ukraine on June 28. On June 26, Russia hit Kyiv with 14 missiles, killing at least one civilian.
Asked whether he fears that Russia will scale up its attacks ahead of the NATO summit in Madrid where President Volodymyr Zelensky has been invited to join virtually, Minister Monastyrsky said that he wouldn't be worried about further escalations because he believes that Ukraine is already facing "maximum escalation" phase of the war, given the brutality of Russia's war unfolding in eastern Ukrainian cities.