KYIV, Ukraine —A Russian missile strike hit a shopping center in Ukraine’s central Poltava region on Monday, killing at least 11 people and wounding dozens more, the Ukrainian authorities said.
Ukraine’s president said an estimated 1,000 people were inside the building at the time of the strike, which hit near a railway station in the industrial city of Kremenchuk.
Videos shot after the strike and posted online showed a fire raging as emergency workers frantically tried to extinguish the flame and civilians loaded the injured into ambulances. Footage that appeared to be captured by people running for the exits showed them navigating a thick cloud of debris and dust as they clambered over broken windows, doors and crumbling walls.
By Monday evening, Ukrainian media reported that 115 firefighters had managed to put out the massive blaze and rescuers were continuing to search through the debris for survivors.
Sitting along the Dnieper River, Kremenchuk is a major Ukrainian industrial hub with factories that produce railway cars and trucks. It is also home to Ukraine’s largest oil refinery, which has been targeted repeatedly by Russian missiles, according to the local news media, part of Moscow’s strategy to destroy the country’s fuel production and storage infrastructure.
Ukraine’s air force said in a statement posted on Telegram that the shopping mall in Kremenchuk had been hit by missiles fired by long-range bombers from the Kursk region of Russia.
President Volodymyr Zelensky said the shopping mall had posed “no danger to the Russian army,” in comments posted to Telegram. “No strategic value. Only the attempt of people to live a normal life, which so angers the occupiers.”
The strike on Kremenchuk came after Russia, in a sudden escalation, fired more than 65 missiles at Ukraine over the weekend. On Monday, a strike in the northeastern city of Kharkiv killed four people and wounded 19, according to the local authorities.
Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister, visited the site of the attack. He posted videos on Telegram of himself standing in front of a smoking pile of rubble, as rescue workers combed the scene.
“See what the Amstor shopping center has turned into,” he wrote in a caption, “which thousands in Kremenchuk loved to visit.”
Pro-Kremlin journalists were quick to deny Russian involvement and offer alternative theories about what had caused the fire.
Andrei Rudenko, a reporter with the Russian state-run television network Rossiya, called the fire “a provocation” and cast doubt over the claim that 1,000 people had been in the mall by citing images of the empty parking lot in front of it.
“There is a feeling that they have set it all ablaze themselves and shot at it to make the picture look good,” he said in his channel on Telegram, a social messaging app.
Other pro-Russian commentators suggested that a major machine-building factory behind the shopping mall had been the target, saying that the mall itself was collateral damage.
Kremenchuk had a population of almost 220,000 people before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began in late February.