Only a ‘monster’ would attack a shopping center, says Ukrainian survivor

WARNING: The above video may disturb some readers.

The mall was nothing special, but in the middle of a war it was an escape for those in this Ukrainian city who had decided not to flee.

In moments on Monday afternoon, a summer hangout turned into a hellish inferno.

Life and death depended on a shopper’s decision whether or not to heed another air raid siren and seek shelter. Among those who have remained are at least 18 dead, more than 20 missing and dozens injured.

People watch as smoke billows after a Russian missile strike on a busy shopping center in Ukraine’s Kremenchuk. (AP)
Volunteers and firefighters from the state emergency service work to extinguish a fire at a shopping center that burned down after a rocket attack in Kremenchuk, Ukraine, early Tuesday, June 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
Volunteers and state firefighters work to put out a fire at a shopping center that burned down after a rocket attack in Kremenchuk. (AP)

The overcrowded shopping center in Kremenchuk, home to the city’s largest toy store, is now the latest abbreviation for charges of war crimes against Russia.

As with previous attacks on a theatre, train station and hospital elsewhere in Ukraine, authorities in Moscow said the mall was not the target.

Firefighters from the Ukrainian State Emergency Service work to clear debris from a shopping center burned after a rocket attack in Kremenchuk, Ukraine, Tuesday, June 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
An aerial view of the damage. (AP)

A day after the air raid, the scene still smelled of charred debris.

Grit hung in the air, irritating the skin and throat. Visitors laid red carnations, a stain of color in the still smoking ruins.

A woman lights a candle in a shopping center after a rocket attack in Ukraine's Kremenchuk, Tuesday, June 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
A woman lights a candle after the rocket attack. (AP)

Images on social media showed the burned body of a woman, with white sneakers still intact, who appeared to have been caught in the explosion during the flight. In another video, around the time of the collision, a man was heard calling his mother.

A mall worker, who only mentioned his first name, Oleksandr, said he and a colleague had stepped outside for a cigarette when the air raid siren went off. He described the moment of impact.

Only a 'monster' would attack a shopping center, says Ukrainian survivor

Evacuee emotionally says goodbye to his dog

A police officer inspects a fragment of a Russian missile lodged in a tree trunk about 300 meters from the epicenter of the Russian deadly missile strike at a shopping center in Kremenchuk in the Poltava region of Ukraine, Tuesday, June 28, 2022. (AP Photo/ Efrem Lukatsky)
A police officer inspects a fragment of a Russian missile lodged in a tree trunk about 300 meters from the epicenter of the Russian deadly missile attack at a shopping center in Kremenchuk. (AP)

“For two minutes there was darkness in my eyes,” he said.

“There was a black tunnel, smoke, fire. I started to crawl. I saw the sun up there and my brain told me to save myself.”

A man injured in the deadly Russian missile attack on a shopping center lies on a bed at a city hospital in Kremenchuk.
A man injured in the deadly Russian rocket attack lies on a bed at a city hospital. (AP)
A police officer writes a report as a man injured by the Russian deadly rocket attack on a shopping center tells her about the attack at a city hospital in Kremenchuk in Ukraine's Poltava region, Tuesday, June 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky )
A police officer writes a report while a man injured in the attack tells her what happened. (AP)

Everything was on fire, he said.

A blast wave threw him under a car. He couldn’t hear. There were bits of shrapnel in his leg.

“Thank God that was it,” he said. “I was very lucky.”

He estimated that there were 1,000 shoppers and employees in the mall at the time, contradicting Russia’s claim that it was empty.

Kateryna Romashnya had just reached the mall on her way home from work when the explosion threw her to the ground and blew out nearby windows.

Stunned, she estimated that 10-15 minutes passed before another explosion occurred.

More than a dozen people have been killed in the rocket attack in Kremenchuk, Ukraine.
More than a dozen people were killed in the attack. (AP)

“I realized I had to go,” Romashnya said, and she ran with all her strength.

“It was terrifying,” she said and began to cry.

“You have to be a real monster” to destroy a mall, she said.

“I’m out of words.”

Ukrainian authorities said that in addition to the direct hit on the mall, a factory was also hit, but denied it contained weapons, as Russian officials claimed.

dr. Kostyantyn Manayenkov, the chief surgeon at a Kremenchuk hospital treating the injured, said nine people in intensive care are in “very bad condition”.

There had been skull injuries and some amputations, he said.

Some of the bodies were burned so badly that they were unrecognizable, said Denis Monastyrsky, Ukraine’s interior minister, who arrived on the scene.

Only a 'monster' would attack a shopping center, says Ukrainian survivor

Identifying them could take days, he added.

Those at the mall had seven to 10 minutes to leave and get to safety when the warning sounded, he said.

A shelter was across the street.

Monastyrsky again begged Ukrainians who have been living with such sirens for four months now to understand the danger and take action.

The country’s Attorney General Iryna Venediktova stressed that all Ukrainians should remain vigilant and expect a similar strike “every minute”.

But by sunset on Tuesday, some residents could only stare at the rubble.

“Say something!” shouted a man, trying to wake them up.

“Pray to God that he will help us!”

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