The leaders of the G7 have condemned a deadly Russian missile attack on a crowded Ukrainian shopping centre as an “abominable” war crime.
In a statement on Monday, the G7 leaders, who are holding a meeting in Germany, promised that Russian President Vladimir Putin and those responsible for the attack would be held to account.
At least 18 people were killed in the raids on the city of Kremenchuk, while 59 were wounded.
“Indiscriminate attacks on innocent civilians constitute a war crime,” the G7 statement said.
Ukraine accused Russia of deliberately targeting civilians, with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy calling it “one of the most brazen terrorist acts in European history” in his evening broadcast posted on Telegram.
“A peaceful town, an ordinary shopping centre – women, children, ordinary civilians, inside,” said Zelenskyy, who earlier shared a video of the shopping centre engulfed in flames with dozens of rescuers and a fire truck outside.
Ukraine’s air force command said the mall was hit by two long-range X-22 missiles fired from Tu-22M3 bombers that flew from Shaykovka airfield in Russia’s Kaluga region.
Russia’s defence ministry on Tuesday said it had fired missiles at a weapons depot in Kremenchuk, with the subsequent explosion of ammunition triggering a fire in a nearby shopping centre.
“In Kremenchuk, Russian forces struck a weapons depot storing arms received from the United States and Europe with high-precision air-based weapons. As a result of the precision strike, Western-made weapons and ammunition concentrated in the warehouse … were hit,” Moscow’s defence ministry said in a statement posted on its Telegram channel.
“The detonation of stored ammunition for Western weapons caused a fire in a non-functioning shopping centre located next to the depot,” it added.
Earlier on Tuesday Russia’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Dmitry Polyanskiy, wrote on Twitter, without citing evidence, that the attack was a “Ukrainian provocation”.
“Exactly what Kyiv regime needs to keep focus of attention on Ukraine before [the] NATO Summit,” he said, referring to the alliance’s Madrid gathering due to begin on Tuesday.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, speaking from the G7 gathering in the Bavarian Alps, said the Kremenchuk attack demonstrated Putin’s “depths of cruelty and barbarism”.
“Putin must realise that his behaviour will do nothing but strengthen the resolve that the UK and every other G7 country stand by the Ukraine [sic] for as long as it takes,” he said.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the world was “horrified”, while UN chief Antonio Guterres’s office condemned the attack as “totally deplorable”.
Kremenchuk had so far been spared direct hits in the conflict, a spokesperson for Guterres, Stephane Dujarric, said at a daily press briefing.
“We once again stress that the parties are obliged under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure,” he added.
French President Emmanuel Macron also denounced the attack as an “abomination”.
President of the European Commission Charles Michel slammed Russia for what he called a “horrendous and indiscriminate” attack on Kremenchuk.
“Russian scare and intimidation tactics will never work,” he wrote on Twitter. “Ukraine will prevail with support of its partners at G7 and beyond.”
Diplomats said the UN Security Council is scheduled to hold an emergency meeting in New York on Tuesday to discuss the attack.
The Russian raid on Monday echoed attacks earlier in the war that caused large numbers of civilian casualties such as one in March on a Mariupol theatre – where many civilians had holed up – that killed an estimated 600, and another in April on a train station in eastern Kramatorsk that left at least 59 people dead.
Moscow denies, however, targeting civilians.
The G7, meanwhile, unveiled plans to seek new sanctions on Russia, including a price cap on oil and higher tariffs on goods.
They also pledged to continue supporting Ukraine “for as long as it takes”. In a joint statement Monday after they held a session by video link with Zelenskyy, the leaders underlined their “unwavering commitment to support the government and people of Ukraine in their courageous defence of their country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”.
Elsewhere, the US appeared ready to respond to Zelenskyy’s call for more air defence systems, while in Brussels, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg announced plans to greatly expand the alliance’s rapid-reaction forces as part of its response to an “era of strategic competition”.
The NATO response force currently has about 40,000 soldiers. NATO will agree to deliver further military support to Ukraine – including secure communication and anti-drone systems – when its leaders convene in Spain for a summit on Tuesday, Stoltenberg said.