Ukraine: Survivors of Kremenchuk Attack Describe Mall “Horror”

"The worst thing was hearing screams of people looking for their relatives".

Ukraine: Survivors of Kremenchuk Attack Describe Mall “Horror”

"The worst thing was hearing screams of people looking for their relatives".

Two Russian X-22 missiles hit a crowded shopping centre in the central Ukrainian region of Poltava on June 27. About 1,000 people were inside the building when the strike happened.
Two Russian X-22 missiles hit a crowded shopping centre in the central Ukrainian region of Poltava on June 27. About 1,000 people were inside the building when the strike happened. © Olha Minchuk
Dozens of fire crews fought to ctackled the blaze as the flames engulfed the shopping centre in Kremenchuk, a city in central Ukraine which stands on the banks of the Dnipro River.
Dozens of fire crews fought to ctackled the blaze as the flames engulfed the shopping centre in Kremenchuk, a city in central Ukraine which stands on the banks of the Dnipro River. © Olha Minchuk
Russia's defence ministry admitted responsibility for the strike, claiming it had hit an arms storage facility nearby. Ukrainian officials have denied there was a weapons' depot in the vicinity of the retail centre.
Russia's defence ministry admitted responsibility for the strike, claiming it had hit an arms storage facility nearby. Ukrainian officials have denied there was a weapons' depot in the vicinity of the retail centre. © Olha Minchuk
As of June 29, the death toll of the Russian attack against a shopping centre in Kremchuk was 20 people. Forty persons remained unaccounted for.
As of June 29, the death toll of the Russian attack against a shopping centre in Kremchuk was 20 people. Forty persons remained unaccounted for. © Olha Minchuk
Wednesday, 29 June, 2022

Smoke still rises from the ruins of the Amstor shopping mall in the central Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk, hit by Russian missiles in the afternoon of June 27. Amid the destruction, territorial defence officials, police investigators and rescue workers continue to sift through the debris to document the event, look under the rubble for dead bodies.

According to unofficial estimates from rescuers, up to 60 people may still be trapped in the wreckage of the complex, crowded with hundreds of people when it was hit by two Russian X-22 cruise missiles. Hope is fading of finding anyone still alive.

“There has been no news since yesterday,” said Svitlana Kurmaz, who is looking for her younger brother, 25-year-old Danylo Sidorenko, who was working a shift at the Comfy appliance store when the missiles hit.

No one is saying anything, not the hospitals, nor the police,” the 42-year-old musician continued. “We have filed a written search request, our mother has been invited to take a DNA test. But to be honest, there is no hope. I understand that even if he survived [the blast], he would have suffocated from the smoke.”

The shopping mall was a popular destination for the local people of Kremenchuk, with shops selling groceries, electrical appliances, toys, cosmetics and clothing. There was even a pet shop.

From a bus station close to the Amstor mall, minibuses depart every hour to Kyiv, Poltava, Dnipro cities and further afield in Europe. Drinking a coffee at the Amstor mall before such a trip had become a local ritual.

Dmytro Lunin, the head of the Poltava regional military administration, told reporters the morning after the attack that 18 deaths had been officially confirmed, with numbers expected to rise.

“Our task is to carefully disassemble the debris, because there may be people,” Lunin said. “There will be recognition of bodies, we need to identify everyone.”

Local activist groups are publishing photos of the missing on social networks, mostly young people who did not have time to leave the mall after the air raid siren sounded.

Nearly 60 people needed medical treatment after the attack, with 25 people hospitalised in the intensive care unit of the Kremenchuk hospital.

Vita Nevkryta, 30, a doctor at the ambulance station, was among the first at the scene. 

“There was a lot of smoke,” she said. “People shouted, asking for help. The civilians, territorial defence, and ministry for emergencies representatives organised a platform for us to provide assistance and helped to evacuate the victims. There were a lot of different kinds of wounds.”

She said her team triaged the survivors within ten minutes, with the badly injured immediately moved to hospital. Then they waited to see whether the rescuers would find anyone else alive.

Nevkryta said that it was hard to work wearing heavy bulletproof vests and protective equipment, but she and her team barely noticed it.

“Everything was based on emotions, on adrenaline,” she recalled. “There was no fear. I wanted to help everyone quickly. The hardest and scariest thing was to hear how the people were screaming while looking for relatives.”

"We will not forget, we will not forgive."

Others who were at the scene described seeing terrible injuries, including horrendous burns and people missing limbs.

“It's very difficult psychologically,” said Olga Lyashenko, a nurse who was also on of the first responders. “We've seen a lot while working on the ambulance, but it's like in a horror movie. You think that maybe you can close and reopen your eyes, and all this would not be real. I cried after everything I saw. Many people cried afterwards.”

The mall has no bomb shelter of its own, and locals said that its location next to a transport hub made it particularly vulnerable to attack. In an air raid the previous day, the mall had been completely evacuated, but others reported that staff sometimes remained in shops after the alarm sounded and shoppers were allowed to quickly return.

“When the alarm started, my colleague and I were still serving clients,” said Tetyana Lysenko, 47, a sales consultant for the Brocard store in Amstor mall. “But we quickly gathered and went to the emergency exit, through which we usually go to the bomb shelter [nearby].”

At that moment, they heard a huge explosion behind them.

“The dust fell on us, we heard noise, the panic began… the building exploded in an instant. Frankly, I'm still shocked. I don't quite realise what happened. This is horror. We received just scratches, but I saw people being taken out without limbs. Now I can’t sleep and I can’t eat.”

Prosecutor general Iryna Venediktov arrived in Kremenchuk on June 28 and announced that the attack was “not just a war crime, it is a crime against humanity - large-scale evidence of the Kremlin's systematic policy of killing civilians in Ukraine. Absolutely a civilian object, a deliberate missile attack by the Russian Federation on a crowd of people".

She added that she had asked local law enforcement officers to investigate why the facility was not evacuated during the air raid. 

"If there was negligence, it should be accountable," Venediktova wrote on Facebook.

On June 28, a three-day mourning period was announced in Kremenchuk for the victims of the missile strike.

“This action is the greatest tragedy in the modern history of Kremenchuk,” mayor Vitali Maletsky said. “The Kremenchug community demands that those responsible for the war and the attack on civilians be brought to justice. We will not forget, we will not forgive.”

This publication was prepared under the “Ukraine Voices Project" implemented with the financial support of the UK's Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO).

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