Russian missile strike on Ukraine shopping centre kills at least 13

Nato to ramp up ‘rapid reaction’ forces in biggest post-cold war ‘overhaul’

At least 13 people were killed and 50 injured by a Russian missile strike on a shopping centre in the Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk, and officials fear the death toll could rise after flames engulfed the mall and more than 1,000 people were said to be inside.

“The occupiers fired missiles at a shopping centre where there were more than a thousand civilians. [It] is burning, rescuers are trying to put out the fire, it’s impossible to imagine the number of victims,” Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy wrote on social media shortly after the attack on Monday afternoon.

“It was no threat to the Russian army. It was of no strategic value. It was just people trying to live a normal life that so angered the occupiers. Russia continues to take out its own powerlessness on ordinary citizens. It is pointless to hope for decency and humanity,” from Russia, he added.

At least 13 people were killed, regional governor Dmytro Lunin said. Mr Lunin, the governor of the Poltava region, told Reuters that 50 others had been wounded. He added that rescue workers would keep searching through the smouldering rubble, with more bodies likely to be found.

“It’s an act of terrorism against civilians,” he said separately, suggesting there was no military target nearby that Russia could have been aiming at.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric called the attack deplorable. “Any sort of civilian infrastructure, which includes obviously shopping malls, and civilians should never ever be targeted,” Mr Dujarric told reporters.

The attack came as air-raid sirens continued to sound frequently in cities across Ukraine, following a weekend when Russia fired dozens of missiles at its neighbour, killing and injuring several civilians despite its claims to be targeting only military sites.

Officials in Lysychansk urged residents who remain in the eastern city to leave immediately, as it became the epicentre of fighting in the Donbas region following the fall to Russian forces of nearby Sievierodonetsk after weeks of heavy shelling and street battles.

“Dear residents of Lysychansk… due to the real threat to life and health we call for immediate evacuation. The situation in the city is very difficult. Save yourselves and your loved ones,” read an appeal from Serhiy Haidai, governor of the Luhansk region, which with neighbouring Donetsk makes up the industrial area known as Donbas.

Moscow hailed the capture of largely devastated Sievierodonetsk as a major victory, but Ukraine said its troops had conducted a tactical retreat to higher ground in Lysychansk after delaying the Russian military’s advance for several weeks.

The battle took a heavy toll on both sides, but Ukraine hopes it will inflict increasing damage on Russia’s forces thanks to powerful western weapons that are now being integrated into its arsenal.

Reports from Washington suggest the US is preparing to announce the provision of an air defence system to Ukraine, which Mr Zelenskiy and his country’s top brass have been requesting since the start of Russia’s all-out invasion on February 24th.

Leaders of G7 states have pledged to continue providing economic and military support for Ukraine, and Kyiv hopes to hear similar promises from the heads of Nato states when they gather in Madrid for a summit later this week.

Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said on Monday that the bloc would dramatically increase its rapid reaction force from 40,000 troops to 300,000, and raise the size of its multinational battle groups in several eastern European states to brigade level.

As part of what he described as “the biggest overhaul of our collective deterrence and defence since the cold war”, Nato will also pre-position more military stockpiles in potentially vulnerable states and boost their air defence and other capabilities.

“These [rapid-reaction] troops will exercise together with home defence forces and they will become familiar with local terrain, facilities and our new pre-positioned stocks so that they can respond smoothly and swiftly to any emergency,” he explained.

During a visit to Ukraine on Monday, Moldovan president Maia Sandu said her country also needed western help to deter potential hostilities from a belligerent Russia.

“Moldova is a fragile and vulnerable country… Ukraine and Moldova need help. We want this war to stop, this Russian aggression against Ukraine to be stopped as soon as possible. We want to stay part of the free world.” – Additional reporting: Reuters