Firsthand witnesses and closed circuit television footage have discredited Russia’s several — and often conflicting — claims about a deadly missile strike on a shopping mall in Kremenchuk, Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russia attacked the mall on Monday while over 1,000 people were inside. The attack killed at least 18 people, while 36 remain missing, according to Human Rights Watch.
Russia’s defense ministry denied the attack was meant to target civilians, according to Reuters.
“In Kremenchuk, Russian forces struck a weapons depot storing arms received from the United States and Europe with high-precision air-based weapons,” the ministry said in a daily statement Tuesday on the state of the war.
The Russians also disputed Zelenskyy’s statement that the mall was crowded.
“The detonation of stored ammunition for Western weapons caused a fire in a non-functioning shopping centre located next to the depot,” the statement continues.
CCTV footage, cited by The Guardian, showed there were two missiles fired in the area within minutes of each other. The first hit the shopping mall, while the second struck a nearby factory, the one Russia claims was used to store weapons.
Human Rights Watch said it conducted two in-site investigations at the factory in question and did not uncover any evidence to support Russia’s claims that the facility was used to store military equipment provided by the West.
“It’s a place for making road equipment, machines for road construction,” Svitlana Rybalko, from the regional State Emergency Service, told the BBC. “There’s also a greenhouse nearby where workers grow cucumbers.”
The BBC reported that the factory is about 300 meters away from the shopping center, separated by a wall and rail tracks. This shows that Russia’s claims that “secondary explosions” are responsible for a fire inside the mall are “unlikely,” the BBC wrote.
Witnesses have also cast doubt on Russia’s allegation that the mall was not in operation.
The BBC labeled the claim as “false” after talking to several staff and shoppers, including a woman living in a village nearby who regularly visits the area for shopping and said the mall has been “constantly open.” The woman showed the BBC video shot inside the mall two days before the attack, with shoppers walking around and stores open for business.
Human Rights Watch said it spoke to 15 people, including local officials and some of those injured in the attack, who confirmed the center was open to the public.
Dmitry Polyanskiy, Russia’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations, on Monday presented another allegation ― which contradicts the defense ministry’s statement on Tuesday ― claiming the attack was staged.
“Looks like we are dealing with a new #Bucha-style #Ukrainian provocation,” Polyanskiy tweeted. Russia previously claimed that photos and videos of atrocities committed by its soldiers in Bucha, Ukraine, were fake.
In another Twitter message, reported by the BBC, Polyanskiy said his tweet did not contradict Russia’s Ministry of Defense.
Polanskiy added reports of the attack “will be used by Ukraine to attract as much attention as possible through promoting [a] false version of what happened.”
Reports of the incident have garnered the attention of world leaders. French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday called the attack “a new war crime.”
“Russia cannot and should not win,” Macron said at the end of the G-7 summit in Germany, according to The Associated Press.
Zelenskyy also addressed the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday saying Russia is a “terrorist state,” committing “daily terrorist acts.”
“We need to act urgently to do everything to make Russia stop the killing spree,” Zelenskyy said.