A Russian military blunder may have been the cause of a missile strike on a Kremenchuk shopping centre, the UK said after Moscow claimed that it had not intentionally targeted the crowded mall.
At least 20 civilians were killed when the Amstor mall was hit at about 4pm local time on Monday, sparking a huge inferno that gutted the mall.
Twenty-five survivors are in hospital and 40 people are missing, Ukrainian officials said. The death toll is expected to rise.
The attack unleashed a renewed wave of international condemnation of Russia’s actions in Ukraine, with G7 leaders calling it an "abominable attack" and French President Emmanuel Macron branding it "a new war crime".
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused Russia of carrying out a “terrorist attack” on the shopping centre, in which there were about 1,000 people when it was struck.
The Russian Defence Ministry said it carried out a strike on nearby hangars storing western arms and ammunition, which triggered the fire at the mall. The ministry did not provide evidence to back up its claims.
The UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) said the Russian military may have been aiming for a target close to the shopping mall in the industrial city more than 160 kilometres from the nearest front line.
“There is a realistic possibility the missile strike on the Kremenchuk shopping centre on June 27, 2022 was intended to hit a nearby infrastructure target,” the MoD tweeted in an intelligence update on Wednesday.
“Russia’s inaccuracy in conducting long-range strikes has previously resulted in mass civilian casualty incidents, including at Kramatorsk railway station on April 9, 2022.”
President Zelenskyy dismissed Russian claims it had accidentally struck the mall, saying in his nightly video statement: “Obviously there was an order to do this.”
“They wanted to kill as many people as possible in a peaceful location,” he said.
"Russian missile hit this location precisely. De-li-be-ra-te-ly,” he said. “It is clear that Russian killers received those exact co-ordinates.”
The war in Ukraine is dominating the Nato summit taking place in Madrid this week, as the transatlantic alliance looks to revamp its defences.
On Tuesday, the first day of the three-day gathering, Turkey dropped its opposition to Finland and Sweden joining the group and the two Nordic countries will be invited to join the alliance in Madrid for further talks.
As the war in Ukraine stretches into a fifth month, Mr Zelenskyy is increasing calls on western leaders to supply more arms to Ukrainians battling to defend their homeland; he will address the Nato summit via videolink to reiterate his pleas.
He told G7 leaders at a summit in Bavaria earlier this week that he wants the war over by winter, when the colder months could play to President Vladimir Putin’s advantage.
Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg called the meeting in the Spanish capital a "historic and transformative summit" for the alliance's future.
Nato countries, which have already committed billions of dollars in military assistance to Kyiv, will agree a "comprehensive assistance package to Ukraine, to help them uphold the right for self-defence".
"We meet in the midst of the most serious security crisis we have faced since the Second World War," Mr Stoltenberg said. "We'll state clearly that Russia poses a direct threat to our security."