First-hand accounts from survivors and expert analysis have discredited Moscow’s account of the deadly missile strikes on a shopping mall in the Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk.
Igor Konashenkov, a spokesperson for Russia’s defence ministry, said its military fired a “high-precision air attack at hangars where armament and munitions were stored”, and the explosion of those weapon caches caused a fire in the nearby shopping centre, which he said was “non-functioning” at the time.
Egter, witness statements, information released by Ukrainian prosecutors and analysis by independent military experts point to three possible erroneous statements in that account – that the Ukrainian military was hiding weapons nearby, that the mall was not a target, and that nobody was using it.
CCTV footage shows the first missile struck the mall at 3.51pm on Monday, and a second shortly afterwards hit a factory that Moscow contends was storing western munitions.
Outside the mall, Ukrainian police set up a table to collect twisted bits of a missile found inside. It is believed to have been an X-22 Russian cruise missile fired from a Tu-22M long-range bomber.
Satellite images show the factory is 500 metres from the mall. According to independent military experts and researchers from Molfar, a global open source intelligence community, the explosion there could not have provoked a fire strong enough to reach another building that far away.
During a visit to the area between the mall and the factory, little to no damage to buildings or roads was observed, suggesting no spreading fire.
Dozens of workers who survived, as well as witnesses who lived nearby, told the Guardian that the mall was open and busy when attacked. Debris included the remains of workers’ badges, and products sold that day at the supermarket.
The Guardian has seen a phone message allegedly sent by the local management of the mall on 23 June urging employees not to leave the shopping centre in case of air raid sirens. “Starting from today, this shopping centre will not close during the air alarms,” the message stated. “The shopping centre is open from 8am till 9pm. No breaks.” At least five employees confirmed they had received the message.
Bellingcat, a non-profit online journalism collective dedicated to war crime investigations, collected receipts from purchases at the mall in recent days that were posted on social media by residents in Kremenchuk to show that the mall was indeed open.
As for the alleged weapons depot, the KredMash factory, Kremenchuk Road Machinery is a company producing equipment to repair and maintain roads or to repair vehicles used by construction workers.
Bellingcat said: “Although one report in 2014 stated that the factory had been used to repair three military vehicles, this in itself does not prove that it was a storage site for US and European weapons and ammunition eight years later, as Russia has claimed.”
Corporate videos published on YouTube by specialised construction companies show the presence of cranes and other equipment in the factory, which has corroborated the account of the Ukrainian authorities.
According to various accounts collected by the Guardian, the plant had been temporarily closed because of the war. It was being guarded by a custodian who finished his shift at 2pm, just before the strike.