Survivors of Amstor shopping mall attack in Kremenchuk share their stories

·6 min read
Ruins of the Amstor shopping mall in Kremenchuk, June 28
Ruins of the Amstor shopping mall in Kremenchuk, June 28

“Obviously, we’ve already talked with those who were in the shopping mall at that moment and with those who are injured and are being treated in Kremenchuk city hospitals. For example, an employee of a (household supplies) store, Oleksander, told us something that I find very interesting. Right now, the information is spreading on social networks and public pages in Kremenchuk that almost two or three days before the attack, the management of the shopping mall allowed stores to continue work during air raids. Earlier, the procedure was for them to close up and for both clients and employees to go to the shelter, which is located across the street from the mall (the shopping mall itself doesn’t have one). So (the day before) they got a message that they can continue working,” said the journalist.

Read also: Survivors of Amstor shopping mall attack in Kremenchuk share their stories

Bulashev links this decision of the management of the shopping mall with the need for the owners of retail outlets in the building to pay rent, which was supposed to increase.

“They planned to raise the rent, and the store owners said that they could not withstand such a burden, so the decision (to drop the evacuation procedure during the alarm) is linked to that. Whether this is true or not is yet to be verified.

“I spoke personally with the Prosecutor General of Ukraine and I told her about this story. She and the Minister of Internal Affairs are both in Kremenchuk today,” Bulashev added.

According to him, a little more time passed between the sounding of the air raid siren and the Russian missile strike than it was reported earlier.

Read also: Famous author Stephen King calls Russia's missile strike on Kremenchuk shopping mall ‘terrorist attack’

“I want to correct you. This is official information from the Minister of the Interior Affairs. It wasn’t two minutes, but a little more – almost 10 minutes. People were actually leaving (the mall). So Oleksander said that when the air raid alarm sounded, people began to leave. Not into the shelter, but into the yard, where they usually smoke. He said that he remembers only a roar, the realization that something was flying and that his vision went dark. He doesn’t remember anything regarding what happened and how, he only realized that he was conscious again. He said that everything was in smoke and he saw a gap of sunlight, and he knelt down and began to crawl as he realized he needed to save his life. The blast threw him under a car. And he also says that the guys with whom he worked together, who visited him in the hospital, say that a colleague from another store was thrown out by the blast wave 20-30 meters away. There is a fence of one of the enterprises there, and he was thrown over that fence,” says Bulashev.

The journalist also shared stories about the missing people told by eyewitnesses of the Russian strike.

“We know the story about a store employee who went out during an air raid siren, but when a missile hit the mall, he tried to save people. He took off his clothes, pressed it to his face and went inside. After that, no one saw him. How his fate turned out, we can only guess,” Bulashev continued.

According to preliminary data from a local journalist, 17 victims were found dead inside the mall, nine of them found near the exit. Bulashev notes that they had only needed a few extra seconds(to leave the building), but they died, probably from the carbon monoxide poisoning. The rest of the bodies were found closer to where the missile hit. One person died from their injuries in hospital.

“I want to say that rescuers arrived in Kremenchuk yesterday from different oblasts,” said Bulashev. “They arrived from Kyiv, Cherkasy, Sumy and, of course, from Poltava – everyone came to help. The Minister of the Interior Affairs said that they would try to clear the rubble as soon as possible, but later at a briefing, he said that they had cleared 60% of the area (of the building). The structure is in a terrible state, there is only one wall around the perimeter, the roof has collapsed. Rescuers are trying to cut down these structures. I talked with one of them, he said that the temperature in this shopping mall was so high the metal structures melted, and because of such a high temperature, it is unlikely that anyone was left (alive) under the rubble.”

As for the number of people who could have been in the mall during the Russian attack, Bulashev said the number was at least two hundred people.

“People we talked to, the same shop assistants, said that at the time of the impact the store was not that full. Indeed, during the peak period, there could be up to 1,000 people, but according to preliminary estimates, there were about 200 people. Lately the residents of Kremenchuk got used to air raid alarms, so they aren’t so actively going towards shelters anymore. Our editorial office is nearby, when a missile flew by, the windows in our building all shattered. A second later we heard the explosion. We went down to the shelter, but we realized that something was happening. Our readers began to write to us on Telegram about the place of impact, but no one could clearly say exactly where it was. Only a few minutes later, one of our colleagues called by phone and said that a missile had hit the Amstor shopping mall area. We could not understand why that place, because there was nothing there that could be connected with the war. Then the cameraman and I went to the place and saw these horrors.”

Background

Russia launched a missile attack on the Amstor shopping mall in the city of Kremenchuk, Poltava Oblast, on June 27. As a result of the Russian missile strike, a fire spread across up to 10,300 square meters. So far, 18 people have been found dead, as well as seven body fragments. One person died in hospital and another 21 people are considered missing. Rescuers jave cleared 60% of the rubble from the mall.

Read also: Ukraine's FM comments on Russians’ ‘cheerful’ reaction to Kremenchuk shopping mall atrocity

The city of Kremenchuk has the largest oil refinery in Ukraine, and in early April Russian forces launched a massive missile attack on that refinery. Authorities said the refinery would not resume operations until the end of the year.

During a briefing on June 28, Minister of the Interior Affairs, Denis Monastyrsky, said that both he personally and the journalists completely searched the territory of the shopping and entertainment center in Kremenchuk - it contained only shops. And the territory of a neighboring plant only produces construction mixtures and construction equipment. According to Monastyrsky, there was nothing there related to the military.

The head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs added that the Russian strike on the shopping mall was devastating. The Russian Kh-22 missile that hit the building contains more than 900 kg of explosives. The explosion in the shopping mall took place at its busiest time, at 3.54 p.m.