Since Russian forces attacked a mall on June 27 in Kremenchuk, central Ukraine, false information has been circulating on social networks. Russia's defence ministry claims it did not target the shopping centre, but rather a nearby ammunition stockpile, and alleges that the centre simply caught fire. The ministry also maintains that the mall was no longer functional. However, open-source evidence contradicts these claims.
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The Russian defence ministry, supported by pro-Russian accounts on social networks, claims that the Amstor shopping centre in Kremenchuk caught fire after strikes targeting nearby ammunition depots. According to Moscow, the centre was not "functional". Surveillance and satellite images contradict this version.
According to several screenshots, the shopping centre had been closed for a year. But thanks to photos of receipts and videos, we were able to confirm that the centre was in fact functional and open to the public.
An attack destroyed a shopping centre in Kremenchuk in central Ukraine on June 27, killing at least 18 people and leaving about 40 more missing, according to the Ukrainian government.
According to Moscow, Russian shelling had targeted weapons storage areas nearby, rather than the centre.
The Russian ministry of defence released a statement regarding the attack on June 28. It did not dispute that Russia had fired missiles on Kremenchuk, nor that the Amstor shopping centre had been hit. However, it argued that the shopping centre was not functioning and had caught fire after the shelling of a nearby ammunition depot.
The statement was shared by the Russian embassy in the United Kingdom via Twitter, garnering more than 1,000 likes.
The image accompanying the tweet was produced by a website called WarOnFakes, which claims to expose false information published by Ukrainian media. However, French fact-checking media outlets have identified the site as Russian propaganda.
According to the image, two missile strikes had been aimed at a Kremenchuk factory and a nearby railway yard. The shopping centre, by this account, was not directly targeted but caught fire after the previous attacks on nearby sites.
A video posted on Twitter on June 28 from a CCTV camera in Misky Park, north of the factory and shopping centre, shows two impacts.
In the video, the camera is pointing south toward the factory. We have located it on this map, using Google Street View.
In the Google Maps screenshot above, the CCTV camera is located at the pink dot on the bottom left, the Kremenchuk factory is framed in red and the Amstor shopping centre in blue.
From 0:34 to 0:39 in the video, we can see a cloud of smoke (in red in the capture below).
Then at 0:39, a second missile appears to land much closer to the camera. Flames appear to be coming from the factory.
Based on the location of the camera and the two targets, we can conclude that the smoke cloud further east is the one coming from the shopping centre.
Planet, a satellite imagery company, provided the FRANCE 24 Observers team with images from June 28, the day after the attack, showing the location of the two missile strikes.
As explained by Bellingcat, the Planet image shows the damage to the shopping centre. Damage to the factory is also clear in the imagery.
However, there appears to be little collateral damage in the area between the two strikes. Planet's imagery shows no sign of destruction at the nearby Kremenchuk railyard, east of the shopping centre, contrary to Russian claims that their forces struck there.
There is no sign of missile impact in the area around the shopping centre, suggesting that it was hit directly.
According to the available evidence, the first missile appears to have hit the shopping centre, as shown in the video, before a second hit the factory, located 1 kilometre north.
A video shared by a Ukrainian presidential advisor on June 28 appears to show the first missile heading toward the shopping centre and then exploding. The video was filmed from near the shopping centre, in a storage area with tanks and vegetation. It can be geo-located here: the camera was facing the shopping centre, showing the control tower (in blue in the image below), another tower on the horizon (in green), and part of the shopping centre (in red).
According to the Ukrainian military, the shopping centre was hit by Russian X-22 missiles fired by Tu-22M3 bombers that flew from Shaykovka airfield in the Russian region of Kaluga.
The shopping centre was no longer 'functioning' at the time of the strike?
Several pro-Russian Twitter accounts suggested that the attack was a Ukrainian propaganda stunt, such as this Twitter post from June 27 that claims that the mall was no longer functional. Others posted screenshots of the mall's information and hours on Google, which stated that the Amstor mall was permanently closed, suggesting that this is proof there were no civilians in the mall.
But these claims are false.
As Bellingcat reports, a Telegram news channel for the town of Kremenchuk shared a screenshot that appears to show a message from June 23 in a Telegram chat group for Amstor employees. The message states in Russian that the shops continue to operate from 8am to 9pm as usual, despite the anti-aircraft sirens.
A number of users on Twitter, as Bellingcat explains, shared photos of sales receipts proving that the mall was open hours before the Russian strikes, such as this post from June 27 showing a receipt from the same day.
Several shops reported that their employees had been hospitalised.
Telegram channels published messages sharing information about people missing in the hours following the strikes.
A video of the shopping centre was posted on YouTube on June 27, showing a family shopping in the mall.
As noted by the Italian fact-checking website Open, at 5:06pm we can see a label on the shopping bag dated June 26, indicating that the centre was open the day before the Russian strikes.
In conclusion, the images shared on social networks and the reports of journalists present at the site show that the centre was indeed open and serving customers on the day of the strike, which seems to have targeted it directly, contrary to the claims of the Russian authorities.