On June 27, Russia launched a missile attack that destroyed the Amstor Mall in the central Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk. At least 20 people are reported killed and 59 injured in the attack, Ukrainian authorities said.
In remarks to the United Nations Security Council on June 28, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called Russia a “terrorist state” and asked for a U.N. investigation into the attack.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted: “The world is horrified by Russia's missile strike today, which hit a crowded Ukrainian shopping mall – the latest in a string of atrocities.”
French President Emmanuel Macron said: “Russia’s bombing of a shopping center in Kremenchuk is an abomination.”
Whether the mall was intentionally targeted is unclear. But that didn’t stop the Kremlin from churning out disinformation to explain away the tragedy.
First, Russia’s Defense Ministry claimed the mall caught fire after Russian forces successfully launched an airstrike at a nearby depot storing “Western supplied weapons and ammunition.”
That is despite security camera video, released by Ukraine President Vladimir Zelenskyy, showing a Russian X-22 cruise missile diving into the mall. And Ukraine said the factory nearby made road-building equipment, not armaments.
Moscow pivoted to another line: The strike was a false-flag operation, as earlier when Russian troops were credibly accused of atrocities in the town of Bucha.
“Bucha 2.0: Kyiv unleashes an explosion in Kremenchuk,” the website of Kremlin-friendly Tsargrad TV said. “What is known so far.”
Russia’s ambassador to Ireland, Yuriy Filatov, said the claim that Russia attacked the mall was “yet another disinformation stunt.”
“Regrettably, we have seen all that before – Ukrainian authorities manufacture – [a] distorted news item, their Western patrons quickly use it in the interest of anti-Russian propaganda,” Filatov wrote on Telegraph.
Russia’s Defense Ministry claimed the mall was not open at the time. And on Twitter and Telegram, pro-Russian accounts spread the claim that the mall was “permanently closed” at the time of the strike.
"For a busy shopping center there are very few cars in the parking lot and absolutely no women in sight. #kremenchuk. Lots of men in military uniforms, though,” tweeted Irina Galuskho, a journalist for state-owned RT.
But Fred Abrahams of Human Rights Watch said initial investigations showed the shopping mall was “directly hit” and was “open at the time.”
Current Time TV, the Russian-language channel of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America, examined security video taken at a nearby park. It showed a first missile hitting the mall and a second striking the factory grounds.
From multiple angles, people and birds are seen fleeing from an explosion that is not shown on camera, followed by a much closer, visible explosion “right behind the fence” of the factory site.
From one angle, the video shows a man and child running for shelter behind a tree as a plume of black smoke rises in the distance from the direction of the Amstor Mall.
As for the presence of people in uniform, Britain’s Guardian newspaper reported that “military personnel, volunteers, firefighters and police” joined efforts “to recover bodies from the rubble in the hope of finding survivors.”
Current Time, The New York Times and other news media broadcast or reported on interviews with male and female victims.
Amateur video also showed civilians fleeing in the aftermath.
Satellite images have confirmed the strike locations.
The attack on Kremenchuk came one day after a Russian missile slammed into a residential building in Ukraine’s capital Kyiv, killing one and injuring others.
Russia has put out conflicting narratives following previous attacks on civilian structures, including the March 16 attack on the Mariupol theater, which an Associated Press investigation found killed 600 people taking shelter there.
Most infamously, Russia put out multiple, contradictory narratives about the Malaysian airliner MH17, shot down over Ukraine with a missile system from Russia’s 53rd Air Defense Missile Brigade on July 17, 2014, killing 298.
The Rand Corporation labeled Russia’s strategy of putting out numerous narratives to sow confusion and deflect blame the “firehose of falsehood” propaganda model.