Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky meets Sir Richard Branson in Kiev

At the invitation of the Ukrainian leader, the entrepreneur and founder of Virgin Group met on Wednesday with Mr Zelensky, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and a group of Ukrainian business leaders.

Sir Richard said the aim of the meeting was to “learn what business, in conjunction with civil society and governments, can do to support Ukraine most effectively”.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during his meeting with Sir Richard Branson in Kiev on Wednesday (Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/AP)PA medium

After visiting a residential area with a destroyed kindergarten that was recently hit by a Russian missile attack, Sir Richard traveled to Gostomel Airport to see the remains of the Antonov AN-225, the world’s largest transport aircraft known as Mriya ( dream).

Sir Richard said: “It is clear that these kinds of attacks are not unintentional and arbitrary. They are part of a deliberate strategy to spread fear and terror among the Ukrainian civilian population.

“I hope that the Russian perpetrators of these shocking acts will be held accountable.”

The Virgin founder called the visit to the war-torn country a “humiliating and emotional experience”.

A local resident collects photos of his family left under the rubble after Russian shelling in Ukraine’s Mykolaiv (George Ivanchenko/AP)AP

“I remember Kiev very well from previous visits in 2014 and 2015. It is a beautiful capital, with a beautiful historic cityscape built along the banks of the majestic Dnieper,” he added.

“But the scars of war are inescapable in this sprawling city, especially in the burnt-out shells of residential buildings hit by indiscriminate Russian airstrikes and rocket attacks.”

In a statement from Mr Zelensky’s office about Sir Richard’s visit, the president said the couple discussed the issue of keeping “the world’s attention to the Russian invasion of Ukraine”.

“The billionaire noted his continued support for our state, sovereignty, territorial integrity and the introduction of the toughest sanctions against Russia and those who support and finance the war,” the statement said.

People watch as smoke billows after a Russian missile strike hit a busy shopping center in Kremenchuk (Viacheslav Priadko/AP)AP

Meanwhile, in the country’s long-disputed eastern province, Russia continued its bombardment of Ukraine’s last stronghold.

The British Ministry of Defense (MoD) said Russian forces were making “incremental progress” in their offensive to take Lysychansk, the last city in Luhansk province under Ukrainian control after the withdrawal of Ukrainian troops from the neighboring city of Sievierodonetsk.

Crews also continued to search the rubble of a shopping center in Kremenchuk in central Ukraine, where 20 people were reported missing after a Russian airstrike killed at least 18 two days earlier.

Firefighters from the Ukrainian state emergency service work to clear debris from the mall (Efrem Lukatsky/AP)AP

Ukrainian emergency services press officer Svitlana Rybalko told The Associated Press that, in addition to the 18 dead, investigators also found fragments of eight more bodies.

It was not immediately clear whether this meant that there were more casualties. A number of survivors suffered severed limbs.

Defense said there was a “realistic possibility” that the mall strike was “intended to hit a nearby infrastructure target”.

Twenty people remain missing after a Russian airstrike that left at least 18 dead at a shopping center in Kremenchuk (Efrem Lukatsky/AP)AP

“Russian planners will most likely remain willing to accept a high level of collateral damage when they see the military need to hit a target,” the ministry said.

“It is almost certain that Russia will continue to carry out attacks in an effort to hinder supplies to Ukrainian front troops.”

The Russian military is also struggling with a shortage of more modern precision weapons, leading to even more civilian casualties, Defense said.

The Kremlin forces and their separatist allies control 95% of Luhansk and about half of Donetsk, the two provinces that make up predominantly Russian-speaking Donbas.

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