Death Toll Rises After Russian Strike Destroys Apartment Block


Rescuers on Sunday continued to comb the rubble of a nine-story apartment building that was cut in half by a Russian strike, as the death toll from the attack in the central Ukrainian city of Dnipro a day earlier climbed to 30. It was one of the largest losses of civilian lives far from the front line since the beginning of the war.

At least one woman was pulled safely from the debris. The 27-year-old was taken to a hospital where she was being treated for severe hypothermia, local officials said.

The residential building was struck late Saturday afternoon as Russia launched dozens of missiles at cities across Ukraine in two waves of strikes that coincided with the Orthodox New Year and shattered the relative calm of recent days.

By Sunday evening, 30 people had been confirmed dead, according to Ukraine’s State Emergency Service. At least 75 people were injured, and more than 30 people were still believed to be missing, local officials said.

The strike on the apartment building is one of a series of devastating large-scale attacks on residential areas of Ukraine since Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February. Russian strikes on targets such as train stations, theaters, shopping malls and residential neighborhoods have led to significant loss of civilian life, while the shelling of cities and towns near the front line has also caused a mounting civilian death toll.

Under international law, it is a war crime to deliberately or recklessly attack civilian populations and places where civilians would be likely to congregate.

More than 550 people were involved in the rescue operation as it passed the 24-hour mark, local officials said.

On Sunday morning, five victims who had been pulled from the rubble in Dnipro were laid out in body bags in a small grassy area next to the destroyed building. A light dusting of snow began to accumulate on them as the hours went by and recovery efforts continued.

At least 400 people lived in the large apartment building and the immediate area around it, according to Kyrylo Tymoshenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s president, and 72 apartments were destroyed in the attack. The explosion also shattered the windows of surrounding buildings, leaving many more people displaced.

In the late afternoon, firefighters were continuing to search the rubble for survivors. The air was filled with the sounds of cranes and crunching glass.

And a sense of routine had come to the area.

Some people huddled around open bonfires for warmth in the freezing conditions.

A humanitarian tent city had sprung up, with volunteers making sandwiches and distributing tea and coffee to the hundreds of rescuers and residents on the scene. Another tent had mattresses, blankets and tarps.

Dump trucks rolled in and out of the area, collecting rubble and clearing the street surrounding the partially collapsed building. Dark smoke rose from the heap of tangled debris that was once several apartments.

Some residents of surrounding buildings that were damaged in the strike were waiting to get the go-ahead so they could collect their belongings. Others were already picking through what was left and taking what they could — with no windows in the bitter cold, it was impossible to stay.

Plastic sheeting had been taped up over some windows blown out by the explosion, and workers were measuring others so that glass could be reinstalled.

Images of the devastation provoked anger and despair around the country, with one photo from the scene of the attack circulating widely and striking a particular chord. It shows a young woman clutching a stuffed animal and a golden Christmas garland as she stood in the ruins of the building, waiting to be rescued.

Immediately after the Dnipro strike, pro-Russian news outlets and influential military bloggers had argued that the apartment building had been struck by fragments of the missile after Ukrainian air defenses attempted to intercept it.

But Ukrainian forces were quick to deny that, and the evidence from the scene pointed to a direct strike on the building.

“The Armed Forces of Ukraine have no weapons capable of shooting down this type of missile,” Ms. Maliar said, adding that more than 210 missiles of that type have been used in attacks on Ukrainian territory since Russia invaded in February.

The same kind of missile was used to strike a shopping center in Kremenchuk in June, killing 18 people.

The Soviet-era missiles weigh about 2,000 pounds, can be fired from long distances and are intended for anti-ship operations. They are also capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

Ms. Maliar said the attack showed the need for antiaircraft missile systems like the Patriot system — which Ukraine has long been lobbying its allies for.

Late last month, President Biden said that the United States would supply Ukraine with the Patriot missile system. Ukrainian forces will begin training on the system in Oklahoma in the coming week.

While Dnipro continued to grapple with the aftermath of the massive attack, Russian forces continued to carry out strikes closer to the front lines in Ukraine on Sunday.

Shelling hit residential buildings in the southern city of Kherson, injuring at least seven people on Sunday, according to the local military administration. An office where representatives of the Red Cross were working also was hit, according to Mr. Tymoshenko, the presidential adviser. A strike on that site in December killed one person.

Oleksandra Mykolyshyn contributed reporting.



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