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 29. It was one of the largest losses of civilian lives far from the front line since the beginning of the war.
With the rescue effort approaching the 24-hour mark, 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.
The regional Ukrainian military administration said in an afternoon update on Sunday that 29 people had been killed. At least 73 people were injured, and an estimated 40 people were still missing, 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.
The State of the War
- Soledar: The Russian military and the Wagner Group, a private mercenary group, contradicted each other publicly about who should get credit for capturing the eastern town. Ukraine’s military, meanwhile, has rejected Russia’s victory claim, saying its troops were still fighting there.
- Russia’s Military Reshuffle: Moscow has shaken up its military command in Ukraine again, demoting its top commander after just three months and replacing him with a Kremlin insider who helped orchestrate the ill-fated invasion.
- Western Escalation: A cease-fire proposal seemingly aimed at splintering Western unity has instead been met with an escalation of military involvement by Ukraine’s allies.
- New Equipment: The Western allies’ provision to Ukraine of infantry fighting vehicles signaled their support for new offensives. Now it looks likely that tanks will be added to the list of weapons being sent.
More than 550 people were involved in the rescue operation as it passed the 24-hour mark, according to local officials.
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.
Volunteers set up a small humanitarian hub under tents where they distributed tea to the dozens of rescuers and civilians on the scene. Some huddled around open bonfires for warmth in the freezing conditions.
Dump trucks rolled in and out of the area, collecting rubble and clearing the street surrounding the partially collapsed building.
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.
In a post on a verified account on Instagram, the woman, who gave her name as Anastasiia Shvets, said her parents were still missing. She described how she had escaped unharmed except for a small head wound and bruises on her legs.
“I have no words, I have no emotions, I feel nothing except a great emptiness inside,” she wrote, sharing images from her hospital bed. According to Ms. Shvets’s social media accounts, her partner was serving in the Ukrainian military and had been killed in action four months ago.
The missile that struck the building was a Kh-22 cruise missile, also known as an X-22 missile, according to Hanna Maliar, Ukraine’s deputy minister of defense. Five of these missiles were fired at Ukrainian territory on Saturday, with one hitting the building in Dnipro.
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.