Climbing over shards of concrete and metal, scraps of cloth and pulverized furniture, emergency workers found one body after another on Monday, lifting them out of the cratered wreckage that had once been bedrooms and kitchens in one of Ukraine’s largest cities.
The crews reported a new toll on Monday, days after the desperate search began: at least 40 people killed by a Russian strike over the weekend, one of the single deadliest for civilians since Russia invaded Ukraine nearly a year ago.
Dnipro, the city where the ordinary, nine-story apartment building had stood, is far from the front lines where Ukrainian and Russian troops have been fighting viciously over abandoned villages and even mere yards of land. But the strike on Saturday fit a pattern of Russia firing long-range missiles at civilian targets, including residential neighborhoods and electrical plants — what military analysts say is a Russian strategy, in the wake of battlefield setbacks, to terrify civilians and pressure the Ukrainian government into talks.
“After this horror that I saw, I cannot imagine they wanted anything else,” said Viktoria Tamich, 33, an event organizer whose apartment, across the street from the strike site, is now a chaotic jumble of debris and broken glass.
At a coffee shop when the air raid siren sounded on Saturday, she narrowly avoided being home during the strike. When she did return, she said, she saw a “terrible scene” of smoking rubble and bloodstains in the stairways of her own building.
“I could hear people screaming under the ruins,” she said.
The United Nations said on Monday that it had confirmed the deaths of more than 7,000 Ukrainian civilians since last February, including 398 children. But the numbers include only deaths it has been able to corroborate, and U.N. monitors acknowledged that the full civilian toll is much higher.
The State of the War
- Dnipro: A Russian missile strike on an apartment complex in the central Ukrainian city led to one of the largest losses of civilian lives far from the front line since the beginning of the war. The attack prompted renewed calls for Moscow to be charged with war crimes.
- Western Military Aid: Britain indicated that it would give battle tanks to Ukrainian forces to help prepare them for anticipated Russian assaults this spring, adding to the growing list of powerful Western weapons being sent Ukraine’s way that were once seen as too provocative.
- 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 claim of victory, saying its troops are still fighting there.
Russia’s recent strikes have hit cities far from the most intense fighting, which is currently in eastern Ukraine. Russian shelling on Monday hit a boarding school, a residential building and a vacant children’s hospital in the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson, the regional governor said, part of a days-long bombardment of the area that heavily damaged a Red Cross facility and left at least three people dead.
The attacks on civilian areas come as Ukraine and Russia are locked in battles around the eastern city of Bakhmut and the nearby town of Soledar. Ukrainian officials say that their forces are still hanging onto parts of Soledar, notwithstanding claims by Russia’s military and a private military company, Wagner, that they have taken the town.
Military analysts say that Ukraine, Russia and Wagner have all suffered heavy losses in eastern Ukraine, describing the fighting as a contest of attrition, with Russia relying on troops drafted in the fall, Wagner on men recruited from prisons, and Ukraine on the continued support from the West.
Some Ukrainian officials have raised concerns about Russian military exercises that began on Monday in Belarus, which the Kremlin used as a staging ground to attack last year. Faced with the activity in Belarus, the deep toll of the missile strikes and a long war ahead, the government in Kyiv has urged its backers in the United States and Europe to redouble their military aid, securing promises of British tanks and French, German and American armored vehicles.
The United States has also started training 500 Ukrainian soldiers, a U.S. military official said on Monday, on how to coordinate units in battle using artillery, armor and ground forces. Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited the U.S. base in Grafenwoehr, Germany, on Monday to view the training, which began on Sunday.
To help Ukraine defend against the long-range missile strikes that have been battering civilians, like those in Dnipro, the U.S. military is working with its forces on the operation of the Patriot, an advanced air defense system. The Ukrainian troops have arrived at Fort Sill, Okla., for the training, the U.S. military announced on Monday. Both Germany and the United States have pledged the system to Ukraine.
The strike on Dnipro added dozens more casualties to the staggering civilian toll in Ukraine. In addition to the 40 dead, at least 75 people were wounded in the strike and 34 remained unaccounted for as of Monday afternoon, Ukraine’s State Emergency Service said in a post on Telegram.
As night fell, rescue crews continued searching for themissing people, living or dead. President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said on Sunday that the operation — which has moved more than 8,000 tons of debris — would last “as long as there is even the slightest chance to save lives.”
While the emergency workers hauled away rubble for the third night straight, neighbors, family members and officials worked to identify those remains that had been recovered.
Among the dead was Mykhailo Korenovsky, a children’s boxing coach who had lived in an apartment in the building with his family. Their kitchen wall was torn off in the blast, exposing cheery yellow cabinets to the elements. Dishes still sat in the sink, a bowl of fruit on a table.
Mr. Korenovsky’s wife and two children had gone out shortly before the strike, according to Iryna Gerlivanova, the director of a shelter set up in a gym to house some of those displaced by the explosion. “They went for a walk and the father stayed home,” she said.
Two young mothers, Olha Usova and Iryna Solomatenko, were also at home, according to Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense. So was a15-year-old girl, a Ukrainian official said.
“She was school president and ballroom dancer,” the official, Emine Dzheppar, the first deputy foreign minister, wrote on Twitter. “Her beautiful life dance was cut short.”
Many of those who managed to escape turned up at Ms. Gerlivanova’s shelter.
“Their eyes were like glass,” she said.
Reporting was contributed by Evelina Riabenko from Dnipro;Ivan Nechepurenko from Tbilisi, Georgia; Nick Cumming-Bruce from Geneva; Lara Jakes from Rome; Cassandra Vinograd from Paris; Matthew Mpoke Bigg from London; and Julian E. Barnes from Washington.