© Reuters. Emergency personnel work at the site where an apartment block was heavily damaged by a Russian missile strike, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Dnipro, Ukraine January 15, 2023. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
By Herbert Villarraga
DNIPRO, Ukraine (Reuters) – Ukraine saw little hope of pulling any more survivors from the rubble of an apartment block in the city of Dnipro on Sunday, a day after the building was hit during a major Russian missile attack, with dozens of people expected to have died.
The regional governor’s adviser, Natalia Babachenko, said 30 people were confirmed dead so far and more than 30 were in hospital, including 12 in a serious condition. Between 30 to 40 people could still be trapped under debris, she said.
Emergency workers said they had heard people screaming for help from underneath piles of debris from the nine-storey apartment block in the east-central city and were using moments of silence to help direct their efforts. Freezing temperatures added to rescuers’ concerns.
A group of firefighters found a lightly-dressed woman still alive more than 18 hours after the attack. They carried her to safety in their arms. Dozens of grim-faced residents, both young and old, watched in horror from the street.
A body was retrieved by firefighters and lifted from the ruins on a stretcher using a crane.
“The chances of saving people now are minimal,” Dnipro’s Mayor Borys Filatov told Reuters. I think the number of dead will be in the dozens.”
Ukraine’s Air Force said the apartment block was struck by a Russian Kh-22 missile, which is known to be inaccurate and that Ukraine lacks the air defences to shoot down. The Soviet-era missile was developed during the Cold War to destroy warships.
Filatov said two stairwells including dozens of flats were destroyed.
Russia fired two waves of missiles at Ukraine on Saturday, striking targets across the country as fighting raged on the battlefield in the eastern towns of Soledar and Bakhmut.
Moscow, which invaded last February, has been pounding Ukraine’s energy infrastructure with missiles and drones since October, causing sweeping blackouts and disruptions to central heating and running water.
In a statement on Sunday about its previous day of strikes, the Russian defence ministry did not mention Dnipro as a specific target.
“All assigned objects were hit. The targets of the strike have been achieved,” it said.
Rescuers toiled through the night searching for survivors. On Sunday morning, they could be seen punching and kicking through heaped mounds of smashed concrete and twisted metal.
“Two rooms on the second floor remain practically intact but buried,” Oleh Kushniruk, a deputy director of the regional branch of Ukraine’s State Emergency Service, said on television.
A spokesperson for Ukraine’s southern command said Russia had fired only half of the cruise missiles it had deployed to the Black Sea during Saturday’s attacks.
“This indicates that they still have certain plans,” said the spokesperson, Natalia Humeniuk. “We must understand that they can still be used.”
APPEAL FOR MORE WEAPONS
In his nightly address after the strike, Zelenskiy called on Western allies to supply more weapons to end “Russian terror” and attacks on civilian targets.
Saturday’s attack came as Western powers consider sending battle tanks to Kyiv and ahead of a meeting of Ukraine’s allies in Ramstein in Germany next Friday, where governments will announce their latest pledges of military support.
On Saturday, Britain followed France and Poland with promises of further weapons, saying it would send 14 of its Challenger 2 main battle tanks as well as other advanced artillery support in the coming weeks.
The first despatch of Western-made tanks to Ukraine is likely to be viewed by Moscow as escalation of the conflict. The Russian Embassy in London said the tanks would drag out the confrontation.
Russia’s invasion has already killed thousands, displaced millions and turned many cities into rubble.
In Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region – the focal point of Russia’s drive to capture more territory – Ukraine’s forces were battling around the small salt-mining town of Soledar.
Serhiy Cherevatyi, spokesperson for Ukraine’s eastern command, told Ukrainian television that Russian forces had shelled the area around Soledar and Bakhmut 234 times in the past 24 hours.
Russia said on Friday that its forces had taken control of Soledar, which had a pre-war population of 10,000, in what would be a minor advance but one that would have psychological importance for Russian forces, who have seen months of battlefield setbacks.
Ukraine insisted on Saturday that its forces were battling to hold the town, but officials acknowledged the situation was difficult, with street fighting raging and Russian forces advancing from various directions.
“Our soldiers are constantly repelling enemy attacks, day and night,” Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar said on Saturday. “The enemy is sustaining heavy losses but is continuing to carry out the criminal orders of their command.”
The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said it was highly unlikely that Ukrainian forces still held positions within Soledar itself.
Reuters could not immediately verify the situation in the town.
Putin said what he calls the special military operation was showing a positive trend and that he hoped Russian soldiers would deliver further gains after Soledar.
“The dynamic is positive,” he told Rossiya 1 state television. “Everything is developing within the framework of the plan of the Ministry of Defence and the General Staff.”