The death toll from a weekend Russian missile strike on an apartment building in the southeastern Ukrainian city of Dnipro has risen to 40, authorities said on Monday, as Western analysts pointed to indications that the Kremlin was preparing for a drawn-out war in Ukraine after almost 11 months of fighting.
About 1,700 people lived in the multi-storey building, and search and rescue crews have worked non-stop since Saturday's strike to locate victims and survivors in the wreckage. The regional administration said 39 people have been rescued so far and 30 more remained missing. Authorities said at least 75 were wounded.
The reported death toll made it the deadliest single attack on Ukrainian civilians since before the summer, according to The Associated Press-Frontline War Crimes Watch project.
Residents said the apartment tower did not house any military facilities. The European Union's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, called the strike, and others like it, inhumane aggression because it directly targeted civilians.
“There will be no impunity for these crimes,” he said in a tweet on Sunday.
Quoting Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, The Guardian reported, “the victims included a 15-year-old girl. Dozens of people were rescued from the rubble, including six children. We are fighting for every person! The rescue operation will last as long as there is even the slightest chance to save lives.”
Asked about the strike on Monday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Russian military doesn't target residential buildings and suggested the Dnipro building was hit as a result of Ukrainian air defence actions. The strike on the building came amid a wider barrage of Russian cruise missiles across Ukraine.
The Russian defence ministry on Saturday said in a statement that they have launched strikes targeting Ukrainian military and infrastructure sites. Quoting the statement, Reuters reported, "All designated targets were hit. The objective of the strike has been achieved."
The Ukrainian military said on Sunday that it did not have the means to intercept the type of Russian missile that hit the residential building in Dnipro.
Fierce fighting continued to rage on Monday in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk province, where military analysts have said both sides are likely suffering heavy troop casualties. No independent verification of developments was possible.
Donetsk and neighbouring Luhansk province make up the Donbas, an expansive industrial region bordering Russia that Russian President Vladimir Putin identified as a focus from the war's outset.
Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Kyiv's forces there since 2014.
The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington think tank, reported signs of the Kremlin taking steps to turn its Ukraine invasion into "a major conventional war after months of embarrassing military reversals.”
“What Moscow calls a special military operation aimed to capture the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, within weeks and to install a Kremlin-friendly regime there, but Russian forces ultimately withdrew from around Kyiv,” the think tank said.
“Then came a successful Ukrainian counteroffensive in recent months before the onset of winter slowed military advances. The Kremlin is likely preparing to conduct a decisive strategic action in the next six months intended to regain the initiative and end Ukraine's current string of operational successes,” the Institute for the Study of War said in a report late on Sunday.
NATO member nations have sought in recent days to reassure Ukraine that they will stay the course.
(With PTI inputs.)