By ANDREW MELDRUM
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — The death toll from a weekend Russian missile strike on an apartment building in southeastern Ukraine climbed to 41 on Tuesday after the body of a child was pulled from the rubble, officials said, in what was the deadliest attack of the war on civilians at one location since the spring.
Another 25 residents of the building city of Dnipro were still missing, according to Valentyn Reznichenko, the governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region, whose capital is Dnipro.
Emergency crews have cleared about 90% of the rubble during a 63-hour search since the Saturday afternoon strike, he said.
There are 79 wounded people, he said, with 28 of them hospitalized and 10 in serious condition. About 1,700 people lived in the multistory building. Some people were trapped on upper floors, with some signaling for help with lights on their cellphones.
The latest deadly Russian strike on a civilian target in the almost 11-month war triggered outrage. It also prompted the surprise resignation on Tuesday of a Ukrainian presidential adviser who said the Russian missile was shot down by the Ukrainian air defense system and exploded when it fell — a version that would take some of the blame off the Kremlin’s forces.
Oleksii Arestovich’s comments in an interview Saturday night caused an outcry. He said as he quit that his remarks were “a fundamental mistake.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy vowed to bring those responsible for the strike to justice, saying it’s “a fundamental task” for Ukraine and its Western allies.
“This strike at Dnipro, as well as other similar strikes, falls, in particular, under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court,” he said in a video address late Monday.
“And we will use all available opportunities — both national and international — to ensure that all Russian murderers, everyone who gives and executes orders on missile terror against our people, face legal sentences. And to ensure that they serve their punishment,” he said.
The U.K. Defense Ministry said Tuesday that the weekend barrage of long-range missiles, the first of its kind in two weeks, targeted Ukraine’s power grid.
But the ministry identified the missile that slammed into the Dnipro apartment building as an anti-ship missile that “is notoriously inaccurate when used against ground targets as its radar guidance system is poor at differentiating targets in urban areas.”
Similar missiles were used in other incidents that caused high civilian casualties, it said, including a strike on a shopping mall in Ukraine’s central city of Kremenchuk last June.
Such incidents have helped stiffen international support for Ukraine as it battles to fend off the Kremlin’s invasion. The winter has brought a slowdown in fighting, but military analysts say a new push by both sides is likely once the weather improves.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Tuesday that the country’s military would increase its readiness from the current 1.15 million to 1.5 million in coming years.
As part of the buildup, the military will form an army corps in the northwestern region of Karelia, near Finland, as well as three new motorized infantry and two airborne divisions. The military will also beef up seven existing motorized infantry brigades into divisions.
That announcement came a day after U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and other U.S. officials met in Kyiv with Zelenskyy. They reiterated Washington’s “strong and steadfast commitment to Ukraine,” U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said.
U.S. Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Monday visited Ukraine troops who are training at a military base in Germany under U.S. commanders.
More than 600 Ukrainian troops began the expanded training program at the camp the previous day.
“This is not a run of the mill rotation,” Milley told commanders. “This is one of those moments in time where if you want to make a difference, this is it.”
Ukraine’s first lady was also helping to cement Western support and acquire more foreign weapons, as she was scheduled to give a rare international address at the World Economic Forum’s annual gathering in the Swiss town of Davos.
Meanwhile, the head of the U.N. nuclear agency on Monday visited the South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant and announced the organization’s permanent presence there to oversee operations and ensure safety.
Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, tweeted late Monday that the agency’s flag was flying over the power plant.
“We are here to stay to help ensure nuclear safety (and) security during ongoing conflict,” Grossi said, adding that “soon, IAEA will be permanently present” at all of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants.
Ukraine has a total of four nuclear power plants with 16 reactors. One of them, the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, was taken over by Russian forces in the first months of the war and remains under their control.
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