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At least 25 people died from Russian strikes in two Ukrainian cities


Difficult news now - the deadliest Russian airstrikes in months have killed over 20 people including some children. Most of those who died are in the central city of Uman, where a missile slammed into an apartment building. The attacks come as Ukraine prepares for a counteroffensive to liberate land now occupied by Russian forces. NPR's Ukraine correspondent Joanna Kakissis joins us. Joanna, thanks for being with us.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Thanks for having me, Scott.

SIMON: I know you went to Uman. Tell us what you saw.

KAKISSIS: So, Scott, imagine a very well-maintained apartment complex with a freshly cut lawn, a garden of blooming red-and-yellow tulips, and a playground and the school nearby. Like, this is a place for families. And at 4:30 a.m. early Friday morning, when most of these families were sleeping, a Russian cruise missile slammed into one of the apartment buildings. When we arrived, smoke was still billowing from the remains of the building, and the air was thick with the smell of burning plastic. We met Oksana Voitovska and her sister Inna, who were sobbing as they watched emergency workers walk by with body bags. Oksana told me and my translator, Polina Lytvynova, that they were looking for Inna's 8-year-old daughter, Ulya.

OKSANA VOITOVSKA: (Through interpreter) She is very positive. She is very smiley. She's a blond-haired girl. She was so positive.

KAKISSIS: Oksana said Ulya was with her father and grandmother on the second floor of the building that was hit.

VOITOVSKA: (Through interpreter) You can see what's left from the apartments. Can you imagine the temperature inside when it blew up? It's just completely burned.

KAKISSIS: So the bodies of Ulya's grandmother and father had already been found burned so badly that Oksana said that they looked like coal. She kept holding out hope that Ulya would somehow be found alive. But when we called her last night, she told us Ulya was dead and that her mother recognized the little earrings and necklace on Ulya's body.

SIMON: Oh, my. Bless them all. Any idea why Uman was the target?

KAKISSIS: So that's a good question because Uman is not a big city, and it's, like, 200 miles from the front line. Uman is known as a pilgrimage site for Hasidic Jews. Thousands come here every year to celebrate Rosh Hashana even during the war. But Ihor Taburets, who is the regional military administrator here, he said that Russia did target the area around Uman early in the war to hit Ukrainian military installations like an airfield. And Taburets says Russians may have been trying to hit something military-related again, but that the missile just lost its course. And then, he just shook his head and said with just a lot of anger in his voice that this seems to happen a lot.

IHOR TABURETS: (Non-English language spoken).

KAKISSIS: He's saying, "look, Russians are sending these missiles, each of them massive, and they're hitting our neighborhoods. It's hard for me to see this as anything other than a war crime." So this attack is a reminder, once again, that no part of Ukraine is safe from Russian missile attacks.

SIMON: And other parts of Ukraine were hit, too, weren't they?

KAKISSIS: Yeah, that's right. A missile struck a residential area in another central Ukrainian city, Dnipro, killing a mother and her 2-year-old child. Russia's defense ministry, meanwhile, said in a statement that the goal of Friday's attack had been reached. The Kremlin said that it had used these high-precision, long-range missiles in places where, quote, "Ukrainian reservists gather."

And I should add that the Russians launched 23 missiles on Friday and that Ukraine's armed forces commander says 21 of these were intercepted by air defenses. Ukraine's air defenses have worked really well so far during the war because of ammunition and weapons supplied by the West. NATO says its members are sending most of the promised weapons to Ukraine right now ahead of a planned counteroffensive. But military analysts that we've spoke to told us that they're concerned Russian attacks may try to target these new weapons and instead hit more civilians.

SIMON: NPR's Joanna Kakissis, thanks so much.

KAKISSIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Joanna Kakissis is a foreign correspondent based in Kyiv, Ukraine, where she reports poignant stories of a conflict that has upended millions of lives, affected global energy and food supplies and pitted NATO against Russia.