Death Toll From Russian Strike in Sloviansk, Ukraine, Climbs

Rescuers were searching through rubble after the attack on the city of Sloviansk as fighting raged in Bakhmut.

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Under a gray sky, a long ladder leads up to the top of a damaged building, where a group of firefighters are seen.
Firefighters trying to rescue residents trapped in the rubble of a residential building in Sloviansk, Ukraine, on Friday.Credit...Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

Matthew Mpoke Bigg

April 15, 2023Updated 12:56 p.m. ET

Rescue workers pulled more bodies from the rubble on Saturday after a Russian missile attack on a residential neighborhood in the eastern Ukrainian city of Sloviansk killed at least 11 people, as fighting raged farther southeast for control of the city of Bakhmut.

On Saturday, emergency workers retrieved two corpses from the remains of a five-story apartment building, a spokeswoman for the State Emergency Service, Veronika Bahal, told Ukrainian television. A 2-year-old boy had been rescued from a building on Friday but then died in an ambulance, officials said.

Russia sent a barrage of missiles into a residential area of Sloviansk on Friday, according to Ukrainian officials. The head of the regional military administration, Pavlo Kyrylenko, said that 21 others had been injured. He added that 34 apartment buildings were damaged in the barrage, along with an administrative building and shops.

On Saturday morning, Vadym Lyakh, a local official, told the Ukrainian broadcaster Suspilne that five people were still believed to be trapped under the rubble.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine condemned the attack and noted that it had taken place on Good Friday, at the start of one of the Orthodox Church’s most important religious festivals.

“Another strike by terrorists,” Mr. Zelensky said in an overnight speech, adding, “This is an evil state,” he said in reference to Russia, “and it will lose. To win is our duty to humanity.”

An Orthodox Good Friday service in Kyiv, Ukraine. When condemning the attack on Sloviansk, President Volodymyr Zelensky noted that it had taken place at an important religious time.Credit...Roman Pilipey/Getty Images

Many Ukrainians argue that such attacks show that the true face of the Kremlin’s full-scale invasion, launched in February last year, has more to do with cruelty than with any specific strategic objective. Russia’s Ministry of Defense made no reference to the city of Sloviansk in a daily update on Saturday.

Sloviansk, in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, lies behind the front line of the combat, and is about 34 miles west of two cities seized by Russian forces over the summer, Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk. But it remains within range of Moscow’s artillery.

Sloviansk has been hit by Russian strikes so often that for months the Ukrainian authorities have urged civilians to evacuate, though many are reluctant to do so because of poverty, ill health, attachment to the city and other reasons.

Seeking a Path to Peace: President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil and China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, declared in a joint statement after a meeting in Beijing that negotiation was “the only viable way out of the crisis in Ukraine.” Brazil has been reluctant about choosing sides in the war, as Lula seeks to rebuild the country’s ties with Beijing. In Chernobyl: Not everyone evacuated when the nuclear plant melted down in 1986. The few who stayed lived through another calamity when Russian troops marched in. The Battle for Bakhmut: Pushed into a shrinking corner of the devastated city, the Ukrainian military is determined to hold out for strategic reasons, even as allies question the cost.

The city is about 25 miles northwest of Bakhmut, which has been the scene of some of the fiercest fighting in recent months.

Col. Sergei Cherevaty, the spokesman for Ukraine’s eastern military command, said on Saturday that battles of an intensity not seen in Europe for decades were taking place in the city and that Russia had launched 158 missiles strikes in the past day alone.

“The enemy set the goal above all to take this impregnable fortress city,” he said on national television and that Ukrainian forces were “trying to inflict maximum damage on the enemy.”

Russian forces have been bombarding Bakhmut since the summer in a battle that has exacted heavy casualties on both sides. Soldiers there in recent weeks have been locked in block-by-block combat. In recent days, Russia has made incremental progress. Russia’s Defense Ministry said that its forces had taken control of two more blocks and that Ukrainian fighters were destroying infrastructure to impede their advance. There was no independent confirmation of the reports.

Ukrainian soldiers received coordinates before firing a howitzer on Russian positions inside Bakhmut, in eastern Ukraine, on Friday.Credit...Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

Both sides have sustained large numbers of casualties in the battle. While military experts say that Russian losses in Bakhmut have been much higher, the toll for Ukraine has also been considerable, leading to questions about at what point saving the city might prove unsustainable.

“Saving the lives of our soldiers is a priority for the military command,” Ukraine’s deputy defense minister, Hanna Maliar, said on the Telegram messaging app.

Moscow’s battle for Bakhmut is part of a broader campaign in eastern Ukraine aimed at capturing all of the Donetsk region and neighboring Luhansk. In addition to Bakhmut, Moscow has focused much of its firepower on trying to seize control of Marinka, Avdiivka and Lyman. On Saturday, Ukraine’s general staff said that its forces had repelled 56 attacks in the four centers of combat over the previous 24 hours.

Ukraine’s military is widely expected to soon launch a spring counteroffensive to recapture territory occupied by Russian forces.

It will rely on newly trained troops, but it has also received an influx of military aid from the United States and other key allies in recent months, and this aid is also expected to be used.

Classified documents that include U.S. battlefield assessments that raise questions about Ukraine’s abilities have come to light in recent days, but the country’s prime minister, Denys Shmyhal, played down the potential effect of the leaks and said that the two countries were “very united.”

“We have no secrets from our reliable strategic partners,” Mr. Shmyhal told a news conference on Friday in Washington. “Nothing will affect or change our plans for a counteroffensive. Our goal is victory.”

Ukrainian officials say that the resources, timing and location of its counteroffensive remain a secret, but it has built up its troops in the Zaporizhzhia region in southern Ukraine.

A resident in January collected firewood in a town that has been consistently hit in the Zaporizhzhia region of Ukraine.Credit...Nicole Tung for The New York Times

Russian shelling, which has been going on since last year in towns and villages along the front line in Zaporizhzhia, appears to have intensified in recent weeks, as both sides build up their forces.

The head of the Zaporizhzhia military administration, Yuriy Malashko, said on Telegram on Saturday that in the previous 24 hours Russia had launched 55 artillery strikes and four airstrikes at Ukrainian-held territory in the region. Nobody was injured in the latest attacks.

If Ukraine were to attack across the front line there, it would most likely aim for two of the biggest cities in the region that are held by Russia, Melitopol and Mariupol, and both places have seen a series of explosions in recent weeks.

Two blasts rocked Mariupol on Saturday, according to Petro Andriushchenko, a senior city official who is based outside the city but has contacts there. There was no independent confirmation of the report and he gave no further details.

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