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Amid the rubble in Dnipro, Ukraine, a frantic search grows increasingly desperate

A soldier stares up at a gaping hole in an apartment building in Dnipro, Ukraine on Monday. The city was hit by Russian missiles on Saturday.
Claire Harbage
/
NPR
A soldier stares up at a gaping hole in an apartment building in Dnipro, Ukraine on Monday. The city was hit by Russian missiles on Saturday.

DNIPRO, Ukraine — For two days, rescue workers have been racing to find survivors of a Russian missile strike on an apartment complex in the Ukrainian city of Dnipro. But more than 48 hours after one of the worst attacks on civilians since the start of the war, officials were beginning to concede on Monday that time may be running out.

Ukrainian officials say at least 40 people, including several children, were killed in the attack. Nearly twice as many suffered injuries, and more than 25 remain missing.

Throughout the weekend, rescue crews would pause the arduous work of clearing debris to listen for the sound of people trapped under what's left of the nine-story apartment complex where some 1,700 people lived. But with about 85% of the rubble now removed, workers told NPR they weren't expecting to find any more people alive.

Serhii Shova (center) is a squad commander of an emergency crew that has been working at the site since Saturday.
Claire Harbage / NPR
/
NPR
Serhii Shova (center) is a squad commander of an emergency crew that has been working at the site since Saturday.

"Only the dead are left," says Serhii Shova, squad commander of an emergency crew that's been working at the site round the clock since Saturday. "It is unlikely there are any chances to find people alive."

Shova was among the dozens of workers clearing rubble from the first and second floors, removing slabs of concrete that if kept in place, would make it too dangerous for rescue workers to search below them.

"There are bodies still trapped," he says, "but we can't get them yet, without removing the floor slabs."

About 40 people have been rescued from the debris, according to State Emergency Services. On Sunday, Shova and his team helped rescue a woman from the fourth floor of the building, he says. She had been home on Saturday with her husband and their baby, but by the time rescue workers got to their apartment a day after the attack, the child had died of hypothermia. Temperatures in Dnipro are hovering around freezing. Shova said the woman's husband was crushed between floor slabs and did not survive.

Rescue efforts will continue until Tuesday.

Petro Shevchenko, (left) stands with his grandaughter, Olena Parkhomenko, as they look at the damaged apartment building. Shevchenko, 85, lives alone on the 7th floor and has cuts on his face from the attack.
Claire Harbage / NPR
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NPR
Petro Shevchenko, (left) stands with his grandaughter, Olena Parkhomenko, as they look at the damaged apartment building. Shevchenko, 85, lives alone on the 7th floor and has cuts on his face from the attack.

In addition to the more than three dozen killed in the attack, more than 75 people were injured.

Among them was Petro Shevchenko, who lived alone on the seventh floor and now has cuts all across his face from the attack. When his family learned about the attack, they rushed to the site of the strike to tell rescuers where he might be. At 85, Shevchenko struggles with poor eyesight and didn't have anything with which to alert rescuers – like a flashlight or cell phone. Emergency workers carried him out of the building since he could hardly walk.

Municipal workers rest on some plywood during a break from fixing windows and clearing rubble.
Claire Harbage / NPR
/
NPR
Municipal workers rest on some plywood during a break from fixing windows and clearing rubble.

"Everything was ruined on the stairway," he says. "In the ambulance, the doctor told me I was really lucky to survive."

Until Saturday's attack, the city of Dnipro had been considered a safe place, where many displaced Ukrainians from other cities further east have settled. The strike happened in the late afternoon, when many families were home and getting ready for dinner.

"It's difficult. It's emotionally difficult," says Larysa Shevchenko, who survived the attack by sheltering in a corridor on the eighth floor with two of her children and one of her son's friends. Her children, ages 6 and 10, have spent the last two nights having trouble sleeping, waking up in the middle of the night from nightmares.

Shevchenko says she had a disturbing feeling something was going to happen on Saturday when the air alarms went off. At the time of the attack, she remembers looking out the window and seeing a fireball. After the explosions, the children started to scream.

Crews search the rubble for people who remain missing on Monday.
Claire Harbage / NPR
/
NPR
Crews search the rubble for people who remain missing on Monday.
Larysa Shevchenko and her 6 year-old daughter, Kateryna, stand outside near relief stations. The family lived in the building and at the time of the attack, Larysa remembers looking out the window and seeing a fireball.
Claire Harbage / NPR
/
NPR
Larysa Shevchenko and her 6 year-old daughter, Kateryna, stand outside near relief stations. The family lived in the building and at the time of the attack, Larysa remembers looking out the window and seeing a fireball.

"It all happened in an instant. It was a nightmare," she says. "There were pieces of glass everywhere. Our apartment has no windows, no window frames, nothing." They grabbed coats and boots from the hallway and ran down a still-intact stairwell.

When they got outside, a friend of her son who lives in a section of the building destroyed in the attack came up to them. He'd been playing outside when the missile hit. His parents were inside.

"Will I be without a mother now?" he asked Schevchenko. "We were all shocked," she says, "and so was he."

The boy's arm had been hit by falling debris, so an ambulance took him to the hospital. Schevchenko says she later found out that both of the boy's parents had died in the attack.

In addition to the boy's parents, the dead include two sisters, ages 3 and 13, and their mother; a beloved boxing coach; a 15-year-old ballet dancer; as well as a pregnant woman and her husband.

Their funerals begin this week.

Hanna Palamarenko contributed to this report. contributed to this story

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Flowers, candles, and stuffed animals are piled on the seat of a bus stop across the street from where the crews continue to search the apartment building.
Claire Harbage / NPR
/
NPR
Flowers, candles, and stuffed animals are piled on the seat of a bus stop across the street from where the crews continue to search the apartment building.
Kyrylo Tymoshenko, Deputy Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, speaks in front of the damaged apartment building on Monday.
Claire Harbage / NPR
/
NPR
Kyrylo Tymoshenko, Deputy Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, speaks in front of the damaged apartment building on Monday.

Elissa Nadworny reports on all things college for NPR, following big stories like unprecedented enrollment declines, college affordability, the student debt crisis and workforce training. During the 2020-2021 academic year, she traveled to dozens of campuses to document what it was like to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic. Her work has won several awards including a 2020 Gracie Award for a story about student parents in college, a 2018 James Beard Award for a story about the Chinese-American population in the Mississippi Delta and a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in innovation.