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At least two dozen people in Ukraine were killed in Russian missile strikes

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

We have news that Russian missile strikes have killed at least 24 people, including four children, in two Ukrainian cities. The missiles evaded Ukraine's air defenses and rammed into two apartment buildings early this morning, while people were still sleeping. Most of the dead are in Uman, a city in central Ukraine, far from the front line. NPR's Joanna Kakissis reports.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Oksana Voitovska could not stop crying when I met her this afternoon. She was staring at the nine-story building now charred and crushed by the latest Russian missile strike. Her 8-year-old niece, Ulya, lived on the second floor with her grandmother and father.

OKSANA VOITOVSKA: (Speaking Ukrainian).

KAKISSIS: "The bodies of the adults came out looking like coals," she says, "but where is Ulya?"

VOITOVSKA: (Speaking Ukrainian).

KAKISSIS: "She is such a bright, positive, happy little girl," Voitovska says, "and I scolded her for not studying more."

Voitovska comforted Ulya's mother, who was so upset she couldn't even talk, and she pointed to the collapsed building.

VOITOVSKA: (Speaking Ukrainian).

KAKISSIS: "How could our little Ulya have survived that?"

The missile hit the apartment building at 4:30 a.m. local time. Uman's regional military administrator, Ihor Taburets, told NPR that Russians targeted the Uman area earlier in the war to destroy nearby Ukrainian military installations, but never before had there been this many victims.

IHOR TABURETS: (Through interpreter) I'm convinced that this missile was headed to one of the military installations that exist somewhere around Uman. But if the missile loses its course, we don't know where it may fall, and rockets like this each weigh half a metric ton.

KAKISSIS: His eyes flashed with anger.

TABURETS: (Through interpreter) I'm a military person. I've seen death with my own eyes. But to see civilians who were peacefully sleeping in their beds, children with a hopeful future, makes me so angry.

KAKISSIS: Nearby, a group of sobbing teenagers embraced a traumatized couple who are missing two of their three children, 8-year-old Sofia and 17-year-old Kyrill. Two of the teenagers, Alina Dubrovska and Kateryna Horobchenko, both 17, are close friends with Kyrill. Dubrovska tells me and my producer, Polina, that she's hoping Kyrill is still alive.

ALINA DUBROVSKA: (Through interpreter) Very clever, very intelligent. He was very funny. He was amazing in chemistry.

KAKISSIS: Horobchenko says the rocket hit the rooms where Kyrill and Sofia were sleeping. Their parents and brother were spared and rescued by firefighters.

KATERYNA HOROBCHENKO: (Through interpreter) We just expressed our condolences because there is no word for this situation.

KAKISSIS: Ruslan Bondarenko is a psychologist comforting relatives and survivors.

RUSLAN BONDARENKO: (Through interpreter) Because of the large number of dead, people worried about their loved ones. And they have hope that they are still alive under the rubble, even though the chances of that are so small.

KAKISSIS: By evening, Oksana Voitovska got word that her 8-year-old niece, Ulya, had died. Her mother recognized the necklace and earrings on her body.

Joanna Kakissis, NPR News, Uman. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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.