He was driving home when a missile hit Dnipro, Ukraine. So he got out and helped
At least 40 killed when missile hits apartment building in southeastern Ukrainian city
Vasyl Pidluzhnyi didn't expect to spend his Saturday volunteering at the site of one the deadliest strikes on Ukrainian civilians since the war began.
The Ukrainian lawyer was driving home from work in the southeastern Ukrainian city of Dnipro and chatting with his wife on the phone when he heard a loud explosion, followed by a massive cloud of thick black smoke, from an apartment building in the distance.
At first, he says, he froze in panic. Debris strewn in the road blocked him from driving away. He saw several cars engulfed in flames.
Then, he sprang into action, joining dozens of other witnesses and neighbours who were helping first responders clear debris from the streets so they could search the rubble for survivors.
"I think [at] one time, maybe 100 people were working like one system," Pidluzhnyi told As It Happens host Nil Köksal. "When you work together, it helps you. You feel like one."
Death toll rising
At least 40 people were killed in the Russian missile strike, authorities said on Monday. And that death toll may continue to rise as rescuers work non-stop to locate survivors in the wreckage.
About 1,700 people lived in the multi-storey building. The regional administration said 39 people have been rescued so far and 30 more remain missing. Authorities said at least 75 were wounded.
The death toll makes it the deadliest single attack on Ukrainian civilians since before the summer, according to The Associated Press-Frontline War Crimes Watch project.
For Pidluzhnyi, it made the war feel real in a way that it hadn't since Russian troops first invaded his country 11 months ago.
"I saw this by my own eyes," he said. "Other tragedies in Ukraine — Bucha, Mariupol — you see this on your TV channels. You see this on video. But if you see or if you hear as wounded people are crying, as people [who] are on the top of the building are crying for help, you feel totally destroyed."
The people of Dnipro on Monday were mourning their dead. A serviceman in uniform laid flowers and sobbed, clutching his head in grief next to an impromptu shrine at a bus stop across the street from a gaping hole where the apartment block had stood.
And the city's residents are left wondering why such a strike would hit this residential area — far from any potential military targets.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said the Russian military doesn't target residential buildings and suggested the Dnipro apartment was hit as a result of Ukrainian air defence actions. The Ukrainian military said Sunday that it did not have the means to intercept the type of Russian missile that hit the residential building in Dnipro.
Ukraine's Air Force said the apartment block was struck by a Russian Kh-22 missile, which is known to be inaccurate. The Soviet-era missile was developed during the Cold War to destroy warships.
Pidluzhnyi urged people not to listen to Russian propaganda blaming Ukraine for the tragedy.
"Their rockets are not very good," Pidluzhnyi said. "They shoot. Maybe rockets will hit the targets. Maybe not. For them, I think it's not very important."
U.K. sending tanks
Tens of thousands of people have been killed since Russian troops invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, and about a quarter of the population have fled their homes.
The front lines of the war have remained largely in a stalemate for the past several months, despite heavy losses on both sides.
Ukraine says it needs battle tanks and armoured vehicles capable of breaking through Russian lines to turn the tide. But Western countries have hesitated to send those tanks — until now.
Over the weekend, the U.K. vowed to send a first squadron of Challenger 2 tanks to the war-torn country. On Monday it confirmed the supply of 14 tanks and other hardware, including hundreds more armoured vehicles and advanced air defence missiles to "to accelerate Ukrainian success."
"They're well overdue. I mean, this conflict is not going to end anytime soon," British Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood, chair of the U.K. House of Commons defence committee, told As It Happens.
"I'm really pleased that the U.K. is actually handing over these tanks. I hope other nations will follow suit because 2023 will be a critical year for this conflict."
Pidluzhnyi, meanwhile, is doing what he can to help the war effort. The lawyer says his wife and two children have fled the city to what he hopes is a safer part of Ukraine near the Romanian border.
But he has vowed to stay behind in Dnipro.
"I think they want [me] to be with them, but I think I have to be here. I have to work. I have to help people. I have to help our warriors," he said.
"Our firm every month donates to our army, our volunteers, because it's our obligation. Because we have to stop Russians."
With files from Reuters. Interview with Vasyl Pidluzhnyi produced by Chris Harbord.