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Apartment block missile strike death toll rises as Russia prepares for long war

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The death toll from a Russian missile strike on an apartment building in the south-eastern Ukrainian city of Dnipro has risen to 40, as western analysts warned the Kremlin is preparing for a drawn-out war in Ukraine.

The victims from Saturday’s strike on the multi-storey residential tower included two children, Ukraine’s National Police reported, and 15 children are among the 75 people injured.

The rescue and search operation is ongoing, with 39 people, including six children, having been rescued from the ruins so far, police said. Another 30 people are still missing.

About 1,700 people lived in the apartment building. Residents said there were no military facilities at the site.

The reported death toll made it the deadliest single attack on civilians since before the summer, according to The Associated Press-Frontline War Crimes Watch project.

The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, called the strike, and others like it, “inhumane aggression” because it directly targeted civilians.

“There will be no impunity for these crimes,” he said in a tweet on Sunday.

Asked about the strike on Monday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Russian military does not target residential buildings and suggested the Dnipro building was hit as a result of Ukrainian air defence actions.

The Ukrainian military said on Sunday that it did not have the means to intercept the type of Russian missile used in Saturday’s strike.

The strike on the building came amid a wider barrage of Russian cruise missiles across Ukraine after almost 11 months of fighting.

Fierce fighting continued to rage in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk province, where military analysts have said both sides are likely suffering heavy troop casualties. No independent verification of developments is possible.

Donetsk and neighbouring Luhansk province make up the Donbas, an expansive industrial region bordering Russia that Russian President Vladimir Putin identified as a focus from the war’s outset. Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Kyiv’s forces there since 2014.

The Russian and Belarusian air forces began a joint exercise on Monday in Belarus, which borders Ukraine and served as a staging ground for Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine.

The drills are set to run through until February 1, the Belarusian defence ministry said. Russia has sent its warplanes to Belarus for the drills.

The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington think tank, reported signs of the Kremlin taking steps to turn its Ukraine invasion into “a major conventional war” after months of embarrassing military reversals.

What Moscow calls “a special military operation” aimed to capture the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, within weeks and to install a Kremlin-friendly regime there, but Russian forces ultimately withdrew from around Kyiv, the think tank said.

Then came a successful Ukrainian counter-offensive in recent months before the onset of winter slowed military advances.

“The Kremlin is likely preparing to conduct a decisive strategic action in the next six months intended to regain the initiative and end Ukraine’s current string of operational successes,” the Institute for the Study of War said in a report on Sunday.

It noted reports indicating the Russian military command was engaged in “serious preparations” for an expanded mobilisation effort, conserving mobilised personnel for future use, while seeking to boost military industrial production and reshuffling its command structure.

That means Ukraine’s Western allies “will need to continue supporting Ukraine in the long run,” the think tank said.

Elsewhere, Russian forces shelled the city of Kherson and the Kherson region, killing three people and wounding 14 others over the last 24 hours, regional governor Yaroslav Yanushevych said. In the city of Kherson, the shelling damaged a hospital, a child disability centre, a shipyard, critical infrastructure and apartment buildings.

Russian forces also struck the city of Zaporizhzhia, damaging industrial infrastructure and wounding five people, two of them children, the regional administration said.

Meanwhile, Russian air defences downed seven drones over the Black Sea near the port of Sevastopol in annexed Crimea, according to Mikhail Razvozhayev, the Russian-installed head of Sevastopol.

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