The death toll from the Dnipro apartment strike, which happened Saturday afternoon as the latest weekend Russian aerial attacks against Ukraine's energy infrastructure unfolded, has risen to at least 44 killed, including four children. An additional 79 people were injured, with reports that many residents are still missing and unaccounted for.
The city's mayor, Borys Filatov, issued the update on Tuesday after two days of rescue workers frantically trying to pull people from the rubble. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky blamed Moscow for the attack which he called a "war crime", vowing justice for the large number of civilian casualties.
The Dnipro strike now ranks among the single deadliest attacks of the entire war. "The rescue operation, the demolition of the rubble, will not end until the bodies of all the dead are found," deputy head of the presidency Kyrylo Tymoshenko said.
But on Monday the Kremlin vehemently denied that it targeted and struck a civilian residential building in Dnipro, instead pointing to the likelihood of a Ukrainian anti-air missile falling on the building:
"The Russian armed forces do not strike residential buildings or social infrastructure, they strike military targets," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, before referring to the "conclusion of some representatives of the Ukrainian side" that the strike could have been caused by air defense.
Kiev responded by emphasizing the strike was "direct" and not the result of one of its own errant missiles. However, there has been division and controversy in the Ukrainian response, as noted by Peskov's statement.
An adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky actually initially said the apartment block in Dnipro was hit by an errant Ukrainian anti-air defense missile which had been fired in an attempt to intercept an inbound Russian rocket. The presidential aide, Oleksiy Arestovych, unleashed immediate controversy and anger from fellow officials in making the public remarks which aired live on a national television broadcast, and which were picked up in Russian media.
Ukraine officials say the rocket was a Kh-22, and argued that its forces lack the capability to shoot down this particular projectile. In the wake of the controversial statements Arestovych apologized to the nation and stepped down:
"I wrote a letter of resignation. I want to set an example of civilized behavior. A fundamental mistake means resignation," Oleksiy Arestovych, posted on Facebook alongside a photo of his resignation letter.
Arestovych said further he made "a serious mistake, made during a live broadcast" in the initial TV interview with those comments. "I sincerely apologize to the victims and their relatives, the residents of the Dnipro and everyone who was deeply wounded by my premature error version of the reason the Russian missile hit a residential building," he added.
But he also still sought to defend himself to some degree, saying, "The level of hate directed at me is incomparable with the consequences of the on-air mistake," and said his apology was not issued specifically toward "the people who are spinning this issue."
Below are the brief comments from the interview which unleashed controversy, and led to the Zelensky aide's essentially forced resignation...
Zelensky's adviser admits that the destruction of the apartment building in Dnipro was the result of the actions of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.— the Lemniscat (@theLemniscat) January 15, 2023
Aleksey Arestovich: "No, it [the missile] was shot down. It fell on the building. When it fell, it exploded."
(via @thecoppermountain) pic.twitter.com/7yh28SEKsa
Russian state media and Kremlin officials have also picked up Arestovych's initial explanation of an errant Ukrainian missile hitting the apartment building, given that in coming during candid remarks from a high-ranking Ukrainian official, it's a significant indicator that Russia's denials and explanation are plausible.