UMAN, Ukraine — Inna stood staring at what was left of her home on Friday, the building’s facade blown nearly completely off. Maybe her children, 17-year-old Kyrylo and 11-year-old Sophia, had been carried away by the blast, she kept repeating into the wind. Maybe they would be found alive.
Her husband, Dmytro, had raced to the kids’ room moments after a Russian rocket thundered into their nine-story apartment building before dawn in the city of Uman, and forced their door open.
“There was no room behind the door,” said Dmytro, who asked that only their first names be used. “Just a cloud of fire and smoke.”
Inna and their youngest child, a 6-year-old-boy, were in another room and unharmed.
“I did not know what to do,” Dmytro said, still in shock, as rescue crews searched through the rubble of his building. “Do I look for my older children or do I help my wife and little one out of the house? Since I could not see my older children, I ran out.”
A psychologist on the scene offered assistance as his neighbors tried to offer words of solace.
Twelve hours after the missile struck, the death toll had climbed to 23, including four children, according to Ukrainian emergency services. Seventeen residents had been pulled out alive.
It was unclear how many people remained missing; more than 100 people were registered as living in the block that had the worst damage.
Bodies continued to be pulled from the rubble as evening fell. A convoy of dump trucks came one after another to haul away debris so workers could dig into the basement. The operation could last into the weekend, officials said.
Dymytro Vynohradov, 22, was one of the first emergency workers on the scene. As fire crews battled the flames that lit up the pre-dawn sky, he rushed to find survivors.
On the seventh floor, he said he had found two older women and a man trapped behind a fallen concrete ceiling.They were not hurt, he said, but dazed and confused.
“First we had to calm them down,” he said. “Then we helped them to climb out of the balcony and to walk down a long ladder from a fire truck.”
Mr. Vynohradov hurried back in to help a colleague pull another family of five to safety.
Not everyone he came across in the wreckage was alive. There was a dead 10-year-old boy in pajamas, he said, and a little girl with blonde hair who looked like she was asleep. “She had no visible injuries, but she was dead,” he said.
The city of Uman, known for having one of the most beautiful parks in Ukraine, was one of the first places Russia bombed when it launched its full-scale invasion last year.
It had been relatively quiet in the town for months, though residents could see missiles flying overhead when Russian forces fired rockets from the Black Sea toward the capital, Kyiv.
That is why when the alarms blared across the country shortly after 4 a.m. on Friday, Halyna, 34, who asked her surname not be published for security reasons, texted her sister-in-law in Uman. For more than a year, the pair had exchanged messages whenever air-raid sirens sounded in Uman, so that the family member in Kyiv would get a warning.
“Hi, is it all quiet?” Halyna wrote.
“Yes, quiet for now. And how are you?” her sister-in-law replied.
Her sister-in-law’s phone went offline at 4:23 a.m. The family had two apartments, on the 7th and 8th floors, in the ruined building.
“I have hope that she is still alive, maybe she went to the basement,” Halyna said.
Anna Lukinova contributed reporting.