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Russian missile attack in Ukraine leaves at least 24 dead, including 4-year-old

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The deaths of children, including a 4-year-old little girl, are the latest tragic emblems of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Ukrainian officials say a Russian cruise missile attack Thursday killed at least 24 people in Vinnytsia. NPR's Brian Mann went to the site of the attack and joins us this morning from Kyiv.

Brian, thanks for being with us.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: When children are the casualties of war, it - well, it reaches people in a special way. Tell us, please, what you found in Vinnytsia.

MANN: Well, I found just, you know, how vulnerable people are here. Liza Dmytriyeva was a 4-year-old girl, as you mentioned. She had Down's syndrome. And back in December, Scott, she was actually featured in a national holiday video that was posted by Olena Zelenska, the wife of Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy. But on this morning, on the morning of this week's attack, Liza and her mother were in that city square in Vinnytsia, and her mother shot and posted online video of Liza playing and helping to push her baby stroller.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

IRYNA DMYTRIYEVA: (Non-English language spoken).

LIZA DMYTRIYEVA: (Non-English language spoken).

MANN: But soon after that moment, at least two Russian missiles struck, tearing the neighborhood apart. And later, video shot by people on the scene shows the little girl's small body by the side of the street with her broken baby stroller nearby. She was one of three kids killed in this one Russian attack. Liza's mother was also seriously injured. As you can imagine, these images have just outraged Ukrainians even further.

SIMON: Yes. President Zelenskyy has called it an act of terrorism. He demanded other countries also prosecute alleged Russian war crimes. What kind of response has he gotten for that?

MANN: Well, this week, 45 nations, including the U.S., did agree to coordinate their probes into Russian war crimes. They plan to create an organization that's going to kind of plan how investigators and forensic experts will work on this. The country has pledged roughly $20 million to fund that program. And when I was in Vinnytsia, there were already investigators on the ground going through these destroyed buildings, trying to document details of this one attack.

SIMON: And what's the Russian response?

MANN: You know, from the outset, Russia's denied any criminal behavior by its military. They've actually given medals to some of the units that served in places like Bucha, where there is strong evidence of atrocities, including mass killings. This week, Russia claimed they were targeting a meeting of Ukrainian Air Force officers in Vinnytsia. And one of the buildings hit Thursday has been used in the past by the military, especially during the Soviet era, for ceremonial events. But everyone I spoke to, all the neighbors, say it's now used as a concert hall and a cultural center with no military value. These Russian missiles, of course, also seriously damaged apartments and shops and destroyed a medical clinic.

SIMON: Brian, what possible strategic goal does Russia have in making an attack like that?

MANN: Yeah. It's a good question. Military experts I've spoken with agree with Ukrainian officials that this is part of a broader effort by Russia to break the will of the Ukrainian people. We've seen similar kinds of brutal tactics used by Russia in the past in places like Chechnya and Syria and in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. There are also serious allegations of rape being used as a form of intimidation in occupied areas. But I have to say, so far, these tactics don't seem to be having the desired effect, the effect Moscow hoped for. These images - these latest images of Liza Dmytriyeva, this little girl, have become one more rallying cry for Ukrainians. Everyone I've been speaking to tell me losses like this only strengthen their resolve to keep fighting against Russia.

SIMON: NPR's Brian Mann in Kyiv. Thanks so much.

MANN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Brian Mann