AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Russia has once again hit a densely populated civilian area in a Ukrainian city, this time striking Vinnytsia in central Ukraine with powerful cruise missiles. Here's what the scene sounded like this afternoon as rescue crews dug through rubble looking for survivors.
(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINERY GRINDING)
CHANG: At least 23 people are dead and dozens more are missing or are being treated at local hospitals. Ukrainian officials say these strikes on civilian areas are deliberate and are part of a pattern. They're calling them an act of terror. NPR's Brian Mann is in Vinnytsia and joins us now. Hi, Brian.
BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.
CHANG: OK, so what exactly did people there see today?
MANN: Well, it was a horror. I spoke to Maksym Budko, who was there in the central square in Vinnytsia when he heard the missiles coming in.
MAKSYM BUDKO: (Non-English language spoken).
MANN: He says he was thrown to his knees by two blasts as these missiles hit buildings on both sides of the square. These buildings were shattered, with debris thrown everywhere. And as you mentioned, Ailsa, at least 23 people have been killed. That number is expected to rise, and several young children were among the dead. That's according to local officials.
CHANG: Well, as we've mentioned, Ukrainian officials like President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, they're calling this terrorism. And I understand that Zelenskyy spoke to diplomats at The Hague today demanding accountability. But what about people in Vinnytsia, Brian? How are they characterizing what's been happening?
MANN: Yeah, they definitely believe this is part of a pattern. They're seeing city after city struck, civilians dying, and today, it was their turn, horribly. I spoke with Oksana Urbanska today. She's with the State Emergency Services of Ukraine. She was helping coordinate first responders there on the scene.
OKSANA URBANSKA: (Non-English language spoken).
MANN: What Urbanska told me is that she grew up here. She lives in Vinnytsia. There is a baby who died, she said. She said, this woman and this child were walking to a preschool when the blast hit. And she added, you know, these buildings have no military or strategic value. Despite that fact, Ukraine's defense ministry says this attack involved really powerful caliber cruise missiles apparently fired from a Russian submarine in the Black Sea. As you mentioned, Zelenskyy spoke by video conference to U.N. officials today, calling this an audacious act of Russian terror. He called for punishment for Russians involved in this attack.
CHANG: And I heard that, Brian, you were actually in one of the buildings that was destroyed today. You were back there in May when you were interviewing Ukrainian Air Force officials. Let me ask you, is it accurate to say that these buildings were not military targets before?
MANN: Yeah. I asked about this today. And what Ukrainian officials say, Ailsa, is that one of these buildings does have a history of use by the Air Force. It is still used sometimes for ceremonial events. But it does seem clear that there was no actual military operation being staged there. One of the buildings was actually a medical clinic. I asked Yuri Ignat, an Air Force spokesman, why he thinks Russia is doing this. Why do they keep attacking civilian targets?
YURI IGNAT: (Non-English language spoken).
MANN: What he said, Ailsa, is Russians don't just want to force the government of Ukraine to surrender. He said, they also want to force the Ukrainian people to surrender. They want to break us down. But Ignat added that after what they did here in Vinnytsia, no one is going to surrender. And in fact, while I was there today, Ukrainian investigators were already gathering evidence for what they hope will be war crime trials.
CHANG: That is NPR's Brian Mann in Vinnytsia, Ukraine. Thank you so much, Brian.
MANN: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.