Russian writer Maxim Katz breaks down what it means when a missile is destined for an ordinary apartment block, and death counts start to lose their meaning.
Footage of destroyed buildings, fires and horrified civilians are flooding news feeds this week after yet another Russian missile attack struck a Ukrainian residential building – this time on Jan. 14 in the eastern city of Dnipro.
Any reasonable viewer would have felt sick to their core.
As of Jan. 17, local authorities have said the strike killed 40 people. Another 34 remain trapped under the rubble.
This war has drastically changed our perception of reality.
What happened to one apartment block could easily be dwarfed by the whole cities that Russian aggression has wiped off the map: Mariupol, Soledar, Bakhmut — all reduced to piles of rubble. These 40 confirmed deaths are on top of a still unknown number of lives, both civilian and military, claimed after almost 11 months of war.
A single human life is no longer a meaningful statistic.
Statistics, now, are measured in hundreds and thousands. This is another tragedy of the war.
Far from front line
The nearest frontline is some one hundred miles away from Dnipro.
This was just a residential building – a typical nine-storey block, the kind that is in no short supply in any post-Soviet republic. Most Russians themselves – in fact, anyone who was born in the former Soviet Union – grew up in blocks just like this one. And if they didn’t, they would have visited friends, schoolmates and relatives who certainly would have.
From the wreckage, we can easily imagine the layout of the apartments, the design of the condos, the furniture. And yet this run-of-the-mill apartment block, struck by a missile, has met a violent end.
This barbaric act exemplifies the war.
This is precisely what is most tragic about this attack: the fact that it hits so close to home for so many. It’s not just a destroyed block; it's a common lifestyle and common experiences, all razed to the ground.
This barbaric act exemplifies the war. The war where Russian forces don’t just kill people; they take away their homes, their sense of security and their life as they knew it. We can all empathize with this.
A typical apartment block
Rescue operations outside an apartment block in Dnipro in Central Ukraine.
This attack occurred in the midst of a discussion among Western powers on whether to send tanks to Ukraine. Allies are considering unprecedented aid packages, with Britain already promising the delivery of the Challenger 2 tank.
Even the most cautious governments, like Germany, are beginning to provide straightforward assessments and take real action. They cease to worry about imaginary “red lines” and fears of “escalation.” It’s time to provide Ukraine with weapons that would be enough to ensure the country’s defense and victory.
The Russian government seems to feel that the time is right to rid any remaining seeds of doubt from the minds of skeptical Western politicians. Those who thought it would be best to make a deal, who dithered, who wanted to avoid making final decisions – surely they can no longer hold back.
Was it really the right time to remind the world of the pure evil that they, the Kremlin cronies, stand for? Why provide this gruesome reminder that a leopard never changes its spots? That we are ISIS armed with missiles. That any attempts to make a deal with us will lead to nowhere but regret.
The battlefield is locked in a stalemate. Russian leadership is in disrepair. Ukraine is receiving more military and financial support than ever. With this backdrop, taunting the Ukrainian military staff and Western politicians is tantamount to a suicide mission. If Russia cannot wholly refrain from bombing houses and infrastructure, it would at least make sense not to drop bombs on an innocent residential block in a city miles from the frontline.
The war never promised benefits.
But this logic is based on a false premise: that the war itself had a purpose, and that this purpose could be marred by attacks like this; that the war promised benefits and now these benefits are less likely to bear fruit because of how it has been waged.
This is fundamentally not the case. The war never promised benefits. The truth is that since the morning of February 24, 2022, nothing could have happened – not even the make-believe scenario of the capture of Kyiv by nightfall, flowers and cheering crowds greeting Russian soldiers – nothing that would have created a positive outcome for Russia. Instead, we were guaranteed nothing but an unmitigated disaster.