Ukrainian father comes home after airstrike to find daughter, 2, dead in rubble

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addresses a media conference during the European Political Community Summit at the Mimi Castle in Bulboaca, Moldova, Thursday, June 1, 2023. Leaders met in Moldova Thursday for a summit aiming to show a united front in the face of Russia's war in Ukraine and underscore support for the Eastern European country's ambitions to draw closer to the West and keep Moscow at bay. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
Volodymyr Zelenskyy said 'Russian weapons and hatred' caused the deaths of at least 500 Ukrainian children. Credit: AP

A Ukrainian man rushed to his home in hopes of rescuing his family, only to find his two-year-old daughter dead and wife seriously wounded.

His family's apartment, outside the central city of Dnipro, was destroyed in one of Russia's latest airstrikes.

After the body of Liza was recovered, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy said at least 500 children have been killed since Vladimir Putin launched his full-scale invasion on February 24 2022.

The United Nations says that around 1,000 other Ukrainian children have been wounded, and thousands of others have been forcibly deported to Russia. Zelenskyy said: “Russian weapons and hatred continue to take and destroy the lives of Ukrainian children every day".

He added that “many of them could have become famous scholars, artists, sports champions, contributing to Ukraine’s history".

People take cover at metro station during a Russian rocket attack. Credit: AP

“We must hold out and win this war. All of Ukraine, all our people, all our children, must be free from the Russian terror," he added.

Liza was killed when a Russian missile in a yard next to her apartment building on Saturday night while she was home with her mother, said regional governor Serhiy Lysak.

The girl's father was working at the time and rushed home after the missile strike, according to officials.

I was told, he personally cleared the rubble and pulled out his wife and his daughter. Just imagine the scale of this tragedy," Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.

The girl's mother was hospitalised and taken into care. Zelenskyy said five children were among 25 people wounded in Saturday’s attack, which damaged two residential buildings. The mother of one of the children sat amid broken concrete, twisted metal, children's toys and clothes near her apartment building and described what happened.

A Ukrainian soldier covers his ears while firing a mortar at Russian positions on the frontline near Bakhmut, Donetsk region. Credit: AP

Alyona Serednyak recalled: “I was running from the electrical station across the traffic. I was running home. My child was alone at home. We tried to pull my child from under the cage on the window.” She said that they managed to free him and he's now in intensive care. The rescue operation following Saturday's attack stretched into the early hours of Sunday.

Russian drone and cruise missile strikes on Sunday targeted multiple areas of the country, including the capital, Kyiv. Air defences downed six of eight Shahed self-exploding drones and four of six cruise missiles fired, according to the Ukrainian air force. Two missiles struck a military air base in Kropyvnytskyi in central Ukraine's Kyrovohrad province. Russia's said it destroyed warplanes and ammunition depots in strikes on Ukrainian airfields, but didn't give further specifics.

Locals get free meals from volunteers after their apartments in Kharkiv were damaged by a Russian rocket attacks. Credit: AP

The strikes come as Ukrainian officials refrain from announcing the launch of their much-anticipated counteroffensive to reclaim more Russian-occupied territory.

Ukrainian forces maintained pressure on Russian forces in the eastern city of Bakhmut, which Moscow claimed control of last month after the war's longest and bloodiest battle. Elsewhere, Russians fighting alongside Ukrainian forces declared they had launched new attacks on Russia's Belgorod region, which borders Ukraine.

One of the groups, the Russian Volunteer Corps, released videos Sunday showing a purported raid and offering to exchange prisoners with Russian authorities.

Belgorod governor Vyacheslav Gladkov responded to the prisoner exchange offer in a video of his own, saying he was sceptical the captives are still alive, but that he was open to a meeting to discuss a swap.

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The latest Russian raids on Ukrainian cities sparked concerns over civilian safety after officials announced that nearly a quarter of the 4,800 air raid shelters they inspected were locked or unfit for use. In Kyiv, 44% of 1,078 shelters were found closed up tight or unusable, Minister for Strategic Industries Oleksandr Kamyshin said Sunday. The official acknowledgments came after a 33-year-old woman in Kyiv reportedly died while waiting outside a shuttered shelter during a Russian missile barrage on Thursday. Prosecutors in the capital said that four people were detained as part of a criminal investigation into the woman's death as she and others waited to enter a locked shelter.

A security guard who allegedly failed to unlock the doors remained in custody. Three others, including a local official, were placed under house arrest.