There comes a moment that can pierce even the muddy, bloody monotony of 21st century trench warfare and capture what nearly a year of war has meant for the Ukrainian people. On Saturday, a Russian cruise missile landed on a residential highrise in the southeastern Ukrainian city of Dnipro. The missile took out an entire nine-story entryway of the building, on the Victory Embankment, leaving a giant hole in the middle and killing—as of this writing—at least 45 people, one of the deadliest attacks on Ukrainian civilians in this horrific war.
The stories that came out of that building were like something off of a grotesque New Yorker cover, or a modern Bosch painting. On one floor there was a 24-year-old woman, who had somehow survived in her bedroom on a middle floor, while her parents and cat disappeared with their kitchen into the abyss, clinging to a stuffed dinosaur, sobbing. (Her boyfriend, it later turned out, had been killed at the front a couple months prior.) On the eighth floor was a young man who had climbed up to search for his girlfriend, Eva, digging through the cement plates by hand until rescuers physically dragged him away. The cheery yellow kitchen shorn of an outer wall, now a diorama hanging perilously over a gray, wartime city. All weekend, social media circulated that image juxtaposed with a happy family—a mother, father, and three young girls—celebrating a child’s birthday in that very kitchen. The mother and daughters had gone out for a walk that Saturday and missed the missile’s arrival. The father wasn’t so lucky.
In the meantime, though, the cruel banality of this war continues. Russia took credit—and a victory lap—for seizing Soledar, what was once a small town in the Donbas famous for its salt mines. But, like so many other prizes in the region, Soledar was swept from the face of the earth in its conquest. It was not Bakhmut, nine miles to the southwest—another small population point whose strategic importance has been overinflated so that the Kremlin can beat its chest when it seizes it—but it was close and, more importantly, it was something. Anything. A victory where none had been available to the Russians in months, in a now nearly year-long war that has, by any measure, been a failure.