Return to Ukraine: This feature is part of an original Milwaukee Independent editorial series that recorded news from areas across Ukraine, including Milwaukee's sister city of Irpin, from June to July of 2023. It was the second time in the span of a year that the award-winning Wisconsin news organization traveled to the country during the war. The purpose of this journalism project was to document a humanitarian aid mission by the Milwaukee-based nonprofit, Friends of Be an Angel, and report about conditions 17 months after Russia's brutal full-scale invasion.

Russia fired more than 20 cruise missiles and two drones at Ukraine on April 28. The terrifying nighttime attack killed 23 people in the city of Uman, when two missiles slammed into an apartment building. Three children were among the dead.

Uman is located in central Ukraine, about 134 miles south of Kyiv. The bombardment was nowhere near the sprawling frontlines or active combat zones that resemble the trench warfare of World War I.

Moscow has frequently launched long-range missile attacks, often indiscriminately hitting civilian areas. Ukrainian officials and analysts point to evidence that such strikes are part of a deliberate intimidation strategy by the Kremlin.

Twenty-one people died immediately after the nine-story residential building was hit. The bodies of two 10-year-old children and a toddler were recovered during early rescue attempts to locate survivors in the rubble.

Another of the victims was a 75-year-old woman who lived in a neighboring building. She suffered internal bleeding from the huge blast’s shock wave, according to emergency personnel at the scene. The Ukrainian national police said 17 people were wounded and three children were rescued from the rubble. Nine were hospitalized.

The missiles were fired from aircraft operating in the Caspian Sea region, according to Ukrainian Armed Forces Commander in Chief Valerii Zaluzhnyi. Ukraine intercepted 21 of 23 Kh-101 and Kh-555 type cruise missiles launched, as well as the two drones.

When the Friends of Be an Angel delegation reviewed the site on June 30, several memorials had been erected in the building’s courtyard area. Photos of the young victims were surrounded by piles of stuffed animals left by visitors. The apartment building’s condition had not changed since rescue crews ended their work in May. A fence barrier was erected around the building’s perimeter.

Several local residents spoke with the Milwaukee delegation at the site, and one woman retold her eyewitness account to Anya Verkhovskaya, director of the Milwaukee-based humanitarian nonprofit. She translated the conversation for Milwaukee Independent.

“There was a woman living in the building. She had lost two children during the Russian occupation of Donbas in 2014. The woman fled and eventually came to Uman. She started renting an apartment on the eighth floor of this building. She met a man who had a child, and they got married. They had another child together. Those two kids were sleeping in the children’s room that faced the front of the building. The mother and her husband were sleeping in another room in the back. When the rocket hit, the woman woke up and they could not open the door to the children’s room. They kept banging on the door, calling for their children, trying to get into the room. When they finally smashed the door open, they saw nothing. There was no room. The part of the building above and below the children’s room had disintegrated from the explosion.”

The Uman resident went on to say that some children from the neighborhood still felt anxiety and distress, and were having trouble sleeping. The older kids seemed to be doing better, but the little kids would take more time to heal.

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Series: Return to Ukraine

MI Staff, Andrea Rosa, Hanna Arhirova, and David Rising

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Milwaukee Independent has reported on Russia’s brutal full-scale invasion of Ukraine since it began on February 24, 2022. In May of 2022, Milwaukee Independent was the first news organization from Wisconsin to report from Milwaukee’s Sister City of Irpin after its liberation. That work has since been recognized with several awards for journalistic excellence. Between late June and early July of 2023, Milwaukee Independent staff returned to Ukraine for a second assignment to report on war after almost a year. The editorial team was embedded with a Milwaukee-based nonprofit, Friends of Be an Angel, on a humanitarian aid mission across Ukraine. For several weeks, Milwaukee Independent documented the delivery of medical supplies to military and civilian hospitals, and was a witness to historic events of the war as they unfolded.

Return to Ukraine: Reports about a humanitarian mission from Milwaukee after a year of war