Dmytro raced to the room where two of his children had been sleeping, after a Russian missile thundered into his apartment building in Uman, Ukraine, before dawn on Friday. He forced the door open and stared into oblivion.
“There was no room behind the door. Just a cloud of fire and smoke,” he said. By the end of the day, he and his wife, Inna, had found no trace of Kyrylo, 17, or Sophia, 11.
Russia on Friday launched its first widespread aerial assault in more than a month against Ukrainian civilian targets, killing at least 25 people, officials said — the deadliest such attack since January. At least 20 died at that one apartment block in Uman, its front face shorn off by the missile blast.
The attack marked a return to a pattern Russia adopted last year after its invasion failed to defeat Ukraine militarily, of launching large-scale barrages of missiles, rockets and drones at cities and towns far from the battlefields in the east and south.
It is a campaign intended partly to destroy civilian infrastructure, and also appears aimed at terrorizing and demoralizing the population, with lethal reminders that no corner of the country is beyond Russia’s reach.
On Friday, Russian bombers over the Caspian Sea fired 23 cruise missiles that struck after 4 a.m., and Ukrainian forces shot down 21 of them, Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, the commander of Ukrainian military forces, said in a statement.
The Kremlin Defense Ministry said in a statement that it had used “high-precision, long-range” missiles against places where Ukrainian reservists had gathered, without specifying locations or offering evidence about what was hit. “The goal of the attack has been reached,” it said.
The barrage underscored the importance of Ukraine’s air defenses, which have been highly effective but not perfect. Even a small number of missiles penetrating them can cause great damage. In a trove of Pentagon documents related to the war in Ukraine that have leaked online, U.S. intelligence agencies speculated that without a major influx of Western munitions, Ukraine’s entire air defense network, weakened by repeated Russian barrages, could fracture.
Russia also appears to once again be adjusting tactics when using its own diminished supply of precision missiles to evade detection. The Ukrainian military’s southern command said that in recent strikes, Moscow’s forces had made multiple changes in missile trajectories and launch locations to complicate the Ukrainians’ ability to detect them.
The attack on Friday killed 23 people in Uman, some 200 miles from the front lines, and two other people in Dnipro, a young woman and her 2-year-old child, officials said. There were also explosions in Kyiv, the capital, apparently from air defense batteries destroying missiles in flight.
In Uman, Inna and Dmytro, who asked that their surnames not be used for security reasons, and their 6-year-old son were unharmed. But the stricken parents could not quite grasp that their other two children might be gone forever.
Inna stood outside, where charred cars lined the parking lot, staring at the wreckage of what had been her home and repeating into the wind that maybe the blast had carried Sophia and Kyrylo away, alive.
“I did not know what to do,” Dmytro said, recounting those inconceivable first moments. “Do I look for my older children or do I help my wife and little one out of the house? Since I could not see my older children, I ran out.”
A psychologist on the scene and their neighbors offered words of solace.
In addition to those killed on Friday, dozens were wounded and an unknown number were unaccounted for. More than 100 people were registered as living in the 46 units of the devastated apartment building in Uman, officials said, but they did not know how many had been at home.
As firefighters doused flames rising from the rubble, rescuers uncovered bodies and survivors through the day and into the evening. A convoy of dump trucks came one after another to haul away debris so workers could dig their way to the basement, where they hoped to find more people alive.
Dymytro Vynohradov, 22, a rescue worker, said he had seen a 10-year-old boy who was killed in his pajamas. “And I remember the little girl, with blonde hair, who looked like she could just be asleep,” he said. “She had no visible injuries, but she was dead.”
He said he had found two elderly women and a man, dazed and trapped behind a fallen concrete ceiling on the seventh floor. “First we had to calm them down,” he said. “Then we helped them to climb out of the balcony and to walk down a long ladder from a fire truck.”
He raced back in to help a colleague pull another family to safety — an 8-year-old girl, a 4-year-old boy, their parents and their grandmother.
Armed with an array of new weapons from its Western backers, Ukraine is expected to launch a major counteroffensive soon to retake territory seized by Russia since it invaded 14 months ago.
A new Kremlin policy says that Ukrainians living in those occupied areas can be removed from their homes and relocated for refusing Russian passports or protesting Russian annexation — the latest sign of its commitment to Russify the region and punish dissent. A decree signed on Thursday by President Vladimir V. Putin — who contends that Ukraine is merely a wayward part of Russia, not a real country — states that residents who do not pledge allegiance to Russia are now considered foreigners, their legal residency will expire in July 2024, and they may be deported.
Ukrainian officials condemned both the decree and the missile strikes as evidence of Mr. Putin’s disdain for human rights and determination to erase Ukraine, and they called again for still more advanced Western weapons to fend off the attacks.
Bridget A. Brink, the U.S. ambassador to Kyiv, wrote on Twitter, “Russia still hasn’t learned that its brutality only reinforces Ukrainian resolve and deepens our commitment.” Charles Michel, president of the European Council — the group of European Union heads of government — tweeted that “military, humanitarian and political support will continue as long as needed.”
Uman draws crowds of visitors every year to its elegantly landscaped Sofiyivka Park, and to the burial site of Nachman of Breslov, the founder of the Breslov Hasidic sect of Judaism.
Russia struck the city several times early in the war, likely because there is an airfield nearby, but it has rarely been a target since then.
Still, people who live here have often seen missiles flying overhead, on their way to Kyiv. For more than a year, a woman in Uman named Inna — not the same Inna whose two children were missing — and her sister-in-law, Halyna, in Kyiv have texted each other when they hear air raid alarms, a sort of family early-warning system.
On Friday morning, they were messaging again. “Quiet for now. And how are you?” Inna wrote. Then her phone went offline.
“I have hope that she is still alive; maybe she went to the basement,” Halyna said. She noted that people were found alive under the ruins up to three days after a devastating Russian missile attack in Dnipro in January.
“The Russians don’t care what they hit, how many people they kill,” said Halyna. “Ukraine is shouting for help.”
“I am all cried out,” she added, before crying again.
Victoria Kim, Anna Lukinova and Anatoly Kurmanaev contributed reporting.