KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — The death toll from Russian missile strikes on eastern Ukraine’s city of Sloviansk rose to 11 Saturday as rescue crews tried to reach people trapped in the rubble of an apartment building, Ukrainian authorities said.
Ukraine’s air force said the country would soon have weapons with which to try to prevent attacks like the one on Friday. The delivery of the Patriot air defense system promised by the U.S. was expected in Ukraine sometime after Easter, Ukrainian air force spokesperson Yuriy Ihnat said.
The primarily Orthodox Christian country is preparing to observe Easter on Sunday. Speaking Saturday on Ukrainian state TV, Ihnat declined to give a precise timeline for the arrival of the defensive missile system but said the public would know “as soon as the first Russian aircraft is shot down.”
A group of 65 Ukrainian soldiers completed their training last month at Fort Sill, a U.S. Army post in Oklahoma, and returned to Europe to learn more about using the defensive missile system to track and shoot down enemy aircraft.
Officials said at the time that the Ukrainians would then go back to their country with a Patriot missile battery, which typically includes six mobile launchers, a mobile radar, a power generator and an engagement control center.
Germany and the Netherlands also have pledged to provide a Patriot system each to Ukraine. In addition, a SAMP/T anti-missile system pledged by France and Italy “should enter Ukraine in the near future,” Ihnat said this week.
The Ukrainian military is looking to beef up its ability to intercept missiles as it prepares for an expected spring counter-offensive to retake Russian-occupied areas of the country. Although more than a year of fighting has depleted weapons supplies on both sides, Russian forces have intensified their 8 1/2-month campaign to seize the city of Bakhmut, the focus of the war’s longest battle so far.
Bakhmut and Sloviansk are located about 45 kilometers (28 miles) apart in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk province.
Rescue teams in Sloviansk recovered the bodies of two people from under the rubble of a house hit in Friday’s missile strikes, according to the State Emergency Service. They also searched Saturday for five people who remained in the wreckage of the apartment building, as well as the residents of three units who were reported missing, Vadym Liakh, the head of the local government, said.
Separately, a 48-year-old woman and her 28-year-old daughter died Saturday after Russian forces shelled a neighborhood of the city of Kherson, the regional administration said on Telegram. The southern port city was occupied by Russian forces in the early months of the war, but Ukrainian forces regained control of it in November, one of the most notable battlefield defeats for Moscow.
A new law signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday that allows military offices to send draft notices electronically instead of delivering them in person is part of Russia’s preparation for a protracted war in Ukraine, the U.K. Defense Ministry said in a Saturday morning assessment.
According to British intelligence, a “unified registry of individuals eligible for military service” will be digitally linked to other government services, allowing Russian authorities to “punish draft-dodgers by automatically limiting employment rights and restricting foreign travel.”
Since the law does not come into force until later in the year, the U.K. Defense Ministry said the e-notices do not automatically point to a “major new wave of enforced mobilization” but rather form part of a “longer-term approach to provide personnel as Russia anticipates a lengthy conflict in Ukraine.”
Meanwhile, 52,000 young Russian men already have received draft orders as part of the country’s regular spring call-up, and 21,000 of them qualified for military service, Col. Andrey Biryukov, who is in charge of mobilization, said Saturday.
Biryukov addressed concerns that the new electronic conscription law presaged a broader mobilization of reservists, like one Putin ordered in September.
“I’d like to stress that all army deferrals for citizens will still be valid. And e-draft orders will not be mailed in bulk,” Biryukov said.
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This version corrects the name of the U.S. Army post in Oklahoma to Fort Sill, not Fort Still.