Russians lay flowers at improvised memorials to commemorate Dnipro dead

A view shows the monument to Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko with flowers laid in memory of the victims of the Russian missile strike in Dnipro, in Saint Petersburg

(Reuters) - Russians in St Petersburg and Moscow have been laying flowers at improvised memorials to the victims of a Russian missile attack on a nine-storey apartment block in the Ukrainian city of Dnipro.

Ukraine's State Emergency Service said on Tuesday, after calling off search operations, that 44 people were confirmed dead from Saturday's attack, including five children, and that 20 people were still unaccounted for.

On Friday evening, dozens of bunches of flowers and several cuddly toys were arranged around the base of a monument to Ukrainian national poet Taras Shevchenko in central St Petersburg. One ribbon read "Forgive".

"I think people who have come here have the same idea as me, to express universal human values - compassion, goodwill, grief," said a young woman who had laid flowers.

A young man said that "one way or another, even in times like these, this shouldn't become normal".

"They weren't combatants, they were civilians," he said. "So I came to pay my respects to the deceased."

Reuters is not naming any of those who came to the monument, where witnesses said the flowers and toys were being cleared away by authorities several times a day.

The protest monitoring group OVD-Info this week reported the detention of six people who had laid flowers at or visited a statue of the early 20th-century Ukrainian poet and writer Larisa Kosach-Kvitka, known by her pen name Lesya Ukrainka, near Moscow's Kyiv Railway Station.

It quoted one of them as saying she had been warned that her behaviour was anti-social.

A young man who spoke to Reuters at the Moscow monument on Tuesday said the Dnipro attack was "beyond doubt horrible", adding: "This is a result of military activity that can't be justified."

Ukraine says the building in Dnipro was hit by a Russian Kh-22 missile. Russia, which invaded Ukraine in February, said it had not targeted any residential buildings in a wave of missile strikes on Saturday.

Among those who paid their respects in St Petersburg were a middle-aged couple. The man said he knew Ukraine and was in touch with many people there.

"They are absolutely normal people," he said. "So I have only one question to our president: 'Why? Why is any of this happening? Why are people dying?'"

(Reporting by Reuters; Writing by Kevin Liffey; Editing by Daniel Wallis)