LVIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian forces launched missile attacks on the western city of Lviv and pounded other targets across Ukraine on Monday in what appeared to be an intensified bid to wear down the country’s defenses ahead of an all-out assault on the east.
Lviv was the scene of at least seven deaths. Plumes of black smoke rose above the city, which has been under constant threat of attack for nearly two months and is now a refuge for many civilians fleeing from intense fighting.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, meanwhile, vowed to “fight absolutely to the end” in strategically vital Mariupol, where the last known pocket of resistance in the seven-week siege consisted of Ukrainian fighters holed up in a sprawling steel plant. They refused to surrender, despite being given a “save or die” ultimatum by the Russians.
Maksym Kolytskyy the governor of Lviv said three buildings used for military construction and an automobile mechanic shop were hit by the Russian missile strike. The attack left a number of children and injured people, according to Maksym Kozytskyy.
Lviv, the largest city in Western Ukraine and also a key transportation hub is Lviv. The city is approximately 80 km (50 miles), from Poland, which is a NATO member. It has served as a key conduit for supplies from NATO countries, and foreign fighters who joined the Ukrainian cause.
Russia strongly protested the flow of Western arms to Ukraine and issued last week a formal notice of protest to America and its allies. Some Russian anchors claim that Western weapons are being used to fight Russia in direct Western intervention.
Lviv is also considered a safe haven for mothers, the elderly and young children fleeing war. According to Mayor Andriy Samdovyi, a hotel housing Ukrainians fleeing conflict in other regions of the country was one of the most severely damaged buildings.
“The nightmare of war has caught up with us even in Lviv,” said Lyudmila Turchak, who fled with two children from the eastern city of Kharkiv. “There is no longer anywhere in Ukraine where we can feel safe.”
Vasylkiv was also struck by a strong explosion. Vasylkiv is located south of Kyiv and has an airbase for military personnel. The exact cause of the explosion was unclear.
Military analysts say Russia is increasing its strikes on weapons factories, railways and other infrastructure targets across Ukraine to wear down the country’s ability to resist a major ground offensive in the Donbas, Ukraine’s mostly Russian-speaking eastern industrial heartland.
The Russian military said its missiles struck more than 20 military targets in eastern and central Ukraine in the past day — including ammunition depots, command headquarters and groups of troops and vehicles. The Russian military claimed that artillery also hit 315 targets in Ukraine, while warplanes launched 108 strikes against Ukrainian soldiers and equipment. These claims cannot be independently confirmed.
Gen. Richard Dannatt, a former head of the British Army, told Sky News the strikes were part of a “softening-up” campaign by Russia ahead of a planned ground offensive in the Donbas.
Ukraine’s government halted civilian evacuations for a second day on Monday, saying Russian forces were shelling and blocking the humanitarian corridors.
Iryna Vereshchuk, Deputy Prime Minister, stated that Ukraine was trying to get passage out of cities in eastern and southern Ukraine including Mariupol. Russian forces killed four fleeing civilians, according to the Luhansk Region in the Donbas.
Vereshchuk stated that Russia might be charged with war crimes for refusing to let civilians leave Mariupol.
“Your refusal to open these humanitarian corridors will in the future be a reason to prosecute all involved for war crimes,” she wrote on social media.
The Russians, in turn, accused “neo-Nazi nationalists” in Mariupol of hampering the evacuation.
Russia wants to capture the Donbas where Moscow-backed separatists control some territory. This is after it failed in its attempts to seize the capital.
“We are doing everything to ensure the defense” of eastern Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly address to the nation on Sunday.
The looming offensive in the east, if successful, would give Russian President Vladimir Putin a badly needed victory to point to amid the war’s mounting casualties and the economic hardship caused by Western sanctions.
As it frees up Russian troops for a new campaign in the east, this is considered a crucial step toward any preparations for an eastern invasion. Russia would enjoy its largest victory in the war with the fall of the city at Sea of Azov. It will have complete control of the Crimean Peninsula’s land corridor, which it had seized in 2014. This would deprive Ukraine of an important port and valuable industrial assets.
Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar has described Mariupol as a “shield defending Ukraine.”
The city has been reduced to rubble in the siege, but a few thousand fighters, by Russia’s estimate, are holding on to the giant, 11-square-kilometer (4-square-mile) Azovstal steel mill.
The relentless bombardment of Mariupol — including at a maternity hospital and a theater where civilians were sheltering — has combined with street fighting to kill at least 21,000 people, by Ukrainian estimates. Out of the 450,000 people who lived in Mariupol before war, an estimated 100,000 remain, and are trapped without access to food, water or electricity.
A pro-Russian Ukrainian politician who was arrested last week on a treason charge appeared in a video offering himself in exchange for the evacuation of Mariupol’s trapped defenders and civilians. Ukraine’s state security services posted the video of Viktor Medvedchuk, the former leader of a pro-Russian opposition party with personal ties to Putin.
The question of whether Medvedchuk spoke under duress was unclear.
Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, was also hit by shelling Monday that killed at least three people, according to Associated Press journalists on the scene. A woman appeared to have been going outside to get water from the rain when she was one of the victims. The woman was discovered lying on her back with an umbrella and a water container.
Putin repeated his insistence that the Western sanctions “blitz” against Russia had failed.
He said the West has not managed to “provoke panic in the markets, the collapse of the banking system and shortages in stores,” though he acknowledged a sharp increase in consumer prices in Russia, saying they rose 17.5%.
This report was co-authored by Nico Maounis (Associated Press journalist in Lviv), Philip Crowther (Associated Press journalist in Vasylkiv), Adam Schreck (Associated Press reporter in Vasylkiv), Ukraine and other AP staff worldwide.
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