Russian airstrike hits base in western Ukraine, kills 35
LVIV, Ukraine (AP) — Waves of Russian missiles pounded a military training base close to Ukraine’s western border with NATO member Poland, killing 35 people. The strike followed Russian threats to target foreign weapon shipments that are helping Ukrainian fighters defend their country against Russia’s grinding invasion.
More than 30 Russian cruise missiles targeted the sprawling training facility that is less than 25 kilometers (15 miles) from the closest border point with Poland, according to the governor of Ukraine’s western Lviv region. Poland is a key location for routing Western military aid to Ukraine.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine, Lviv had largely been spared the scale of destruction unfolding further east and become a destination for residents escaping bombarded cities and for many of the nearly 2.6 million refugees who have fled the country.
The training center in Yavoriv appears to be the most westward target struck so far in the 18-day invasion. The facility, also known as the International Peacekeeping and Security Center, has long been used to train Ukrainian military personnel, often with instructors from the United States and other NATO countries.
It has also hosted international NATO drills. As such, the site symbolizes what has long been a Russian complaint: That the NATO alliance of 30 member countries is moving ever closer to Russia’s borders. Russian has demanded that Ukraine drop its ambitions to join NATO.
Lviv governor Maksym Kozytskyi said most of the missiles fired Sunday “were shot down because the air defense system worked.” The ones that got through through killed at least 35 people and wounded 134, he said.
Russian fighters also fired at the airport in the western city of Ivano-Frankivsk, which is less than 150 kilometers (94 miles) north of Romania and 250 kilometers (155 miles) from Hungary, countries that also are NATO allies. The airport, which includes a military airfield as well as a runway for civilian flights, also was targeted Friday.
Fighting also raged in multiple areas of the country overnight. Ukrainian authorities said Russian airstrikes on a monastery and a children’s resort in the eastern Donetsk region hit spots where monks and refugees were sheltering, wounding 32 people.
Another airstrike hit a westward-bound train evacuating people from the east, killing one person and injuring another, Donetsk’s chief regional administrator said.
To the north, in the city of Chernihiv, one person was killed and another injured in a Russian airstrike that destroyed a residential block, emergency services said.
Around the capital, Kyiv, a major political and strategic target for the invasion, fighting also intensified, with overnight shelling in the northwestern suburbs and a missile strike Sunday that destroyed a warehouse to the east.
In Irpin, a suburb about 12 miles (20 kilometers) northwest of central Kyiv, bodies lay out in the open Saturday on streets and in a park.
“When I woke up in the morning, everything was covered in smoke, everything was dark. We don’t know who is shooting and where,” resident Serhy Protsenko said as he walked through his neighborhood. Explosions sounded in the distance. “We don’t have any radio or information.”
Chief regional administrator Oleksiy Kuleba said Russian forces appeared to be trying to blockade and paralyze the capital with day and night shelling of the suburbs. Kuleba said Russian agents were in the capital and its suburbs, marking out possible future targets.
He vowed that any all-out assault would meet stiff resistance, saying: “We’re getting ready to defend Kyiv, and we’re prepared to fight for ourselves.”
Talks aimed at reaching a cease-fire again failed Saturday, and the U.S. announced plans to provide another $200 million to Ukraine for weapons. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov warned other nations that sending equipment to bolster Ukraine’s military was “an action that makes those convoys legitimate targets.”
Russian soldiers pillaged a humanitarian convoy that was trying to reach the battered and encircled port city of Mariupol, where more than 1,500 people have died, a Ukrainian official said. Ukraine’s military said Russian forces captured Mariupol’s eastern outskirts, tightening their siege of the strategic port. Taking Mariupol and other ports on the Azov Sea could allow Russia to establish a land corridor to Crimea, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused Russia of trying to break his country apart, as well as starting “a new stage of terror” with the alleged detention of a mayor from a city west of Mariupol.
“Ukraine will stand this test. We need time and strength to break the war machine that has come to our land,” Zelenskyy said during his nightly address to the nation Saturday.
Zelenskyy reported that 1,300 Ukrainian soldiers had died since the Russian invasion began Feb. 24.
The first major city to fall, earlier this month, was Kherson, a vital Black Sea port of 290,000 residents. Zelenskyy said Saturday that Russians were using blackmail and bribery in an attempt to force local officials to form a “pseudo-republic” in the southern Kherson region, much like those in Donetsk and Luhansk, two eastern regions where pro-Russian separatists began fighting Ukrainian forces in 2014. One of the pretexts Russia used to invade was that it had to protect the separatist regions.
Zelenskyy again deplored NATO’s refusal to declare a no-fly zone over Ukraine and said Ukraine has sought ways to procure air defense assets, though he didn’t elaborate. U.S. President Joe Biden announced another $200 million in aid to Ukraine, with an additional $13 billion included in a bill that has passed the House and should pass the Senate within days. NATO has said that imposing a no-fly zone could lead to a wider war with Russia.
Moscow has said it would establish humanitarian corridors out of conflict zones, but Ukrainian officials have accused Russia of disrupting those paths and firing on civilians. Russian forces have hit at least two dozen hospitals and medical facilities, according to the World Health Organization.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said just nine of 14 agreed-upon corridors were open on Saturday, and that about 13,000 people had used them to evacuate around the country.
The leaders of France and Germany spoke Saturday with Russian President Vladimir Putin in a failed attempt to reach a cease-fire. To end the war, Moscow has demanded that Ukraine drop its bid to join NATO and adopt a neutral status; acknowledge the Russian sovereignty over Crimea, which it annexed from Ukraine in 2014; recognize the independence of separatist regions in the country’s east; and agree to demilitarize.
Thousands of soldiers on both sides are believed to have been killed along with many civilians, including at least 79 Ukrainian children, the government said.
The Russian invaders appear to have struggled more than expected against determined Ukrainian fighters. Still, Russia’s stronger military threatens to grind down Ukrainian forces. The United Nations has said the fighting has displaced millions of Ukrainians within the country on top of the millions who have left.
Elena Yurchuk, a nurse from the northern city of Chernihiv, was in a Romanian train station Saturday with her teenage son, Nikita, unsure whether their home was still standing.
“We have nowhere to go back to,” said Yurchuk, 44, a widow who hopes to find work in Germany. “Nothing left.”
Associated Press journalist Mstyslav Chernov in Mariupol and other reporters around the world contributed.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the Ukraine crisis at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine