Russian airstrikes outside Lviv bring Ukraine war closer to NATO’s eastern flank
Russian missiles hit an aircraft repair facility near Lviv’s airport in Ukraine, bringing the war within miles of the eastern border of NATO.
Russian missiles hit an aircraft repair facility outside this city on Friday, bringing the war closer to a relatively safe haven in western Ukraine — a center for refugees and humanitarian aid — and within miles of the eastern border of NATO.
The threatened expansion of the war alarmed world officials even as President Biden warned his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, against assisting Russia militarily or economically.
In a telephone call that lasted nearly two hours, Biden told Xi that China would suffer “consequences” if it came to Russia’s aid, the White House said. Beijing said Xi advocated for negotiations between Ukraine and Russia, and between the U.S. and Russia to address Moscow’s security concerns. China has repeatedly refused to condemn the invasion of Ukraine.
More civilians were killed or wounded in the besieged capital of Kyiv on Friday, and painstaking attempts to rescue any survivors from a bombed shelter in the battered port city of Mariupol continued, after more than 100 people came out of the ruins alive but hundreds more remained missing and possibly buried.
In Lviv, about 40 miles from the Polish border, missiles landed before sunrise at the decommissioned repair center outside the city’s airport, which is currently used only for military flights, according to Mayor Andriy Sadovyi, who said at least one person was injured in the attack.
In a Facebook post, Sadovyi said the strikes destroyed the building. He warned residents, who have become accustomed to daily air-raid sirens but often ignore them because their city has been largely spared from shelling, to be more vigilant in looking out for danger.
“Be careful, follow instructions when air-raid sirens alert,” he said.
The U.S. and Europe, and the West’s allies, want Russia to pay a harsh economic price for invading Ukraine. But some elsewhere say: Not so fast.
Hours after the attack, plumes of smoke were still rising from the stricken facility on the western edges of Lviv. Several military vehicles converged on the site.
According to the Ukrainian Air Force, Russian forces launched six missiles from the Black Sea, two of which were intercepted.
Friday’s strikes marked the second time in a week that missiles have struck the Lviv area, which has been largely insulated from the war raging in the vicinity of the capital, Kyiv, and elsewhere in the country. A swarm of Russian cruise missiles early Sunday hit a military training facility northwest of Lviv, killing at last 40 Ukrainian military personnel.
Each of those attacks has raised the specter that Russian firepower, by accident or design, could hit neighboring Poland, whose NATO membership might trigger response by other European countries and the U.S. The United States recently beefed up its deployment of American troops in Poland and other countries on NATO’s eastern flank.
In Kyiv, residents awoke Friday to another airstrike that hit an apartment building. According to Ukraine emergency service officials, one person was killed and 19 were injured in a fire that engulfed the building after the attack on Podilskyi, a district northwest of the city center.
The attack brought to 222 the total death toll in Kyiv since Russia’s invasion of its neighbor began Feb. 24, the Kyiv city administration said.
Many residents remaining in Ukraine’s capital have decided that their best contribution to the war effort is to press on with business as usual.
Ukrainian officials said Friday that they had agreed with Russia on opening nine humanitarian aid and evacuation corridors in areas including the hard-hit southeastern city of Mariupol, where an airstrike injured at least 130 in a crowded bomb shelter this week, and the eastern city of Sumy, from which thousands of people have already escaped.
Some of the evacuation routes have routinely been blocked over the last several days, according to Ukraine. On Thursday, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said more than 2,000 people were bused out of Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia, about 150 miles away. That represents only a tiny fraction of Mariupol residents wishing to flee their blockaded city, where living conditions have grown increasingly desperate.
Negotiations between Ukraine and Russia have taken place every day this week, with no agreement on an end to the fighting. Earlier in the week, representatives for both sides cited progress in the talks, but in a call Friday with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Putin accused the Ukrainians of stalling. A readout of the conversation in TASS, the Russian state-owned news agency, said the Russian leader accused the “Kyiv regime” of trying to delay negotiations by “putting forward more and more unrealistic proposals.”
Putin has insisted that his own demands — including Ukraine’s “de-militarization” and its renunciation of any intention to join NATO or the European Union — be completely fulfilled before any cessation of armed hostilities.
The former California governor posted a video on Thursday asking the people of Russia to dispel lies about the war in Ukraine.
Pursuit of NATO membership is enshrined in Ukraine’s constitution, but President Volodymyr Zelensky shifted on the issue this week, saying he accepts that the country will not join the alliance.
Zelensky tweeted Friday that aspirations to join the EU remain, saying he had a “substantial conversation” with Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm. Zelensky said the commission’s “opinion on [Ukrainian] application for EU membership will be prepared within a few months.”
Putin also claims Russian ownership of Crimea, which it annexed in 2014. The reclusive Russian leader, who has rarely appeared publicly since the invasion, spoke Friday at a Moscow stadium for a celebration of the eighth anniversary of the annexation. Moscow officials said 200,000 people attended the rally, which featured a singer performing the song “Made in the USSR,” whose lyrics open with “Ukraine and Crimea, Belarus and Moldova, it’s all my country.”
Praising Russian troops, Putin paraphrased the Bible and said: “There is no greater love than giving up one’s soul for one’s friends.” He repeated the false claim that the war was necessary to stop the “genocide” of Russian speakers.
President Biden and China’s President Xi Jinping spoke by phone as the White House sought to convince Beijing not to support Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Vereshchuk said Ukraine would not recognize the Crimean peninsula as part of Russia — which has been floated as a possible concession by Kyiv to help bring an end to the war.
“Recognition of Crimea as Russian is impossible. Too much blood and sacrifices have already been spilled on our part to keep Ukrainian territory intact and undivided,” Vereshchuk said on Facebook.
She reiterated Kyiv’s demands for a cease-fire, the complete withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukrainian territory and a new agreement that would ensure Ukraine’s security in the future.
Throughout three weeks of bombardment, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians have fled their country’s eastern regions for Lviv, Kyiv and other areas in the west. But local residents say the daily rocket attacks on the capital’s residential neighborhoods have made them feel less safe even as Russian forces are stalled outside the city. Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said a kindergarten and a school were damaged, along with at least six other buildings, in Friday’s strike on a residential building.
“It’s a war against civilians. … It’s just apartments,” not a military installation, Klitschko told reporters.
He said he expected Kyiv to come under stronger onslaught: “If you look in Mariupol, if you look in Kharkiv, if you look in other cities — Chernihiv, right now — where ... the city will be destroyed, I expect the Russians [will] do it exactly the same way in Kyiv.”
The impact of Friday’s explosion in Kyiv’s Podilskyi district could be seen far beyond the large crater it left in the central courtyard outside a number of apartment buildings. That courtyard was carpeted with glass granules, hunks of masonry and metal. The shock wave ripped through the buildings around it, popping window frames out of the walls, pulverizing glass and turning furniture into jumbles of wood and metal.
A supermarket more than 500 feet away from the crater had its windows blown out, with shelves laden with syrup bottles and gumdrops displaced by the force of the explosion.
Residents packed bags to evacuate. Evgenia Gavrylenko, a bank teller who lived on the fourth floor of one building, had her suitcases laid out on the bed of her guest room, the one area that seemed to have escaped the destruction. She used an expletive to describe Russian President Vladimir Putin as she took a drag of her cigarette and looked around her apartment.
On the floor above, one man was boarding up his residence while Skyping with his wife and daughter to show them the destruction. Outside, others lugged bags and suitcases.
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In the port city of Mariupol, officials said the rescues continued after airstrikes this week on a theater where more than 1,000 people were sheltering. The death toll at the theater, which had the word “children” written on the ground outside of it, was still unknown.
Sergiy Taruta, a Ukrainian lawmaker and former regional official, said in a television interview that it was a struggle to rescue individuals because Russian attacks have decimated the city’s resources.
“People are doing everything themselves. My friends went to help, but due to constant shelling it was not safe. People are clearing away the rubble themselves,” Taruta said. “There is no rescue operation, because all the services that are supposed to rescue people, to treat them, to bury them — these services no longer exist.”
The war, now in its 23rd day, has sent more than 3.1 million people fleeing Ukraine.
The United Nations has counted 816 civilians killed — at least 52 of them children — since the invasion started. U.N. officials acknowledge that the real number is likely far higher.
McDonnell reported from Lviv, Bulos from Kyiv and Kaleem from London. Times staff writer Tracy Wilkinson contributed from Washington.
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