Lviv refuge rocked by explosions as Joe Biden visits neighboring Poland

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The Ukrainian city of Lviv has been rocked by a series of powerful explosions when US President Joe Biden visited neighboring Poland.

The attack by Russian missiles was a reminder that Moscow is ready to strike anywhere in Ukraine, despite its claim that it would focus its offensive on the east of the country.

Successive air raids shocked the city, which has become a refuge for an estimated 200,000 people who have had to flee their hometowns.

Lviv had been largely spared since the invasion began, although missiles hit an aircraft repair facility near the main airport a week ago. Two weeks ago, Russian forces fired missiles at a military training center near Lviv, which was the westernmost target at the time, killing 35 people.

People take shelter underground after explosions in Lviv, western Ukraine (Nariman El-Mofty/AP)

The city was home to about 700,000 people before the invasion. Some who no longer feel safe there, go to nearby Poland. Biden met refugees there on Saturday in solidarity, even though he was in the capital Warsaw and far from the Ukrainian border, about 75 miles west of Lviv.

Lviv has also become a humanitarian stopping place for Ukraine, and the attacks could complicate the already challenging process of sending aid to the rest of the country.

The first attack involved two Russian missiles that hit an industrial area in Lviv’s northeastern suburbs, apparently injuring five people, regional governor Maksym Kozytskyy said on Facebook. A thick plume of black smoke billowed from the site for hours.

A second rocket attack took place just outside the city just hours later, causing three explosions, Mr Kozytskyy told a news conference as another round of air raid sirens blared. He said an oil facility and factory linked to the military, both in areas where people live, were hit on Saturday, though he did not provide further details.

Smoke rises into the sky on Saturday in Lviv, Western Ukraine
Smoke rises into the sky in Lviv, western Ukraine on Saturday (Nariman El-Mofty/AP)

Kozytskyy said a man was being held on suspicion of spying at one of the blast sites after police discovered he had filmed a missile flying toward the target and hitting it.

Police also found on his phone photos of checkpoints in the region, which Kozytskyy said had been sent to two Russian phone numbers.

The day’s events were enough to get some people in Lviv ready to move again, said Michael Bociurkiw, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council who was in the city.

“I saw some Kiev cars being packed,” he said. It was an important turn of events in a week when the city was beginning to come back to life after weeks of war, he said.

He believes the city could remain a target, noting that Lviv was the birthplace of Ukrainian nationalism. “It’s getting closer and closer,” he said of the war.

People take shelter underground after explosions in Lviv
People take shelter underground after explosions in Lviv, western Ukraine (Nariman El-Mofty/AP)

It is feared that the northern Ukrainian city of Chernihiv, which has resisted Russian forces since the early days of the invasion, could become the next Mariupol.

The city, not far from the border with Belarus on the road to the Ukrainian capital Kiev, has been surrounded, and residents who have been unable to flee have faced a lack of electricity and drinking water and more immediate danger from Russian authorities. bombardment.

On Wednesday, Russian bombs destroyed Chernihiv’s main bridge over the Desna River on the road leading to Kiev.

On Friday, artillery shells made the remaining pedestrian bridge impassable, closing off the last possible route for people to get out or get food and medical supplies.

Just over a month after the invasion, the Russian attack has slowed to a battle of attrition as the military tries to force cities like Chernihiv into submission.

Bombings of hospitals and other non-military sites, such as the Mariupol Theater, where some 300 people were killed in a Russian airstrike last week, Ukrainian officials said, have led to accusations of war crimes.

Questions about the future direction of the Russian offensive surfaced on Friday when a senior military official said the primary objective of the first phase of the operation – reducing Ukraine’s combat capacity – “was generally achieved”.

Colonel Sergei Rudskoi, deputy chief of the Russian General Staff, said Russian armed forces can now focus on “the main objective, the liberation of Donbas”.

Donbas is the largely Russian-speaking eastern region where Russian-backed separatists have been fighting Ukraine’s armed forces since 2014 and many residents want close ties to Moscow.

Mariupol is located there, although outside the two areas controlled by the separatists.

War damage in Kharkiv
People try to put out a fire in a market after a Russian attack in Kharkiv, Ukraine (AP)

US officials said Russian forces appear to have temporarily halted their ground offensive aimed at capturing the capital Kiev and are focusing more on gaining control of the Donbas region in the southeast of the country.

However, British defense officials said the Russian military continues to besiege a number of other major Ukrainian cities, including Chernihiv, which is located 91 miles from Kiev.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who appeared via video link at the Doha Forum in Qatar, compared the destruction of Mariupol to the Syrian and Russian destruction of the city of Aleppo.

“They are destroying our ports,” said Mr. Zelensky. “The absence of exports from Ukraine will be a blow to countries around the world.”

He called on countries to increase their energy exports to give European countries an alternative to Russian oil and gas.

“The future of Europe rests in your efforts,” he said.

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