Artillery vehicle

News from Ukraine: Russia bombards the country with missiles and artillery fire ahead of eastward offensive

Adam Schreck and Mstyslav Chernov, Associated Press

Posted Monday, April 18, 2022 at 5:28 a.m. EDT

Last updated Monday, April 18, 2022 at 5:28 a.m. EDT

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian forces launched missile attacks on the western city of Lviv and pounded a slew of other targets across Ukraine on Monday in what appeared to be an intensified attempt to crush the country’s defenses before an all-out assault attack to the east.

At least seven people are believed to have been killed in Lviv, where plumes of black smoke rose above a city that has seen only sporadic attacks for nearly two months of war and has become a haven for civilians fleeing fighting elsewhere. To the Kremlin’s growing anger, Lviv has also become a major conduit for NATO-supplied arms and foreign fighters joining the Ukrainian cause.

In other developments, a few thousand Ukrainian troops, according to Russia’s estimate, remained locked in a gigantic steelworks in Mariupol, the last known pocket of resistance in the devastated southern port city after seven weeks of bombardment. Resistance fighters ignored a Russian surrender ultimatum on Sunday.

And Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has submitted a completed questionnaire in the first step towards securing fast-track European Union membership – a desire that has irritated Russia for years. Zelenskyy, however, offered to drop all efforts to join NATO, one of the Kremlin’s main demands.

Russian missile strikes on Lviv hit three military facilities and a car mechanics workshop, according to the region’s governor, Maksym Kozytskyy. He said among the injured was a child.

Lviv, the largest city and a major transportation hub in western Ukraine, is about 80 kilometers (50 miles) from NATO member Poland.

Russia has complained strongly about the increasing flow of Western weapons to Ukraine. In Russian state media, some presenters claimed the supplies amounted to direct Western engagement in the fight against Russia.

Lviv is also considered a relatively safe place for elderly people, mothers and children trying to escape war. A hotel housing Ukrainians who had fled fighting in other parts of the country was among the severely damaged buildings, Mayor Andriy Sadovyi said.

“The nightmare of war caught up with us even in Lviv,” said Lyudmila Turchak, who fled the eastern city of Kharkiv with two children. “There is no longer anywhere in Ukraine where we can feel safe.”

A powerful blast also rocked Vasylkiv, a town south of the capital of kyiv that is home to a military airbase, residents said. It was not immediately clear what had been hit.

Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, was hit by a bombardment that killed at least three people, according to Associated Press journalists on the spot. One of the dead was a woman who appeared to be going out to fetch water in the rain. She was found lying with a can of water and an umbrella by her side.

Military analysts say Russia is stepping up strikes against arms factories, railways and other infrastructure targets across Ukraine to exhaust the country’s ability to withstand a major ground offensive in Donbass , the mostly Russian-speaking eastern industrial heartland of Ukraine.

The Russian military said its missiles hit more than 20 military targets in eastern and central Ukraine in the past day, including ammunition depots, command headquarters and troop groups and vehicles.

He also reported that his artillery hit 315 additional Ukrainian targets and that fighter jets carried out 108 strikes against Ukrainian troops and military equipment. The claims could not be independently verified.

Over the weekend, Russia also claimed to have destroyed Ukrainian air defense radar equipment.

General Richard Dannatt, former head of the British army, told Sky News that Russia was carrying out a campaign of “softening up” ahead of the offensive in the Donbass, the capture of which has become the Kremlin’s main objective since the end of the war. failed attempt to storm kyiv. .

“We are doing everything to ensure the defense” of eastern Ukraine, Zelenskyy said in his nightly address to the nation on Sunday.

Ukraine suspended civilian evacuations for a second day on Monday, saying Russian forces were shelling and blocking humanitarian corridors.

Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Ukraine had negotiated safe passage from towns and villages in eastern and southeastern Ukraine, including Mariupol and other parts of Donbass. The government of Lugansk region in Donbass said four civilians trying to flee were shot dead by Russian forces.

Vereshchuk warned Russia on social media: “Your refusal to open these humanitarian corridors will in future be a reason to prosecute all involved for war crimes.”

The Russians, in turn, accused Mariupol’s “neo-Nazi nationalists” of obstructing the evacuation.

The capture of Mariupol, where the Ukrainians estimate that 21,000 people were killed, is seen as a key step in preparations for any assault in the east, as it would free up Russian troops for this new campaign.

A pro-Russian Ukrainian politician who was arrested last week for treason has appeared in a video offering himself in exchange for the evacuation of defenders and trapped civilians from Mariupol. Ukraine’s state security services released the video of Viktor Medvedchuk, the former leader of a pro-Russian opposition party with personal ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

It was unclear if Medvedchuk was speaking under duress.

Putin, meanwhile, repeated his insistence that the “blitz” of Western sanctions against Russia has failed.

He said the West had failed to “cause panic in the markets, collapse of the banking system and shortages in stores”, although he acknowledged a sharp rise in consumer prices in Russia, saying they had increased by 17.5%.

Associated Press reporters Nico Maounis and Philip Crowther in Lviv, Ukraine, and Adam Schreck in Vasylkiv, Ukraine, contributed to this report, as did other AP staffers around the world.