Russia hits Ukraine's western city of Lviv with three missile strikes

Putin’s message to Biden: Russia hits Ukraine’s western city of Lviv with three missile strikes leaving five people hurt while US President Joe Biden is just 245 miles away with refugees in Poland

  • Pictures from Lviv showed huge fireball and thick black smoke rising above city 
  • Attack is the first major strike on the western city since Putin’s invasion began
  • It came despite Moscow saying it would focus military efforts on Ukraine’s east
  • At the time of the strikes, Biden was less than 300 miles away in Poland
  • He visited Ukrainian refugees, and called Vladimir Putin a ‘butcher’ 

Vladimir Putin’s forces hit Ukraine’s western city of Lviv with three missile this evening, leaving five people hurt in an apparent message to U.S. President Joe Biden who is just 245 miles away visiting refugees in Poland.

Pictures from the city showed a huge fireball and thick black smoke rising over the rooftops of a residential area in the northeast of the city, in what was the first major attack on Lviv since Russia’s invasion began on February 24.

Moscow signalled on Friday it was scaling back its military ambitions to focus on territory claimed by Russian-backed separatists in the east

But at around 14.30 GMT two rockets hit the outskirts of Lviv, some 40 miles from the Polish border, a city that so far have escaped the heavy bombardment and fighting that has devastated some Ukrainian cities closer to Russia.

A third strike was reported a few hours later later by the city’s mayor, who said the attack had ‘significantly damaged’ city infrastructure, but had not damaged residential buildings.

Less than 300 miles away, the U.S. president was wrapping up a visit to NATO member Poland, where he called Russia’s president a ‘butcher’ during a meeting with refugees who have fled the war in Ukraine to the Polish capital.

The United Nations has confirmed 1,081 civilian deaths and 1,707 injuries in Ukraine since the invasion but says the real toll is likely higher. Ukraine says 136 children have been killed. More than 2 million people have fled the war to Poland. Altogether, about 3.8 million who have left Ukraine since fighting began. 

The Kremlin hit back at Biden’s description of Putin saying ‘a state leader must remain sober-minded’.

‘Such personal insults are narrowing down the window of opportunity for our bilateral relations under the current (US) administration. One should be aware of this,’ said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. 

Pictures from Lviv showed a huge fireball and thick black smoke rising over the rooftops of a residential area in the northeast of the city, in what appeared to be the first major attack on the famous cultural city since Russia’s invasion began on February 24

Lviv’s Regional Governor Maksym Kozytskyy said five people had been wounded in the first strike, and residents were told to head to shelters after three powerful blasts rang out in mid-afternoon.

‘There have been two rocket strikes within the (city) limits of Lviv,’ Kozytskyy said soon afterwards in an online post. ‘Stay in shelters! Do not go out into the streets!,’ he added.

In an online post, Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadoviy said no residential buildings had been hit by the strikes, which he said had set fire to a industrial facility storing fuel.

Emergency services were at the scene, he said.

Men huddled together on the street to watch a plume of dark smoke rising behind an apartment block. Most residents appeared to stay indoors, peeking out from behind curtains as others hurried past on the road carrying their bags.

Lviv had been largely untouched by violence, rendering it a key hub for people fleeing cities that have been under fierce Russian shelling for several weeks, like Kharkiv in east Ukraine.

The city is just 45 miles from the border with Poland, and since the start of the war, has become a safe harbour for some 200,000 displaced Ukrainians.

Firefighters battle a blaze at an industrial facility after a Russian military attack in the area on March 26, 2022 in Lviv, Ukraine

People walk in front of a church as smoke rises after an air strike in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, on March 26, 2022. – At least five people wounded in two strikes on Lviv, the regional governor said

A Russian rocket flies over Lviv, western Ukraine, 26 March 2022

US President Joe Biden holds a girl on his arm as he and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki (centre) meet with Ukrainian refugees at PGE Narodowy Stadium in Warsaw

The famous cultural centre had a pre-war population of around 717,000, but for the thousands of families fleeing the worst of the fighting in eastern, southern and central Ukraine, it has become either a place of refuge within the country or a key transit hub for people travelling out of the country.

Twenty-one-year-old Taras, who lives 6 miles from where the strikes hit, said he heard a loud whistling sound at around 4:30 pm local time (1430 GMT).

‘After that I heard other passers-by shout ‘missile’. Then I heard two explosions, one with a very loud boom that echoed in the sky and the other, with a weaker sound,’ he said.

Olga, 44, a bank employee displaced from Kyiv who was several kilometers from the affected site, said she was walking when she heard two loud explosions.

‘Very black smoke began to raise up. It was clear that something holding fuel had been hit. Ambulances, police cars and fire engines drove quickly towards the bombed site,’ she told AFP by telephone, declining to give her surname.

Kozytsky, added in a later post that he had visited the scene of the strikes and that the situation was ‘under control’. AFP journalists in Lviv said that medical vehicles and fire engines were responding to the incident.

After failing to break Kyiv’s ferocious resistance in a month of fighting and deadly attacks on civilians, the Russian army in a surprise announcement said it would focus on ‘the main goal – the liberation of Donbas’. 

Putin sent troops into Ukraine on February 24, vowing to destroy the country’s military and topple pro-Western President Volodymyr Zelensky.

But his army has made little progress on capturing key cities, and its attacks that have hit hospitals, residential buildings and schools have become more deadly.

Sergei Rudskoi, a senior Russian general, suggested yesterday that the time had come for a considerably reduced ‘main goal’ of controlling Donbas, an eastern region already partly held by Russian proxies.

Rudskoi said Ukraine’s military has been severely degraded and that Russia hadn’t seized cities to ‘prevent destruction and minimise losses among personnel and civilians’. This has been widely disputed.  

Smoke rises outside Lviv after a Russian airstrike, in Lviv, western Ukraine, 26 March 2022

Firefighters battle a blaze at an industrial facility after a Russian military attack in the area on March 26, 2022 in Lviv, Ukraine

People walk away from an area as smoke billows from an industrial facility after a Russian military attack in the area on March 26, 2022 in Lviv, Ukraine

Fire billows from an industrial facility after a Russian military attack in the area on March 26, 2022 in Lviv, Ukraine

The explosions came as Biden was wrapping up a visit to neighbouring NATO ally Poland in which he told Poland’s president that ‘your freedom is ours.’  

Biden spoke with top Ukrainian government officials in Warsaw on Saturday, and branded Russian President Vladimir Putin a ‘butcher’ during a meeting with refugees who have fled the war in Ukraine to the Polish capital.

On the second day of a visit to Poland, Biden dropped in on a meeting between Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin.

Both Ukrainian ministers had made a rare trip out of Ukraine for the face-to-face talks, in a possible sign of growing confidence in their fightback against Russian forces. 

Ukraine had received additional security pledges from the United States on developing defence co-operation, Kuleba told reporters, while Reznikov expressed ‘cautious optimism’ following the meeting with Biden.

‘President Biden said what is happening in Ukraine will change the history of the 21st century, and we will work together to ensure that this change is in our favour, in Ukraine’s favour, in the favour of the democratic world,’ Kuleba told Ukrainian national television

After a separate meeting with Polish President Andrzej Duda, Biden reiterated Washington’s ‘sacred’ commitment to security guarantees within NATO, of which Poland is a member.

Ukraine is not a member of the Western military alliance, and the United States is wary of getting dragged into direct confrontation with Russia, but Washington has pledged to defend every inch of NATO territory.  

Biden on Saturday spent time with Ukrainian refugees in Poland as he wrapped up his four-day visit to Europe, marvelling at the spirit of their resolve in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of their homeland.

The president listened intently to young Ukrainian children tell them about their parents. He picked up a young Ukrainian girl in a pink coat, smiling broadly and telling her she reminded him of his own granddaughters.

He also held hands and gave hugs to their parents, as he heard their stories during a visit to a stadium in Warsaw where Ukrainian refugees go to obtain a Polish identification number that gives them access to social services such as health care and schools.

Less than 300 miles away, U.S. president Joe Biden (pictured) was wrapping up a visit to NATO member Poland, where he called Russia’s president a ‘butcher’ during a meeting with refugees who have fled the war in Ukraine to the Polish capital

The Kremlin hit back at Biden’s description of Putin saying ‘a state leader must remain sober-minded’. Pictured: Russia’s president Vladimir Putin seen speaking on Friday

Some of the women and children told Biden that they fled for Poland without their husbands and fathers, men of fighting age that were required to remain behind to assist in the fight against Russian forces.

‘What I am always surprised by is the depth and strength of the human spirit,’ Biden told reporters after his conversations. ‘Each one of those children said something to the effect of ‘Say a prayer for my dad or grandfather or my brother.” 

Poland’s President Andrzej Duda welcomed Biden’s assurances, saying they were all the more important as Russia carried out the brutal assaults just across Poland’s eastern border.

‘I think that for us Poles, in the situation we have today, in our part of Europe, in the era of Russian aggression against Ukraine, this is a very important element,’ Duda said.

Duda, speaking after meeting Biden, said that he also urged the United States to speed up its planned delivery of weapons to Poland. Duda noted that under contracts already concluded with the U.S., Poland is set to receive Patriot missile sets, artillery rocket launchers, F-35 fighter jets and 250 Abrams tanks.

‘I asked the U.S. president, Joe Biden, to accelerate, as much as possible, those purchasing programs that are already being implemented in order to strengthen our security,’ the Polish leader said.

People stand in front of an Ukrainian national flag fluttering while watching dark smoke and flames rising from a fire following an air strike in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, on March 26, 2022

Dark smoke and flames rise from a fire following an air strike in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, on March 26, 2022

On the frontlines, Russia’s far-bigger military continued to combat determined Ukrainian defenders who are using Western-supplied weapons – from near the capital Kyiv to Kharkiv, the Donbas region and the devastated southern port city of Mariupol.

A humanitarian convoy leaving Mariupol, including ambulances carrying wounded children, was being held up at Russian checkpoints, a Ukrainian official said.

A buildup of several kilometres had formed close to Vassylivka, in the region of Zaporizhzhia where the convoy was headed, said Lyudmyla Denisova, in charge of human rights in Ukraine.

‘The ambulances carrying wounded children are also queueing. The people have been deprived of water and food for two days,’ she wrote on Telegram, blasting Russian troops for ‘creating obstacles’.

Authorities have said they fear some 300 civilians in Mariupol may have died in a Russian air strike on a theatre being used as a bomb shelter last week.

Russian forces hammering Mariupol’s out-gunned resistance consider the city a lynchpin in their attempt to create a land corridor between the Crimea region, which Moscow seized in 2014, and the Donbas.

One Mariupol resident who managed to escape the city, Oksana Vynokurova, described leaving behind complete devastation.

‘I have lost all my family. I have lost my house. I am desperate,’ the 33-year-old told AFP after reaching Lviv by train. ‘My mum is dead. I left my mother in the yard like a dog, because everybody’s shooting.’

In Kharkiv, where local authorities reported 44 artillery strikes and 140 rocket assaults in a single day, residents were resigned to the incessant bombardments.

Anna Kolinichenko, who lives in a three-room flat with her sister and brother-in-law, said they don’t even bother to head down to the cellar when the sirens go off.

‘If a bomb drops, we’re going to die anyway,’ she said. ‘We are getting a little used to explosions’.

Russian forces have taken control of Slavutych, the town where workers at the Chernobyl nuclear plant live, briefly detaining the mayor, regional Ukrainian authorities said.

Residents of the town protested, prompting the invading forces to fire shots in the air and lob stun grenades into the crowd.

Kyiv said it was shortening a planned 35-hour curfew to just Saturday 8:00 pm to Sunday 7:00 am, as Britain’s defence ministry said Ukrainian counter-attacks were underway near the capital.

Ukrainian forces were also attempting to recapture Kherson, the only major city held by Russian invasion troops, a Pentagon official said. 

Russia’s army had been predicted by some to roll across Ukraine with little resistance, but it had greatly underestimated Ukrainian determination.

Putin’s military has also exhibited poor discipline and morale, faulty equipment and tactics, as well as brutality toward civilians, Western analysts say.

Amid heavy censorship, Russian authorities Friday gave only their second official military death toll since the start of the invasion, at 1,351.

This is far below Western estimates, with one senior NATO official saying between 7,000 and 15,000 Russian soldiers have died. 

While diplomatic efforts have so far done little to stop Russia, Zelensky pressed on with his relentless bid to rally world leaders to his side.

This time taking his message to the Doha Forum meeting in Qatar’s capital, he accused Russia of fuelling a dangerous arms race by ‘bragging’ about its nuclear stocks.

He also urged Qatar to help stop Moscow from deploying energy as a weapon.

‘I ask you to increase the output of energy to ensure that everyone in Russia understands that no one can use energy as a weapon to blackmail the world,’ Zelensky said.

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