Russian missiles struck near Lviv airport in far western Ukraine on Friday, spreading the war to a relatively untouched region near NATO territory, as China came under pressure from the United States to hold back his Kremlin allies.
Ambulances and police vehicles rushed to the scene of the morning strike at an aircraft repair plant near the border with NATO member Poland, which saw more than two million refugees cross the ‘Ukraine.
Motorists were turned away at checkpoints and a thick pall of smoke billowed over the airport, an AFP reporter noted, although officials said the factory was inactive and that there had been no fatalities.
Located 70 kilometers (45 miles) from the border, Lviv had so far largely escaped assault by Russian forces and became a rear base for foreign diplomats fleeing the Ukrainian capital kyiv.
“It was a strike on the city of Lviv, on a humanitarian center where more than 200,000 people were displaced,” regional governor Maksym Kozytsky told reporters.
Valentin Vovchenko, 82, told AFP in Lviv: “We fled Kyiv because of the attacks but now they have started hitting here.”
As President Vladimir Putin’s three-week-old ground offensive stalled under fierce Ukrainian resistance, Moscow has increasingly turned to indiscriminate air and long-range strikes.
In the beleaguered southern city of Mariupol, rescuers search for all the survivors buried under the rubble of a bombed-out theater, fearing that hundreds of people could be trapped.
Russia said its troops and their separatist allies were fighting in the center of the strategic port city.
Kyiv authorities said one person was killed when a downed Russian rocket hit a residential building in the northern suburbs of the capital. They said a school and a playground were also hit.
The Russians lack the “essentials”
In the eastern city of Kharkiv, Russian strikes demolished the six-story building of a higher education institution, killing one person and leaving another trapped in the rubble, officials said.
The UK Ministry of Defense said that on the ground Russia was struggling to resupply its forward troops “even with basic necessities such as food and fuel”.
“Relentless Ukrainian counterattacks are forcing Russia to divert large numbers of troops to defend their own supply lines. This severely limits Russia’s offensive potential,” he said.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy says the Ukrainian resistance has killed thousands of invading soldiers, as he addresses Russian mothers in his latest video message.
“We didn’t want this war. We only want peace,” he said. “And we want you to love your children more than you fear your authorities.”
In a call later on Friday, US President Joe Biden was to warn his counterpart Xi Jinping that China would face “costs” for “any action it takes in support of Russia’s aggression”, said Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
After accusing Putin of being a “war criminal”, Biden hopes China will use “every lever it has to compel Moscow to end this war”, the top US diplomat said.
“Intentionally targeting civilians is a war crime,” Blinken added following the Mariupol theater attack.
Ukrainian mediator Lyudmyla Denisova said a bomb shelter under the drama theater survived the impact and “adults and children” came out alive.
The attack on a civilian building bearing the words “DETI”, or “children” in Russian, sparked a wave of international revulsion and put pressure on Russia’s few remaining allies, notably China.
But Beijing has refused to oppose Russia at the United Nations, or even use the word “invasion” three weeks into the war, while stressing its opposition to punitive Western sanctions against Moscow.
Russia withdrew a UN Security Council vote on a “humanitarian” resolution on Ukraine, scheduled for Friday, due to a lack of support from China and India, diplomats said.
Moscow’s diplomatic isolation deepened as the Baltic states Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania announced the expulsion of 10 Russian diplomats, following Bulgaria’s lead.
Condemning Western sanctions, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the United States of seeking to remake the world in its own image.
“They are trying to take the crucible concept from the ground of the United States and create the crucible of the whole world, and they would be the melters,” he said in English on the Russian channel RT, which was banned on Friday. in Great Britain. .
Essential services have already melted in Mariupol.
Local officials say more than 2,000 people have died so far in the town’s indiscriminate shelling and that 80% of its homes have been destroyed.
“In the streets there are the bodies of many dead civilians,” Tamara Kavunenko, 58, told AFP after fleeing the city.
“It’s not Mariupol anymore,” she said. “It’s hell.”
Historically, Ukraine has been a breadbasket of grain exporters to the world.
But the “devastating human catastrophe” now unfolding risks causing “widespread” economic fallout around the world, the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and other major global lenders have warned.
“The wider global economy will feel the effects of the crisis through slower growth, trade disruptions and higher inflation,” they said.
“Odessa holds firm”
For many Ukrainians, Russia’s actions on the ground and in the air are a travesty of the stop-start peace talks that unfolded this week.
In a call with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Putin on Friday accused the Ukrainian authorities of “trying by all means to block the negotiations, by making more and more unrealistic proposals”.
“Nevertheless, the Russian side is ready to continue to seek solutions in line with its well-known principled approaches,” he said, according to the Kremlin.
Russia wants Ukraine to disarm and disavow all Western alliances – moves that kyiv says would return it to a vassal state of Moscow.
Western governments have criticized Putin’s vision for peace and in Odessa, on the Black Sea, civilians are prepared for attack, with tanks deployed at intersections and monuments covered in sandbags.
“Our beautiful Odessa,” said Lyudmila, an elegant older woman wearing bright lipstick, as she gazed sadly at the empty, barricaded streets of her city.
“But thank God we’re holding on! Everyone is holding on!”