LVIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian missiles pounded a military base in western Ukraine on Sunday, killing 35 people in an attack on a facility that served as a crucial hub for cooperation between Ukraine and NATO countries supporting its defence. The barrage marked an escalation of Moscow’s offensive and moved the fighting dangerously close to the Polish border.
The attack so close to a NATO member nation raised the possibility that the alliance could be drawn into combat, and was fraught with symbolism in a conflict that has rekindled old Cold War rivalries and threatened to rewrite the current global security order.
More than 30 Russian cruise missiles targeted the sprawling facility in Yavoriv, which has long been used to train Ukrainian soldiers, often with instructors from the United States and other Western alliance countries. Poland is also a transit route for Western military aid to Ukraine, and the strikes followed threats from Moscow to target those shipments.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called it a ‘black day’ and again urged NATO leaders to establish a no-fly zone over the country, a plea the West says could escalate into a nuclear confrontation.
“If you don’t close our skies, it’s only a matter of time before Russian missiles fall on your territory. NATO territory. On the homes of citizens of NATO countries,” Zelenskyy said.
In addition to the dead, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said 134 people were injured in the attack.
Ina Padi, a 40-year-old Ukrainian woman who crossed the border with her family, was sheltering in a fire station in Wielkie Oczy, Poland, when she was awakened on Sunday morning by explosions that rattled window panes .
“I understood at that moment, even if we are freed from it, (the war) still pursues us,” she said.
Since their invasion more than two weeks ago, Russian forces struggled to advance through Ukraine, facing stronger-than-expected resistance, bolstered by Western weaponry support. Instead, Russian forces besieged and pounded several towns, hitting two dozen medical facilities and leading to a series of humanitarian crises.
The UN has recorded at least 596 civilian deaths, though it estimates the true toll to be much higher, and Ukraine’s attorney general’s office said at least 85 children were among them. An American filmmaker and journalist was also killed on Sunday. Millions more people have fled their homes amid Europe’s biggest land dispute since World War II.
Talks for a broad ceasefire have so far failed, but the Kremlin spokesman said another round would take place on Monday via video link, according to Russian state news agency Tass. Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden is sending his national security adviser to Rome to meet with a Chinese official. There are worries in Washington that Beijing is amplifying Russian disinformation and could help Moscow evade punitive Western economic sanctions.
Zelenskyy said he would continue to negotiate with Russia and make requests to meet with Putin, which so far have gone unanswered from the Kremlin. Daily talks, Zelenskyy said, were needed to establish a ceasefire and add more humanitarian corridors, which saved more than 130,000 people in six days.
The training base attacked near Yavoriv is less than 25 kilometers (15 miles) from the Polish border and appears to be the westernmost target hit in the 18-day Russian invasion.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned the attack, tweeting: “The brutality must stop”.
The base has hosted NATO exercises, and a senior officialAdmiral Rob Bauer, had previously hailed her as embodying “the spirit of military cooperation” between Ukraine and international forces.
As such, the site is a potent symbol of Russia’s longstanding concerns that the expansion in recent years of the 30-member Western military alliance to include former Soviet states threatens its security – something the NATO denies. Yet the perceived threat from NATO is central to Moscow’s justifications for the war, and it has demanded that Ukraine give up its ambitions to join the alliance.
Russian fighters also fired at the airport in the western city of Ivano-Frankivsk, located less than 150 kilometers (94 miles) north of Romania and 250 kilometers (155 miles) from Hungary, two other allies of NATO.
NATO said on Sunday it currently has no personnel in Ukraine, although the United States has increased the number of American troops deployed in Poland. White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the West would react if Russian strikes moved outside Ukraine and hit NATO members, even accidentally.
The city of Lviv in western Ukraine itself has so far been spared the scale of the destruction that has occurred to the east and south. Its population of 721,000 grew during the war, with residents fleeing bombed-out towns and serving as staging posts for the nearly 2.6 million people who fled the country.
Ukrainian and European leaders have lobbied with limited success for Russia to grant safe passage to civilians trapped in the fighting. Ukrainian authorities said more than 10 humanitarian corridors would open on Sunday, with Russia’s agreement, including from the beleaguered port city of Mariupol, where the city council said 2,187 people had been killed.
But such promises repeatedly crumbled and no one knew late Sunday whether people could use the escape routes. Officials said a convoy carrying 100 tons of aid was due to arrive in Mariupol on Monday.
The suffering in the port city is “simply immense”, the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Sunday, noting that hundreds of thousands of its inhabitants are “facing extreme or complete shortages of basic necessities such as food, water and medication “.
“Corpses, both civilians and combatants, remain trapped under the rubble or lie in the open where they fell,” the Geneva-based organization said in a statement. “Life-changing injuries and chronic, debilitating conditions cannot be treated.”
The fight for Mariupol is crucial because its capture could help Russia establish a land corridor to Crimea, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014.
Meanwhile, continued fighting on multiple fronts caused more misery in Ukraine on Sunday and sparked renewed international outrage.
In the city of Mykolaiv in southern Ukraine, near the Black Sea, authorities said nine people were killed in bomb attacks. They said Russian airstrikes on a monastery and children’s resort in the eastern region of Donetsk hit places where monks and others were sheltering, injuring 32 people.
Around the capital, Kiev, a major political and strategic target of the invasion, fighting has also intensified, with nighttime shelling in the northwestern suburbs and a missile strike on Sunday that destroyed a warehouse to the east.
Kiev region police said on their official website that Russian troops opened fire on a car carrying two American journalists. The US State Department has declared Brent Renaud deceased. Juan Arredondo was injured.
In the Kyiv suburb of Irpin, Ukrainian soldier Alexei Lipirdi, 46, said the Russians “want to intimidate us so that we are not calm”, but he and his unit remain defiant. As he spoke, smoke billowed from distant buildings and cars were damaged or abandoned.
The town’s mayor said only about 10,000 of its 60,000 residents remained. Many of those who remained are elderly or sick people and those who care for them.
At a suburban hospital, doctors said 80% of their patients were civilians injured in shelling. Patient Volodymr Adamkovych, with his abdomen bandaged, said he was injured when his house was hit. He spent the night in his basement before he could reach the doctors.
Associated Press reporters from around the world contributed to this report.
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