Russia steps up bombardment of cities across Ukraine

Russia intensifies attacks across Ukraine in a push to break down its defences ahead of an expected assault on the east.

Dark smoke rises following an air strike in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv
Dark smoke rises following an air strike in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv [Yuriy Dyachyshyn/AFP]

Russian forces have launched a barrage of attacks on targets across Ukraine in what appeared to be an intensified bid to grind down the country’s defences ahead of an all-out assault on the east.

At least seven people were killed in a series of Russian strikes on Lviv on Monday, which also ignited blazes in the western Ukraine city that has so far been spared fierce fighting during almost two months of war and has become a haven for internally displaced Ukrainians.

To the Kremlin’s increasing anger, Lviv has become a major conduit for NATO-supplied weapons and foreign fighters joining Ukrainian forces in the battle against Russia.

Lviv regional governor Maksym Kozytskyy said on social media that Russian missiles had targeted Ukrainian military infrastructure and that an auto mechanic shop had also been struck.

Russia’s army said it destroyed a large depot of foreign weapons recently delivered to Ukraine.

Russian planes in the morning struck a Ukrainian logistics centre near Lviv holding “large batches of foreign weaponry, delivered to Ukraine over the past six days by the United States and European countries”, and “destroyed” them, Russian defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said.

The head of Ukraine’s national railways Alexander Kamyshin said on social media that some of the site’s infrastructure had also been damaged and there would likely be delays to services, but no passengers or staff were injured.

A hotel sheltering Ukrainians who had fled fighting in other parts of the country was among the buildings badly damaged, Mayor Andriy Sadovyi said.

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

Russia escalates attacks

Russia intensified strikes in and around the capital Kyiv further east, targeting a number of facilities that produce military hardware. Those bombardments come after Moscow pledged to respond to what it called Ukrainian attacks on Russian soil and the sinking of the Moskva warship.

A powerful explosion rocked Vasylkiv, a town south of Kyiv that is home to a military airbase, according to residents. It was not immediately clear what was hit.

A man and a woman were killed in the northeastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv when shells hit a playground near a residential building, the local prosecutor’s office said in a post on Telegram messaging service.

Military analysts say Russia is increasing its strikes on weapons factories, railways and other infrastructure targets across Ukraine to wear down the country’s ability to resist a major ground offensive in the Donbas region, Ukraine’s mostly Russian-speaking eastern industrial heartland.

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

General Richard Dannatt, a former head of the British Army, told Sky News the strikes were part of a “softening-up” campaign by Russia ahead of a planned ground offensive in the Donbas.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal pledged to “fight absolutely to the end” in the strategically vital port city of Mariupol, where the last known pocket of resistance in the seven-week siege consisted of Ukrainian fighters holed up in a sprawling steel plant. The holdouts ignored a surrender-or-die ultimatum from the Russians on Sunday.

Ukraine’s government halted civilian evacuations for a second day on Monday, saying Russian forces were shelling and blocking the humanitarian corridors.

Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Ukraine had been negotiating passage from cities and towns in the east and southeast, including Mariupol and other areas in the Donbas. The government of the Luhansk region in the Donbas said four civilians trying to flee were shot and killed by Russian forces.

Vereshchuk said Russia could be prosecuted for war crimes over its refusal to allow civilians to leave Mariupol. “Your refusal to open these humanitarian corridors will in the future be a reason to prosecute all involved for war crimes,” she wrote on social media.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies