At least five people were reportedly injured Saturday after at least two missiles struck Lviv, a city in western Ukraine that had been previously spared the worst of Russia’s brutal onslaught, local officials said.
One of the strikes hit a fuel storage facility, causing it to catch fire, and a later strike caused “significant damage” to the city’s infrastructure facilities, according to the city’s mayor, Andriy Sadovyi.
Three powerful blasts were heard in the center of the city earlier, and plumes of thick black smoke could be seen rising in the distance. Air raid sirens rang out prior to the explosions. Maksym Kozytsky, the head of the Lviv regional military administration, later on his Telegram account reported three more explosions following the strike on the fuel depot, saying, “The air alarm remains.”
Lviv is a strategic Ukrainian city close to the Polish border that has largely been spared from the relentless bombardment seen across much of the country during the Russian invasion. It was a surprising attack, coming just a day after the Russian military said that the first phase of the conflict had ended and that it was shifting its attention to the disputed eastern parts of Ukraine.
The attack came as US President Joe Biden was in Poland Saturday, where he met with his Polish counterpart, Andrzej Duda, as well as Ukrainian officials and refugees. Biden later delivered a speech outside the Royal Castle in the Polish capital of Warsaw, in which he declared forcefully that Russian President Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power.”
The White House afterward said Biden wasn’t calling for regime change: “The President’s point was that Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors or the region,” a White House official said.
Earlier in the speech, Biden told the Ukrainian people: “We stand with you. Period.” Biden was briefed on the strike on Lviv before leaving his hotel for his speech, according to a White House official.
“Now in the perennial struggle for democracy and freedom, Ukraine and its people are on the front lines, fighting to save their nation, and their brave resistance is part of a larger fight for … essential democratic principles that unite all free people,” Biden said.
Sadovyi said on Twitter Saturday that Russian troops had attacked the city but did not provide extensive detail. He urged residents to stay in shelters.
An industrial facility in Lviv used for fuel storage was burned as a result of one of the Russian strikes, according to Sadovyi.
“As a result of the shelling, one of the industrial facilities burns. It is fuel storage,” the mayor said. He did not clarify if this was the cause of the smoke.
The mayor added that “habitable infrastructure was not injured.”
Sadovyi later confirmed that another strike had hit Lviv, causing “significant damage” to the city’s infrastructure. Residential buildings were not damaged, he added.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian authorities said Saturday that bus convoys trying to evacuate civilians were being stopped and held by Russian forces, as part of what they claimed to be a pressure campaign to force some residents to go to Russia.
In a statement, Oleksandr Starukh, the head of the Zaporizhzhia regional administration, said an evacuation convoy of more than 50 buses driving from the besieged Ukrainian port city of Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia was held overnight at a Russian checkpoint in Vasylivka, about 35 miles south of Zaporizhzhia. Starukh said the convoy included two ambulances carrying three children requiring urgent medical care.
Saturday’s strikes were not the first strikes on Lviv. Several Russian missiles hit an aircraft repair plant there on March 18. Work at the facility had stopped before the strikes, and there were no reports of casualties.
Saturday’s attacks come after a top Russian general claimed Friday that the “first stage” of Russia’s military plan was complete, with their primary focus now centered on eastern Ukraine.
It was unclear if the statement implied a shifting of the goalposts for the Russian military or just represents a change in public messaging.
“In general, the main tasks of the first stage of the operation have been completed,” said Col. General Sergei Rudskoy, first deputy chief of Russia’s General Staff, in a briefing. “The combat potential of the armed forces of Ukraine has been significantly reduced, allowing us, I emphasize again, to focus the main efforts on achieving the main goal – the liberation of Donbas.”
After days of Western leaders displaying their united front against Russia, Saturday’s strikes could be seen as a response from Putin and his military to Biden and the West.
The Russian military has claimed it is not targeting civilians or residential areas, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
Lviv, western Ukrainian city until now spared from Russian assault, rocked by powerful explosions | CNN