In Lviv, New Russian Strikes Pierce the Sense of Security in West

LVIV, Ukraine — Mariana Vladimirtsova was finally settled in western Ukraine after evacuating her native Kharkiv, which has been pummeled by Russian bombs since the first days of the war. Now she and her family are fleeing again because their new makeshift home in Lviv is near one of several targets struck by Russian missiles on Saturday night, upending the region’s sense of security.

“We were only just starting to feel settled here,” she said as she stood with her husband, her two children and her husband’s mother on the platform at Lviv’s train station Sunday evening, about to board for Przemysl, just across the border in Poland. They were still deeply shaken by the memory of what they experienced in Kharkiv, in Ukraine’s northeast. “We were so close to the explosions there,” she said.

She lamented their departure, especially the fact that she would have to leave her husband behind because martial law prevents men of military age from leaving the country. But they had decided that it was safer for the children if Ms. Vladimirtsova took them over the border.

Until Saturday, the only target near Lviv that had been hit was an airplane repair factory near the city’s airport. Before that, the nearest attack had come at a military training base near Yavoriv, more than an hour’s drive away.

But now the war was moving closer to their doorstep. On Sunday, Ms. Vladimirtsova and others living in Lviv woke and began surveying the damage from an overnight barrage of missile attacks on a fuel storage site and a tank repair facility. The fuel site in the city’s northeast was completely destroyed, according to Lviv’s regional governor, Maksym Kozytsky.

The new strikes have intensified fears that the city in western Ukraine may no longer be a safe haven. “It is one thing to see the war on television and it is another thing to experience it and feel that it is much closer right now,” said Yuliya Kuleba, 38, who lives near the fuel storage site. “We are worried for our kids.’’

Nataliya Tatarin swept broken glass from the small shop she runs near the fuel storage facility, as firefighters lugged hoses to the site.

“We heard three big explosions, and everything started to shake and fall off the shelves,” said Ms. Tatarin, 42. She ran to her nearby home, where her three children were sheltering.

“There was a lot of fog and it was all just black,” she said. “My 7-year-old daughter was shaking and vomiting for most of the night,” she added, as tears welled in her eyes. The roof of the store had cracked and she was worried that it could cave in.

By early Sunday, most of the fires in Lviv had been extinguished. The local authorities said the missiles had been fired from Sevastopol, a port on the Crimean peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014.

The attacks on Saturday evening came as President Biden delivered a fiery speech in Warsaw, castigating Russia for its invasion. Lviv is about 35 miles from Poland.

“I think with these strikes the aggressor wants to say hello to President Biden,” Lviv’s mayor, Andriy Sadoviy, said on Saturday night.

An independent Russian website calculated that on Saturday Russian forces had sent a record 52 missiles from the occupied Black Sea port of Sevastopol, and at least 18 from Belarusian territory. The website, The Insider, found that of the 70 rockets, at least eight landed, meaning that Ukraine had also repelled a significant amount. Those figures could not be independently verified.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Sunday that its military had struck 67 “military objects” in Ukraine in the past 24 hours. It said that it had also destroyed a military installation in Lviv that helped upgrade and modernize missile systems, radar stations and electronic warfare equipment. Ukrainian authorities did not confirm this and it could not be independently verified.

Some people in Lviv said a tank repair factory had been hit in Saturday’s strike. The uniformed men guarding the site would not provide any information on Sunday afternoon. In a small shop nearby, a man in fatigues was overheard telling a shopkeeper about how he and his comrades saw the missiles flying in the air and hid under the tanks inside the facility.

Since the war began in late February, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians have fled west to Lviv and beyond, trying to escape the worst of the fighting, which was concentrated in the east.

Alyona Puzanova arrived in Lviv on March 11 after two harrowing weeks in Bucha, a suburb of Kyiv, the capital, where there was intense fighting with Russians.

“Yesterday when they hit Lviv, the place I felt safe, I started to worry that it is going to be a new Bucha,” said Ms. Puzanova, 35, as tears streamed down her face. “I can’t believe this is happening.”

Despite her fears, Ms. Puzanova said she wanted to remain in Lviv and volunteer, instead of accompanying her mother to a village a few miles away from the city center that they hope will be safer.

“I want to help here, there is so much to do,” said Ms. Puzanova, who previously worked as a waitress and restaurant manager.

Before Saturday, many people ignored air raid sirens in Lviv. They did not seek shelter, and could be seen strolling about Rynok Square, a UNESCO world heritage site and the city’s ancient heart, unflinchingly raising their coffee cups.

But at the Dovzhenka Center, a former movie theater now hosting people who have been displaced, the families staying there take the sirens seriously. On Saturday, everyone piled behind the stage when the sirens blared, Julia Muzhik, a volunteer at the bomb shelter, said.

Violetta Kalashnikova said after being in Kharkiv, where she left behind two apartments and her beauty salon, the sound of every plane made her flinch.

But she was grateful to be far from that city, where bombs are falling indiscriminately, and which is only 30 miles from the Russian border.

“In Lviv,” she said, “At least you are far enough away from where the missiles are being fired, whether it is the Black Sea or Belarus, that you have time for the system to detect the missiles and 15 or 20 minutes to hide.”

Back near the fuel storage facility, Ms. Kuleba said that the soil in her yard, where she had planted vegetables, was covered in oil. She said she hoped that this would be the last missile strike and that the oil would be cleaned away soon.

Ms. Tatarin, the shop owner, was inconsolable. She showed a video of her daughter, asking Russian troops not to attack children. The young girl held a heart-shaped piece of paper that she had colored in with yellow and blue, the colors of the flag of Ukraine.

Ms. Tatarin said her pro-Russian mother-in-law, who lives in Crimea, from where the missiles were reportedly fired, now sees her son as a “traitor” and believes he was “brainwashed” by his wife.

“We are totally alone now, my husband and I,” she said. “And each air raid siren stops my breath.”

Anna Ivanova contributed reporting from Lviv.

Source link