By ADAM SCHRECK and MSTYSLAV CHERNOV, Associated Press
kyiv, Ukraine (AP) — Multiple explosions apparently caused by missiles struck the western Ukrainian city of Lviv early Monday as the country braced for an all-out Russian attack in the east. At least six people were killed in the city, which has been spared much of the worst violence in nearly two months of war.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy vowed to “fight absolutely to the end” in strategically vital Mariupol, where the last known pocket of resistance in the blighted southeastern port city was hidden in a sprawling, tunnel-filled steel plant.
Plumes of thick black smoke billowed over Lviv after the blasts, which were witnessed by Associated Press staff. Lviv and the rest of western Ukraine have not been immune, but they have been less affected by the fighting than other parts of the country and have been considered a relative haven.
Lviv regional governor Maksym Kozytskyy said six people were killed and eight others, including a child, wounded by four Russian missile strikes. He said three hit military infrastructure facilities and one hit a tire store. He said emergency crews were putting out fires caused by the attacks.
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Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovyi put the balance at six dead and 11 wounded, including a child.
Military analysts say Russia is increasing its attacks on weapons factories, railways and other infrastructure targets in Ukraine to erode the country’s ability to withstand a major ground offensive in Donbas, the industrial heartland of eastern Ukraine. Russian.
With missiles and rockets hitting various parts of the country, Zelenskyy accused Russian soldiers of torturing and kidnapping in areas they control.
The fall of Mariupol, reduced to rubble after a seven-week siege, would give Moscow its biggest victory of the war. But a few thousand fighters, according to Russian estimates, were clinging to the giant 11-square-kilometer (4-square-mile) Azovstal steel plant.
“We will absolutely fight to the end, to victory, in this war,” Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal promised Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” He said Ukraine is prepared to end the war through diplomacy if possible, “but we have no intention of giving up.”
Many Mariupol civilians, including children, are also taking shelter at the Azovstal plant, Mikhail Vershinin, the city’s patrol police chief, told Mariupol television. He said they are hiding from Russian bombing and Russian soldiers.
Capturing the city on the Sea of Azov would free up Russian troops for a new offensive to take control of the Donbas region in Ukraine’s industrial east. Russia would also completely secure a land corridor to the Crimean peninsula, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014, and deprive Ukraine of a major port and prized industrial assets.
Russia is hell-bent on capturing Donbas, where Moscow-backed separatists already control some territory, after their bid to take the capital kyiv failed.
“We are doing everything possible to ensure the defense” of eastern Ukraine, Zelenskyy said in his evening address to the nation.
As for besieged Mariupol, there seemed little hope of military rescue. Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday that the remaining Ukrainian troops and civilians there are basically surrounded. He said they “continue their fight” but the city effectively no longer exists due to the massive destruction.
Relentless shelling and street clashes in Mariupol have killed at least 21,000 people, according to Ukrainian estimates. A maternity hospital was hit by a deadly Russian airstrike in the first weeks of the war, and some 300 people were reported killed in the shelling of a theater where civilians had taken refuge.
An estimated 100,000 people remained in the city out of a pre-war population of 450,000, trapped without food, water, heat or electricity.
Drone footage released by the Russian news agency RIA-Novosti showed mile after mile of destroyed buildings and, on the outskirts of the city, the steel complex, towering plumes of smoke.
Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar described Mariupol as a “shield that defends Ukraine.”
Meanwhile, Russian forces carried out airstrikes near Kyiv and elsewhere in an apparent effort to weaken Ukraine’s military capability ahead of the anticipated assault on Donbas.
After the humiliating sinking of the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet last week in what the Ukrainians boasted was a missile attack, the Kremlin vowed to step up attacks on the capital.
Russia said on Sunday it had struck an ammunition plant near kyiv overnight with precision-guided missiles, the third such attack in as many days. Explosions were also reported in Kramatorsk, the eastern city where rockets earlier this month killed at least 57 people at a train station packed with civilians trying to evacuate ahead of the Russian offensive.
At least five people were killed by Russian shelling in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, on Sunday, regional officials said. The bombardment crashed into apartment buildings. The streets were littered with broken glass and other debris.
Kharkiv Mayor Igor Terekhov, in an impassioned speech on the occasion of Orthodox Palm Sunday, criticized Russian forces for not stopping the bombing campaign on such a holy day.
Zelenskyy called the bombing in Kharkiv “nothing more than deliberate terror.”
Zelenskyy also called for a stronger response to what he said was the brutality of Russian troops in parts of southern Ukraine.
“Torture chambers are built there,” he said. “They kidnap representatives of local governments and anyone who is considered visible to local communities.”
He again urged the world to send more weapons and apply tougher sanctions against Moscow.
Malyar, Ukraine’s deputy defense minister, said the Russians were targeting Mariupol with airstrikes and may be preparing for an amphibious landing to bolster their ground troops.
The looming offensive in the east, if successful, would give Russian President Vladimir Putin a much-needed victory to sell to the Russian people amid mounting war casualties and economic hardship caused by Western sanctions.
Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer, who met Putin in Moscow last week for the first time with a European leader since the February 24 invasion, said the Russian president is “in his own logic of war” with Ukraine. In an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Nehammer said he believes Putin believes he is winning the war and “we have to look him in the eye and confront him with that, what we see in Ukraine.”
Chernov reported from Kharkiv. Philip Crowther in Lviv, Yesica Fisch in Kramatorsk, Ukraine, and Associated Press journalists from around the world contributed to this report.
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