Dozens of people have been killed as Russian troops launched multiple air raids on a large Ukrainian military facility outside the western city of Lviv near the Polish border, Ukrainian officials said, in what appeared to be the westernmost attack since Moscow launched an invasion on February 24.
More than 30 Russian cruise missiles targeted the sprawling facility that is less than 25km (15 miles) from the closest border point with Poland, Lviv Governor Maxim Kozitsky said on Sunday.
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Kozitsky said at least 35 people were killed and 134 others were wounded in the attack.
Russia’s defence ministry said the air strike destroyed a large amount of weapons supplied by foreign nations that were being stored at the facility, and that it had killed “up to 180 foreign mercenaries”.
Al Jazeera was able to verify the Russian and Ukrainian military claims.
The 360 square km (140 square miles) Yavoriv military facility, also known as the International Peacekeeping and Security Center, has long been used to train Ukrainian military personnel, often with instructors from the United States and other NATO countries.
The base has also hosted international NATO drills and a senior NATO official, Admiral Rob Bauer, previously hailed it as embodying “the spirit of military cooperation” between Ukraine and international forces. As such, the site symbolises a longstanding Russian complaint: that the 30-member Western military alliance has expanded in Eastern Europe too close to Russian territory.
One of Moscow’s stated conditions for ending the hostilities in Ukraine is for the country to drop its ambitions to join NATO.
The strikes on Sunday followed Russian threats to target foreign weapon shipments that are helping Ukrainian fighters defend their country against Russia’s grinding assault.
Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov said foreign military instructors worked at the facility. “Information about the victims is being clarified,” he said in an online post.
Many Ukrainians have fled to relative safety in Lviv since the launch of Russia’s invasion. The city is also a transit hub for those leaving Ukraine.
Zelenskyy warns Russia against Kyiv assault
Separately, the mayor of Ivano-Frankivsk in western Ukraine said the city’s airport was targeted in an attack.
“According to preliminary information, this morning’s explosions were from an attack on the airport,” Mayor Ruslan Martsinkiv said on Facebook.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has warned Russian forces they face a fight to the death if they try to occupy Kyiv as air raid sirens again woke residents on Sunday morning.
“If they decide to carpet bomb and simply erase the history of this region … and destroy all of us, then they will enter Kyiv. If that’s their goal, let them come in, but they will have to live on this land by themselves,” Zelenskyy said on Saturday.
The president, who has repeatedly appeared on social media from the capital, said some small towns no longer existed in the third week of the Russian attacks, the biggest assault on a European country since World War II.
Russian shelling has trapped thousands of people in besieged cities and sent 2.5 million Ukrainians fleeing to neighbouring countries.
Ukraine accused Russian forces on Saturday of killing seven civilians in an attack on women and children trying to flee fighting near Kyiv. France said Russian President Vladimir Putin had shown no readiness to make peace.
The Ukrainian intelligence service said the seven, including one child, were killed as they fled the village of Peremoha and that “the occupiers forced the remnants of the column to turn back”.
Moscow denies targeting civilians since invading Ukraine on February 24. It blames Ukraine for failed attempts to evacuate civilians from encircled cities, an accusation Ukraine and its Western allies strongly reject.