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Russia strikes western Ukraine as Zelensky warns of desolation

A WOMAN stands in front of a local hospital, which was destroyed during the Ukraine-Russia conflict in the separatist-controlled town of Volnovakha in Ukraine’s Donetsk region on March 12. —REUTERS

LVIV, Ukraine — Russian forces fired eight missiles at a Ukrainian military installation near the Polish border on Sunday, officials said, in what appeared to be the war’s most westerly attack, and sirens of air raid again woke up the residents of the capital Kiev.

“The occupiers launched an airstrike on the International Center for the Maintenance of Peace and Security” in Yavoriv, ​​the Lviv regional military administration said in a statement. “According to preliminary data, they fired eight missiles.”

The administration did not say whether the training center had been hit or give further details.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has warned Russian forces they will face a fight to the death if they attempt to occupy the capital Kyiv, as air raid sirens woke residents again on Sunday morning.

“If they decide to carpet-bomb and simply erase the history of this region…and destroy us all, then they will enter Kiev. If that is their goal, let them in, but they will have to live on this land alone,” Zelensky said on Saturday.

The president, who has repeatedly appeared on social media from the capital, says some small towns no longer exist in the third week of Russian attacks, the biggest attack on a European country since World War II world.

Russian bombardments have trapped thousands of people in besieged cities and sent 2.5 million Ukrainians to flee to neighboring countries.

Ukraine on Saturday accused Russian forces of killing seven civilians in an attack on women and children trying to flee fighting near Kiev. France said Russian President Vladimir Putin had shown no willingness to make peace.

Ukraine’s intelligence service said the seven people, including a child, were killed as they fled the village of Peremoha and “the occupiers forced the remnants of the column to turn back”.

Reuters was unable to immediately verify the report and Russia had no immediate comment.

Moscow denies targeting civilians since its February 24 invasion of Ukraine. He accuses Ukraine of unsuccessfully trying to evacuate civilians from surrounded towns, a charge Ukraine and its Western allies strongly deny.

Mr Zelensky said Moscow was sending new troops after Ukrainian forces knocked out 31 of the Russian battalion’s battle groups in what he called the biggest Russian military casualties in decades. Reuters could not verify his statements.

“We still have to hold on. We still have to fight,” Mr. Zelensky said in a video address Saturday night, his second of the day. Claiming that around 1,300 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed, he urged the West to get more involved in the peace negotiations.

The United States said it would deploy up to $200 million in additional small arms, anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons to Ukraine, where officials pleaded for increased military aid.

The Kremlin describes its actions as a “special operation” to disarm Ukraine and overthrow leaders it calls neo-Nazis. Ukraine and its Western allies call it a baseless pretext for a war of choice that has raised fears of a wider conflict in Europe.

Mr. Zelensky discussed the war with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron, who urged Mr. Putin to order an immediate ceasefire.

A statement from the Kremlin during their 75-minute call made no mention of a ceasefire. An official from the French presidency said: “We have not detected any will on the part of Putin to end the war”.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov accused the United States of escalating tensions and said the situation had been complicated by Western arms convoys to Ukraine that Russian forces viewed as “legitimate targets”.

In remarks reported by the Tass news agency, Mr. Ryabkov made no specific threat. Any attack on such convoys before they reach Ukraine would risk escalating the war.

Crisis talks between Moscow and Kyiv are continuing via video link, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, according to Russian news agency RIA. He gave no details, but Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Kiev would not surrender or accept any ultimatums.

Russian rocket fire destroyed a Ukrainian airbase and hit an ammunition depot near Vasylkiv in the Kyiv region, Interfax Ukraine quoted its mayor as saying.

The exhausted-looking governor of Chernihiv, about 150 km (100 miles) northeast of Kiev, gave a video update in front of the ruins of the city’s Hotel Ukraine.

“There is no such hotel anymore,” Viacheslav Chaus said, wiping tears from his eyes. “But Ukraine itself still exists, and it will prevail.”

The British Ministry of Defense said Russian ground forces were massed 25 km (15 miles) from the center of Kiev, while Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Sumy and the key Black Sea port of Mariupol remained surrounded by heavy Russian bombings.

The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said that Russia had slowed down its offensive and in many places its forces had been stopped. The Army’s Facebook post did not give details.

Ukrainian officials had planned to use humanitarian corridors from Mariupol in the south as well as towns and villages in Kyiv, Sumy and other regions on Saturday.

About 13,000 people were evacuated from Ukrainian cities on Saturday, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.

The governor of the Donetsk region said the constant shelling made it difficult to get aid to Mariupol. Fires were burning in the western part of the city and dozens of apartment buildings were heavily damaged, according to images taken on Saturday by the private American satellite company Maxar.

At least 1,582 civilians in Mariupol have been killed as a result of Russian shelling and a 12-day blockade, the city council said on Friday. Reuters could not verify the casualty figures.

“There are reports of looting and violent clashes between civilians over the few basic supplies that remain in the city,” the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.

People were boiling underground water to drink, using wood for cooking and burying their dead near where they lay, a Médecins Sans Frontières staff member in Mariupol said. — Reuters