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Dozens killed as Russian forces strike targets in western Ukraine

March 13th, 2022

    (CNN) — Russia expanded its offensive to western Ukraine on Sunday, firing missiles near the city of Lviv and hitting a large military base close to the Polish border, reportedly killing dozens of people as the war draws closer to NATO’s front line.

The attack came the day after the Kremlin threatened to attack Western weapons shipments to Ukraine.

As the invasion runs into its third week, the northwest city of Lviv has largely been spared from Russia’s relentless bombardment. The picturesque city has instead become ground zero for displaced Ukrainians. Hundreds of thousands of them have flooded into the city in search of relative safety, with many using it as a stopping point before making their way to the Polish border about 43 miles (70 kilometers) away.

But as Russia’s war moved closer to the cultural hub on Sunday, a CNN team on the ground heard multiple explosions shortly before 6 a.m. local time (12 a.m. ET) near the city.

A patient is assisted by medical staff as he arrives at Novoiavorivsk District Hospital on March 13 2022, in Novoiavorivsk, Ukraine.

Russia fired more than 30 missiles at Yavoriv military training ground, according to Lviv’s military administration. Located between Lviv and the Polish border, the military base houses the International Peacekeeping and Security Center (IPSC) and has held joint drills with NATO and Western military personnel, including the United States.

A witness, who was on the base when the strike happened, told CNN of hearing a “sudden clap” from a bomb shelter. “Our positions were being bombed. We got on the floor. I heard what sounded like rocket launches, and I heard the sound of explosions on the ground. I heard three strikes,” they said, adding that the explosion craters were 10 meters deep and there are fears people are under the rubble.

Local authorities say 35 people were killed and 134 injured at the military base, in what Ukraine’s Minister of Defence Oleksii Reznikov described as a “terrorist attack” on peace and security “near the EU-NATO border.”

While they were still clarifying information, there were no reports of foreign nationals among the casualties so far, Ukraine Defense Ministry spokesperson Markiyan Lubkivsky said. The strike came the day after Russia bombarded an airport in the northeastern city of Lutsk, only 70 miles from the Polish border.

United States National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told CNN that the strikes on Lviv were a sign that the war was not going to plan. Russian President Vladimir Putin “is frustrated by the fact that his forces are not making the kind of progress that he thought that they would make against major cities, including Kyiv, that he is expanding the number of targets, that he is lashing out, and that he is trying to cause damage in every part of the country,” Sullivan said.

American journalist reported killed

Heavy fighting continued Sunday, with Britain’s Ministry of Defense saying Russia was attempting to “envelop” Ukrainian forces in the east of the country as it advanced from Crimea westwards towards Odessa.

As Russian troops inch towards the capital Kyiv, Ramzan Kadyrov, the pro-Kremlin leader of Russia’s Chechnya region, was reported to be in Ukraine. He told Russian soldiers outside of Kyiv that the key task is to seize the capital, Russian state news agency Russia 24 reported on Sunday.

Amid a growing civilian toll in Ukraine, American journalist Brent Renaud, 50, was killed by Russian forces in Irpin, on the outskirts of Kyiv, according to social media posts by Kyiv region police. Another US journalist was wounded by Russian troops, the police added.

An adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister, Anton Gerashchenko, said in a statement that Renaud “paid with his life for attempting to expose the insidiousness, cruelty and ruthlessness of the aggressor,” according to a New York Times report. It added he was not on assignment for that company and “early reports that he worked for Times circulated because he was wearing a Times press badge that had been issued for an assignment many years ago.”

CNN has been unable to confirm which media outlet the American journalists were working for in Ukraine.

Ukrainians continue to protest Russian occupation. The southern city of Kherson, which is occupied by Russian forces, saw the biggest protest since the invasion on Sunday. Hundreds of demonstrators flocked to the streets to protest against suspected Russian plans to turn the southern Ukrainian oblast into a breakaway republic.

Waving Ukrainian flags, the protesters chanted anti-Russian slogans, filled with expletives about Putin, according to videographer Artem Ivanov, who is on the ground in Kherson.

In recent days, at least one Kherson regional council official warned that occupation forces were laying the groundwork for the “Kherson People’s Republic.” If true, the move would mirror Moscow’s establishment of two breakaway states in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region. Ukraine considers those breakaway regions — the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic — to be Russian occupied.

Putin recognized the independence of those two territories in the days leading up to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine as part of his pretext to launch an assault on the country.

Russia’s air offensive on Sunday also bore down on heavily populated areas around the country. Nine people were killed in a Russian bombardment in Mykolaiv Sunday, local officials said. The strategic southern city has resisted Russian occupation and impeded an apparent push towards the major port of Odessa to the west. Reports from the area say there was heavy shelling north of the city around Bashtanka.

Missiles also destroyed an airport in the western Ukrainian city of Ivano-Frankivsk, according to local authorities. The northern city of Chernihiv was struck for the third night in a row, hitting a high-rise building, the regional head, Vyacheslav Chaus, said.

“One person died, two were rescued,” he said on his Telegram channel, adding that 10 fires were recorded in the city in the past 24 hours, and three people had died.

South of Chernihiv on the main route to the capital Kyiv, a mother and her son were reported killed in shelling near Brovary.

In the eastern region of Luhansk, much of which is now occupied by Russian forces, the head of the regional administration, Serhiy Haidai, said there had been “massive shelling” of several towns, including Kreminna and Rubizhne, which had prevented buses from leaving with civilians.

In eastern Ukraine, an airstrike late on Saturday damaged the historic Holy Dormition Sviatogirsk Lavra, an Orthodox monastery in the Donetsk Oblast region, Ukraine’s Parliament said on its official Telegram account. There are 520 refugees living in the monastery, including 200 children, and about 10,000 refugees and locals in the town of Sviatogirsk, the statement said.

‘They have to keep doing more’

As the devastation mounts, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the key task Sunday is to get the humanitarian convoy that is traveling towards the besieged city of Mariupol to its destination.

Mariupol has been under siege for more than a week. Much of the city is without power and water.

Zelensky has grown more vocal in his calls for increased aid and protection from NATO, even as the bloc remains firm that it will not send ground troops or establish a no-fly zone over the country.

“I keep reiterating to our allies and friends abroad; they have to keep doing more for our country, for Ukrainians and Ukraine. Because it is not only for Ukraine, but it is for all of Europe,” he said Saturday.

On Sunday, Zelensky’s adviser Mykhailo Podoliak said that he thinks they will “achieve concrete results” from talks with Russia in the next few days.

“Our proposals are on the table. They are very tough. Among them, the withdrawal of troops, the ceasefire,” Podoliak said in a video posted on Twitter.

This comes after Leonid Slutsky, a Russian delegation member for talks with Ukraine, said “significant progress” has been made in negotiations with the Ukrainian delegation since the beginning of talks, Russian state news agency RIA reports.

“If we compare the positions of the Russia and Ukraine in the negotiations at the very beginning and now, we can see significant progress,” Slutsky said.

Talks between Ukraine’s and Russia’s diplomats last week yielded no discernible progress. Supposedly safe routes out of the country have repeatedly been contested. The civilian death toll continues to rise, and by the end of the week, both sides were trading accusations over the use of chemical weapons.

While Putin said Friday there had been “certain positive advances” in negotiations with Ukraine, US and European officials and diplomats who spoke to CNN all expressed deep skepticism about the state of talks. None felt Putin’s actions to date have suggested the Russian leader is ready to find a diplomatic off-ramp to end the war.

Russia’s assault has spurred calls for the West to step up efforts to assist in Ukraine’s defense. The US and other NATO allies have so far supported Ukraine’s resistance through the delivery of high-tech military equipment and weapons, including anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles — but declined to send troops or enforce a no-fly zone.

US Sen. Rob Portman, co-chair of the Ukraine caucus, said Sunday that getting fighter planes to Ukraine, including MiG-29s, is essential as Russia intensifies its attacks. The Pentagon has said the US was opposed to such a move. NATO members have also expressed concerns that providing fighter jets to Ukraine — even if done bilaterally — could be perceived by Russia as the alliance becoming directly involved in the war.

But in comments Saturday, Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov raised the risk of further escalation with NATO powers, warning Russia will treat arms shipments to Ukraine as “legitimate targets” for military action, according to Russia’s state-owned RIA Novosti news agency.

The Russian warning raises the risk of direct confrontation between Moscow and a NATO country — something Western leaders have been striving to avoid since the start of the fighting, with Biden stressing on Friday that the US will not “fight world war three” in Ukraine.

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