At least 35 killed in Russian strike on Ukraine military base near Polish border

Ukraine says 134 hurt in attack on International Peacekeeping and Security Centre in Yavoriv, a site regularly visited by US, NATO instructors; Kyiv preps for ‘relentless defense’

Screen capture from video allegedly showing the Yavoriv military range in Ukraine, near the border with Poland, that was hit in a Russian missile strike, March 13, 2022. (Twitter)
Screen capture from video allegedly showing the Yavoriv military range in Ukraine, near the border with Poland, that was hit in a Russian missile strike, March 13, 2022. (Twitter)

A Russian airstrike on a military training base in western Ukraine close to the Polish border killed at least 35 people and wounded 134, a local official said Sunday.

Foreign military advisers are often present at the site, although it was unclear if any had been there at the time of the attack or among the casualties.

The governor of the Lviv region, Maksym Kozytskyi, said Russian forces fired more than 30 cruise missiles at the Yavoriv military range, located 30 kilometers (19 miles) northwest of the city of Lviv and 35 kilometers (22 miles) from Ukraine’s border with Poland.

The United States and NATO have regularly sent instructors to the range, also known as the International Peacekeeping and Security Center, to train Ukrainian military personnel. The facility has also hosted international NATO drills.

Foreign troops officially left Ukraine shortly before Russian launched an invasion of its neighbor on February 24.

Ukraine’s Air Force Command West said on Facebook two cruise missiles coming from the southeast, “probably from the waters of the Sea of Azov or the Black Sea,” were destroyed by air defense systems.

Russian fighters also fired at the airport in Ivano-Frankivsk, a city in western Ukraine 250 kilometers (155.34 miles) from Ukraine’s border with Slovakia and Hungary. Mayor Ruslan Martsinkiv said Russia’s goal was “to sow panic and fear.”

The missile strikes came hours after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia of trying to break his country apart, as well as starting “a new stage of terror” with the alleged detention of a mayor from a city west of Mariupol.

“Ukraine will stand this test. We need time and strength to break the war machine that has come to our land,” Zelensky said during his nightly address to the nation Saturday.

Ukrainian soldiers train for the use of US M141 Bunker Defeat Munition (SMAW-D) missiles at the Yavoriv military training ground, close to Lviv, western Ukraine, Feb. 4, 2022. (Pavlo Palamarchuk/AP)

Kyiv braces for defense

On Saturday, Russia bombarded cities across Ukraine, pounding Mariupol in the south, shelling the outskirts of the capital, Kyiv, and thwarting the efforts of people trying to flee the violence.

The Russians have advanced far enough to raise fears of Kyiv becoming encircled imminently.

In Kyiv, only the roads to the south remain open and the city is preparing to mount a “relentless defense,” according to the Ukrainian presidency.

A smoke from shelling rises as a wreath of flowers is placed at a cemetery in Vasylkiv south west of Kyiv, Ukraine, March 12, 2022. (Vadim Ghirda/AP)

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said the capital, described by a senior Ukrainian official Friday as a “city under siege,” was reinforcing defenses and stockpiling food and medicine.

Klitschko said Thursday that about 2 million people, half the metropolitan area’s inhabitants, had left and that “every street, every house… is being fortified.”

Ukraine’s military and volunteer forces have been preparing for an all-out assault on the capital.

Zelensky said Saturday that Russia would need to carpet-bomb Kyiv and kill its residents to take the city.

“They will come here only if they kill us all,” he said. “If that is their goal, let them come.”

Britain’s ministry of defense estimated that Russian forces were about 25 kilometers from Kyiv on Saturday and that a column north of the city had dispersed, reinforcing the indication of an attempt to encircle it.

However, the Russians are encountering resistance from the Ukrainian army to both the east and west of the capital.

In Mariupol, which has endured some of the worst punishment since Russia invaded, efforts to bring food, water and medicine into the port city of 430,000 and to evacuate civilians were prevented by unceasing attacks. More than 1,500 people have died in Mariupol during the siege, according to the mayor’s office, and the shelling has even interrupted efforts to bury the dead in mass graves.

A fire burns at an apartment building after it was hit by the shelling of a residential district in Mariupol, Ukraine, March 11, 2022. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)

The strategic port is facing what Ukraine says is a “humanitarian catastrophe.” Attempts to evacuate hundreds of thousands of people have repeatedly failed.

A convoy of humanitarian aid headed for the southern port city was blocked at a Russian checkpoint, but hoped to arrive on Sunday, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.

“Mariupol is still surrounded. That which they cannot have by war, (the Russians) want to have by hunger and despair. Since they cannot bring down the Ukrainian army, they target the population,” a French military source said.

Russian soldiers pillaged a humanitarian convoy that was trying to reach Mariupol and blocked another, a Ukrainian official said.

A Ukrainian serviceman guards his position in Mariupol, Ukraine, March 12, 2022. (Evgeniy Maloletka/AP)

Talks fail

Talks aimed at reaching a ceasefire again failed Saturday, but Zelensky encouraged his people to keep up their resistance.

“We do not have the right to let up our defense, no matter how difficult it may be,” he said.

A tram damaged by shelling sits at a tram depot, in Kharkiv, Ukraine, March 12, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrew Marienko)

Later Saturday, Zelensky reported that about 1,300 Ukrainian soldiers had died since the Russian invasion began February 24. He claimed Russia had lost about 12,000 troops while Moscow, for its part, has only given a toll of 498 dead, released on March 2.

At least 579 civilians have been killed, according to a tally Saturday by the United Nations, which stressed that its figures were probably much lower than reality.

The office of Ukraine’s Prosecutor General said Sunday a total of 85 children have been killed since the start of the Russian offensive in Ukraine.

The UN estimates that almost 2.6 million people have fled Ukraine since the invasion, most of them to Poland, in Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II.

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