Russia said Sunday that an airstrike it carried out in Ukraine, near the Polish border, killed foreign citizens who had joined Kyiv’s army in its fight against Russia.
“As a result of the strike, up to 180 foreign mercenaries and a large cache of foreign weapons were destroyed,” said Russian defense ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov, in a statement that was wildly at odds with Ukrainian and other accounts of the incident.
Konashenkov claimed the missiles destroyed a training center for foreign fighters, as well as a storage facility for weapons and military equipment delivered to Ukraine.
The strikes were the work of “long-range high-precision weapons,” added Konashenkov, saying that “the elimination of foreign mercenaries arriving in Ukraine will continue.”
According to Ukrainian officials, 35 people were killed in the attack, when waves of Russian missiles pounded a military training base in the west of the country. The facility has served as a crucial hub for cooperation between Ukraine and the NATO countries supporting it in its defense against Moscow’s grinding assault.
More than 30 Russian cruise missiles targeted the sprawling facility, which lies not far from the border with NATO member Poland, and has long been used to train Ukrainian military personnel, often with instructors from the US and other countries in the western alliance.
Poland is also a transit route for Western military aid to Ukraine, and the strikes followed Moscow’s threats to target those shipments. An attack so close to the border was heavy with symbolism in a conflict that has revived the old Cold War rivalries that gave birth to NATO and threatened to rewrite the current global security order.
The attacked training base near Yavoriv is less than 25 kilometers (15 miles) from the closest border point with Poland, according to the governor of Ukraine’s western Lviv region, and appears to be the westernmost target struck during Russia’s 18-day invasion.
The base has 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 symbolizes Russia’s longstanding concerns that the 30-member Western military alliance poses a threat to Moscow by operating so close to its territory.
One of Moscow’s demands for ending the hostilities in Ukraine is for the country to drop its ambitions to join NATO.
Lviv governor Maksym Kozytskyi said most of the Russian missiles fired Sunday “were shot down because the air defense system worked.” The ones that got through killed at least 35 people and wounded 134, he said.
The city of Lviv itself so far has been spared the scale of destruction unfolding to its east and south. Its population of 721,000 has swelled during the war with residents escaping other bombarded population centers and as a waystation for the nearly 2.6 million people who have fled the country.
Ukrainian and European leaders have pushed with limited success for Russia to grant safe passage to civilians trapped by fighting. Ukrainian authorities said more than 10 humanitarian corridors would open Sunday, with agreement from Russia, including from the battered and besieged port city of Mariupol, where the city council said 2,187 people have been killed in fighting so far.
The port city has been the site of some of the worst desperation of the war, and the council said on Telegram that there were 22 bombardments of the city over the past day.
“The invaders are cynically and purposefully hitting residential buildings, crowded places, completely destroying children’s hospitals and completely destroying the city’s infrastructure,” the statement said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video address that a convoy carrying 100 tons of humanitarian aid was on its way to Mariupol, and all necessary diplomatic efforts have been taken to make sure it reaches those in need.
Capturing Mariupol and other ports on the Azov Sea could allow Russia to establish a land corridor to Crimea, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014.
Previous efforts to get supplies into besieged cities or civilians out have often fallen apart, with Ukrainian officials accusing Russia of failing to honor pledges to withhold fire along temporary evacuation routes. Zelensky said Ukrainian authorities still have managed to evacuate nearly 125,000 people from areas where hostilities are ongoing.
But continued fighting on multiple fronts heaped further misery on the country Sunday and provoked renewed international outrage.
In the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv, near the Black Sea, authorities reported nine people killed in bombings. Russian forces advancing from Crimea attempted to circumvent Mykolaiv on what appeared to be a westward push toward the Black Sea port of Odesa, Britain’s Defense Ministry said.
Ukrainian authorities said Russian airstrikes on a monastery and a children’s resort in the eastern Donetsk region hit spots where monks and refugees were sheltering, wounding 32 people.
Another airstrike hit a westward-bound train evacuating people from the east, killing one person and wounding another, Donetsk’s chief regional administrator said.
To the north, in the city of Chernihiv, one person was killed and another wounded in a Russian airstrike that destroyed a residential block, emergency services said.
Around the capital, Kyiv, a major political and strategic target for the invasion, fighting also intensified, with overnight shelling in the northwestern suburbs and a missile strike Sunday that destroyed a warehouse to the east.
Chief regional administrator Oleksiy Kuleba said Russian forces appeared to be trying to blockade and paralyze the capital with day and night shelling of the suburbs.
He vowed that any all-out assault would meet stiff resistance, saying: “We’re getting ready to defend Kyiv, and we’re prepared to fight for ourselves.”
Zelensky alleged that Russians were using blackmail and bribery in an attempt to force local officials in the southern Kherson region to form a “pseudo-republic” like those in the two eastern regions where Russian-backed separatists began fighting Ukrainian forces in 2014.
The war has repeatedly raised the specter of nuclear accidents, as fighting occurred around nuclear power plants. On Sunday, Ukraine said it restored a broken power line to the decommissioned Chernobyl plant, scene of the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986. The plant was knocked off the grid last week and relying on generators. That raised concerns about its ability to keep spent fuel cool, though the International Atomic Energy Agency played down those worries.