Ukraine: Russian soldiers launched missile attacks on the western city of Lviv on Monday, as well as other locations across the nation, in what appeared to be an escalated effort to wear down the country’s defenses ahead of an all-out assault on the east.

At least seven people were reported killed in Lviv, where plumes of dense black smoke rose over a city that has witnessed only occasional strikes over the war’s nearly two months and has become a shelter for significant numbers of residents escaping fierce combat elsewhere.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal vowed to “fight fully to the finish” in Mariupol, where the last known pocket of resistance in the seven-week siege was a huge steel complex containing Ukrainian fighters. On Sunday, the Russians issued a surrender-or-die ultimatum to the holdouts.

The Russian missile strikes, according to Maksym Kozytskyy, struck three military infrastructure locations and an auto mechanic shop in the Lviv region. He said a toddler was among the injured, and that emergency crews were battling fires created by the incident.

Lviv is the largest city in western Ukraine and a key transportation hub. Poland, a NATO member, is around 80 kilometers (50 miles) away. The city has served as a significant transit point for NATO weapons and supplies, as well as international fighters supporting the Ukrainian cause.

Russia has expressed strong opposition to the increased flow of Western weapons to Ukraine, and its Foreign Ministry filed a formal protest note to the US and its partners last week. Some anchors on Russian state television have claimed that the supplies amount to direct Western involvement in Russia’s battle.

Lviv is also regarded as a relatively safe haven for elderly, mothers, and children fleeing the conflict. However, according to Mayor Andriy Sadovyi, a hotel that housed Ukrainians fleeing war in other parts of the Ukraine was among the heavily damaged structures.

“The nightmare of war has caught up with us even in Lviv,” Lyudmila Turchak, who fled Kharkiv with her two children, said. “In Ukraine, there is no longer any place where we may feel safe.”

According to residents, a massive explosion also shook Vasylkiv, a town south of Kyiv that is home to a military air base. It wasn’t evident what was hit right away.

Russian raids on weapons factories, railways, and other infrastructure targets across Ukraine are rising, according to military analysts, in order to weaken Ukraine’s ability to withstand a major ground offensive in the Donbas, Ukraine’s primarily Russian-speaking eastern industrial heartland.

In the preceding day, Russian missiles targeted more than 20 military targets in eastern and central Ukraine, including ammo stores, command centers, and groups of troops and vehicles, according to the Russian military. It claimed that artillery shells hit 315 Ukrainian targets, and that jets attacked Ukrainian troops and military equipment 108 times. The assertions could not be verified independently.

According to Sky News, the strikes were part of a “softening-up” campaign by Russia ahead of a planned ground offensive in the Donbas. Gen. Richard Dannatt, a former head of the British Army, said the strikes were part of a “softening-up” campaign by Russia ahead of a planned ground offensive in the Donbas.

On Monday, the Ukrainian authorities halted civilian evacuations for a second day, citing Russian shelling and obstruction of humanitarian channels.

Ukraine has been negotiating passage from cities and towns in eastern and southeastern Ukraine, including Mariupol and other Donbas locations, according to Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk. Russian military shot and killed four civilians attempting to leave, according to the authorities of the Luhansk province in the Donbas.

According to Vereshchuk, Russia might face war crimes charges for refusing to let residents to leave Mariupol.
She commented on social media, “Your unwillingness to open these humanitarian corridors will in the future be a grounds to indict everybody responsible for war crimes.”

The Russians, for their part, blamed the evacuation on “neo-Nazi nationalists” in Mariupol.
After failing to conquer the capital, Russia is set on capturing the Donbas, where Moscow-backed separatists already hold some territory.

In his nightly address to the country on Sunday, President Volodymyr Zelensky declared, “We are doing everything to secure the defense” of eastern Ukraine.

If successful, the coming onslaught in the east would provide Russian President Vladimir Putin with a much-needed win amid the war’s mounting losses and the economic suffering brought on by Western sanctions.

The liberation of Mariupol is regarded as a critical stage in the preparations for any eastern offensive, since it would free up Russian soldiers for the upcoming operation. The collapse of the city on the Sea of Azov would be Russia’s biggest triumph of the war, giving it complete control of a land corridor leading to the Crimean Peninsula, which it seized in 2014, and depriving Ukraine of a vital port and important industrial assets.
Mariupol, according to Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar, is a “shield shielding Ukraine.”

The siege has reduced the city to ruins, but Russia estimates that a few thousand fighters are holding on to the massive Azovstal steel factory, which covers 11 square kilometers (4 square miles).

According to Ukrainian estimates, the unrelenting bombardment of Mariupol, which included attacks on a maternity hospital and a theater where civilians were sheltering, has killed at least 21,000 people. Out of a prewar population of 450,000, an estimated 100,000 people are still imprisoned in the city, without food, water, heat, or power.

In a video, a pro-Russian Ukrainian politician who was imprisoned for treason last week offered himself in exchange for the evacuation of Mariupol’s trapped defenders and residents. The footage of Viktor Medvedchuk, the former leader of a pro-Russian opposition party with personal ties to Putin, was broadcast by Ukraine’s state security services.

It was unclear whether Medvedchuk was under pressure when he spoke.

According to Associated Press journalists on the scene, shelling slammed Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, killing at least three people. One of the victims was a woman who appeared to be heading out in the rain to get water. She was discovered resting on the side of the road with a water canister and an umbrella.

Putin reiterated his claim that the “blitz” of Western sanctions against Russia had failed.

He said the West had failed to “provoke panic in the markets, the collapse of the banking system, and retail shortages,” despite acknowledging a 17.5 percent increase in consumer prices in Russia.

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