Four Russian rockets have struck Ukraine’s Lviv in one of the fiercest attacks on the western city providing safe haven for hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war in the east of the country.
Governor Maksym Kozytsky said two rockets struck a fuel depot on the city’s eastern outskirts in mid-afternoon on Saturday, wounding five people, and two rockets later hit a military factory.
He added that he had visited the scene of the first attacks and that the situation was “under control”, but called on residents to take shelter.
Journalists in the city reported seeing thick black plumes of smoke following the raids.
Mayor Andriy Sadoviy said the attacks had caused “significant damage” to infrastructure facilities, including blowing out windows at a local school.
But “residential buildings were not damaged”, he wrote on Twitter without sharing details of the location.
⚡️⚡️ As a result of the new missile strikes on Lviv, significant damage was caused to infrastructure facilities. Residential buildings were not damaged.
The fires continue to be extinguished.
The appropriate services are working on the ground.
— Андрій Садовий (@AndriySadovyi) March 26, 2022
The mayor said the attacks were “greetings” from the “Russian aggressor” to US President Joe Biden, who was visiting the Polish capital, Warsaw, to assure Ukraine of Washington’s unwavering support.
There was no immediate comment on the Lviv attacks from the Russian authorities, who refer to the invasion as a “special military operation” aimed at demilitarising Ukraine.
Lviv, some 60km (37 miles) from the Polish border, had so far escaped the bombardment and fighting that devastated some Ukrainian cities closer to Russia.
The city had a prewar population of about 717,000 but has become a refuge for thousands of families fleeing the worst of the fighting in eastern, southern and central Ukraine and a transit hub for people fleeing the country.
Despite more than four weeks of fighting, Russia has so far failed to seize any big Ukrainian city. The conflict has killed thousands of people, sent nearly 3.8 million abroad and driven more than half of Ukraine’s children from their homes, according to the United Nations.
Moscow signalled on Friday it was scaling back its military ambitions to focus on territory claimed by Russian-backed separatists in the east, before striking the outskirts of Lviv.
The Ukrainian president’s Chief of Staff Andriy Yermak said the attacks showed Russia wanted to intimidate Ukraine and the foreign diplomats who have relocated their embassies to Lviv for the perceived relative safety compared with the capital, Kyiv.
“Ukraine should definitely not be intimidated by such crimes of the Russians, and I want to say to my Western partners once again – close the sky, show strength,” he said on Telegram.
This referred to Ukraine’s repeated request for a no-fly zone, which NATO has ruled out due to fears it could lead to direct clashes with Russian forces and a Europe-wide escalation.
In Warsaw, Biden castigated his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, over the war in Ukraine, calling him a “butcher”.
“We need to be clear-eyed. This battle will not be won in days or months,” he said after meeting Ukrainian refugees. “We need to steel ourselves for a long fight ahead.”
He also held his first face-to-face meeting with top Ukrainian officials since the start of the war.
The meeting, held in Warsaw, was Biden’s final stop on a trip to Europe aimed at underscoring his opposition to the Russian invasion, his solidarity with Ukraine and his determination to work closely with Western allies to confront the crisis.
Following the meetings, the US, which has pledged billions in aid, announced an additional $100m for field gear and civilian security assistance for Ukraine’s border guard and police.