(Lviv) The area around Lviv airport in western Ukraine was hit by Russian ‘missiles’ on Friday morning, according to the city’s mayor, as US President Joe Biden prepares to to warn his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping against any temptation to support Moscow.
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin accused Ukraine of “draging” talks on the conflict and said Kyiv had “unrealistic” demands after a phone call with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
“Missiles hit the Lviv airport district,” wrote Andriy Sadovy, the mayor of this large city near the Polish border, hitherto spared from the fighting, on his Facebook account. He assured that the strike did not directly hit the airport facilities but an aircraft repair factory, without causing any casualties.
“It’s a strike on the city of Lviv, a humanitarian platform where there are more than 200,000 displaced people” and it shows “that they are fighting not against soldiers but against the population”, affirmed Maksym Kozytsky, the regional governor of Lviv, reporting a minor injury.
An AFP reporter saw a plume of smoke rising into the air above the area.
“We have heard the alarm. We have been warned but […] we didn’t take shelter because we weren’t afraid of anything,” said Olga, 56. “At night, we pray for all our cities under Putin’s vicious attack. »
A telephone conversation between Joe Biden and Xi Jinping devoted in particular to the war in Ukraine began Friday at 9 a.m., according to the White House.
A conflict “is not in anyone’s interest”, the Chinese president told his American counterpart on Friday, according to remarks reported by Chinese television.
During this telephone interview, Mr. Biden was to call on Mr. Xi to distance himself from Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The tone was set on Thursday by Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
During this telephone exchange, the fourth and undoubtedly the most important between the two leaders, Mr. Biden will promise reprisals if China ever comes to the aid of Russia, in particular by supplying it with armaments.
“President Biden […] will make it clear to him that China will bear responsibility for any act aimed at supporting Russian aggression and that we will not hesitate to impose costs on it,” Blinken said.
Since the beginning of the Russian invasion on February 24, the Chinese communist regime, sharing with Russia a deep hostility towards the United States, has refrained from urging Russian President Vladimir Putin to withdraw his troops from Ukraine.
But China may have already begun to distance itself from Moscow because, according to diplomats at the UN, Russia on Thursday night gave up on holding a Security Council vote the next day on a war-related resolution. in Ukraine, for lack of support from its closest allies.
Fighting in Mariupol
Mr Biden did not mince his words about Mr Putin, calling him a “thug” and a “bloody dictator” after calling him a “war criminal” the day before.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky implored Westerners on Thursday to help “stop this war” as Russian strikes left at least 27 dead in the east of the country.
“A people is being destroyed in Europe,” he said, applauded by the deputies of the German Bundestag to whom he addressed by videoconference.
Fighting continues to rage in the country. In Mariupol, a besieged strategic port in southeastern Ukraine, the Russian army announced Friday that it is now fighting in the city center.
“Units of the People’s Republic [autoproclamée, NDLR] of Donetsk, with the support of the Russian armed forces, tighten their grip of encirclement and fight the nationalists in the center of the city”, indicated the spokesman of the ministry, Igor Konashenkov.
He also assured that the Russian forces and the separatists of Luhansk now control 90% of this territory which is part with Donetsk of the Donbass region and whose independence Moscow has recognized.
Taking Mariupol would be an important turning point in the conflict and would allow Russia to ensure territorial continuity between its forces coming from annexed Crimea and the troops from Donbass.
The Ukrainians also accused the Russian air force on Wednesday of having “knowingly” bombed a theater in Mariupol where hundreds of inhabitants were refugees, which Russia denied. According to Ukrainian human rights envoy Lioudmyla Denisova, 130 people have already been rescued from the rubble, but it remains impossible to establish a balance sheet.
“More than 130 people were able to be saved. But hundreds of residents of Mariupol are still under the rubble,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video while promising to continue relief operations “despite the shelling” which continues in this major port city.
The town hall of Mariupol reported that the situation was “critical” with “uninterrupted” Russian bombardments and “colossal” destruction.
According to initial estimates, around 80% of the city’s housing stock was destroyed.
“They fire so many rockets, there are a lot of bodies of dead civilians in the streets,” Tamara Kavounenko, 58, told AFP.
Bombardments also continue in Kyiv and Kharkiv, the country’s second largest city, where at least 500 people have been killed since the start of the war.
According to the Ukrainian emergency service, Russian gunfire hit “a higher education institution” and “two nearby apartment buildings”, killing one and injuring 11 in Kharkiv on Friday.
The capital has been emptied of at least half of its 3.5 million inhabitants. According to the town hall, 222 people, including 60 civilians, have been killed in Kyiv since the start of the invasion.
In the suburb of Zaporizhia (southeast), Moscow said it had fired two short-range ballistic missiles at Ukrainian positions from which missiles were fired towards Melitopol (south), invested by Russian forces.
No precise global assessment was provided even if President Zelensky mentioned on March 12 the death of “about 1300” Ukrainian soldiers, while Moscow only reported nearly 500 dead in its ranks on March 2.
According to the March 16 tally from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Ukraine consulted by AFP, stressing that its figures are probably much lower than the reality, at least 780 civilians – including 58 children — were killed in Ukraine and more than 1250 injured.
Three weeks after the start of the invasion, Moscow shows no sign of respite in its offensive and accuses Kyiv of “dragging” talks between the belligerents.
“It has been noted that the Kyiv regime is trying by all means to drag out the negotiation process, by putting forward new unrealistic proposals,” the Kremlin said on Friday, summarizing Mr. Putin’s remarks to Olaf Scholz.
The Russian president is also due to speak with his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, around noon on Friday, according to the Kremlin.
Earlier in the day, Mr Putin disappeared from the screens in full speech during a major concert in Moscow celebrating the annexation of Ukrainian Crimea in 2014, the Kremlin explaining the incident as a technical failure.
Vladimir Putin was praising the heroism of the Russian soldiers engaged in Ukraine, in front of tens of thousands of people in a stadium, when suddenly the Russian public television channel Rossiya-24 started showing other moments of the same event. , official speeches and popular songs.
Fifteen minutes later, television resumed broadcasting the Russian president’s speech on a delayed basis.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov then told Russian agencies that the broadcast had been interrupted due to a “technical failure on a server”.
Moscow “does not close the door to the West”
Russia has indicated that it wants to negotiate a neutral and demilitarized status with Kyiv. The Ukrainian authorities, without sweeping away the idea of neutrality and seeming to renounce NATO membership, have called for the designation of countries to guarantee its security and which would defend it militarily in the event of aggression by Moscow. .
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told Russia Today that Moscow “is not closing the door to the West”, while denouncing an “attempt” by Washington to create a “unipolar world”. Mr. Blinken, for his part, estimated on Thursday that Russia had not so far demonstrated “significant effort” to find a way out of the crisis.
“We did not plan to take thousands of prisoners. We do not need […] of thousands of dead Russian soldiers,” President Zelensky hammered home in his final video speech on Thursday evening. “We didn’t want this war. We only want peace”.
More than 3.2 million Ukrainians have taken the road to exile, nearly two-thirds of them to Poland, sometimes only a stage before continuing their exodus.
Ukraine’s humanitarian needs are ‘increasingly urgent’, with more than 200,000 people without water in the Donetsk region alone and ‘serious shortages’ of food, water and medicine in towns such as Mariupol or Sumy, UNHCR spokesman Matthew Saltmarsh said on Friday.