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War in Ukraine | Shelling near Lviv airport

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(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 prepared 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 had not directly affected the airport facilities but an aircraft repair factory which was not in operation, without causing any casualties.

“It’s a strike on the city of Lviv, a humanitarian platform where more than 200,000 displaced people are” and it shows “that they are fighting not against soldiers but against the population”, affirmed during a press briefing Maksym Kozytsky, the regional governor of Lviv, reporting a slight injury.


PHOTO YURIY DYACHYSHYN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A plume of smoke visible in Lviv on March 18

An AFP reporter saw a plume of smoke rising into the air above the area, along with police vehicles and ambulances racing in that direction.

“We have heard the alarm. We have been warned but […] we did not take shelter, because we are not afraid of anything,” said Olga, 56, bringing groceries from a convenience store. “At night, we pray for all our cities under Putin’s vicious attack. »

According to another Lviv resident, Vladyslav Reznik, 26, who was walking his dog, “these are the loudest explosions I have heard since the beginning”.

In this context, Joe Biden and Xi Jinping have planned to discuss the war led by Moscow in Ukraine at 9 a.m. on Friday. And the tone was set on Thursday by Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

“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.

“We see with concern that China is considering giving Russia direct military assistance,” he added.

Since the beginning of the Russian invasion on February 24, the Chinese communist regime, prioritizing its relationship with Moscow and 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

And Mr. Biden didn’t mince his words about Mr. Putin, calling him a “thug” and a “bloodthirsty dictator” after calling him a “war criminal” the day before.

The perpetrators of war crimes in Ukraine will be “accountable” to international justice, for their part warned the G7 foreign ministers in a joint statement.


PHOTO RODRIGO ABD, ASSOCIATED PRESS

A man removes debris from a Kyiv school hit by Russian strikes on March 18.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky implored Westerners on Thursday to help “stop this war” as a Russian strike killed at least 27 people in the east of the country.

“A people is being destroyed in Europe,” he said, given a standing ovation by the deputies of the German Bundestag to whom he addressed Thursday by videoconference.

Fighting continues to rage elsewhere in the country. In Mariupol, a besieged strategic Ukrainian port in the southeast of the country, the Russian army and its separatist allies are now fighting in the city center, the Russian Defense Ministry announced on Friday.

“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. No report has been communicated at this stage but according to the Ukrainian emissary for human rights Lyoudmyla Denissova, the shelter resisted the bombardment: “We think that everyone survived”.


PHOTO PROVIDED BY AZOV VIA REUTERS

The theater of Mariupol where hundreds of inhabitants had taken refuge.

no respite

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.


PHOTO FELIPE DANA, ASSOCIATED PRESS

View of a Kyiv street on March 18

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 came back to life after the lifting on Thursday of a curfew imposed since Tuesday evening. It has been emptied of at least half of its 3.5 million inhabitants.


PHOTO FELIPE DANA, ASSOCIATED PRESS

A man stands outside the entrance to the residential building in Kyiv where he lives on March 18.

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.

“Drag”

No overall 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.

One hundred and eight children have been killed and 120 injured in the country since the Russian invasion, the Ukrainian General Prosecutor’s Office said on Thursday.

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.

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. .

Kyiv also demands the withdrawal of all Russian forces and respect for its territorial integrity.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told Russia Today that Moscow “is not closing the door to the West”. But his American counterpart Anthony Blinken estimated Thursday that Russia had not so far demonstrated “significant effort” to try 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 three million Ukrainians have taken the road to exile, nearly two-thirds of them to Poland, sometimes only a stopover before continuing their exodus.

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