LVIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian rockets struck the western Ukrainian city of Lviv on Saturday as President Joe Biden visited neighboring Poland, a reminder that Moscow is ready to strike anywhere in Ukraine despite its claim to focus its offensive on the east of the country.
Consecutive airstrikes rocked the city which has become a refuge for around 200,000 people who had to flee their hometown. Lviv had been largely spared since the start of the invasion, although missiles hit an aircraft repair plant near main airport a week ago.
Among the many who have sought refuge in Lviv is Olana Ukrainets, a 34-year-old computer scientist from the northeastern city of Kharkiv.
“When I arrived in Lviv, I was sure that all these alarms would have no results,” the Ukrainians told The Associated Press from a bomb shelter after the explosions. “Sometimes when I heard them at night, I just stayed in bed. Today I changed my mind and I would have to hide every time. … None of the Ukrainian cities are safe now.
The city was home to around 700,000 people before the invasion. Some who no longer feel safe here will head to neighboring Poland. Biden met with refugees there on Saturday in a show of solidarity, despite being in the capital, Warsaw, and far from the Ukrainian border, which is only about 45 miles (72 kilometers) west of Lviv.
Lviv has also become a humanitarian base for Ukraine, and the attacks could further complicate the already difficult process of sending aid to the rest of the country.
The first strike involved two Russian rockets that hit an industrial area on the northeastern outskirts of Lviv and apparently injured five people, regional governor Maxym Kozytsky said on Facebook. A thick plume of black smoke billowed from the site for hours.
A second rocket attack occurred just outside the city hours later and caused three explosions, Kozytsky told a press briefing as another round of air raid sirens sounded. . He said a military-linked oil facility and factory, both located in populated areas, were struck on Saturday, although he did not give further details.
In the dark and crowded bomb shelter under a building a few steps from the first explosion site, Ukrainians said they could not believe they had to hide again after fleeing Kharkiv, the one of the most bombed cities of the war.
“We were on one side of the street and we saw it from the other side,” she said. “We saw the fire. I said to my friend, ‘What is this?’ Then we heard the sound of an explosion and glass breaking. We tried to hide between the buildings. I don’t know what the target was.
The day’s events were enough to prompt some people in Lviv to prepare to move again, said Michael Bociurkiw, senior researcher at the Atlantic Council who is in the city. “I saw cars from Kyiv being packed away,” he said. It was a significant turning point in a week when the city had begun to “come alive” after weeks of war, he said.
He thinks the city could remain a target, noting that Lviv was the birthplace of Ukrainian nationalism. “It’s getting closer,” he said of the war.
Some witnesses were in shock.
“It was very close,” said Inga Kapitula, a 24-year-old computer scientist who said she was 100 or 200 meters (yards) from the first attack and felt the shock wave. “When that happens, your body is stressed and you’re super calm and organized.”
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