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Express from the Frontline: Missiles shatter Lviv calm, and an opera

The first of the blasts hit around 4.45 pm, minutes after a public opera performance in front of the Lviv National Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre and featuring a singer from Kharkiv—the city that has been at the receiving end of Russian invasion—was cut short by air sirens.

Smoke from the airstrikes in Lviv on Saturday afternoon. (Express Photo by Krishn Kaushik)

A safe haven providing passage for people seeking to enter or leave Ukraine’s Lviv was jolted out of its lull Saturday afternoon with four Russian missiles struck just east of the city, leaving five people wounded.

“With today’s strikes the aggressor wants to say hello to (US) President Biden,” the city’s mayor Andriy Sadovyi said soon after Biden delivered a speech in neighbouring Poland. The missiles had been fired from Sevastopol, which is over 900 km away.

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The first of the blasts hit around 4.45 pm, minutes after a public opera performance in front of the Lviv National Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre and featuring a singer from Kharkiv—the city that has been at the receiving end of Russian invasion—was cut short by air sirens.

 

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The reaction was leisurely, with the city mostly untouched by the violence now treating these sirens as false alarms. But then came the blast. Even as some people moved to the shelters, others rallied around, with shouts of “Glory Ukraine”.

At the Ukraine Media Centre, set up in the top two floors of a three-storey bar by the government, the excitement on Saturday was all about the lifting of an alcohol ban, which was in place in Lviv since the war started on February 24. The muffled bangs in quick succession in the evening caused a surprise. The severity of the attack only struck when a dark plume of smoke rose over buildings to the east, and continued to hang there for hours, visible from all around the city.

There was speculation regarding whether a telecommunication tower or an oil depot had been hit, both located just 2 km from the bar.

With more missile strikes later in the evening, Lviv’s mayor Andriy tweeted: “We are waiting for information from the Military Administration. Please do not share photos/videos. Stay in the shelters.”

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Head of Lviv region’s military administration Maksym Kozytsky confirmed the missile attacks. On his official Telegram channel, he posted: “Information that there was an impact on a residential building or other infrastructure facilities has not been confirmed. According to preliminary data, five people were injured.” He also said that the threat of a missile strike was still on, asking people to stay indoors or in shelters.

Kozytsky later said at a media briefing that two critical infrastructure objects had been hit, including an oil storage facility and a defence facility, “both in residential areas” of the city.

Sadovyi, who too was there at the briefing, said the damage from the strikes was “quite serious” and a kindergarten school near one of the targets also received some impact, shattering its windows. “It is good that no one was killed.”

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“With today’s strikes, the aggressor says hello to President Biden, who is currently in Poland,” Sadovyi said. He mentioned that the military infrastructure from within the city was removed before the war began. “So, it is the buildings damaged by the latest strikes. In fact, the aggressor is aiming at civilians.”

“The whole world must realise that the threat is extremely serious,” he said, adding, “The sooner we get quality weapons and missile defence systems, the safer our citizens will be in our cities and the faster our victory will come.”

But there was no doubt regarding what the blasts signified, being the closest the Russians had come to attacking Lviv. They signalled that Moscow was not averse to hitting high-value targets within the city—notwithstanding its location so close to the Nato borders, and the number of foreign journalists stationed there to cover the war.

At 70 km, Lviv is much further from the Polish border than the International Peacekeeping and Security Center, also called Yavoriv military base, which was attacked by Russian missiles on March 13. But given the importance of the city, the missile hits on Saturday marked the march of the war into western Ukraine.

Russia also seemed to be sending a signal further west, with the attacks coming just before US President Joe Biden delivered a speech in Poland.

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The last strike near Lviv was on March 18, when missiles had hit the airport just outside the city and targeted an aircraft repair plant, with no casualties.

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With war now finally at the doorstep, the people of Lviv though seemed resigned and stoic. Only a few sought out the safety of shelters, the others soon resumed what they were doing, ignoring the first responders rushing towards the spot.

First published on: 27-03-2022 at 04:00:18 am
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