By Natalia Zinets and Jarrett Renshaw
LVIV, Ukraine and WARSAW (Reuters) – Rockets struck the western Ukrainian city of Lviv on Saturday, signaling a potential new front in the invasion of Moscow, as U.S. President Joe Biden denounced the Russian President Vladimir Putin’s grip on power and tried to prepare Europe for a long struggle. go ahead.
Heavy fighting broke out in various parts of Ukraine, suggesting there will be no quick end to the month-long war, while Biden framed the fighting as part of the historic fight for democratic freedoms in a major speech from Poland at the conclusion of his trip to Europe. designed to bolster Western resolve.
“For God’s sake, this man cannot stay in power,” Biden said in Warsaw. A White House official later said that Biden was not urging regime change, but was saying that “Putin cannot be allowed to wield power over his neighbors or the region.”
The Kremlin dismissed Biden’s comment, saying “it was not for Biden to decide.”
After more than four weeks of fighting, Russia has failed to seize any major cities in Ukraine and the conflict has killed thousands of people, sent almost 3.8 million abroad and expelled more than half of Ukraine’s children. Ukraine from their homes, according to the United Nations.
Moscow signaled on Friday that it was scaling back its military ambitions to focus on territory claimed by Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy implored the West on Saturday to speed up military aid.
Four rockets hit the outskirts of Lviv on Saturday, about 60 km (40 miles) from the Polish border, just before Biden was to deliver his remarks in Warsaw.
The attack appears to be the first time the western Ukraine city has been targeted after it has so far escaped heavy bombardment that has devastated other cities closer to Russia.
Regional Governor Maksym Kozytskyy said five people were injured and residents were told to head to shelters after an initial attack in mid-afternoon. Reuters witnesses saw black smoke rising from the northeast side of the city and the Lviv mayor said an oil storage facility had been attacked.
Ukrainian authorities later reported that another attack significantly damaged Lviv’s infrastructure, but no deaths have been reported so far.
Russian forces also seized Slavutych, a town where workers from the nearby Chernobyl nuclear plant live, and three people were killed, the Interfax Ukraine news agency quoted the local mayor as saying.
Ukrainian personnel have continued to work at Chernobyl after Russian forces seized the plant, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has expressed alarm at the situation if workers are unable to rotate.
Russian forces also fired on a nuclear research facility in the city of Kharkiv, the Ukrainian parliament said in a Twitter post on Saturday.
In the bordered southern city of Mariupol, Mayor Vadym Boichenko said the situation remains critical, with street clashes in the center. Mariupol has been devastated by weeks of Russian fire.
UKRAINE KEPT WAITING
A visibly irritated Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in his late-night address, again demanded Western nations send military equipment and asked if Moscow was intimidating them, saying: “We have already been waiting 31 days.”
Zelenskiy also expressed disappointment at the lack of transferred planes in a call with his Polish counterpart Andrzej Duda on Saturday, Zelenskiy’s office said. Washington has rejected a surprise offer from Poland to transfer Russian-made MiG-29 fighter jets to a US base in Germany to replenish Ukraine’s air force.
The United States, which has already pledged billions in aid, will provide an additional $100 million for field equipment and other civilian security assistance for Ukraine’s police and border guard, it announced Saturday.
Zelenskiy earlier compared the devastation of Mariupol to the destruction inflicted on the Syrian city of Aleppo by combined Syrian and Russian forces in the Syrian civil war, speaking to Qatar’s Doha Forum via video link.
He also warned of dire consequences if his country, one of the world’s top grain producers, is unable to export its food, and urged energy-producing countries to increase production so that Russia cannot use its oil and gas wealth to “blackmail” other nations.
BIDEN IN POLAND
Biden on Saturday sharpened his tone by calling Putin a “butcher” after meeting with Ukrainian refugees in Poland, a comment that Russia’s TASS news agency quoted the Kremlin as saying would further damage the prospects of repairing Russian-American ties.
Biden also saw Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov in the Polish capital Warsaw for their first face-to-face meeting with senior Ukrainian officials since the start of the war.
Biden’s visit to Poland was his last stop on a trip to Europe that has underscored his opposition to the Russian invasion, his solidarity with Ukraine and his determination to work closely with Western allies to confront the crisis.
“We need to have clear eyes. This battle will not be won in days or months… We need to orient ourselves for a long fight ahead,” Biden said in his speech. He also urged Europe to speed up the shift to cleaner renewable energy and move away from Russian oil and gas.
Zelenskiy pressed Friday night to continue talks with Russia after his defense ministry said the first phase of his operation in Ukraine was nearly complete and would now focus on the Donbass region that borders Russia, where Russian-backed forces have been fighting the pro-government. forces since 2014.
Recasting Russia’s goals may make it easier for Putin to claim a face-saving victory, analysts said.
Moscow has so far said its goals for what it calls its “special military operation” include the demilitarization and “denazification” of its neighbor. Ukraine and its Western allies have called it a baseless pretext for an unprovoked invasion.
“It’s a lie,” Biden said. “Russia has strangled democracy, she has tried to do it in other places, not only in her homeland.”
The United Nations has confirmed 1,104 civilian deaths and 1,754 injuries in Ukraine since the February 24 invasion, but says the true figure is likely to be higher. Ukraine says 136 children have been killed.
The Russian Defense Ministry said 1,351 Russian soldiers were killed and 3,825 wounded, the Interfax news agency reported on Friday. Ukraine says 15,000 Russian soldiers have been killed. Reuters was unable to independently verify the claims.
Images from Mariupol, home to 400,000 people before the war, showed buildings destroyed, vehicles burned and shell-shocked survivors venturing out for supplies. Residents have buried the victims in makeshift graves as the ground thaws.
“It’s scary, I don’t know how we’re going to survive,” said an elderly resident, who declined to be identified by name. “We’re lying there, hoping we don’t get bombed. Look how many bodies we’ve buried around the building.”
To the north, battle lines near the capital kyiv have been frozen for weeks with two main Russian armored columns trapped northwest and east of the city.
The Russian Defense Ministry said its troops seized an entrenched command center in a kyiv suburb and captured more than 60 Ukrainian servicemen. Reuters could not immediately verify this.
The general staff of the Ukrainian armed forces on Facebook said Russia’s losses were such that Moscow was conducting “hidden mobilizations” and pulling battle tanks out of long-term storage.
A British intelligence report said Russian forces were relying on indiscriminate bombing rather than risking large-scale ground operations, a tactic the report said could limit Russian military casualties but harm more civilians in Ukraine. A later report cited a 60% failure rate among such Russian ammunition.
(Reporting by Reuters journalists in Mariupol, Natalia Zinets and Maria Starkova in Lviv, Jarrett Renshaw in Warsaw, Trevor Hunnicutt in Washington, Humeyra Pamuk in Tel Aviv, David Ljunggren in Ottawa, Alessandra Prentice, Michael Holden, and Reuters offices around the world World, Written by Lincoln Feast, Crispian Balmer, John Davison, and Susan Heavey; Edited by William Mallard, Frances Kerry, Timothy Heritage, and Nick Zieminski)