LVIV, Ukraine (AP) – Russian missiles hit the western Ukrainian city of Lviv on Saturday while President Joe Biden was visiting neighboring Poland, a reminder that despite its claims to focus its offensive on the east of the country, Moscow is poised to go anywhere strike in Ukraine.
The successive airstrikes rocked the city, which has become a haven for an estimated 200,000 people forced to flee their hometowns. Lviv had been largely spared since the invasion began, although missiles hit an aircraft repair shop near the main airport a week ago.
Among the many who sought refuge in Lviv was Olana Ukrainets, a 34-year-old IT worker from the northeastern city of Kharkiv.
“When I came to Lviv, I was sure that all these alarms would do nothing,” a Ukrainian told The Associated Press after the explosions from an air-raid shelter. “Sometimes when I heard them at night, I just stayed in bed. Today I changed my mind and I should hide every time. … None of the Ukrainian cities are safe now.”
About 700,000 people lived in the city before the invasion. Anyone who no longer feels safe here moves to nearby Poland. Biden met with refugees there on Saturday to show solidarity despite being in the capital Warsaw and far from Ukraine’s border, which is about 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 getting aid to the rest of the country.
With the first hit, two Russian rockets hit an industrial area on the north-eastern outskirts of Lviv and apparently injured five people, said regional governor Maksym Kozytskyy on Facebook. A thick plume of black smoke billowed from the site for hours.
A second rocket attack happened hours later just outside the city, causing three explosions, Kozytskyy said at a news conference, as another round of air raid sirens wailed. He said an oil facility and a military-linked factory, both in areas where people live, were attacked on Saturday, although he gave no further details.
In the gloomy, overcrowded air-raid shelter under an apartment block not far from the first blast site, the Ukrainian said she couldn’t believe she was going back into hiding after fleeing Kharkiv, one of the most heavily bombed cities of the war.
“We were on one side of the street and we saw it on the other side,” she said. “We saw fire. I said to my friend, ‘What is this?’ Then we heard the sound of an explosion and broken glass. We tried to hide between buildings. I don’t know what the goal was.”
Kozytskyy said a man was arrested at one of the blast sites on Saturday on suspicion of espionage after police found he had recorded a missile flying towards the target and hitting it. Police also found photos of checkpoints in the region on his phone, which Kozytskyy said had been sent to two Russian phone numbers.
The day’s events were enough to get some people in Lviv preparing to move again, said Michael Bociurkiw, a senior Atlantic Council official who was in the city. “I saw how some Kiev cars were packed,” he said. It’s a significant turning point in a week that has seen the city “start to come back to life” after weeks of war, he said.
He believes the city could remain a destination, noting that Lviv was the birthplace of Ukrainian nationalism. “It’s getting closer,” he said of the war.
Some witnesses were shocked.
“It was really close,” said Inga Kapitula, a 24-year-old IT worker who said she was 100 or 200 meters (yards) from the initial attack and felt the blast. “When it happens, your body is stressed and you’re super calm and organized.”
Follow all AP reports on Russia’s war against Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine.
This story has been updated to correct the spelling of the name of Maksym Kozytskyy, Lviv Regional Governor.