LVIV, Ukraine (AP) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy furiously warned Moscow that it is sowing deep hatred of Russia among its people as constant artillery barrages and airstrikes are burning cities, killing civilians and forcing others into shelters and abandoning them scrounge for food and water to survive.
“You are doing everything so that our people themselves leave the Russian language, because the Russian language is now associated only with you, with your explosions and murders, your crimes,” Zelenskyy said in an impassioned video address late Saturday.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has fallen into a war of attrition in many places, with the toll on civilians mounting as Moscow seeks to force cities into submission from entrenched positions.
Russian missiles have hit the western Ukrainian city of Lviv on Saturday while President Joe Biden was visiting neighboring Polandreminding that Moscow stands ready to strike anywhere in Ukraine, despite claiming to focus its offensive on the east of the country.
A chemical smell still hung in the air early Sunday as firefighters in Lviv sprayed water on a burned portion of an oil facility hit in the Russian attack.
A security guard at the site, Prokopiv Yaroslav, said he saw three rockets land, destroying two oil tanks, but no one was hurt.
“The third punch threw me to the ground,” he said.
Russia’s successive airstrikes have rocked the city, which has become a haven for an estimated 200,000 people who have been 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.
Inside the gloomy, overcrowded air-raid shelter beneath an apartment block not far from the first blast site, Olana Ukrainets, a 34-year-old IT professional, said she couldn’t believe she had to go into hiding again after fleeing the northeastern city of 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.”
Two cities on opposite ends of the country are currently seeing some of the worst suffering, Chernihiv in the north – strategically located on the road from the Belarusian border to the capital Kyiv – and Mariupol to the south, an important port city on the Sea of Azov.
Both are encircled by Russian forces but are still holding out.
Chernihiv has been under attack since the early days of the invasion, and in the last week Russia destroyed the main transport bridge leading out of the city and rendered a nearby footbridge impassable, cutting off the last avenue for civilians to escape or bring food and medicine.
The remaining residents of Chernihiv fear that every explosion, bomb and corpse left uncollected on the streets will draw them into the same macabre trap of inevitable death and destruction.
“At night in basements everyone is talking about one thing: Chernihiv will be (the) next Mariupol,” said 38-year-old linguist Ihar Kazmerchak.
He spoke to The Associated Press on his cellphone while incessant beeps signaled his battery was low. The city is without electricity, running water and heating. In pharmacies, the list of drugs that are no longer available is getting longer by the day.
Kazmerchak begins his day in long lines for drinking water, rationed to 10 liters (2 1/2 gallons) per person. People come with empty bottles and buckets to fill up as water delivery trucks make their rounds.
“Food is running out and the shelling and bombing is not stopping,” he said.
More than half of the city’s 280,000 residents have already fled and hundreds who stayed have been killed, Mayor Vladyslav Atroshenko said.
Russian forces have been bombing residential areas from low altitudes in “absolutely clear weather” and “deliberately destroying civilian infrastructure: schools, kindergartens, churches, residential buildings and even the local football stadium,” Atroshenko told Ukrainian television.
Refugees from Chernihiv Those fleeing the encirclement and reaching Poland this week spoke of widespread and horrific destruction, with bombs leveling at least two schools in the city center and strikes also hitting the stadium, museums and many homes.
They said people are taking water from the Desna to drink because utilities are out and strikes are killing people while they wait in line for food. Volodymyr Fedorovych, 77, said he narrowly escaped a bomb falling on a bread line he had been standing on just moments before. He said the blast killed 16 people and injured dozens, ripping off arms and legs.
The siege is so intense that some of those trapped don’t even have the strength to be afraid, Kazmerchak said.
“Devastated houses, fires, dead bodies in the streets, huge plane bombs that didn’t explode in courtyards no longer surprise anyone,” he said. “People are just fed up with being scared and they don’t even go down to the basement all the time.”
Britain’s Defense Ministry said on Saturday it did not expect any reprieve for citizens of bombed Ukrainian cities any time soon.
“Russia will continue to use its heavy firepower on urban areas to limit its own already significant casualties at the expense of more civilian casualties,” the UK ministry said.
Previous bombings of hospitals and other non-military facilities, including a theater in Mariupol, where Ukrainian authorities said a Russian airstrike last week killed 300 people, have already sparked allegations of war crimes.
The invasion has displaced more than 10 million people, almost a quarter of Ukraine’s population. According to the United Nations, more than 3.7 million have fled the country entirely. Thousands of civilians are said to have died.
Andrea Rosa in Kharkiv; Nebi Qena in Kyiv; Cara Anna in Lviv and Associated Press journalists around the world contributed to this report.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine