Waves of Russian missiles pounded a military training base close to Ukraine’s western border with NATO member Poland, killing 35 “professionals”. The strike followed Russian threats to target foreign weapon shipments that are helping Ukrainian fighters defend their country against Russia’s grinding invasion.
More than 30 Russian cruise missiles targeted the sprawling training facility that is less than 25 kilometers (15 miles) from the closest border point with Poland, according to the governor of Ukraine’s western Lviv region. Poland is a key location for routing Western military aid to Ukraine.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine, Lviv had largely been spared the scale of destruction unfolding further east and become a destination for residents escaping bombarded cities and for many of the nearly 2.6 million refugees who have fled the country.
The training center in Yavoriv appears to be the most westward target struck so far in the 19-day invasion. The facility, also known as the International Peacekeeping and Security Center, has long been used to train Ukrainian military personnel, often with instructors from the United States and other NATO countries.
It has also hosted international NATO drills. As such, the site symbolizes what has long been a Russian complaint: That the NATO alliance of 30 member countries is moving ever closer to Russia’s borders. Russia has demanded that Ukraine drop its ambitions to join NATO.
Lviv governor Maksym Kozytskyi said most of the missiles fired Sunday “were shot down because the air defense system worked.” The ones that got through killed at least 35 people and wounded 134, he said.
Russian fighters also fired at the airport in the western city of Ivano-Frankivsk, which is less than 150 kilometers (94 miles) north of Romania and 250 kilometers (155 miles) from Hungary, countries that also are NATO allies. The airport, which includes a military airfield as well as a runway for civilian flights, also was targeted Friday.
Fighting also raged in multiple areas of the country overnight. Ukrainian authorities said Russian airstrikes on a monastery and a children’s resort in the eastern Donetsk region hit spots where monks and refugees were sheltering, wounding 32 people.
Another airstrike hit a westward-bound train evacuating people from the east, killing one person and injuring another, Donetsk’s chief regional administrator said.
To the north, in the city of Chernihiv, one person was killed and another injured in a Russian airstrike that destroyed a residential block, emergency services said.
Around the capital, Kyiv, a major political and strategic target for the invasion, fighting also intensified, with overnight shelling in the northwestern suburbs and a missile strike Sunday that destroyed a warehouse to the east.
In Irpin, a suburb about 12 miles (20 kilometers) northwest of central Kyiv, bodies lay out in the open Saturday on streets and in a park.
“When I woke up in the morning, everything was covered in smoke, everything was dark. We don’t know who is shooting and where,” resident Serhy Protsenko said as he walked through his neighbourhood. Explosions sounded in the distance. “We don’t have any radio or information.”
Chief regional administrator Oleksiy Kuleba said Russian forces appeared to be trying to blockade and paralyze the capital with day and night shelling of the suburbs. Kuleba said Russian agents were in the capital and its suburbs, marking out possible future targets.
He vowed that any all-out assault would meet stiff resistance, saying: “We’re getting ready to defend Kyiv, and we’re prepared to fight for ourselves.”
Talks aimed at reaching a cease-fire again failed Saturday, and the U.S. announced plans to provide another $200 million to Ukraine for weapons. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov warned other nations that sending equipment to bolster Ukraine’s military was “an action that makes those convoys legitimate targets.”
Russian soldiers pillaged a humanitarian convoy that was trying to reach the battered and encircled port city of Mariupol, where more than 1,500 people have died, a Ukrainian official said. Ukraine’s military said Russian forces captured Mariupol’s eastern outskirts, tightening their siege of the strategic port. Taking Mariupol and other ports on the Azov Sea could allow Russia to establish a land corridor to Crimea, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia of trying to break his country apart, as well as starting “a new stage of terror” with the alleged detention of a mayor from a city west of Mariupol.
“Ukraine will stand this test. We need time and strength to break the war machine that has come to our land,” Zelensky said during his nightly address to the nation Saturday.
Zelensky reported that 1,300 Ukrainian soldiers had died since the Russian invasion began Feb. 24.
The first major city to fall, earlier this month, was Kherson, a vital Black Sea port of 290,000 residents. Zelensky said Saturday that Russians were using blackmail and bribery in an attempt to force local officials to form a “pseudo-republic” in the southern Kherson region, much like those in Donetsk and Luhansk, two eastern regions where pro-Russian separatists began fighting Ukrainian forces in 2014. One of the pretexts Russia used to invade was that it had to protect the separatist regions.
Zelensky again deplored NATO’s refusal to declare a no-fly zone over Ukraine and said Ukraine has sought ways to procure air defense assets, though he didn’t elaborate. U.S. President Joe Biden announced another $200 million in aid to Ukraine, with an additional $13 billion included in a bill that has passed the House and should pass the Senate within days. NATO has said that imposing a no-fly zone could lead to a wider war with Russia.
Moscow has said it would establish humanitarian corridors out of conflict zones, but Ukrainian officials have accused Russia of disrupting those paths and firing on civilians. Russian forces have hit at least two dozen hospitals and medical facilities, according to the World Health Organization.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said just nine of 14 agreed-upon corridors were open on Saturday, and that about 13,000 people had used them to evacuate around the country.
The leaders of France and Germany spoke Saturday with Russian President Vladimir Putin in a failed attempt to reach a cease-fire. To end the war, Moscow has demanded that Ukraine drop its bid to join NATO and adopt a neutral status; acknowledge the Russian sovereignty over Crimea, which it annexed from Ukraine in 2014; recognize the independence of separatist regions in the country’s east; and agree to demilitarize.
Thousands of soldiers on both sides are believed to have been killed along with many civilians, including at least 79 Ukrainian children, the government said.
The Russian invaders appear to have struggled more than expected against determined Ukrainian fighters. Still, Russia’s stronger military threatens to grind down Ukrainian forces. The United Nations has said the fighting has displaced millions of Ukrainians within the country on top of the millions who have left.
Elena Yurchuk, a nurse from the northern city of Chernihiv, was in a Romanian train station Saturday with her teenage son, Nikita, unsure whether their home was still standing.
“We have nowhere to go back to,” said Yurchuk, 44, a widow who hopes to find work in Germany. “Nothing left.”
How Invasion Is Attracting Mercenaries – Not Just Foreign Volunteers
Private military contractors told MEE that hundreds of ‘professionals’ are being hired for jobs in Ukraine, with some joining Kyiv’s international legion.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also established an “International Legion of Territorial Defence of Ukraine” and lifted visas for volunteers. Ukrainian officials say 16,000 have volunteered to join the fight.
However, sources told Middle East Eye that there are also private military contractors with significant war experience among the volunteers. The sources said some of the private contractors had arrived in the country for extraction, evacuation and defense purposes having been hired by private companies.
A job advertisement that appeared a couple weeks ago on Silent Professionals, a listing website for defense and private security jobs, is looking for multiple “extraction and protective agents” to conduct evacuation operations of individuals and families throughout Ukraine’s countryside and major cities.
“Employer is a US-based corporation. Both male and female agents are welcome to apply,” the advertisement says.
“Only highly experienced candidates who possess at least 5+ years of military experience in this region of Europe will be considered for this role.”
The ad says the payment would be $1,000-2,000 per day and a bonus will be available after the completion of the operation.
Two private military contractors of Turkish origin with European citizenship told MEE that there were other companies hiring people for similar jobs with a daily payment as high as 2,000-3,000 euros.
“Volunteers are going, that’s true, but professional soldiers are also going,” said the first private military contractor, adding that as of 2 March, the number of “professionals” going to Ukraine exceeded a thousand people. About 100 of them were from the French Foreign Legion, he said.
“The French Legion told them that they shouldn’t take any identification with them and if they are caught, they didn’t have the permission to go,” the contractor said.
“I decided not to go, but people with significant military experience who also speak the local language from Slovakia, Poland and Latvia have gone to Ukraine.”
The French foreign ministry told MEE that permission was not granted, describing it as “fake news”. On Wednesday, the French Foreign Legion said it had prevented 14 of its soldiers from travelling to Ukraine, and 25 Ukrainian-born troops had deserted.
A Ukrainian official said that the government wasn’t hiring any private military contractors, but only accepts volunteers to its own foreign legion.
“They will be treated as a fellow Ukrainian military member and have the same rights,” the official told MEE. “A regular Ukrainian army member makes $3,500 per month. So they will make the same money.”
The official emphasised that the Ukrainian military had enough soldiers in its ranks, but it wants to showcase to the world that Ukraine is defending democracy and international values.
“We would like to make a point by accepting these volunteers, allowing the world to show solidarity with us,” the official said.
Vetting for Extremism
The contractors said that some Turkish people who live in Europe were also intending to go to Ukraine, but their departure has not been sorted yet.
“Those in private companies or legions mostly prefer to go in small groups,” said the first military contractor, who has worked for various companies in different parts of the world.
The contractor said “professional private contractors from the industry” and general volunteers have been using similar routes to Ukraine to fight the Russians. “If you are in Europe, it is enough to travel to Poland or Romania and contact the Ukrainian embassies,” he said. “Those who travelled to Ukraine gathered in Lviv in the west of Ukraine and were assigned somewhere else.”
The contactors added that there has been a sharp increase in Ukraine-related private military job postings. “Many private companies based in the US and Europe run job advertisements for Ukraine with at least $1,000-2,000 daily payments and extra earnings,” the second contractor said.
The Ukrainian government said that any volunteer could make an application to a defence attache with their passports and documents that show they have military service and combat experience.
Then the volunteers go through a vetting process for extremism and terrorist links. The government said once the volunteers enter Ukrainian territory under the direction of the Kyiv government, they will sign a contract to join the foreign legion.
Russia already has battle-hardened Chechen forces in its ranks who have been deployed to Ukraine.
Some Chechen and Georgian volunteers also filmed themselves offering to fight for the Ukrainian military even before Zelensky said he would be accepting the foreign volunteers.
The private contractors also told MEE that they heard that Russia had also deployed infamous Russian state-linked private Wagner forces to the Ukrainian front. Wagner mercenaries are known for their far-right views.
The contractors said it was smart for Ukraine to accept foreigners with military experience, especially ex-special forces. “You cannot beat the Russian special forces in urban warfare with an armed general public,” the second contractor said. “They [foreign fighters] would be effective against Wagner as well.”
However, the contractor said he wasn’t personally planning to go to Ukraine.
“I started to work in this industry to make a lot of money,” he said. “You wouldn’t have a lot of luck against the Russian special forces, Wagner or the Chechens in an urban war.”
“Hotel Ukraine” Reportedly Destroyed by Russian Missiles
Reports are trickling in that the historic Hotel Ukraine, a landmark in the city Chernihiv, has been destroyed after Russian attacks. The infamous hotel was located near the center of Chernihiv has been reduced to rubble after a catastrophic attack. Pictures shared on Facebook document the scene.
The hotel was being used as a housing place of foreign mercenaries that came to fight into Ukraine. It was dubbed the “Hotel Ukraine”
The Ukrainian city of Chernihiv is located some 93 miles or so northeast of the capital city of Kviv. Over the last few days, the city has been under heavy Russian attack and it seems no targets are off-limits including the historic landmark Hotel Ukraine, a popular destination for business travelers and tourists.
Images shared to Facebook show the hotel utterly destroyed and CNN has reported that the head of the Chernihiv regional administration, Vyacheslav Chaus stated, “I am here now. There is no hotel anymore.”
One local, Serhiy Shumylo, a researcher at the Institute of History of Ukraine from the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, shared even more photos and a lengthy description of the situation on Facebook.
Translation: “In the blockade of Chernihiv in the center of the city, Russian occupiers bombed the hotel Ukraine, which was one of the city’s visits. They purposely bombard and destroy peaceful civilian objects and city infrastructure – hospitals, schools, kindergartens, libraries, hotels, stadiums, residential multi-storey buildings… The purposeful and planned destruction of the ancient city is taking place, which has over 1300 years of history. The Moskaly Horde destroys what existed long before its appearance and what, in fact, was a historical Russia, unlike Moscow bolít and hushs, which were a wild outskirts of the once great Chernihiv duchy. Please spread information about ‘peaceful special operations’ of Russian occupiers so that the world knows the truth. All these crimes should become a testimony for the international tribunal in the Hague against Russian fascists and Putin’s personally under-fürer”Translation from Serhiy Shumlyo Facebook post
According to the CNN report, the city of Chernihiv has been surrounded by Russian forces for more than a week and has taken massive damage from airstrikes and missiles. The aforementioned Chaus stated, “that the city has no electricity, almost no water, gas, and heat and while efforts to restore electricity on Friday were successful the enemy hit an electricity network again.”
- Flashback: MSNBC Host Mika Brzezinski Says “That Is Our Job” to Control What People Think - November 8, 2022
- Never Forget: The Sandy Hook Hoax - November 1, 2022
- Was the Diary of Anne Frank Just Another Jewish Lie? - October 29, 2022