Rare Russian attacks in western Ukraine

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Rare Russian attacks in western Ukraine

LUTSK, Ukraine – Men in camouflage, hardened by war, snorkel as a Ukrainian Orthodox choir sings haunting funeral rites. One man put his hand around the other as tears welled up in his eyes.

“Ukraine’s glory and freedom have not yet been destroyed,” the priest said during the funeral on Saturday for two of the four soldiers who were killed during a bombing of the city’s military airfield before dawn on Friday.

“For 30 years we had been singing these words and saying that we would suffer for our freedom, but we could not imagine that these words would become our reality, that we would have to defend our sons against our neighbours. Will have to be sent to him,” said Father Michael, the priest.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is now in its third week. With four deaths in the airfield, it reached Lutsk, a provincial capital only 55 miles from Poland. It was a rare attack in the west by a Russian army that has concentrated mainly in the south, north and around Ukraine’s capital Kyiv.

For weeks, western Ukraine has been a safe haven for the millions of Ukrainians who have fled the war zone, as well as businessmen, journalists, diplomats and others. But with the bombings in Lutsk and another western city, Ivano-Frankivsk, early Friday, violence and death pierced the sense of security many had taken for granted.

“There is no peaceful city in Ukraine anymore,” said 43-year-old Myroslava Kozyupa, who stood outside on the town square listening as the funeral took place in the Church of the Holy Trinity in front of her.

He acknowledged that for now they face less risk than other cities such as Kharkiv, which has been under attack for two weeks, and the country’s most pressing humanitarian emergency, Mariupol said, “We are very fine.” Huh.” But she was distressed that Matvi, a blue-eyed, seven-month-old baby being carried by a woman next to him, “already knows what sirens are and already knows what they mean to us.” Have to go to a bomb shelter.”

Ukraine’s vast western region has sparked more concern in recent days after intermittent reports that Belarus, just 90 miles to the north, could begin to troop for war. The proximity of Belarus and its autocratic leader, Russian President Vladimir V. Putin’s ally, Alexander G. The residents of Lutsk were worried because of the unpredictability of Lukashenko.

The region’s role as an arms corridor from Europe and the United States could also make it a target. On Saturday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Russian television that he had warned the United States that convoys with weapons sent to Ukraine would be “legitimate targets” for the Russian military.

Some residents worry that in addition to convoys, the Kremlin has its sights set on the area.

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“I believe his aim is to reach the NATO border – the border with Poland,” said Serhi, a surgeon who declined to give his last name for fear of his own safety, referring to Mr Putin.

Ms Kozyupa said she was concerned that Ukraine could soon lose its ability to defend its airspace.

“Our borders are being guarded by border guards and our land is being protected by our defenders, but our skies are not being protected,” she said, a no-fly over Ukraine for NATO. Calling to set up a zone.

The Lutsk airfield was bombed on 24 February, the first day of the invasion, but it did not completely destroy the airfield and no one was killed. The city, like much of the country’s west, was not expected to increase with Russian military activity, at least not yet. On Friday, when the attacks took place, an early warning system did not turn off because the Russians The mayor, Ihor Polishchuk, said the rockets had flown “super slow”. “I think this type of attack is meant to raise fear, raise the level of terror and strengthen the position of the Russian Federation in possible talks with Ukraine,” he said.

Maria Zolkina, a political and military analyst at the Democratic Initiatives Foundation, said that Russia could move its troops west, but a full attack was still not possible – “yet” – until Russian troops were moved to central Ukraine. Getting a strong foothold doesn’t help.

However, he predicted that Russian forces would continue to attack military bases west of Ukraine because even if other countries donated fighter jets, the country would not be able to use them if there was no airspace from which they could take off.

“It is important for Ukraine to get support before Russia can achieve its goals in the West,” he underlined.

Western Ukraine has a different history than the East, which has historically been closer to Russia and where more people consider themselves to be ethnic Russians and native Russian speakers – with Mr Putin claiming they are a natural part of Russia. . According to the most recent census from 2001, in Lutsk, more than 90 percent of the population is made up of ethnic Ukrainians.

Many displaced Ukrainians from the east and south now live on the territory of Lutsk and Western Ukraine; The population in and around Lutsk, estimated by the mayor to be around 250,000, has increased by 10,000 alone. And it will play an important role on the corridor through which humanitarian aid will be distributed, Ms Zolkina said.

The residents of Lutsk are preparing for the possible arrival of Russian troops, whenever it may arrive.

“We have made maximum preparations,” said Mr. Polishchuk. “We have been able to buy enough food in the event of a humanitarian disaster. We have 40,000 cubic meters of water in our reserves. And our residents have made at least 25,000 Molotov cocktails since the start of the war.” Meyer himself said he made “too many to count.”

A reserve battalion of 4,000 volunteers is ready to support both the military forces and the regional defence, a loosely organized part of the Ukrainian military consisting of various paramilitary groups.

Ordinary citizens are also learning what it means to live in times of war. In a basement classroom commonly used as a chess club, 19-year-old Artem Kovalchuk was showing civilians how to shoot a rifle.

“Everyone wants to learn how to properly hold a weapon,” said Mr. Kovalchuk, who joined the Ukrainian army in 2020 and was serving near Mariupol, which is now surrounded by Russian forces.

“God forbid we will soon face a situation similar to what is being experienced in the eastern regions.”

In the training session, people asked the question of how far shrapnel from a grenade could fly. Then they learned in turn how to load five bullets into Kalashnikov. The weapons date back to the 1960s and 70s – too old for combat, but usable for training.

Mr. Kovalchuk said that he also gives lessons about tactics, tactics and first aid.

Prior to their presentation a psychologist talked about relaxation techniques and coping mechanisms for dealing with panic attacks.

Classes take place every day at 1 a.m., said Yuri Semchuk, a volunteer, and usually 150 to 200 people come every day. He was previously the coordinator at a youth center, where he conducted patriotic education lessons.

At the funeral on Saturday, the priest prayed to God for “victory over the enemy.”

“There is a Christian commandment, ‘Thou shalt not kill,'” Father Michael said at the end of his sermon of Praise. But the Russian attackers “deserved to die here,” he said.

“And tomorrow we will defend our homeland so that we do not become slaves.”

Later in the day at Holy Trinity Church, in the evening, a soldier guarding Lutsk’s airport plans to get married – a sign that life is going on amid the threat of war.

Maria VarenikovaContributed reporting from Lviv, Ukraine.

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