Threats of Russian attack on base, magnitude of smoke and fire signals
NOVOYAVORIVSK, Ukraine — Hours after Russian missiles destroyed a military base near the Polish border on Sunday, soldiers still in camouflage were being pulled out of an overwhelmed nearby hospital on stretchers, many in so much pain that They could only turn their heads to reveal eyes stricken with fear.
Soldiers, who were moving to larger hospitals with overcapacity, were killed in one of the worst war attacks by Russian forces on Ukraine’s western sector so far.
The base at Yvoriev, a strategic center for military training, is about a dozen miles from the border with NATO alliance and EU member Poland. It was the closest Russian missiles had landed near NATO territory since Russia invaded Ukraine, deepening fears that the conflict could escalate into a wider war.
“After us, Europe comes,” said Volodymyr Mtseliuk, mayor of the nearby city of Novoyavorysk. “Unless Russia is punished, no one is safe in Ukraine or Europe.”
With much of the fighting in Ukraine’s south, north and east in recent weeks, many have traveled west to try to escape violence in places such as the nearby town of Novoyavorivsk, which was not bombed until Saturday morning. Was. war day.
“People thought they were safe here because they were under NATO shelter because of the proximity of the border,” said Volodymyr Litvin, a banker and former Ukrainian government minister who had come to his hometown of Novoyavorivsk from the capital Kyiv.
“Now people are really nervous,” he said. “They began to look for real shelters. They had the illusion that we were so close, that the Patriot missiles coming from Poland would shoot down any flies that came close. But it seems it is not.”
Flames rose in the sky just before dawn on Sunday, followed by a series of deafening explosions as the attack began. Within seconds, footage sent to The New York Times by a fighter at the base showed the entire structure falling to the ground, roaring and clouds of smoke blocking the sky.
Vasil, a middle-aged bus driver who was returning from taking refugees to the border, said it was around 5:50 a.m. when he heard a deep “buh-buh” explosion. “The whole sky was in flames,” he said. Vasil, who declined to give his last name for fear of his personal safety, said: “I am a God-fearing person. I took off my hat, looked up at the sky and prayed.”
According to Ukrainian officials, at least 35 people were killed in the attack and at least 134 others were injured. Russia’s Defense Ministry claimed that it killed 180 foreign fighters in the attack. The Times could not independently verify any counts, and government sources on each side have found their opponents’ military casualties to be exaggerated.
About 1,000 foreigners hoping to help Russia fight Ukraine were believed to have been training at the base, known as the Center for International Peace and Security, in Ukraine to help repel Russia. Is part of the new International Army created to help. Officials did not mention whether foreign nationals were among the dead or injured.
The video shows several structures nearly destroyed, or still burning, as well as a large crater next to the camp’s training facility and playgrounds. The crater was deep enough that a truck could fit into it, the video taker can be heard saying. The fire raged for hours after the explosion and could not be extinguished until about 3 a.m.
The soldiers at the base during the attack described the scene of terror. It was “hell”, said Jesper Söder, a Swedish fighter. “They know exactly what to aim for. They know exactly what they did. And they were targeting us. And I said, in an hour if we don’t get out, we’re over. And I told everyone, and a lot of people followed me, and a lot of people stayed.
Mr Soder continued, “Many of them are in shock.”
A US fighter, who asked not to be identified over security concerns, said he had previously worked in explosives for the military in Iraq and described the missile hitting the ground, looking like a jet crash. He said it set the roofs of buildings on fire and made people scream.
At the hospital in Novoyavorivsk, doctors can be seen caring for the injured on Sunday afternoon, telling nurses about spinal cord injuries, damaged ears and trauma to the skull.
Since the 1990s, troops from the United States, Britain, Canada, Poland, Latvia and other Western allies have used the base to train Ukrainian forces.
According to a US Army broadcast journalist covering multinational training at the base, one of the buildings affected by the attack was in the area where American, Canadian and other foreign military instructors stayed before the invasion.
Dozens of soldiers from the Florida Army National Guard were training Ukrainian troops at the base as part of a NATO mission, until Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III ordered him not to leave the country last month, days before the Russian offensive. The base also trains troops for peacekeeping missions in which Ukraine has participated, often as part of United Nations missions in Europe and Africa.
The city of Novoyavorivsk was founded in the 1960s to house workers at a nearby sulfur mine and military base. High-rise apartment buildings are spread across city blocks, with large courtyards inside. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union 30 years ago, much of the city has relied on cross-border trade with Poland.
After the explosion at the military base, Mr. Litvin, a banker and former Minister of the Government of Ukraine, said he packed up his parents, sister and extended family and deported them to Poland.
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His father, Mykola, a retired engineer, did not want to leave the town he had helped engineer and build, and his mother Olha did not anticipate the visit: a vase of orange tulips still on the kitchen table and There was a freshly made pot. The chicken stock was on the stove after he left on Sunday afternoon.
Mr Litvin’s sister Natalia wept as he bid farewell to him and his son-in-law, Myroslav, none of whom were allowed to leave the country because of a ban for men of military age established by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
“What hurts me the most is what they feel,” said Mr. Litwin.
About a dozen families were sleeping on mattresses in a nearby elementary school gym early on Sunday when they awoke from the attack.
“It was very scary,” said Dasha Storzenko, who had arrived five days earlier from Kharkiv, which had been heavily bombarded by Russian artillery since the first days of the war. She was resting on a mattress with her sister, two daughters and 5-year-old son Sasha, watching cartoons.
Sasha, Ms Storzenko said, was asking Kharkiv to sleep in the basement, after several days of being crushed by missiles. Several days ago, he announced that when he grew up, he would defend Ukraine against the enemy.
“We thought we’d be safe here,” said the mother, “but now we can’t go out.”
Maria Varenikova and Andriana Zamysla contributed reporting from Lviv, Ukraine, and Yusour Al-Hlau from Kyiv, Ukraine.
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