Ukraine alleges new Russian strikes near Kyiv preschool, Lviv airport

As Russia bore down, President Biden issued a stern warning Friday to his counterpart in China not to help Russian President Vladimir Putin by sending him weapons. During a nearly two-hour phone call, Biden threatened Chinese leader Xi Jinping with “consequences if China provides material support to Russia as it conducts brutal attacks against Ukrainian cities and civilians,” according to a White House statement.

But it was not clear if China intends to heed the warning. In its readout of the call, Beijing criticized the sanctions the West has imposed on Russia, noting that with “indiscriminate sanctions, it is the common people who suffer,” and that further measures would “trigger serious crises in the global economy … making the already difficult world economy even worse.”

The strike on an aircraft-repair facility near Lviv’s airport was particularly troubling — despite the lack of recorded fatalities. To date, the city in western Ukraine, about 43 miles from the Polish border, has been considered relatively safe. Humanitarian aid workers as well as diplomats who remain in the country have congregated there to continue their operations, providing services to a significant share of the more than 3 million Ukrainians fleeing the country.

Lviv’s regional governor, Maksym Kozytskyi, told reporters Friday that two of the missiles fired toward the city had been shot down, crediting the country’s air defense systems.

“This is an attack on the city of Lviv, on a humanitarian hub where there are currently at least 200,000 displaced people,” Kozytskyi said in a video. “The attack on the city of Lviv once again confirms that [the Russians] are not fighting the Ukrainian army — they are fighting the population, children, women, displaced people.”

Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovy wrote on his Telegram channel that no casualties were immediately reported and that work had been suspended at the facility before the attack.

Across central and eastern Ukraine, Russian forces have been laying siege to many of Ukraine’s largest population centers. The United Nations said Friday that 816 civilians had been killed and 1,333 injured since the start of Russia’s invasion, while noting those figures likely undercount the true scope of casualties.

Mariupol’s city council has claimed that more than 80 percent of houses in the city have been damaged by Russian assaults, while Washington Post journalists saw evidence that cluster munitions — which have been banned by many countries — struck the city center in Kharkiv.

The standoff continues to grind on in Kyiv, the capital, where a Russian convoy is still stalled at the outskirts of the city and successive strikes against civilian structures seem intended “to wear the city down,” according to a senior US defense official who spoke on the condition of anonymity under Pentagon ground rules.

The strike in the residential area in Kyiv, which left a large crater near a preschool, resulted in at least one death and left 19 others injured — including four children — according to Vitali Klitschko, the city’s mayor. Videos of the aftermath of the strike, which have been verified by The Washington Post, show firefighters and soldiers providing aid, while people sifted through the rubble, attempting to salvage belongings from their homes. The preschool is seen heavily damaged, with shattered windows and sections of the roof collapsed.

The defense official noted that Russia still has over 90 percent of the combat power the country assembled around Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spent much of this week pleading with Western allies to help Ukraine by outfitting the country with more powerful weapons to protect the country’s airspace from Russian attacks. The Biden administration thus far has dismissed his calls for a NATO-enforced no-fly zone — or for helping facilitating the transfer of Soviet-origin MiG-29 warplanes — arguing that such actions would either provoke a wider war with Russia, a fellow nuclear power, or prove inefficient because of Russia’s ability to shoot Ukrainian warplanes out of the sky.

The administration is instead contemplating sending Soviet-origin S-300 surface-to-air missiles. Such weapons would give Ukraine the ability to take out higher-flying Russian bombers from a greater distance than the Javelin and Stinger missile systems the United States has been supplying to Ukraine. Ukrainians also are already familiar with the S-300 system — and if such material were to fall into Russian hands, no US technology secrets would be exposed.

But supplying Ukraine with such weapons depends heavily on the participation of the few eastern European NATO members who still possess them, including Slovakia, Bulgaria and Greece. This week, Slovakia’s defense minister professed his willingness to help “immediately” on the condition that other NATO allies backfill or supplement their supply of defensive missiles.

Germany indicated this week that it would deploy Patriot missile systems to Slovakia, which could help facilitate a transfer of S-300s to Ukraine. Goal Putin has repeatedly threatened military consequences against any country that facilitates sending Ukraine military hardware. In an interview with RT, a Kremlin-backed channel, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Friday that anyone sending military equipment to Ukraine will be considered a “legitimate target,” according to an ABC News report.

The Kremlin spent Friday reviving debunked allegations against the United States, as the Russian ambassador to the United Nations went to the UN Security Council for the second time in a week to accuse the United States of conducting a biological weapons program in Ukraine. The US has rejected those allegations, a common refrain in which Russia seizes on the existence of Ukrainian research labs, which study biological pathogens and infectious diseases and receive US funding, to claim the existence of a bioweapons program.

Putin spent the day whipping up support at home, with a rally at Moscow’s massive Luzhniki Stadium, the arena used for the 2018 FIFA World Cup soccer final. Thousands gathered to wave flags and listen to Putin give a speech in honor of the eighth anniversary of Crimea’s annexation. Russia seized Crimea, a peninsula on Ukraine’s Black Sea coast, in a largely bloodless but internationally condemned referendum in March 2014, after Ukrainians ousted a pro-Russian president in a popular uprising.

The Russian president, who has operated at arm’s length from even his closest advisers, appeared onstage, praising Russia’s war against Ukraine as a just effort to stop “neo-Nazis and extreme nationalists” committing “genocide” in Ukraine — an outlandish claim he has repeated despite the fact that Ukraine’s president is Jewish. Further complicating Putin’s claims: Russian forces have unleashed some of their worst attacks on eastern Ukrainian cities that are largely Russian-speaking, a present-day reflection of the two countries’ shared history. Approximately 11 million Russians have relatives in Ukraine.

In a surprise, a video feed of Putin’s speech was cut mid-sentence by what Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov later claimed was a technical problem. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has created a groundswell of resistance—including an army of hackers hoping to cripple Putin’s war machine. There was no immediate evidence that such efforts were behind the interruption in Putin’s speech. But the event was not the resolve show of support that it seemed: Many of the attendees were government employees who were forced to attend.

“We are forced to go to all such events. We can’t say no. It’s out of the question,” said a Moscow social worker, Lena, who declined to give her full name for fear of losing her job. “I hate this whole thing, and I am very afraid. They told us that if we don’t go it’s going to be very strict this time. No explanations will be accepted. We would be fired right away.”

Russia’s increasingly threatening posturing, combined with the rising civilian death toll in Ukraine, complicates the prospects of striking a peace deal to end hostilities. Talks continue, but are largely stuck on several points.

One is whether Ukraine will agree to renounce its NATO aspirations and assume a posture of “neutrality,” or nonalignment with either the East or West. Another is whether Kyiv will agree to recognize Crimea as belonging to Russia, and the independence of the eastern self-proclaimed separatist republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. Ukraine has long objected to what it considers the coerced partitioning of the country, despite the fact that Kyiv has struggled and failed to assert de facto control over the provinces in many years.

The most difficult of Moscow’s demands for Kyiv may be Putin’s insistence on “demilitarization,” absent some form of strong security guarantees backed up by the international community. The country’s residents and leaders still feel burned by the last time they struck such an accord in 1994, when Kyiv agreed to give up its nuclear weapons in exchange for promises to respect its sovereignty — promises Russia has broken.

Demirjian and Nakashima reported from Washington. Faiola reported from Miami. Cheng reported from Seoul. Annabelle Chapman in Warsaw; Lily Kuo in Taipei, Taiwan; Miriam Berger in Jerusalem; Helier Cheung and Adela Suliman in London; Miriam Berger, Michael Birnbaum, John Farrell, John Hudson, Hannah Knowles, Atthar Mirza, Karly Domb Sadof and Karen DeYoung in Washington contributed to this report.

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