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Putin taking his war closer to NATO territory

As residents in the Lviv region woke to air raid sirens, flashes of red across the sky and booming explosions, Vladimir Putin was making a move west and striking at the heart of Ukraine’s military.

Ukraine officials say 35 people have died and 134 are being treated for serious injuries after Russian missiles struck the Yavoriv International Center for Peacekeeping and Security (ICPS) just 25 kilometres from the Polish border.

Head of emergency medicine for the region Andri Vasko told the ABC the injuries were severe and at a scale he had not experienced before.

“There was a strike on one of the buildings and some soldiers are at this time under the building, we are trying to pull them out. And they are alive,” Dr Vasko said on Sunday night.

Russia had warned convoys of Western arms shipments to Ukraine could be considered legitimate targets and then, when claiming yesterday’s attack, said the site was housing foreign weapons and fighters and that 180 of the alleged “mercenaries” were killed.

Foreign fighters were known to be at the military base, but Ukraine’s National Army Academy said none were killed in the strike.

Despite Ukraine’s desire to join NATO, until now the country has acted as a buffer zone between Russia and the alliance.

But Sunday’s attack brought Russia’s war to the NATO border, any incursion on which would see the alliance move to protect its territory. 

Locally, these missiles tore through the living quarters of a highly guarded military asset of a nation under attack. 

Among the people who live here, the strikes prompted both anger at having to fight Russia alone, and fear at the realisation their part of Ukraine is no longer a safe haven.

The 360-square-kilometre Yavoriv facility is one of Ukraine’s biggest military training arenas and is the largest in the western part of the country.

The base has hosted NATO exercises and centres around a small community where soldiers live on-site. Dr Vasko said some of them were bombed while they slept on Sunday morning.

“They are from different points of Ukraine, they are soldiers and also some of them are recruits. They were preparing to get into the war,” he said. 

“It was early in the morning, some of them tried to escape after the air alarm and some of them were sleeping.”

Regional governor Maksym Kozytskyy said Russian planes fired about 30 missiles at the facility, adding some were intercepted by Ukraine’s aerial defence system. 

Waking up to the shaking and the sounds of sirens

Bogdan, who did not want to give his last name, is a local man whose brother works as a medic on the tightly guarded base. 

He opened his phone to scroll through the countless outgoing calls he tried to place to his brother when he first heard the explosions. 

“I didn’t even hear the sirens. I woke up [because] a building was shaking. So I got up, went down, and saw the light. I also heard an explosion,” he said.

“Suddenly I got a call. I was told to come and help the wounded. When we got there, we saw that only one part of the barracks remained. Everything else was completely destroyed.”

He and his brother helped the wounded until a convoy of 40 ambulances arrived.

“We are not protected and we are not safe,” Bogdan said. 

“Many people came here to the western part of the country to escape the war, but as I see it, even here it is not safe now.”

Life next to the military base

On one of the many dusty roads towards the centre, at the last stop before a checkpoint where most cars get turned around, is the small village of Shklo. 

Eugene Koval lives there, along one side of the tall white wall that fences the military base. 

“At about 5:30 in the morning I saw a red sky on the other side, we heard an explosion, we immediately woke up [my] Dad and we quickly went to the basement,” he said.

“We gathered all the people who were in a panic. This is the first time we have heard about the bombing in Lviv region.”

Eugene and his family live next to a strategic asset, on the edge of the war itself, and in the corridor through which aid and refugees are moving every day.

“Absolutely not, I don’t feel safe,” he said.

“That is why we are praying that Europe and the whole world will give us an air dome so that they can close the sky for our security.

“For our part, we will fight the enemy at the front and beat him. We fight fearlessly if we know that the sky is protected and we do not worry about our kids, parents and all Ukrainians.” 

Ukrainians have been applauded around the world for their willingness to train, take up arms, and fight to defend their country, but here there are direct appeals for the international community to do more to help, in particular installing a no-fly zone over the country.

Vladimir Putin has said he would see any move by NATO to impose a no-fly zone as participation in the war, and Joe Biden and other NATO leaders have repeatedly ruled it out, saying it would risk starting World War III.

After yesterday’s strike, the anger in Shklo spilled over.

Eugene’s neighbour Lyubov said she counted 13 explosions.  

“No-one will help us. It does not get better,” she said.

“In two weeks, they will kill us all, or if they use their chemical weapons, there will be nothing left. Coronavirus and war brought many sufferings. Why do we need NATO if it doesn’t work?”

Before the invasion the Yavoriv base was the main facility hosting NATO troops during drills with Ukraine’s forces. Ukraine’s desire to join NATO has been a major irritant for Vladimir Putin.

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has not yet responded to questions about whether Australians were on the site or injured in the attack.

–Sky News Australia

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