Missiles struck a military training centre provocatively close to the Polish border in Ukraine on Sunday, killing at least 35 in the latest escalation by Russian forces.
Black smoke was still rising from the base, where the Canadian Armed Forces once trained Ukrainian troops, hours after the early morning attack.
Dozens of ambulances were seen speeding to and from the site – the International Centre for Peace and Security in Yavoriv. Local authorities said 134 had been hospitalized.
The Russian defence ministry said “up to 180 foreign mercenaries and a large consignment of foreign weapons were destroyed,” suggesting it had deliberately targeted international volunteers and NATO-supplied arms.
A medical worker at a hospital in nearby Lviv said many of the casualties were women working at the camp kitchen, and that a number of those injured had lost limbs.
Fires were extinguished around noon local time and specialists were sifting through the debris.
Global News was turned back at the entrance to the base and Ukrainian troops made a reporter delete the photos and videos from his phone.
“In total, the occupiers fired more than 30 missiles,” said the Lviv regional state administration spokesperson, Maksym Kozytskyi.
“The Ukrainian air defense system worked. We shot down some of the missiles in the air. We reiterate and appeal to all NATO governments: NATO, close the sky over Ukraine!”
The strikes followed speculation the Lviv region would be targeted after Russia said that Western support lines for Ukrainian forces were legitimate targets.
The Yavirov base was a hub for international volunteers who had arrived to help Ukraine repel the Russian invasion. Ukraine’s Minister of Defence, Olekii Reznikov, decried what he called a “terrorist attack on peace and security near the EU-NATO border.”
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In a videotaped address, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said nothing was occurring at the base “that could threaten the territory of the Russian Federation. And only 20 kilometres away are NATO borders.”
He portrayed the attack as evidence Moscow intended to move its war into Europe, and urged NATO to close the skies over Ukraine “or it is only a matter of time before Russian missiles fall on your territory.”
NATO has so far rejected Ukraine’s request for a no-fly zone over the country.
The missiles were launched over the Black Sea and Azov Sea from planes that flew from Saratov, deep inside Russia, the Ukrainian military said.
Russian forces have expanded their unprovoked war against Ukraine into the country’s relatively-untouched west in recent days.
Air strikes targeted airfields in Lutsk and Ivano-Frankivsk on Friday but this was the first attack near Lviv, the largest centre in the country’s west.
It brought the conflict harrowingly close to a NATO country. Yaroviv is only about 20 kilometres from the main border crossing into Poland.
While NATO has been arming the Ukrainian forces, it has been trying to avoid getting drawn into a direct conflict with Russia, with U.S. President Joe Biden warning that would lead to a Third World War.
Until May 2021, the Yaroviv base was the headquarters of Operation Unifier, the Canadian mission that Ukraine’s security forces.
Officials said the air raid alert system had sounded, limiting the casualties. Sirens sent Lviv residents twice into shelters on Sunday, most recently at 11:30 a.m.
“On behalf of the whole Lviv region we express our sincere condolences to the families of the victims. We will not forget any hero and we will not forgive any occupier!” said Kozytskyi said.
About 1,300 Ukrainian troops have died fighting Russia’s attempt to seize its neighbour. Almost 600 civilians have lost their lives, including children.
Several thousand Russian troops are believed to have died since invading Ukraine on Feb. 24.