Airstrike victims were Ukrainian, officials say, rejecting Russia’s claim ‘foreign mercenaries’ died

Click to play video: 'Ukraine’s major cities pounded as more Russian forces close in'
Ukraine’s major cities pounded as more Russian forces close in
WARNING: This video contains disturbing content. Missile attacks on Ukraine's major cities are intensifying as Russian troops slowly gain more ground. Mike Armstrong reports on the mounting carnage and destruction. – Mar 14, 2022

As uniformed soldiers arrived at a church in western Ukraine on Monday to see off one of their own, a mother stood on the sidewalk embracing a portrait of her son.

His name was Denusenko Volodymyr, and he was among 35 killed Sunday when Russian missiles hit a nearby military base.

“He was an army soldier,” one of the mourners consoling the mother said of the 22-year-old. “He had a wife and she is pregnant.”

Eight missiles struck the Yavoriv training base 20 km from the border with Poland, killing almost three dozen, injuring 134 and raising concerns about Russia’s willingness to attack so close to a NATO country.

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Russia’s defence ministry claimed to have killed “foreign mercenaries” when it targeted the International Centre for Peace and Security in Yavoriv.

But a day after the early morning attack, the deadliest in western Ukraine since Russia began its invasion on Feb. 24, there was scant evidence to support that.

While international volunteers were present at Yavoriv, none were among the casualties, said Maksym Kozytskyi, head of the Lviv regional administration.

“There was not a single foreigner who was killed yesterday in the attack on the International Centre for Peace and Security,” Kozytskyi said.

“These are the fakes propagated by the Russian federation,” he said. “Are there foreigners there? Definitely, because this is the International Centre for Peace and Security.”

Click to play video: 'Russia-Ukraine conflict: Airstrike on military base brings war to NATO’s doorstep'
Russia-Ukraine conflict: Airstrike on military base brings war to NATO’s doorstep

Those killed were members of the Ukrainian armed forces or veterans working for the army as trainers, said the base spokesperson, Anton Myrnovych.

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He called Russian claims to have killed up to 180 foreigners “Kremlin propaganda.”

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A group of international volunteer fighters who survived the attack also said the dead were Ukrainians, although a few foreigners were injured.

The fighters were gathered in a covered alley in Lviv, waiting to be moved to new locations after the bombing of the base.

Although they declined to be interviewed, their accents were British, Irish and Australian. One said he was a Canadian and went by the name “Maple.”

He said they were in their barracks when the base was targeted.

A Swedish fighter who was at the base when it was attacked also told Global News only Ukrainians were killed.

The loss of life could have been in the hundreds, but the base’s air raid alert system was triggered at around 3:30 a.m., Myrnovych said in an interview with Global News.

The soldiers hid in the surrounding forests, some wearing only flip flops and underwear, the spokesperson said.

“And they stayed in the forest until the end of the signal,” said Myrnovych, who said he had trained in Ottawa.

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But he said the cold prompted some to return to their barracks and they were present when the missile attack began at around 6 p.m. The mess hall was also hit, he said.

Russia has ramped up missile attacks in western Ukraine as its ground forces have taken significant losses in the east.

Andriy Sadovyi, the mayor of Lviv, said he was shocked by the attack at Yavoriv, and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the base was not a threat to Russian territory.

Zelenskyy 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.

Following the attack close to its frontier, Poland joined Ukraine and Lithuania on Monday in a joint statement that demanded Russia “immediately ceases all its military operations and unconditionally withdraws all its forces and military equipment from the entire territory of Ukraine.”

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