The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Lviv sees first wartime deaths amid strikes, Ukrainian officials say

Five missiles struck Lviv, Ukraine, on April 18, killing at least 7 and injuring at least 11 people. (Video: Erin Patrick O'Connor, Whitney Shefte/The Washington Post)
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LVIV, Ukraine — After the first explosions sounded early Monday, 32-year-old Kostiantyn Pospelov prepared to run.

He only had time to pull on his jacket and one sock before another blast blew out the windows and shook the hotel where he’s staying in the western city of Lviv. He said he hopped through an obstacle course of broken glass and jagged metal, making his way to the hotel basement along with other displaced families who had escaped Russian attacks elsewhere only to find themselves again running for their lives in a city that had been seen as a sanctuary.

“No one in Ukraine feels 100 percent safe,” said Pospelov, his face cut from flying debris.

Lviv officials said Russian missile strikes killed seven people Monday morning, the first deaths reported within city limits, though others have been recorded in the region since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February. A preliminary assessment indicated the strikes were launched from airplanes that came from the direction of the Caspian Sea, the regional governor, Maksym Kozytskyi, told a news conference.

Officials said 11 other people were injured, including a child, in strikes that pounded a military warehouse as well as a commercial service station where local drivers go for tire repairs and carwashes. Next to the auto shop is the hotel where Pospelov was staying with roughly 80 other guests who had arrived in the last month from hard-hit cities in the south and east.

Lviv’s position in the relatively quiet west has made it a refuge for displaced Ukrainians, foreign diplomats who no longer feel safe at embassies in the capital of Kyiv, and groups bringing military and humanitarian supplies into the country via the Polish border. Over the Easter weekend, families went to church services and took evening strolls carrying bouquets of flowers.

Monday’s attack punctured that bubble of normal life. Residents who said they often shrug off air raid sirens filed into underground bunkers, where they traded Telegram messages in search of information about the blasts. Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovyi said on social media that the entire country was vulnerable to Russian assault: “Today in Ukraine there are no safe and unsafe cities.”

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At the scene of the auto shop strike, firefighters doused flames and emergency crews picked through the rubble of the two-story building, its roof now ripped off. Smaller buildings on the site were also badly damaged. The smell of burning rubber wafted through the air; charred tires sat in piles. Debris and documents were scattered for hundreds of feet, including around nearby railroad tracks.

Evgenii Laziuk, 49, who lives in the area, shook his head as he looked at the ruins of what he called a “fully civilian” target. He said the shop owner is well known in the community, a father of five whose extended family is involved in the business.

“It’s like having a big wallet and throwing it away,” Laziuk said. “He was feeding his family with it, and now he’s been left with nothing.”

Kozytskyi, the regional governor, said four people were injured in the strike on the auto shop, where he said civilians were working. The toll of the attacks could grow as emergency workers clear the debris, he said, adding that the injured child’s wounds were not severe. He said the warehouse struck was not being used by the military at the time.

Alexander Kamyshin, the head of Ukraine’s national rail company, said several missiles fell near railway facilities but that no one was harmed and train traffic had resumed. A statement from the company said passengers waiting to board trains in Lviv were placed in bomb shelters when the air raid sirens went off.

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The strike on the Autochance service station drove dozens of families into the shelter of the hotel next door, recounted hotel manager Volodymyr Tereshko. He was outraged, pointing to the heavily damaged outside wall. Curtains fluttered out of gaping holes that had been windows of guest rooms. He insisted on speaking English, wanting to be sure people in the West understood who was paying the price for Russia’s onslaught.

“No military! Civilian people! Children! Fathers, mothers,” he said.

Pospelov appeared shaken but not shocked — he’d already seen worse in his hometown of Chernihiv in northeast Ukraine. He’d arrived in Lviv this month with his wife, her sister and her brother-in-law, Denis. He said the women had recently moved on to safety in Hungary, while he and Denis stayed behind.

The men now must find another place to stay. But where can they go?

“We don’t know. We don’t know what we are going to do next,” Pospelov said. “No one knows.”

Timsit reported from London, and Stern reported from Mukachevo, Ukraine.