Air strikes kill seven in Ukraine as Russian forces mass in the east

The air strikes in Lviv came just hours after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Moscow of wanting to “destroy” the entire eastern region of Donbas bordering Russia.

Russia’s defence ministry said it had hit 16 military targets at various locations across Ukraine. Following the attack on Lviv, black smoke billowed from the gutted roof of a car repair shop in the northwest of the city as air raid sirens wailed.

“Fires were set off as a result of the strikes. They are still being put out. The facilities were severely damaged,” Lviv regional governor Mak­sym Kozytsky said on social media.

In the south, Russia continued its push to capture the besieged port city of Mariupol where the last remaining Ukrainian forces prepared for a final stand.

Ukraine has pledged to fight on and defend the strategic city, defying a Russian ultimatum for remaining fighters inside the encircled Azovstal steel plant to lay down their arms and surrender.

Prisoner swap

Russian state TV on Monday broadcast a video of what it described as “Britons” captured fighting for Ukraine and demanding that Prime Minister Boris Johnson negotiate their release.

The two haggard-looking men asked to be exchanged for Viktor Medvedchuk, a Ukrainian tycoon close to President Vladimir Putin, who was recently arrested in the pro-Western country. Ukraine then aired its own video featuring Medvedchuk calling for his exchange in return for an evacuation of civilians and troops from Mariupol.

“I want to ask Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to exchange me for Ukrainian defenders and residents of Mariupol,” he said in the video published by Kyiv’s security services, wearing black clothes and looking directly into the camera.

Mariupol has become a symbol of Ukraine’s unexpectedly fierce resistance since Russian troops invaded the former Soviet state on Feb 24.

While several large cities were under siege, according to Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, not one — with the exception of Kherson in the south — had fallen, and more than 900 towns and cities had been re-captured.

Capturing Mariupol would allow Russia to have a land bridge between the Crimea peninsula, which it annexed in 2014, and the two Moscow-backed separatist statelets in Ukraine’s east.

‘Last chance to save you’

In the east, Ukrainian authorities urged people in Donbas to move west to escape a large-scale Russian offensive to capture its composite regions of Donetsk and Lugansk.

“Russian troops are preparing for an offensive operation in the east of our country in the near future. They want to literally finish off and destroy Donbas,” Zelensky said.

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