3 explosions heard in Lviv, location of thousands of Ukrainian refugees

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March 26 (UPI) — Three explosions were heard Saturday in the western city of Lviv, Ukraine, where refugees have fled since the beginning of the Russian invasion.

The blasts and air raid sirens were heard as thick black smoke rose over the outskirts of the city in the wake of the blasts, the BBC and CNN reported.

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Many displaced Ukrainians have fled from the east to Lviv and on their way to Poland.

Meanwhile, Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner departed Vatican City on Saturday for the 18-hour drive to give an ambulance to authorities in Lviv. Pope Francis, who donated the vehicle, blessed the ambulance on its way to the the western Ukrainian city.

It’s the second trip Krajewski has made to Ukraine to provide relief to the Ukrainian people, Vatican News reported.

“I will go with a heart full of hope,” he said.

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On Saturday, Russian troops also invaded Slavutych, north of Kyiv, seizing a city hospital, an official said. The city is the location where former workers at the Chernobyl nuclear plant were evacuated to and have lived since the 1986 disaster.

“The Russian occupiers entered the city of Slavutych and seized the city hospital,” said Oleksandr Pavliuk, head of the Kyiv regional administration.

Also, on Saturday, Iryna Vereshchuk, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister for reintegration of the temporarily occupied territories, announced that 10 humanitarian corridors have been established to evacuate people from areas impacted by the Russian invasion.

“Slavutych, Dymer, Ivankiv — we hear you and we know that you need routes (for evacuation). We are working on it,” Vereshchuk stressed in the statement.

In the Donetsk region, Vereshchuk said that evacuation of people on private transport is planned from Mariupol to the city of Zaporizhzhia, but there will be no central evacuation or Mariupol residents Saturday.

She also announced evacuation routes in the Kyiv and Luhansk regions.

“According to our information, the occupiers have planned a demonstration action today — they are going to forcibly deport ethnic Armenians, Azerbaijanis and Meskhetian Turks from the city of Kherson to the temporarily occupied Ukrainian Crimea,” Vereshchuk added. “The Russians understand that they are losing control, so they resort to propaganda — take people to Crimea, which is still under their control. However, these steps are futile and criminal.”

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Vereshchuk also said that Kherson residents are protesting the occupation.

“Kherson and Kherson residents, you are your heroes,” she said.

In Kyiv, Russian shelling has occurred in suburbs to the west and east of the capital, regional officials said Saturday, CNN reported.

Still, Kyiv’s mayor, Vitaliy Klitschko, canceled an extended curfew that he announced earlier in the day based on new information from military command, a Telegram post shows.

“Curfew in Kyiv and the region, will not be introduced tomorrow afternoon,” the post read, adding that the usual overnight curfew from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. will hold, but “it will be possible to move around the capital and the region on Sunday afternoon.”

According to the British Ministry of Defense’s intelligence update Saturday, Russian troops continue to surround the cities of Kharkiv, Chernihiv and Mariupol.

“Russian forces are proving reluctant to engage in large scale urban infantry operations, rather preferring to rely on the indiscriminate use of air and artillery bombardments in an attempt to demoralize defending forces,” the update said. “It is likely Russia will continue to use its heavy firepower on urban areas as it looks to limit its own already considerable losses, at the cost of further civilian casualties.”

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In the country’s second largest city, Kharkiv, Ukrainian forces have taken up a counteroffensive.

“We are not only defending their positions, but are launching a counteroffensive,” Kharkiv regional administration head Oleh Syniehubov said in a Telegram post Saturday. “In the direction of Malaya Rogan, several settlements have already been liberated, and fighting is underway there.

“Fighting continues in the Izyum direction, where our troops also hold defensive positions,” he continued. “The armed forces of Ukraine continue to defend the Kharkiv region and do not retreat a single meter. For us — victory! Glory to Ukraine!”

More than 1,100 civilians have been killed since the war began on Feb. 24, the United Nations said Friday. Over 3.7 million have fled Ukraine as refugees, including more than 2.2 million to Poland alone, along with other countries, such as Romania and Hungary.

Ukrainian service members stand beside a damaged building in a residential area after shelling in Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 18. Photo by Vladyslav Musiienko/UPI | License Photo