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Russian airstrikes target Kyiv and Lviv, near Ukraine-Poland border

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

March 18 (UPI) -- Russia unleashed shelling on several cities in Ukraine on Friday, including the capital Kyiv and Lviv, which has been a hub for refugees trying to escape the war in the far western part of the country -- about 40-50 miles from the Polish border.

Heavy shelling early Friday shook the outskirts of Lviv, which had avoided attack in the first weeks after the invasion. Thousands of refugees have gathered there as they try to cross over into NATO-protected Poland to escape the fighting.

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Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovy said Friday that Russian missiles struck an aircraft repair plant in the city, although no casualties were immediately reported. Air raid sirens sounded after three blasts detonated in the city.

Early attacks also targeted residential buildings in the Podil section of Kyiv, Mayor Vitali Klitschko said. The Russian military has drawn outrage and many calls for war crimes investigations for repeatedly targeting civilian centers like residential buildings, schools and hospitals.

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Satellite images from Maxar Technologies indicate the Russian military is building earthen berms around its equipment near Ozera and Antonov Air Base northwest of Kyiv.

Officials estimate more than 3.2 million Ukrainians have fled their homeland since the fighting began Feb. 24 -- and the World Health Organization confirmed nearly 50 Russian attacks on hospitals and health centers in the country, as well as a dozen deaths.

Russian shelling has also targeted other areas in Ukraine, from the southern port cities of Odesa and Mariupol to strategic locations such as Kharkiv and Chernihiv.

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In Kharkiv on Thursday, shelling touched off a major fire at a local market. Officials said a firefighter was killed by another Russian airstrike that targeted emergency responders as they fought the fire.

Ukraine's second-largest city, Kharkiv has taken a relentless pounding from Russian forces over the past three weeks. Officials said that at least 500 civilians in the city of 1.5 million have been killed by Russian attacks.

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The main morgue in Kharkiv has exceeded its capacity, officials say -- forcing them to store some of the dead, in body bags, in the courtyard outside.

"We need body bags," morgue director Yuriy Nikolaevich said, according to The Washington Post. "There are no coffins left in the city."

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Kharkiv Regional State Administration head Oleh Syniehubov said Viktor Tereschchenko, mayor of the nearby Velykoburlutska community, was released from Russian custody on Friday. In a video message posted online, Syniehubov said he spoke to Tereschchenko after his release.

"He is at hospital receiving treatment," Syniehubov said in the video, according to CNN. "He is a good man who stands firm and sticks up for his community, his residents, his electorate. Once again, this only proves that the enemy shall not prevail and no one will surrender an inch of our land to the enemy."

In Chernihiv on Thursday, north of Kyiv, an American man who was living temporarily in Ukraine was killed by Russian shelling.

In central Ukraine, air defenses shot down at least three Russian cruise missiles in Vinnytsia, the city's war and civil administration said.

The Russian military has launched more than 1,000 missile attacks since the war started and has relied mostly on less sophisticated bombs, hoping to wear down Ukrainian defenses.

Peace talks have progressed slowly this week, but the two sides still appear to be far from ending the fighting. However, both sides have signaled hope that an agreement can be found.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin complained in a phone call with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz that Ukraine was trying to "drag the negotiations by making a series of new unrealistic proposals," according to The New York Times.

Putin said Russia wants to find solutions "within the limits of its well-known principal approaches."

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