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Workers look at a power substation damaged following a missile strike in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv on May 4, 2022.YURIY DYACHYSHYN/AFP/Getty Images

Russian rockets hit dozens of targets across Ukraine on Tuesday in a fierce intensification of the war that appeared aimed at cutting off Ukraine’s supply of weapons from NATO countries.

The strikes included three in Lviv and the surrounding area, where missiles damaged three power substations and knocked out electricity in parts of the city, according to mayor Andrei Sadovy. Two pumping stations were also hit and trains heading into Lviv were stopped. Ukrainian Railways said the substations were part of the railway station’s infrastructure.

On Wednesday, Maksym Kozytkyy, head of the Lviv regional military administration, said the likely targets were railway lines and that 250,000 people had been left without power. He added that six cruise missiles had been fired in total; two were shot down, three hit areas in Lviv and one struck a substation in nearby Transcarpathia. No one was killed but two people were injured, he said.

The attacks were the first in Lviv since April 18, and they came after days of relative calm and warm weather had created an almost festive atmosphere as people returned to sidewalk cafes and casually strolled through the picturesque downtown. Tuesday’s strikes brought the war rushing back and highlighted the fact that this city in western Ukraine remains a prime target because it’s a major transfer point for military supplies coming in from Poland.

Russian missiles also rained down on an airfield near Odesa and the encircled steel plant in Mariupol.

Ukrainian commanders said Russian troops backed by tanks and armoured vehicles also stormed the sprawling plant, which covers 11 square kilometres. The Russians were believed to be making a last-ditch effort to dislodge as many as 2,000 remaining Ukrainian forces.

“We’ll do everything that’s possible to repel the assault, but we’re calling for urgent measures to evacuate the civilians that remain inside the plant and to bring them out safely,” Sviatoslav Palamar, deputy commander of Ukraine’s Azov Regiment, said on the messaging app Telegram. He added that two women had died in the attack and 10 civilians had been injured.

Just prior to the attack, a group of 101 civilians evacuated Mariupol’s Azovstal steelworks in a convoy of buses and ambulances. One evacuee told the Associated Press that she went to sleep every night afraid she wouldn’t wake up.

“You can’t imagine how scary it is when you sit in the shelter, in a wet and damp basement which is bouncing, shaking,” Yelena Tsybulchenko said after arriving in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia, about 230 kilometres northwest of Mariupol. “We were praying to God that missiles fly over our shelter, because if it hit the shelter, all of us would be done.”

“We had said goodbye to life, we didn’t think anyone knew we were there,” said Valentina Sytnykova, who said she sheltered in the plant for two months with her son and 10-year-old granddaughter.

“We would have hoped that many more people would have been able to join the convoy and get out of hell. That is why we have mixed feelings,” said Pascal Hundt, the head of delegation at the International Committee of the Red Cross in Ukraine.

Osnat Lubrani, who is co-ordinating the United Nations humanitarian relief effort in the country, said she hoped that Tuesday’s convoy would be the start of future evacuations from Mariupol and other towns facing Russian bombardment.

“There is knowledge that there are civilians still trapped in the Azovstal plant,” she said, without providing details. “Some of them may have been afraid to come out, some of them probably couldn’t make it.”

The Russian military said its artillery has hit 400 targets across Ukraine in the past day, including two fuel depots, six weapons storage facilities and a chemical plant.

At least 10 people died in the strike on the chemical plant in the eastern Ukrainian city of Avdiivka, according to Donetsk regional Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko.

“The Russians knew exactly where to aim – the workers just finished their shift and were waiting for a bus … to take them home,” Mr. Kyrylenko wrote in a Telegram post. “Another cynical crime by Russians on our land.”

Meanwhile, diplomatic efforts to reach a ceasefire also continued but with little success. French President Emmanuel Macron called for one in a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday and also urged Russia to lift its embargo on Ukrainian exports through the Black Sea.

In their readout of the call, Kremlin officials said that Mr. Putin was open to dialogue “despite Kyiv’s inconsistency and its lack of readiness for serious work.” But he also announced plans to stop the export of vital Russian raw materials to Western countries, in a bid to exert economic pressure on countries backing Kyiv.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who has been under pressure to take a tougher stance against Russia, called Mr. Putin’s policies “imperialistic” on Tuesday. He also said he would support Finland and Sweden if their governments decided to join NATO.

“No one can assume that the Russian President and government will not on other occasions break international law with violence,” Mr. Scholz said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson invoked Winston Churchill in a video address to Ukraine’s parliament on Tuesday. Mr. Johnson said the country’s defence of Kyiv would rank as “Ukraine’s finest hour,” borrowing a phrase Mr. Churchill used as British fighters fended off the German army in the Second World War.

”You have exploded the myth of Putin’s invincibility and you have written one of the most glorious chapters in military history and in the life of your country,” Mr. Johnson said.

With reports from Associated Press and Reuters

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