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the roar of airplanes in the middle of the night, the escape and the smoke of the attacks

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LEOPOL The sun has yet to rise and the eighteenth day of the invasion of Ukraine begins when the Yavoriv military base in Lviv Oblast is bombed by over 30 Russian cruise missiles. An offensive that has been awaited for days but which will in any case be destined to mark a fundamental stage in this war. We are located less than 25 kilometers from the Polish border, half an hour by car from the European Union and from the borders protected by NATO. The Yavoriv International Peacekeeping and Security Center is one of the most important military bases in the country, a strategic center where Ukrainian soldiers are trained by military instructors from all over the world. Yesterday morning’s bombing sends a very clear message to Ukraine’s allies: the Russian advance westward has just begun.

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It is 3.32 in the morning when the anti-aircraft sirens go off in the Lviv region. A wake-up call for the city in recent weeks, which has now become a ritual for citizens. Whoever is luckier goes down to the air-raid shelter and waits for the alert to end. This time, however, it is different. A few minutes before 6, while Russian fighter planes fly over the sky, two loud roars pervade the city and make the windows of the houses tremble. A column of black smoke rises in the early morning light. The area surrounding the Yavoriv military base is immediately blocked, all access roads are manned by the army, only rescuers can pass. 5 kilometers away we meet one of the many checkpoints that have become an integral part of the Ukrainian landscape, it was recently abandoned due to the bombing and on the makeshift table there are still the remains of a badly finished breakfast. A little further on, the soldiers with the yellow stripe on their arms stop us: “You can’t go any further, back off.” Needless to insist, the tension is palpable in their eyes.
The road from Yavoriv to Lviv is quickly filled with rescue vehicles. Ambulances with blaring sirens, Red Cross convoys, buses full of soldiers. The first destination is the nearby Novoyavorivsk Hospital, a small town that wakes up in the middle of the war one Sunday morning in March. The seats in the operating room are not enough, not even those in the morgue. A relay of vehicles begins, a frenetic coming and going that is divided into two lanes: the injured who can survive the journey are urgently transported to Lviv with medical cars, the bodies of those who did not make it are transferred to the interior of small trucks adapted to hearses. At mid-day, while it is still too early to draw up a final balance, the first confirmations begin to arrive. The attack started from the Russian base of Saratov: “An unidentified number of military aircraft launched a bombardment with over 30 cruise missiles – declares the governor of Lviv Oblast, Maksym Kozytskyi -, some of these were intercepted and destroyed from the Ukrainian anti-aircraft ». The Dutch Foreign Legion, coordinated by Gert Snitselaar, confirms that “several Dutch citizens, enrolled as volunteers in the Ukrainian army, were injured following the attack on the Yavoriv base”. To the uninterrupted flow of refugees that have reached Lviv from the east of Ukraine for two weeks, is added that of wounded and dead arriving from the west. The city closest to Europe is experiencing its most difficult moment, with an unprecedented humanitarian crisis and war at the gates. All that remains is to prepare for the worst.


In the historic center, Unesco heritage since 1998, the statues are secured with scaffolding and foam rubber protections. The windows of the churches are covered with wooden and metal plates, in case of bombing they would be the first to come down. The population is prepared, everyone has an application on their smartphone that warns of a possible missile attack, they may not hear the classic anti-aircraft sirens. Meanwhile, the state is imparting lessons via text messages on how to behave in the event of an armed conflict: «Don’t go near the windows if you hear gunshots. Stay down in the event of a firefight. Do not wear military clothing. Do not collect abandoned weapons or ammunition ». The statements of the mayor of Novoyavorivsk, Volodymyr Matselyukh, closed the day: «Putin’s weapons will never take over Ukraine, ever. They can bomb us, but they will not be able to bend the Ukrainian spirit ».