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Russia strikes Ukrainian military base, killing more than 30 people

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, HOST:

Russia's army hit sites this morning in western Ukraine that had previously seen few, if any, attacks. Russia struck a Ukrainian military base with cruise missiles, according to Ukrainian military officials, who say 35 people were killed and more than 100 others are wounded. The base is close to the border with Poland, a member of NATO. Meantime, in several eastern cities, the humanitarian situation is dire as trapped civilians face shortages of food, water and medicine.

Joining us now from Lviv with the latest is NPR's Eric Westervelt. Hi, Eric.

ERIC WESTERVELT, BYLINE: Good morning, Debbie.

ELLIOTT: What more do you know about the attack on the base outside of Lviv?

WESTERVELT: Well, this was a heavy, sustained missile barrage. Ukrainian officials are saying Russian forces fired about 30 cruise missiles. That's according to a senior official in the Lviv region. As you noted in the intro, officials say 35 people killed. More than 130 others have been wounded. Those numbers are pretty likely to change. It hasn't been that long since the attack. It's likely the Russians suspected this site, Debbie, was being used to funnel lethal aid - anti-tank, anti-aircraft weapons, ammunition, as well - that many NATO countries have been pouring into Ukraine. That aid is clearly helping the Ukrainians on the battlefield. The Russians want to disrupt that flow, and a senior Russian diplomat had warned just yesterday that such shipments were, quote, "legitimate military targets." Before the war, I should note, the U.S. and NATO regularly sent instructors to this range to train Ukrainian military personnel. The facility has been - you know, previously hosted international NATO drills. The site is called the International Peacekeeping and Security Center.

ELLIOTT: And it sounds like this attack is very close to NATO's doorstep.

WESTERVELT: Absolutely. I mean, it was a large, deadly attack, not far from the Poland-Ukraine border. It's not far from Lviv, where more than 200,000, you know, have fled to shelter from the fighting in the east. You know, along with most everyone, you know, in the city, me and the entire NPR crew had to spend hours sheltering overnight last night because the air-raid sirens went off in the middle of the night. And I should note the attack wasn't far from what's become really one of the main routes, moving tens of thousands of refugees and supplies in and out of the country since the start of the war. Russia also hit sites near the airport in another western city. That's Ivano-Frankivsk. That's south of Lviv. The mayor there said, look, the Russian tactic is to create fear and, you know, panic in the city. And the western city of Lutsk was also hit at the start of this weekend. So now the war has, you know, basically touched every region in the country.

ELLIOTT: Eric, international aid groups have worked to get food, medicine, medical supplies to the eastern cities that have been battered by the Russians. Mariupol, the coastal city in the southeast, remains the hardest hit. What more can you tell us about the situation with that this morning?

WESTERVELT: Well, the Red Cross - the International Committee of the Red Cross, the ICRC - continues to try to get safe passage for civilians out of Mariupol. Those efforts have repeatedly failed, for the most part. The ICRC itself has some 60-plus staff members and their families trapped in that city. I spoke today with the ICRC's Florian Seriex, who's in central Ukraine. He says, look, it's been really hard to reach those staffers to get updates, but when they do, they paint an increasingly dire picture. He says the staff is trying to stay helpful, useful, but they're also just trying to survive.

FLORIAN SERIEX: They need to find water. They need to find food. And every time they move somewhere, they don't know if they will be able to come back. So I feel like there is a lot of desperation, a lot of risk. The needs are critical in terms of food, of water. People are getting sick because there is no heating.

WESTERVELT: And Debbie, there are stories of people breaking into those heating systems and melting snow to try to get water. There is a worry, a real worry that some civilians could start to die of dehydration and hunger if the situation there doesn't improve.

ELLIOTT: It just sounds awful. Medical aid groups have also tried to resupply medicine and medical supplies. And what's going on there?

WESTERVELT: Yeah, there's shortages of some drugs to treat chronic illnesses as well. Some people trapped in these cities with preexisting conditions are facing really a desperate challenge to get the medicine that they rely on. Ukrainian doctors and nurses continue to do heroic work, treating the sick and the wounded. But I should note even Doctors Without Borders - MSF, which works in really the world's most challenging places - they've had to suspend almost all operations in Ukraine. That includes, you know, projects on HIV and tuberculosis. So it's really difficult. They're trying to reconstitute operations there. But I talked to folks there with the group today, and they're saying, look, it's just almost impossible.

ELLIOTT: That's NPR's Eric Westervelt in Lviv, Ukraine. Eric, thank you for your reporting.

WESTERVELT: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.