Russian forces launched missile strikes on Lviv, Ukraine’s western city, and attacked other targets in the country on Monday. This was part of an intensified effort to weaken Ukraine’s defenses before an all-out attack on the east.

Lviv was the scene of at least seven deaths. Plumes of thick black smoke rose above the city, which had been a refuge for those fleeing fighting further east in nearly two months of war.

The Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys shmyhal, however, promised to fight “absolutely to the end” in Mariupol. This strategically important city was where the last pockets of resistance during the seven-week siege consisted in Ukrainian fighters huddled in a sprawling steel plant with tunnels. The holdouts ignored the surrender-or-die ultimatum by the Russians on Sunday.

Maksym Kozytskyy the governor of Lviv said that the Russian missile strikes had struck three military infrastructure facilities as well as an auto mechanic shop. According to him, the victims included a child and emergency teams battled the fires from the attack.

According to Andriy Sadovyi, the Lviv Mayor, a hotel that provided shelter for Ukrainians fleeing fighting in other parts was one of the badly damaged buildings.

Lyudmila Turchak (47), a mother of two fled from Kharkiv with her children. “There’s no place in Ukraine that we can feel secure.”

Residents say that a powerful explosion also struck Vasylkiv which is a small town south of Kyiv where there is a military base. It wasn’t immediately clear what caused the explosion.

According to military analysts, Russia is intensifying its strikes against weapons factories, railways, and other infrastructure targets in Ukraine to weaken the country’s resistance to a major ground offensive within the Donbas, Ukraine’s predominantly Russian-speaking eastern industrial heartland.

According to the Russian military, its missiles have hit more than 20 targets in eastern and central Ukraine over the past day. These include ammunition depots and command headquarters as well as troops and vehicles. The Russian military claimed that artillery also hit 315 targets in Ukraine, while warplanes launched 108 strikes against Ukrainian troops and equipment. These claims cannot be independently verified.

Sky News was told by Gen. Richard Dannatt (a former head the British Army) that the strikes were part a Russian “softening up” campaign in preparation for a planned ground offensive against the Donbass.

The Ukrainian government stopped civilian evacuations Monday for the second day, claiming that Russian forces were blocking humanitarian corridors and shelling Ukraine.

Iryna Vereshchuk, Deputy Prime Minister, stated that Ukraine was trying to get passage from eastern and southeastern Ukraine cities and towns, including Mariupol and other Donbas areas. According to the government of the Luhansk Region in the Donbas, four civilians tried to flee but were killed and shot by Russian forces.

Vereshchuk stated that Russia could face war crimes charges for refusing to allow civilians from Mariupol.

She wrote that “your refusal to open these humanitarian conduits will in future be a reason for prosecuting all involved for war crimes.”

In turn, the Russians accused Mariupol’s “neo Nazi nationalists” of preventing the evacuation.

Russia is determined to capture the Donbas where Moscow-backed separatists control some territory after it failed to seize the capital.

In his Sunday night address to the nation, President Volodymyr Zilenskyy stated that “We are doing everything” to defend eastern Ukraine.

If successful, the looming offensive to the east would be a victory for Russian President Vladimir Putin, which would be a relief from the war’s increasing casualties and economic hardship caused by Western sanctions.

As it will allow Russian troops to be free for the new campaign, the capture of Mariupol can be seen as a crucial step in preparations for any east assault. Russia’s biggest military victory would be the fall of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov. It would take full control of the land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula that it had seized in 2014. This would deprive Ukraine of its most important port and valuable industrial assets.

Hanna Malyar, the Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister, described Mariupol in her description of Mariupol as “shield defending Ukraine.”

The siege reduced the city to rubble, but Russia estimates that a few thousand fighters are still holding onto the huge, 11-kilometer (4-mile) Azovstal steel plant.

According to Ukrainian estimates, the relentless bombardment of Mariupol — which included at a maternity hospital and a theatre where civilians were sheltering_– as well as street fighting have resulted in at least 21,000 deaths. Out of 450,000 people who lived there before the war, an estimated 100,000 are still trapped in the city.

Pro-Russian Ukrainian politician was arrested last week for treason. He offered himself as a substitute for the evacuation of Mariupol’s civilians. The video of Viktor Medvedchuk (the former leader of an opposition party that had close ties to Putin) was posted by the Ukrainian state security services.

It wasn’t clear if Medvedchuk spoke under duress.

According to AP journalists, the shelling that struck Kharkiv’s eastern city on Monday killed at least three people and injured three more. A woman appeared to be out collecting rainwater and was one of the victims. The woman was found lying on her back with a water bottle and an umbrella beside her.

Putin reiterated his belief that the Western sanctions against Russia were ineffective.

Russian leader claimed that the West had not “provoked panic in the markets and the collapse of the bank system and shortages at stores,” although he did acknowledge a sharp rise in Russian consumer prices, stating they increased by 17.5%.