Dozens of people died after a Russian bomb blasted a Ukrainian school

Updated May 8, 2022 10:46 a.m. ET

ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine – Dozens of Ukrainians were reportedly killed on Sunday after a Russian bomb razed a school housing around 90 people in its basement, while Ukrainian troops refused to enter a besieged steelworks that forces of Moscow invasion rushed to seize before Russia’s Victory Day holiday.

The governor of Luhansk province, one of two regions that make up the eastern industrial heartland known as Donbas, said the school in the village of Bilohorivka caught fire after Saturday’s bombing. Emergency teams found two bodies and rescued 30 people, he said.

“Most likely the 60 people who remain under the rubble are now dead,” Governor Serhiy Haidai wrote on the Telegram messaging app. Russian shelling also killed two boys, aged 11 and 14, in the nearby town of Pryvillia, he said.

Europe’s biggest conflict since World War II has turned into a punitive war of attrition due to the Ukrainian army’s unexpected defensive effectiveness. Since failing to capture the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, Moscow’s forces have attacked towns, villages and villages in eastern and southern Ukraine, but have not not gained much ground, according to Western military analysts.

To demonstrate its success in time for VE Day on Monday, the Russian military worked to complete its takeover of Mariupol, which has been under relentless assault since the war began. The sprawling seaside steelworks where around 2,000 Ukrainian fighters were fighting their last stand is the only part of the city not under Russian control.

All the remaining women, children and older civilians who had taken refuge with the fighters in the Azovstal factory were evacuated on Saturday. Ukrainian troops rejected deadlines given by the Russians who said the defenders could leave with their lives if they laid down their arms.

Captain Sviatoslav Palamar, deputy commander of the Azov Regiment, a Ukrainian National Guard battalion that holds the steel plant, told an online news conference on Sunday that the site had been targeted overnight by three outings. fighter planes, artillery and tanks.

“We are under constant shelling,” he said, adding that Russian infantry had tried to storm the factory – a claim denied by Russian officials in recent days – and plant landmines. .

Palamar said there was a “multitude of casualties” at the plant.

Lt. Illya Samoilenko, another member of the Azov regiment, said there were “a few hundred” wounded soldiers at the factory, but he refused at the same press conference to reveal how many able-bodied fighters also remained. in the factory.

He described the situation as dire because they had no lifesaving equipment in their tunnels. He also said fighters had to dig people up by hand when some bunkers collapsed under Russian shelling.

“The truth is that we are unique because no one expected us to last this long,” Samoilenko said. “Surrender for us is unacceptable because we cannot grant such a gift to the enemy.”

Western allies move to show support ahead of VE Day

After rescuers evacuated the last civilians, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address that work would continue on Sunday to secure humanitarian corridors allowing residents of Mariupol and surrounding towns to leave.

The Ukrainian government contacted international organizations to try to secure safe passage for the fighters remaining in the factory’s underground tunnels and bunkers.

The Ukrainian leader was due to hold online talks with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, US President Joe Biden and leaders of other Group of Seven countries on Sunday. The meeting is partly meant to show unity among Western allies Victory in Europe Day, which marks the surrender of Nazi Germany in 1945.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau paid a surprise visit to Irpin, which had been damaged by Russia’s attempt to take kyiv at the start of the war, according to Ukrainian media outlet Suspilne and Irpin Mayor Olexander Markushyn.

Canadian officials did not immediately acknowledge Trudeau’s presence.

Trudeau is the latest Western leader to come to Ukraine to offer his support to the country.

US First Lady Jill Biden made an unannounced visit to western Ukraine. She held a surprise Mother’s Day meeting with Ukraine’s first lady Olena Zelenska at a village school as Russia continued its punitive war in the eastern regions.

Biden has traveled under the cloak of secrecy, becoming the latest high-profile American to enter Ukraine during his 10-week dispute with Russia.

Putin is expected to address Russian troops on Monday

Elsewhere on Ukraine’s coast, explosions rang out again on Sunday at the major Black Sea port of Odessa, which Russia hit on Saturday with six cruise missiles, while rocket fire damaged some 250 apartments, according to City Council.

Ukrainian leaders have warned the attacks will only get worse as Victory Day approaches, the May 9 public holiday when Russia celebrates the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945 with military parades. Russian President Vladimir Putin is believed to want to proclaim some sort of triumph in Ukraine when he addresses troops in Red Square on Monday.

Zelenskyy released a video address on Sunday marking Allied Victory Day in Europe 77 years ago, drawing parallels between Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the evils of Nazism.

The black-and-white video, posted on social media, showed Zelenskyy standing in front of a crumbling building in Borodyanka, one of Kyiv’s suburbs destroyed before Russian troops withdrew from the capital region a few years ago. weeks.

“Every year on May 8, together with the entire civilized world, we honor all those who defended the planet against Nazism during World War II,” Zelenskyy said, adding that previous generations of Ukrainians had understood the meaning of the words “never again”. “, a phrase often used as a vow never to allow a repeat of the horrors of the Holoucaust.

“We knew the price our ancestors paid for this wisdom. We knew how important it was to protect it and pass it on to our descendants. … But we had no idea that our generation would witness the ‘abuse of those words.,’ he said.

The war has put neighboring countries on high alert

In neighboring Moldova, Russian and separatist troops were on “full alert”, the Ukrainian army warned. The region has increasingly become a focus of concern about the spread of the conflict beyond Ukraine’s borders.

Pro-Russian forces broke off the Transnistria section of Moldova in 1992, and Russian troops have been stationed there ever since, ostensibly as peacekeepers. These forces are “fully combat-ready”, Ukraine said, without giving details on how it arrived at the assessment.

Moscow has sought to sweep across southern Ukraine both to cut the country off from the Black Sea and to create a corridor to Transnistria. But he struggled to achieve those goals.

A sign of the fierce resistance that sustained the fighting until its 11th week, the Ukrainian army struck Russian positions on a Black Sea island that was captured in the early days of the war and became a symbol of the Ukrainian resistance.

Satellite photos analyzed by The Associated Press showed Ukraine targeting Russian-held Snake Island in an attempt to thwart Russian efforts to control the sea.

A satellite image taken Sunday morning by Planet Labs PBC showed smoke rising from two sites on the island. On the southern edge of the island, a fire smoldered next to debris. This matched a video released by the Ukrainian military showing a strike on a Russian helicopter that had flown towards the island.

The heaviest fighting in recent days has taken place in eastern Ukraine. A Ukrainian counteroffensive near Kharkiv, a northeastern city that is the country’s second largest, “is making significant progress and will likely advance to the Russian border in the days or weeks to come”, according to the report. Institute for the Study of War.

The Washington-based think tank added that “the Ukrainian counteroffensive demonstrates promising Ukrainian capabilities.”

However, the Ukrainian army has withdrawn from the besieged town of Popasna in Luhansk province, Haidai, the regional governor, said on Sunday. In a video interview posted on his Telegram channel, Haidai said Kyiv troops had “moved to stronger positions, which they had prepared in advance”.

Rodion Miroshnik, a representative of the pro-Kremlin breakaway Luhansk People’s Republic, said his forces and Russian troops had captured most of Popasna after two months of fierce fighting.

Russian-backed rebels have established a breakaway region in Luhansk and neighboring Donetsk, which together form Ukraine’s industrial heartland known as Donbass. Russia has targeted areas still under Ukrainian control.

The leader of Transnistria, a separatist territory bordering Ukraine which separated from Moldova in 1992 and hosts around 1,500 Russian soldiers, denied allegations of mobilization in the region. The Ukrainian army had previously warned that Russian and separatist troops were on “full alert”.

Vadim Krasnoselsky, the chairman of the unrecognized territory, said he “does not pose a threat to neighboring states, observes neutrality and remains committed to the principle of resolving all issues at the negotiating table”.

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