Up to 60 feared dead after Russia bombed a school in eastern Ukraine

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BERESTOV, Ukraine – A Russian air strike on a school that was being used as bomb shelters has buried up to 60 people under rubble and is feared dead, Ukrainian officials said Sunday.

If confirmed, the incident in the eastern village of Belhorivka would be among the deadliest attacks on civilians since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24. The blow came as President Vladimir Putin’s forces intensified efforts to unite territories ahead of May 9, a day of pomp and circumstance in Russia known as Victory Day.

The sounds of clashes rose on Sunday along the road to Belhorivka. As Ukrainian and Russian forces exchanged rockets and artillery fire, soldiers urged civilian cars to retreat.

Serhiy Haiday, the governor of eastern Ukraine’s Luhansk region, said about 90 people were hiding in the basement of the Belhorivka school when it was attacked. But some civilians evacuated from the rubble downplayed the number, saying that, in the basement at least, 37 people were sheltering.

“Only 12 of us are left alive,” said one of the four patients interviewed by Washington Post reporters as they left a hospital in the town of Bakhmut.

“We were inside that basement for a month,” said a 57-year-old woman, who gave her name as Irina. Her neck and face were swollen. “We were having dinner when it happened. We didn’t know what hit us.”

Hayday said that thirty people were rescued on Saturday, including seven wounded, and two bodies were found under the rubble. He said it was likely that all 60 people buried under the rubble had died. He added that rescue workers struggled for nearly four hours to put out a fire caused by a bomb from a Russian plane.

writing Via his Telegram channel on Sunday, Haidai condemned the “satirical” attack on a “school with a bomb shelter”. The Washington Post could not verify the accuracy of the assertions.

Russian and Ukrainian forces sometimes used empty schools as bases.

The attack on the school came amid growing concerns that Russian President Vladimir Putin may use the Victory Day holiday on Monday to launch a tougher attack on Ukraine, if only temporarily.

Russia is focusing its efforts on seizing more territory in eastern Ukraine, where the conflict between the Ukrainian army and Russian-backed separatists began in 2014.

A member of Ukraine’s regional defense forces told the Washington Post, on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media, that Putin “only wants something to say to his people tomorrow.”

“They are trying very hard to take over these towns,” he said.

Fighting raged across Luhansk on Sunday, as Russian forces attempted to encircle the towns of Lyschansk and Severedonetsk. As the reporters headed towards the area, plumes of smoke hung over the horizon.

When an artillery shell landed on a nearby field, a camouflaged civilian vehicle sped through the cloud of dust it spawned. From inside the car, a soldier made violent gestures at the cars going in the other direction, imploring them to turn around.

Ramzan Kadyrov, President of Russia’s Chechnya Republic, said Sunday that his soldiers had captured most of the eastern Ukrainian city of Bubasna, while Ukrainian officials insisted the fighting was not over yet.

“The soldiers of the Chechen special forces … took control of most of Bubasna,” Kadyrov said books on his Telegram channel. “The main streets and central neighborhoods of the city have been completely disinfected.”

Hayday said in an update on Sunday that Ukrainian forces have retreated from Pupasna to safer positions on the battlefield. “Our forces have withdrawn from Bubasna,” he said books on Telegram. “The armed forces of Ukraine are now in a stronger position, and they have prepared in advance.” The Washington Post could not verify the accuracy of either side’s assertions.

In Shipilove, a village in eastern Ukraine near where the school was bombed, at least 11 people are believed to be trapped after Russian bombing hit a building, Haidai believes. He said Sunday on his Telegram channel.

The group was hiding in a basement when the attack happened, but he said “they can be saved.” The Washington Post could not immediately verify the reports.

On D-Day without victory, Putin faces a choice over all-out war

Although Russian forces are apparently trying to consolidate their control over parts of eastern Ukraine they occupied after they invaded on February 24, progress has slowed in recent weeks and they have lost territory in the area around Kharkov, Ukraine’s second largest city.

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry condemned the attack on the school as a “brutal war crime” He accused Moscow of “constantly repeating the tragedy of World War II.”

On Sunday, Ukraine commemorated the end of World War II in Europe with other countries. President Volodymyr Zelensky said that after decades of peace, “evil” has returned after the Russian invasion.

Bennett reported from Sydney and Hassan from London. Meryl Kornfield in Washington, Victoria Bisset and Annabelle Timsit in London and Annabelle Chapman in Paris contributed to this report.