60 presumed dead as Russian shell hits school shelter, Ukraine says
ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine (AP) — Dozens of Ukrainians were reported dead Sunday after a Russian bomb destroyed a school housing about 90 people in the basement as invading forces from Moscow continued their barrage of towns, villages and villages in eastern and southern Ukraine.
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.
Since failing to capture the Ukrainian capital, Russia has focused its offensive in Donbass, where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting since 2014 and occupy part of the territory. Europe’s biggest conflict since World War II has turned into a punitive war of attrition due to the unexpectedly effective defense of the Ukrainian army.
To demonstrate its success, Moscow aimed to complete its conquest of the beleaguered port city of Mariupol in time for Victory Day celebrations on Monday. All of the remaining women, children and elderly civilians who had taken refuge with Ukrainian fighters in a sprawling steelworks that is the city’s last point of defense were evacuated on Saturday.
Troops still inside refused to surrender and also requested international assistance to get them out. Capturing Mariupol would give Moscow a land bridge to the Crimean peninsula, annexed by Ukraine in a 2014 invasion.
Satellite photos taken Friday by Planet Labs PBC showed extensive devastation at the Azovstal steelworks. The buildings had gaping holes in the roofs, including one under which hundreds of fighters were probably hiding.
After rescuers evacuated the last civilians on Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his evening speech that the focus would be on extracting the wounded and medics: “Of course, if everyone respects the agreements . Of course, if there are no lies.
Elsewhere on the coast, air raid sirens sounded repeatedly early Sunday in the major Black Sea port of Odessa, which Russia hit on Saturday with six cruise missiles.
Odessa City Council said four of the missiles hit a furniture business, with the shock waves and debris severely damaging high-rise apartment buildings. The other two missiles hit Odessa airport, where a previous Russian attack had destroyed the runway.
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.
Western military analysts also said a Ukrainian counteroffensive was advancing around the country’s second-largest city, Kharkiv. The Ukrainian military said retreating Russian forces destroyed three bridges on a road northeast of the city in an attempt to slow the Ukrainian advance.
Ukrainian leaders have warned the attacks will only get worse as Victory Day approaches, 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.
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 possible extension 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 in “full combat readiness”, Ukraine said, without giving details of how it came to the assessment.
Moscow has sought to sweep across southern Ukraine both to cut the country off from the sea and create a corridor to Transnistria. But he struggled to achieve those goals.
Satellite photos analyzed by The Associated Press showed Ukraine targeting Russian-held Snake Island in an effort to obstruct Russian efforts to control the Black 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 its strike on a Russian helicopter that had flown towards the island.
A Planet Labs image from Saturday showed most buildings on the island, along with what appeared to be a Serna-class landing craft against the island’s north beach. had been destroyed by Ukrainian drone attacks.
The heaviest fighting in recent days has taken place in eastern Ukraine. Western military analysts said a counteroffensive by Ukrainian forces was advancing around Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city. The Ukrainian army said it had regained control of five villages and part of a sixth near the northeastern town.
However, the Ukrainian army has withdrawn from the besieged town of Popasna in Lugansk 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”.
“All free settlements in the Luhansk region are hotspots,” Haidai added. “At the moment there are shootings in (the villages) of Bilohorivka, Voivodivka and towards Popasna.”
Zelenskyy said in his evening speech that work would also continue on Sunday to secure humanitarian corridors allowing residents of Mariupol and surrounding towns to leave.
It remains unclear what will happen to the approximately 2,000 fighters at the Azovstal plant, both those still in combat and the hundreds who are believed to be injured. The Ukrainian government has contacted international organizations to try to guarantee them safe passage. abandonment.
Zelenskyy said officials were trying to find a way to evacuate them. He acknowledged the difficulty, but said: “We don’t give up hope, we don’t stop. Every day we search for a diplomatic option that might work.
Gambrell reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Yesica Fisch in Bakhmut, David Keyton in Kyiv, Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Mstyslav Chernov in Kharkiv, Lolita C. Baldor in Washington, and AP staff around the world contributed to this report.
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