Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine Dozens of Ukrainians were feared dead on Sunday after a Russian bomb destroyed a school that protected about 90 people in the basement as Moscow’s invading forces continued their barricades of towns, cities and villages in the east and south Ukraine.
The governor of Luhansk province, one of two areas that make up the eastern industrial heartland known as the Donbas, said the school in the village of Bilohorivka caught fire after Saturday’s bombing. Emergency crews found two bodies and rescued 30 people, he said.
“Probably all 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 Ukraine’s capital, Russia has focused its offensive on the Donbas, where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting since 2014 and occupying some territory. The biggest European conflict since World War II has developed into a punishment war of exhaustion due to the unexpectedly effective defense of the Ukrainian military.
To demonstrate success, the Russian military worked to complete its conquest of the besieged port city of Mariupol, which has been under relentless attack since the start of the war, in time for the celebration of Victory Day on Monday. An extensive steelworks by the sea is the only part of the city that is not under Russian control.
All the remaining women, children and elderly civilians who had been sheltered by Ukrainian fighters at the Azovstal plant were evacuated on Saturday. The troops still inside have refused to surrender; hundreds are believed to be injured.
After rescuers evacuated the last civilians On Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly speech that the focus would turn to recovering the wounded and doctors. Zelenskyy said in his nightly speech that work would also continue Sunday to secure humanitarian corridors that residents of Mariupol and surrounding cities can leave.
The Ukrainian government has approached international organizations to try to ensure safe passage for the estimated 2,000 fighters left in the plant’s underground tunnels and bunkers. Zelenskyy acknowledged the difficulty, but said: “We do not lose hope, we do not stop. Every day we look for a diplomatic opportunity that can work.”
The Ukrainian leader was expected to hold online talks on Sunday with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, President Biden and leaders from other groups of seven countries. The meeting is partly intended to show unity among Western allies on Victory in Europe Day, which marks the surrender of Nazi Germany in 1945.
Elsewhere on the Ukrainian coast, explosions echoed again on Sunday over the large Black Sea port of Odesa, which Russia hit with six cruise missiles on Saturday. The authorities did not offer any immediate damage reports.
Odesa City Council said four of the missiles fired on Saturday hit a furniture company where the shock waves and debris damaged high-rise buildings. The other two hit Odesa Airport, where a previous Russian attack destroyed the runway.
Ukrainian leaders warned that the attacks would only worsen in the run-up to Victory Day. Russian President Vladimir Putin is believed to be proclaiming some sort of triumph in Ukraine when he speaks to troops in Red Square on Monday.
In neighboring Moldova, Russian and separatist troops were on “full alert,” the Ukrainian military warned. The region has increasingly become a focus of concern that the conflict may spread beyond Ukraine’s borders.
Pro-Russian forces broke off the Transnistrian part of Moldova in 1992, and Russian troops have been stationed there ever since, allegedly as peacekeepers. These forces are on “full combat readiness,” Ukraine said without giving details on how it came to the assessment.
Moscow has tried to sweep across southern Ukraine both to cut off the country from the Black Sea and to create a corridor to Transnistria. But it has struggled to achieve those goals.
As a sign of the tenacious resistance that has held the fight up in its 11th week, Ukraine’s military Russian positions struck on an island in the Black Sea, which was conquered in the early days of the war and has become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance.
Satellite images analyzed by The Associated Press showed that Ukraine is targeting Russian-held Snake Island in an attempt to thwart Russia’s efforts to control the sea.
A satellite image taken Sunday morning by Planet Labs PBC showed smoke rising from two locations on the island. On the southern edge of the island, a fire smoked next to debris. It was similar to a video released by the Ukrainian military showing an attack on a Russian helicopter flown to the island.
A Planet Labs photo from Saturday showed most of the island’s buildings, as well as what appeared to be a Serna-class landing craft, destroyed by Ukrainian drone strikes.
The most intense struggle in recent days has taken place in eastern Ukraine. A Ukrainian counter-offensive near Kharkiv, a city in the northeast, which is the country’s second largest, “is making significant progress and is likely to advance to the Russian border in the coming days or weeks,” according to the Institute of War Studies.
The Washington-based think tank added that “the Ukrainian counter-offensive demonstrates promising Ukrainian capabilities.”
However, the Ukrainian army withdrew from Luhansk province’s combatant city of Popasna, Haidai, the regional governor, said on Sunday.
In a video interview on his Telegram channel, Haidai said Kyiv’s troops had “moved to stronger positions that they had prepared in advance.”
The Russia-backed rebels have established a breakaway region in Luhansk and neighboring Donetsk, which together make up the Donbas. Russia has attacked areas still under Ukrainian control.
“All free settlements in the Luhansk region are hot spots,” Haidai said. “Right now there are shootings in (the villages) Bilohorivka, Voivodivka and against Popasna.”