War in Ukraine: Sixty feared dead after Russian bombing of school in Luhansk

G7 leaders to hold call with Zelenskiy in show of unity before Victory Day events in Moscow

Russia’s bombing of a school in the eastern Ukrainian village of Bilohorivka killed two people and left 60 in the debris feared dead, the governor of Ukraine’s Luhansk region said on Sunday.

Governor Serhiy Gaidai said Russian forces dropped a bomb on Saturday afternoon on the school, where about 90 people were sheltering, causing a fire that engulfed the building.

“The fire was extinguished after nearly four hours, then the rubble was cleared, and, unfortunately, the bodies of two people were found,” Mr Gaidai wrote on the Telegram messaging app.

“Thirty people were evacuated from the rubble, seven of whom were injured. Sixty people were likely to have died under the rubble of buildings.”


Reuters could not immediately verify the report.

Ukraine and the West have accused Russian forces of targeting civilians and war crimes in the war in Ukraine, charges Moscow rejects.

Russia’s 10-week-old war on Ukraine has killed thousands, destroyed cities and driven 5 million Ukrainians to flee abroad.

The besieged port city of Mariupol, a strategic target for Russian forces, has been virtually destroyed, with the last 300 civilians trapped in the bombed-out Azovstal steelworks in the city evacuated on Saturday. Evacuation efforts will now focus on getting the wounded and medics out of the steelworks, the last holdout of the remaining Ukrainian defenders of the city.

Ukrainian fighters in the plant have vowed not to surrender and Russian forces are seeking to declare a victory in the prolonged battle for the vast plant in time for Monday's Victory Day celebrations in Moscow, which commemorate the Soviet Union's triumph over Nazi Germany in the second World War.

The Soviet-era Azovstal steel mill has become a symbol of resistance to the Russian effort to capture swaths of eastern and southern Ukraine.

US president Joe Biden and other G7 leaders are to hold a video call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Sunday in a show of unity ahead of Victory Day, in which Russian president Vladimir Putin typically inspects a massive military parade in Moscow.

"Putin's brutal attack is not only causing untold devastation in Ukraine – it is also threatening peace and security across Europe, " British prime minister Boris Johnson said in a statement on Saturday pledging more military aid to Ukraine.

Britain pledged to provide a further £1.3 billion (about €1.52 billion), double its previous spending commitments and what it said was the country's highest rate of spending on a conflict since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Clues to the future

Mr Putin’s Victory Day speech could offer clues on the future of the war he launched on February 24th with an unsuccessful assault on Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv. Russia’s efforts have been plagued by logistical and equipment problems and high casualties in the face of fierce resistance.

US CIA director William Burns said Mr Putin was convinced "doubling down" on the conflict would improve the outcome for Russia.

“He’s in a frame of mind in which he doesn’t believe he can afford to lose,” Mr Burns told a Financial Times event.

Other observers suggest Mr Putin may declare mission accomplished. Ukraine’s defence intelligence agency has cited reports that Kremlin was preparing for a Victory Day parade in Mariupol.

The Kremlin did not respond to requests for comment on what Mr Putin might say in the speech, to be delivered from the Red Square tribune in front of Vladimir Lenin’s Mausoleum.

Moscow calls the war a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine and rid it of anti-Russian nationalism fomented by the West. Ukraine and the West say Russia launched an unprovoked war.

Key territory

Mariupol, which lies between the Crimean Peninsula seized by Moscow in 2014 and parts of eastern Ukraine taken by Russia-backed separatists that year, is key to linking the two Russian-held territories and blocking Ukrainian exports.

Ukraine’s general staff said on Sunday that Ukrainian units near the Azovstal plant continued to be blockaded and Russia continued its assault using artillery and tanks in Mariupol.

Russia’s offensive in eastern Ukraine aims to establish full control over the Donetsk and Luhansk regions – where pro-Russian separatists have declared breakaway republics – and maintain the land corridor between these territories and Crimea. – Reuters