Russian forces bombed a school that had been converted into a shelter in an eastern Ukraine village Saturday, leaving up to 60 people dead or missing.
Rescuers were frantically digging through the rubble in Berestove Sunday, hoping to find survivors following the airstrikes, according to reports. The attack could prove to be one of the deadliest in the two-and-a-half-month invasion. Survivors told The Washington Post dozens of people were huddled in the basement of the Bilohorivka school when it was hit.
“There are only twelve of us left alive,” a patient told the newspaper from a hospital in the nearby town of Bakhmut.
Russia appears to be escalating its attacks ahead of May 9, known in Russia as Victory Day. Moscow’s focus is now on the eastern region known as Donbas, which includes Berestove, after its forces failed to take Kyiv.
Serhiy Haidai, governor of the Luhansk region, said about 90 people were in the shelter. But witnesses put the number at around three dozen.
“We’d been inside that basement for a month,” a 57-year-old woman told the Post. “We were eating dinner when it happened. We didn’t know what hit us.”
Ukraine war: Dozens feared dead after bomb hits school https://t.co/SzRJG7lNud
— BBC News (World) (@BBCWorld) May 8, 2022
Haidai said he believes as many as 60 people are buried under the rubble are likely dead, condemning the “cynical” attack on his Telegram channel. He said the rescue efforts were hampered by a fire that broke out after the initial bombing.
“The fire was extinguished after nearly four hours, then the rubble was cleared, and, unfortunately, the bodies of two people were found,” Haidai wrote on Telegram. “Thirty people were evacuated from the rubble, seven of whom were injured. Sixty people were likely to have died under the rubble of buildings.”
Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry decried the school bombing as a “brutal war crime.” In Luhansk, Russian troops are combining with pro-Russian separatist fighters in a bid to surround government forces.
Haidai said a house in the neighboring village of Shypilovo, had been hit by Russian strikes, leaving nearly a dozen trapped in the basement. Rescuers were still trying to reach the scene, he said.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, at least 2,345 Ukrainian civilians have died, and 2,919 have been injured, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said in an update last month. Thousands of soldiers are also known to have been killed on both sides.
More than 12 million people have fled since the conflict began, with 5.7 million seeking refuge in adjacent countries and another 6.5 million displaced inside Ukraine.