By Louisa Loveluck, Rachel Pannett and Jennifer Hassan
A Russian airstrike on a Ukrainian school that was serving as a bomb shelter for civilians has left dozens of people feared injured and dead, a Ukrainian official and several survivors said Sunday.
The incident in the eastern village of Bilohorivka could rank among the deadliest attacks on civilians in Ukraine since Russia invaded on Feb. 24. It came as President Vladimir Putin’s forces intensified their push to consolidate territory here ahead of May 9, an annual holiday of pomp and circumstance in Russia known as Victory Day.
On Sunday, the sounds of clashes boomed out along the road to Bilohorivka. As Ukrainian and Russian forces traded missiles and artillery fire, soldiers urged civilian cars to turn back.
Video footage from what remained of the school showed firefighters digging through the debris as small flames licked the rubble. It was unclear how many people had been inside, and whether there were soldiers present in the area at the time of the attack.
Serhiy Haidai, the governor of Ukraine’s eastern Luhansk region, said that there had been 90 people in the basement and that about 30 had been rescued. Constant shelling, he said, made it impossible to safely clear the wreckage and search for survivors.
Some civilians evacuated from the school put the number lower, saying there had been 37 people sheltering there. “There are only 12 of us left alive,” said one of four patients interviewed by Washington Post reporters as they left a hospital in the town of Bakhmut.
“We’d been inside that basement for a month,” said a 57-year-old woman who gave her name as Irena. Her neck and face were swollen. “We were eating dinner when it happened. We didn’t know what hit us.”