Dozens fear death after Russian shelling of school in eastern Ukraine, governor says

As many as 60 people are believed to have been killed in the Russian shelling of a village school in the Luhansk region of eastern Ukraine, the regional governor announced on Sunday.

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

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

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

Reuters could not immediately verify the report.

Ukraine and the West have accused Russian forces of targeting civilians during the war, which Moscow denies.

More civilians evacuated from steel mill

In the ruined southeastern port city of Mariupol, dozens of civilians were rescued from a sprawling steelworks in a week-long operation brokered by the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross .

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a late Saturday speech that more than 300 civilians had been rescued from Azovstal steelworks and authorities would now focus on evacuating the injured and medics. Other Ukrainian sources cited different figures.

WATCH | Civilians evacuated from the Mariupol steel plant:

Civilians evacuated from Mariupol steelworks as Russian forces continue their attack

Ukraine’s deputy prime minister said all women, children and the elderly had been evacuated from a besieged steel plant in Mariupol. It is not known where all the evacuees are headed. 5:09

On Saturday, Russian-backed separatists reported a total of 176 civilians evacuated from the plant.

The Azovstal factory is a last stronghold for Ukrainian forces in the now largely Russian-controlled city, and many civilians had taken refuge in its underground shelters. It has become a symbol of resistance to the Russian effort to capture swaths of eastern and southern Ukraine.

“We will continue to fight”

Ukrainian steelworkers vowed on Sunday to continue their stand.

“We will continue to fight as long as we are alive to repel the Russian occupiers,” Captain Sviatoslav Palamar, deputy commander of the Ukrainian Azov regiment, told an online conference. The regiment is a far-right armed group that was integrated into the National Guard of Ukraine after the first Russian invasion in 2014.

Smoke rises from the Azovstal steel plant during a bombardment in Mariupol, in the territory under the government of the Donetsk People’s Republic, in eastern Ukraine on Saturday. (Alexei Alexandrov/Associated Press)

“We don’t have much time, we are under heavy shelling,” he said, imploring the international community to help evacuate injured soldiers from the factory.

Russian President Vladimir Putin describes the invasion he launched on February 24 as a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine and rid it of anti-Russian nationalism fomented by the West. Ukraine and its allies say Russia has launched an unprovoked war.

Zelensky will host a video call with G7 leaders

Mariupol is key to blocking Ukrainian exports and linking the Crimean peninsula, seized by Russia in 2014, and parts of the eastern Luhansk and Donetsk regions that have been controlled by Russian-backed separatists since the same year.

In a moving address Sunday for VE Day, as Europe commemorates Germany’s formal 1945 surrender to the Allies in World War II, Zelensky said “evil has returned” to Ukraine with the Russian invasion but that his country would prevail.

US President Joe Biden and other G7 leaders were due to hold a video call with Zelensky on Sunday in a show of unity ahead of Monday’s Victory Day celebrations in Russia.

Underlining Western support for Ukraine, Britain pledged an additional £1.3bn (C$2.1bn) in military support and aid, double its previous spending pledges .

Trudeau and Zelensky meet in Kyiv

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau paid an unannounced visit to Ukraine on Sunday for a meeting with Zelensky in the capital, Kyiv.

The Prime Minister’s Office said it planned the visit to show Canada’s support for the country and its people. Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland and Minister of Foreign Affairs Mélanie Joly are with Trudeau.

Trudeau attended a flag raising to mark the reopening of the Canadian Embassy in Kyiv.

Canada had announced the closure of its embassy on February 12 amid fears of an imminent invasion by Russia.

Jill Biden on surprise visit to Ukraine

US First Lady Jill Biden paid an unannounced visit to western Ukraine on Sunday, hosting a surprise Mother’s Day reunion with Zelensky’s wife Olena in the town of Uzhhorod , near the border with Slovakia.

“I wanted to come on Mother’s Day,” Biden told Olena Zelenska as the two gathered in a small classroom.

Jill Biden, wife of the US president, left, receives flowers from Olena Zelenska, wife of the Ukrainian president, on Sunday outside a public school that has taken in displaced students, in Uzhhorod, Ukraine. (Susan Walsh/Associated Press)

“I thought it was important to show the people of Ukraine that this war has to end and this war has been brutal and the people of the United States stand with the people of Ukraine,” Biden said.

Putin’s speech to watch closely

VE Day is a major event in Russia, and Putin will lead a parade through Moscow’s Red Square of troops, tanks, rockets and intercontinental ballistic missiles on Monday, showing military might even as his forces battle in Ukraine.

His speech could offer clues about the future of the war. Russian efforts were hampered by logistical and equipment problems and numerous casualties in the face of fierce resistance.

An aerial view shows a new road next to a destroyed bridge over the Irpin River in Irpin, on the outskirts of Ukraine’s capital Kyiv, on Saturday. (Alexei Furman/Getty Images)

The director of the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency, William Burns, said on Saturday that Putin was convinced that “doubling down” on the conflict would improve the outcome for Russia.

“He’s in a state of mind that he doesn’t believe he can afford to lose,” Burns said at a Financial Times event in Washington on Saturday.

Attacks repelled in eastern Ukraine, army says

Mariupol, which lies between the Crimean peninsula seized by Moscow in 2014 and parts of eastern Ukraine taken by Russian-backed separatists that year, is key to connecting the two Russian-held territories.

Ukraine’s Armed Forces General Staff said on Sunday that Ukrainian units near the Azovstal plant continued to be pinned down and Russia continued its artillery and tank assault on Mariupol.

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

Ukrainian forces in the two regions repelled nine enemy attacks, destroying 19 tanks, 20 combat vehicles and one unit of enemy special engineering equipment, the General Staff said on Sunday. Reuters could not immediately verify the information.

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