By Reuters, published by Swissinfo.ch, plus CNN
Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine – As many as 60 people were feared to have been killed in the Russian bombing of a village school in the eastern Ukrainian region of Luhansk, the regional governor said on Sunday.
Russian forces also continued shelling the Azovstal steelworks, last holdout of Ukrainian resistance in the ruined southeastern port city of Mariupol, where soldiers from the Azov regiment vowed to keep on fighting.
Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai said the school in Bilohorivka, where about 90 people were sheltering, was hit on Saturday by a Russian bomb that set the building ablaze for four hours.
“Thirty people were evacuated from the rubble, seven of whom were injured. Sixty people were likely to have died,” Gaidai wrote on the Telegram messaging app, adding that two dead bodies had been found.
Ukraine and its Western allies have accused Russian forces of targeting civilians in the war, which Moscow denies.
In Mariupol, the deputy commander of the Azov regiment pleaded with the international community to help evacuate wounded soldiers from the sprawling Azovstal steel plant.
“We will continue to fight as long as we are alive to repel the Russian occupiers,” Captain Sviatoslav Palamar told an online news conference.
In a week-long operation brokered by the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), scores of civilians who had taken refuge in the plant’s underground shelters have been evacuated.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said late on Saturday that more than 300 civilians had been rescued and authorities would now focus on trying to evacuate the wounded and medics. Other Ukrainian sources have cited different figures.
Russian-backed separatists said a total of 145 people, including 24 children, were evacuated on Sunday from Mariupol to the village of Bezimenne, about 40 km (25 miles) east, in the area they control.
That number was in addition to 182 evacuees who had arrived at Bezimenne earlier in the operation, according to figures given by the separatists. They said those who wished to go to areas controlled by Ukraine were handed over to UN and ICRC representatives.
In the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia, about 230 km (140 miles) northwest of Mariupol, dozens of people who had fled the port city and nearby occupied areas on their own or with the help of volunteers waited to be registered in a car park set up to welcome evacuees.
“There’s lots of people still in Mariupol, who want to leave but can’t,” said history teacher Viktoria Andreyeva, 46, who said she had only just reached Zaporizhzhia after leaving her bombed home in Mariupol with her family in mid-April.
“The air feels different here, free,” she said in a tent where volunteers offered food, basic supplies and toys to the new arrivals, many of whom were travelling with small children.
In an emotional address on Sunday for Victory Day, when Europe commemorates the formal surrender of Germany to the Allies in World War Two, Zelenskiy said that evil had returned to Ukraine with the Russian invasion, but his country would prevail.
Russian President Vladimir Putin says he launched on Feb. 24 a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine and rid it of anti-Russian nationalism fomented by the West. Ukraine and its allies say Russia launched an unprovoked war.
Mariupol is key to Moscow’s efforts to link the Crimean Peninsula, seized by Russia in 2014, and parts of the eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk that have been controlled by Russia-backed separatists since then.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin said on Telegram he visited Mariupol on Sunday, the country’s most senior government figure to set foot in the city after weeks of Russian bombardment.
Khusnullin, who is in charge of construction and urban development, visited the commercial port there and said it should be used to bring in building materials to restore the city, according to the Russian defence ministry’s Zvezda TV channel.
Western show of support
US First Lady Jill Biden made an unannounced stop in Ukraine on Sunday, visiting a school that is serving as a temporary shelter and meeting her Ukrainian counterpart Olena Zelenska, according to a report by a Washington Post reporter shared with other media organisations.
“I thought it was important to show the Ukrainian people that this war has to stop and this war has been brutal and that the people of the United States stand with the people of Ukraine,” Biden said.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was also in Ukraine, making an unannounced visit to the town of Irpin, its mayor said on Telegram.
Putin sent Victory Day messages to separatist leaders in Luhansk and Donetsk, saying Russia was fighting shoulder to shoulder with them and likening their joint efforts to the war against Nazi Germany. “Victory will be ours,” Putin said, according to a Kremlin press release on Sunday.
Russia’s efforts have been stymied by logistical and equipment problems and high casualties in the face of fierce resistance.
Putin will preside on Monday over a parade in Moscow’s Red Square of troops, tanks, rockets and intercontinental ballistic missiles, making a speech that could offer clues on the future of the war.
“They (the Russians) have nothing to celebrate tomorrow,” said US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield on CNN. “They have not succeeded in defeating the Ukrainians. They have not succeeded in dividing the world or dividing Nato.”
UK announces additional $1.6 billion in military support for Ukraine
The announcement comes ahead of a virtual G7 summit on Sunday, which will include Ukrainian President Zelensky.
The pledge marks “the highest rate of UK military spending on a conflict, since the height of the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan,” according to a Treasury statement on Saturday.
Earlier this week, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised £300 million ($370 million) of military support to Ukraine, including electronic warfare equipment, a counter battery radar system, GPS jamming equipment and thousands of night vision devices. The Treasury said this would be funded from the £1.3 billion increase.
The new pledge almost doubles the UK’s previous spending commitments on the war in Ukraine.
Johnson and his defence secretary will host a meeting of defence companies later this month “to discuss ramping up production in response to increased demand created by the conflict in Ukraine and a global shift away from Russian-made weaponry,” the statement added.
U2 performs inside a Ukraine train station
The band said in a tweet on Sunday that President Zelensky “invited us to perform in Kyiv as a show of solidarity with the Ukrainian people and so that’s what we’ve come to do.”
Top: Emergency crew work near a burning debris, after a school building was hit as a result of shelling, in the village of Bilohorivka, Luhansk, Ukraine, May 8, 2022. Photo: State Emergency Services/Handout via Reuters and published by SwissInfo.ch
First insert: Ukrainian soldiers head for the front on Sunday in Bakhmut, Donetsk region. Photo: Reuters and published by BBC
Second insert: US first lady Jill Biden receives flowers from Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska in Uzhhorod, Ukraine, on May 8. Photo: Susan Walsh/AP and published by CNN
Third insert: There was no advance notice of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s visit to Irpin, just outside Kyiv. Photo: BBC
Fourth insert: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks in front of a live video feed showing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on May 5, 2022 in London, England. Photo: Chris J. Ratcliffe/Getty Images and published by CNN
Fifth insert: U2’s Bono sings with Taras Topolia, the singer of Ukrainian pop-rock band Antytila, inside a metro station in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Sunday, May 8. Photo: Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters and published by CNN
Home Page: A school in Bilohorivka, Ukraine was bombed by Russia. Photo from Luhansk Regional Governor Serhiy Haidai and published by CNN