Western officials visit Ukraine after deadly school bombing

ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine (AP) — Dozens of Ukrainians were reportedly killed on Sunday after a Russian bomb leveled a school housing about 90 people in its basement, while Ukrainian troops refused to enter a besieged steel mill which Moscow’s invading forces hastened to seize before Russia’s victory.

The governor of Luhansk province, one of two regions that make up the eastern industrial heartland known as Donbas, said the school in the village of Bilohorivka caught fire after Saturday’s bombing. Emergency teams found two bodies and rescued 30 people, he said.

“Most likely the 60 people who remain under the rubble are now dead,” Governor Serhiy Haidai wrote on the Telegram messaging app. Russian shelling also killed two boys, aged 11 and 14, in the nearby town of Pryvillia, he said.

The biggest European conflict since World War II has turned into a punitive war of attrition due to the unexpected defense efficiency of the Ukrainian army. Since failing to capture the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, Moscow’s forces have attacked towns, villages and villages in eastern and southern Ukraine, but have not not gained much ground, according to Western military analysts.

To demonstrate its success in time for VE Day on Monday, the Russian military worked to complete its takeover of Mariupol, which has been under relentless assault since the war began. The sprawling seaside steelworks where around 2,000 Ukrainian fighters made a last stand is the only part of the city that is not under Russian control.

All the remaining women, children and older civilians who had taken refuge with the fighters in the Azovstal factory were evacuated on Saturday. Ukrainian troops rejected deadlines given by the Russians who said the defenders could leave with their lives if they laid down their arms.

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Captain Sviatoslav Palamar, deputy commander of the Azov Regiment, a Ukrainian National Guard battalion that holds the steel plant, told an online news conference on Sunday that the site had been targeted overnight by three outings. fighter planes, artillery and tanks.

“We are under constant shelling,” he said, adding that Russian infantry had tried to storm the factory – a claim Russian officials have denied in recent days – and lay landmines. .

Palamar said there was a “multitude of casualties” at the plant.

Lt. Illya Samoilenko, another member of the Azov regiment, said there were “a few hundred” wounded soldiers at the factory, but he refused at the same press conference to reveal how many able-bodied fighters also remained. in the factory.

He described the situation as dire as they had no lifesaving equipment in their tunnels. He also said fighters had to dig people up by hand when some bunkers collapsed under Russian shelling.

“The truth is that we are unique because no one expected us to last this long,” Samoilenko said. “For us, surrender is unacceptable because we cannot bestow such a gift on the enemy.”

After rescuers evacuated the last civiliansUkrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he was trying to secure humanitarian corridors for residents of Mariupol and surrounding towns to leave.

The Ukrainian government contacted international organizations to try to secure safe passage for the fighters remaining in the factory’s underground tunnels and bunkers.

The Ukrainian leader was due to hold online talks with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, US President Joe Biden and leaders of other Group of Seven countries on Sunday. The meeting is partly meant to show unity among Western allies Victory in Europe Day, which marks the surrender of Nazi Germany in 1945.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Sunday paid a surprise visit to Irpin, which had been damaged by Russia’s attempt to take kyiv at the start of the war, according to Ukrainian media outlet Suspilne and Irpin Mayor Olexander Markushyn.

Markushyn posted images of Trudeau on social media, saying the Canadian leader was shocked by the damage he had seen in civilian homes.

Canadian officials said the prime minister would meet with Zelenskyy and “reaffirm Canada’s unwavering support for the Ukrainian people.”

Zelenskyy also met with German parliament speaker Bärbel Bas in kyiv on Sunday to discuss additional defense aid as well as sanctions against Russia, according to Zelenskyy’s press office.

Trudeau is the latest Western leader to travel to Ukraine to offer his support to the war-ravaged country. The Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia traveled there earlier, as did the UN Secretary General.

The First Lady of the United States Jill Biden also made an unannounced visit to western Ukraine on Sunday for a surprise Mother’s Day reunion with Zelenskyy’s wife, First Lady Olena Zelenska. They visited a village school as Russia continued its punitive war in the eastern regions.

Elsewhere on Ukraine’s coast, explosions rang out again on Sunday at the major Black Sea port of Odessa, which Russia hit on Saturday with six cruise missiles, while rocket fire damaged some 250 apartments, according to City Council.

Ukrainian leaders have warned the attacks will only get worse as VE Day approaches, the May 9 public holiday when Russia celebrates the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945 with military parades. Russian President Vladimir Putin is believed to want to proclaim some sort of triumph in Ukraine when he addresses troops in Red Square on Monday.

Zelenskyy released a video address on Sunday marking Allied Victory Day in Europe 77 years ago, drawing parallels between Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the evils of Nazism.

The black-and-white video, posted on social media, showed Zelenskyy standing in front of a crumbling building in Borodyanka, one of kyiv’s suburbs destroyed before Russian troops withdrew from the capital region a few years ago. weeks.

“Every year on May 8, together with the entire civilized world, we honor all those who defended the planet against Nazism during World War II,” Zelenskyy said, adding that previous generations of Ukrainians had understood the meaning of the words “Never again,” a phrase often used as a vow never to allow a repeat of the horrors of the Holoucaust.

“We knew the price our ancestors paid for this wisdom. We knew how important it was to protect it and pass it on to our descendants. … But we had no idea our generation would witness the abuse of those words,” he said.

In neighboring Moldova, Russian and separatist troops were on “full alert”, the Ukrainian army warned. The region has increasingly become a focus of concern about the possible extension of the conflict beyond Ukraine’s borders.

Pro-Russian forces broke off the Transnistrian section of Moldova in 1992, and around 1,500 Russian troops have been stationed there since, ostensibly as peacekeepers. These forces are in “full combat readiness”, Ukraine said, without giving details of how it came to the assessment.

Vadim Krasnoselsky, the president of the unrecognized territory, denied the claims, saying he “does not pose a threat to neighboring states, observes neutrality and remains committed to the principle of resolving all issues at the negotiating table”.

Moscow has sought to sweep across southern Ukraine both to cut the country off from the Black Sea and to create a corridor to Transnistria. But he struggled to achieve those goals.

A sign of the fierce resistance that sustained the fighting until its 11th week, the Ukrainian army struck Russian positions on a Black Sea island that was captured in the early days of the war and became a symbol of the Ukrainian resistance.

Satellite photos analyzed by The Associated Press showed Ukraine targeting Russian-held Snake Island in an attempt to thwart Russian efforts to control the sea.

A satellite image taken Sunday morning by Planet Labs PBC showed smoke rising from two sites on the island. On the southern edge of the island, a fire smoldered next to debris. This matched a video released by the Ukrainian military showing a strike on a Russian helicopter that had flown towards the island.

The heaviest fighting in recent days has taken place in eastern Ukraine. A Ukrainian counteroffensive near Kharkiv, a northeastern city that is the country’s second largest, “is making significant progress and will likely advance to the Russian border in the days or weeks to come”, according to the report. Institute for the Study of War.

The Washington-based think tank added that “the Ukrainian counteroffensive demonstrates promising Ukrainian capabilities.”

However, the Ukrainian army has withdrawn from the besieged town of Popasna in Lugansk province, Haidai, the regional governor, said on Sunday. In a video interview posted on his Telegram channel, Haidai said Kyiv troops had “moved to stronger positions, which they had prepared in advance”.

Rodion Miroshnik, a representative of the pro-Kremlin breakaway Luhansk People’s Republic, said his forces and Russian troops had captured most of Popasna after two months of fierce fighting.

Russian-backed rebels have established a breakaway region in Luhansk and neighboring Donetsk, which together form Ukraine’s industrial heartland known as Donbass. Russia has targeted areas still under Ukrainian control.

A million residents of Luhansk, including those in separatist-held territory, were left without running water on Sunday after Russian shelling damaged a local water service, the region’s Ukrainian governor wrote on the networks. social.

To the west, in Dnipropetrovsk province, the governor said a 12-year-old boy was killed by a cluster munition he found after a Russian attack. An international treaty prohibits the use of such explosives, but neither Russia nor Ukraine has signed the agreement.

Regional Governor Valentyn Reznichenko said the boy was the sixth local child killed by cluster munitions.

“This war is treacherous,” he wrote on social media. “It’s close, even when it’s invisible.”

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Gambrell reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Yesica Fisch in Bakhmut, David Keyton in Kyiv, Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Mstyslav Chernov in Kharkiv, Lolita C. Baldor in Washington, and AP staff around the world contributed to this report.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

Bonny J. Streater