More than 60 people were “most likely” killed when the school they were taking shelter in was bombed by a Russian war plane late Saturday afternoon in village of Bilohorivka, near the front lines in eastern Ukraine, officials have said.
“The explosion happened inside the building. Rescuers [are] dismantling the debris as quickly as possible,” Serhii Haidai, the Luhansk province governor, wrote on Telegram, according to CNN. “The chances of finding [anyone still] alive are very small. There were 90 people inside the school building; 27 survived, 60 people most likely died.”
He later added that what was left of the “entire village” population had been hiding in the struck basement.
The bomb struck the school just after 4:30 p.m. Saturday as villagers were taking shelter amid increased bombardment. The initial fires caused by the bombing took more than four hours to put out. Two bodies and roughly 30 survivors were discovered, according to the Associated Press, but rescuers were forced to abort search efforts overnight due to heavy fighting.
A spokesperson for Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary-general, said Sunday he was “appalled” by the Bilohorivka bombing. “This attack is yet another reminder that in this war, as in so many other conflicts, it is civilians that pay the highest price,” the organization’s statement said.
Many of those taking shelter in the school had escaped the earlier bombing of a local social club that was destroyed in a missile attack. It is unclear how many children, if any, were in the school bunker at the time it was struck.
At least two boys, aged 11 and 14, were also killed Sunday in Pryvillia, a small city in Luhansk, the governor said. The deaths were attributed to Russian shelling.
As the battle raged in the east, U.S. first lady Jill Biden made a surprise visit across the border to meet Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska on Sunday.
The two met at a school serving as a bomb shelter for refugees from other parts of the country. “I wanted to come on Mother’s Day,” Biden told pool reporters. “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.”
Zelenska thanked the first lady for “a very courageous act” by visiting the war zone.
Near Odessa, fierce sea battles have been underway since Saturday with both Russia and Ukraine claiming sporadic victories. Several Russian warships have reportedly been damaged, along with Ukraine’s defense capabilities. Both sides claimed Sunday that they had control over the highly contested Snake Island in the Black Sea.
In prepared remarks to commemorate the day of Remembrance and Reconciliation to mark the end of World War II, Ukrainian President Volodmyr Zelensky could not help but highlighting hypocrisy when it comes to war and peace. “Every year on May 8, together with the entire civilized world, we honor everyone who defended the planet from Nazism during World War II. Millions of lost lives, crippled destinies, tortured souls, and millions of reasons to say to evil: never again!,” he said, according to a transcript obtained by the Guardian.
“This year we say, ‘Never again’ differently. We hear ‘Never again’ differently. It sounds painful, cruel. Without an exclamation, but with a question mark. You say: never again? Tell Ukraine about it.”