Dozens of people are dead after a Russian airstrike destroyed a school in eastern Ukraine on Saturday, local officials said, as Russian forces continued their relentless bombardment of towns across the region.
The Ukrainian government said the basement of the school in the village of Bilohorivka, in the Luhansk region, was housing civilians, a claim that cannot be independently verified. The village is only a few kilometers from the front line and has suffered repeated attacks.
After a social club was recently destroyed in a bombing, the school became the last refuge for civilians, according to local officials, who said there were about 90 people in the building on Saturday when it burst into flames.
Initial reports suggested that about 30 people made it to safety or were not caught in the blast, but that as many as 60 could be trapped. If the death toll turns out to be as high as local officials fear, it could be one of the deadliest attacks since Russia renewed its offensive in eastern Ukraine less than a month ago.
Serhiy Haidai, head of the Luhansk Regional Military Administration, said Sunday morning that hope of finding survivors was waning.
“The chances that people are still alive are slim,” he said in a statement, adding that rescue efforts continued.
“When the rubble is cleared I will report the situation,” he wrote. “Maybe someone really does stay alive.”
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights estimated on Friday that more than 3,300 civilians had been killed in the war, a number that independent observers say is likely a gross underestimate. Hundreds of schools and hospitals across the country have been destroyed since the Russian invasion on February 24.
In eastern Ukraine, where fighting is now more intense, many residents have fled the relentless bombings. Authorities estimate that there are now only 50,000 people left in the Ukrainian part of Luhansk, where this school was located.