Dozens of Ukrainians are feared dead after a Russian bomb leveled a school housing around 90 people in its basement, while Ukrainian troops refused to enter a besieged steelworks that invading forces from Moscow hastened to seize before Russia’s Victory Day holiday.
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.
Europe’s biggest conflict since World War II has turned into a punitive war of attrition due to the surprisingly effective defense of the Ukrainian army.
Since failing to capture Ukraine’s 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 were fighting their last stand is the only part of the city 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.
Troops still inside refused to surrender; hundreds are thought to be injured.
Captain Sviatoslav Palamar, deputy commander of the Azov regiment, a Ukrainian National Guard battalion holding the steel plant, told an online press conference on Sunday that the site had been targeted overnight by three plane sorties fighters, artillery and tanks.
“We are constantly bombarded,” he said, adding that Russian infantry had tried to storm the factory – a claim denied by Russian authorities in recent days – and plant landmines.
Captain Palamar said there had been a “multitude of casualties” at the factory.
Lieutenant Illya Samoilenko, another member of the Azov regiment, declined at the same press conference to say how many soldiers remained at the factory.
Both soldiers had long beards and looked tired.
“The truth is we are unique because no one expected us to last this long,” Lt Samoilenko said.
“For us, surrender is unacceptable because we cannot bestow such a gift on the enemy.”
After rescuers evacuated the last civilians, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly video address that work would continue on Sunday to secure humanitarian corridors allowing 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.
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 Victory 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.
Mr Zelensky released a video address on Sunday marking Allied Victory Day in Europe 77 years ago, drawing parallels between the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the evils of Nazism.
The black-and-white video, posted on social media, showed Mr Zelensky standing in front of a crumbling building in Borodyanka, one of kyiv’s suburbs destroyed before Russian troops withdrew from the capital region there a few 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,” Zelensky said.
“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 spread of the conflict beyond Ukraine’s borders.
Pro-Russian forces broke off the Transnistria section of Moldova in 1992, and Russian troops have been stationed there ever since, ostensibly as peacekeepers.
These forces are in “full combat readiness”, Ukraine said, without giving details of how it came to the assessment.
Moscow has sought to sweep across southern Ukraine both to cut the country off from the sea and 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 (AP) showed Ukraine targeting the Russian-held Snake Island in an effort to obstruct 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 its strike on a Russian helicopter that had flown towards the island.
A Planet Labs image from Saturday showed that most buildings on the island, as well as what appeared to be a Serna-class landing craft against the island’s north beach, had been destroyed by Ukrainian drone attacks .
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 Luhansk province, Haidai 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”.
Russian-backed rebels have established a breakaway region in Luhansk and neighboring Donetsk, which together form Donbass.
Russia has targeted areas still under Ukrainian control.
“All free settlements in the Luhansk region are hotspots,” Haidai added.
“At the moment there are shootings in (the villages) of Bilohorivka, Voivodivka and towards Popasna.”