In Bilogorivka, in the heart of the Battle of Donbass, smoking ruins and abandoned civilians

Under the rubble of what was Bilogorivka’s school in Donbass, the basement still smokes.

Only three soot-covered corners of the one-story building remain, a week after an airstrike that Kiev proclaims as one of the most serious crimes committed by Russian forces since they began their invasion of Ukraine on 24 February. Sixty civilians died on May 7 at the school in this village, according to Ukrainian authorities.

Bilogorivka testifies to the fierce fighting going on in this corner of the Luhansk region, which together with Donetsk forms Donbass: In the almost deserted village, several buildings are still burning, the roads are filled with abandoned military equipment, and artillery fire echoes nearby.

For the first time in a week, Vladimir Guerassimenko has come out of his basement, enjoying a short respite from the fights and can not believe his own eyes.

“The world is upside down”, breathes this 70-year-old man, looking at the rubble of the school that the Soviet authorities built in this mining village after World War II. “The slaves kill the slaves. Go and find out why or for what purpose”.

– No more traces of life –

Bombings of schools – many of which have been turned into shelters where both Ukrainian civilians and the military gather – have become common in combat zones.

At a Security Council meeting on Thursday, the United Nations called for an end to the bombing of schools in Ukraine, while condemning their use for military purposes. Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vassily Nebenzia, called him “absurd” over allegations that Moscow was deliberately targeting schools.

In Bilogorivka’s there are no longer traces of life or body, not even in the least affected part of the basement. The strike dug a very deep crater in the middle of the building. Only a golden blanket of survival testifies to the efforts of the rescuers: the regional governor, Serguiï Gaïdaï, had stated the day after the bombing that 27 people had been rescued.

The strike came as the Russians have been trying for three weeks to cross the now strategic Siverskyi Donets River, which runs north of Bilogorika.

Ukrainian forces say they have rejected several Russian attempts to cross their tanks by setting up pontoons. And Britain’s Defense Ministry said on Friday that the Ukrainians had “successfully” rejected a Russian attempt to cross the river, inflicting heavy losses on Russian forces.

The latter crossed the river further west, as part of their advance on Kramatorsk, which became the administrative capital of the Ukrainian Donbass following the partial takeover of this mine basin by pro-Russian separatists in 2014.

But the Ukrainian resistance in Bilogorivka prevents them from completely encircling the twin cities of Severodonetsk and Lyssytchansk, today almost deserted, deprived of water and essential services, which constitute the last great pocket of Ukrainian resistance in this region Lugansk.

– “More than four”

“I wanted to go, but there is no one to help me escape,” said Margarita Kovalenko, Guerassimenko’s neighbor in Bilogorivka.

“There are only four of us left in this street, as far as I know,” adds Olga, Guerassimenko’s wife. “The three of us – who kept together all the time in the basement – and a young man at the end of the street”.

No Russian soldiers in sight in Bilogorivka, although mortar fire could be heard from the hills north of the village.

A car full of Ukrainian soldiers overturns past an abandoned checkpoint. Men occupy positions in silence, putting their weapons on the open doors of the car and keeping an eye on any movement at the other end of the street.

The remains of a Russian tank are hidden by rubble on the other side of the Gerasimenko house. By examining the 12 sunken craters formed by shells in his garden, this trained engineer acknowledges that he would feel more secure if the Russians took the village forever.

“The Russians helped the regions of Lugansk and Donetsk in the most difficult times,” he says, referring to the last eight years of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict over control of the region, reflecting a pro-Russian sentiment prevalent in this part of the country. Donbass.

“They sent humanitarian aid,” he said. “And all the other transmitters are weapons. I trust Russia more than anyone else combined.”

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