Under the rubble of what was the Bilogorivka school, in the Ukrainian Donbas, the basement still smokes a week after the bombing that the kyiv authorities describe as one of the worst crimes committed by the Russian army since the beginning of its invasion, on February 24.
On May 7, 60 civilians were killed in the school of this village, according to the Ukrainian authorities.
Bilogorivka bears witness to the fierce battle raging in this corner of the Lugansk region, which together with Donetsk makes up Donbas.
In the almost deserted village, several buildings are still burning, the roads are littered with abandoned military equipment and artillery fire can be heard nearby.
For the first time in a week, Vladimir Gerasimenko emerged from the basement where he was holed up, taking advantage of a brief respite from the fighting. He doesn’t believe what he sees.
“The world has turned upside down,” says this 70-year-old man, looking at the rubble of the school, built in that mining village by the Soviet authorities after the Second World War.
“The Slavs kill the Slavs. Who knows why or for what?” he wonders.
– No trace of life –
Bombings of schools — many of which were turned into shelters for Ukrainian civilians and military — became frequent in these combat zones.
During a meeting of the Security Council on Thursday, the UN called for the bombing of these establishments to stop and denounced their use for military purposes.
Russia’s ambassador to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia, called accusations that Moscow deliberately targeted schools “absurd.”
In Bilogorivka, there is no trace of life or bodies, even in the least affected part of the basement. The attack left a large hole in the middle of the building. The only thing left is a gold thermal survival cover.
According to regional governor Sergei Gaidai the day after the bombing, 27 people could be rescued.
The attack 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 claim to have halted several Russian advances, but the latter crossed the river further west as part of their drive towards Kramatorsk, the de facto capital of the part of Donbas still under Ukrainian control.
However, Ukrainian resistance in Bilogorivka prevents them from completely encircling the twin cities of Severodonetsk and Lisichansk, which are now almost deserted, deprived of water and essential services. They are the last great stronghold of Ukrainian resistance in this region of Luhansk.
– “There are only four left now” –
“I would go, but there is no one to help me escape,” says Margarita Kovalenko, a neighbor of Gerasimenko.
“As far as I know, there are only four of us left on this street,” adds Olga, Gerasimenko’s wife. “We three, who always stayed in the basement, and a young man at the end of the street.”
Russian soldiers are not to be seen in Bilogorivka, although gunshots can still be heard from the hills north of the town.
A car full of Ukrainian soldiers stops after passing through an abandoned checkpoint. The men take their positions in silence, placing their weapons on the open doors of the car, watching for any movement at the other end of the street.
Gerasimenko, an engineer by training, admits that he would feel safer if the Russians took over the town.
“The Russians helped the Luhansk and Donetsk regions in the most difficult times,” he says, referring to the last eight years of Russo-Ukrainian conflict over control of the region, a reflection of frequent pro-Russian sentiment in this part of Donbas. .