21 killed in pre-dawn Russian attack on school

Kiev: Twenty-one people have been killed by Russian artillery that destroyed a school and a community center in Merefa, near the northeast city of Kharkiv, officials said. Merefa Mayor Veniamin Sitov said the attack occurred just before dawn on Thursday.

The Kharkiv region has seen heavy bombardment as stalled Russian forces try to advance in the area.

In the city of Chernihiv, northeast of Kyiv, Ukraine’s emergency service says a hostel was shelled, killing a mother, father and three of their children, including 3-year-old twins.

Early capture of the cities of Melitopol, Berdyansk and Kherson allowed Russian forces to start carrying out what looks like a template for the war’s stated goals — repeated on Wednesday by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov — of the “demilitarization” and “denazification” of Ukraine.

On Wednesday, both sides also indicated they were inching toward a potential cease-fire deal, even as major differences remain and Putin gave a televised speech about the “self-cleansing” power of current events for Russia that offered little obvious cause for hope.

After initial gains, the Russian military’s southern advance has met resistance in Mariupol, Ukraine’s easternmost port city, and Mykolayiv, the gateway to Odesa in the west, where the wide Bug river estuary makes a natural defensive barrier.

Still, a Russian breakthrough to take the entire coastline would be a disaster for Ukraine, because 70% of our exports go by sea, 90% of our grain, said Hanna Shelest, Odesa-based director of security programs at Foreign Policy Council Ukrainian Prism.