Bloody back-to-school for Donetsk schoolchildren

1st October 2014, Comments 0 comments

"Everything was ready for a nice back-to-school day," said Zoya, the watch woman of Donetsk school number 57. Instead the festive morning of balloons and flowers ended with a shell that took the lives of four people.

The bodies -- all adults -- were taken from the scene, and glass was neatly swept from the main hall when AFP reporters arrived. But the floor was still marked by a pool of blood. A red plastic bowling pin laid nearby, along with some broken flower pots.

Looking dazed, 64-year-old Zoya stood under a portrait of a former studient at the school who went on to be come a pole-vaulting star for Ukraine. She had been about to ring the bell to mark the end of the first morning class of the year.

"Children were walking through the hallways. I was about to ring it when the explosion happened," she remembered, her eyes red from crying.

"I was next to the door, and the blast sent me flying," she said. "I heard two explosions. We rushed the children to the basement right away. Everyone was scared, the teachers tried to calm them down."

Dozens of children had turned out to start school that day, held by rebel authorities one month later than in the rest of the country because of persistent violence that had damaged many schools. None of the pupils was gravely injured.

- 'Kill the bastards' -

Zoya had been late to ring the bell, and that might have avoided the worst of the carnage. Had she called the children out on time, the shell that landed on the pavement outside could have hit them.

The adults who were killed included a biology teacher, a young parent and a soldier, she said. Eight more people were injured.

Rebel authorities said that two of the victims were security guards and blamed the strike on Ukrainian artillery.

Pro-Kiev regional government authorities asserted that pro-Russian separatists in the so-called Donetsk People's Republic fired the shells.

"My little sister was on the first floor. She wasn't hit, but she hasn't spoken a word to anyone since she returned home," said Nikita, 17 and a former student of the school who turned up with some friends to help clean up the mess.

"Those bastards deserve to be killed," he said, referring to Kiev's troops that locals blame for the violence.

It is difficult to determine the origin of the rockets. They were presumed to have been launched by Uragan (Hurricane) multiple rocket launchers -- equipment used by both the rebels and the Ukrainian army -- from the southwest.

The Kievsky district, where the school is located along with a nearby bus stop where six other people were killed Wednesday, is frequently hit by crossfire.

The neighbourhood lies close to Donetsk's airport, where a Ukrainian contingent has been holed up for weeks, warding off attacks from the separatists who otherwise control the city.

Bodies of passengers and bystanders killed from the shell that landed near bus No. 17 were still laying at the scene in the afternoon, some covered with pieces of corrugated metal frequently used for roofs and fences.

"I was with a friend, she was killed on the spot," sobbed one passenger, 33-year-old Vika Stegaylo, who stood up to get off the vehicle when the explosion hit. "She had a daughter only a year and seven months old. What is she going to do now?"

© 2014 AFP

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