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Ukraine’s waistband for new Russian offensive on the Eastern Front

ANDRIIVKA, Ukraine ( Associated Press) — Ukraine prepared for an extreme battle for control of the besieged country’s industrial east, as Russian forces withdrew from the shattered outskirts of Kyiv and intensified their offensive into the Donbass region, where Officials urged people to evacuate before time runs out.

The mayor of the southern port city of Mariupol said on Wednesday that more than 5,000 civilians had been killed there. Meanwhile, in areas north of the capital, Moscow troops indiscriminately killed people before Ukrainian authorities retreated over the past several days, gathering evidence of Russian atrocities amid telltale signs.

In his nightly address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned that the Russian military would continue to build up its forces in preparation for a new offensive in the east, where the Kremlin has said its goal is to “liberate” Ukraine’s mostly Russian-speaking Donbass. To do. Industrial heartland. But he said that Ukraine is also preparing for war.

He said, ‘We will fight and will not back down. “We will explore all possible options to defend ourselves until Russia begins to seriously seek peace. This is our land. This is our future. And we will not give up on them.”

Ukrainian authorities urged people living in the Donbass to evacuate immediately.

“Later, the people will come under fire,” said Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vereshchuk, “and we will not be able to do anything to help them.”

A US defense official said on condition of anonymity that Russia had completed the withdrawal of all of its estimated 24,000 or more troops from the Kyiv and Chernihiv regions in the north, sending them to Belarus or Russia to resupply and reorganize. given, perhaps to return. fight in the east.

But a Western official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence estimates, said it would take up to a month for Russia’s war-damaged forces to regroup to make a major push on eastern Ukraine.

Meanwhile, the US and its Western allies moved to impose new sanctions against the Kremlin, branded as a war crime.

Mariupol Mayor Vadim Boichenko said 210 of the more than 5,000 civilians killed during Russian bombings and street fighting were children. He said the Russian military bombed hospitals, including a hospital where 50 people died in burns.

Boichenko said that more than 90% of the city’s infrastructure has been destroyed. Attacks on the strategic city on the Sea of ​​Azov have cut off food, water, fuel and medicine, and shattered homes and businesses.

British defense officials said 160,000 people were trapped in the city, which had a population of 430,000. A humanitarian relief convoy with the Red Cross has been trying for days to break into the city.

Capturing Mariupol would allow Russia to secure a continuous land corridor to the Crimean peninsula, which Moscow seized from Ukraine in 2014.

In the north, Ukrainian officials said bodies of at least 410 civilians had been found in cities around Kyiv, in what Zelensky portrays as a Russian campaign of murder, rape, dismemberment and torture. Some of the victims were apparently shot at close range. Some hands were found tied.

In his address on Wednesday night, Zelensky accused Russia of interfering with an international investigation into possible war crimes by removing corpses and trying to hide other evidence at Bucha, northeast of Kyiv.

“We have information that Russian troops have changed tactics and are trying to remove dead people, dead Ukrainians from the streets and cellars of the territory they hold,” he said. “It is just an attempt to hide evidence and nothing else.”

Switching from Ukrainian to Russian, Zelensky urged ordinary Russians to “equate themselves with the Nazis for the rest of their lives” rather than “somehow face the Russian oppressive machine”.

He called on the Russians to demand an end to the war, “if you have even the slightest shame about what the Russian military is doing in Ukraine.”

In response to alleged atrocities outside Kyiv, the US announced sanctions against two of Putin’s adult daughters and said it was toughening penalties against Russian banks. Britain banned investment in Russia and pledged to end its dependence on Russian coal and oil by the end of the year.

The US Senate plans to enact legislation on Thursday to end normal trade relations with Russia and codify President Joe Biden’s executive action banning Russian oil imports. The trade suspension would allow Biden to impose higher tariffs on some Russian imports.

The EU is also expected to take additional punitive measures, including a ban on coal.

The Kremlin has insisted that its troops have committed no war crimes, alleging that the images outside of Buka were staged by Ukrainians.

More bodies were yet to be collected at Bucha. The Associated Press reported seeing two in a house in a quiet neighborhood. From time to time there were crowds of workers clearing the city’s mines and other non-exploded ordnance.

Workers at a cemetery begin loading more than 60 bodies into a grocery shipping truck to be transported to a facility for further investigation.

Police said they found at least 20 bodies in the Makarev area, west of Kyiv. In the village of Andreevka, residents said Russians arrived in early March and took the locals’ phones. Some were detained, then released. Others met by unknown fate. Some describe being sheltered for weeks in cellars usually used for storing vegetables.

“At first we were scared, now we are hysterical,” said 64-year-old Valentina Klimenko. She said she, her husband and two neighbors weathered the siege by sleeping on a pile of potatoes covered with a mattress and blanket. “We didn’t cry before. Now we are crying.”

To the north of the village, in the town of Borodyanka, rescue workers searched for bodies through the rubble of apartment blocks.

An increasing number of Putin’s troops, accompanied by mercenaries, are reported to have moved into the Donbass, failing in their attempts to rapidly capture the capital.

The Ukrainian military has been fighting Russia-backed separatists in the Donbass since 2014. Before the February 24 invasion, Moscow recognized the Luhansk and Donetsk regions as independent states.

Also on Wednesday, the United States and the United Kingdom boycotted an informal Security Council meeting called by Russia, saying the US has biological warfare laboratories in Ukraine. The meeting was the latest in a series of moves by Russia, which has led Western countries to accuse Moscow of using the United Nations as a platform for propaganda to divert attention from the war.

Russia’s allegations have already been dismissed. Ukraine owns and operates a network of biological laboratories that have received funding and research support from the US and are no secret. The laboratories are part of a program that aims to reduce the likelihood of deadly outbreaks, whether natural or man-made.

US efforts to work to eliminate the former Soviet Union’s weapons of mass destruction program began in the 1990s.

Oleksandr Stashevsky and Kara Anna in Buka, Ukraine, Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations, Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Ukraine, and Associated Press journalists from around the world contributed to this report.

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