Ukrainian forces recapture areas near Kiev amid fears of traps

Ukrainian forces recapture areas near Kiev amid fears of traps

KYIV, Ukraine ( Associated Press) – Ukrainian troops on Saturday carefully moved to retake territory north of the country’s capital, using cables to pull the bodies of civilians off the streets of one town for fear that Russian forces might hijack them. caught before they left.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned hours earlier in his nightly video speech that departing Russian troops were creating a “catastrophic” situation for civilians by leaving mines around houses, abandoned equipment and “even the bodies of the dead”. His claims could not be independently verified.

Associated Press journalists in Bucha, a suburb northwest of Kiev, watched on Saturday as Ukrainian soldiers backed up by a column of tanks and other armored vehicles used cables to tow bodies from a distance off a street, fearing they may be armed to explode. Locals said the dead – the Associated Press counted at least six – were civilians killed by departing Russian soldiers without provocation.

“Those people just walked and they shot them for no reason. Afraid, ”said a Bucha resident who refused to give his name for security reasons. “In the next neighborhood, Stekolka, it was even worse. They would shoot without asking any question. “

Ukraine and its Western allies have reported increasing evidence of Russia withdrawing its forces from around Kiev and building up its troops in eastern Ukraine.

The visible shift did not mean that the country had faced a postponement of more than five weeks of war or that the more than 4 million refugees who had fled Ukraine would soon return. Zelenskyy said he expects deserted villages to endure missile attacks and rocket attacks from afar and that the fighting in the east will be intense.

“It is still not possible to return to normal life as it was before, even in the areas we are taking back after the fighting,” the president said.

Moscow’s focus on eastern Ukraine also targeted the besieged southeastern city of Mariupol. The port city on the Sea of ​​Azoz is located in the mostly Russian-speaking Donbas region, where Russia-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian troops for eight years. Military analysts think Russian President Vladimir Putin is determined to take over the region after his forces failed to secure Kiev and other major cities.

The International Committee of the Red Cross planned to try to get into Mariupol on Saturday to evacuate residents after canceling the operation on Friday when it did not receive the assurance that the route was safe. City officials said the Russians had blocked access to the city. By late Saturday, there was no word on whether the Red Cross had managed to reach Mariupol.

A Zelenskyy adviser, Oleksiy Arestovych, said in an interview with Russian lawyer and activist Mark Feygin that Russia and Ukraine have reached an agreement to allow 45 buses to travel to Mariupol to “residents in the coming days.” ”To evacuate.

The Mariupol City Council earlier on Saturday said 10 empty buses were on their way to Berdyansk, a city 84 kilometers (52.2 miles) west of Mariupol, to pick up people who could get out on their own. About 2,000 made it out of Mariupol on Friday, some by bus and some in their own vehicles, city officials said.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said 765 Mariupol residents used private vehicles on Saturday to reach Zaporizhzhia, a city still under Ukrainian control that served as the destination for other planned evacuations.

Among those who escaped from the city was Tamila Mazurenko, who said she fled Mariupol on Monday, made the night to Berdyansk and then took a bus to Zaporizhzhia. Mazurenko said she waited until Friday for a bus and spent one night in a field.

“I have only one question: Why?” she said of her city’s ordeal. “We just lived as normal people. And our normal life is destroyed. And we lost everything. I have no job, I can not get my son. “

Mariupol, which has been besieged by Russian forces for more than a month, suffered some of the war’s worst attacks, including a maternity hospital and a theater sheltered by civilians. About 100,000 people apparently live in the city, less than a pre-war population of 430,000, and they face a severe shortage of water, food, fuel and medicine.

The city’s capture would give Moscow an uninterrupted agricultural bridge from Russia to Crimea, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014. But his resistance also gained symbolic significance during Russia’s invasion, said Volodymyr Fesenko, head of Ukrainian think tank Penta.

“Mariupol has become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance, and without its conquest, Putin can not sit at the negotiating table,” Fesenko said.

About 500 refugees from eastern Ukraine, including 99 children and 12 people with disabilities, arrived by train in the Russian city of Kazan overnight. Asked if he sees a chance to return home, Mariupol resident Artur Kirillov replied: “It is unlikely, there is no city left.”

In towns and cities around Kiev, there were signs of heavy fighting everywhere in the wake of the Russian redeployment. Destroyed armored vehicles of both armies are left in streets and fields along with scattered military equipment.

Ukrainian troops were stationed at the entrance of Antonov airport in the suburbs of Hostomel, showing control over the runway that Russia was trying to storm in the first days of the war.

Inside the complex, the Mriya, one of the largest aircraft yet built, lies destroyed under a hangar marked with holes from the Russian attack in February.

“The Russians could not make one like it, so they destroyed it,” said Oleksandr Merkushev, mayor of the Kyiv suburb of Irpin.

Irpin saw some of the fiercest battles of the war, and Merkushev said Russian troops had left “many bodies behind, many destroyed buildings and they had exploited many places.”

A leading Ukrainian photojournalist who went missing in a fighting zone near the capital last month was found dead in the Huta Mezhyhirska village north of Kiev on Friday, the country’s prosecutor general’s office announced. Maks Levin, 40, has worked as a photojournalist and videographer for many Ukrainian and international publications.

The prosecutor general’s office attributed his death to two gunshots allegedly fired by the Russian army, and it said an investigation was underway.

Elsewhere, at least three Russian ballistic missiles were fired at the Black Sea in the Odesa region late Friday, regional leader Maksim Marchenko said. The Ukrainian army said the Iskander missiles had not hit the critical infrastructure they had targeted in Odesa, Ukraine’s largest port and the headquarters of its navy.

Ukraine’s state nuclear agency on Saturday reported a series of explosions that injured four people in Enerhodar, a city in southeastern Ukraine that has been under Russian control since early March along with the nearby Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. Ukraine’s human rights ombudsman told Telegram that the four were badly burned when Russian troops fired light and noise grenades and mortars at a pro-Ukrainian protest.

The head of Ukraine’s delegation in talks with Russia said Moscow’s negotiators had informally agreed to most of a draft proposal discussed during face-to-face talks in Istanbul this week, but no written confirmation was provided. However, Davyd Arakhamia said on Ukrainian TV that he hoped the concept was developed enough for the two countries’ presidents to meet to discuss it.

The Kremlin accused Ukraine on Friday of launching a helicopter attack on a fuel depot on Russian soil.

Ukraine has denied responsibility for the blaze, which erupted at the civilian oil storage facility on the outskirts of the city of Belgorod, about 25 kilometers (16 miles) from the Ukraine border. If Moscow’s claim is confirmed, it will be the war’s first known attack in which Ukrainian planes penetrated Russian airspace.

Karmanau reports from Lviv, Ukraine. Andrea Rosa in Irpin, Ukraine, and Associated Press journalists around the world contributed to this report.

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