Monday, September 26, 2022

Ukrainian forces recapture areas near Kiev amid fears of traps

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By NEBI QENA and YURAS KARMANAU – Associated Press

KYIV, Ukraine ( Associated Press) – Ukrainian troops on Saturday moved cautiously 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 kill them. caught.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has warned that departing Russian troops are creating a “catastrophic” situation for civilians by leaving mines around homes, 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 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. Locals said the dead – the Associated Press counted at least six – were civilians killed without being provoked by departing Russian soldiers.

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“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 and rocket attacks from afar and that the fighting in the east will be intense.

In his nightly video speech on Saturday, the Ukrainian leader said the country’s troops did not allow the Russians to withdraw without a fight: “They are bombarding them. They are destroying everyone they can. ”

Russia, Zelenskyy said, has more than enough power to put more pressure on Ukraine’s east and south.

“What is the purpose of the Russian troops? “They want to occupy the Donbas and the south of Ukraine,” he said. “What is our goal? To defend ourselves, our freedom, our country and our people. “

Moscow’s focus on eastern Ukraine also targeted the besieged southeastern city of Mariupol. The port city on the Sea of ​​Azov is located in the mostly Russian-speaking Donbas region, where Moscow-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 had hoped to evacuate Mariupol residents on Saturday, but had not yet reached the city. A day earlier, local authorities said the Red Cross had been blocked by Russian forces.

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 was Tamila Mazurenko, who said she fled Mariupol on Monday, made it to Berdyansk that night 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 has been surrounded by Russian forces for more than a month and has suffered some of the war’s worst attacks, including at 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 severe shortages of water, food, fuel and medicine.

Zelenskyy said a significant number of Russian troops were tied up in Mariupol, giving Ukraine “invaluable time … enabling us to thwart the enemy’s tactics and weaken its capabilities.”

The city’s takeover will 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 lay 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, lay under a hangar packed with holes from the February attack.

“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 fighting, and Merkushev said Russian troops had left behind “many bodies, 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. The prosecutor general’s office attributed Max Levin’s death to two gunshots allegedly fired by the Russian army and 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 southeastern city that has been under Russian control since early March along with the nearby Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. Ukraine’s human rights ombudsman said via 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.

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

Follow the Associated Press’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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