KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian troops moved cautiously to retake territory north of the country’s capital on Saturday, using cables to pull the bodies of civilians off the streets in one town out of fear that Russian forces might have booby-trapped them before leaving.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned in his nightly video address hours earlier that departing Russian troops were creating a “catastrophic” situation for civilians by leaving mines around homes, abandoned equipment and “even the bodies of those killed.”
Associated Press journalists were in Bucha (northwest of Kyiv) when they watched Ukrainian soldiers backing a column with tanks and other armored cars use cables to pull bodies from a street. They fear that the explosion-proof cables might be rigged. Locals said the dead — the AP counted at least six — were civilians who were killed by departing Russian soldiers without provocation.
According to Western allies and Ukraine, there is mounting evidence that Russia has begun withdrawing from Kyiv and increasing its troop force in the eastern Ukraine. Officials said that Ukrainian fighters had reclaimed many areas close to the capital, after the Russians were forced out or moved in their direction.
This did not indicate that there was a reprieve after five weeks of fighting or that more than 4,000,000 refugees fleeing Ukraine would return to their homes soon. Zelenskyy indicated that he anticipates the destruction of towns in eastern Ukraine to result from missile and rocket attacks and intense fighting in the east.
“It’s still not possible to return to normal life, as it used to be, even at the territories that we are taking back after the fighting. We need wait until our land is demined, wait till we are able to assure you that there won’t be new shelling,” the president said during his nightly video address, though his claims about Russian mines couldn’t be independently verified.
Moscow’s focus on eastern Ukraine also kept the besieged southern city of Mariupol in the crosshairs. It is situated in Russia’s Donbas region. There, Russian-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian troops for the past eight years. After his forces failed in their attempts to secure Kyiv, and other cities of importance, military analysts believe that Russian President Vladimir Putin intends to take the region.
International Committee of the Red Cross plans to make an attempt to reach Mariupol on Saturday in order to help residents. Red Cross claimed it was unable to carry out Friday’s rescue operation due to insufficient assurances that the route would be safe. According to city authorities, the Russians had blocked the city’s access.
A team of three vehicles with nine Red Cross workers and staff was heading to Mariupol to aid in the evacuation of civilians. The humanitarian organization stated that its team was going to be accompanying a group of civilians travelling from Mariupol towards another city.
“Our presence will put a humanitarian marker on this planned movement of people, giving the convoy additional protection and reminding all sides of the civilian, humanitarian nature of the operation,” it said in a statement.
Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, Iryna Vereshchuk, said 765 Mariupol residents reached Zaporizhzhia on Saturday in private vehicles.
Mariupol’s city council stated earlier that 10 buses carrying empty passengers were heading to Berdyansk (a town located 84 km (52.2 miles west) of Mariupol to collect those who had managed to travel there by themselves). According to city officials, about 2000 people reached Mariupol in buses or their own vehicles on Friday.
Evacuees boarded about 25 buses in Berdyansk and arrived around midnight to Zaporizhzhia, a city still under Ukrainian control that has served as the destination under previous cease-fires announced — and then broken — to get civilians out and aid into Mariupol.
Tamila Mazurenko claimed that she fled Mariupol and arrived in Berdyansk on Monday. Mazurenko claimed that she waited until Friday for a bus and then spent one night in a field sleeping.
“I have only one question: Why?” she said of her city’s ordeal. “We only lived as normal people. Our normal lives were destroyed. Everything was lost. I don’t have any job, I can’t find my son.”
Mariupol, which was surrounded by Russian forces a month ago, has suffered some of the war’s worst attacks, including on a maternity hospital and a theater that was sheltering civilians. There are currently around 100,000 residents in Mariupol, which is a decrease of the 430,000 people who lived there before war.
The city’s capture would give Moscow an unbroken land bridge from Russia to Crimea, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014. But its resistance has also has taken on symbolic significance during Russia’s invasion, said Volodymyr Fesenko, head of the Ukrainian think-tank Penta.
“Mariupol has become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance, and without its conquest, Putin cannot sit down at the negotiating table,” Fesenko said.
An adviser to Zelenskyy, Oleksiy Arestovych, said in an interview with Russian lawyer and activist Mark Feygin that Russia and Ukraine had reached an agreement to allow 45 buses to drive to Mariupol to evacuate residents “in coming days.”
Overnight, 500 people fleeing eastern Ukraine arrived by train in Kazan, Russia. Asked if he saw a chance to return home, Mariupol resident Artur Kirillov answered, “That’s unlikely, there is no city anymore.”
There were many signs of fighting in Kyiv’s outskirts following the Russian Redeployment. Both armies had left behind destroyed armored vehicles and military equipment in the streets, fields, and on the ground near an abandoned Russian tank.
The city of Brovary was recaptured by Ukrainian forces, located 12 miles (20km) east of Kiev, Mayor Ihor Samozhko announced Friday night. Shops were reopening and residents were returning but “still stand ready to defend” their city, he added.
A prominent Ukrainian photojournalist who went missing last month in a combat zone near the capital was found dead Friday in the Huta Mezhyhirska village north of Kyiv, the country’s prosecutor general’s office announced. Maks Levin was 40 years old and worked as a videographer and photojournalist for several Ukrainian and foreign publications.
The prosecutor general’s office attributed his death to two gunshots allegedly fired by the Russian military, and it said an investigation was underway.
Maksim Marchenko, a regional leader, said that three Russian-made ballistic missiles were launched late Friday into the Odesa region of the Black Sea. The Ukrainian military said the Iskander missiles did not hit the critical infrastructure they targeted in Odesa, Ukraine’s largest port and the headquarters of its navy.
Ukraine’s state nuclear agency reported a series of blasts Saturday 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 said on Telegram that the four were badly burned when Russian troops fired light and noise grenades and mortars at a pro-Ukraine demonstration.
The latest round of negotiations between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators took place via video on Friday. There wasn’t any word from Russia Saturday. During a round of talks earlier in the week, Ukraine said it would be willing to abandon a bid to join NATO and declare itself neutral — Moscow’s chief demand — in return for security guarantees from several other countries.
The Kremlin charged Ukraine with launching an attack helicopter on Russian fuel depots on Friday.
Ukraine denies responsibility for the explosion at the oil storage building used by civilians on the outskirts Belgorod. It is located about 25km (16 miles) from Ukraine’s border. If Moscow’s claim is confirmed, it would be the war’s first known attack in which Ukrainian aircraft penetrated Russian airspace.
Karmanau was reporting from Lviv in Ukraine. This report was contributed by Andrea Rosa, Ukraine and Associated Press journalists from around the globe.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
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