The withdrawal of Russian forces around kyiv has left horrific evidence of atrocities against civilians littering the region’s suburbs and towns, turned into hellish war zones by Vladimir Putin’s invasion.
As Ukrainian armored columns entered Bucha, a town northwest of the capital, they found streets blocked by burned Russian tanks and military vehicles, and littered with the bodies of civilians who residents said had been killed by invading forces without provocation. .
Photographs from the city showed a scene of devastation, with bits of charred and destroyed tanks and armored vehicles lined up along a street, along with dead bodies.
Agence France-Presse journalists saw at least 20 bodies, all in civilian clothes, strewn on a single street in Bucha, and the body of a missing Ukrainian photographer, Maksim Levin, was discovered in a nearby village.
Three of them got tangled in bicycles after making their last ride, while others fell next to bullet-riddled and crushed cars, AFP reported.
One had his hands tied behind his back with a white cloth, and his Ukrainian passport left open next to his corpse, said reporters who visited the ravaged city.
“All these people were shot,” Bucha mayor Anatoly Fedoruk told AFP, adding that 280 other bodies were buried in mass graves in the city. “These are the consequences of the Russian occupation.”
Ukrainian soldiers in Bucha, who were warmly welcomed by the townspeople, attached cables to the bodies and pulled them from the street for fear that they would be trapped.
Soldiers also cleared barricades and inspected suspicious items, placing red rags over remnants of unexploded ordnance to draw attention to the possibility of explosions.
When the city was liberated, a woman, Halyna Tovkach, 55, told the Guardian she was looking for the body of her husband, Oleg, 62. He was killed by Russian soldiers along with their neighbours, two young boys and their mother, as they tried to escape the city on March 5. “It’s a war crime,” Tovkach’s son said.
Among the civilians killed by the Russians would also be Olha Sukhenko, the chief of the village Motyzhin in the east of kyiv, and all his family.
In another war crimes charge, Russian troops allegedly used children as “human shields” when regrouping their forces.
Ukraine’s attorney general is assembling a dossier of allegations about Russia’s use of local children to avert fires as they retreat from the Ukrainian capital and elsewhere. Buses of children were reportedly lined up in front of tanks in the village of Novyi Bykiv, near the cordoned-off town of Chernihiv, 160 km north of kyiv.
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said she was “appalled by the atrocities committed in Bucha and other towns in Ukraine”.
“Reports that Russian forces are targeting innocent civilians are abhorrent. The UK is working with others to gather evidence and support @IntlCrimCourt’s war crimes investigation. Those responsible will be held accountable,” Truss tweeted late Saturday.
Ukraine and its Western allies have reported mounting evidence that Russia is withdrawing its forces around kyiv and building up its numbers in eastern Ukraine. This visible change did not mean that the country was facing a reprieve from more than five weeks of war or that the more than 4 million refugees who fled Ukraine would soon return.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has again repeated his warning that Russian troops want to seize Donbass and southern Ukraine. In his Saturday night video address, Zelenskiy said “we are aware that the enemy has reserves to increase the pressure in the east.”
He nevertheless promised to lead the fight against the Russians in the Donbass and as they retreated from the kyiv region.
“We are strengthening our defenses in the eastern direction and in the Donbass,” Zelenskiy said. “What is the purpose of the Russian troops? They want to capture both Donbass and southern Ukraine.
But Zelenskiy complained that “the global security architecture has failed” and that Ukraine has “not yet received enough modern Western anti-missile systems” from its Western allies, nor donated aircraft. He added: “Every Russian missile that hits our cities, and every bomb dropped on our people, on our children, only adds black paint to the story that will describe everyone on whom the decision depended.”
Multiple sources reported a series of explosions in the southern port city of Odessa on Sunday morning.
“Odessa was attacked from the air. Some missiles were shot down by air defense,” the city council said in a brief statement on the Telegram messaging app. He said fires had been reported in some areas, but gave no indication of what had been hit in the attack.
Ukrainian peace negotiator David Arakhamia reportedly said Russia “verbally” accepted Ukraine’s position on the peace talks, AFP reported, with the exception of the Crimea issue. Moscow had also agreed that a referendum on Ukraine’s neutral status “will be the only way out of this situation”.
Arakhamia also told Ukrainian TV channels that any meeting between Zelenskiy and Russian President Vladimir Putin would “with high probability” take place in Turkey.
Elsewhere, Poland’s deputy prime minister accused France and Germany of being too close to Russia in an interview published on Sunday, as he condemned Berlin’s behavior towards Moscow ahead of the invasion of Ukraine.
“Germany, like France, has a strong bias in favor of Moscow,” Jaroslaw Kaczynski, also leader of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, told German daily Die Welt in an interview.
Kaczynski saved his strongest words for Berlin, saying that for years the German government didn’t want to see what Russia was doing under Putin’s leadership “and we see the result today.” He added that “Poland is not satisfied with Germany’s role in Europe”.