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Russia has been accused by Ukraine of using children as ‘human shields’ when regrouping its forces, as the first horrifying reports emerge from the newly liberated town of Bucha, near kyiv.

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.

It was further alleged that children had been taken hostage in a number of conflict hotspots across the country to ensure that locals would not give coordinates of enemy movements to Ukrainian forces.

“Cases of using children as a cover are recorded in Sumy, kyiv, Chernihiv, Zaporizhzhia oblasts [regions]said Lyudmila Denisova, the Ukrainian human rights ombudsman.

Colonel Oleksandr Motuzyanyk, spokesman for Ukraine’s Defense Ministry, said the cases were being investigated by the country’s attorney general, but he was unable to provide further details. He said: “The enemies used Ukrainian children as a living shield when moving their convoys, moving their vehicles.

“Russian soldiers used Ukrainian children as hostages, putting them in their trucks. They do this to protect their vehicles as they move.

“Cases of brutal behavior against minors have been recorded, documented by Ukrainian and international institutions, and we would like to emphasize that information in each case will be transmitted to national criminal courts and that the occupants will be brought to justice. justice for every military and war crime they commit.

Ukraine’s attorney general said at least 412 children had been injured or killed since the invasion began in February, including 158 dead.

In later developments:

Witnesses told the Observer of alleged war crimes against civilians in Bucha, as the town was liberated by Ukrainian forces. In one account, a 33-year-old mother and her two sons, eight and four, were shot by soldiers in a Russian armored vehicle, along with a 62-year-old man, when they had sought to flee in two cars. .

The bodies of at least 20 men in civilian clothes, one of whom had his hands tied, were found lying on a street in Bucha, as Russian forces carried out what authorities in kyiv described as a “rapid withdrawal” from the territory around the capital on Saturday.

Ukrainian forces took about 30 towns and villages around kyiv, including Brovary, a key town east of the capital. But President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the retreating troops were creating “a complete disaster” by leaving mines in homes and dead bodies as they retreated.

Pope Francis said he planned to visit Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, and for the first time implicitly criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin over the invasion of Ukraine. “We had thought that invasions from other countries, savage street fights and atomic threats were dark memories of the distant past,” he said.

Ukrainian military intelligence reported that residents of Izium, a town in eastern Ukraine, gave poisoned pies to Russian soldiers from the 3rd Motorized Rifle Division of the Russian Federation, killing two people and placing 28 in intensive care.

Lithuania has become the first EU country to ban the import of Russian gas.

As Russia continued to withdraw some of its ground forces from areas around the capital on Saturday, Zelenskiy’s adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said it now appeared the Kremlin was in “rapid retreat”.

Podolyak, however, warned that the Kremlin had returned to a plan to divide the country.

He said: “After the rapid withdrawal of Russians from kyiv and Chernihiv, and if we analyze all the redeployment and concentration of occupation troops, it is clear that Russia has given priority to another tactic – to move to the east/south, to control large occupied territories (not only in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts) and get a solid footing there. [Russia] gonna try to dig in there, put [in] air defense and thus greatly reduce the loss of its equipment and personnel.

To the east and south, Ukrainian troops held their line, the beleaguered city of Mariupol facing new barrages and little prospect of evacuating additional citizens. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it was sending a team to try to help those trapped, following the failure of numerous attempts to organize humanitarian corridors.

An ICRC spokesman said: “The team left Zaporizhzhia this morning. They are spending the night en route to Mariupol and have not yet reached the city.

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