Zelenskyy: Mines left by retreating Russian troops make kyiv unsafe

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — As Russian forces retreat from the Ukrainian capital region, retreating troops are creating a “catastrophic” situation for civilians by leaving mines around homes, abandoned equipment and “even bodies of those killed,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned. Saturday.

Ukraine and its Western allies have reported mounting evidence that Russia is withdrawing its forces around kyiv and building up its troops in eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian fighters have taken over several areas near the capital after either driving out the Russians or moving in after them, officials said.

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. Zelenskyy said he expects the missing towns to come under missile and rocket strikes from afar and the battle in the east to be intense.

“It is still not possible to return to normal life, as before, even in the territories that we are taking back after the fighting,” the president told his country in an overnight video message. “We have to wait for our land to be cleared, wait for us to be able to assure you that there will be no new bombardments.”

Moscow’s focus on eastern Ukraine has also kept the beleaguered southern city of Mariupol in the crosshairs. The port city on the Sea of ​​Azoz is located in the predominantly Russian-speaking region of Donbass, where Russian-backed separatists have fought Ukrainian troops for eight years and military analysts believe Russian President Vladimir Putin is determined to capture after that his forces failed to secure kyiv. and other major cities.

The International Committee of the Red Cross planned to attempt Saturday to enter Mariupol to evacuate residents. The Red Cross said it could not carry out the operation on Friday because it had not received assurances that the route was safe. City authorities said the Russians had blocked access to the city.

The aid group said a team of three vehicles and nine Red Cross staff were on their way to help facilitate the safe passage of civilians on Saturday after an attempt the day before failed. In a statement late Friday, the group said its team planned to accompany a convoy of civilians from Mariupol to another town.

“Our presence will put a humanitarian marker on this planned movement of people, giving the convoy additional protection and reminding all parties of the civilian and humanitarian nature of the operation,” the statement said.

The Mariupol City Council said on Saturday that 10 empty buses were heading to Berdyansk, a town 84 kilometers (52.2 miles) west of Mariupol, to pick up people who can get there on their own. . Some 2,000 people walked out of Mariupol on Friday, some on buses and others in their own vehicles, city officials said.

The evacuees boarded about 25 buses in Berdyansk and arrived around midnight in Zaporizhzhia, a city still under Ukrainian control that served as a destination during previous ceasefires announced – then broken – to get civilians out. and help Mariupol.

Among them was Tamila Mazurenko, who said she fled Mariupol on Monday and arrived in Berdyansk the same night. Mazurenko said she waited for a bus until Friday, spending a night sleeping in a field.

“I only have one question: why? she said of her city’s ordeal. “We only lived like normal people. And our normal life was destroyed. And we lost everything. I don’t have a job, I can’t find my son.

Mariupol, which was surrounded by Russian forces a month ago, has been the scene of some of the worst attacks of the war, including against a maternity hospital and a theater housing civilians. Around 100,000 people are thought to remain in the city, down from a pre-war population of 430,000, and face severe shortages of water, food, fuel and medicine.

Capturing the city would give Moscow an unbroken land bridge between Russia and Crimea, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014 but also took on symbolic significance during the Russian invasion, Volodymyr Fesenko has said. , head of Ukrainian think tank Penta.

“Mariupol has become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance, and without its conquest, Putin cannot sit 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 go to Mariupol to evacuate residents “in the next days”.

Such agreements have already been concluded before being broken. On Thursday, Russian forces blocked a convoy of 45 buses attempting to evacuate people from Mariupol and seized 14 tons of food and medical supplies bound for the city, Ukrainian authorities said.

Turkey’s defense minister said his country had offered to help ferry civilians by sea from Mariupol, where Turkish authorities estimate around 30 of their citizens remain trapped by the siege.

Around 500 refugees from eastern Ukraine, including 99 children and 12 disabled people, arrived in the Russian city of Kazan by train overnight. When asked if he saw a chance to return home, Artur Kirillov, a resident of Mariupol, replied: “It’s unlikely, there is no town left.”

Meanwhile, Pope Francis on Saturday criticized Russia for launching a “savage” war in Ukraine and said he was considering a trip to kyiv. Francis, who was visiting Malta, said “a potentate” had unleashed the threat of nuclear war on the world in “childish and destructive aggression” under the guise of “anachronistic claims of nationalist interests”.

The pope didn’t mention Putin by name on Saturday, but his subject was clear enough.

In the outskirts of kyiv, signs of fierce fighting were everywhere in the wake of Russian redeployment. Destroyed armored vehicles of both armies left in the streets and fields and scattered military machinery covered the ground next to an abandoned Russian tank.

Military equipment left by Russian soldiers lay strewn near a tank during a military search by Ukrainian soldiers after the Russians withdrew from the area on the outskirts of kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, April 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

Ukrainian forces have retaken the town of Brovary, 20 kilometers east of the capital, Mayor Ihor Sapozhko said in a televised address on Friday evening. Shops were reopening and residents were returning but “still stand ready to defend” their city, he added.

“The Russian occupiers have now left virtually the entire Brovary district,” Sapozhko said. “Tonight, the (Ukrainian) armed forces will work to clear the settlements of (remaining) occupants, military equipment and possibly mines.”

Elsewhere, at least three Russian ballistic missiles were fired at the Odessa region on the Black Sea on Friday evening, regional chief Maksim Marchenko said. Ukraine’s military said the Iskander missiles failed to hit the critical infrastructure they were targeting in Odessa, Ukraine’s largest port and the headquarters of its navy.

Ukrainian officials reported that the death toll from a Russian rocket strike Tuesday on a government building in Mykolaiv, a port city east of Odessa, had risen to 33, with 34 others injured. The confirmed death toll has steadily increased as the search and rescue operation continues.

As the war dragged on, the US Department of Defense said late Friday it was providing an additional $300 million in weapons to Ukrainian forces, including laser-guided rocket systems, unmanned aircraft, armored vehicles , night vision devices and ammunition. Also included are medical supplies, field equipment and spare parts.

There was no immediate word Saturday on the latest round of talks between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators, which took place Friday via video. During a round of talks earlier in the week, Ukraine said it would be willing to drop a NATO bid and declare itself neutral – Moscow’s main demand – in return for security guarantees from several other countries.

On Friday, the Kremlin accused Ukraine of launching a helicopter attack on a fuel depot on Russian soil.

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

Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security Council, told Ukrainian television: “For some reason they say we did it, but in fact it doesn’t correspond to reality.” Later, in an interview with US television channel Fox News, Zelenskyy declined to say whether Ukraine was behind the attack.

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


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