Ukrainian troops are finding brutalised bodies and widespread destruction in suburbs of the capital as Russian soldiers withdraw and Moscow focuses its attacks elsewhere.
Associated Press (AP) journalists in Bucha, a small city northwest of Kyiv, saw the bodies of at least nine people in civilian clothes who appeared to have been killed at close range. At least two had their hands tied behind their backs. The reporters also saw two bodies wrapped in plastic, bound with tape and thrown into a ditch.
Authorities said they were documenting evidence as Ukraine’s military reclaims territory and discovers indications of execution-style killings to add to their case for prosecuting Russian officials for war crimes.
Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, said scores of civilians who had been killed were found on the streets of Bucha and the Kyiv suburbs of Irpin and Hostomel in what looked like a “scene from a horror movie”.
Mr Arestovych said some people were shot in the head and had their hands bound, and some bodies showed signs of torture, rape and burning.
The capital city’s mayor, Vitali Klitschko, said civilians were “shot with joined hands” and told German newspaper Bild that “what happened in Bucha and other suburbs of Kyiv can only be described as genocide”.
A day earlier, AP journalists witnessed Ukrainian soldiers removing at least six bodies from a street in Bucha with cables in case the Russians had booby-trapped corpses with explosives before their withdrawal.
Residents of Bucha, which was controlled by Russian soldiers for about a month, have given accounts of Russian troops shooting and killing civilians without any apparent reason.
At a logistics compound that residents said was used as a base by Russian forces, the bodies of eight men could be seen dumped on the ground, some with their hands tied behind their backs.
Residents said Russian troops would go from building to building, take people out of the basements where they were hiding from the fighting, check their phones for evidence of anti-Russian activity and take them away or shoot them.
Mr Klitschko called on other nations to immediately end Russian gas imports, saying they were funding the invasion of Ukraine, now in its 39th day.
“Not a penny should go to Russia anymore. That’s bloody money used to slaughter people. The gas and oil embargo must come immediately,” the mayor said.
Ukraine’s top diplomat also called for tougher sanctions on Russia over growing evidence of what he called a massacre of civilians in the suburbs of the Ukrainian capital.
Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted on Sunday that the killings were “deliberate”, adding that “Russians aim to eliminate as many Ukrainians as they can”.
He urged the West to impose an oil, gas and coal embargo, and close all ports to Russian vessels and goods. He also called for all Russian banks to be disconnected from the Swift international payment system.
Charles Michel, president of the European Council, wrote on Twitter that he was shocked by the “haunting images of atrocities committed by Russian army” in the capital region.
The EU and non-governmental organisations were assisting in the effort to preserve evidence of war crimes, according to Mr Michel, who promised “further EU sanctions” against Russia.
French and German leaders also joined in growing international condemnation of alleged war crimes and civilian killings committed by Russian forces in Ukrainian towns.
German chancellor Olaf Scholz expressed his shock at the “terrible and horrifying footage that has reached us this weekend from Ukraine”.
“Dozens of shot civilians have been discovered in Bucha Streets littered with bodies. Bodies buried in makeshift conditions. There is talk of women, children and the elderly among the victims,” he said. He added that international organisations should be given access to the areas to independently document the atrocities.
French foreign affairs minister Jean-Yves Le Drian condemned “in the strongest terms” the alleged “massive abuses”. He said France would work with Ukrainian authorities and the International Criminal Court “to ensure these acts don’t go unpunished and that those responsible are being sent to trial and convicted”.
Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, said in a US television interview that Russian attacks in Ukraine amounted to genocide.
Mr Zelensky told CBS that there were more than 100 nationalities in Ukraine and “this is about the destruction and extermination of all these nationalities. We are citizens of Ukraine and we don’t want to be subdued to the policy of Russian Federation”.
In an excerpt of the interview released by CBS before it aired, he said: “This is the reason we are being destroyed and exterminated. And this is happening in the Europe of the 21st century. So this is the torture of the whole nation.”
Russia’s defence ministry has rejected the claims of atrocities against civilians in Bucha and other suburbs of Kyiv as a “provocation”.
The ministry said that “not a single civilian has faced any violent action by the Russian military” in Bucha.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian military said Russian troops had completed their pullback from the country’s north.
The military’s General Staff said on Sunday that Russian units had withdrawn from areas in the country’s north to neighbouring Belarus, which served as a staging ground for the Russian invasion.
The Ukrainian military said its airborne forces had taken full control of the town of Pripyat just outside the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear power plant and the section of the border with Belarus.
It posted a picture of a Ukrainian soldier putting up the country’s flag, with a shelter containing the Chernobyl reactor that exploded in 1986 seen in the background.
Elsewhere, on Sunday morning, Russian forces launched an airstrike on the Black Sea port of Odesa, in southern Ukraine, sending up clouds of dark smoke that veiled parts of the city.
The Russian military said the targets were an oil processing plant and fuel depots around Odesa, which is Ukraine’s largest port and home to its navy.
The Odesa city council said Ukraine’s air defence shot down some missiles before they hit the city. Ukrainian military spokesman Vladyslav Nazarov said there were no casualties from the attack.
The smaller port of Mariupol, located to the east on the Sea of Azov, remained cut off from the rest of the country as Russian and Ukrainian soldiers fought for control of the besieged city.
About 100,000 civilians – less than a quarter of the pre-war population of 430,000 – are believed to be trapped there with little or no food, water, fuel and medicine.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said it hoped a team of nine staffers and three vehicles it sent on Saturday to help evacuate residents would reach Mariupol on Sunday but said: “The situation on the ground is volatile and subject to rapid changes.”
Ukrainian authorities said Russia agreed days ago to allow safe passage from the city, which has been the site of some of the worst attacks and greatest suffering, but similar agreements have broken down repeatedly under continued shelling.
Mariupol is in the mostly Russian-speaking Donbas region, where Moscow-backed separatists have fought Ukrainian troops for eight years. Its capture would create an unbroken land corridor from Russia to Crimea, which Moscow seized from Ukraine in 2014.
With Mariupol squarely in Russia’s sights, Ukraine insisted it had gained a leg up elsewhere in the country.
As his nation’s troops retook territory north of the capital of Kyiv from departing Russian troops, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called on all Ukrainians to do whatever they could “to foil the enemy’s tactics and weaken its capabilities”.
“Peace will not be the result of any decisions the enemy makes somewhere in Moscow. There is no need to entertain empty hopes that they will simply leave our land. We can only have peace by fighting,” Mr Zelensky said late on Saturday.
Mr Zelensky and Ukraine’s western allies believe Russia has shifted its forces from the capital region and the country’s north in order to build strength in the east and south.
The Ukrainian leader again urged the West to supply his military with warplanes and more anti-missile systems.
While the geography of the battlefield morphed, little changed for many Ukrainians more than five weeks into a war that has sent more than four million people fleeing the country as refugees and displaced millions more from their homes.
The regional governor in Kharkiv, said on Sunday that Russian artillery and tanks performed over 20 strikes on Ukraine’s second-largest city and its outskirts in the country’s northeast over the past day.
Governor Oleh Synyehubov said a missile strike on the city of Lozovo wounded four people and that Russian tanks bombarded a hospital in the town of Balakliia.
In towns and cities surrounding Kyiv, signs of fierce fighting were everywhere in the wake of the Russian redeployment. Destroyed armoured vehicles from both armies lay in streets and fields along with scattered military gear.
Ukrainian troops were stationed at the entrance to Antonov Airport in the suburb of Hostomel, demonstrating control of the runway that Russia tried to storm in the first days of the war.
The head of Ukraine’s delegation in talks with Russia said Moscow’s negotiators informally agreed to most of a draft proposal discussed during face-to-face talks in Istanbul this week, but no written confirmation has been provided.
The Ukrainian negotiator, Davyd Arakhamia, said on TV that he hoped the proposal was developed enough so that the two countries’ presidents could meet to discuss it.
But the top Russian negotiator in talks with Ukraine, Vladimir Medinksy, was quoted by news agency Interfax as saying that it was too early to talk about a meeting between the two leaders.
Ukrainian authorities warned that Russia’s focus on eastern Ukraine did not mean Kyiv and other cities would not become targets again.
Elsewhere, the Kremlin said that by imposing sanctions on Russian president Vladimir Putin the West had demonstrated it had abandoned its sense of reason.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in televised remarks on Sunday that the sanctions against Mr Putin were going “beyond the edge of reason”, adding that they showed that the West was “capable of any stupidities”.
Mr Peskov added that Mr Putin’s meeting with Mr Zelensky was “hypothetically possible” once negotiators from the two countries prepared a draft agreement to be discussed.
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