Ukraine said Saturday it has regained control of the Kyiv region, with Russian troops retreating from around the capital and Chernigiv city, as evidence emerged of possible civilian killings in areas the invading forces have been occupying.
AFP reporters saw at least 20 bodies on a single street in the town of Bucha near the capital city, including one with his hands tied, and the body of a missing photographer was discovered in a nearby village.
“All these people were shot,” Bucha’s mayor Anatoly Fedoruk told AFP, adding that 280 other bodies had been buried in mass graves in the town.
Meanwhile, in an attempt to raise economic pressure on Russia, the Baltic states of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania announced Saturday that they had stopped all imports of Russian natural gas.
As it withdraws from some northern areas, Russia appears to be focusing on eastern and southern Ukraine, where it already holds vast swathes of territory.
“What is the aim of the Russian forces? They want to seize both Donbass and the south of Ukraine,” Zelensky said in a video address late Saturday. “What is our goal? To defend our freedom, our land and our people.”
But Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhaylo Podolyak warned on social media that “without heavy weapons we won’t be able to drive (Russia) out”.
Ukraine authorities nevertheless offered citizens elements of good news Saturday in claiming progress against the Russians more than five weeks after Moscow’s invasion triggered Europe’s worst conflict in decades.
“Irpin, Bucha, Gostomel and the whole Kyiv region were liberated from the invader,” deputy defence minister Ganna Maliar said on Facebook, referring to towns that have been heavily damaged or destroyed by fighting.
Putin ordered tanks into Russia’s pro-Western neighbour on February 24, and Ukraine estimates 20,000 people have been killed in the war so far.
More than 10 million have had to flee their homes.
Pope Francis spoke of “icy winds of war” again sweeping over Europe as he brought up the conflict Saturday at the outset of his trip to Malta — and made what appeared to be a barely veiled reference to Putin.
“Once again, some potentate, sadly caught up in anachronistic claims of nationalist interests, is provoking and fomenting conflicts,” the pope said, adding he was still considering a visit to Ukraine’s capital.