The withdrawal of Russian troops has created a “catastrophic” situation for civilians leaving mines around homes, abandoned equipment and “even the bodies of those killed” as they retreat from the Ukrainian capital region, warned President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Saturday.
Ukraine and its Western allies have reported mounting evidence of Russia withdrawing its forces around kyiv and building up troops in the eastern region of the war-torn country.
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 four million refugees who fled Ukraine would soon return.
Zelenskyy said he expected the departing towns to receive airstrikes and shelling 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 until our land is cleared, wait until we can 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 seeking to expand control after his forces failed to secure Kyiv and other major cities.
The International Committee of the Red Cross has planned to try on Saturday to get emergency supplies to Mariupol and evacuate residents.
The Red Cross said it was unable to carry out the operation on Friday because it had not been assured the route was safe. City authorities said the Russians had blocked access to the city.
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 the 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.
The Mariupol City Council said on Saturday that 10 empty buses were heading to Berdyansk, a town 84 kilometers 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.
Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Zelenskyy, in an interview with Russian lawyer and activist Mark Feygin, said 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.
Zelenskyy said he discussed the humanitarian disaster in Mariupol with French President Emmanuel Macron on the phone and with European Parliament President Roberta Metsola during her visit to Kyiv on Friday.
“Europe has no right to remain silent about what is happening in our Mariupol,” Zelenskyy said. “The whole world should respond to this humanitarian disaster.” 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.
Ukrainian forces have retaken the town of Brovary, 20 kilometers east of the capital, Mayor Ihor Sapozhko said on Friday. 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 night, regional chief Maksim Marchenko said.
The Ukrainian military said the Iskander missiles did not hit the critical infrastructure they were targeting.
Odessa is Ukraine’s largest port and the seat of its navy.
As the war dragged on, the US Department of Defense said late Friday it would provide an additional $300 million in arms to Ukrainian forces.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement that the new set’s equipment includes laser-guided rocket systems, unmanned aircraft, armored vehicles, night vision devices and munitions. Medical supplies, field equipment and spare parts were also included in the package, according to the statement.
There was no immediate news on Saturday about 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 TV channel Fox News, Zelenskyy declined to say whether Ukraine was behind the attack.
(This story has not been edited by the Devdiscourse team and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)