BUCHA, Ukraine, April 3 (Reuters) – As Ukraine said its forces had retaken all areas around Kyiv, the mayor of a liberated town said 300 residents had been killed during a month-long occupation by the Russian army, and victims were seen in a mass grave and still lying on the streets.
Ukrainian troops have retaken more than 30 towns and villages around Kyiv, Ukrainian officials said on Saturday, claiming complete control of the capital region for the first time since Russia launched its invasion on Feb 24
At Bucha, a town neighbouring Irpin just 37 km (23 miles) northwest of the capital, Reuters journalists saw bodies lying in the streets and the hands and feet of multiple corpses poking out of a still-open grave at a church ground.
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After more than five weeks of fighting, Russia has pulled back forces that had threatened Kyiv from the north to regroup for battles in eastern Ukraine.
“The whole Kyiv region is liberated from the invader,” Ukrainian Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar wrote on Facebook on Saturday.
There was no Russian comment on the claim, which Reuters could not immediately verify.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy warned in a video address: “They are mining all this territory. Houses are mined, equipment is mined, even the bodies of dead people.” He did not cite evidence.
Ukraine’s emergencies service said more than 1,500 explosives had been found in one day during a search of the village of Dmytrivka, west of the capital.
Russia’s defence ministry did not reply to a request for comment on the allegations about mines. Reuters could not independently verify them. Moscow denies targeting civilians and rejects war crimes allegations.
In Bucha, Mayor Anatoliy Fedoruk said more than 300 residents had been killed. Many residents tearfully recalled brushes with death.
“The bastards!” Vasily, a 66-year-old man said, weeping with rage as he looked at more than a dozen bodies lying in the road outside his house. “I’m sorry. The tank behind me was shooting. Dogs!”
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said she was appalled by atrocities in Bucha and voiced support for the International Criminal Court’s inquiry into potential war crimes.
Since the launch of what President Vladimir Putin called a “special military operation” to demilitarise and “denazify” Ukraine, Russia has failed to capture a single major city and has instead laid siege to urban areas, uprooting a quarter of the country’s population.
Russia has depicted its drawdown of forces near Kyiv as a goodwill gesture in peace talks. Ukraine and its allies say Russia was forced to shift its focus to east Ukraine after suffering heavy losses.
Both sides described talks last week in Istanbul and by video link as “difficult”. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Saturday the “main thing is that the talks continue, either in Istanbul or somewhere else”.
Ukrainian negotiator David Arakhamia said on Saturday that enough progress had been made for direct talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Zelenskiy.
But Russia’s chief negotiator said a draft agreement was not ready to be sent to a top-level meeting although he said Ukraine was showing more realism by agreeing to be neutral, renouncing nuclear weapons, not joining a military bloc and refusing to host military bases.
But on Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014, and two Russian-backed rebel regions, which Putin recognised as independent in February, Vladimir Medinsky indicated there had been no progress.
“I repeat again and again: Russia’s position on Crimea and Donbas remains UNCHANGED,” he said on Telegram.
Talks via videoconference would continue on Monday, he said.
Among those killed near Kyiv was Maksim Levin, a Ukrainian photographer and videographer who was working for a news website and was a long-time contributor to Reuters.
In the east, the Red Cross was hoping a convoy to evacuate civilians would reach the besieged port of Mariupol on Sunday, having abandoned earlier attempts due to security concerns. Russia blamed the ICRC for the delays.
Mariupol is Russia’s main target in Ukraine’s southeastern region of Donbas, and tens of thousands of civilians there are trapped with scant access to food and water.
British military intelligence said Russian naval forces maintained a blockade of the Ukrainian coast along the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, but the option of amphibious landings were becoming increasingly high-risk for Russia.
It said reported mines, the origin of which remained unclear and disputed, posed a serious risk to shipping in the Black Sea.
Early on Sunday, missiles struck the southern port city of Odesa, the city council there said.
Photo distributed by Ukrainian Emergency Services