Retreating Russian Forces Leave Behind Mass Graves Around Ukraine's Capital

People lying dead in the streets, burn-out tanks, and devastation in the town of Bucha as Ukraine claims to have retaken all areas around Kyiv. Moscow denies targeting civilians as it presses on port city of Mariupol

An elderly woman cries near her house in Bucha, northwest of Kyiv, on Saturday
An elderly woman cries near her house in Bucha, northwest of Kyiv, on SaturdayCredit: Ronaldo Schemidt - AFP

As Ukraine claimed 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.

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Ukraine's 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.

At Bucha, a town neighboring 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.

A playground with bullet holes is seen in Bucha, northwest of Kyiv, on SaturdayCredit: Ronaldo Schrmidt - AFP

Israel's ambassador to Ukraine, Michael Brodsky, said Sunday that he was "Deeply shocked by the photos from Bucha. Killing of civilians is a war crime and cannot be justified."

A report issued Sunday by Human Rights Watch documents several cases of summary execution by Russian forces in Bucha and other localities in the Irpin area.

On March 4 in Bucha, "soldiers forced five men to kneel on the side of the road, pulled their T-shirts over their heads, and shot one of the men in the back of the head," the report states.

Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said that "the cases we documented amount to unspeakable, deliberate cruelty and violence against Ukrainian civilians. Rape, murder, and other violent acts against people in the Russian forces’ custody should be investigated as war crimes."

'Kyiv is liberated'

After 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 Defense Minister Hanna Malyar wrote on Facebook. There was no Russian comment on the claim, which Reuters could not immediately verify.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy 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.

Locals said the dead in Bucha were civilians killed by departing Russian soldiers without provocation. President Zelenskyy warned residents that Russian forces were creating a “catastrophic” situation for civilians by leaving mines around homes, abandoned equipment and even corpses. Anti-tank mines were scattered across a bridge in Bucha.

In Irpin, crosses honoring the civilians killed during fighting mark a mass grave in the forest.

Ukraine's emergencies service said over 1,500 explosives had been found in one day during a search of the village of Dmytrivka, west of the capital. Russia's defense ministry did not reply to a request for comment on the mining allegations. Reuters could not independently verify them.

Moscow denies targeting civilians and rejects war crimes allegations. But in Bucha, Mayor Anatoliy Fedoruk said more than 300 residents had been killed. Many residents tearfully recalled brushes with death and cursed the departed Russians.

"The bastards!" Vasily, a grizzled 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 on Feb. 24 of what President Vladimir Putin called a "special military operation" to demilitarize 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.

A new round of talks has not yet been announced. But Ukrainian negotiator David Arakhamia said on Saturday that enough progress had been made to allow direct talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Zelenskyy.

"The Russian side confirmed our thesis that the draft documents have been sufficiently developed to allow direct consultations between the two countries' leaders," Arakhamia said. Russia has not commented on the possibility.

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.

His body was found in a village north of Kyiv on April 1, the news website LB.ua where he worked said on Saturday.

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.

Ukraine's armed forces reported diminished Russian air and missile strikes, though in the early hours of Sunday missiles struck the southern port city of Odesa, the city council said.

Russia's defense ministry said its missiles had disabled military airfields in Poltava, in central Ukraine, and Dnipro, further south. It later said its forces had hit 28 Ukrainian military facilities across the country, including two weapons depots.

The Ukrainian military also reported Russian air strikes on the cities of Severodonetsk and Rubizhne in Luhansk, one of two southeastern regions where pro-Russian separatists declared breakaway states days before the invasion. The Ukrainian military said it had repulsed six enemy attacks in Luhansk and Donetsk, the other breakaway region, on Saturday.

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