As Russian forces pulled out of areas around Kyiv over the weekend, Ukrainians returned to find destruction and death, with images showing the bodies of civilians in the streets, some with their hands bound.
Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said scores of killed civilians 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.”
Arestovych said some people were shot in the head and had their hands bound, and some bodies showed signs of torture, rape and burning.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin’s top negotiator said Sunday that a meeting between the leaders of Ukraine and Russia is not imminent, noting there is too much work to be done in peace talks.
And the US indicated it would amp up its assistance with newly pledged military equipment.
According to reports, the Biden administration plans to facilitate the transfer of Soviet-era tanks from NATO allies to Ukraine to help its defense in the eastern Donbas region. New York Times and CNN reported the move was requested by Zelenskyy. The US Defense Department also announced an additional $300 million in equipment for Ukraine.
Ukrainian and Western officials have warned the withdrawal of Russian forces around Kyiv is a sign they will refuel.
USE TODAY ON TELEGRAM: Join our new Russia-Ukraine war channel to receive updates straight to your phone.
THE NEWS COMES TO YOU: Get the latest updates on the situation in Ukraine. Sign up here.
►Over 4,000 citizens of Ukraine evacuated along humanitarian corridors on Saturdayofficials said.
►The president of Lithuania on Saturday announced it would no longer import Russian gas, making it the first nation in the European Union to achieve independence from Russian gas supplies.
►A Russian group that monitors political arrests says 208 people were detained in demonstrations held Saturday across the country protesting Russia’s military operation in Ukraine.
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 Odessa, which is Ukraine’s largest port and home to its navy.
“I live in that eight-floor building. At six in the morning, Russia launched an attack, and this piece of rock reached my house,” said Maiesienko Ilia, who lives near one of the targeted facilities.
The Odesa city council said Ukraine’s air defense 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 prewar population of 430,000 – are believed to be trapped there with little or no food, water, fuel and medicine.
Kyiv’s mayor on Sunday accused the Russians of committing war crimes and genocide, following reports, including images, out of Ukrainian cities of civilians lying dead in streets, some with their hands bound.
“What happened in Bucha and other suburbs of Kyiv can only be described as genocide,” kyiv Major Vitali Klitschko told German newspaper BILD. He accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of “cruel war crimes,” saying Ukrainian civilians were “shot with their hands bandaged.”
The Associated Press reported a news crew saw bodies of at least nine people who appeared to have been executed. At least two people had their hands bound behind their backs and at least three were naked from the waist up. One appeared shot in the chest from close range.
Mykhailo Podoliak, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, tweeted photos showing dead civilians in areas around Kyiv, describing the scenes as “21st century Hell.”
– Katie Wadington
Russia’s top negotiator in talks with Ukraine says it’s too early to talk about a meeting between the two countries’ presidents.
Vladimir Medinsky, who led the Russian delegation in Tuesday’s talks in Istanbul, Turkey, said “there is still a lot of work to do” to finalize a draft agreement before Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy could meet.
Speaking Sunday in remarks carried by the Interfax news agency, Medinsky reaffirmed that the parties reached a tentative agreement on the need for Ukraine to adopt a neutral status and refrain from holding foreign military bases in exchange for international security guarantees.
Asked about Ukrainian negotiator Davyd Arakhamia’s claim that Moscow’s negotiators had informally agreed to most proposals by Ukraine during the talks in Istanbul this week and the two presidents could discuss the draft deal, Medinsky said he doesn’t share Arakhamia’s optimism. He said the talks will continue online Monday.
Medinsky emphasized that Russia’s stand on Crimea and rebel regions in Ukraine’s east remained unchanged.
The Kremlin demands that Ukraine acknowledge Russia’s sovereignty over Crimea, which Moscow annexed in 2014, and recognize the independence of Russia-backed separatist regions in Donbas, Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland.
Ukraine has regained control over some areas of the Kyiv region as Russian forces pulled back over the last few days. But leaders warn this does not signal that Russia is giving up; rather, they could be refueling and shifting their strategy to the Donbas region and the south of Ukraine.
In his nightly video address Saturday, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said troops were not allowing the Russians to retreat without a fight: “They are shelling them. They are destroying everyone they can.”
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s deputy defense minister, Hanna Maliar, said Saturday that the capital was “liberated” from invading Russian forces.
“Irpin, Bucha, Gostomel and the whole Kyiv region were liberated from the invader,” she said in a Facebook post.
As Ukrainian forces moved to retake control of areas surrounding Kyiv from retreating Russians, they moved with caution to avoid unexploded ordnance and boobytrapped streets and homes, Zelenskyy and other Ukraine officials said.
Zelenskyy said Russians were leaving behind a “catastrophic” situation, with landmines in streets, civilian homes and even on dead civilian bodies. Ukrainian soldiers were removing bodies from the streets with caution.
Residents of the town of Bucha said civilians were killed without apparent provocation.
The Biden administration intends to work with allies to provide Soviet-made tanks to Ukraine to help its defense in the eastern Donbas region, according to a report from The New York Times.
CNN confirmed the report, citing unnamed officials who said the T-72 tanks would be delivered within “days, not weeks.”
The report, citing an unnamed US official speaking on the condition of anonymity, says the move was requested by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who held an hourlong phone call with President Joe Biden his week.
The US would act as an intermediary, according to the Times. The official said the tanks would allow Ukraine forces to conduct long-range artillery strikes on Russian targets in Donbas, which borders Russia.
The White House declined to comment to USA TODAY.
Contributing: The Associated Press
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism