KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine on Thursday called on residents of its industrial heartland to leave while they can and urged Western nations to send “weapons, weapons, weapons” after Russian forces withdrew from the outskirts of Ukraine. kyiv to regroup for an offensive on kyiv. the east of the country.
The Six Week Russian Invasion it failed to take the Ukrainian capital quickly and accomplish what Western countries say was President Vladimir Putin’s initial goal of overthrowing the Ukrainian government. Russia’s focus is now on the Donbas, a mostly Russian-speaking region in eastern Ukraine.
In Brussels, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba urged NATO to provide more weapons to help his war-torn country. prevent further atrocities like those reported in the northern suburbs of kyiv. Ukrainian authorities are working to identify hundreds of bodies they say were found in Bucha and other towns after Russian troops withdrew and to document what they say were war crimes.
“My agenda is very simple… it’s guns, guns, and guns,” Kuleba said upon arriving at NATO Headquarters for talks with the foreign ministers of the military organization on Ukraine’s struggle to defend itself.
“The more weapons we get and the sooner they reach Ukraine, the more human lives will be saved,” he said.
Some NATO nations fear they could be Russia’s next target, but the alliance is striving to avoid actions that could drive any of its 30 members directly into war. Still, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg urged member countries to send Ukraine more weapons, and not just defensive weapons.
“Ukraine is waging a defensive war, so this distinction between offensive and defensive weapons doesn’t really have any real meaning,” he said.
Western countries have provided Ukraine with man-portable anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, but have been reluctant to supply planes or tanks, apart from any equipment that Ukrainian troops must be trained to use.
Asked what else his country was looking for, Kuleba listed aircraft, ground-based missiles, armored vehicles and air defense systems.
A US defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity said Russia had withdrawn all of its estimated 24,000 or so troops from the kyiv and Chernihiv areas in the north, sending them to Belarus or Russia to resupply, reorganize and likely prepare. to return to Russia. fight in the east.
Increasing numbers of Putin’s troops, along with mercenaries, are reported to have moved into Donbas, where Russian-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces for eight years and control two areas.
Before its invasion on February 24, Moscow recognized the Luhansk and Donetsk areas as independent states. Military analysts have said that Putin may also be seeking to expand into government-controlled parts of the Donbas.
Donetsk Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said at least five civilians were killed and eight others wounded by Russian shelling on Wednesday. Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk urged civilians to evacuate to safer regions before it is too late.
“Later, people will be attacked and we won’t be able to do anything to help them,” Vereshchuk said.
Another Western official, also speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence estimates, said it may take up to a month for Russian forces damaged by the battle to regroup for a big push into eastern Ukraine.
Oleksandr Shputun, spokesman for the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, reported on Thursday that near Donbas, Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, remained under lockdown. He said Russian forces were also carrying out “brutal measures” in the southern region of Kherson, which they control.
In his late-night address to the nation on Wednesday night, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukraine was also preparing for battle.
“We will fight and we will not back down,” he said. “We will look for all possible options to defend ourselves until Russia begins to seriously seek peace. This is our land. This is our future. And we will not abandon them.”
In areas north of the capital, Ukrainian officials gathered evidence of Russian atrocities amid signs Moscow troops killed people indiscriminately before withdrawing.
Ukrainian authorities said the bodies of at least 410 civilians were found in towns around kyiv, victims of what Zelenskyy described as a Russian campaign of murder, rape, dismemberment and torture. Some victims had apparently been shot at close range. Some were found with their hands tied.
Western officials have warned that similar atrocities are likely to have been committed in other areas occupied by Russian troops. Zelenskyy accused Russian forces of trying to cover up war crimes in areas still under their control, “for fear of a repeat of global anger at what was seen in Bucha.”
“We have information that the Russian troops have changed tactics and are trying to remove the dead, the dead Ukrainians, from the streets and basements of the territory they occupied,” he said in a late-night video address. “This is just an attempt to hide the evidence and nothing more.”
Switching from speaking Ukrainian to Russian, Zelenskyy urged ordinary Russians to “somehow stand up to the Russian repressive machine” instead of being “equivalent to Nazis for the rest of their lives.”
He called on the Russians to demand an end to the war, “if they are a little ashamed of what the Russian army is doing in Ukraine.”
In reaction to the alleged atrocities outside kyiv, the US. announced sanctions against Putin’s two adult daughters and said he is tightening sanctions against Russian banks. Britain has banned investment in Russia and has pledged to end its dependence on Russian coal and oil by the end of the year.
The US Senate planned to take up the legislation on Thursday to terminate normal business relations with Russia, paving the way for higher tariffs on some imports, and to codify President Joe Biden’s executive action banning imports of Russian oil.
The European Union is also expected to take additional punitive measures, including an embargo on coal.
The Kremlin has insisted that its troops have not committed war crimes and claimed that Bucha’s images were staged by the Ukrainians.
Bodies were still being collected in the city. On Wednesday, The Associated Press spotted two at a house in a quiet neighborhood. From time to time, the quiet was broken by the muffled rumble of workers clearing the town of mines and other unexploded ordnance.
Workers at a cemetery began loading more than 60 bodies onto a grocery delivery truck for transport to a facility for further investigation.
Police said they found at least 20 bodies in the Makariv area west of kyiv. In the village of Andriivka, residents said the Russians arrived in early March, seized the phones of locals and detained and then released some people. Others met unknown destinations. Some described sheltering for weeks in cellars normally used to store vegetables.
“First we were scared, now we are hysterical,” said 64-year-old Valentyna Klymenko. She said that she, her husband and two neighbors withstood the siege by sleeping on piles of potatoes covered with a mattress and blankets. “We didn’t cry at first. Now we are crying.”
In the southern port city of Mariupol, Mayor Vadym Boichenko said that of the more than 5,000 civilians killed during weeks of Russian bombing and street fighting, 210 were children. Russian forces bombed hospitals, including one where 50 people burned to death, he said.
Boichenko said that more than 90% of the city’s infrastructure was destroyed. Attacks on the strategic city on the Sea of Azov have cut off food, water, fuel and medicine and pulverized homes and businesses.
British defense officials said 160,000 people remained trapped in the city, which had a pre-war population of 430,000. A humanitarian aid convoy accompanied by the Red Cross has been trying to enter the city for days, without success.
Capturing Mariupol would allow Russia to secure a continuous land corridor to the Crimean peninsula, which Moscow seized from Ukraine in 2014.
Oleksandr Stashevskyi and Cara Anna in Bucha, Ukraine, Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations, Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Ukraine, and Associated Press journalists from around the world contributed to this report.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine