BUCHA, Ukraine – Russian forces, who at the beginning of the war with tanks and artillery intended to capture Kyiv with tanks and artillery, retreated under fire across a wide front on Saturday, leaving behind dead soldiers and burnt equipment, according to witnesses, Ukrainian officials , satellite imagery and military analysts.
The conclusion suggested the possibility of a major turnaround in the six-week war – the collapse, at least for now, of Russia’s initial attempt to seize Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, and the end of its hopes for a quick subjugation of the nation.
Moscow described the withdrawal as a tactical step to regroup and relocate its forces for a major push in the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine. While there are first signs that the military is implementing the plan, analysts say it cannot hide the scale of the defeat.
“Russia’s initial operation was unsuccessful, and one of its central goals – the capture of Kiev – proved unattainable for Russian troops,” said Michael Coffman, director of Russian research at the CNA Research Institute in Arlington, Virginia. phone interview on Saturday.
Elsewhere in Ukraine, Russian attacks continue unabated, and the Pentagon has warned that formations near Kiev could be relocated for repeated attacks.
In the south, an aid convoy organized by the International Committee of the Red Cross, which stopped on its way to deliver some aid to the besieged city of Mariupol, was on the move again. The hope, repeatedly thwarted by Russian shelling, was to deliver emergency supplies to trapped residents and evacuate hundreds of survivors of several weeks of bombing that resulted in food and water shortages.
In suburban cities north of Kyiv, the Ukrainian army was advancing through a pattern of destruction, with dozens of tanks lined up in the streets, significant damage to buildings and the bodies of civilians still lying untidy. Kyiv and its environs, which for weeks sounded from artillery and gunfire, fell silent.
Ukrainian troops moved to Bucha on Saturday, a key city on the west bank of the Dnieper River that divides Kyiv, days after Russian troops looted it at the exit.
“They went from apartment to apartment, collected TVs and computers, loaded them into tanks and left,” said pensioner Svetlana Semenova about the departure of the Russians, which she called chaotic. “They were in a hurry.”
Dozens of people, who lived mostly in basements for a month, staggered outside to gather food – bags of potatoes and bread brought by the Ukrainian military.
Elena Shur, 43, an accountant for Ukraine’s national airline, said the first sign that the Ukrainian military appeared on Friday was when a civilian car with soldiers drove through the city waving the country’s flag.
“We saw people on the street and soldiers,” Ms. Shur said. “I cried.”
Journalists counted six bodies of civilians on the streets and sidewalks of Bucha. It is unclear under what circumstances they died, but the discarded package with Russian military rations lay next to the man who was shot in the head.
When photos of the victims appeared in Bucha, a senior adviser to Ukraine’s president said on Saturday that some of those killed in plainclothes appeared to have been linked and executed.
“The bodies of people with their hands tied and shot by the military are lying in the streets,” adviser Mikhail Podalak said on Twitter. “These people were not in the army. They had no weapons. They did not pose any threat. ” He included an image of a scene photographed by Agence France-Presse, which depicts three bodies on the side of the road, one of which is apparently linked behind his back. The New York Times was unable to independently verify Mr. Podalak’s allegation that people were executed.
The city was the site of a major Ukrainian ambush by a Russian armored column in the early days of the war, and one street was blocked by dozens of burned tanks and trucks.
Despite this failure, the Russians captured Bucha and held it for about a month. They shot half a dozen territorial defense soldiers – many Ukrainians joined the volunteer army when the war broke out – and left the bodies in a heavily mined part of the city, said 69-year-old Varvara Kaminskaya.
Ukrainians have advanced at least another 15 miles northwest of Bucha, where they now hang Ukrainian flags over former Russian checkpoints.
After their initial assault on the capital failed, the Russian army took up defensive positions behind Kiev, indicating an intention to hold the front line near the city. In artillery war, trenches give soldiers the best chance of survival.
They were left in Bucha and the surrounding area on Saturday. On the northern outskirts of the city were abandoned berms, which sheltered Russian artillery posts, surrounded by green boxes and hundreds of empty shell casings.
“According to our information, they are fleeing from all areas of Kiev,” – said the sergeant. Igor Zaichuk, commander of the 1st Company of the 2nd Battalion “Azov” of the Ukrainian army, which fought in Bucha.
“They can say on their own TV stations if they want to be the second largest army in the world,” he said. “But they are no more.”
However, he warned that the Russians could return. “Only their commanders know if they will be re-equipped and return.” Even when cars lined up on some roads on their way back to Kyiv, workers were building new defenses out of heavy logs.
On the east bank of the Dnieper, Ukrainian forces were advancing in villages tens of miles from the capital, according to an SBU intelligence officer, the Ukrainian Internal Intelligence Service, who declined to name the person for security reasons.
Analysts note that Moscow’s decision to redirect its troops to the Donbass in eastern Ukraine is likely to be accurate, but mainly because they have few options.
“The Russians are adjusting their goals to reality,” Lawrence Friedman, an honored professor of military studies at King’s College London, said in a Saturday interview. “I think they know they’re in trouble, so I don’t think it’s a gimmick when they say they’re focused on the Donbass, because that’s really all they can do.”
Mr Coffman, an expert on the Russian military, said the Russian army had lost about 2,000 pieces of equipment that had been destroyed, seized or abandoned, including about 350 tanks.
Retreating, the Russians left mines and mine traps to slow the persecution of Ukrainians, Ukrainian officers in various cities said. In the suburbs of Irpin, which the Ukrainians recaptured before Bucha, demining was in full swing on Saturday. Ukrainian officials said some civilian bodies were seized to kill MOE staff.
One group of military engineers, dressed in heavy blue Kevlar, tied a rope to the body. They pulled for him to see if this movement would cause a mine-trap. However, the body remained there until the end of the day, and engineers apparently could not be sure whether it was safe to pick it up.
In the village of Dmitrovka, west of the capital, there were signs of a hasty retreat of Russians from the slaughterhouse. Nine tanks and armored vehicles, destroyed and destroyed by fire, lay on the forest road leading out of the village, the remnants of a tank battle three days earlier. The turrets and heavy guns of the two tanks lay set aside. Burnt human remains of men were visible inside one of the armored personnel carriers.
58-year-old Valiantsina Yatsevich, a villager who walked past the wreckage to her home, said: “They did not leave, they were destroyed.”
In Russia itself, the retreat has caused outrage among the military, with state television previously raising expectations that Russian troops will seize Kyiv.
Semyon Pegov, a popular pro-Kremlin military blogger in the Russian military, posted a video on Telegram’s social media program on Saturday, describing the move as a “retreat, not an escape”.
According to him, the retreat was caused by stretched lines of supply to Russia and the threat of further losses, as its troops tried to survive in the field, facing a much better-off and fortified enemy.
It was an attempt, covered by other pro-Kremlin media, to explain why Russia seemed to have drastically reduced its military targets in recent days, realizing the painful losses in the fighting for the suburbs of Kiev.
Russian hardliners, who called for an attack on Kyiv, saw the retreat as a disappointment. “I don’t know why such a decision was made,” Alexander Kots, a military correspondent for the Russian tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda, wrote in the Telegram. “The war is just beginning. We will find out later who was right and who was guilty. “
The Kremlin remained disobedient when state television broadcast an interview with Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov, describing the United States as the root of Europe’s woes. He expressed confidence that European countries would resume relations with Russia as soon as they “recover a little from the American bourbon.”
In Lithuania, President Gitanas Navseda announced that his country would no longer import Russian gas this month. “If we can do it, then the rest of Europe can do it,” he wrote on Twitter. The European Union is looking for ways to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian oil and gas.
In other events Saturday, Pope Francis, who visited the Mediterranean island nation of Malta, came closer to accusing Russian President Vladimir Putin of the war in Ukraine than before. Addressing Maltese dignitaries and officials, the pope accused the “powerful ruler, who is sadly fascinated by anachronistic declarations of nationalist interests” of casting “dark shadows of war” from eastern Europe.
Francis has refused to explicitly accuse Mr Putin or Russia of being an aggressor for a variety of reasons, including the Vatican’s hopes of participating in a potential peace deal. But on Saturday, he spoke clearly of Mr Putin, who he said “provokes and inflames conflicts”.
Andrew E. Kramer reported from Bucha, Ukraine, and Neil McFarquar from New York. The report contributed Anton Troyanovsky in Istanbul; Carlotta Gal in Dmitrovka, Ukraine; Megan Spice in Warsaw; Stephen Erlanger in Brussels; Maria Varenikova in Bucha, Ukraine; and Jason Horowitz in Rome.