Kyiv, Ukraine (AP) – Ukraine has told residents of its industrial center to leave while they still can, and called on Western countries to send “weapons, weapons, weapons” on Thursday after Russian forces withdrew from the devastated suburbs of Kyiv to regroup for the offensive. to the east of the country.
Russia’s six-week invasion failed to quickly capture the Ukrainian capital and achieve what Western countries said was President Vladimir Putin’s original goal of overthrowing the Ukrainian government. Russia is now focusing on the Donbass, a predominantly Russian-speaking region in eastern Ukraine.
In Brussels, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba called on NATO to provide more weapons for its war-torn country to help prevent further atrocities as reported in the northern suburbs of Kiev. Ukrainian authorities are working to identify hundreds of bodies that they say were found in Bucha and other cities after the withdrawal of Russian troops, as well as to document what they believe are war crimes.
“My agenda is very simple – it’s weapons, weapons and weapons,” Kuleba said when he arrived at NATO headquarters. for talks with the foreign ministers of the military organization on Ukraine’s struggle for itself.
“The more weapons we get and the sooner they arrive in Ukraine, the more lives will be saved,” he said.
Some NATO countries are concerned that they could become Russia’s next target, but the alliance seeks to avoid actions that could involve any of its 30 members directly in the war. However, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called on member states to send more weapons to Ukraine, not just defensive ones.
“Ukraine is waging a defensive war, so this difference between offensive and defensive weapons doesn’t really make any real sense,” he said.
Western countries have provided Ukraine with portable anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, but they are reluctant to supply aircraft or tanks, as well as any equipment that Ukrainian troops would have to train to use.
Asked what else his country was seeking, Kuleba listed aircraft, ground-based missiles, armored vehicles and air defense systems.
A spokesman for the United States said on condition of anonymity that Russia had withdrawn an estimated 24,000 or more troops from Kyiv and Chernihiv in the north, sending them to Belarus or Russia to replenish supplies, reorganize and possibly prepare to return to battle. to the east.
It is reported that the number of Putin’s military, along with mercenaries, is moving to the Donbass, where Russian-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces for eight years and control two areas.
On the eve of its invasion on February 24, Moscow recognized the Luhansk and Donetsk regions as independent states. Military analysts say Putin may also seek to expand government-controlled parts of Donbass.
Donetsk District Governor Pavlo Kirilenko said that at least five civilians were killed and eight others were injured in Russian shelling on Wednesday. Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine Iryna Verashchuk called on civilians to evacuate to safer regions before it is too late.
“People will come under fire later, and we can’t help them,” Verashchuk said.
Another Western official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence estimates, said the affected Russian forces could take a month to regroup for a major push in eastern Ukraine.
Spokesman for the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Oleksandr Shputun said on Thursday that near Donbass, Ukraine’s second largest city, Kharkiv, remains blocked. He said that Russian forces are also carrying out “brutal measures” in the south of the Kherson region, which they are holding.
In his nightly address to the nation on Wednesday night, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Ukraine was also preparing for battle.
“We will fight and not retreat,” he said. “We will look for all possible options for protection until Russia starts seriously seeking peace. This is our land. This is our future. And we will not give them up. “
In areas north of the capital, Ukrainian authorities have gathered evidence of Russian atrocities amid signs that Moscow troops indiscriminately killed people before retreating.
Ukrainian authorities have said that the bodies of at least 410 civilians who were victims of a Russian campaign of murder, rape, dismemberment and torture, described by Zelensky, have been found in cities around Kyiv. Apparently, some victims were shot at close range. Some were found with their hands tied.
Western officials have warned that similar atrocities are likely to have taken place in other Russian-occupied areas. Zelensky accused Russian forces of trying to cover up war crimes in areas still under their control, “fearing that global anger over what was seen in Bucha would be repeated.”
“We have information that Russian troops have changed tactics and are trying to evacuate the dead, the dead Ukrainians from the streets and basements occupied by them,” he said in a night video. “It’s just an attempt to hide the evidence and nothing more.”
Switching from Ukrainian to Russian, Zelensky called on ordinary Russians to “somehow resist the Russian repressive machine,” rather than “equate them with the Nazis for the rest of their lives.”
He called on the Russians to demand an end to the war, “if you are a little ashamed of what the Russian military is doing in Ukraine.”
In response to the alleged atrocities near Kiev, the United States announced sanctions against Putin’s two adult daughters and said he was tightening penalties against Russian banks. Britain has banned investment in Russia and has vowed to end its dependence on Russian coal and oil by the end of the year.
The U.S. Senate planned on Thursday to pass a law terminating normal trade relations with Russia, paving the way for higher tariffs on some imported goods and codifying President Joe Biden’s executive actions banning Russian oil imports.
The EU is also expected to take additional sanctions, including a coal embargo.
The Kremlin insists that its troops did not commit war crimes, and claims that the photos from Bucha were provided by Ukrainians.
Bodies were still being collected in the city. On Wednesday, the Associated Press saw the two in a house in a quiet area. From time to time the silence was broken by the muffled rumble of workers clearing the city of mines and other unexploded ordnance.
Cemetery workers began loading more than 60 bodies into a grocery truck for transportation to the facility for further investigation.
Police said they found at least 20 bodies in the Makarov district west of Kyiv. In the village of Andrievka, according to residents, the Russians arrived in early March, took the phones of local residents and detained, and then released. The fate of others was unknown. Some have described shelters for weeks in basements that are commonly used to store vegetables.
“At first we were afraid, but now we are hysterical,” said 64-year-old Valentina Klimenko. She, her husband and two neighbors survived the siege by sleeping on piles of potatoes covered with mattresses and blankets. “We didn’t cry at first. Now we are crying. “
In the southern port city of Mariupol, Mayor Vadim Boychenko said that more than 5,000 civilians were killed in a few weeks of Russian bombing and street fighting 210 were children. Russian forces bombed hospitals, including one that burned 50 people, he said.
Boychenko said that more than 90% of the city’s infrastructure was destroyed. As a result of the attacks on the strategic city on the Sea of Azov, food, water, fuel and medicine were cut off, and houses and businesses were destroyed.
British defense officials say 160,000 people remain trapped in the city, which was home to 430,000 people before the war. A humanitarian convoy accompanied by the Red Cross tried for several days in vain to get to the city.
The capture of Mariupol would allow Russia to provide a continuous overland corridor to the Crimean peninsula, which Moscow seized from Ukraine in 2014.
Alexander Stashevsky and Kara Anna in Bucha (Ukraine), Edith M. Lederer of the United Nations, Yuras Karmanov in Lviv (Ukraine) and Associated Press journalists around the world contributed to the report.
Follow the coverage of the AP war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine