Russian troops withdraw from northern Ukraine city, leaving behind death and destruction

CHERNIHIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian troops withdrawing from this city in northern Ukraine left destroyed buildings, streets littered with wrecked cars and residents in dire need of food and other aid — images that fueled Kiev’s appeals Thursday to Stop More Western Aid Moscow’s Next Offensive.

Dozens of people lined up to receive bread, diapers and medicines from vans parked outside a broken-down school that now serves as an aid distribution point in Chernihiv, which Russian forces besieged for weeks as part of their attempt to rampage south toward the capital before withdrawing.

A man walks past a building damaged by shelling on Thursday in Chernihiv, Ukraine.

Evgeniy Maloletka via Associated Press

The city’s streets are lined with hulled houses and apartment buildings with missing roofs or walls. A chalk message on the blackboard in a classroom still reads: “Wednesday, February 23 – Classwork.”

Russia invaded the next day, launching a war that has forced more than 4 million Ukrainians to flee the country, expelled millions more within the country and sent shockwaves across Europe and beyond.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba warned on Thursday that the country remains vulnerable despite a recent Russian withdrawal, advocating for NATO weapons to counter the coming offensive in the east. Nations of the alliance agreed to increase their arms supplies, spurred by reports that Russian troops are committing atrocities in the areas around the capital.

Western allies also stepped up financial sanctions against Moscow, including a European Union ban on Russian coal imports and a US decision to suspend normal trade relations with Russia.

Kuleba encouraged Western countries to continue attacking Russia, suggesting any interruption will lead to more suffering for the Ukrainians.

“How many Buchas must take place before you can impose sanctions?” Kuleba asked reporters, referring to a town near Kiev where Associated Press reporters counted dozens of bodies, some burned, others apparently shot at close range or tied with their hands. “How many children, women, men, have to die – innocent lives have to be lost – to understand that you cannot tolerate the weariness of sanctions, just as we cannot allow the weariness of battle?”

Municipal workers unload bodies from a van at a cemetery in Bucha, Ukraine, on Thursday.
Municipal workers unload bodies from a van at a cemetery in Bucha, Ukraine, on Thursday.

Vadim Ghirda via Associated Press

Ukrainian officials said earlier this week the bodies of 410 civilians have been found in towns around the capital. Volunteers spent days collecting the bodies, and more were collected from Bucha on Thursday.

Bucha mayor Anatoliy Fedoruk said investigators found at least three sites of mass shooting at civilians during the Russian occupation. Most of the victims died from gunfire, not shelling, he said, and corpses with their hands tied were “dumped like firewood” in recently discovered mass graves, including one in a children’s camp.

The mayor said the number of dead civilians stood at 320 on Wednesday, but he expected the number to rise as more bodies are found in his city, which once had a population of 50,000. There are now only 3,700 left, he said.

In his late-night speech, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy suggested that Bucha’s horrors could be just the beginning. In the northern town of Borodianka, just 30 kilometers northwest of Bucha, Zelenskyy warned of more victims, saying “it’s much scarier there.”

The world should brace itself, he said, for what could soon be found in the seaport city of Mariupol, saying that “on every street is what the world saw in Bucha and other cities in the Kiev region after the departure of Russian troops.” The same cruelty, the same terrible crimes.”

He promised that an ongoing international war crimes investigation will identify “each of the executioners” and “all those who committed rape or looting.”

The bodies of Ukrainians killed by Russian troops in Ukraine's Bucha fill a mass grave.
The bodies of Ukrainians killed by Russian troops in Ukraine’s Bucha fill a mass grave.

Celestino Arce/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Ukrainian and several Western leaders blamed the massacres on Moscow’s troops, and the weekly Der Spiegel reported Thursday that German foreign intelligence intercepted radio messages between Russian soldiers discussing the killings of civilians. Russia has falsely claimed that the scenes in Bucha were staged.

Kuleba became emotional when he referred to the horrors in the city, telling reporters they couldn’t understand “what it feels like after seeing pictures from Bucha, talking to people who escaped, knowing the person you know has died four days in a row.” has been raped. †

His comments came in response to a reporter’s question about a video allegedly showing Ukrainian soldiers shooting a captured and wounded Russian soldier. He said he had not seen the video and would be investigated. He acknowledged that there could be “isolated incidents” of violations.

The images have not been independently verified by the AP.

In the 6-week-old war, Russian forces failed to take the Ukrainian capital quickly and denied what Western countries said Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s original aim was to oust the Ukrainian government. In the wake of that setback and heavy losses, Russia shifted its focus to the Donbas, a largely Russian-speaking industrial region in eastern Ukraine, where Moscow-backed rebels have been fighting Ukrainian forces for eight years.

The United Nations humanitarian leader told the AP on Thursday he is “not optimistic” about reaching a ceasefire after meeting officials in Kiev and Moscow this week, highlighting the lack of trust between the two sides. underlined together. He spoke hours after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused Ukraine of backtracking on proposals it had made about Crimea and Ukraine’s military status.

It is not clear how long it will be before Russian troops withdraw, and Ukrainian officials have urged people in the east of the country to leave before fighting intensifies there.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Ukrainian and Russian officials agreed on Thursday to build civilian evacuation routes from various areas in the Donbas.

Even as Ukraine braced itself for a new phase of the war, Russia’s withdrawal brought some relief to Chernihiv, which lies near Ukraine’s northern border with Belarus and had been locked down for weeks.

Vladimir Tarasovets described nights during the siege when he saw the city on fire and listened to the sound of shelling.

“It was very hard, very hard. Every night there were fires, it was scary to look at the city. At night, when it was dark, there was no light, no water, no gas, no amenities at all”, he said. “How did we get through it? I have no words to describe how we managed.”

In addition to urging NATO countries to send more weapons, revelations about potential war crimes prompted Western countries to step up sanctions, and the Group of Seven Major World Powers warned they will continue to strengthen measures until Russian troops leave Ukraine.

The US Congress voted Thursday to suspend normal trade relations with Russia and ban imports of its oil, while the European Union agreed to sanction new measures, including the embargo on coal imports. The UN General Assembly, meanwhile, has voted to suspend Russia from the world’s leading human rights body.

US President Joe Biden said the UN vote showed how “Putin’s war has made Russia an international pariah”. He called the images that came out of Bucha ‘horrific’.

“The signs that people are being raped, tortured, executed — in some cases desecrating their bodies — are a disgrace to our common humanity,” Biden said.

The US State Department said it has blacklisted the United Shipbuilding Corp., Russia’s largest military shipbuilder, as well as its subsidiaries and board members. The move blocks their access to US financial systems. The ministry also said it would impose sanctions on the world’s largest diamond mining company, Russian-backed Alrosa.

Schreck reported from Kiev, Ukraine. Associated Press journalists around the world contributed to this report.

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