Kyiv, Ukraine (AP)

Ukraine told residents of its industrial center to leave while they still could, and called on Western countries to send “weapons, weapons, weapons” on Thursday after Russian troops withdrew from the devastated suburbs of Kiev to regroup for an offensive in the east.

Russia’s six-week invasion failed to quickly seize Ukraine’s capital and achieve what Western countries say 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 and help its war-torn country prevent further alleged atrocities similar to those reported on the northern outskirts of Kiev. Ukrainian authorities are working to identify hundreds of bodies found in Bucha and other cities after the withdrawal of Russian troops, and to document evidence of possible war crimes.

“My agenda is very simple. … it is weapons, weapons and weapons, ”Kuleba said as he arrived at NATO headquarters to hold talks with the military’s foreign ministers.

“The more weapons we get and the sooner they arrive in Ukraine, the more lives will be saved,” he said.

The Western 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.

Western countries have provided Ukraine with portable anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, but they do not want to supply aircraft, tanks or any equipment that would need to be trained by Ukrainian troops.

Asked what else his country was seeking, Kuleba listed aircraft, ground-based missiles, armored vehicles and air defense systems.

More than a week ago, Moscow announced plans to concentrate its forces in the east, and they have largely withdrawn from Kiev and the north. It is reported that the number of Putin’s troops 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 seek to expand into government-controlled territory.

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.

She said that Ukraine and Russian officials have agreed to create 10 routes for the evacuation of citizens from Donetsk, Luhansk and Zaporozhye regions. She said residents will be able to seek safety in the cities of Zaporizhia in southeastern Ukraine and Bakhmut in the east.

Russia’s shift in focus has brought relief to Chernihiv, a city near Ukraine’s northern border with Belarus that has been surrounded and cut off for weeks.

The remaining soldiers left behind twisted buildings and injured residents, who climbed the rubble and bypassed the cars destroyed by the fighting. Dozens of people lined up on Thursday for groceries, diapers and medicine at the destroyed school, which now serves as a distribution point.

On the board in one class it was written: “Wednesday, February 23 – classes.” The next day, Russia invaded Ukraine, besieging Chernihiv as its troops tried to make their way south to the capital.

“Finally we can bring food,” said Victoria Veruga, who distributed aid at the school. “Now we can bring food, medicine, we can evacuate people from Chernihiv, which is also very important.”

Tatiana Nesterenko, who left the city and moved to Polish Medica, has joined more than 4.3 million refugees who have a million-strong Ukraine since the start of the war.

“We spent 40 days in the basement,” she said. “Our house was destroyed by an air strike. … Now many people are homeless, and there were many victims. We had no help or volunteers. We put out the fire ourselves. “

The UK Ministry of Defense said on Thursday that Russia was launching artillery and air strikes along the “line of control” between Ukrainian and rebel-held areas in the Donbas and striking at infrastructure around Ukraine to deplete Ukraine’s defenses.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said that during the night it struck fuel depots around the cities of Nikolaev, Zaporozhye, Kharkiv and Chuguev with cruise missiles fired from ships in the Black Sea.

A Ukrainian naval vessel caught fire under unknown circumstances in the besieged port city of Mariupol, according to satellite photos analyzed on Thursday by the Associated Press. PBC Planet Labs shows the Ukrainian command ship Donbass burning in the port of the Sea of ​​Azov on Wednesday afternoon, as well as a nearby building.

The cause of the fire remained unclear.

Mariupol has experienced some of the greatest deprivations of war. Russian troops are fighting street by street to capture the city; this will allow Russia to provide a continuous overland corridor to the Crimean peninsula, which Moscow seized from Ukraine in 2014.

Mariupol Mayor Vadim Boychenko said more than 5,000 civilians, including 210 children, had been killed in weeks of Russian bombing and street fighting. British defense officials say 160,000 people remain trapped in the city, which was home to 430,000 people before the war.

Spokesman for the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Oleksandr Shputun said on Thursday that Ukraine’s second largest city, Kharkiv, remains blocked near Donbass. He said that Russian forces were also carrying out “brutal measures” in the south of the Kherson region, which they were holding.

The International Criminal Court has launched an investigation into possible war crimes in Ukraine. 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 say the bodies of at least 410 civilians who fell victim to a Russian campaign of assassination, rape, dismemberment and torture by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky have been found in cities around Kyiv. Some victims appear to have been shot at close range or died with their hands tied.

Western officials have warned that similar atrocities are likely to have taken place in other areas occupied by Russian troops. 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.”

The Kremlin insists its troops did not commit war crimes, and claims that Ukrainians staged images of brutality coming from Bucha, where piles of bags of corpses were taken to an institution for identification and investigation.

Two former German government ministers have filed a criminal complaint with the federal prosecutor’s office demanding an investigation into war crimes against Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin and the Russian military.

The couple wants to use national laws that allow them to prosecute in Germany those accused of serious crimes committed elsewhere.

Lawyer Nicolaas Gazeas, who filed a 140-page criminal complaint on their behalf, cites a report in the weekly Der Spiegel on Thursday, which said German foreign intelligence intercepted radio messages between Russian soldiers discussing the killings of civilians in Bucha.

Gazeas said parallel research in several jurisdictions makes sense and can mutually reinforce. Deputies in the US House of Representatives on Wednesday night overwhelmingly passed a law requiring a report from the federal government on evidence of war crimes committed during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In response to the alleged atrocities, the United States announced sanctions against Putin’s two adult daughters and said it was stepping up penalties against Russian banks. Britain has banned investment in Russia and has promised to end its dependence on Russian coal and oil by the end of the year.

The European Union is also expected to take additional sanctions, including an embargo on Russian coal.

Zelensky said the sanctions would not be effective unless they included a ban on Russian oil imports, which Europe relies heavily on. He said that Western sanctions against Russia “cannot be called commensurate with the evil the world has seen in Bucha” and elsewhere.


“Rose” reported from the Ukrainian Chernihiv. Alexander Stashevsky and Kara Anna from Bucha (Ukraine), Yuras Karmanov in Lviv (Ukraine) and Associated Press journalists around the world contributed to this report.

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