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A man stands alongside a bridge destroyed by Russian soldiers upon their retreat from villages on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine. PA
Ukraine

Ukraine says it has regained 'whole Kyiv region' as over 200 protesters detained in Moscow

Russia has been withdrawing some of its ground forces from areas around Kyiv.

LAST UPDATE | Apr 2nd 2022, 7:23 PM

UKRAINE HAS REGAINED control of “the whole Kyiv region” after invading Russian forces retreated from some key towns near the Ukrainian capital, its deputy defence minister has declared.

“Irpin, Bucha, Gostomel and the whole Kyiv region were liberated from the invader,” Ganna Maliar said on Facebook, referring to towns that have been heavily destroyed by fighting.

Irpin and Bucha, commuters towns outside Kyiv, were retaken by the Ukrainian army this week.

Ukraine has said Russia is withdrawing from northern areas and appears to be focusing on the east and south of Ukraine. 

However there have been severe warnings by Ukraine president Volodymr Zelenskyy that the retreating Russian forces were creating “a complete disaster” outside the capital as they leave mines across “the whole territory”, even around homes and corpses.

He issued the warning as the humanitarian crisis in the encircled city of Mariupol deepened and the Kremlin accused Ukrainians of launching a helicopter attack on a fuel depot on Russian soil.

Ukraine denied responsibility for the fiery blast, but if Moscow’s claim is confirmed, it would be the war’s first known attack in which Ukrainian aircraft penetrated Russian airspace.

“Certainly, this is not something that can be perceived as creating comfortable conditions for the continuation of the talks,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

The Red Cross is preparing for a fresh evacuation effort from Mariupol after thousands of people escaped the city yesterday.

“Russia is prioritising a different tactic: falling back on the east and south,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhaylo Podolyak said on social media.

He said that while Russian forces appeared to be pulling back from Kyiv and Chernigiv, their aim was to “control a vast stretch of occupied territory and set up there in a powerful way”.

Podolyak said Russian forces would “dig in there, set up air defence, drastically reduce losses and dictate terms”.

Moscow’s aim was to “drastically reduce losses & dictate terms”, he said on Twitter today.

“Without heavy weapons we won’t be able to drive [Russia] out”.

Mariupol has been an important Ukrainian hold-out, suffering weeks of Russian shelling, with at least 5,000 residents killed, local officials said.

The estimated the 160,000 people who remain in the city face shortages of food, water and electricity.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said its team heading towards Mariupol to try and conduct an evacuation was forced to turn back yesterday after “arrangements and conditions made it impossible to proceed”.

The ICRC said it would try again today.

Protesters detained

In Moscow, Russian police detained 211 people at protests against the country’s war in Ukraine, an NGO said.

OVD-Info, which monitors arrests during protests, said police had detained at least 211 people during demonstrations in 17 cities in Russia.

An AFP journalist in Moscow witnessed more than 20 people detained by riot police under heavy snowfall in the capital’s central park Zaryadye, a short distance from the Kremlin.

Police escorted away people sitting on park benches or just standing around without explaining the reasons for the detention, the reporter said.

One of the detained women held a bouquet of white tulips, while another several times exclaimed “No to war in Ukraine!” as she was being taken away.

A national sit-in Saturday against what Moscow calls its “military operation” in Ukraine was announced on social media by activists in around 30 Russian cities.

The organisers said in a statement they wanted to protest “the collapse of (Russia’s) economy”, against Russian President Vladimir Putin and to demand freedom for jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.

“Russia deserves peace, democracy and prosperity,” they said.

In Russia’s second city, Saint Petersburg, AFP saw multiple arrests near the city’s Legislative Assembly where around 40 people gathered, although it was unclear how many were there to protest.

“Nobody will come, all the active ones were detained at previous protests,” said 30-year-old Sergei Gorelov, who said he came to “take a look and show support if necessary”.

“I just came to stand around, to somehow express my protest to everything that is happening. It’s scary to protest actively,” Galina Sedova, 50, told AFP at the scene.

Protesters risk fines and possible prison sentences by taking to the streets.

OVD-Info says that over 15,000 people have been detained at rallies across the country to protest Russian military action in Ukraine, which was launched on February 24.

War crimes

Meanwhile, the former chief prosecutor of United Nations (UN) war crimes tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda has called for an international arrest warrant to be issued for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Putin is a war criminal,” Carla Del Ponte told the Swiss newspaper Le Temps in an interview published on Saturday.

In interviews given to mark the release of her latest book, the Swiss lawyer who oversaw UN investigations in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia said there were clear war crimes being committed in Ukraine.

She said she was particularly shocked by the use of mass graves in Russia’s war on Ukraine, which recalls the worst of the wars in the former Yugoslavia.

“I hoped never to see mass graves again,” she told the newspaper Blick.

“These dead people have loved ones who don’t even know what’s become of them. That is unacceptable.”

Other war crimes she identified in Ukraine include attacks on civilians, the destruction of civilian buildings and even the demolishing of entire villages.

She said the investigation in Ukraine would be easier than that in Yugoslavia because the country itself had requested an international probe.

The current International Criminal Court (ICC) chief prosecutor, Karim Khan, visited Ukraine last month.

If the ICC finds proof of war crimes, she said “you must go up the chain of command until you reach those who took the decisions.”

She said it would be possible to bring even Putin to account.

“You mustn’t let go, continue to investigation. When the investigation into Slobodan Milosevic began, he was still president of Serbia. Who would have thought then that he would one day be judged? Nobody,” she told Blick.

Del Ponte said investigations should be carried out into possible war crimes committed by both sides, pointing also to reports about the alleged torture of some Russian prisoners of war by Ukrainian forces. 

Mines

Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address to the people of Ukraine: “They are mining the whole territory. They are mining homes, mining equipment, even the bodies of people who were killed.

“There are a lot of trip wires, a lot of other dangers.”

He urged residents to wait to resume their normal lives until they are assured that the mines have been cleared and the danger of shelling has passed.

While the Russians kept up their bombardment around Kyiv and Chernihiv, Ukrainian troops exploited the pullback on the ground by mounting counterattacks and retaking a number of towns and villages.

Still, Ukraine and its allies warned that the Kremlin is not de-escalating to promote trust at the bargaining table, as it claimed, but instead resupplying and shifting its troops to the country’s east.

Zelenskyy warned of difficult battles ahead as the Russians redeploy troops. “We are preparing for an even more active defence,” he said.

He did not say anything about the latest round of talks, which took place yesterday by video.

At a round of talks earlier in the week, Ukraine said it would be willing to abandon a bid to join Nato and declare itself neutral – Moscow’s chief demand – in return for security guarantees from several other countries.

The invasion has left thousands dead and driven more than four million refugees from Ukraine.

Elsewhere, at least three Russian ballistic missiles were fired late on Friday from the Crimean Peninsula at the Odesa region on the Black Sea, regional leader Maksim Marchenko said.

The Ukrainian military said the Iskander missiles were intended for critical infrastructure but did not hit their targets because of Ukraine’s air-defence forces. It was unclear where they hit.

Marchenko said there were casualties, but he did not elaborate.

Odesa is Ukraine’s largest port and the headquarters of its navy.

As for the fuel depot explosion, Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said two Ukrainian helicopter gunships flew in extremely low and attacked the civilian oil storage facility on the outskirts of the city of Belgorod, about 25 kilometres from the Ukraine border.

The regional governor said two workers at the depot were wounded, but the Rosneft state oil company denied anyone was hurt.

Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s national security council, said on Ukrainian television: “For some reason they say that we did it, but in fact this does not correspond with reality.”

In an interview with Fox, Zelenskyy refused to say whether Ukraine launched the attack.

Amid the Russian pullback on the ground and its continued bombardment, Ukraine’s military said it had retaken 29 settlements in the Kyiv and Chernihiv regions.

Additional reporting by AFP.

Author
Press Association
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