War in Ukraine: Scenes of devastation emerge in recently liberated areas around Kyiv

Published April 3, 2022 at 8:30 AM EDT
A burnt car is seen on the road between Myla and Mriia, on April 2, in Kyiv region. After weeks of war, Russian forces around the capital have been pushed back by Ukrainian counter-attacks.
Alexey Furman
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A burnt car is seen on the road between Myla and Mriia on Saturday in the Kyiv region. After weeks of war, Russian forces around the capital have been pushed back by Ukrainian counterattacks.

The Ukrainian government says it has regained control of the entire Kyiv region for the first time since the start of the invasion in February, but as Russian forces pull back, Ukrainian soldiers are finding a bleak landscape in the recently liberated areas. There are reports of civilians lying dead along the side of roads and mass graves. In Bucha, a town northwest of Kyiv, Mayor Anatoly Fedoruk said some 280 bodies had been found in mass graves.

Here's more context to understand Ukraine and the impact of the invasion:

Follow the latest developments.

Russian military says Bucha massacre claims are a media hoax

Posted April 3, 2022 at 3:25 PM EDT

Russia’s defense ministry is denying accusations that it massacred civilians in the Ukrainian town of Bucha, saying on Sunday that “not a single local resident” suffered from violence during Russian troops’ occupation of the town.

Photo and video evidence to the contrary, the Russian military said, are “just another provocation,” issuing a statement of denial in both Russian and English.

Shocking images have emerged from Bucha over the weekend, showing the bodies of men on the street, including some whose hands were tied behind their backs, after Russian forces withdrew.

Human Rights Watch has also published the accounts of Ukrainians who say they witnessed Russian paratroopers rounding up people, questioning them and carrying out summary executions. The actions allegedly took place in Bucha and other towns that endured weeks of Russian occupation.

The Russian defense ministry sought to undermine local authorities’ accounts, saying that the images and stories of civilians lying dead in the street only surfaced after Ukraine’s security forces and journalists arrived. It questioned the timing of when the people were killed, and it said the images had been produced for Western media.

The scenes quickly renewed international accusations that Russia is committing war crimes in Ukraine, along with calls to preserve evidence and conduct an international investigation.

“I am deeply shocked by the images of civilians killed in Bucha, Ukraine,” U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said on Sunday. “It is essential that an independent investigation leads to effective accountability.”

Missing mayors

Russian forces have kidnapped at least 11 mayors, Ukraine says

Posted April 3, 2022 at 2:34 PM EDT

Russia’s invading force was holding the heads of 11 local governments in captivity as of Sunday morning, according to Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk. The mayors are from six different regions, she said, including Kyiv, Kherson, Mykolaiv and Donetsk.

The civilian leaders are being illegally held by force, Vereshchuk said, adding that Ukraine has informed the International Committee of the Red Cross and other international organizations about the mayors being held in captivity.

Vereshchuk said at least one mayor has been killed: Olga Sukhenko, the head of the village of Motyzhyn, in the Kyiv region. Local media outlets say she was taken away with her husband and their son -- and all three were found dead 10 days later, after Russian troops withdrew from northern Ukraine.

Also on Sunday, Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said two other mayors -- one in captivity since March 19 and another since March 25 -- had been freed.

Ukraine is working to orchestrate the release of all civilians held by Russian forces, as part of a prisoner-of-war exchange, Vereshchuk said.

Poland is open to hosting nukes were the U.S. to ask, leader of ruling party says

Posted April 3, 2022 at 2:19 PM EDT
Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party, says Poland would like to see the U.S. raise its military presence in Eastern Europe -- possibly including nuclear weapons. He's seen here voting in a national election in 2020.
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Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party, says Poland would like to see the U.S. raise its military presence in Eastern Europe -- possibly including nuclear weapons. He's seen here voting in a national election in 2020.

Citing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, one of the most powerful politicians in Poland says his country would be open to a U.S. request to base nuclear weapons there if American officials were to ask. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, head of the ruling Law and Justice party, says Poland would also be happy if the U.S. boosted its troop presence in Europe by 50%.

Kaczynski made the remarks in an interview with the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag. In it, he also called on Germany’s leaders to take a hard line against Russian President Vladimir Putin and refuse to fund his regime with energy payments.

Kaczynski is currently Poland’s deputy prime minister, but that title belies the influence he wields at the helm of the nationalist party that he co-founded with his late twin brother, Lech. The party has long been skeptical of the European Union -- and of Germany particularly -- as well as being suspicious of Russia.

Discussing the importance of bolstering the eastern flank of NATO, Kaczynski stated, “if the Americans asked us to store U.S. nuclear weapons in Poland, we would be open to it. It would significantly strengthen deterrence against Moscow,” according to a translation by the Associated Press.

He added that the moment for such a decision has not yet arisen. Of the troops, Kaczynski said it would please Poland if the U.S. raises its military presence in Europe, to 150,000 troops.

Attacks in Odesa

Russia hits an oil refinery and other petroleum targets in Odesa area

Posted April 3, 2022 at 11:45 AM EDT
Heavy smoke is seen above buildings in the Black Sea port of Odessa on April 3, 2022.
George Vitsaras
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AFP via Getty Images
Heavy smoke is seen above buildings in the Black Sea port of Odessa on April 3, 2022.

Russia’s military hit parts of southern Ukraine on Sunday, even as it withdrew from Kyiv and other regions in the north. A barrage of missiles destroyed an oil refinery and three storage facilities holding fuel and lubricants near Odesa, the Russian defense ministry said.

The attack on Odesa, a strategically important city on the Black Sea in southwestern Ukraine, was launched from warships and from the air, according to the Russian military.

The Odesa city government’s website confirmed that critical infrastructure had been hit in a large-scale missile attack, saying that in some areas, the skies were full of smoke. It added that preliminary reports did not list any casualties.

On its Telegram channel, the Odesa City Council said that Ukrainian anti-aircraft units had shot down at least two Russian naval-based cruise missiles, citing the regional air force command base.

Crimes of war

Human Rights Watch details apparent war crimes by Russian forces in Ukraine

Posted April 3, 2022 at 11:30 AM EDT

Human Rights Watch says it has documented several cases of apparent war crimes committed by Russian troops in Ukraine.

The laws-of-war violations, as Human Rights Watch called them on Sunday, occurred against civilians in parts of Ukraine that Russian troops had occupied, including in the Chernihiv, Kharkiv, and Kyiv regions.

The cases included rape, execution, looting and violence against civilians.

“The cases we documented amount to unspeakable, deliberate cruelty and violence against Ukrainian civilians,” said Hugh Williamson, the Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Rape, murder, and other violent acts against people in the Russian forces’ custody should be investigated as war crimes.”

In recent days as Russian troops have withdrawn from the Kyiv region, Ukrainian forces have begun sweeping the areas of mines and unexploded ordinance. Disturbing videos showing dead civilians are being posted online by groups entering those areas for the first time since Russia withdrew.

In other parts of the country, though, fierce fighting continues, and even in and around Kyiv, officials are warning it is still not safe for people to return.

Lithuania says it will ban fuel imports from Russia

Posted April 3, 2022 at 10:48 AM EDT

Lithuania has become the first country in the European Union to immediately ban fuel imports from Russia.

Lithuania — a small country on the Baltic Sea — says it plans to immediately replace Russian fuel with imports of liquefied natural gas from other countries.

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda heralded the decision in a tweet on a Saturday, and urged other nations to follow suit. "If we can do it, the rest of Europe can do it too!" said Nauseda.

The move sends a strong message, says Agata Loskot-Strachota, an energy policy expert in Warsaw, Poland.

"It is directed to Russia, but also to Ukraine, that we won't accept what is happening and we are ready to bear the costs. But, of course, yes there is hope that other countries will follow actually,"
Poland has similarly vowed to ban all energy imports by the end of the year. Both Lithuania and Poland share a bad history with Soviet Russia and have been pushing for all 27 nations that make up the EU to strongly support Ukraine.

The state of negotiations

Russia’s top negotiator says it’s still too soon for Putin and Zelenskyy to meet

Posted April 3, 2022 at 10:22 AM EDT

Peace talks between Ukraine and Russia will resume on Monday, according to lead Russian negotiator Vladimir Medinsky. But he also says that in its current state, the draft for an agreement doesn’t warrant a summit meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine.

Medinsky’s statement on his Telegram channel contradicts comments from lead Ukrainian negotiator David Arakhamia, who said on Saturday that the Russian side had agreed that the draft documents from the recent resumption of talks are now fleshed out enough to be discussed by the two leaders.

Arakhamia had on Saturday acknowledged the two sides still needed to work out the details on a final set of issues. But he added that the framework was enough to start planning a summit session, noting that Turkey’s government had offered to host a top-level meeting — likely in Istanbul or Ankara.

The disagreement on a potential summit comes after negotiators from both sides recently said their counterparts were showing a willingness to agree to the other side’s demands. But Medinsky said on Sunday that while Ukraine was being more realistic regarding its potential future status as a neutral and non-nuclear country, the draft treaty wasn’t ready to anchor a summit meeting.

As Russian troops pull back, scenes of atrocities are discovered

Posted April 3, 2022 at 9:22 AM EDT
A destroyed building is pictured in Bucha, northwest of Kyiv, on April 2, 2022, where the town's mayor said 280 people had been buried in a mass grave and that the town is littered with corpses.
Ronaldo Schemidt
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AFP via Getty Images
A destroyed building is pictured in Bucha, northwest of Kyiv, on April 2, 2022, where the town's mayor said 280 people had been buried in a mass grave and that the town is littered with corpses.

Ukrainian forces retaking the Kyiv region are relaying scenes of apparent atrocities, including men who were killed execution-style -- some with hands tied behind their backs, left lying in the street. Video from the town of Bucha is prompting accusations that the Russian force carried out a massacre there.

"It was impossible to imagine this in the XXI century, but it is happening before our eyes. Russia is worse than ISIS,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba stated. He accused the Russian army of crimes such as murder, torture, looting and rape.

Kuleba and other Ukrainian officials are urging third-party organizations such as the International Criminal Court to send investigators to Bucha, to collect evidence of potential war crimes.

Ukraine’s defense ministry posted a striking video from Bucha, saying local civilians had been executed, “their bodies scattered in the streets of the city.” The ministry called Bucha the “New Srebrenica,” comparing it to the city where a notorious massacre took place in 1995, in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“Appalled by reports of unspeakable horrors in areas from which Russia is withdrawing,” EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Sunday, calling for an independent inquiry to hold perpetrators of war crimes accountable.

The EU is helping to preserve evidence of any war crimes, European Council President Charles Michel said, citing “haunting images of atrocities committed by Russian army in Kyiv liberated region,” and using the hashtag #BuchaMassacre.

Bucha sits northwest of the capital, near the Antonov airport in Hostomel that was an early flashpoint of fighting in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“We are still gathering and looking for bodies, but the number has already gone into the hundreds” in Bucha and nearby areas, Kuleba said on Sunday. Referring to the Russian military, he added, “They killed civilians while staying there and when they were leaving these villages and towns.”