By Adam Schreck and Andrea Rosa in Andriivka
ANDRIIVKA, Ukraine (AP) — The mayor of the besieged port city of Mariupol on Wednesday put the number of civilians killed at more than 5,000, as Ukraine gathered evidence of Russian atrocities on the outskirts of kyiv and prepared to what could become a decisive battle. for control of the industrial east of the country.
Ukrainian authorities have continued to round up the dead in ruined towns outside the capital amid telltale signs that troops from Moscow killed civilians indiscriminately before withdrawing in recent days.
In other developments, the United States and its Western allies decided to impose new penalties against the Kremlin for what they called war crimes.
And Russia has completed the withdrawal of all of its roughly 24,000 or more troops from the Kyiv and Chernihiv regions in the north, sending them to Belarus or Russia to resupply and reorganize, a US official said. the defense on condition of anonymity.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has warned that Moscow is now gathering reinforcements and trying to push deeper into the country’s east, where the Kremlin has said its aim is to ‘liberate’ Donbass, Ukraine’s predominantly Russian-speaking industrial heartland .
“The fate of our land and our people is being decided. We know what we are fighting for. And we will do everything to win,” Zelenskyy said.
Ukrainian authorities have urged residents of Donbass to evacuate now, ahead of an imminent Russian offensive, while there is still time.
“Later, people will be under fire,” Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said, “and there is nothing we can do to help them.”
A Western official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence estimates, said it would take damaged Russian forces up to a month to regroup for a major push on eastern Ukraine. Nearly a quarter of its battalion tactical groups in the country have been rendered “non-combat effective” and have withdrawn or merged with other units, the official said.
Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boichenko said of more than 5,000 civilians killed during weeks of Russian shelling and street fighting, 210 were children. He said Russian forces bombed hospitals, including one where 50 people burned to death.
Boichenko said more than 90% of the city’s infrastructure was destroyed. Punitive attacks on the strategic Sea of Azov port have cut off food, water, fuel and medicine and pulverized homes and businesses.
British defense officials said 160,000 people remained stuck in the town, which had a population of 430,000 before the war. A humanitarian aid convoy accompanied by the Red Cross has been trying unsuccessfully to enter the town since Friday.
Capturing the city would allow Russia to secure a continuous land corridor to the Crimean peninsula, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014.
Meanwhile, in the scarred and silent streets of Bucha and other towns around the Ukrainian capital where Russian forces have retreated, investigators have sought to document what appeared to be widespread killings of civilians. Some victims had obviously been shot at close range. Some were found with their hands tied or their flesh burned.
At a cemetery in Bucha, workers began loading more than 60 bodies apparently collected over the past few days onto a grocery shipping truck to transport them to a facility for further investigation.
Other bodies were yet to be recovered from Bucha. The Associated Press saw two in a house in a quiet neighborhood. Every now and then there was the dull rumble of workers clearing the town of mines and other unexploded ordnance.
In Andriivka, a village about 60 kilometers (40 miles) west of kyiv, two police officers from the nearby town of Makariv came on Tuesday to identify a man whose body was in a field next to tank tracks . Officers found 20 bodies in the Makariv area, Captain Alla Pustova said.
Residents of Andriivka said the Russians arrived in early March and took residents’ phones. Some people were detained and then released. Others met unknown fates. Some described sheltering for weeks in cellars normally used to store vegetables for the winter.
As the sixth week of the war drew to a close, the soldiers had left and Russian armored personnel carriers, a tank and other vehicles were destroyed at both ends of the road through the village. Several buildings have been reduced to mounds of brick and corrugated iron. Residents struggled without heat, electricity or cooking gas.
“At first we were scared, now we are hysterical,” said 64-year-old Valentyna Klymenko. She said she, her husband and two neighbors withstood the siege by sleeping on piles of potatoes covered with a mattress and blankets. “We didn’t cry at first. Now we cry.
North of the village, in the town of Borodyanka, rescue workers searched the rubble of buildings for bodies. Demining units were working nearby.
The Kremlin has insisted its troops have committed no war crimes, accusing the Ukrainians of staging Bucha’s footage.
Thwarted in their efforts to quickly take the capital, an increasing number of President Vladimir Putin’s troops, as well as mercenaries, are said to have entered Donbass.
At least five people were killed by Russian shelling on Wednesday in the Donbas region, according to Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko, who urged civilians to move to safer areas.
Russian forces also attacked a fuel depot and factory in the Dnipropetrovsk region, just west of Donbass, authorities said. In the Luhansk region, which is part of Donbass, Russian shelling set fire to at least 10 multi-storey buildings and a shopping center in the city of Sievierodonetsk, the regional governor reported. There was no immediate word on the dead or injured.
Ukrainian forces have been fighting Russian-backed separatists in Donbass since 2014. Prior to its Feb. 24 invasion, Moscow recognized the Luhansk and Donetsk regions as independent states.
Ukrainian authorities said the bodies of at least 410 civilians had been found in towns around kyiv, and Associated Press reporters in Bucha counted dozens of corpses in civilian clothes and interviewed Ukrainians who recounted witnessed atrocities.
In a video address to the UN Security Council on Tuesday, Zelenskyy said civilians were raped, tortured, shot in the head, thrown into wells, blasted with grenades in their apartments and run over. to death by tanks while in cars.
In reaction to the alleged atrocities, the United States announced sanctions against Putin’s two adult daughters and said it was toughening sanctions against Russian banks. Britain has banned investment in Russia and pledged to end its dependence on Russian coal and oil by the end of the year.
The European Union was also to take additional punitive measures, including a coal embargo.
Elsewhere in Ukraine, aid group Doctors Without Borders said its staff witnessed an attack on a cancer hospital in a residential area of the southern city of Mykolaiv on Monday. The group said it was the third known strike in recent days against a hospital in the port city, the capture of which is key to giving Russia control of the Black Sea coast.
He said there was no overall death toll, but his team saw one body.
Oleksandr Stashevskyi and Cara Anna in Bucha, Ukraine, Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations, Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Ukraine, and Associated Press reporters around the world contributed to this report.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine