DMYTRIVKA — Ukraine recaptured more territory around Kyiv from Russian soldiers who left shattered villages and their own abandoned tanks in the path of their retreat, while ad cross-border attack complicated peace talks on Friday.
In the hamlet of Dmytrivka to the west of the capital, wisps of smoke were still rising from the smoldering wrecks of tanks and the bodies of at least eight Russian soldiers lay in the streets, Reuters correspondents saw.
“From one side we were hearing the tanks shooting at us, and from the area of Bucha was a massive mortar shelling,” said resident Leonid Vereshchagin, a business executive, referring to a town to the north.
Ukrainian forces went on to take back Bucha, its mayor said on Friday in a video that appeared to be filmed outside the town hall. The advances followed several days of Ukrainian gains around Kyiv and in the north.
Three rockets hit a residential district in the region of Odesa in southwest Ukraine on Friday, causing casualties, its governor Maksym Marchenko said, without saying how many. Russia denies targeting civilians.
Marchenko said the missiles were fired from an Iskander missile system in Crimea, the southern Ukrainian peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014.
Moscow said a huge fire at a fuel depot in the Russian city of Belgorod, a logistics hub for Russia’s war effort near the border with Ukraine, was the result of an air raid by Ukrainian helicopters. Such an attack would be the first of its kind in the five-week war.
Ukraine later denied responsibility for blaze.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said President Vladimir Putin had been briefed about the incident and the strike could jeopardize Moscow’s peace negotiations with Kyiv, which resumed on Friday by video link.
Hours after the reported attack on the oil depot, an eyewitness reached by telephone in Belgorod, who asked not to be identified, said aircraft were flying overhead and there were continuous explosions from the direction of the border.
“Something is happening. There are planes and constant explosions in the distance.”
Security camera footage, from a location verified by Reuters, showed a flash from what appeared to be a missile fired from low altitude in the sky, followed by an explosion on the ground.
Ukraine’s top security official said the Russian allegations it was behind the attack were not correct. Earlier the defense ministry had declined to confirm or deny Ukrainian involvement.
“Ukraine is currently conducting a defensive operation against Russian aggression on the territory of Ukraine, and this does not mean that Ukraine is responsible for every catastrophe on Russia’s territory,” said ministry spokesperson Oleksandr Motuzyanyk.
Putin sent troops on Feb. 24 for what he calls a “special military operation” to demilitarize Ukraine. Western countries call it an unprovoked war of aggression.
A Russian threat to cut off gas supplies to Europe unless buyers paid with roubles by Friday was averted for now, with Moscow saying it would not halt supplies until new payments are due later in April.
Russia says the southeastern region of Donbas, where it has backed separatists since 2014, is now the focus of its military operation. The besieged and bombarded Black Sea port city of Mariupol has been its main target there.
Conditions on Friday made it impossible to go ahead with a plan to evacuate civilians from Mariupol, where tens of thousands of citizens are trapped with scant water or food, the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Friday.
UN aid chief Martin Griffiths will travel to Moscow on Sunday and then to Kyiv as the United Nations pursues a humanitarian ceasefire in Ukraine, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters.
A total of 6,266 people were evacuated from Ukrainian cities through humanitarian corridors on Friday, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of the president’s office, said in an online post.
After failing to capture a single major city, Russia has painted its draw-down of forces near Kyiv as a goodwill gesture for the peace talks. Ukraine and its allies say Russian forces have been forced to regroup after suffering heavy losses due to poor logistics and determined Ukrainian resistance.
Regional governors in Kyiv and Chernihiv said Russians were pulling out of areas in both those provinces, some heading back across borders to Belarus and Russia.
In Irpin, a commuter suburb northwest of Kyiv that had been one of the main battlegrounds for weeks, now firmly back in Ukrainian hands, volunteers and emergency workers carried the dead on stretchers out of the rubble. About a dozen bodies were zipped up in black plastic body bags, lined up on a street and loaded into vans.
Lilia Ristich was sitting on a metal playground swing with her young son Artur. Most people had fled; they had stayed.
She listed neighbors who had been killed – the man “buried there, on the lawn”; the couple with their 12-year-old child, all burned alive.
“I pray for all this to end and for them never to come back,” she said. “When you hold a child in your arms it is an everlasting fear.”
(Additional reporting by Pavel Polityuk in Lviv, Olzhas Auyezov in Almaty and other Reuters bureaux; writing by Peter Graff and Frank Jack Daniel; editing by Philippa Fletcher and Gareth Jones)