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James Mackenzie

Ukraine claims control over Kyiv region

Ukraine says its forces have seized back all areas around Kyiv, claiming complete control of the capital region for the first time since Russia launched the invasion.

As Russian troops regrouped for battles in east Ukraine, towns surrounding Kyiv bore scars of five weeks of fighting. Dead civilians laid scattered over streets near mangled wrecks of burned-out Russian tanks and unexploded rockets.

Ukraine’s troops have retaken more than 30 towns and villages around Kyiv since Russia pulled back from the area this week, Ukrainian presidential adviser Okeksiy Arestovych said.

At one recaptured town reached by Reuters, residents tearfully recalled brushes with death.

“The first time, I went out of the room and a bullet broke the glass, the window, and got stuck in the dresser,” said Mariya Zhelezova, 74, in the country town of Bucha. “The second time, shattered glass almost got into my leg.”

Bucha’s mayor Anatoliy Fedoruk said more than 300 residents had been killed.

“We don’t want them to come back,” Zhelezova said. “I had a dream today – that they left, and didn’t come back.”

Russia has depicted its drawdown of forces near Kyiv as a goodwill gesture in peace talks, which last convened on Friday. Ukraine and its allies say Russia was forced to shift its focus to east Ukraine after suffering heavy losses near Kyiv.

Since sending troops on February 24 in what it calls a “special operation” to demilitarise its neighbour, Russia has failed to capture a single major city and has instead laid siege to urban areas, uprooting one-quarter of Ukraine’s population.

Ukraine’s Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar wrote on Facebook that the “whole Kyiv region is liberated from the invader”. There was no Russian comment on the claim, which Reuters could not immediately verify.

Both sides described talks held this week in Istanbul and by video link as “difficult”. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Saturday the “main thing is that the talks continue, either in Istanbul or somewhere else”.

A new round of talks has not yet been announced. But Ukrainian negotiator David Arakhamia said on Saturday that enough progress had been made to allow direct talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

“The Russian side confirmed our thesis that the draft documents have been sufficiently developed to allow direct consultations between the two countries’ leaders,” Arakhamia said. Russia has not commented on the possibility.

Among those killed near Kyiv was Maksim Levin, a Ukrainian photographer and videographer who was working for a local news website and was a long-time contributor to Reuters.

His body was found in a village north of Kyiv on April 1, the news website where he worked said on Saturday.

In the east, a Red Cross convoy was again seeking to evacuate civilians from the besieged port of Mariupol after abandoning an attempt on Friday over security concerns. It was not expected to reach the port until at least Sunday.

Tens of thousands of civilians remained trapped with scant access to food and water in Mariupol, Russia’s main target in Ukraine’s southeastern region of Donbas.

Some civilians who have escaped Mariupol and reached Zaporizhzhia said Russian soldiers seeking Ukrainian fighters repeatedly stopped them as they fled.

“They stripped the men naked, looked for tattoos,” said Dmytro Kartavov, a 32-year-old builder, adding that the troops paid particular attention to the men’s knees.

“I work, I do repairs, naturally my knees – these are working knees. They say – (you) climbed trenches, dug, and the like.”

International Committee of the Red Cross spokesperson Ewan Watson said its convoy had departed the city of Zaporizhzhia, some 200 kilometres from Mariupol, and would spend the night en route. Russia blamed the ICRC for the delays.

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