By Vitalii Hnidyi and Sergiy Karazy
Russian forces bombarded the outskirts of Kyiv and a besieged city in northern Ukraine on Wednesday, a day after promising to scale down operations there in what the West dismissed as a ploy to regroup by invaders suffering heavy losses.
Nearly five weeks into an invasion in which Russia has failed to capture any major city, the top U.N. human rights official said Moscow had bombed 50 hospitals as well as homes and schools across Ukraine in what may amount to war crimes.
Ukrainian officials called Russia out for having said on Tuesday it would curtail operations near Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv “to increase mutual trust” for peace talks.
“It’s not true,” Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko said in a video address to EU regional officials. “The whole night we listened to sirens, to rocket attacks and we listened to huge explosions east of Kyiv and north of Kyiv. There are immense battles there, people died, still die.”
Intensified bombardment could be heard in Kyiv on Wednesday morning from suburbs where Ukrainian forces have regained territory in recent days. The capital itself was not hit, but windows rattled from the relentless artillery on its outskirts.
Southeast of Irpin, a Kyiv suburb which has seen intense fighting for weeks, frequent shelling and ordnance exploding on the ground and in the air could be heard. Ukrainians evacuating spoke of heavy shelling north of Irpin and shells landing in Irpin itself. Emergency workers retrieved bodies from the ruins.
Ukraine and Western leaders had cautioned that Moscow’s apparent peace gesture at Tuesday’s talks in Istanbul was a cover for reorganizing forces that had failed to take Kyiv.
Russia’s defense ministry said on Wednesday its forces had achieved their objectives near Kyiv and Chernihiv and were regrouping to focus on the “liberation” of the breakaway eastern Donbas region.
Ukrainian Defence Ministry spokesman Oleksandr Motuzyanyk said Ukraine’s armed forces had observed some movements of Russian forces away from the Kyiv and Chernihiv regions but did not consider this to be a mass withdrawal by Moscow.
“It is preparing to resume offensive operations,” he said.
Chernihiv’s Mayor Vladyslav Astroshenko said Russian bombardment of that city had intensified over the past 24 hours, with more than 100,000 people trapped inside with just enough food and medical supplies to last about another week.
“This is yet another confirmation that Russia always lies,” he told CNN, adding that 25 civilians had been injured in a “colossal mortar attack” in the city centre.
Reuters could not verify the situation in Chernihiv. Russia’s defense ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Irpin itself was recaptured by Ukrainian forces this week. Reuters journalists who entered on Tuesday saw Ukrainian troops patrolling an abandoned ghost town of ruined buildings, with the body of an old man and a woman lying on the streets.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy made clear he took nothing Moscow said at face value.
“Ukrainians are not naive people,” he said in an overnight address. “The only thing they can trust is a concrete result.”
Zelenskiy discussed with U.S. President Joe Biden on Wednesday more aid for Ukraine and further sanctions against Russia, the two sides said.
Around a quarter of Ukrainians have been driven from their homes and the United Nations said on Wednesday that the number who have fled the country had risen above 4 million. More than half of those refugees are children and the rest mostly women.
Over the past week, Ukrainian forces have recaptured towns and villages on the outskirts of Kyiv, broken the siege of the eastern city of Sumy and pushed back Russian forces in the southwest.
In the village of Mala Rohan in the eastern Kharkiv region, two burned-out tanks with their turrets ripped off stood near damaged houses. Maksym, a Ukrainian soldier, said the Russians were being pushed back “slowly but steadily”.
“Most of them already understood that they made a huge mistake when they came here. Therefore, I think they have no chance here, we will win.”