By Issam Abdallah and Pavel Polityuk
LVIV/ODESA,Ukraine – Ukrainian and European officials expressed outrage on Sunday at what they said were atrocities committed by Russian forces near Kyiv before they withdrew from the region to focus their attacks elsewhere.
The mayor of Bucha, a town 23 miles northwest of the capital, said on Saturday that 300 residents had been killed during a month-long occupation by the Russian army. Victims were seen by Reuters in a mass grave and still lying on the streets.
Ukraine said on Saturday its forces had retaken all areas around the capital, reclaiming complete control of the region for the first time since Russia launched its invasion on Feb 24.
Russia has pulled back forces that had threatened Kyiv from the north to regroup for battles in eastern Ukraine. There was no Russian comment on the claim that the Kyiv region was entirely in Ukrainian hands and Reuters could not verify this.
Russia has previously denied targeting civilians and rejected allegations of war crimes in what it calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine.
The Kremlin and the Russian defense ministry did not reply to requests for comment when asked on Saturday about the bodies found in Bucha. The defense ministry did not immediately respond when asked about this again on Sunday.
An aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Sunday that Ukrainian troops had found the bodies of women who had been raped and set alight as well as the bodies of local officials and children.
“There are murdered men whose bodies bear signs of torture. Their hands were tied and they were killed by shots to the back of the head,” Oleksiy Arestovych told Ukrainian television.
Sergey Nikiforov, a spokesman for Zelenskiy, told Britain’s BBC: “I have to be very careful with my wording, but it looks exactly like war crimes.”
Senior European officials said any potential war crimes should be investigated.
“Shocked by news of atrocities committed by Russian forces. EU assists Ukraine in documenting war crimes,” European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Twitter, adding all cases needed to be pursued by the International Court of Justice.
Britain’s Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said there was “increasing evidence” of appalling acts by the invading forces in towns such as Irpin and Bucha and said London would fully support any investigation by the International Criminal Court.
Missiles struck near Ukraine’s southern port of Odesa on Sunday with Russia saying it had destroyed an oil refinery used by the Ukrainian military.
In Odesa, the city council said “critical infrastructure facilities” were hit. No casualties were reported.
Russia’s defense ministry said strikes by its military destroyed an oil refinery and three fuel storage facilities near Odesa. It said the facilities were used to supply Ukrainian troops near the city of Mykolaiv.
Odesa, on the Black Sea, is the main base for Ukraine’s navy. It has been targeted by Russian forces seeking a land corridor to Transdniestria, a Russian-speaking breakaway province of Moldova which hosts Russian troops.
Dmytro Lunin, governor of the central Poltava region, said the Kremenchug oil refinery, 220 miles northeast of Odesa, had been destroyed in a separate rocket attack on Saturday.
Two blasts were heard in the Russian city of Belgorod near the border with Ukraine on Sunday, two witnesses told Reuters, days after Russian authorities accused Ukrainian forces of striking a fuel depot there.
EVACUATION, PEACE TALKS
Evacuation efforts in Mariupol and nearby Berdyansk, both on Ukraine’s southern shores, were due to continue with a convoy of buses being prepared with help from the Red Cross.
The ICRC abandoned earlier attempts due to security concerns. Russia blamed the ICRC for the delays.
Mariupol is Russia’s main target in Ukraine’s southeastern region of Donbas, and tens of thousands of civilians there are trapped with scant access to food and water.
There was little sign of a breakthrough in efforts to negotiate an end to the five-week war, although Russia’s chief negotiator, Vladimir Medinsky, said talks were due to resume on Monday.
Medinsky said a draft deal was not ready for any meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukraine’s Zelenskiy.
On Saturday, Ukrainian negotiator David Arakhamia raised hope for negotiations with Russia, saying enough progress had been made for direct talks between the two.
Medinsky said that while Ukraine was showing more realism by agreeing to be neutral, renouncing nuclear weapons, not joining a military bloc and refusing to host military bases, there had been no progress on other key Russia demands.
“I repeat again and again: Russia’s position on Crimea and Donbas remains UNCHANGED,” he said on Telegram, adding talks via videoconference would continue on Monday.
Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and has recognized declarations of independence by the self-proclaimed republics of Luhansk and Donetsk in the Donbas area of eastern Ukraine which rose up against Kyiv’s rule.