important victory Russian troops are retreating amid jubilant scenes, but Zelensky says ‘fight is not over’
Ukrainian troops greeted as heroes in freed villages
Led by an armoured vehicle, the column of soldiers moved down a dirt lane on foot, where a woman stepped forward with a handful of fruit.
“We were waiting for you, please come through,” she shouted over the roar of the personnel carrier. “Here, please take these apples.”
Her small offer of gratitude was just one of many as Ukrainian villagers greeted their liberators as heroes.
“Thank you, thank you. The fight is not over yet,” replied one of the soldiers wearing the armband of Ukrainian forces.
The scene of liberation was repeated in over two-dozen settlements as humiliated and depleted Russian forces were in full retreat from the Ukrainian capital yesterday.
In the wake of their unexpectedly swift withdrawal, the Russians left dozens of burned-out tanks, abandoned vehicles and evidence of potential war crimes as Ukrainian forces found civilian bodies and signs of pillaging.
The rapid retreat came three days after Moscow announced it would reduce its operations around Kyiv, claiming it was to foster trust between the warring sides during talks.
Even the keenest observers struggled to keep up with the news of villages and towns freed from Russian control: Demydiv, Dymer, Lytvynivka, Gavrylivka, Kozarovychi, Zhovtneve, Hlybivka, Yasnohorodka, and that was just in the north-west. The front lines shifted and bent around the capital as the Ukrainian army pushed on, releasing Kyiv from its Russian stranglehold.
But Ukraine and other allies have warned the withdrawal was merely a tacit acknowledgement that Russia’s plan to seize Kyiv in a rapid offensive had failed and that Moscow was now regrouping to focus its forces on eastern Ukraine, where it has pledged to capture the Donbas region.
Meanwhile, Kyiv’s mayor Vitali Klitschko said it was not time for those who fled Kyiv to hurry home.
“Huge” battles were being fought,” he warned.
Nonetheless, the retreat marked an important victory for Ukrainian forces in the battle for the capital. The speed of the retreat marked a dramatic change in the war’s fortunes since February 24, when western intelligence predicted Kyiv could fall within days of Russia’s invasion.
The full scale of the devastation of the invasion was apparent along the E-40 west of Kyiv, where Ukrainian forces advancing along the shell-cratered highway lined with destroyed petrol stations and buildings passed dozens of decomposing bodies – some believed to be civilians killed by Russians.
Two of the corpses were confirmed as Ukrainian civilians killed by the Russians on March 7, the moment of their death caught on camera by a drone unit of Ukraine’s territorial defence forces.
The video shows a Russian tank firing at a convoy of 10 civilian vehicles trying to reach Kyiv, with the cars rapidly turning around to retreat.
One car is hit, though, and a man steps out with his hands raised, only to be shot dead.
Inside the car, the man’s wife was also killed, while their six-year-old son and another elderly woman in the back survived and were later released by the Russians.
The video caused an international outcry and has been submitted as potential evidence of war crimes in the event that the perpetrators can be brought to justice.
Ukrainian forces say they have found evidence of potential war crimes elsewhere in the invasion.
Abandoned, rubbish-strewn camps are littered with empty bottles of vodka and beer bottles and other pillaged consumables, signs of looting, which is a war crime.
Ukrainian civilians have also accused drunken Russian forces of marauding and abducting people.
“As Russian troops retreat from the Kyiv region after having sustained immense losses, they are looting houses of ordinary people. Electronics, clothes, shoes, cosmetics. This is not an army. This is a disgrace. We will never forget and never forgive,” spokesperson for the Ukrainian foreign ministry Oleg Nikolenko said.
West of the capital, Ukrainian reporters drove into Yasnohorodka, finding it heavily damaged by shelling when they visited yesterday.
A woman who had stayed in the levelled town said she had remained to look after six dogs, four cats and nine chickens left by her neighbours. Picking her way past blast craters in her backyard, pensioner Evgenia Rozhkova pointed out the pond she had used for drinking water.
Another couple picked through the ruins of their destroyed home. Sergei (58) told the Nv.ua outlet that he was simply happy that “Ukrainian defenders have chased the occupiers away from the village”.
The Ukrainian military said the retreating Russian forces had mined vacated territory and continued shelling, suggesting its withdrawal was not a total rout.
Ukrainian soldiers were able to take towns without resistance: a reported 15 settlements west of the Dnieper River north of Kyiv as Russian forces withdrew over the border into Belarus, a Moscow ally.
In Hostomel, north-west of Kyiv, a grinning red-bearded Ukrainian soldier recorded a triumphant video.
“Russian soldiers are f**king off and abandoning their own. That is a fact which can be verified by the Ukrainian military. We will win, glory to Ukraine.”
He predicted further victories in eastern Ukraine against Russian-backed separatists. “The Donbas and Crimea will soon be ours,” he said.
At every town, the Ukrainian flag was raised. In Kozarovychi, north of Kyiv, a Ukrainian soldier raised the blue and yellow over a brick house with shattered windows.
East of the Dnieper, Ukrainian forces reported liberating another dozen villages, including Nova Basan, where the liberators were offered apples.
The Ukrainian advance north-east of Kyiv reportedly cleared a route into Chernihiv, where over 100,000 people have been trapped for weeks.
Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky characterised the Russian withdrawal as planned and warned there would be further fighting.
But he also pledged that Ukraine would continue to resist.
“We endured much more than the enemy expected. They said three or five days. They thought this would be enough for them to seize our entire state. It’s already [day] 36. And we are standing. And we will continue to fight.”
(© Telegraph Media Group Ltd 2022)
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