Ukraine said on Saturday that its forces had 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.
Ukraine's troops have retaken more than 30 towns and villages around Kyiv since Russia pulled back from the area this week, Ukrainian officials said.
"The whole Kyiv region is liberated from the invader," Ukraine's Deputy Defence Minister, Hanna Malyar, wrote on Facebook. There was no Russian comment on the claim, which Reuters could not immediately verify.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Saturday said Russian forces aimed to seize the east and south of the country and complained that Western nations had not provided Kyiv with enough anti-missile systems.
In a late-night video address, Zelensky also praised forces defending the besieged port of Mariupol, saying their resistance was allowing other cities to gain valuable time.
A Ukrainian negotiator said on Saturday that Russia had indicated that draft peace treaty documents were at an advanced enough stage to allow for direct consultations between the two nations' leaders, Interfax Ukraine reported.
The agency quoted David Arakhamia as telling Ukrainian television that Russia accepted Ukraine's overall position with the exception of its stance on Crimea.
Ukraine said on Saturday it had seized back all areas around Kyiv, claiming complete control of the capital region for the first time since Russia launched the invasion.
As Russia's forces regrouped for battles in the east, areas north of Kyiv were littered with destroyed Russian tanks. Ukraine presidential adviser Okeksiy Arestovych said its troops have retaken more than 30 towns and villages since Russia pulled back from the area this week.
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 Feb. 24 in what it calls a "special operation" to demilitarise its neighbor, Russia has failed to capture a single major city and has instead laid siege to urban areas, uprooting a 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 immediate Russian comment on the claim, which Reuters could not immediately verify.
Mariupol under siege
As Dmytro Kartavov and his family joined thousands of people trying to flee the bombed-out city of Mariupol, one additional obstacle awaited as Russian troops sought to identify anyone fighting with Ukrainian forces defending the city.
"They stripped the men naked, looked for tattoos," said Kartayov, a 32-year-old builder, who said the troops paid particular attention to men's knees.
"I work, I do repairs, naturally my knees - these are working knees. They say - (you) climbed trenches, dug, and the like."
Speaking in a supermarket that has been turned into a reception center in the Ukrainian-held town of Zaporizhzhia some 200 km. from Mariupol, he said the family left the besieged city to the west, reaching the port of Berdyansk by bus before crossing into Ukrainian-held territory on foot.
On the way, Kartavov said Russian soldiers checked men for signs they had been fighting with Ukrainian forces. "They checked my forearms, looked at the hands, checked if I was shooting, whether or not there will be a callus here on the arms," he added.
On Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russian soldiers of deliberately mining areas in northern Ukraine as they withdraw or are pushed out by Ukrainian forces.
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Fighting continues across Ukraine
Ukrainian troops have retaken control of the entire territory of Kyiv region, Ukraine's Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar said on Saturday.
"The whole Kyiv region is liberated from the invader," she said in a post on Facebook.
A Russian air strike damaged an airfield runway and fuel depot near the city of Myrhorod in Ukraine's central-eastern Poltava region on Saturday, Governor Dmytro Lunin said in an online post.
Russian airstrikes hit two cities in central Ukraine early on Saturday, damaging infrastructure and residential buildings, head of the Poltava region said as the Russian invasion of Ukraine entered its 38th day.
"A missile struck one of the infrastructure facilities overnight," Dmitry Lunin wrote in an online post. "Many attacks on the city [of Kremenchuk] in the morning."
Lunin later said at least four missiles hit two infrastructure objects in Poltava while, according to preliminary information, three enemy planes attacked the industrial facilities of Kremenchuk.
Poltava city is the capital of the Poltava region, east of Kyiv, and Kremenchuk is one of the area's major cities. There was no immediate information about possible casualties, Lunin said. Reuters could not immediately verify the report. In the city of Kryvyi Rih, also in central Ukraine, a petrol station has been shelled, causing a fire, he added.
Early Saturday morning, the UK missile system Starstreak shot down its first Russian helicopter in the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, according to The Times. The Starstreak system has been deployed to Ukraine last week, the report added, citing a UK defense ministry source.
In the Dnipro region in southwestern Ukraine, missiles hit an infrastructure facility, wounding two people and causing significant damage, Valentyn Reznichenko, the head of the region, said in an online post.
In the Kharkiv region, four civilians were injured by Russian shelling of Lozova, the city's head of the territorial community Serhiy Zelensky said.
Escape from Mariupol
Seven humanitarian corridors to evacuate people from Ukraine's besieged regions are planned for Saturday, Ukraine's deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.
The planned corridors include one for people evacuating by private transport from the city of Mariupol and by buses for Mariupol residents out of the city of Berdyansk, Vereshchuk said.
Turkey will provide naval support for the evacuation of Ukrainian civilians fom Mariupol in coordination with both Ukraine and Russia, Turkish defense minister Hulusi Akar said in an interview with the Turkish Demirören News Agency (DHA) on Saturday.
Akar also said that Turkey is working to eliminate the threat of Black Sea mines, which pose a "major maritime threat."
"We are working on a maritime patrol plane, helicopter, UAV from the air, mine hunting ship and patrol ships," the defense minister stated. "Necessary action is being taken. Our SAS teams have been put into a state of high readiness."
Mariupol, an industrial port city close to the breakaway Donetsk People's Republic, had a pre-war population of around 400,000, but the city has been devastated by regular bombardment since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.
The fighting has killed around 5,000 civilians, according to city authorities, and forced thousands to flee either by private car or in organized convoys of buses into eastern Ukraine where pro-Russian separatists are in control, or to the north and west to territory controlled by the Ukrainians.
Russia denies targeting civilians in the war that Russian president Vladimir Putin launched on February 24, calling the biggest attack on a European state since World War II a "special military operation."
At least 36 people have been confirmed killed as a result of Tuesday's rocket strike on the regional administration building in Ukraine's southern port city of Mykolaiv, governor Vitaliy Kim said in an online post on Saturday.
Rescue workers have continued to dismantle the rubble and search for victims after the strike blasted a hole through the side of the building in central Mykolaiv.
Casualties in Ukraine include damage to 154 residential buildings, 20 private estates, 27 kindergartens and 44 schools since the invasion began, Kyiv Independent reported citing the Kyiv city council on Saturday.
At least 53 "culturally important sites" were damaged in Ukraine since the war began, according to a UNESCO statement on Saturday.
Maks Levin, a Ukrainian photographer, was found dead in Kyiv Oblast, according to a Kyiv Independent report on Saturday.
Before going missing a few weeks back, Levin worked for Reuters, the BBC and the Associated Press.
Information on Russian invasion Losses of the Russian armed forces in Ukraine, April 2 pic.twitter.com/IWO5j7mN3n— MFA of Ukraine (@MFA_Ukraine) April 2, 2022
Ukraine's Armed Forces and foreign ministry reported Russia's estimated losses as of Saturday - which include 17,800 troops, 143 planes, 134 helicopters, 631 tanks, 1,776 armored personnel carriers, 100 MLRs, 7 boats, 54 anti-aircraft warfare and 1,236 vehicles.