Ukraine-Russia War: NATO head - Russia retreat 'not a real withdrawal'

NATO Secretary-General: Russia retreat merely a "shift in strategy" • Ukrainian air command center in Vasylkiv attacked • Key oil refinery, 'critical infrastructure' attacked by missiles

 A soldier takes a photograph of his comrade as he poses beside a destroyed Russian tank and armoured vehicles, amid Russia's invasion on Ukraine, in Bucha, in Kyiv region (photo credit: REUTERS/ZOHRA BENSEMRA)
A soldier takes a photograph of his comrade as he poses beside a destroyed Russian tank and armoured vehicles, amid Russia's invasion on Ukraine, in Bucha, in Kyiv region
(photo credit: REUTERS/ZOHRA BENSEMRA)

NATO Secretary-General: Russia not withdrawing

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in an interview with CNN on Sunday that the departure of Russian troops from the Kyiv area was not a real withdrawal.

"What we see is that Russia is repositioning its troops and they are taking some of them back to rearm them, to reinforce them, to resupply them," he said.

He cautioned against being "too optimistic because the attacks will continue."

Stoltenberg called the Russian troop repositioning "a shift in strategy" to bring more force to bear on Ukraine's south and east, where Russian forces and Moscow-backed separatists are fighting for control of the Donbas region.

Series of explosions heard in Ukrainian port of Odesa, April 3, 2022 (credit: Reuters)

Ukraine's military said on Sunday that Russia launched a missile attack on the town of Vasylkiv about 50 km from Kyiv and hit an air command center that had already been destroyed and injured some civilians in a nearby college.

Russian attacks have destroyed an oil refinery in the central Poltava region and struck "critical infrastructure," most likely oil facilities, near the port city of Odesa, local officials said.

Russian forces have attacked Odesa, the main base for Ukraine's navy, alongside other Ukrainian Black Sea ports such as Mariupol and Mykolaiv. If taken, it would give Russia a land corridor from Crimea to Transniestria, a Russian-speaking breakaway province of Moldova that hosts Russian troops.

Oil facilities have been a focus of attacks.

Kremenchuk, 250 km southeast of Kyiv along the Dnipro river, had Ukraine's only fully functioning oil refinery.

Dmytro Lunin, governor of the Poltava region, said on television that the refinery had been destroyed in a rocket attack on Saturday.

"The fire at the refinery has been extinguished but the facility has been completely destroyed and can no longer function," he said.

Reuters could not independently confirm the refinery's destruction. The plant processed 3.2 million tons of oil last year and its loss could prove a blow to Ukraine's defense effort.

Several rockets also hit Mykolaiv, an interior ministry aide said.

Earlier, Russia's defense ministry said its missiles had destroyed an oil refinery and three fuel storage facilities near Odesa. It said they had been used by Ukraine to supply its troops near Mykolaiv. 

Vladyslav Nazarov, an officer of Ukraine's Southern Operational Command, said on Telegram that there had been a missile attack on "critical infrastructure." Two columns of thick, black smoke could be seen rising into a grey sky before spreading out over the city.

"All relevant systems and structures are working ... No casualties reported," Nazarov added. Reuters could not confirm details of the attack.

Odesa Mayor Gennadiy Trukhanov said on television the situation was "under control," adding: "Homes, civilian infrastructure, roofs have suffered damage."

Vika, a local resident who declined to give her surname, said her family had woken up to powerful explosions near their home.

"There was smoke, the children were in a panic, the windows were blown in ... it was terrifying," she said.

Blasts heard in Russia, explosives planted in Ukrainian cities

Ukrainian Armed Forces took back control of the city of Pripyat from Russian troops on Sunday, the General Staff announced on Facebook.

Two blasts were heard in the Russian city of Belgorod near the border with Ukraine, two witnesses told Reuters, days after Russian authorities accused Ukrainian forces of striking a fuel depot there.

The cause of the blasts was not immediately clear.

Earlier, as the Russian military was withdrawing from Bucha and Irpin, they had reportedly left hundreds of explosives in the cities, which Ukrainian forces discovered and deactivated, according to the Kyiv Independent citing State Emergency Service.

The Ukrainian Armed Forces stated in a Facebook post on Saturday that they destroyed multiple aerial targets belonging to Russian forces, including four missiles, one helicopter, two Su-34 fighter bombs and one UAV in the past day.

 A view shows an armoured convoy of pro-Russian troops in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict on a road leading to the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine March 28, 2022. (credit: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters) A view shows an armoured convoy of pro-Russian troops in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict on a road leading to the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine March 28, 2022. (credit: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson stated that he wishes to supply Ukraine with anti-ship missiles to prevent Russian forces from advancing on Odesa, The Times reported.

Ukraine's emergencies service also said over 1,500 explosives had been found in one day during a search of the village of Dmytrivka, west of the capital.

Eleven Ukrainian mayors had been held by Russian troops, Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said in a press briefing. Mayors that were held hostage were from the Kyiv, Kherson, Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhia, Mykolaiv and Donetsk regions.

Blockade of Sea of Azov

"Russian naval forces maintain their distant blockade of the Ukrainian coast in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov," reads a Sunday morning update from the UK Defense Ministry. "Reported mines within the Black Sea pose a serious risk to maritime activity." 

Russia is reportedly shifting its focus to taking control of Donbas and other eastern Ukrainian regions by early May, according to a CNN report citing US officials. President Vladimir Putin is focused on celebrating Russia's "victory" on May 9, which is considered a holiday in Russia that marks the surrender of the Nazis during World War II, the report states.

Military casualties

A Sunday morning update by the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine has reported that total Russian casualties since the beginning of the invasion include 18,000 personnel, 644 tanks, 1,830 armored personnel vehicles, 54 anti-aircraft warfare systems, 134 helicopters and 76 fuel tanks.

Russia, in contrast, has reportedly eliminated 51 Ukrainian military targets overnight, which includes two rocket launch systems and two artillery clusters, according to Russian media citing Defense Ministry Spokesman Igor Konashenkov.