KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian troops moved cautiously to retake territory north of the country's capital on Saturday, using cables to pull the bodies of civilians off the streets in one town out of fear that Russian forces might have booby-trapped them before leaving.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned in his nightly video address hours earlier that departing Russian troops were creating a "catastrophic" situation for civilians by leaving mines around homes, abandoned equipment and "even the bodies of those killed."
Associated Press journalists in Bucha, a suburb northwest of Kyiv, watched Saturday as Ukrainian soldiers backed by a column of tanks and other armored vehicles used cables to drag bodies off of a street from a distance, fearing they might have been rigged to explode. Locals said the dead — the AP counted at least six — were civilians who were killed by departing Russian soldiers without provocation.
Ukraine and its Western allies reported mounting evidence of Russia withdrawing its forces from around Kyiv and building its troop strength in eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian fighters reclaimed several areas near the capital after forcing the Russians out or moving in after them, officials said.
The visible shift did not mean the country faced a reprieve from more than five weeks of war or that the more than 4 million refugees who have fled Ukraine will return soon. Zelenskyy said he expects departed towns to endure missile strikes and rocket strikes from afar and for the battle in the east to be intense.
"It's still not possible to return to normal life, as it used to be, even at the territories that we are taking back after the fighting. We need wait until our land is demined, wait till we are able to assure you that there won't be new shelling," the president said during his nightly video address, though his claims about Russian mines couldn't be independently verified.
Moscow's focus on eastern Ukraine also kept the besieged southern city of Mariupol in the crosshairs. The port city on the Sea of Azoz is located in the mostly Russian-speaking Donbas region, where Russia-backed separatists have fought Ukrainian troops for eight years. Military analysts think Russian President Vladimir Putin is determined to capture the region after his forces failed to secure Kyiv and other major cities.
The International Committee of the Red Cross planned to try Saturday to get into Mariupol to evacuate residents. The Red Cross said it could not carry out the operation Friday because it did not receive assurances the route was safe. City authorities said the Russians blocked access to the city.
The humanitarian group said a team with three vehicles and nine Red Cross staff members was headed to Mariupol on Saturday to help facilitate the safe evacuation of civilians. It said its team planned to accompany a convoy of civilians from Mariupol to another city.
"Our presence will put a humanitarian marker on this planned movement of people, giving the convoy additional protection and reminding all sides of the civilian, humanitarian nature of the operation," it said in a statement.
Ukraine's deputy prime minister, Iryna Vereshchuk, said 765 Mariupol residents reached Zaporizhzhia on Saturday in private vehicles.
The Mariupol city council said earlier Saturday that 10 empty buses were headed to Berdyansk, a city 84 kilometers (52.2 miles) west of Mariupol, to pick up people who managed to get there on their own. About 2,000 made it out of Mariupol on Friday, some on buses and some in their own vehicles, city officials said.
Evacuees boarded about 25 buses in Berdyansk and arrived around midnight to Zaporizhzhia, a city still under Ukrainian control that has served as the destination under previous cease-fires announced — and then broken — to get civilians out and aid into Mariupol.