ZAPORIZHZIA, UKRAINE —
Ukrainian forces were advancing on Saturday into areas north of Kyiv littered with debris and destroyed Russian tanks as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused departing Russian soldiers of leaving behind mines.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said Ukrainian troops had retaken more than 30 towns and villages in the region since Russia announced this week it would scale down operations around the capital to focus on battles in the east.
British military intelligence said Russian troops had abandoned Hostomel airport in a northwestern suburb of the capital, where there had been fighting since the first day of the invasion.
In the east, a Red Cross convoy was again seeking to evacuate civilians from the besieged port of Mariupol after abandoning an attempt on Friday because of a lack of security guarantees. But that renewed mission was not expected to reach the port until at least Sunday.
Russia has depicted its drawdown of forces near Kyiv as a goodwill gesture in peace negotiations. Ukraine and its allies say Russian forces have been forced to regroup after suffering heavy losses.
"In the north of our country, the invaders are leaving. It is slow but noticeable. In some places they are being kicked out with fighting. Elsewhere they're abandoning the positions themselves," Zelenskyy said in a video address released on Saturday.
"They are mining all this territory. Houses are mined, equipment is mined, even the bodies of dead people," he said, without citing evidence.
Russia's defense ministry did not reply to a request for comment on the allegations.
Reuters could not independently verify the allegations.
n the village of Nova Basan, northeast of Kyiv, which was among those retaken by Ukrainian forces, the body of a man lay next to the carcass of a car. A woman wept as men brought a coffin to remove the body.
The village showed signs of heavy fighting, with collapsed buildings and the wreckage of tanks and armored vehicles strewn around. Another dead body, apparently that of a Russian soldier, lay near a destroyed armored personnel carrier.
Maksim (Maks) Levin, a Ukrainian photographer and videographer who was working for a Ukrainian news website and was a long-time contributor to Reuters, was killed while covering the war.
His body was found in a village north of the capital Kyiv on April 1, the news website LB.ua where he worked said on Saturday.
Russia denies targeting civilians in what President Vladimir Putin calls a "special military operation" aimed at demilitarizing and "de-nazifying" Ukraine.
Ukraine calls it an unprovoked war of aggression and Western countries have imposed sweeping sanctions in an effort to squeeze Russia's economy.
In encircled Mariupol, Russia's main target in Ukraine's southeastern region of Donbas, tens of thousands of civilians remained trapped with scant access to food and water.
A convoy of about 54 Ukrainian buses and other private vehicles, accompanied by a team from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), was renewing its attempt to organize a mass evacuation from the city after turning back on Friday.
ICRC spokesperson Ewan Watson said the team had not yet reached Mariupol, adding they left the city of Zaporizhzhia on Saturday morning and would spend the night en route.
Some civilians who have escaped Mariupol and reached Zaporizhzhia said Russian soldiers repeatedly stopped them to check for the presence of Ukrainian fighters as they fled.
"They stripped the men naked, looked for tattoos," said Dmytro Kartavov, a 32-year-old builder, adding that the troops paid particular attention to the men's knees. "I work, I do repairs, naturally my knees – these are working knees. They say – (you) climbed trenches, dug, and the like."
Pope Francis came the closest he has yet to criticizing Vladimir Putin over the invasion. He did not name the Russian president but said a "potentate" was fomenting conflicts for nationalist interests.
"Once again, some potentate, sadly caught up in anachronistic claims of nationalist interests, is provoking and fomenting conflicts, while ordinary people sense the need to build a future that will either be shared or not be at all," he said during a visit to Malta.
Even as Russian forces pulled back from some northern areas, Ukrainian officials reported missile strikes on targets in various parts of the country.
The governor of southcentral Dnipro region, Valentyn Reznichenko, said a Russian rocket hit a rail line, badly damaging the tracks and suspending train traffic in the area. He did not say if there were any casualties.
In the early hours, Russian missiles hit the cities of Poltava and Kremenchuk in central Ukraine, Dmitry Lunin, head of the Poltava region, wrote in an online post.
Before dawn, as sirens sounded across Ukraine, the Ukrainian military reported Russian airstrikes on the cities of Severodonetsk and Rubizhne in the Luhansk region.
Russia's defense ministry said high-precision air-launched missiles had disabled military airfields in Poltava and Dnipro.
It added later that its forces had hit 28 Ukrainian military facilities across the country, including two depots of rockets and artillery weapons and ammunition.
Alcohol sales in Kyiv
In Kyiv, people started buying alcohol again after Mayor Vitali Klitschko relaxed a monthlong ban.
Olena, a psychologist who was buying beer in a supermarket, said it did not mean people had forgotten the war.
"We are just supporting our country in this way. No one will be better off if we are depressed, doing nothing," she said.
"I'm happy because for two weeks I've been walking around thinking 'I want a beer,'" she said, smiling.