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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said fresh sanctions from the West would not be "enough" to respond to the atrocities Ukrainians say have been committed in the town of Bucha, near Kyiv, where grisly images purportedly show slain civilians.
"There will definitely be a new sanctions package against Russia," Zelenskyy said in a video address Sunday night. "But I'm sure that's not enough," he said as he made an impassioned plea for a stronger international response to Russia's invasion.
Residents of Bucha have accused Russian forces of targeting civilians in a deadly campaign that Mayor Anatoliy Fedoruk said left more than 300 people dead before troops pulled out of the city. Russia's Defense Ministry has denied the claims, calling them a "provocation," despite photographs and video showing damaged city streets strewn with dead bodies.
Meanwhile, in southern Ukraine, heavy fighting has continued in the besieged port city of Mariupol, according to Britain's defense ministry. It said as efforts to evacuate residents from the besieged city were set to continue Monday.
Russia's defense ministry denies Ukrainian allegations of war atrocities
BUCHA, Ukraine — Russia's defense ministry denied Ukrainian allegations of war atrocities Sunday as its military pulled out of Bucha, saying video and photographs showing dead bodies in Bucha were "yet another provocation" by Kyiv.
In Russia's first public comment about the allegations, the defense ministry described photos and videos from Bucha as "another staged performance by the Kyiv regime for the Western media."
"During the time that Russian armed forces were in control of this settlement, not a single local resident suffered from any violent actions," it said.
Russia has denied targeting civilians and rejected allegations of war crimes in what it calls a "special military operation" to "demilitarize" and "de-Nazify" Ukraine.
On Saturday, Reuters saw bodies in a mass grave and still lying on the streets, while on Sunday the mayor of Bucha, Anatoliy Fedoruk, showed reporters two corpses with white cloth tied around their arms, one of which appeared to have been shot in the mouth.
White House chief of staff: Russia's retreat likely 'strategic redeployment' by Putin
White House chief of staff Ron Klain said Sunday that Ukrainians are "winning the war around Kyiv and the northern part of the country" but that the war has not been won.
Russia's retreat from those areas is likely due to "a strategic redeployment by Putin and Russia’s military commanders," Klain said on ABC’s “This Week."
“There’s a lot of evidence that Putin is simply taking his troops out of the northern part of the country to redeploy them to the eastern part of the country,” Klain said. “There have been victories for the Ukrainians so far, but this war, sadly, is far from over.”
Photos: Communal workers carry the body of a civilian man killed by Russian shelling in Bucha, Ukraine
French, German leaders join growing condemnation of alleged war crimes in Ukrainian towns, including Bucha near Kyiv
PARIS — French and German leaders have joined in growing international condemnation of alleged war crimes and civilian killings committed by Russian forces in Ukrainian towns, including in Bucha, near Kyiv.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz expressed shock Sunday about the “terrible and horrifying footage that has reached us this weekend from Ukraine.
“Dozens of shot civilians have been discovered in Bucha. ... Streets littered with bodies. Bodies buried in makeshift conditions. There is talk of women, children and the elderly among the victims,” he said. He added that international organizations should be given access to the areas to independently document the atrocities.
French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian condemned “in the strongest terms” the alleged “massive abuses.” He said France will work with Ukrainian authorities and the International Criminal Court “to ensure these acts don’t go unpunished and that those responsible are being sent to trial and convicted.”
NATO chief: This is 'not a real withdrawal'
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Sunday said Russia is shifting its strategy in Ukraine, explaining that Putin's retreat from Kyiv is not a sign that he is withdrawing from the country.
“What we see is not a real withdrawal," Stoltenberg said on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday. "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. But we should not in a way be too optimistic because the attacks will continue."
His remarks came after Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned of a Russian buildup of forces in the east of his war-torn country, in a video posted to Telegram on Saturday. In an intelligence briefing, British defense officials said Moscow's naval forces have continued to blockade areas on Ukraine's southern coast, preventing resupply by sea.
There is concern about "potential increased attacks, especially in the south and in the east. So this is not a real withdrawal but more a shift in the strategy, focusing more on the south and the east," Stoltenberg added.
Blinken warns Putin could still use ‘airpower and missiles’ on Kyiv as Russia retreats
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday that Russia's original plan to take over Ukraine has been dealt a "devastating setback" after Ukraine said its forces had retaken the region around Kyiv.
"They may be focusing on the east, but let's keep in mind they still have the ability to wreak massive death and destruction, including in places like Kyiv, with airpower and missiles," Blinken said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "And at the same time, they may be regrouping. They may be recalibrating."
In a video posted to Telegram on Saturday night, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russia was building up forces in the east of the country and called on Western countries to provide more anti-missile systems. Russia wants to "capture both the Donbas and the south of Ukraine," he said.
The U.S. has a strong interest in ending the violence, Blinken said, and "the way to do that is to give Ukraine the strongest possible hand to put as much pressure as we possibly can on Russia, while we're strengthening our own defenses."
"That's exactly what we've been doing," he added. "Time is certainly not on Vladimir Putin's side, because, as I said, a sovereign, independent Ukraine has demonstrated it's going to be around a lot longer than Vladimir Putin is on the scene."
Pope prays for end to ‘sacrilegious’ war in Ukraine
Pope Francis prayed Sunday for an end to the “sacrilegious” war in Ukraine and for the world to show kindness and compassion to refugees as he concluded a two-day visit to Malta that was dominated by his concern for the devastation unleashed by Russia’s invasion.
Francis asked for prayers for peace in Ukraine, a day after he blasted Russia’s invasion as “infantile” and based on “anachronistic claims of nationalistic interests.”
He urged the faithful to “think of the humanitarian tragedy unfolding in the martyred Ukraine, which continues to be bombarded in this sacrilegious war. May we be tireless in praying and in offering assistance to those who suffer.”
Russian naval forces block Ukraine's resupply by Black Sea, U.K. military intelligence says
Russian naval forces continue to blockade the Ukrainian coast on the Black Sea and Sea of Azov, preventing resupply by sea, British military intelligence said Sunday.
In its latest assessment of the situation, the U.K.'s defense ministry tweeted that Russia still retains the capability to attempt an amphibious landing, but such an operation is likely to be increasingly high risk given the time Ukrainian forces have had to prepare.
"Reported mines within the Black Sea pose a serious risk to maritime activity," it added.
The report said the origin of the mines was unclear and disputed, but their presence was almost certainly the result of Russian naval activity in the area, demonstrating how its invasion of Ukraine is affecting neutral and civilian interests.
NBC News could not immediately verify the report.
Community leaders are being held in Russian captivity, Ukraine says
Eleven community leaders from six regions remain in Russian captivity, Ukraine's deputy prime minister, Iryna Vereshchuk, said Sunday.
They include officials from Kyiv, Kherson, Kharkiv, Zaporizhia, Mykolaiv and Donetsk regions, Vereshchuk said in a statement shared on the Telegram messaging app.
She added that Ukraine had informed "the International Committee of the Red Cross, the United Nations and all possible organizations" about their situation. Ukraine had also alerted the organizations about other missing people, Vereshchuk said.
"We demand that they do everything possible to free our civilians, mayors, priests, journalists and activists," she continued. "They are being held illegally and forcibly, and they have the right to be fought for. We do it and we encourage others to do it."
Humanitarian corridors set to open Sunday, Ukraine's Deputy PM says
More evacuations out of Ukraine's war-ravaged cities are planned for Sunday, Ukraine's deputy prime minister said in a message on the Telegram messaging app.
"We continue to evacuate people from Mariupol to Zaporizhia," Iryna Vereshchuk said. "There are currently 17 buses near Berdyansk - 10 of them are for the evacuation of Mariupol residents and local residents. If they are not allowed into the city, we ask people to come to the checkpoint at the entrance to Berdyansk - there they will be waiting for you."
Another seven buses accompanied by the International Committee of the Red Cross will try to get closer to Mariupol, she added.
People will also be allowed to leave from Mariupol to Zaporizhia in their private cars.
In the Luhansk region, evacuations are planned from the towns of Severodonetsk, Lysychansk, Popasna, Rubizhne, and the village of Nyzhne, Vereshchuk said.
Peace talks are not ready for leaders' meeting, Russia's chief negotiator says
Russia said on Sunday that peace talks with Ukraine had not progressed enough for a meeting between President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
"The draft agreement is not ready for submission to a meeting at the top," Russia's chief negotiator Vladimir Medinsky said in a post on the Telegram messaging app.
On Saturday, the head of the Ukrainian delegation, David Arakhamia, said in an interview on Ukraine's Rada TV channel that draft peace treaty documents between Ukraine and Russia were at an advanced enough stage to allow for direct consultations between the leaders.
Arakhamia added that Zelensky and Putin "with a high degree of probability" will be meeting in Turkey.
The two sides have held periodic talks since Russia launched its invasion on Feb. 24, but there has been no breakthrough and they remain far apart on the question of territory.
Human Rights Watch documents apparent war crimes in Ukraine
Russian forces were accused of "apparent war crimes" in a Sunday report by Human Rights Watch, which said its investigators had documented "summary executions" and "other grave abuses" in several regions they controlled in Ukraine.
The group said in a report that it had been told about two cases of summary execution, the repeated rape of a mother and other cases of unlawful violence and threats against civilians. These offenses were committed between Feb. 27 and March 14, it said.
Russian soldiers were also implicated in looting civilian property, including food, clothing and firewood, it said.
“The cases we documented amount to unspeakable, deliberate cruelty and violence against Ukrainian civilians,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Rape, murder, and other violent acts against people in the Russian forces’ custody should be investigated as war crimes.”
Southern port city Odesa hit by missile strikes
Russian missiles struck “critical infrastructure” in the southern Ukrainian city of Odesa early Sunday, its mayor said on Facebook.
There were no initial reports of casualties, Mayor Gennadiy Trukhanov said. He did not clarify what critical infrastructure was hit. Odesa is the key strategic port on the Black Sea that serves as the main base for Ukraine's navy.
In a TV interview, Trukhanov said later that the strikes had led to fires and smoke. He added that some houses had been damaged.
Russia's military said missiles from ships and aircraft struck an oil refinery and fuel and lubricants storage facilities near the city, the Interfax news agency reported.
Odesa has not been the scene a lot of military action since the invasion. If Russian forces were to gain control of it, they could cut off Ukraine’s access to the sea and Moscow would be able to build a land corridor all the way to the border with Moldova.
Zelenskyy: Troops shell retreating Russians
LVIV, Ukraine – President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukrainian troops retaking areas around Kyiv and Chernihiv are not allowing Russians to retreat without a fight, but are “shelling them. They are destroying everyone they can.”
Zelenskyy, in his Saturday night video address to the nation, said Ukraine knows Russia has the forces to put even more pressure on the east and south of Ukraine.
“What is the goal of the Russian troops? They want to seize the Donbas and the south of Ukraine,” he said. “What is our goal? To defend ourselves, our freedom, our land and our people.”
He said a significant portion of the Russian forces are tied up around Mariupol, where the city’s defenders continue to fight.
“Thanks to this resistance, thanks to the courage and resilience of our other cities, Ukraine has gained invaluable time, time that is allowing us to foil the enemy’s tactics and weaken its capabilities,” Zelenskyy said.
Lithuania says it's the first European country to fully nix Russian natural gas
Lithuania on Saturday declared it has completely cut off Russian natural gas imports, becoming the first European Union nation to fully nix supplies from Russia's state-owned fuel supplier, Gazprom, its Ministry of Energy said in a statement.
The country has been headed toward freedom from Russian natural gas since before the February invasion of Ukraine, the ministry said. Citing data from a transmission system operator, the ministry said it had no traces of the Russian fuel in its pipelines.
"We are the first EU country among Gazprom's supply countries to gain independence from Russian gas supplies, and this is the result of a multi-year coherent energy policy and timely infrastructure decisions," said Minister of Energy Dainius Kreivys said in the statement.
Lithuanians are dependent on liquified natural gas imported through the Klaipėda Oil Terminal, the ministry said, and other imports are "enough" to satisfy its heating and cooking needs. If necessary, the country could also open gas delivery through Latvia and, starting in May, Poland, the ministry said.