Ukraine pushed back Russian forces around Kyiv on Friday, retaking control of some areas near the capital amid fierce battles, Ukrainian officials said.
Russia said during negotiations on Tuesday that it would scale down operations in the Kyiv and Chernihiv regions, both of which are in northern Ukraine, but officials in both regions say fighting has continued in some areas.
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“Our troops are chasing them both to the northwest and northeast [of Kyiv], pushing the enemy away from Kyiv,” said Oleksiy Arestovych, a political adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, on Friday.
He said Russia was also carrying out a partial troop rotation and sending some of its forces to fight in eastern Ukraine.
Kyiv regional governor Oleksandr Pavlyuk said Russian forces had withdrawn from Hostomel, a northwestern suburb that had seen intense fighting.
Later, local officials said the northern Kyiv region towns of Bucha and Ivankiv had been retaken by Ukrainian forces and Ukraine’s armed forces said the nearby town of Borodyanka had also been liberated, sharing a photo of Ukrainian troops they said was taken in the town.
“March 31 will go down in the history of our town … as the day of its liberation from Russian [forces],” Bucha Mayor Anatolii Fedoruk said in a video that appeared to be filmed outside the town hall.
Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan, reporting from Kyiv, said that there was a “muted celebratory mood” among Ukrainian forces.
“First of all, there is [the reported capture of] Hostomol airport … it has been under Russian occupation for a number of days. That was an absolutely crucial strategic point for the Russians – if they’d managed to hang on to it. It would have been a staging ground along with the other towns for any invasion into Kyiv itself,” he said. ”
[Hostomel] has now been completely liberated say the Ukrainian forces.”
Meanwhile, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said Russian forces are not withdrawing but regrouping.
The mayor of Kyiv Vitali Klitschko urged residents not to head back to Kyiv yet because “huge” battles were being fought to the north and east of the capital. He did not indicate that these were new battles.
“The risk of dying is pretty high, and that’s why my advice to anyone who wants to come back is: Please, take a little bit more time,” he said.
The governor of Chernihiv region, where Russian has also pledged to pull back, said some Russian troops had withdrawn but some remained in his region.
“Air and missile strikes are [still] possible in the region, nobody is ruling this out,” Governor Viacheslav Chaus said in a video address.
Fighting in Mariupol
Ukrainian officials also said the southern port city of Mariupol was still holding out after weeks of bombardment by Russian forces and that fighting continued in eastern Ukraine.
The International Committee of the Red Cross says a team intending to help people leave the besieged city of Mariupol was unable to reach the port city on Friday.
The Red Cross said in a statement that the team hopes to try again Saturday.
“Arrangements and conditions made it impossible” for the convoy of three vehicles to get safely to Mariupol and they returned to Zaporizhzhia, it said.
“For the operation to succeed, it is critical that the parties respect the agreements and provide the necessary conditions and security guarantees,” the organisation said.