https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/apr/02/ukrainian-children-used-as-human-shields-near-kyiv-say-witness-reports

Ukrainian children used as ‘human shields’ near Kyiv, say witness reports

Horrifying accounts tell of Russian soldiers placing children on tanks to protect their vehicles when moving

Russia has been accused by Ukraine of using children as “human shields” while regrouping its forces, as the first horrifying witness accounts from the newly liberated town of Bucha, near Kyiv, emerge.

Ukraine’s attorney general is gathering a dossier of claims about the Russian use of local children to avoid fire when in retreat from around Ukraine’s capital and elsewhere.

Coaches of children were said to have been placed in front of tanks in the village of Novyi Bykiv, close to the encircled city of Chernihiv, 100 miles north of Kyiv.

It was further alleged that children had been taken as hostages in a number of conflict hot spots around the country to ensure locals would not give the coordinates of the enemy’s movements to the Ukrainian forces.

“Cases of using children as cover are recorded in Sumy, Kyiv, Chernihiv, Zaporizhzhia oblasts [regions],” said Lyudmila Denisova, Ukraine’s human rights ombudsman.

Colonel Oleksandr Motuzyanyk, spokesman for Ukraine’s ministry of defence, said the cases were being investigated by the country’s attorney general, but he was unable to provide further details. He said: “Enemies have been using Ukrainian children as a living shield when moving their convoys, moving their vehicles.

“Russian soldiers have used Ukrainian children as hostages, putting them on their trucks. They’re doing it to protect their vehicles when moving.

“There have been cases of brutal behaviour against minors been recorded, documented by a Ukrainian and international institutions, and we’d like to emphasise that information in each and every case will be given to the national criminal courts and the occupiers will be brought to justice for each and every military and war crime they commit.”

Ukraine’s prosecutor general said at least 412 children had been injured or killed since the invasion began in February, of which 158 were dead.

In further developments:

Witnesses have told the Observer of alleged war crimes against civilians in Bucha, as the town was liberated by Ukrainian forces. In one account, a 33-year-old mother and her two sons, eight and four, were shot dead by troops in a Russian armoured vehicle, along with a 62-year-old man, as they had sought to flee in two cars.

The bodies of at least 20 men in civilian clothes, one of whom had his hands tied, have been found lying in a street in Bucha, as Russian forces made what authorities in Kyiv said was a “rapid retreat” from territory around the capital on Saturday.

Ukrainian forces took around 30 towns and villages around Kyiv, including Brovary, a key city east of the capital. But President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the retreating troops were creating “a complete disaster” by leaving mines in homes and corpses as they retreated.

Pope Francis has said he is considering visiting the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, and for the first time implicitly criticised the Russian president Vladimir Putin over the invasion of Ukraine. “We had thought invasions of other countries, savage street fighting and atomic threats were grim memories of a distant past,” he said.

Ukrainian military intelligence reported that residents in Izium, a city in east Ukraine, had given Russian soldiers from the 3rd Motor Rifle Division of the Russian Federation poisoned pies, killing two and putting 28 in intensive care.

Lithuania became the first EU country to ban the import of Russian gas.

With Russia continuing to withdraw some of its ground forces from areas around the capital on Saturday, Zelenskiy’s adviser, Mykhailo Podolyak, said it now appeared the Kremlin was beating a “rapid retreat”.

Podolyak warned, however, that the Kremlin had reverted to a plan to split the country.

He said: “After the rapid retreat of the Russians from Kyiv and Chernihiv, and if we analyse all the redeployment and concentration of occupying troops, it is clear that Russia has prioritised another tactic – to move east/south, to control large occupied territories (not only in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts) and gain a strong foothold there. [Russia] will try to dig in there, put [in] air defence and thus sharply reduce the loss of his equipment and personnel.”

In the east and the south, Ukrainian troops were holding their line, with the besieged city of Mariupol facing renewed barrages and little prospect of the evacuation of any more citizens. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said they were sending a team to try to help those trapped, following the failure of many attempts to organise humanitarian corridors.

An ICRC spokesperson said: “The team departed Zaporizhzhia this morning. They are spending the night en route to Mariupol and are yet to reach the city.”

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