Russian airstrikes have hit “critical infrastructure” in the Ukrainian city of Odesa as evidence of horrific war crimes in areas around Kyiv where Russian troops have pulled back continued to mount.

Odesa, an important port on the Black Sea coast and the main base for Ukraine’s navy, had largely been spared violence in the five-week-old conflict until the attacks early on Sunday.

City officials said a fuel depot had been targeted, with no reported casualties. Anton Herashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister, said in a statement that some of the missiles had been shot down by Ukrainian air defences.

Russia’s defence ministry confirmed the sea- and air-launched missile strikes, saying its military destroyed an oil refinery and three fuel storage facilities that were being used to supply Ukrainian troops stationed near the city of Mykolaiv, which is close to the frontline fighting.

Odesa is of strategic importance for the Kremlin as seizing it would allow Russia to link its gains in southern Ukraine with Transnistria, a pro-Russia breakaway region of Moldova that hosts Russian troops.

Locals in Odesa were shaken awake by the explosions at 6am local time (3am GMT) as thick plumes of black smoke billowed across the city.

“We were woken up by the first explosion. Then we saw a flash in the sky, then another, then another. I lost count,” a resident, Mykola, 22, told Agence-France Presse.

Vika, another Odesa local, told Reuters it was not “a good morning” for the city. “There was smoke. The children were in a panic. The windows were blown in … It was terrifying,” she said.

The strikes on Odesa came as Moscow’s ground forces continued to withdraw from areas around the capital, Kyiv, leaving horrifying evidence of atrocities against civilians in their wake.

Ukraine said on Saturday that successful counterattacks had “liberated” the occupied satellite towns of Irpin, Bucha and Hostomel, and that Russian troops had been forced out of the entire Kyiv region.

As Ukrainian forces advanced north of the capital, however, they encountered signs of fierce urban warfare, as well as mass graves and the bodies of civilians lying on the street bearing evidence of rape, torture and summary killings.

Soldiers were warned to take care while moving corpses and debris in case Russian soldiers had booby-trapped them with mines during their retreat.

The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, reiterated in his nightly address to the country on Saturday that Russian ground movements and stalled peace talks were being used by Moscow as cover while it prepared for a renewed offensive in eastern Ukraine.

After failing to capture significant territory, the Kremlin is believed to have refocused its “special military operation” on the south-east Donbas region, home to self-proclaimed pro-Russia republics in Luhansk and Donetsk.

The region’s port city of Mariupol – control of which would build an unbroken land bridge to the Russian mainland – has suffered some of the worst violence in the conflict to date.

As many as 150,000 civilians running low on food and other vital supplies are trapped in the besieged city, where satellite imagery shows that up to 90% of buildings have been damaged by constant shelling and airstrikes.

Repeated attempts to negotiate a humanitarian corridor out of Mariupol have failed after reported Russian shelling of escape routes. On Sunday, the International Committee of the Red Cross said it hoped that a team dispatched to the city the day before would be able to enter, but warned that “the situation on the ground is volatile and subject to rapid changes”.

More than 4.2 million people have fled the country and an estimated 20,000 have died since Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February in some of the worst violence on European soil since the second world war.

Talks held this week in Turkey and online to end the fighting have centred on Ukrainian pledges to drop a bid to join the Nato security umbrella and declare official neutrality on the condition of security guarantees from third-party countries.

On Saturday, the Ukrainian negotiator David Arakhamia said Moscow had “verbally” agreed to Kyiv’s key proposals.

Extracted in full from: Russian missiles strike fuel depot in key Ukraine port of Odesa | Ukraine | The Guardian

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