Ukraine’s foreign minister has appealed for help from the West as the country faces a battle for its industrial eastern regions after Russian forces withdrew from the outskirts of Kyiv to regroup.
Authorities urged people to immediately evacuate from the Donbas region before Russia intensifies its offensive.
In Brussels, Dmytro Kuleba urged Nato to provide more weapons for his war-torn country to help prevent further atrocities like those reported in the city of Bucha.
“My agenda is very simple… it’s weapons, weapons and weapons,” Mr Kuleba said as he arrived at Nato headquarters on Thursday for talks with the military organisation’s foreign ministers.
“We know how to fight. We know how to win. But without sustainable and sufficient supplies requested by Ukraine, these wins will be accompanied by enormous sacrifices,” Mr Kuleba said.
“The more weapons we get and the sooner they arrive in Ukraine, the more human lives will be saved.”
Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg urged members to provide more weapons and not just defensive arms.
Some Nato members worry that they may be Russia’s next target but the alliance is striving to avoid moves that might pull countries directly into the conflict.
“Nato is not sending troops to be on the ground. We also have a responsibility to prevent this conflict from escalating beyond Ukraine, and become even more deadly, even more dangerous and destructive,” Mr Stoltenberg said.
A US defence official said Russia had pulled all of its estimated 24,000 or more troops from the Kyiv and Chernihiv areas in the north, sending them into Belarus or Russia to resupply and reorganise, probably to return to fight in the east.
Growing numbers of Vladimir Putin’s troops, along with mercenaries, have been reported moving into the Donbas.
“Later, people will come under fire,” Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said in urging civilians to evacuate from the mostly Russian-speaking industrial region, “and we won’t be able to do anything to help them”.
Ukrainian forces have been fighting Russia-backed separatists in the Donbas since 2014. Ahead of its February 24 invasion, Moscow recognised the Luhansk and Donetsk regions as independent states.
Another Western official said it may take Russia’s battle-damaged forces as much as a month to regroup for a major push on eastern Ukraine.
In his nightly address on Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also warned Russia’s military is gearing up for a new offensive in the east.
Ukraine too was preparing for battle, he said.
“We will fight and we will not retreat,” he said. “We will seek all possible options to defend ourselves until Russia begins to seriously seek peace. This is our land. This is our future. And we won’t give them up.”
In areas north of the capital, Ukrainian officials were gathering evidence of Russian atrocities amid signs Moscow’s troops killed people indiscriminately before retreating.
Ukrainian authorities said the bodies of least 410 civilians were found in towns around Kyiv, victims of what Mr Zelenskyy said was a Russian campaign of murder, rape, dismemberment and torture.
Some victims had apparently been shot at close range and Some were found with their hands bound.
Mr Zelensky accused Russia of interfering with an international investigation into possible war crimes by removing bodiees and trying to hide other evidence in Bucha, north west of Kyiv.
“We have information that the Russian troops have changed tactics and are trying to remove the dead people, the dead Ukrainians, from the streets and cellars of territory they occupied,” he said during his latest video address. “This is only an attempt to hide the evidence and nothing more.”
Switching from Ukrainian to Russian, Mr Zelensky urged ordinary Russians “to somehow confront the Russian repressive machine” instead of being “equated with the Nazis for the rest of your life”.
He called on Russians to demand an end to the war “if you have even a little shame about what the Russian military is doing in Ukraine”.