A high-ranking Ukrainian official said the entire Kyiv region was no longer under Russian control Saturday, as signs mounted that Moscow’s troops were pulling back from cities and towns across the capital region.

Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Anna Malyar said the nation’s armed forces were back in control of all of Kyiv oblast, and Britain’s Defense Ministry confirmed that local forces were steadily regaining control. President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russia’s withdrawal in the north was “slow but noticeable.”

Still, an adviser to the president urged Ukrainians to prepare for “difficult fights” ahead in Mariupol and in southern and eastern parts of Ukraine, where evacuation efforts were still underway. The Red Cross said Saturday it had not yet reached the hard-hit port city where 100,000 are trapped.

Ukrainians from several hard-hit cities throughout the country continue to flee as rescue efforts continue, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Saturday.

“Today, 2,650 people have been evacuated from the cities of Severodonetsk, Rubizhne, Lysichansk, Kremennaya, Popasna and Nizhne in the Luhansk region,” she said. “In total, 4,217 citizens have been evacuated today.”

Vereshchuk said more than 1,200 people arrived in the southeastern city of Zaporizhzhia from Mariupol and Berdyansk in their own vehicles, with 765 coming from Mariupol alone. Ten evacuation convoys left the port city of Berdyansk with more than 300 Mariupol residents.

Advertising

She added that another 17 buses arrived from Zaporozhye to Berdyansk. The evacuation of Mariupol residents from Berdyansk will resume Sunday morning.

Four people were “injured and severely burned” after Russian forces fired mortars at protesters in a city near Zaporizhzhia, the site of a nuclear plant that Russia captured last month, according to Ukraine’s human rights ombudswoman.

Residents of Energodar, a satellite town of Zaporizhzhia, which has been occupied by Russian forces for nearly four weeks, held a rally in support of Ukraine on Saturday. Russian soldiers used light and noise grenades to disrupt the protest and opened mortar fire on residents, the ombudswoman, Lyudmyla Denisova, said in a statement posted to Telegram.

“Such treatment of civilians is a crime against humanity and a war crime as defined by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court,” Denisova said.

The Washington Post verified two videos recorded by witnesses and posted to Telegram. The images were filmed at the same time from separate angles and show at least nine flashes followed by large booms. Gunfire is audible as people run away from the site of the protest.

“There is a fight in the city center!” a man yells in a third video, verified by The Post, while rushing away from multiple loud booms. “Russian occupiers attacked civilians. There was a peaceful protest here.”

Advertising

A photo verified by The Post and posted to Telegram on Saturday appears to show the protest earlier in the day. A large group of protesters stood peacefully on the steps of a community center, holding Ukrainian flags.

Nearly a dozen people in military fatigues appear to monitor the protesters from a little more than 100 feet away. They stand next to two vehicles marked with the letter “Z,” suggesting the vehicles belong to Russian forces.

Ukraine’s state nuclear company, Energoatom, said loud explosions took place at the scene of what it described as a peaceful rally of locals singing the Ukrainian anthem. Families with children were present at the gathering, and Russian forces carted off some residents in vehicles, Energoatom said.

The company said some of the injured would be released from the hospital later Saturday.

Denisova called on the United Nations commission investigating human rights violations in Ukraine and an expert mission established by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to look into alleged rights violations and war crimes.

Elsewhere, Russian natural gas has not flowed to the Baltic states for the past two days, the head of the Latvian natural gas storage operator said Saturday, a potential first sign of a broader cutoff of Russian gas to Europe.

Advertising

The warning of the halted flow of Russian gas came as Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda declared that starting in April, his country no longer plans to purchase natural gas from Russia.

European Union nations, along with the United States, imposed wide-ranging sanctions against Russia following its invasion of Ukraine in late February, but they continued to import Russian fossil fuels because they are deeply dependent on them to keep homes warm, to generate electricity and to keep the continent’s factories humming.

But the Kremlin and the European Union have been locked in a battle over the future of the energy relationship, with some European policymakers saying they should cut off Russian energy altogether, no matter how painful it would be in the short term. Russian President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, has demanded payment for Russian fossil fuels in rubles instead of euros, threatening a unilateral cutoff if he doesn’t get his way.

In the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, there may already have been a cutoff, Uldis Bariss, the chairperson of Conexus Baltic Grid, the Latvian natural gas grid operator and storage company, told Latvian Radio on Saturday.

“While there was still doubt that Russian supplies could be relied on, these events clearly show that, from a security perspective, there is no longer any confidence,” Bariss said.

Bariss said that Latvia has extensive reserves of natural gas in storage and that there is no immediate crisis. More in question is what will happen next winter, he said.

Sponsored

A halt to Baltic gas flows could also be the result of a lack of supply on the Russian side or other disruptions to pipelines, rather than a deliberate, politically motivated cutoff. However, gas appears to largely be flowing as normal to Western Europe via other pipelines that don’t serve the Baltic states. Russian energy officials have not commented on gas flows to the Baltics.

Nauseda urged other countries to follow Lithuania’s lead by cutting off Russian gas purchases. Lithuania opened a liquefied natural gas terminal in 2014, enabling it to import natural gas from overseas providers, including the United States.

“Years ago my country made decisions that today allow us with no pain to break energy ties with the agressor. If we can do it, the rest of Europe can do it too!” Nauseda wrote on Twitter.

The director of Russia’s space agency suggested he would submit a proposal to end cooperation in the International Space Station program, citing sanctions placed on the nation.

In tweets on Saturday, Dmitry Rogozin, head of the agency Roscosmos, pointed to sanctions against a “number of enterprises in the Russian rocket and space industry.” He said that he appealed to the heads of NASA, the Canadian Space Agency and the European Space Agency to lift sanctions and that in their responses, the “position of our partners is clear: the sanctions will not be lifted.”

“I believe that the restoration of normal relations between partners in the International Space Station and other joint projects is possible only with the complete and unconditional lifting of illegal sanctions,” Rogozin wrote.

Advertising

He said proposals from Roscosmos “on the timing of terminating cooperation with the space agencies” from the United States, Canada, Japan and the European Union would be reported to the country’s leadership “in the near future.”

Rogozin has frequently used threatening and blustery rhetoric, including to repeatedly suggest Russia could exit the partnership.

His latest remarks came three days after two Russian cosmonauts and a NASA astronaut returned from the space station, a symbol of partnership in space even amid mounting tensions over the war in Ukraine.

Since Russian forces invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, NASA has maintained that the station has been operating as normal, unaffected by the conflict. NASA has said it would be unable to operate the ISS without the Russians because the nation provides the propulsion necessary to keep the station orbiting.

In the latest sign that Ukrainian personnel had regained control of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the nation’s state-owned atomic energy firm Energoatom reported Saturday that the country’s flag has been raised again over the site.

A post shared on the agency’s Telegram account showed the distinctive blue and yellow standard fluttering against cloudy skies over a dark gray building.

Advertising

“The Ukrainian flag has been raised above the Chernobyl nuclear power plant,” the post read. “The Ukrainian national anthem was also played over speakers around the station.”

Ukraine’s State Agency on Exclusion Zone Management announced Friday in a Facebook post that no Russian troops were near the site. “At the present moment there are no outsiders at the Chernobylka NPP site,” the agency wrote.

The scene of a major 1986 nuclear accident, the Chernobyl plant was among the first strategic facilities seized by Russian troops in the early days of the invasion, prompting fears around the world of another disaster that could spread radiation to surrounding countries.

The power plant’s last reactor shut down in 2000, and few people live in the surrounding zone, but the site still needs to be managed. The nuclear waste cleanup is expected to be complete more than 40 years from now.

In other developments:

— The death toll from a missile strike on a main government building in the city of Mykolaiv this week has risen to 36, the governor of the southern Ukrainian region said.

— Ukrainian photojournalist Maksym Levin was found dead on the northern outskirts of Kyiv, the country’s prosecutor general said Saturday. He is at least the sixth journalist killed covering Russia’s war on Ukraine.

The Washington Post’s Francis Stead Sellers and Claire Parker contributed to this report.