By Simone McCarthy, Steve George, Sana Noor Haq, Melissa Macaya, Mike Hayes, Maureen Chowdhury and Amir Vera, CNN
Updated 1812 GMT (0212 HKT) April 4, 2022
2:30 a.m. ET, April 3, 2022
Apparent Russian strike hits Odesa fuel depot
From CNN's Sarah Sirgany, Ed Lavandera and Konstantin Hak in Odesa, Ukraine
A fuel depot in the Ukrainian city of Odesa is burning Sunday morning, according to a CNN team on the scene.
One witness told CNN they heard six explosions at the fuel depot before sunrise.
Multiple witnesses told CNN they had seen drones in the skies around the area over the past two days.
Video taken by CNN shows plumes of thick black smoke rising to the air from the fuel depot which sits next to a railway track. The plumes could be seen for miles in the distance. The CNN team heard no air raid sirens.
At least one secondary explosion was heard as firefighters were trying to control the blaze. It is unclear whether there have been casualties.
9:35 a.m. ET, April 3, 2022
It's 7 a.m. in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know
Civilian bodies were found littering the streets of a Ukrainian town northwest of Kyiv following the withdrawal of Russian forces, according to images released by AFP on Saturday – the latest horrifying mark of the mounting civilian toll of Russia’s brutal assault on Ukraine.
The Russian withdrawal comes as Moscow attempts to shift its focus to eastern Ukraine and away from the areas around Kyiv, where Russian forces have faced fierce Ukrainian resistance. Ukraine's deputy defense minister said Saturday that the Kyiv region had been "liberated" from Russian forces.
As day breaks on Sunday in Ukraine, these are the latest developments in the war:
Horrors of occupation: The bodies of at least 20 civilian men have been found lying strewn across the street in the town of Bucha, northwest of Kyiv following the withdrawal of Russian forces in images released by AFP on Saturday. At least one corpse can be seen with his hands tied behind his back. The Mayor of Bucha, Anatoliy Fedoruk, told Reuters Saturday the civilians had been executed by retreating Russian forces.
Shift to the east: Russia has revised its Ukraine war strategy to focus on taking control of the Donbas and other regions in eastern Ukraine with a target date of early May, according to several US officials familiar with the latest US intelligence assessments. A Ukrainian presidential adviser warned on Saturday that fighting in the days ahead "will not be easy" in those regions.
Pressure on Putin: Russian President Vladimir Putin is under pressure to demonstrate he can present a victory as heavy setbacks mount up, and eastern Ukraine is where he is most likely to achieve that, US officials say. US intelligence intercepts suggest Putin is focused on celebrating some kind of “Victory Day” on May 9, a prominent holiday on the Russian calendar marking the Nazi surrender in World War II.
Diplomatic potential: A member of the Ukrainian negotiating team in talks with Russia, said Saturday that the Russian side had responded positively to Ukrainian positions on several issues and there was a possibility of "direct consultations" between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Russian leader Vladimir Putin in the future.
Further evacuations: More than 4,000 Ukrainian civilians were able to flee via evacuation corridors on Saturday, according to the country's deputy prime minister. A renewed attempt by the International Committee for the Red Cross to reach Mariupol is expected to continue Sunday.
Tank transfer: The US is expected to help facilitate the transfer of Soviet-era tanks "within days" to Ukraine, according to a source familiar with the plan. Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak earlier on Saturday called on the US and its allies to deliver heavier weaponry to Ukraine.
9:36 a.m. ET, April 3, 2022
Civilian bodies found littering streets of Ukrainian town following withdrawal of Russian forces
From CNN's Jonny Hallam
The bodies of at least 20 civilian men have been found lying strewn across the street in the town of Bucha, northwest of Kyiv following the withdrawal of Russian forces from the area in shocking images released by AFP on Saturday.
The dead, all in civilian clothing, are found in a variety of awkward poses, some face down against the pavement, others facing upwards with mouths open.
"Three of them are tangled up in bicycles after taking their final ride, while others, with waxy skin, have fallen next to bullet-ridden and crushed cars," according to AFP journalists who accessed the town after it had been cut off for nearly a month.
One corpse can be seen with his hands tied behind his back with a white cloth.
The Mayor of Bucha, Anatoliy Fedoruk, said the dead civilians had received inhumane treatment at the hands of Russian forces.
"Corpses of executed people still line the Yabluska street in Bucha. Their hands are tied behind their backs with white 'civilian' rags, they were shot in the back of their heads. So you can imagine what kind of lawlessness they perpetrated here," Fedoruk told Reuters on Saturday.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said the bodies of the men found with hands tied, "were shot dead by Russian soldiers," in a tweet on Saturday.
Podolyak added, "these people were not in the military. They had no weapons. They posed no threat. How many more such cases are happening right now in the occupied territories?"
CNN has not been able to independently confirm the details around the men's deaths.
Russian forces withdrew from several towns near Kyiv in recent days after Moscow's bid to encircle the capital failed, with Ukraine declaring that Bucha had been "liberated."
12:02 a.m. ET, April 3, 2022
Russian aircraft "still vulnerable" to Ukrainian air defense: British military intelligence
From CNN’s Sahar Akbarzai and Jonny Hallam
British military intelligence said on Saturday that Ukraine’s air defense capability continues to pose significant challenges to Russian aircraft, despite the invading forces' continued effort to diminish Ukraine's air defenses.
“Ukraine continues to provide a significant challenge to Russia Air and Missile operations. As a result, Russian aircraft are still vulnerable to short and medium range air defense systems,” the UK Ministry of Defense (MOD) said in an Intelligence Update.
Russia has not been able to obtain control of the air due its inability to find and destroy Ukrainian air defense systems, the ministry said. Thus, this inability has significantly affected Russia’s, “ability to support the advance of their ground forces on a number of fronts,” according to the MOD.
The ministry also reported that there has been significant Russian air activity towards southeastern Ukraine, “likely a result of Russia focusing its military operations in this area.”
12:02 a.m. ET, April 3, 2022
Ukrainian negotiator claims advances in talks with Russia, possibility of 'direct consultations' between Zelensky, Putin in future
David Arakhamia, a member of the Ukrainian negotiating team in talks with Russia, said the Russian side has responded positively to Ukrainian positions on several issues and there is a possibility of "direct consultations" between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin, something he said had been facilitated in part by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
"We announced our Ukrainian position in Istanbul," Arakhamia said in nationally televised remarks. "And the Russian Federation has given an official answer to all these positions, which is that they accept this position, except for the issue of Crimea."
Ukrainian officials have outlined their vision of a roadmap to a potential truce, which would include possible neutral status for Ukraine backed by a broad alliance of security guarantors.
The status of Crimea -- annexed by Russia from Ukraine in 2014 -- has been a sticking point in potential negotiations between Ukraine and Russia. Ukraine and most of the international community consider the peninsula to be illegally occupied. The Kremlin consistently says the status of Crimea is settled.
The Ukrainian side said there had been agreement to suspend negotiations on the status of Crimea for 15 years, but the Russian side has not confirmed, and the Kremlin has publicly reiterated its position Crimea is part of Russia.
Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, said there was no official confirmation of those positions in writing, according to Arakhamia.
However, Arakhamia added: "Orally, as of yesterday, in a video conference, we heard that the Russian side does not object to such [Ukrainian] positions."
Arakhamia held out the possibility of a meeting between Putin and Zelensky, saying, "The drafts of the documents were sufficiently developed to hold direct consultations between the two leaders, the presidents of Ukraine and the Russian Federation. Therefore, our task now is to quickly prepare the final stage not of the document itself, but of the issues we have already touched upon, and to prepare for a possible meeting of the presidents." Arakhamia added: "Yesterday, Mr. Erdogan called both us and Vladimir Putin. He also allegedly confirmed for his part they are ready to organize a meeting in the near future. Neither the date nor the place is known. But we believe that with a high probability it will be in Istanbul or Ankara, that is, in Turkey."
The possibility of a role for China as a potential security guarantor for Ukraine appears to be credible, according to Arakhamia.
Asked about the status of talks with China on the matter, Arakhamia said: "We are negotiating through diplomatic channels. The state of negotiations with China is probably the least ready compared to the countries that are now actively helping us, and we keep in touch twice a day. With China, it's getting a little harder."
12:02 a.m. ET, April 3, 2022
Russia shifting focus to eastern Ukraine, US officials say
From Barbara Starr, Jim Sciutto, Katie Bo Lillis, Alex Marquardt and Jeremy Herb
Russia has revised its Ukraine war strategy to focus on taking control of the Donbas and other regions in eastern Ukraine with a target date of early May, according to several US officials familiar with the latest US intelligence assessments.
More than a month into the war, Russian ground forces have been unable to keep control of areas where they have been fighting.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is under pressure to demonstrate he can show a victory, and eastern Ukraine is where he is most likely to achieve that, officials say. US intelligence intercepts suggest Putin is focused on May 9, Russia’s “Victory Day,” according to a US official.
May 9 is a prominent holiday on the Russian calendar, a day on which the country marks the Nazi surrender in World War II with a huge parade of troops and weaponry across Red Square in front of the Kremlin. The officials say Putin wants to celebrate a victory of some kind in his war that day.
But other officials note even if there is a Russian celebration, an actual victory may be further off.
“Putin will have a victory parade on 9 May regardless the status of the war or peace talks,” a European defense official said. “On the other hand: a victory parade with what troops and vehicles?”
Still, US and European officials say any deadlines Moscow may set rhetorically don’t change the reality on the ground that Russia appears to be preparing for the prospect of an extended conflict.
A European diplomat said while the Kremlin is talking optimistically, Putin is preparing for a “Chechnya-style long, drawn-out war, because he, to a certain extent, has nowhere else to go on this.”
12:02 a.m. ET, April 3, 2022
Entire Kyiv region "liberated" from Russian forces, senior Ukrainian defense official says
From CNN staff in Lviv
Hanna Maliar, Ukraine's deputy defense minister, said Saturday that the Kyiv region had been "liberated" from Russian forces.
She said in a post on Facebook that Bucha, Irpin, Hostomel and "the whole Kyiv region was liberated from the invader."
CNN could not immediately verify that the entire Kyiv region had been cleared of Russian troops by Ukrainian forces, but the Ukrainian military has in recent days regained control of suburbs around the capital, which has remained under government control. The Russian military has said it is "de-escalating" around Kyiv.
12:02 a.m. ET, April 3, 2022
Number of Ukrainians at US-Mexico border seeking US asylum grows
Hundreds of Ukrainians fleeing Russia's invasion of their country have arrived at the Mexican border city of Tijuana to seek US asylum and more are expected, a Tijuana city official and a volunteer told CNN on Saturday.
Enrique Lucero, director of migrant affairs for the city of Tijuana, said there were around 1,500 Ukrainians in the city currently and he expected the number to increase to 2,000 by the day's end.
"We had a surprising influx in the past four days, mainly because after the conflict we started seeing arrivals as of March 11, and those were arrivals of 30 people, not the large amounts we are seeing today."
Lucero said he expects all the migrants to enter the United States, but said American authorities have been slow to process them. The city was working to convert a sports facility into a temporary shelter to house all the incoming arrivals, Lucero told CNN.
Inna Levien, an Orange County, California resident who belongs to a group that is spearheading a volunteer effort to assist Ukrainians gathered near the border, told CNN that the number of Ukrainians has quadrupled in the past three days.
Once the migrants arrive at the border, Levien's group puts them on a list and assigns them a number, that way they don't have to wait in line the entire time for entry. She said the wait to get across can take more than 24 hours.
The city of Tijuana has been instrumental in providing relief, Levien said. A bus stop was recently converted by the city into a temporary shelter while a network of churches has sprung to help house families as they wait for their turn to be processed, Levien added.
CNN has reached out to the State Department and US Customs and Border Protection but did not receive a response Saturday.
Some context: The Department of Homeland Security is allowing Ukrainians, on a case-by-case basis, to be exempted from Trump-era pandemic restrictions on the US-Mexico border. Those restrictions will end on May 23, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Friday. The US will welcome up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees and others fleeing Russia’s aggression, the Biden administration announced last month.
CNN’s Priscilla Alvarez contributed to this report.