March 25, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news

By Sophie Tanno, Tori B. Powell and Matt Meyer, CNN

Updated 8:17 p.m. ET, March 25, 2023
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5:27 a.m. ET, March 25, 2023

Ukraine's top general says situation in Bakhmut is "stabilized" in discussion with UK Chief of Defense staff 

From CNN's Olga Voitovych in Kyiv and Vasco Cotovio in London

The commander in chief of Ukraine’s military emphasized the difficulty of the battle for the eastern city of Bakhmut during a call Friday with the head of the British Armed Forces.

Ukrainian Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi shared a Telegram post outlining his conversation with Britain’s Chief of the Defence Staff Adm. Sir Tony Radakin.

“I informed my colleague about the operational situation along the entire front line. The situation in the Bakhmut direction is the most difficult,” Zaluzhnyi wrote. “Due to the titanic efforts of the Defense Forces, the situation has been stabilized."
“We also discussed the issue of strengthening Ukrainian air defense,” he added.

Zaluzhnyi thanked Radakin, the United Kingdom and other allies for their support.

“Thanks to the help of our partners, we are holding on and will definitely win,” he said.

The battle for Bakhmut: The besieged city of Bakhmut in Ukraine's Donetsk region has been a focal point of the frontline fighting between Russia and Ukraine for months.

One of Kyiv's top generals this week said that Russian forces are depleted in Bakhmut, and a Ukrainian counteroffensive could soon be launched. It raised the prospect of an unlikely turnaround for Ukraine.

While experts say that capturing Bakhmut is unlikely to dramatically alter the overall picture of the war in eastern Ukraine — where little territory has changed hands in 2023 — it would hand Russia a symbolic victory and mark the first Ukrainian city it has captured in eight months.

9:46 a.m. ET, March 25, 2023

Russia says 56 Ukrainian children await reunification with their families

From CNN's Katharina Krebs in London

Maria Lvova-Belova, Russian children's rights commissioner, attends a meeting with Russian President at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence, outside Moscow, Russia, on February 16.
Maria Lvova-Belova, Russian children's rights commissioner, attends a meeting with Russian President at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence, outside Moscow, Russia, on February 16. (Mikhail Metzel/Sputnik/AFP/Getty Images)

Russia’s Commissioner for Children's Rights Maria Lvova-Belova said on Friday that 56 Ukrainian children who are now in Crimea and Krasnodar Krai are awaiting reunification with their families.

"Currently 56 children remain in the health resorts of the Krasnodar Krai and Crimea. They are safe and in touch with their families. There is an action plan for each child so that they are reunited with family," said Lvova-Belova in a statement on her Telegram channel.

Remember: Last Friday, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Lvova-Belova for an alleged scheme to deport Ukrainian children to Russia. The ICC said that Lvova-Belova was “allegedly responsible for the war crime of unlawful deportation.”

Lvova-Belova dismissed the ICC’s arrest warrant against her, saying it was “great” that the international community appreciated her work for children, according to Russian state news agency TASS.

According to Lvova-Belova, to date 33 Ukrainian children have returned to their parents in Kharkiv, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions. The children were brought home by their parents or a trusted representative.

"Children have been in health camps in the Crimea and the Krasnodar Territory since autumn. With the consent of their parents, citizens of Ukraine, they were temporarily sent away from the hostilities - to rest and gain strength," she said.

"It was not possible to immediately ensure a safe return trip for everyone, since the front line has changed significantly, [and] parents and children found themselves on different sides," she added.

Lvova-Belova said since October last year, the Russian authorities have been "consistently assisting in the reunification of children who arrived on vacation" from areas of conflict; and from this group, more than 2,000 children have already returned to their families.

CNN's Rob Picheta and Lauren Said-Moorhouse contributed to this post.

5:45 a.m. ET, March 25, 2023

"I think we vastly exaggerate it": Biden downplays the strength of Russia-China alliance

From CNN's DJ Judd

US President Joe Biden speaks during a joint news conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa on March 24.
US President Joe Biden speaks during a joint news conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa on March 24. (Andrej Ivanov/AFP/Getty Images)

President Joe Biden said Friday he’s not alarmed following the high-profile meetings earlier this week between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Instead, Biden said “we’re the ones expanding the alliances.”   

“Look, I don't take China lightly. I don't take Russia lightly, but I think we vastly exaggerate it,” Biden told reporters during a news conference in Ottawa, Canada.

The president noted that while US officials have recently warned of signs that China could be considering increasing its military support for Russia, “they haven’t yet.”  

“Doesn't mean they won't, but they haven't yet,” Biden said. “And if anything's happened, the West has coalesced significantly more.” 

Biden went on to cite increased cooperation across alliances, including through the G7, the Quad Alliance, ASEAN and AUKUS. He added he has now met with 80% of the world's leaders.

“So, I just want to put it in perspective, I don't take it lightly … what China and Russia are doing, and it could get significantly worse,” Biden said. “But let's put it into perspective. We are united coalitions — we, we the United States and Canada.” 
5:46 a.m. ET, March 25, 2023

UN documents hundreds of disappearances and arbitrary detentions by Russian and Ukrainian forces

From CNN’s Jade Wurapa and Hira Humayun

The United Nations has documented hundreds of cases of enforced disappearances and arbitrary detentions by both Ukrainian and Russian forces since the beginning of the invasion, according to the Head of the UN Monitoring Mission in Ukraine.

The UN has documented more than 600 cases of enforced disappearances and arbitrary detentions carried out by Russian forces, and 91 by Ukrainian forces, since the war began on February 24 of last year up until the end of January 2023.

“Unfortunately, we found that there have been significant violations on both sides,” , Matilda Bogner said, referring to prisoners of war being subjected to “summary executions," torture, “ill treatment” and “horrific conditions” while being detained.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights issued Friday its latest report, which cataloged cases of civilian casualties, torture, rape, enforced disappearances and arbitrary detention.