March 29, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Rhea Mogul, Joshua Berlinger, Ed Upright, Adrienne Vogt, Aditi Sangal, Maureen Chowdhury and Tori B. Powell, CNN

Updated 2:17 a.m. ET, March 30, 2023
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5:28 p.m. ET, March 29, 2023

Ukraine is not ordering monks to leave Kyiv monastery, minister says  

From CNN's Tim Lister, Sarah Dean and Olga Voitovych, Anna Gorzkowska and Sugam Pokharel

The Kyiv Pechersk Lavra is pictured March 24.
The Kyiv Pechersk Lavra is pictured March 24. (Efrem Lukatsky/AP)

Ukraine is not ordering the monks from the pro-Russian Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) to leave a historic cave monastery complex in Kyiv, the country's Culture Minister Oleksandr Tkachenko said Wednesday. 

“We are not ordering the monks to leave the monastery," Tkachenko told CNN’s Paula Newton. "We canceled the agreement, which was concluded between Yanukovych government in 2013 and Russian and Ukrainian branch of Russian church, which we believe is illegal. So, it doesn’t mean that they necessarily need to leave tomorrow or today." 

The Ukrainian government and security service said some members of the church are loyal to Moscow.

"We will not drag them out by their feet, we will not use force — they will leave on their own … [but] there can be no Russian church on the territory of our country," said Oleksii Danilov, head of Ukraine’s National Security Council.

Wednesday marked the deadline for clergy from the UOC to leave the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra. Hundreds of worshippers gathered to pray on their knees “for the saving of the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra," according to video and images shared by the church on social media Wednesday.

When asked about some Ukrainians reacting to the deadline order with disbelief and frustration, Tkachenko said: “First of all, the leaders of Ukrainian branch of Russian church did not call Ukrainians to come to Ukrainian army to defend Ukraine during this war [….] but they didn't finish their relationship with Russian church [...] they are a follower of Kremlin policy, of the policy of war.” 

The Kyiv Pechersk Lavra is home to the UOC, a branch of Orthodox Christianity in Ukraine that has been traditionally loyal to the leader of the Russian church, Patriarch Kirill.

Kirill is a close ally of Vladimir Putin and a supporter of his war on Ukraine. In May 2022, the UOC cut ties with Moscow and declared “full independence.”

The agreement that permitted the UOC to occupy the historic cave monastery complex was terminated on March 10, and the UOC was instructed to leave the premises by March 29.  

But the order shouldn't be called an eviction, said Danilov, the head of Ukraine’s National Security Council.

Danilov told Ukrainian television that “the Lavra is not a hotel, so eviction is not the right term."

"This is the property of our state, the common property of citizens," Danilov said. "As of today, this property should be vacated, according to the legal documents that exist today.”

During his daily video message Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky made comments about the eviction deadline.

“Today we have also taken a step to strengthen the spiritual independence of our state, to protect our society from the old and cynical Moscow manipulations of religion,” Zelensky said in his daily video message.

He added that his country "is the territory of the greatest religious freedom in our part of Europe."

"This has been the case since 1991. It will always be so," he said.

2:17 a.m. ET, March 30, 2023

Russians facing heavy losses in Bakhmut, top US general says. Here's the latest from Ukraine

From CNN staff

There are roughly 6,000 Wagner group mercenaries fighting in the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley told US lawmakers on Wednesday. 

The mercenary group is "suffering an enormous amount of casualties in the Bakhmut area; the Ukrainians are inflicting a lot of death and destruction on these guys," he said, describing the battle Bakhmut as a “slaughter-fest" for the Russians.

The head of Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said in an audio message Wednesday that the battle for the city "has already practically destroyed the Ukrainian army," but added that Wagner has "been pretty battered" as well.

Here are the latest developments:

  • Kremlin says "hybrid war" is for the long term: The Kremlin sees the conflict in Ukraine as part of a long-term war, spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said. “If you mean war in a broad context — a confrontation with hostile states and with unfriendly countries, a hybrid war that they unleashed against Russia — this is for long,” he said.
  • Ukrainian defense minister hints offensive may begin in April or May: Minister Oleksii Reznikov suggested that Ukrainian offensive action involving Western tanks may begin in April or May. In an interview with Estonian television, Reznikov said that German Leopard tanks, which have begun arriving in Ukraine, will be part of “the counteroffensive campaign under the decision of our General Staff. … They are planning that in different directions.”
  • Rail infrastructure hit in Melitopol strike, Russian-appointed official says: Vladimir Rogov, a member of the Russian-appointed military-civilian administration in occupied Zaporizhzhia in southeast Ukraine, said Wednesday that six Ukrainian HIMARS rockets struck rail infrastructure in a pre-dawn attack. Rogov said Russian air defenses shot down three of the rockets, and the remaining three hit objects in Melitopol: a railway, an electricity substation and the railway depot. There were no casualties reported.
  • Hungary says grievances need to be addressed before supporting Sweden: Hungarian government spokesperson Zoltán Kovács said Wednesday that there is “an ample amount of grievances that need to be addressed” before Sweden’s bid to join NATO is ratified by the country. The remarks were published by the spokesperson in a blog titled “Three reasons why Hungary’s parliament is right to be hesitant about Sweden’s NATO admission” and said Sweden “must face the music” over what it called its “daunting attitude” toward Hungary. The Hungarian parliament approved a bill on Monday to allow Finland to join NATO but has not yet voted on Sweden’s NATO accession.  
  • Situation at Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant has not improved, IAEA director general says: The plant has been occupied by Russian forces since March of 2022 – and is now run by the Russian atomic agency, ROSATOM. Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency Rafael Grossi said military activity and the number of troops in the area were increasing, without specifying whether he meant both Russian and Ukrainian forces. Ukrainian troops are stationed several miles across the reservoir from the plant. 
4:29 p.m. ET, March 29, 2023

Polish prime minister urges EU to limit impact of Ukrainian grain influx in neighboring countries 

From CNN’s Alex Hardie in London

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki speaks at a press conference in Helsinki, Finland, on November 20, 2022.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki speaks at a press conference in Helsinki, Finland, on November 20, 2022. (Heikki Saukkomaa/Lehtikuva/AFP/Getty Images)

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki urged European Union leaders on Wednesday to use “all instruments” to limit the impact of the influx of Ukrainian grain on the markets of neighboring countries. 

Speaking to reporters in Warsaw, Morawiecki said that “we did not agree to this, and we do not agree that this grain should be sold on the Polish market” and “destabilize our domestic markets.”

Morawiecki said he had agreed, with leaders of several European Union countries also bordering Ukraine, to forward a letter to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen demanding “immediate use of all instruments, all available procedures and regulations, to limit the impact of Ukrainian grain to the markets of Ukraine's neighboring countries.”

“We are ready to help take this grain and export it to Africa. There you go,” Morawiecki added. 

A ship is loaded with Ukrainian wheat to deliver to Kenya and Ethiopia at the port of Chornomorsk on the Black Sea coast on February 18.
A ship is loaded with Ukrainian wheat to deliver to Kenya and Ethiopia at the port of Chornomorsk on the Black Sea coast on February 18. (Oleksandr Gimanov/AFP/Getty Images)

Some context: According to Reuters, there is mounting anger in the Polish countryside over the influx of Ukrainian grain, which is affecting Polish prices.

At a meeting of the EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Brussels on March 20, Poland requested the “urgent mobilization” of EU support for what it said were problems in the grain market “caused by a large influx of cereals from Ukraine.”

“Some grain purchasers, especially in this region [south-eastern Poland], have suspended or limited the purchase of domestic grain because stores are full. Poland calls for improved and better-supervised grain transit from Ukraine,” Poland’s agriculture ministry said.  

Morawiecki also told reporters on Wednesday that Romania’s president and prime minister shared his opinion.

3:47 p.m. ET, March 29, 2023

Switzerland joins EU’s latest package of sanctions against Russia 

From CNN's Sharon Braithwaite

Switzerland joined the European Union’s 10th package of sanctions against Russia Wednesday, the government said in a news release.

Switzerland, a non-EU member, had already sanctioned around 120 additional individuals and entities added by the EU in its latest sanctions against Moscow, the government said. 

"The Federal Council is now adopting the remaining measures of the tenth package of sanctions with effect from 29 March," the statement read. "In addition to changes to the reporting obligation in the financial sector, these include a ban on Russian nationals from serving on governing bodies of critical infrastructure owners or operators as well as further sanctions in relation to goods."

The latest package also tightens import restrictions on goods of economic importance to Russia, the news release stated. 

The European Union last month approved a 10th round of sanctions against Russia. 

3:54 p.m. ET, March 29, 2023

"The whole Ukrainian nation is traumatized," deputy foreign minister says

From CNN’s Alex Hardie, Ami Kaufman and Ben Kirby

The whole of Ukraine is traumatized since Russia's invasion last year, according to Ukraine's Deputy Foreign Minister Emine Dzhaparova.

Speaking to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour from Kyiv, Dzhaparova said she thinks “a long-term process of recovery will be happening after the resolution of war,” but added that “at this stage of the war it’s still an existential matter of survival so we need to survive physically and after that, we can speak about the mental recovery.” 

“You never know how it might be triggered," Dzhaparova said of the mental toll of the war. "I can speak on behalf of myself saying that, for example, the first time I allowed myself to cry since the very start of the full-fledged invasion in two weeks after when my suitcase with my belongings came from Kyiv to the western part of my country and I just – you know – it happened in a moment when I touched my dresses and my pants because I was not able to buy anything because of the curfew and martial law. All shops were closed.” 

The deputy minister told CNN she has seen her two daughters, who are abroad, only three times since the invasion. 

The four main battlefields, according to Dzhaparova, are Lyman, Mariinka, Avdiivka and Bakhmut.  

The situation in Bakhmut is “still terrible,” she said.   

“It’s still a question what will be the outcome, but I can tell you for sure that the armed forces of Ukraine has proved its capability. Even though we can hear some questions and voices that Russians might accomplish their goals in Bakhmut, but I think that in order not to allow this to happen we have to follow several elements, which is the shipment of needed weapons, not only ammunition but artillery systems and shells that we really critically need.” 

Approximately 17% of Ukrainian soil is “still under occupation,” down from what she said was 20% at the beginning of the invasion.  

4:44 p.m. ET, March 29, 2023

IAEA director general says situation at Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant has not improved

From CNN's Tim Lister

Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency Rafael Grossi, center, visits the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in southern Ukraine on March 29.
Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency Rafael Grossi, center, visits the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in southern Ukraine on March 29. (Andrey Borodulin/AFP/Getty Images)

The situation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant has not improved, according to Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency Rafael Grossi.

The plant has been occupied by Russian forces since March of last year and is now run by the Russian atomic agency, ROSATOM. 

Grossi said military activity and the number of troops in the area were increasing, without specifying whether he meant both Russian and Ukrainian forces. Ukrainian troops are stationed several miles across the reservoir from the plant. 

He said original plans to create a demilitarized zone around the plant had “evolved” toward greater protection of the plant itself and added that there should not be heavy military equipment at the plant. Ukraine has accused Russians of basing rocket systems at the plant, which Moscow has denied.

Grossi said he was trying to formulate “realistic, viable proposals” that would be acceptable to both sides.

2:31 p.m. ET, March 29, 2023

US has not received notice that Russia has suspended nuclear notifications under New START treaty

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

The United States has not received notice from Russia “indicating a change” in nuclear notifications, State Department principal deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said Wednesday.

Speaking at a department briefing, Patel said that he had seen comments from Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov that all types of notifications between Russia and the US under the New START treaty had been suspended.

However, “we have not received any notice indicating a change,” Patel said.

Patel said the US has been “concerned about Russia's reckless behavior" over the treaty.

A State Department spokesperson said Tuesday that “with the exception of this countermeasure regarding the biannual data update” — which the US said it would not provide because Russia said it would not — “the United States continues to fully implement the New START treaty, including the central limits.”

What to know about New START: The treaty puts limits on the number of deployed intercontinental-range nuclear weapons that both the US and Russia can have. It was last extended in early 2021 for five years, meaning the two sides would soon need to begin negotiating on another arms control agreement. Under the key nuclear arms control treaty, both the United States and Russia are permitted to conduct inspections of each other's weapons sites, though inspections had been halted since 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

1:14 p.m. ET, March 29, 2023

Jet-powered drone likely used in attempt to strike an air base in Crimea, Russian-appointed official says

From CNN's Julia Kesaieva in Kyiv

A senior Russian-appointed official in Crimea said that Ukraine most likely used a jet-powered drone — known as a Strizh — in an attempt to strike an air base in the peninsula.

Oleg Kryuchkov, an adviser to the head of Crimea, also published footage from the purported crash site of the downed drone, showing an impact in an open field.

Unofficial social media channels in Crimea said that a loud explosion was heard in the center of nearby Simferopol.

CNN also reported earlier that social media videos and posts indicate an explosion or fire at or near a Russian military airfield in Crimea.

Sergey Aksyonov, the Russian-appointed head of Crimea, said on his Telegram channel earlier that a "UAV [drone] was shot down in the Simferopol region" and that there "were no casualties or damage."

There has been no official comment from the Ukrainian side.

CNN's Tim Lister and Josh Pennington contributed to this report.

12:56 p.m. ET, March 29, 2023

Spain’s first shipment of Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine will be sent after Easter, Spanish defense minister says

From CNN’s Alex Hardie

Spain’s first shipment of six Leopard 2A4 tanks to Ukraine will be sent after the Easter holiday on April 9, Spanish Defense Minister Margarita Robles said on Wednesday.

Addressing Spanish lawmakers, Robles said that the battle tanks — which she said had not been used since the 1990s — have been repaired and are currently being tested in Córdoba in the south of Spain. 

The Spanish defense ministry had previously said that the six tanks would be shipped to Ukraine by the end of this week.  

Spain first announced it would send Leopard tanks to Ukraine in February, the day before Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez made a surprise visit to Kyiv. 

Robles said that a further four Leopard 2A4 tanks would be repaired and sent to Ukraine “in the near future.”

The shipment of these tanks will allow Spain “to continue helping the Ukrainian people … so that they can defend themselves against an absolutely unjust attack,” she said. 

“This support is essential for Ukraine,” Robles added.