March 5, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Jessie Yeung, Steve George, Laura Smith-Spark, Angela Dewan, Adrienne Vogt, Joe Ruiz and Alaa Elassar, CNN

Updated 12:01 a.m. ET, March 6, 2022
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8:46 a.m. ET, March 5, 2022

More than 1.2 million refugees have left Ukraine, United Nations says

As of Thursday, more than 1.2 million refugees have left Ukraine since the Russian invasion began on February 24, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Of the 1,209,976 refugees who have fled, more than half crossed into Poland.

Others went to other neighboring countries including Hungary, Slovakia, Moldova and Romania.

More than a million left within just the first week, and many more are “on the move both inside and outside the country,” with many internally displaced families, according to UNHCR.

11:59 p.m. ET, March 4, 2022

Russia to deploy up to 1,000 mercenaries to Ukraine as official warns Moscow could “bombard cities into submission”

From CNN's Natasha Bertrand, Oren Liebermann and Barbara Starr

Russia is poised to deploy up to 1,000 more mercenaries to Ukraine in the coming days and weeks, as a senior Western intelligence official warned Moscow could "bombard cities into submission," an escalation that could lead to significant civilian casualties.

The US has already seen "some indications" that Russian mercenaries may be involved in Moscow's invasion of Ukraine "in some places," a senior defense official said earlier this week, but it wasn't clear exactly where or in what numbers.

"We've seen some indications that they're being employed," the official said.

Now, a US official tells CNN that Russia is planning to deploy up to 1,000 more mercenaries in the near future.

Stalled forces: Some Russian forces have struggled with morale issues and setbacks on the battlefield, including a massive convoy north of Kyiv that has remained largely stalled for the past several days.

The mercenary forces would fortify the flagging units, the official said, as Russia's invasion of Ukraine enters its second weekend.

The official added that the US believes the mercenaries already in Ukraine have "performed poorly when facing the stiffer-than-expected resistance from the Ukrainians," and that as many as 200 such mercenaries have already been killed in the war as of late February.

Meanwhile, US and Western officials expect Russia to increase the pace and strength of its strikes on key Ukrainian population centers, including the capital Kyiv.

An intensifying assault: Russia now seems prepared to “bombard cities into submission,” one senior western intelligence official said on Friday, which could include a significant increase in the number of civilian casualties. 

“It’s a very crude approach,” the official said. “The heavier weapons are not just heavier in the weight, they’re also heavier in terms of the damage that they can inflict. And they’re far less discriminant.”

Other officials have noticed a shift in Russian strategy from military targets to civilians, with more attacks becoming focused on population centers.

"The days to come are likely to be worse, with more death, more suffering, and more destruction, as the Russian armed forces bring in heavier weaponry and continue their attacks across the country," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Friday. 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken echoed the sentiment during a press conference in Brussels Friday where he is meeting with European allies.

“The Kremlin’s attacks are inflicting an ever-increasing toll on civilians there. Hundreds if not thousands of Ukrainians have been killed, many more wounded, as have citizens of other countries. More than a million refugees have fled Ukraine to neighboring countries. Millions of people across Ukraine are trapped in increasingly dire conditions as Russia destroys more critical infrastructure,” Blinken said.
11:59 p.m. ET, March 4, 2022

The US flew B-52 bombers over NATO's eastern flank on Friday

From CNN's Oren Liebermann

The United States flew B-52 Stratofortress bombers over NATO’s eastern flank on Friday, exercising with the German and Romanian militaries in a sign of unity as the Russian invasion of Ukraine enters its second weekend. 

The largest strategic bombers in the US Air Force took off from RAF Fairford, a Royal Air Force station in England, and conducted close air support and integration mission training, according to a statement from US Air Forces in Europe.

The B-52s then flew to Romania, where they conducted more close air support training as part of the bomber task force (BTF) missions.

The flight over Romanian airspace put the bombers right on the edge of NATO countries, adjacent to Ukrainian air space, where the Russian air force is trying to establish air supremacy.

“BTF rotations give us a critical opportunity to integrate and train with our allies and partners, especially during this difficult time,” said Gen. Jeff Harrigian, commander of United States Air Forces in Europe, Air Forces Africa, and NATO’s Allied Air Command.

“Training together ensures the defensive power of NATO remains unmatched,” he said.
8:44 a.m. ET, March 5, 2022

Russian forces are approaching Ukraine's second-largest nuclear facility, US ambassador to the UN says

From CNN's Masha Angelova and Hira Humayun

Russian forces are approaching Ukraine’s second-largest nuclear facility, US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said at the UN on Friday.

“Russian forces are now 20 miles, and closing, from Ukraine’s second-largest nuclear facility,” she said without naming the plant.

According to Energoatom, the overseeing body of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants, Ukraine’s second-largest nuclear facility — in terms of power generation capacity — is Yuzhnoukrainsk Nuclear Power Station in the Mykolaiv Oblast, in southern Ukraine.

“President Putin must stop this humanitarian catastrophe by ending this war and ceasing these unconscionable attacks against the people of Ukraine,” the ambassador added.

Fire at nuclear plant: Thomas-Greenfield said the imminent danger continues after a disaster was “narrowly avoided” last night, referring to the fire that broke out at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant early Friday local time in Ukraine as a result of Russian forces shelling the facility.

“The international community must be unanimous in demanding Russia’s forces stop their dangerous assault. And as I’ve said before, the people of Ukraine are counting on us and we must not let them down,” she said.

Earlier on Friday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia of "nuclear terror" after Russian troops attacked the nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine.

11:59 p.m. ET, March 4, 2022

Chinese state broadcaster censors call for peace at the Paralympics Opening Ceremony

From CNN’s Yong Xiong and Homero De la Fuente

At the Opening Ceremony of the Paralympic Games in Beijing on Friday, International Paralympic Committee (IPC) president Andrew Parsons called for peace in his speech -- but a large part of his message was censored by Chinese state broadcaster CCTV. 

“Tonight, I want to begin with a message of peace. As the leader of an organization with inclusion at its core, where diversity is celebrated and differences embraced, I am horrified at what is taking place in the world right now,” Parsons said, likely in reference to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

“The 21st century is a time for dialogue and diplomacy, not war and hate,” he added. 

CCTV’s live commentary didn’t translate his description of the events taking place in the world, and most of the speech that followed. It also lowered the volume of Parsons’ speech on the broadcast and paused the sign language interpreters on screen.   

During the Opening Ceremony, Parsons was seen clapping as the 20 athletes competing for Ukraine were introduced. But the scene of Parsons cheering for the Ukraine delegation was also censored, replaced with a wide shot of the stadium by the state broadcaster. 

Some context: Earlier this week, the IPC banned Russian and Belarussian athletes from competing at the Beijing Paralympic Winter Games due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

China has repeatedly refused to call Russia’s unprovoked military attack on Ukraine an “invasion,” instead calling for diplomacy and blaming the United States and NATO for "fueling fire" in the tensions.

This week, a Western intelligence report indicated that Chinese officials in early February requested that senior Russian officials wait until after the Beijing Olympics had finished before beginning an invasion into Ukraine. China responded that the report was “speculations without any basis, and are intended to blame-shift and smear China."