March 15, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Eric Levenson, Meg Wagner, Helen Regan, Adam Renton, Ben Church, Jeevan Ravindran, Maureen Chowdhury, Melissa Macaya and Jason Kurtz, CNN

Updated 11:12 a.m. ET, March 16, 2022
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2:34 p.m. ET, March 15, 2022

Ukrainian President Zelensky says NATO's Article 5 "has never been as weak as it is now" 

From CNN's Mariya Knight and Maija Ehlinger

In an address on Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky reiterated his call to close Ukrainian airspace after a night of air alarms heard "almost all over" the country. 

"Each of the more than 800 Russian missiles that have hit our country is an answer to a long-standing question about NATO — whether the doors of the alliance are really open for Ukraine," Zelensky said while speaking from his office Tuesday afternoon. "If they were open, if it was honest, we would not have to convince the alliance for 20 days to close the skies over Ukraine, to close from the death being brought by the Russian Air Force. But ...they don't hear or don't want to hear us yet."

He went on to call out NATO's Article 5, the principle of collective defense, "weak" as the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues. 

"Some states of alliance have intimidated themselves, saying that they can't answer. That they cannot collide with Russian missiles and planes in the Ukrainian sky. Because this, they say, will lead to escalation, will lead to the Third World War. … And what will they say if Russia goes further to Europe, attacking other countries? I am sure the same thing they say to Ukraine. Article 5 of the NATO treaty has never been as weak as it is now. This is just our opinion," he said.

Some background: Article 5 is the principle that an attack on one member of NATO is an attack on all members. It's been a cornerstone of the 30-member alliance since it was founded in 1949 as a counterweight to the Soviet Union.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said on Tuesday that there will be an extraordinary summit on March 24 in Brussels to “address Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, our strong support for Ukraine, and further strengthening NATO’s deterrence & defense.” US President Joe Biden announced he will travel to Brussels for the meeting. 

Zelensky added that evacuation corridors from the cities of Sumy, Trostyanets, Lebedyn, Shostka and Konotop were "partially opened today," but Russian forces "did not stop the shelling and disrupted the work of humanitarian corridors in the Kyiv region." 

2:42 p.m. ET, March 15, 2022

Despite's Zelensky's requests, White House says it still opposes instituting a no-fly zone over Ukraine

From CNN's DJ Judd

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Tuesday that despite repeated requests from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, the White House still does not support instituting a no-fly zone over Ukraine or supplying the Ukrainian Air Force with new fighter aircrafts.

“I would note that [the Pentagon] said that adding aircrafts to the Ukrainian inventory is not likely to significantly change the effectiveness of the Ukrainian Air Force, relative to Russian capabilities,” Psaki told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins during Tuesday’s press briefing. “And the assessment was that the transfer of these planes may be mistaken as escalatory, as we said, and could result in a significant Russian reaction, but that is the risk assessment that was done, that risk assessment hasn’t changed.”

On the topic of a no-fly zone, Psaki said Biden “has to look at decisions that are made through the prism of what is in our national security interests and global security interests, and he continues to believe that a no-fly zone would be escalatory, could prompt a war with Russia.” 

“I don't believe there's a lot of advocates calling for that at this point in time from Capitol Hill, but we certainly understand and recognize that is still a call from President Zelensky,” she added.

Zelensky is scheduled to virtually address a joint session of Congress on Wednesday. In remarks Tuesday to Canada’s House of Commons, the Ukrainian president requested further military assistance and urged Canada to support closing Ukraine’s airspace from Russian military aircrafts.

“I would say that without knowing what he's going to say tomorrow, we certainly are familiar with what the asks have been,” Psaki acknowledged Tuesday. “We have provided our own assessment of what does make sense and doesn't make sense."

2:10 p.m. ET, March 15, 2022

White House won't say whether Biden will travel to Poland or meet with Zelensky in Europe next week

From CNN's DJ Judd

White House press secretary Jen Psaki arrives for a press briefing on March 15.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki arrives for a press briefing on March 15. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

White House press secretary Jen Psaki declined to say if US President Joe Biden will travel to Poland, as has been reported by some outlets, when he visits Europe for a NATO summit next Thursday

“We're still working through the final details of the trip and what it may look like, but I don't have any more details at this point in time,” Psaki told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins during Tuesday’s White House press briefing. She said the President’s objective “is to meet, in person, face-to-face with his European counterparts, and talk about and assess where we are at this point in the conflict, in the invasion of Ukraine by Russia."

“We've been incredibly aligned to date — that doesn't happen by accident," she added. "The President's a big believer in face-to-face diplomacy, so it's an opportunity to do exactly that."

Psaki declined to detail if Biden would meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, saying there’s “nothing on the table at this point in time.”

“But the real focus right now is to meet with NATO partners in Brussels. If there are additional steps, we'll share all those details with all of you," she said.

2:14 p.m. ET, March 15, 2022

"I'm angry my home was snatched from me": Nigerian student describes harrowing escape from Ukraine

From CNN's Zain Asher, Stephanie Busari, and Nimi Princewill

As the war in Ukraine rages on, two Nigerian students who have since returned home after fleeing Russia’s invasion of the country have described their traumatic escape.

Adetomiwa Adeniyi, 24, and Amamchim Steve-Ajufo, 17, were both studying medicine in Ukraine before Russian troops invaded. The Nigerian government has been evacuating its citizens escaping the war in Ukraine, and more than 1,500 of them have been flown back home, according to the authorities.

Adeniyi and Steve-Ajufo were among Nigerian students recently evacuated by the government.

The pair crossed into neighboring Romania through the Ukrainian border. The experience, they said, was harrowing and unfamiliar.

“There were three lines: one seemingly for the Ukrainians, one for the Indians, and one for Africans. I wondered why it was like that since we were all trying to get out,” Adeniyi told CNN’s Zain Asher.

“If you were Ukrainian…or white, it was almost as though you had a fast track to the gate (of the border to Romania). I lost the hope that I’ll be able to cross,” he added.

Several people CNN spoke with in recent days — mainly African and Indian students schooling in Ukraine — complained of difficulty crossing the Ukraine border to bordering nations.

Others said they had experienced racist treatment by Ukrainian security forces and border officials who reportedly prioritized Ukrainian refugees and “showed prejudice against foreign students.”

Steve-Ajufo said she was ordered back to the queue meant for Africans by Ukrainian border officials when she was seen standing among Ukrainians.

“I accidentally went to the Ukrainian line and instantly I was told to return to my side. I cried a whole lot. The border officials kept screaming ‘go back, go back!.’ I was so tired and cold, and I did not understand what was going on. I wanted to give up several times but I kept reminding myself of my mum,” the 17-year-old medical student said.

Adeniyi and Steve-Ajufo were eventually able to cross into the Romanian capital of Bucharest, where they were flown back to Nigeria in a chartered flight provided by the Nigerian government.

The young Nigerian students, however, told CNN that Ukraine had become their home, and they were devastated to leave the Eastern European country now under siege by Russian forces.

“It (Ukraine) is my home. I’ve almost spent six years there,” Adeniyi told CNN.

According to Steve-Ajufo, her home (Ukraine) has been “snatched” from her.

“It breaks my heart," she says. "Anytime I think about it or see news that somewhere else (in Ukraine) has been bombed or someone else has died, I’m angry that my home was snatched from me. I’m traumatized,” she told CNN.

Ukraine is home to many foreign students who opt to study there because it is more affordable than other western nations. The country also has a strong reputation for medical courses.

Around 4,000 Nigerian students study in Ukraine with most of them studying medicine, according to the Nigerian President’s office.

Watch more of their story here.

2:02 p.m. ET, March 15, 2022

Russia imposes sanctions on US President Joe Biden, his son and other US officials

From CNN's Sarah Dean

US President Joe Biden exits the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, on March 11.
US President Joe Biden exits the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, on March 11. (Al Drago/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Russia has imposed sanctions against US President Joe Biden, his son, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, other US officials, and “individuals associated with them,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.

“In response to a series of unprecedented sanctions prohibiting, among other things, entry into the United States for top officials of the Russian Federation, from March 15 of this year, the Russian 'stop list' includes on the basis of reciprocity President J. Biden, Secretary of State A. Blinken, Secretary of Defense L. Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff M. Milley, as well as a number of department heads and prominent US figures,” the statement read.

The statement went on to explain that this retaliation step was “an inevitable consequence of the extremely Russophobic course taken by the current US Administration, which, in a desperate attempt to maintain American hegemony, has relied, discarding all decency, on the frontal constricting of Russia.”

“At the same time, we do not refuse to maintain official relations if they meet our national interests, and, if necessary, we will solve problems arising from the status of persons who appear on the 'black list' in order to organize high-level contacts,” the statement continues.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Tuesday addressed Russia’s recent sanctions against top US officials, suggesting the restrictions will not have much of an impact on their intended targets. 

“(I)t won’t surprise any of you that none of us are planning tourist trips to Russia, none of us have bank accounts that we won’t be able to access, so we will forge ahead,” Psaki told reporters during the White House press briefing when asked about the sanctions’ impact.  

Psaki also noted that Russia’s statement on the sanctions omitted that “President Biden is a ‘Junior,’” joking that “they may have sanctioned his dad, may he rest in peace.”

Here is a list of people included in Russia’s “stop list”:

  • US President Joe Biden
  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken
  • Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin
  • Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley
  • National security adviser Jacob Sullivan
  • CIA Director William Burns
  • White House press secretary Jen Psaki
  • Daleep Singh, Biden's deputy national security adviser for international economics
  • United States Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power
  • President Biden's son Hunter Biden
  • Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
  • Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo
  • Reta Jo Lewis, president and chairman of the board of directors of the Export-Import Bank

The statement announces more sanctions will follow to expand the list by including “top US officials, military officials, lawmakers, businessmen, experts, and media people who are Russophobic or contribute to inciting hatred towards Russia and the introduction of restrictive measures.”

Russian government and its banking and other institutions will collectively carry out these sanctions, it added.

1:56 p.m. ET, March 15, 2022

Russia withdraws from Council of Europe

From CNN staff

Russia will withdraw from the Council of Europe, a human rights watchdog based in Strasbourg, France, as of March 15, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.

The Council of Europe, whose brief is to uphold human rights and the rule of law and is separate from the European Union, had suspended Russia's membership on Feb. 25, the day after it invaded Ukraine.

The Russian foreign ministry's statement noted this suspension in its reasoning and claimed that the NATO and EU members are turning the Council of Europe "into an instrument of anti-Russian policy."

On March 15, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Marija Pejčinović Burić, was given a notice of the withdrawal, the statement added.

1:45 p.m. ET, March 15, 2022

Russian journalist who protested Ukraine war on live TV says she was held for questioning for over 14 hours

From CNN's Lindsay Isaac

Russian journalist Marina Ovsyannikova, who held an anti-war protest on live state TV, told media she was questioned by authorities for over 14 hours and wasn’t allowed legal counsel.

Ovsyannikova was found guilty on Tuesday of an administrative offense by a Moscow court for a video statement that called for Russians to protest.

She had recorded it prior to appearing with an anti-war poster on Channel One.

“Those were indeed very difficult days of my life. I literally spent two days with no sleep. The questioning lasted over 14 hours, I wasn’t allowed to contact my relatives or friends, I wasn’t provided with any legal assistance. So I am in quite a difficult position,” Ovsyannikova told the media following a court hearing.

1:42 p.m. ET, March 15, 2022

Mariupol deputy mayor says Russian troops are destroying his city

Sergei Orlov, deputy mayor of Mariupol, said Russian forces are "destroying" the besieged Ukrainian city and that patients in a hospital were used as captives.

"There are a lot of fights on our streets, and the situation yesterday was terrible," he told CNN's Bianna Golodryga.

"They're destroying the city. For example, yesterday, we counted 22 aircraft which were bombing our city, and at least 100 bombs they used to bomb our city. The damage is awful," he said.

Orlov said a hospital in the city was overtaken by Russian troops, who used doctors and patients as captives, which he labeled a "war crime."

"The biggest hospital in the 17th district of our cities is captured by Russian troops and the Russian army used doctors and patients as hostages in this building. We do not have any access to them," he said.

A Ukrainian official has also accused Russian troops of holding people captive at the hospital on Tuesday. Pavlo Kyrylenko, the head of Donetsk regional administration, said doctors and patients were being held against their will in the Mariupol regional intensive care hospital, also referred to as Hospital No. 2.  

While 2,000 cars were able to get out of Mariupol on Tuesday, according to the city council, Orlov said between 350,000-400,000 people are still in the city.

A large convoy of humanitarian aid that was supposed to arrive on Sunday had still not reached the city as of Tuesday morning, according to officials.

There are shortages of water and food in the city, Orlov said.

View drone video of the destruction in Mariupol here:

1:35 p.m. ET, March 15, 2022

Biden will meet with NATO leaders in Brussels next week and attend European Council summit, White House says

From CNN's Kevin Liptak, Betsy Klein and Kaitlan Collins

US President Joe Biden is set to travel to Europe next week for an extraordinary meeting and show of US support for Ukraine, the White House has confirmed. 

Biden will join NATO world leaders in person in Brussels, Belgium, next Thursday, March 24. 

 The US mission to NATO shared the news on Twitter earlier on Tuesday.

“The President will travel to Brussels, Belgium, later this month, where he will join the extraordinary NATO Summit on March 24 to discuss ongoing deterrence and defense efforts in response to Russia's unprovoked and unjustified attack on Ukraine, as well as to refer reaffirm our ironclad commitment to our NATO allies,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters at Tuesday’s press briefing, confirming the tweet from NATO. 

Psaki continued, “He will also join a scheduled European Council summit to discuss our shared concerns about Ukraine, including transatlantic efforts to impose economic costs on Russia, provide humanitarian support to those affected by the violence and address other challenges related to the conflict.”

The visit will mark a quickly-arranged and critical meeting with key allies amid Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine as NATO attempts to curb Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ongoing aggression. 

Earlier, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said he had convened a leaders summit.

“I have convened an extraordinary Summit on 24 March at #NATO HQ. We will address #Russia’s invasion of #Ukraine, our strong support for Ukraine, and further strengthening NATO’s deterrence & defence. At this critical time, North America & Europe must continue to stand together,” Stoltenberg said on Twitter.

The trip follows a visit to Europe last week by US Vice President Kamala Harris. 

CNN's Lindsay Isaac contributed reporting to this post.