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March 16, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

Biden calls Putin a war criminal

What we covered

  • Heavy bombing Wednesday struck a theater in the besieged city of Mariupol where hundreds of people were sheltering, Ukrainian officials said.
  • President Volodymyr Zelensky called for a humanitarian no-fly zone over Ukraine in a virtual address to US Congress as Russian forces inch toward Kyiv, with intensified fighting around the capital. US President Joe Biden pledged an extra $800 million in security aid for Ukraine after Zelensky challenged him to be “the leader of peace.”
  • Zelensky said Russia’s negotiating position in talks with Ukraine was becoming “more realistic,” but he stressed the need for his country to “keep fighting.”
  • A senior adviser to Zelensky claimed the Ukrainian army is beginning to counterstrike Russian forces in a number of directions.  
  • Want to help? Learn how to support humanitarian efforts in Ukraine here. 
  • Having connection issues? Bookmark CNN’s lite site for fast connectivity.
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Zelensky says evacuation corridors didn't work Wednesday

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said evacuation corridors did not work Wednesday as the Russian military did not stop shelling.

“We are ready to take people out and send humanitarian aid. But we can’t expose people to shelling on the road,” he said in a video message posted to Facebook early Thursday.

Zelenksy said residents who previously escaped from the besieged southeastern city of Mariupol are being moved to safer areas.

“We are taking away Mariupol residents who managed to escape to Berdyansk. We are taking them to Zaporizhzhia. In total, more than 6,000 Mariupol residents were transported in one day, more than 2,000 of them are children,” he said.

However, Zelensky said the Russian military tried to disrupt that movement too, firing on the section of road between Vasylivka and Kamyanske in the Zaporizhzhia region. Five Ukrainians were injured, two of them children, he said.

In the northern city of Chernihiv, Russian forces fired at civilians who were standing in line for bread, killing 10 people, Zelensky added.

Talks continue: The President said if Russia’s war against Ukraine continues, “the mothers of Russia will lose more children than in the Afghan and Chechen wars combined.”

Zelensky said negotiations with Russia are ongoing and that his priorities in the talks are clear: “the end of the war, security guarantees, sovereignty, restoration of territorial integrity, real guarantees for our country, real protection for our country.”

Germany speech: Zelensky is due to address the German Parliament Thursday and said he will “continue to fight for even greater support for Ukraine, for even greater pressure on Russia.” It comes after he told the US Congress “we need you right now” in a historic speech that invoked tragedies in American history like the Pearl Harbor attack and 9/11.

Russia resorting to older weapons more likely to cause civilian casualties, UK Defense Ministry says

Russia is resorting to the use of older, less precise weapons that are less militarily effective and more likely to result in civilian casualties, according to the UK Ministry of Defence’s latest intelligence update Thursday.

Due to the delays in “achieving their objectives and failure to control Ukrainian airspace,” the ministry said Russia has probably “expended far more stand-off air launched weapons than originally planned,” leading them to resort to weapons that are less militarily effective.

“Stand-off air launched weapons” are munitions fired from aircraft that are not in close range of a target.

Firing from a distance allows for the delivery of the weapon while minimizing possible harm to the aircrew from retaliatory attack.

Ukrainians are making homemade body armor to send to frontline troops

The entire operation is led by volunteers who use donated supplies.

Irina Protchenko, 68, sings the Ukrainian anthem while steadily working at her sewing machine in a small apartment in central Ukraine.

She retired not long ago from a factory in the outskirts of Kyiv where she spent 50 years tailoring men’s suits and coats for clothing giants such as Hugo Boss and Lacoste.

Now, she’s sewing flak jackets and balaclavas with her children and grandchildren for Ukrainians traveling east to protect their country from Russian invasion.

“The biggest reward will be if one of these flak jackets saves the life of one of our defenders,” Protchenko said. With each finished vest, she counts it as one more victory for Ukraine.

The entire operation relies on donations, which have come in the form of fabric, thread and some monetary donations. The armor plates that go inside the flak jackets come from scrap metal salvaged from old cars by a local mechanic and then welded together by an engineer.

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grandmother sews flak jackets watson dnt 3/16

Ukrainians are making homemade body armor to send to frontline troops

Satellite images show significant damage from military strikes across Ukraine

Destroyed buildings are seen in Volnovakha, Ukraine.

The constant bombardment of military strikes is causing significant destruction across Ukraine, as seen on new Maxar Technologies satellite images. 

Volnovakha: In southeastern Ukraine, about 35 miles (55 kilometers) north of Mariupol, much of the small city of Volnovakha lies in ruins — destroyed by military strikes. Where some buildings once stood, only scorched structures remain.

On Wednesday, Russian state media interviewed Russian-backed separatists from the Donbas region in the city, who claimed they had taken control of it from Ukrainian forces.

The roof of the city’s train station looks like it’s been punched in. Buildings northeast of it have their roofs knocked in too. The only evidence that some buildings ever stood near the central square is their charred walls.

On the northern side of Volnovakha, a church and an apartment complex have been devastated. Debris is seen covering the ground around them.

At a roundabout toward the northwestern side of town, nearly all of the buildings seen in the satellite image have sustained significant damage.

Self-propelled howitzers seen near Chernihiv, Ukraine.

Chernihiv: In a field about 10 miles (17 kilometers) northeast of Chernihiv in northern Ukraine, more than a dozen Russian self-propelled howitzers and multiple rocket launch systems are seen. 

Homes are seen burning in Chernihiv, Ukraine.

In eastern Chernihiv, a number of homes surrounding a roundabout are seen on fire. 

Chernihiv Stadium has sustained significant damage.

In another satellite image, multipurpose sports venue Chernihiv Stadium has sustained massive damage to the stands and a huge impact crater is seen in the center of the field. 

Artillery impact craters near a residential area in Kharkiv, Ukraine.

Kharkiv: In northeast Ukraine, a number of houses near a large apartment complex are on fire in central Kharkiv. Further north of the city, a snow-covered field near the airfield at the Kharkiv Aircraft Manufacturing Company is dotted with impact craters.  

Zelensky says Russia has "already crossed all the red lines"

Russia has already crossed “all the red lines,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt Wednesday evening.

When asked by Holt if a chemical attack by Russia would be a red line that would prompt the United States to become more actively involved in combat, Zelensky said, “I believe that Russians have already crossed all the red lines when they started shelling civilians.”

Russia has already killed more than 100 children, Zelensky said, adding: “I don’t understand the meaning of red lines. What else should we wait for? For letting Russians kill 200, 300 or 400 children?”

The President said Ukrainians are “unconquerable” and if the Russians were to take over Kyiv, they would not be able to conquer the people of Ukraine.

“The heart will always remain with Ukrainians,” he said.

Zelensky also said negotiations between Ukraine and Russia are “still in progress” but are “difficult.” 

Zelensky adviser claims Ukrainian forces are starting to counterstrike Russian invaders

A senior adviser to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday claimed the Ukrainian army is beginning to counterstrike Russian forces in a number of directions. 

In a statement released on Telegram, adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said the “Ukrainian army is beginning a counterstrike on a number of active directions. This fact is drastically changing the dispositions of the sides.”
The “Russian administration is trying to find allies whose soldiers would be ready to die on the field,” Podolyak said.

Some context: According to a UK Ministry of Defence intelligence assessment on Tuesday, the Russian military is calling up reinforcements from across the country as it faces “continued personnel losses” in Ukraine.

The assessment said Russia was redeploying forces from as far away as “its Eastern Military District, Pacific Fleet and Armenia” and was increasingly tapping other sources of fighters such as “private military companies, Syrians, and other mercenaries.”

Melitopol mayor was freed in a prisoner swap, Ukrainian officials say

Melitopol Mayor Ivan Fedorov was detained by Russian forces for five days.

Melitopol Mayor Ivan Fedorov was freed from detention by Russian forces as part of a prisoner swap, Ukraine’s Center for Strategic Communications and Information Security said in a statement Thursday.

Fedorov was exchanged for nine Russian soldiers, whom the Ukrainians say are “conscripts,” born between 2002 and 2003, the statement said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied sending conscripts to Ukraine. But Russia’s Ministry of Defense previously confirmed that conscripts have been involved in the invasion and that some were taken prisoner by Ukrainian forces.

Fedorov was taken to Luhansk after his detention and held for five days. He was allegedly advised to cooperate with Russia, which he declined to do, according to Ukraine’s Center for Strategic Communications and Information Security.

“We have finally managed to release the mayor of Melitopol from captivity. Our Ukrainian Melitopol, which did not submit and will not submit to the occupiers,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video message posted to Facebook early Thursday.
“Ivan Fedorov is free. I talked to him today. The Russian military abducted him on March 11, trying to persuade him to collaborate. But our man withstood. He did not give up. Just as we all endure. You all. Just as we all do not give up. Because we are Ukrainians. And we always protect our own.”

Earlier, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, a senior official in Zelensky’s office, said on his Telegram channel that Fedorov was rescued in a “special operation.”

It's the middle of the night in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know

US President Joe Biden called President Vladimir Putin a “war criminal” on Wednesday as Russia intensifies its attack on Ukraine. “I think he is a war criminal,” Biden said. 

Biden’s designation reflects a shift from the administration’s previous stance. Officials, including Biden, had previously stopped short of saying war crimes were being committed in Ukraine, citing ongoing investigations into whether that term could be used.

Here’s a catch up of some of the latest developments that have unfolded:

  • Fate of hundreds sheltering in bombed theater in Mariupol is “unknown”: A theater where hundreds of people had taken shelter in Mariupol was bombed on Wednesday, according to local authorities, as hundreds of thousands of people remain trapped in the coastal Ukrainian city that has been encircled for weeks by Russian forces. Mariupol City Council, who shared an image of the destroyed building, said Russian forces had “purposefully and cynically destroyed the Drama Theater in the heart of Mariupol.” Pavlo Kyrylenko, the head of Donetsk regional administration which includes Mariupol, said “several hundred Mariupol residents were hiding in the Drama Theater. Their fate is unknown, as the entrance to the bomb shelter is blocked by rubble,” he said.
  • “Children” was spelled out on two sides of Mariupol theater before bombing, satellite images show: New satellite images from Maxar Technologies show that on Monday, the word “children” was spelled out outside the theater that the Mariupol City Council said was bombed on Wednesday. The City Council said that on Wednesday that Russian forces had “purposefully and cynically destroyed the Drama Theater in the heart of Mariupol. The plane dropped a bomb on a building where hundreds of peaceful Mariupol residents were hiding.”
  • At least 103 children killed in Ukraine so far, President Zelensky says: At least 103 children have been killed in Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video message posted to Facebook on Wednesday. Speaking before addressing the US Congress, but released on Facebook afterward, Zelensky said in the video, “Last night, Russian troops continued shelling Ukrainian territory, our peaceful cities, our citizens. Kharkiv and the region … They bombed the coast of the Odesa region. They fired missiles at Kyiv. Hit civilian infrastructure of Zaporizhzhia.” He added, “As of this morning, 103 children have been killed.”
  • NATO “not as essential” as no-fly zone, Ukraine’s deputy PM tells CNN: Olha Stefanishyna, deputy prime minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration of Ukraine, told CNN on Wednesday that President Volodymyr Zelensky’s address to the US Congress didn’t mention NATO because that is “not as essential” as a no-fly zone and weapons — and political aspirations will have to go on hold for now. CNN’s Sam Kiley spoke to Stefanishyna remotely from a secure hidden location in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv on Wednesday, following Zelensky’s address.

US to provide Switchblade drones to Ukraine, sources say

A product image of AeroVironment's Switchblade 600 drone.

President Joe Biden announced on Wednesday additional US assistance to Ukraine including drones, and two sources familiar with the matter tell CNN that, specifically, the US will be providing Switchblade drones, which are small, portable so-called kamikaze or suicide drones that carry a warhead and detonate on impact.

The Switchblade 300 and the larger Switchblade 600 are produced by AeroVironment. 

The smaller Switchblade 300 can hit a target up to 6 miles away, according to specifications provided by the company, while the larger Switchblade 600 can strike more than 20 miles away. Both systems can be set up and launched within minutes.

CNN reported earlier today that the Switchblade drones were on Ukraine’s wish list of requested military and technological assistance they are still requesting to share with the US government, according to two sources familiar with the list. 

These weapons were added to the list after the Ukrainians consulted with congressional partners over the weekend on a draft of the list. The US would have to provide training for the Ukrainian troops if the US gives them those weapons, but the sources familiar with the list said that could be done remotely.

The company had no comment on the provision of the drones to Ukraine, though a statement on AeroVironment’s website says the company “stands with the people of Ukraine and all of NATO.” 

Ukraine's rail chief reveals how EU leaders got in and out of Kyiv in 24 hours, despite a "naïve" move

Oleksandr Kamyshin, chairman of Ukrainian Railways

The chairman of Ukrainian Railways has said that the Polish, Czech and Slovenian Prime Ministers, who traveled by train for a Tuesday meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv, took a “strong step” to show support for his war-torn country, albeit a “naïve” one.

“That was really important for us, even if it was naïve,” Oleksandr Kamyshin told CNN Wednesday.

Kamyshin, the national rail system’s top executive, called the move naïve because the delegation of EU leaders announced their travel plans while they were still en route to the capital.

Kyiv has been terrorized by a campaign of Russian airstrikes that have hit residential areas in recent days, including several apartment blocks — prompting a 35-hour curfew that began Tuesday evening.

Ukraine’s rail system is not immune to those strikes. But Tuesday morning, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced that he, along with Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša and Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala, were heading toward Kyiv.

“I was keeping their secret, but when I saw something was published online, it surprised me. I didn’t understand that,” Kamyshin told CNN.

While en route, Morawiecki wrote in a Facebook post: “It is our duty to be where history is being made. Because it’s not about us, it’s about the future of our children who deserve to live in a world free from tyranny.”

Fiala also tweeted that the “purpose of the visit is to confirm the unequivocal support of the entire European Union for the sovereignty and independence of Ukraine.”

Security concerns have been at the top of the 37-year-old rail executive’s mind ever since the war began.

Kamyshin and his top deputies have spent the last three weeks criss-crossing the country, managing the railway’s 321,000 employees and roughly 1,450 stations on the move. He believes that railway management is a target for Russian bombs, so staying in near-constant motion is a matter of personal safety.

“Even to my kids I don’t tell them, ‘Hey don’t reveal your location,’ because everyone should understand that it’s war. I can’t instruct prime ministers,” he said.

According to Kamyshin, it was the Prime Ministers’ idea to travel to Kyiv by train, believing it was the safest mode of transport.

He agreed, despite a train station in Zaporizhzhia being hit Wednesday morning by a Russian bomb, shortly after their visit, which left a crater-sized hole on the railway tracks, and damaged the rail station.

“Any smart person would choose the train over a car these days,” he said. “Even with bombing everywhere, stations and trains are the safest places in the country right now.”

Kamyshin said the delegation traveled on a special train with four of the railway’s newest sleeper cars. The only other passengers were part of the delegation or security.

“It was a regular, normal train, with normal rail cars,” he said. “So [the delegation’s route] was not more special than the others. … It was the same track that normal passengers take as well.”

The journey took around eight or nine hours, he said. The leaders spent a few hours with Zelensky and his team before taking an overnight train back to Poland.

“For me, it’s the best assessment of the railways if foreign prime ministers chose railways instead of a car or a helicopter, or any other option,” he said.

Zelensky: At least 103 children killed in Ukraine so far 

At least 103 children have been killed in Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video message posted to Facebook on Wednesday. 

Speaking before addressing the US Congress, but released on Facebook afterward, Zelensky said in the video, “Last night, Russian troops continued shelling Ukrainian territory, our peaceful cities, our citizens. Kharkiv and the region … They bombed the coast of the Odesa region. They fired missiles at Kyiv. Hit civilian infrastructure of Zaporizhzhia.”

He added, “As of this morning, 103 children have been killed.”

Zelensky said Russian troops have caused “hundreds of times more damage” in Ukraine than on Donbas in eight years of war. The Ukrainian president went on to say a total of 400 educational institutions have been destroyed in Ukraine to date, with 119 being in the Donetsk region.

Zelensky also said he spoke with the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, and that the Prosecutor’s Office of Ukraine and law enforcement agencies have already started working to “bring the invaders to justice.”

“The invaders will be responsible for all war crimes against Ukrainians,” he said.

Canada prohibits Belarusian aircrafts from entering country's airspace in response to their support of Russia

Belarusian aircraft are prohibited from entering Canadian airspace in response to their support of Russia’s unprovoked aggression in Ukraine, according to a tweet from Canadian Transport Minister Omar Algahabra.

“Effective immediately, and until further notice, all aircraft directly or indirectly owned, registered, chartered, leased, operated or controlled by a citizen of either the Russian Federation or of Belarus, are prohibited from entering, exiting or overflying Canadian airspace,” Transport Canada tweeted.

The restriction is part of a number of economic measures from Canada against direct supporters of Russia. 

“We have issued a revised #NOTAM (notice to airman) to inform air operators of the new restriction,” Transport Canada tweeted. “We will not hesitate to take immediate enforcement action should non-compliance with the restrictions be confirmed.”