March 16, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Helen Regan, Adam Renton, George Ramsay, Ed Upright and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN

Updated 12:00 a.m. ET, March 17, 2022
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1:50 p.m. ET, March 16, 2022

Theater in Mariupol where hundreds were taking refuge has been bombed, according to city council

From Tim Lister and Olga Voitovych in Lviv, Ukraine

The Drama Theater in Mariupol where officials say hundreds were taking refuge sustained heavy damage in a bombing Wednesday.
The Drama Theater in Mariupol where officials say hundreds were taking refuge sustained heavy damage in a bombing Wednesday. (From Telegram)

The Mariupol City Council has posted an image of the Ukrainian city's theater — where hundreds of people are said to have taken shelter — after it sustained heavy damage in a bombing Wednesday.

CNN has geolocated the image and confirmed it is of the theater. Videos showed a fire raging in the theater's ruins.

The city council said 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."

The council added on its Telegram channel: "It is still impossible to estimate the scale of this horrific and inhumane act, because the city continues to shell residential areas. It is known that after the bombing, the central part of the Drama Theater was destroyed, and the entrance to the bomb shelter in the building was destroyed." 

It said casualty numbers were still being confirmed.

"It is impossible to find words that could describe the level of cruelty and cynicism with which the Russian occupiers are destroying the civilian population of the Ukrainian city by the sea. Women, children, and the elderly remain in the enemy's sights. These are completely unarmed peaceful people," it said.

"We will never forgive and never forget," it added.

Separately, Petro Andriushchenko, an adviser to mayor of Mariupol, said the theater's shelter was "the largest in number and size shelter in the city center."

"According to preliminary data, more than a 1,000 people were hiding there. The number of dead and injured is unknown. The probability of getting there to dismantle the rubble is low due to constant shelling and bombing of the city," he said.

2:49 p.m. ET, March 16, 2022

Here's Ukraine’s actual wish list for assistance, according to sources

From CNN's Kylie Atwood

The Ukrainians put together an extensive list of requested military and technological assistance they are still requesting to share with the US government on Wednesday, according to two sources familiar with the list.

The list is organized based on levels of necessity, ranging from urgent needs to low priority, the sources said. 

Included in the top priority section are: anti-aircraft systems including the S300 and Stinger missiles and launchers, anti-tank weapons, including American-made Javelins, different kinds of artillery ammunition, planes, armored vehicles and helicopters, sources said.

The list also includes highly-advanced US drones — called Switchblade systems — which can be flown remotely and blow up targets miles away. 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 said that could be done remotely. 

Beyond weaponry Ukraine’s asks also include: radar stations, automated control for anti-aircraft systems, radios, medical kits and body armor.

The key is that the Ukrainians need secure communications systems that the Russians cannot get into, the sources said. The US has previously provide Ukraine with that kind of communications technology and is poised to provide more of that support, the officials said.

1:49 p.m. ET, March 16, 2022

Biden announced $800 million more in aid to Ukraine. Here's what is in the package.

US President Joe Biden signs legislative action to provide security aid and support to Ukraine.
US President Joe Biden signs legislative action to provide security aid and support to Ukraine. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

President Biden announced $800 million in additional security assistance to Ukraine during remarks from the White House on Wednesday. This brings the total to $1 billion in aid announced in just the last week.

"The world is united in our support for Ukraine and our determination to make (Russian President Vladimir) Putin pay a very heavy price," Biden said as he made the announcement. "America is leading this effort, together with our allies and partners, providing an enormous level of security and humanitarian assistance that we're adding to today and we're going to continue to do more in the days and weeks ahead."

The package of military assistance will include anti-tank missiles and more of the defensive weapons that the US has already been providing, including Javelin anti-tank and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, officials familiar with the plans said. The assistance, however, will stop short of the no-fly zone or fighter jets that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said are necessary to sustain Ukraine's fight against Russia.

"These are direct transfers of equipment from our Department of Defense to the Ukrainian military to help them as they fight against this invasion. I thank the Congress for appropriating these funds," Biden said.

Biden went on to detail what is in the package and how it will be used.

"This new package, on its own, is going to provide unprecedented assistance to Ukraine. It includes; 800 anti-aircraft systems to make sure the Ukrainian military can continue to stop the plans and helicopters that have been attacking their people and to defend their Ukrainian airspace," Biden continued.

"At the request of President Zelensky, we have identified and are helping Ukraine acquire additional longer-range anti-aircraft systems and ammunitions for those systems. The new assistance package also includes 9,000 anti-armor systems. These are portable... high accuracy shoulder-mounted missiles that Ukrainian forces have been using with great effect to destroy invading tanks and armored vehicles. It will include 7,000 small arms, machine guns, shot guns, grenade launchers to equip the Ukrainians including the brave women and men defending their cities as civilians and they're on the country side as well," Biden said.

Biden added, that the aid will also include drones, "which demonstrates our commitment to sending our must cutting edge systems to Ukraine for its defense."

Biden noted that security assistance will be in partnership with allies.

"And we're not doing this alone. Our allies and partners have stepped up to provide significant shipments of security assistance and will continue to help facilitate these deliveries as well. The United States and our allies and partners are fully committed to surging weapons of assistance to the Ukrainians. More will be coming as we source additional stocks of equipment that we're ready to transfer," he said.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins, Kevin Liptak, Phil Mattingly and Paul LeBlanc contributed reporting to this post.


1:40 p.m. ET, March 16, 2022

Biden pledges to keep up US assistance to Ukraine, warning it "could be a long and difficult battle"


US President Joe Biden warned "this could be a long and difficult battle" after announcing an additional $800 million in security aid for Ukraine.

"The American people will be steadfast in our support [to] the people of Ukraine in the face of Putin's immoral, unethical attacks on civilian populations. We are united in our abhorrence of Putin's depraved onslaught, and we're going to continue to have their backs as they fight for their freedom, their democracy, their very survival," he said in remarks from the White House.

"We're going to give Ukraine the arms to fight and defend themselves through all the difficult days ahead. We're going to continue to mobilize humanitarian relief to support people within Ukraine and those forced to flee Ukraine," Biden said.

He also pledged to keep up sanctions on Russia.

"We will support Ukraine's economy with direct financial assistance. Together with our allies and partners, we will keep up the pressure in Putin's crumbling economy, isolating him on the global stage. That's our goal. Make Putin pay the price, weaken his position while strengthening the hand of the Ukrainians on the battlefield and at the negotiating table," he said.


1:15 p.m. ET, March 16, 2022

Biden says Zelensky was "convincing" and "passionate" in his address to US Congress


US President Joe Biden opened his remarks this afternoon by thanking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for his "passionate message" to Congress earlier today.

"I listened to it in the private residence. He was convincing and it was a significant speech. He speaks for a people who have shown remarkable courage and strength in the face of brutal aggression. Courage and strength that's inspired not only Ukrainians but the entire world," Biden said in remarks from the White House.

Biden went on to say that Russian President Vladimir Putin is "inflicting appalling, appalling devastation on Ukraine" with the bombing of apartment buildings, maternity wards, and hospitals.

Biden's remarks are ongoing.

1:02 p.m. ET, March 16, 2022

NOW: Biden expected to announce an additional $800 million in security assistance for Ukraine 

From CNN's Kaitlan Collins, Kevin Liptak and Paul LeBlanc

US President Joe Biden is speaking at the White House and is expected to announce an additional $800 million in security assistance to Ukraine, a White House official told CNN, bringing the total to $1 billion announced in just the last week.

Biden's remarks come shortly after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appealed to Congress for help directly Wednesday, telling US lawmakers "we need you right now" as he invoked tragedies in American history like the attack on Pearl Harbor and the September 11 terrorist attack.

Zelensky addressed Biden directly in the historic speech, "You are the leader of your grand nation. I wish you to be the leader of the world. Being the leader of the world means to be the leader of peace," he said at the conclusion of his remarks, which were met with a standing ovation from lawmakers.

The package of military assistance Biden is expected to announce will include anti-tank missiles and more of the defensive weapons that the US has already been providing, including Javelin anti-tank and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, officials familiar with the plans said.

The assistance, however, will stop short of the no-fly zone or fighter jets that Zelensky has said are necessary to sustain Ukraine's fight against Russia.

The $800 million in security assistance comes from the massive spending bill the President signed into law on Tuesday, which includes $13.6 billion total in new aid to Ukraine.

CNN's Clare Foran contributed reporting to this post.

Read more about Biden's expected announcement here.

12:48 p.m. ET, March 16, 2022

Journalist who held an anti-war sign on Russian state TV describes how the protest unfolded

From CNN's Charles Riley

The Russian state television journalist who took a dramatic stand against President Vladimir Putin's war in Ukraine during a live broadcast says it was "impossible to stay silent" and that she wants the world to know that many Russians are against the invasion.

Marina Ovsyannikova told CNN's Christiane Amanpour on Wednesday that many Russian journalists see a disconnect between reality and what is presented on the country's television channels, and that even her mother has been "brainwashed" by state propaganda.

"I have been feeling a cognitive dissonance, more and more, between my beliefs and what we say on air," said Ovsyannikova. "The war was the point of no return, when it was simply impossible to stay silent."

On Monday, the network editor appeared behind a news anchor holding a sign that said: "NO WAR." Ovsyannikova told CNN on Wednesday that she was compelled to act by memories of airstrikes during Russia's conflict in Chechnya, where she lived as a young girl.

"I worry about Russian soldiers ... I think they really don't understand why they have to do this, why they [are] fighting," she told Amanpour.

On Tuesday, Ovsyannikova was found guilty by a district court in Moscow of organizing an "unauthorized public event." The "administrative offense" carries a fine of 30,000 rubles (about $280). A lawyer who had formerly been representing Ovsyannikova told CNN that the administrative charge was based solely on a video statement that she recorded prior to appearing with an anti-war poster on Channel One.

The Kremlin has described her actions as "hooliganism," a criminal offense in Russia.

Ovsyannikova told CNN that she initially planned to stand back from the cameras during her protest, but then realized she would need to be close to the news anchor to ensure that her poster was seen by viewers.

She was "afraid until the last minute," she added.

"I decided that I would be able to overcome the guard who stands in front of the studio, and stand behind the host. So I moved very quickly and I passed by the security and showed my poster," said Ovsyannikova.

In the video statement recorded before her public protest, Ovsyannikova blamed Putin for the war.

"What is happening now in Ukraine is a crime, and Russia is the aggressor country, and the responsibility for this aggression lies on the conscience of only one person. This man is Vladimir Putin," Ovsyannikova said.

"Unfortunately, for the past few years, I have been working on Channel One and doing Kremlin propaganda, and now I am very ashamed of it," she said in the video. "It's a shame that I allowed to speak lies from the TV screens, ashamed that I allowed to zombify Russian people."

"I am ashamed that we kept silent in 2014, when all this was just beginning," she says, a reference to Russia's annexation of Crimea.

1:15 p.m. ET, March 16, 2022

US Justice and Treasury Departments launch multilateral Russian oligarch task force

From CNN's Jamie Crawford

US Attorney General Merrick Garland and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen met with counterparts in Europe and Asia today to formally launch a multilateral task force that seeks to take action against the assets of Russian oligarchs.

The task force, which will draw upon the ministries of justice, home or finance in member jurisdiction, will work to “collect and share information to take concrete actions, including sanctions, asset freezing, civil and criminal asset seizure, and criminal prosecution,” the Justice Department said in a release Wednesday.

The effort will combine with the KleptoCapture task force, a new unit within the Justice Department announced by Garland earlier this month to help enforce sanctions against Russian government officials and oligarchs, targeting their yachts, jets, real estate and other assets.

That task force will include prosecutors and federal agents and experts in money laundering, tax enforcement and national security investigations from the FBI, the IRS, the US Marshals Service, and the US Postal Inspection Service, and will be run out of the office of Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco.

12:36 p.m. ET, March 16, 2022

ICC chief prosecutor to CNN: Reasonable grounds to believe war crimes committed in Russia-Ukraine conflict

From CNN's Andrew Carey

In an exclusive interview in Lviv, the chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC) has told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that he has come to Ukraine because he has reasonable grounds to believe that war crimes have been committed in the conflict between Russia and its southern neighbor. 

“The law is clear on this. It is a crime to intentionally target civilians. It is a crime to intentionally target civilian objects. Now, of course, there has to be further investigation. Were those civilian objects being used to launch attacks that make them a legitimate target? But even then, there is no license to use cluster bombs or use disproportionate attacks in concentrated civilian areas. There’s a duty of distinction,” Karim Khan said.   

Since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, there have been numerous incidents of residential buildings being hit by Russian rockets and artillery fire. Among the most deadly was a strike on the city of Chernihiv when Russian fire hit an apartment complex around midday on March 4. Video geolocated by CNN shows at least five explosions during the attack. Emergency services said they had pulled 33 bodies from the rubble of damaged buildings by the early evening. Regional authorities said there were no military facilities nearby, though Russia insists it does not deliberately target civilians. 

In his CNN interview, Khan also said that indictments could be served on anyone regardless of military rank or civilian role.  

“There’s no immunity for any official position … [If] you’re a foot soldier in a civilian area in urban warfare, you don’t have a license to rape or attack children or terrorize. And if you’re a field commander or if you’re a battlefield commander doing aerial strikes, or targeting decisions or you’re a civilian superior, under the Rome statute, there is responsibility,” Khan said. 

More background: US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said last Thursday that actions committed by Russia against the Ukrainian people constitute war crimes, marking the first time a senior US official has directly accused Moscow of war crimes since last month's attack on Ukraine began.

Other Biden administration officials have not gone as far as to declare outright that Russia has committed war crimes — violations of international laws of armed conflict — and instead have pointed to "credible reports" that such crimes have been carried out and their support for investigations into Moscow's actions.

Vice President Kamala Harris on Thursday referenced "atrocities" committed by the Russians and said that the UN should investigate the allegations of Russian war crimes.

CNN's Jennifer Hansler, Sonnet Swire and Jeremy Herb contributed reporting to this post.