March 17, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Helen Regan, Travis Caldwell, Seán Federico-O'Murchú, George Ramsay, Ed Upright, Adrienne Vogt, Maureen Chowdhury, Aditi Sangal and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 12:02 a.m. ET, March 18, 2022
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10:26 p.m. ET, March 16, 2022

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

From CNN's Kostan Nechyporenko in Kyiv and Vasco Cotovio in Lviv

Melitopol Mayor Ivan Fedorov was detained by Russian forces for five days.
Melitopol Mayor Ivan Fedorov was detained by Russian forces for five days. (From Facebook)

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."

9:07 p.m. ET, March 16, 2022

Russia bombs theater where hundreds sought shelter and "children" was written on grounds

From CNN's Tim Lister, Olga Voitovych, Tara John and Paul P. Murphy

Satellite images from Maxar Technologies show that on Monday, the word "children" was spelled out in Russian in two areas outside the theater that was bombed on Wednesday.
Satellite images from Maxar Technologies show that on Monday, the word "children" was spelled out in Russian in two areas outside the theater that was bombed on Wednesday. (Maxar Technologies)

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, which shared an image of the destroyed building, said 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," it said.

CNN has geolocated the image and confirmed it is of the theater in the southeastern port city. The word "children" was spelled out on two sides of the theater before it was bombed, according to satellite images.

Videos of the aftermath showed a fire raging in the theater's ruins. The number of casualties is unknown, authorities said.

Read more:

8:09 p.m. ET, March 16, 2022

Zelensky invoked Pearl Harbor and 9/11 in his address to the US Congress

From CNN's Clare Foran

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appealed to Congress for help on Wednesday in a historic speech, 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.

The speech, which was given as a virtual address to members of Congress, came as the United States is under pressure from Ukraine to supply more military assistance to the embattled country as it fights back against Russia's deadly attack.

The Ukrainian President expressed gratitude to Biden for aid the US has delivered so far, but he argued that more assistance is desperately needed. Zelensky specifically reiterated calls for the US to help enforce a no-fly zone in Ukraine to protect civilians and provide fighter aircraft that the Ukrainians can use to defend themselves, requests that have met with resistance.

"To create a no-fly zone over Ukraine to save people, is this too much to ask?" he said. Zelensky went on to say, "You know how much depends on the battlefield, on the ability to use aircraft, powerful strong aviation to protect our people, our freedom, our land, aircraft that can help Ukraine, help Europe. You know they exist and you have them, but they are on Earth not in the Ukrainian sky."

The speech featured a short video with harrowing scenes from the war-torn country graphically depicting the brutal and deadly toll of the Russian invasion. At the end, the screen read: "close the sky over Ukraine."

Zelensky paid tribute to tragic moments in American history as he made his appeal.

"Remember Pearl Harbor, terrible morning of December 7, 1941, when your sky was black from the planes attacking you," Zelensky said. "Just remember it, remember, September the 11th, a terrible day in 2001 when evil tried to turn US cities into battlefields, when innocent people were attacked from air, just like nobody else expected it and you could not stop it. Our country experiences the same, every day, right now at this moment."

CNN's Ted Barrett, Ali Zaslav, Lauren Fox, Annie Grayer, Daniella Diaz, Kristin Wilson, Melanie Zanona, Jeremy Herb, Donald Judd and Kate Sullivan contributed to this report.

Read the full report on Zelensky's address here.