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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7:29 a.m. ET, March 17, 2022

Zelensky cites post-Holocaust phrase Never Again in address to German lawmakers

From CNN's Inke Kappeler in Berlin

Members of parliament and of the German government listen as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appears on two screens to address via videolink the German Bundestag on March 17, in Berlin, Germany.
Members of parliament and of the German government listen as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appears on two screens to address via videolink the German Bundestag on March 17, in Berlin, Germany. (Tobias Schwarz/AFP/Getty Images)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made explicit reference to the Holocaust in an address to German lawmakers Thursday.

“Every year politicians say never again. Now I see that these words are worthless. In Europe a people is being destroyed," he said while speaking to lawmakers via a video address at the Bundestag.

Watch:

4:19 a.m. ET, March 17, 2022

Over 1.9 million refugees have entered Poland from Ukraine

From CNN’s Antonia Mortensen

More than 1.9 million refugees have entered Poland from Ukraine since Russia invaded the country on Feb. 24, the country’s Border Guard agency said in a tweet Wednesday.

Of those:  

  • About 593,000 people, or 31% of the refugees, entered Poland by passenger cars.
  • About 440,000 people, or 23%, entered by buses.
  • About 402,000, or 21%, entered on foot.
  • And about 210,000, or 11%, entered by trains, according to the country’s Border Guard agency. 

Overall, more than 3 million people have fled Ukraine since the invasion, according to the UN Refugee Agency, with the majority of those refugees going to Poland, Romania, Moldova, Hungary and Slovakia.

The population of Ukraine was more than 43 million people before the invasion.

3:57 a.m. ET, March 17, 2022

China will "never attack Ukraine," says Beijing's envoy in Lviv 

From CNN’s Hannah Ritchie

In this file photo, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmygal, left, shakes hands with Chinese Ambassador to Ukraine Fan Xianrong in Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 18, 2020.
In this file photo, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmygal, left, shakes hands with Chinese Ambassador to Ukraine Fan Xianrong in Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 18, 2020. (Sergey Starostenko/Xinhua/Getty Images)

China will "never attack Ukraine," its top diplomat inside the country told officials Monday, according to a news release from the Lviv regional government. 

"China will never attack Ukraine. We will help, especially economically…In this situation, which you have now, we will act responsibly," China’s ambassador to Ukraine Fan Xianrong told Maksym Kozytsky, the head of the regional military administration in Lviv during a meeting. 
"China is a friendly country to the Ukrainian people. As an Ambassador, I can responsibly say that China will always be a force of good for Ukraine both economically and politically."

Fan said the Chinese Embassy had moved from Kyiv to Lviv and would remain there for the time being, according to Kozytsky.

Some context: On Tuesday, China’s Ambassador to the US Qin Gang published an op-ed in the Washington Post reiterating that Beijing wanted to see an end to the conflict in Ukraine and dispelling "rumors" that "China knew about, acquiesced to or tacitly supported" the war. 

"Conflict between Russia and Ukraine does no good for China. Had China known about the imminent crisis, we would have tried our best to prevent it," Qin wrote. 

His comments followed claims from US intelligence officials that Russia had asked China for military support in Ukraine — something that Beijing and Moscow have denied. 

3:52 a.m. ET, March 17, 2022

UK Defense Ministry: Russian troop advance into Ukraine has largely stalled

From CNN's Irene Nasser

A destroyed Russian army multiple rocket launcher on the outskirts of Kharkiv, Ukraine, on March 16.
A destroyed Russian army multiple rocket launcher on the outskirts of Kharkiv, Ukraine, on March 16. (Sergey Bobok/AFP/Getty Images)

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has largely stalled on all fronts, the UK Defense Ministry said Thursday on its official Twitter account.

"Russian forces have made minimal progress on land, sea or air in recent days" and continue to suffer heavy losses, the ministry said, adding that Ukrainian resistance remains strong.
"The vast majority of Ukrainian territory, including all major cities, remains in Ukrainian hands."

An earlier intelligence report from the ministry said Russia is resorting to the use of older, less precise weapons that are less militarily effective and more likely to result in civilian casualties.

Due to the delays in "achieving their objectives and failure to control Ukrainian airspace," the UK Ministry of Defence's intelligence update 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.

Some context: This is not the first report suggesting Russia's advance is slowing in Ukraine.

  • A senior US defense official used similar language Monday during a background briefing with reporters, describing that "almost all" Russian advances "remain stalled." The forces moving on Kyiv, including the infamous convoy to the north, had not appreciably progressed over the weekend, the official said, though the US did see Russia trying to “flow in forces behind the advance elements” moving to the north of Kyiv.
3:11 a.m. ET, March 17, 2022

Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific is no longer flying over Russian airspace

From CNN's Isaac Yee

Cathay Pacific aircraft at the Hong Kong International Airport in Hong Kong, China, on March 9, 2021.
Cathay Pacific aircraft at the Hong Kong International Airport in Hong Kong, China, on March 9, 2021. (Kyle Lam/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Hong Kong's flag carrier, Cathay Pacific, is no longer routing flights over Russian airspace, the airline said Thursday.

"We regularly review our flight routings internally and also with information provided by external parties. We are currently not flying through Russian airspace," Cathay Pacific said in a statement to CNN.

Some context: Airlines have experienced major disruption due to the war in Ukraine.

  • The European Union closed all airspace across its 27 countries to Russian airplanes in late February.
  • In response to the EU ban, the Russian Civil Aviation Authority closed off its airspace to the carriers of 36 countries. The list included the United Kingdom and Canada, which had both banned Russian aircraft.
  • On March 1, President Joe Biden said the US would follow suit and ban Russian aircraft from US airspace.

A glance at flight-tracking site FlightRadar24 on Thursday showed few planes over Russian skies. They included at least one Air China flight but most were for domestic Russian airlines.

2:28 a.m. ET, March 17, 2022

Russian troops use tear gas to disperse Ukrainians protesting against detention of city officials

From CNN's Paul P. Murphy and Josh Pennington

Ukrainian protesters in the Russian-occupied city of Skadovsk, Ukraine, on March 16.
Ukrainian protesters in the Russian-occupied city of Skadovsk, Ukraine, on March 16. (obtained by CNN)

Russian forces tear-gassed Ukrainian protesters in the Russian-occupied city of Skadovsk on Wednesday when they demonstrated against the detention of the mayor and two other officials, according to a citizen who will not be named for safety issues.  

Russian troops detained Mayor Alexander Yakolev, his deputy Alexander Grischenko and the city council secretary Yuri Palyukha on Wednesday morning, the citizen said. Dozens of residents of the Black Sea port city then gathered around noon outside the government building, where the three were being held.

According to a video of the incident and the citizen, Russian troops fired tear gas at the protesters as they demonstrated peacefully, sang and chanted, and tried to mediate for the release of the three officials.  

Yakolev was released, according to a video he posted on Telegram, but the fate of his deputy and the city council secretary is not known. 

Some context: This is the first known instance of tear gas being used by the Russian military against Ukrainians in occupied territory since the invasion began three weeks ago.

Russian troops have frequently tried to disperse protesters with gunfire, shooting over their heads. On March 5, at least one protester was shot in the leg in the eastern town of  Novopskov in such an instance.

2:36 a.m. ET, March 17, 2022

Star ballerina Olga Smirnova quits Bolshoi Ballet over Russia's invasion of Ukraine

From CNN's Oscar Holland

Olga Smirnova as Odette/Odile and Semyon Chudin as Prince Siegfried in The Bolshoi Ballet's production of Swan Lake at The Royal Opera House on August 2, 2019, in London, England.
Olga Smirnova as Odette/Odile and Semyon Chudin as Prince Siegfried in The Bolshoi Ballet's production of Swan Lake at The Royal Opera House on August 2, 2019, in London, England. (Robbie Jack/Corbis/Getty Images)

One of the stars of Moscow's Bolshoi Ballet, Olga Smirnova, has quit the company over Russia's invasion of Ukraine and will instead dance for the Dutch National Ballet in Amsterdam.

Smirnova, whose grandfather is Ukrainian, wrote on Telegram that she is "against war with all the fibers of my soul."

"I never thought I would be ashamed of Russia," she wrote in the statement, which was later republished by the Dutch National Ballet. "I have always been proud of talented Russian people, of our cultural and athletic achievements. But now I feel that a line has been drawn that separates the before and the after.
"It hurts that people are dying, that people are losing the roofs over their heads or are forced to abandon their homes. And who would have thought a few weeks ago that all of this would happen? We may not be at the epicenter of the military conflict, but we cannot remain indifferent to this global catastrophe."

Smirnova joined the prestigious Bolshoi Ballet in 2011, before taking lead roles in performances of "Swan Lake" and "Giselle," among others. She has since toured internationally with the troupe and has appeared as a guest performer for the American Ballet Theatre and the Vienna State Ballet.

The announcement comes a little over a week after two other Bolshoi members — Brazilian soloist David Motta Soares and Italian principal dancer Jacopo Tissi — both announced they were resigning. Explaining his decision via Instagram, Tissi said Russia's actions left him "unable to continue with my career in Moscow," adding "no war can be justified."

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1:59 a.m. ET, March 17, 2022

Putin calls pro-Western Russians "national traitors"

From CNN's Seán Federico-O'Murchú and Sarah Dean

An image on a computer screen of Vladimir Putin holding a meeting on measures to provide social and economic support to the regions. Most of his speeches concerned Ukraine and the "fifth column" inside Russia.
An image on a computer screen of Vladimir Putin holding a meeting on measures to provide social and economic support to the regions. Most of his speeches concerned Ukraine and the "fifth column" inside Russia. (Igor Golovniov/SOPA Images/Sipa USA/AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has clamped down on any dissent since the invasion of Ukraine, on Wednesday blasted pro-Western Russians by calling them “national traitors” in a televised address.  

“The West will try to rely on the so-called fifth column, on national traitors, on those who earn money here with us but live there. And I mean ‘live there’ not even in the geographical sense of the word, but according to their thoughts, their slavish consciousness,” Putin said. 
These people "cannot live without oysters and gender freedom," he added. 

The term "fifth column" usually refers to enemy sympathizers and originated during the Spanish Civil War.

The Russian leader, whose forces have become bogged down in Ukraine and whose country is facing economic disaster due to Western sanctions, has often blamed Western influences for what ails his country. 

  • He has systematically curtailed LGBTQ rights in Russia. Last week, leader of the Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill, a Putin ally, said the Ukraine conflict was an extension of a fundamental culture clash between the wider Russian world and Western liberal values, exemplified by expressions of gay pride.
  • Putin has enforced blind loyalty from Russian media and earlier this month signed a censorship bill into law making it near impossible for international news organizations to accurately report the news in or from Russia.
  • Despite the clampdown, a Russian state television journalist on Monday protested the invasion of Ukraine during a live news broadcast on the tightly controlled Channel One network.
  • His economy is on the verge of default. On Wednesday, Russia said it had ordered the $117 million in interest payments it owes Wednesday to be sent to investors. But because the funds used to make the debt payments came from Russia's frozen foreign assets, it remains unclear whether investors will receive their money.
  • President Joe Biden, in a shift in the US position, on Wednesday said the Russian leader was a “war criminal.” It was the harshest condemnation of Putin's actions from any US official since the war in Ukraine began three weeks ago.

Watch:

1:56 a.m. ET, March 17, 2022

1 person killed after debris from downed missile hits Kyiv residential building 

From CNN's Sophie Jeong and Yulia Shevchenko

A fire broke out in the apartment building in Kyiv's Darnytsky district on Thursday morning after it was hit by debris from a downed missile, Ukrainian authorities said.
A fire broke out in the apartment building in Kyiv's Darnytsky district on Thursday morning after it was hit by debris from a downed missile, Ukrainian authorities said. (Ukrainian State Emergency Services)

One person died and three others were injured after debris from a downed missile hit a residential building in Kyiv on Thursday, according to Ukrainian authorities.

Ukraine's state emergency service said it received a report of a fire and damage to a 16-story apartment in the Darnytsky district of the capital at 5:02 a.m. local time.

Some 30 people were evacuated as rescue operations continue, according to an initial report from Ukraine’s state emergency service.
Some 30 people were evacuated as rescue operations continue, according to an initial report from Ukraine’s state emergency service. (Ukrainian State Emergency Services)

The blaze was later extinguished, the service said.  

According to initial information, 30 people were evacuated from the site as rescue operations continue, the service added.