March 21, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Helen Regan, Travis Caldwell, Amy Woodyatt, George Ramsay and Hafsa Khalil, CNN

Updated 12:23 a.m. ET, March 22, 2022
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6:14 p.m. ET, March 21, 2022

Zelensky: Mariupol is being "reduced to ashes," but the city will "survive"

From CNN's Olena Mankovska and Sugam Pokharel  

Multiple buildings burn amid Russian strikes on Mariupol, Ukraine, on March 20.
Multiple buildings burn amid Russian strikes on Mariupol, Ukraine, on March 20. (Planet Labs PBC/AP)

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video address released Monday that the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol is being “reduced to ashes” by Russia's military aggression, but added that the city will “survive.”   

Mariupol, which before the war was home to around 450,000 people, has been under near constant attack from Russian forces since early March with satellite images showing significant destruction to residential areas. 

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Monday that “what's happening Mariupol is a massive war crime.”

Zelensky in his address went on to again urge the Ukrainians to “do everything you can to defend our country, to save our people.” 

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine started in late February, “we are seeing more and more [Ukrainian] heroes. Once ordinary Ukrainians, and now true fighters,” he said. 

The Ukrainian leader also said that the ordinary citizens in Ukraine are “rising” to the point that Russia “doesn’t believe that this is the reality,” and added, "we will make Russia believe.”  

“Fight, keep on fighting, and help,” he urged the Ukrainians.  

6:19 p.m. ET, March 21, 2022

Bipartisan senators call for more aid for Ukraine after trip to Germany and Poland

From CNN's Ellie Kaufman 

A group of bipartisan senators called for more lethal and humanitarian aid to be sent to Ukraine as soon as possible after traveling to Germany and Poland over the weekend to meet with civil society organizations, American troops and Ukrainian refugees. The senators who went on the trip held a press conference Monday after returning. 

The group of senators that traveled to Germany and Poland included Sens. Jacky Rosen, Joni Ernst, Shelley Moore Capito, Susan Collins, John Cornyn, Steve Daines, Kirsten Gillibrand, Angus King, Roger Marshall and Jerry Moran. 

“Defending freedom in Ukraine is defending freedom everywhere. This is a critical time for all of us, not just the Ukrainian people that we encountered and visited, but certainly for all of Europe, all of our NATO allies, and it certainly means the freedom right here in our homeland as well,” Ernst said during the press conference about the trip.

Many of the senators described emotional experiences after meeting with Ukrainian refugees who had just fled the war-torn country. Collins recounted a conversation she had with a young Ukrainian mother who had just fled the country with her two children.

“She said this to me: 'I want to live in peace. I want to be back in Ukraine, but I have to keep my children safe.' So this young mother with her two children was leaving the only country she has ever known. Leaving her husband behind. Not knowing if she would ever see him again in order to keep her children safe,” Collins said. “The only way that we can end this humanitarian crisis is to provide the Ukrainians with the lethal aid and the humanitarian support they need to end this unprovoked, unjustified war.”

Collins called for the Biden administration to allow Ukrainian refugees with family in the US to be allowed to come to the US.

“I believe that the administration should look at means to allow Ukrainians who have family members in this country to join them and give them temporary protective status. Just this morning, I heard from someone from the state of Maine who offered to take three Ukrainian families in for the next year, so we need that kind of reform as well,” Collins said.

Sen. King said he wants to better understand how long it takes to get aid to Ukraine after it's approved in Congress after the trip. 

“One of the things that I’m coming back with is wanting to determine just how long does it take, from the time Congress votes the money, as we did ten days ago, to when it crosses the border into Ukraine both for humanitarian aid and for lethal aid. We need to know exactly how that works, and how fast it occurs, because we don’t have weeks and months, we have hours and days,” King said.

Sen. King said the senators saw trucks loaded with aid ready to cross the border into Ukraine during the trip.

Sen. Ernst said she, as well as other senators were writing lists of what needs to get done to get aid to Ukraine even faster on the flight back from Germany. 

The senators spent Friday in Germany, Saturday in Poland and Sunday in Germany before flying back to the US overnight Sunday night to Monday, King said. 

6:26 p.m. ET, March 21, 2022

UN has set up safe spaces along Ukrainian border and has reached more than 330,000 people with food assistance

From CNN's Richard Roth and Laura Ly

Families who have fled Ukraine receive food and drink in a tent at the Unicef "Blue Dot" Center at the Romanian-Ukrainian border crossing on March 14.
Families who have fled Ukraine receive food and drink in a tent at the Unicef "Blue Dot" Center at the Romanian-Ukrainian border crossing on March 14. (Bernd von Jutrczenka/dpa/Sipa USA/FILE)

Two United Nations agencies, UNICEF and UNHCR, have set up “Blue Dots” centers, which are “one-stop safe spaces for children and women,” at various places along Ukraine’s border in neighboring countries, Stephane Dujarric, spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General, said during a press briefing Monday.  

"Blue Dots" centers are set up in coordination with local governments and civil society organizations and “help to identify unaccompanied and separated children and ensure their protection, as well as provide a hub for essential services and information for traveling families,” Dujarric said. 

Furthermore, the UN World Food Programme said it has reached more than 330,000 people inside Ukraine with food assistance since the Russian invasion, according to Dujarric. He added that food delivery to cooperating partners is also being scaled up. 

“In Kharkiv, the World Food Programme doubled its bread distribution through partners, reaching nearly 78 metric tonnes for about 260,000 people. In Kyiv — following the delivery of 26 metric tonnes of high-energy biscuits – WFP’s partners have delivered about 325 metric tonnes of vegetable oil and 478 metric tonnes of wheat flour to nearly 70,000 vulnerable people. In Dnipro, some 2.2 metric tonnes of mixed canned food was also distributed to the most vulnerable,” Dujarric said.
5:00 p.m. ET, March 21, 2022

It's 11 p.m. on Monday in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know

From CNN Staff

The head of the Ukrainian government's Donetsk regional military administration said Monday the city of Avdiivka and its surrounding areas had been hit by Russian aircraft and artillery fire.

In a statement on his Telegram account, Pavlo Kyrylenko said at least one civilian was killed and at least two were injured in the recent strikes and that shelling damage and fires had been recorded at 15 local addresses.

Kyrylenko also published photos of what he said were the results of Russian shelling, including damage to World War II monuments and collective graves for Red Army soldiers who fought Nazi Germany in World War II near the town of Toretsk. 

Here are more of Monday's headlines from the Russia-Ukraine conflict:

  • President Biden warns of "evolving intelligence" suggesting potential Russian cyberattacks against the US: US President Joe Biden on Monday urged private sector partners “to harden your cyber defenses immediately,” pointing to “evolving intelligence” indicating “the potential that Russia could conduct malicious cyber activity against the United States.” While pledging his administration would “continue to use every tool to deter, disrupt, and if necessary, respond to cyberattacks against critical infrastructure,” the President in a statement acknowledged, “the Federal Government can’t defend against this threat alone.”
  • White House says it never explored Biden visiting Ukraine as part of his trip this week: Biden will seek to underscore unity on his trip to Europe this week, and there will be a set of "deliverables" afterward, the White House says. But Biden's aides never considered a stop in Ukraine, and the President still opposes sending American troops into the country. Speaking two days before Biden departs for high-stakes summits in Brussels, followed by a stop in Poland, press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden hoped to underscore western cooperation on his trip.
  • 2 children in critical condition as families fleeing Mariupol come under artillery fire: Two children are in a critical condition after cars carrying families came under artillery fire on the road between Mariupol and Zaporizhzhia, a regional official in eastern Ukraine said. Oleksander Starukh reported heavy shelling around the frontline separating Russian and Ukrainian forces Monday, in a statement on his Telegram channel. Three children from Mariupol who had escaped the besieged city with their family came under fire as they were traveling through Polohivsky district, Starukh said, leaving one child in a critical condition. A second child traveling with their family is also in a critical condition after their car came under fire in the village of Kamianske. 
  • Shelling in Ukraine kills 21 rescue workers and injures 47: Twenty-one Ukrainian rescue workers have been killed and 47 have been injured so far due to shelling by Russian troops, said the deputy head of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine, Roman Prymush, during a news briefing with Ukrinform on Monday. "According to the Geneva Convention, shelling or other threats to rescuers at the time of rescue operations are considered a war crime. We record all these cases, the materials on each of them are transferred to the relevant bodies, which will provide a legal assessment of such actions, will identify the perpetrators involved," Prymush said. He noted that the detention of rescuers by Russian forces is also a violation of the Geneva Convention. 
  • Who is Russia's top field commander in Ukraine? The US isn't sure: The US has been unable to determine if Russia has designated a military commander responsible for leading the country's war in Ukraine, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter — something that current and former defense officials say is likely a key contributor to the apparent clumsiness and disorganization of the Russian assault. Without a top, theater-wide commander on the ground in or near Ukraine, units from different Russian military districts operating in different parts of Ukraine appear to be competing for resources rather than coordinating their efforts, according to two US defense officials.
  • Russians beginning to have "inventory issues" with precision missiles, senior US defense official says: Russian forces are beginning to have “inventory issues with precision-guided munitions,” a senior US defense official told reporters on Monday. Precision-guided munitions refer to missiles that target a specific location, as opposed to “dumb bombs,” which do not have the technology to focus on a specific target. The inventory issues around their precision-guided munitions supply are why “you’re seeing the increasing use of what we would call dumb bombs,” the official added. Some of their precision-guided munitions are “failing to launch, or they’re failing to hit the target, or they’re failing to explode on contact,” the official said.
  • Neither side is backing down in the conflict, senior NATO official says: A senior NATO intelligence official said on Monday that signs are pointing to a stalemate emerging in Russia’s war on Ukraine, with Russian ground forces remaining stalled and Russian combat aircraft unable to achieve air superiority over Ukraine. “If we are not in a stalemate already, we are rapidly approaching one,” the official told reporters during a briefing at NATO headquarters. “And it's quite a thing to say when you consider the disparity in strength when this fight began.”
4:55 p.m. ET, March 21, 2022

US officials: Shipments of new security assistance have started, but not yet arrived in Ukraine

From CNN's Kaitlan Collins and Ellie Kaufman:

Shipments of the $800 million in new security assistance that the US is sending to Ukraine have started, but have not yet arrived in Ukraine, according to multiple officials.

US President Joe Biden announced the new aid package last week after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky delivered an impassioned plea to Congress for more help. 

“We’re still fleshing all of that out, but it will arrive, we believe it will arrive very, very soon, or at least the initial shipments will start to arrive soon, but nothing has been actualized on that yet,” a senior defense official told reporters Monday. 

Another administration official told CNN the plan was for equipment to begin being shipped this weekend so deliveries should begin in the next few days. 

“Shipments have certainly begun,” the official noted, just not the actual arrival of the aid. 

These shipments will be critical to the Ukrainian defense against the Russian onslaught and will include 100 armed drones for the first time. 

5:09 p.m. ET, March 21, 2022

France says coordination with European partners "continues unabated regarding the war in Ukraine"

From CNN’s Simon Bouvier and Anaelle Jonah in Paris 

France's President Emmanuel Macron speaks to journalists before a meeting at the Elysee Presidential Palace in Paris on March 21.
France's President Emmanuel Macron speaks to journalists before a meeting at the Elysee Presidential Palace in Paris on March 21. (Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images)

French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday took part in a conference call with leaders from Germany, the United States, Italy and the United Kingdom, countries of the so called “Quint format," the Elysee Palace said. 

The Elysee’s readout of the call said that “coordination between European partners and allies continues unabated regarding the war in Ukraine.” 

The readout also said that “the leaders discussed the critical humanitarian situation in Mariupol, and the urgent need for unimpeded humanitarian access. They also reiterated their demands for an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of Russian troops.” 

Preparations for the upcoming extraordinary meetings of NATO and the G7 were also discussed, according to the Elysee. 

In a separate statement, a spokesperson for the French presidency said President Macron also met with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö at the Elysée Palace on Monday to discuss the war in Ukraine. 

The statement described the Finnish President as “recognized on the international scene for his knowledge of Russia and his role in maintaining a channel of dialogue with Moscow.” 

It went on to say that Macron and Niinistö “discussed their respective exchanges with the Russian President” as well as their “shared goal of an immediate ceasefire and of a negotiated solution to the conflict” and “the strengthening of European defense.”  

8:16 p.m. ET, March 21, 2022

How this musician went from playing protest songs to picking up arms to fight against Putin's army

From CNN's Rebecca Wright and Olha Konovalova

Sergiy Fomenko, singer of Ukrainian band Mandry, who has joined the Territorial Defense Forces.
Sergiy Fomenko, singer of Ukrainian band Mandry, who has joined the Territorial Defense Forces. (Rebecca Wright/CNN)

Eight years ago, Ukrainian singer Sergiy Fomenko belted out revolutionary songs to the pro-democracy protesters lining the central Maidan — or ‘independence square’ — in the capital Kyiv.

Now, he’s had to swap his guitar for a rifle after enlisting in Ukraine’s territorial defense force, which was formed in January in anticipation of a Russian invasion. 

Back in 2014, the protest movement which Fomenko helped to inspire with his songs eventually toppled their pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych from power. And now, the singer is hoping his assistance to the resistance will help to repel Putin’s invading army.

“I decided that if a full-scale war starts, I will defend Kyiv, because it is my city,” said Fomenko, the lead singer of the folk-rock/blues band Mandry.

At the moment, the battle for Kyiv is raging mostly in the western and northern suburbs, along with Russian missile attacks which come in closer range of the city center — but are often blown out of the sky by the Ukrainian air defense systems.

“The last two weeks have been really hard because the enemy was trying to gather (and) surround Kyiv,” Fomenko said. “I have a guitar, but I haven't been singing. So there was no music.”

From a secretly-located base in Kyiv, Fomenko and his unit have been conducting special operations in the city such as tracking down Russian saboteurs during night patrols. They have also been assisting with refugee evacuations from the embattled western suburb of Irpin.

One of Fomenko’s fellow soldiers is Volodymyr Omelyan, Ukraine’s former minister of infrastructure — who says this war is about a “clash of civilizations.”

“The choice is very simple, you are with bad guys or with good guys,” Omelyan, 43, said. “Democracies will always win, maybe it will take longer than everybody expected, but Putin has chosen (the) path of Hitler, and we already know how Hitler ends.”

The two new soldiers are part of a reserve battalion funded by former President Petro Poroshenko – the first leader to be elected after Ukraine shook off Russian influence in May 2014.

Petro Poroshenko, former President of Ukraine, is now a part of the Territorial Defense Forces.
Petro Poroshenko, former President of Ukraine, is now a part of the Territorial Defense Forces. (Rebecca Wright/CNN)

“Please don't trust Putin,” Poroshenko told CNN. “I had five years of negotiations with Putin, five long years, many promises, and (when) he promised (a) ceasefire, nothing happened."

“Putin only understands force,” he added.

Watch:

4:13 p.m. ET, March 21, 2022

US and other nations discussing providing Ukraine with "long-range air defense," Pentagon says

From CNN's Ellie Kaufman & Satyam Kaswala

Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby speaks during a briefing at the Pentagon on March 21.
Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby speaks during a briefing at the Pentagon on March 21. (Pool)

The US is in “ongoing discussions” with other nations to provide Ukraine “the kinds of defenses capabilities to include long-range air defenses, that we know that they’re comfortable using,” Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said during a briefing at the Pentagon on Monday.

These are “active consultations,” Kirby said. 

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin visited Slovakia and Bulgaria last week after attending the NATO Defense Ministerial in Brussels. 

Some more context: CNN previously reported the US was in discussions with Slovakia for Slovakia to provide S-300 air-defense weapons to Ukraine in exchange for something to backfill their supply. No agreement has been announced between Slovakia and the US.

3:57 p.m. ET, March 21, 2022

White House says it never explored President Biden visiting Ukraine as part of his trip this week

From CNN's Kevin Liptak & Ellie Kaufman:

US President Joe Biden will seek to underscore unity on his trip to Europe this week, and there will be a set of "deliverables" afterward, the White House says.

But Biden's aides never considered a stop in Ukraine, and the President still opposes sending American troops into the country.

Speaking two days before Biden departs for high-stakes summits in Brussels, followed by a stop in Poland, press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden hoped to underscore western cooperation on his trip.

"Coming out of this, what the President is hoping to achieve is continued coordination and a unified response to the continued escalatory actions of President Putin," she said.

"There will certainly be deliverables, as there always are on these trips," Psaki said. 

Psaki said details of Biden's stop in Poland were still coming together, but that he hoped to highlight the country's work welcoming millions of refugees from Ukraine. 

Asked by Phil Mattingly about Poland's proposal of an international peacekeeping force in Ukraine, Psaki suggested such a step may cross Biden's line of putting US troops in direct conflict with Russia.

"We, of course, will continue to work with Poland and other allies and partners in Europe to provide support to the Ukrainian people and help them defend their country against Russian aggression and provide relief to the people of Ukraine and we will continue to impose severe consequences," she said. 

"The President, he’s been clear we’re not going to send America troops to fight Russian troops. It’s not in the interest of the American people or our national security but we’ll continue to discuss a range of ideas, including this one," she said.

A number of Ukrainian leaders have called on Biden to visit Ukraine as part of his trip. But Psaki said that option had never been under consideration

"We have not explored that option," she said, citing security considerations and the "enormous amount of resources" it would require.

She said Biden would have the "most effective and impactful" trip by convening meetings of NATO and the G7 to discuss continued humanitarian and economic assistance.

"It was a decision made about what would be most effective on the trip," she said.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin will travel to Brussels this week to accompany President Biden in meetings with “NATO allies, G7 leaders and European Union leaders,” Pentagon spokesman John Kibry said during a briefing at the Pentagon on Monday.

The leaders will “discuss international efforts to continue to support Ukraine and impose severe and unprecedented costs on Russia for its unprovoked and illegal invasion,” Kirby said. 

Austin will also accompany Biden to Poland after Brussels, Kirby said.

Read more about Biden's European trip here: