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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7:08 a.m. ET, March 21, 2022

Russian military says it carried out cruise missile strikes against targets in Ukraine

From CNN's Nathan Hodge

Russian forces fired air-launched cruise missiles early Monday at what Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, Russian Ministry of Defense spokesman, described as a Ukrainian military training center in Nova Lyubomyrka, in Ukraine's northwestern Rivne oblast.

In a statement, Konashenkov claimed the strike inflicted dozens of casualties. CNN could not verify any of those claims.

Separately, Konashenkov said cruise missiles also destroyed an ammunition depot and the headquarters of a mechanized brigade near the western village of Selets, without providing additional details. 

Vitalii Koval, head of the Rivne regional administration, said in a statement on Telegram that two Russian missiles struck the territory of a military training ground. He added that a special commission was investigating and details would be released later.

Russian forces have made a series of strikes in recent days employing cruise missiles and hypersonic missiles, launched from outside Ukrainian territory. 

7:16 a.m. ET, March 21, 2022

It’s 12:30 p.m. in Kyiv. Here’s what you need to know

Ukraine has rejected an ultimatum to surrender the besieged city of Mariupol after a deadline set at 5 a.m. Moscow time (10 a.m. ET) passed. Meanwhile, shelling has continued in Kyiv this morning and at least eight people were reported killed in an attack on a shopping center in the capital.

Ultimatum rejected: The Ukrainian government and Mariupol city authorities rejected terms set out by Russia demanding the surrender of the besieged southern city to Russian forces. A deadline, set at 5 a.m. in Moscow (10 p.m. ET), came and went. "There can be no discussion of any surrender or of laying down arms," Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vereshchuk said.  

Mariupol art school bombing: Also in Mariupol, an adviser to the city’s mayor said officials are struggling to find out how many people survived after an art school being used as a shelter was bombed by Russian forces on Sunday morning. An earlier estimate from the city council put the number sheltering in the school at 400. Vereshchuk said 7,295 people fled from the city through evacuation corridors on Sunday.

Eight killed following explosions in Kyiv: At least eight people were killed in a Russian attack on a shopping center in Kyiv's Podilskyi district, according to information from the Ukrainian Prosecutor General. That number was based on what the Prosecutor General called preliminary information, suggesting the number could rise. CNN’s team on the ground heard several explosions in Kyiv on Sunday, and the city's Mayor Vitali Klitschko said explosions in the Podil neighborhood targeted residential and business areas.

Zelensky open to talks with Putin: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told CNN he is ready to negotiate with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but warned that if any negotiation attempts fail, it could mean the fight between the two countries would lead to "a third World War." "I’m ready for negotiations with him. I was ready for the last two years. And I think that without negotiations, we cannot end this war,” said Zelensky.

Ukraine summits: US President Joe Biden and fellow world leaders will hold a set of emergency summits in Europe this week. But few observers believe anything they can agree upon will be enough to end the bloodshed in Ukraine. Biden has "no plans" to visit Ukraine, the White House says, but he will travel to Warsaw, Poland following meetings with NATO allies, G7 and European Union leaders.

6:29 a.m. ET, March 21, 2022

Calling Putin a war criminal is a bigger deal than you think

Analysis by Paul LeBlanc, CNN

Airstrikes on an art school and a maternity hospital. Residential apartment buildings taking fire from tanks. More than 900 civilians killed in a matter of weeks.

Is Russian President Vladimir Putin a war criminal? His country's unprovoked and brutal invasion of Ukraine has presented reams of evidence that have led some world leaders -- including US President Joe Biden last week -- to use the loaded label.

The question now is what Biden's comments -- which he followed up by calling Putin a "murderous dictator" and "pure thug" -- will mean for the war in Ukraine going forward.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday didn't signal any concern that Biden's remarks would roil talks with Russia. He told CNN's Fareed Zakaria that he's "ready for negotiations" with Putin.

Biden's comments represented a major moment since leading officials had mostly avoided saying war crimes were being committed in Ukraine, citing ongoing investigations into whether that term could be used. But soon after the President uttered the words "I think he is a war criminal" to reporters at an unrelated event, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the comment was "from the heart." Other officials used similar language.

"When you are speaking from the heart, speaking as a human and you're seeing what we've all seen, these searing images on TV, a Russian strike on a maternity hospital in Mariupol, strikes against residential buildings, against schools, against civilian neighborhoods, it's hard not to walk away with that conclusion," State Department spokesman Ned Price later told CNN.

And after Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he "personally" agreed with Biden's label of Putin, Psaki told reporters that the top US diplomat was speaking from the heart "as well."

Why all the parsing? While terms like "war crimes" and "war criminal" are often used colloquially, they do have a legal definition that could be used in potential prosecution. That includes in the Geneva Conventions, which specify intentional targeting of civilians as a war crime.

In other words, the White House is being careful to not get ahead of the international investigations probing Russia's invasion.

Read the analysis in full:

6:25 a.m. ET, March 21, 2022

"What I saw, I hope no one will ever see," says Greek consul general evacuated from Mariupol

From Reuters

Greece's Consul General Manolis Androulakis talks to the media after arriving back in Greece by plane from Romania after evacuating the city of Mariupol, Ukraine on March 15 and arriving in Athens, Greece, on March 20.
Greece's Consul General Manolis Androulakis talks to the media after arriving back in Greece by plane from Romania after evacuating the city of Mariupol, Ukraine on March 15 and arriving in Athens, Greece, on March 20. (Louiza Vradi/Reuters)

Greece's consul general in Mariupol, the last EU diplomat to evacuate the besieged Ukrainian port, said on Sunday the city was joining the ranks of places known for having been destroyed in wars of the past.

Manolis Androulakis has assisted dozens of Greek nationals and ethnic Greeks to evacuate the ruined city since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He left Mariupol on Tuesday and after a four-day trip through Ukraine he crossed to Romania through Moldavia, along with 10 other Greek nationals.

What I saw, I hope no one will ever see," Androulakis said as he arrived on Sunday at Athens International Airport and was reunited with his family.

"Mariupol will become part of a list of cities that were completely destroyed by war; I don’t need to name them -- they are Guernica, Coventry, Aleppo, Grozny, Leningrad," Androulakis said.

6:21 a.m. ET, March 21, 2022

"Bombs falling every 10 minutes," says Ukrainian officer in Mariupol

From Khrystyna Bondarenko, Ivan Watson and AnneClaire Stapleton in Dnipro

People dig a grave in the street in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, on March 20.
People dig a grave in the street in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, on March 20. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

Mariupol came under further heavy bombardment overnight, according to a Ukrainian officer inside the city.

“Bombs are falling every 10 minutes; Russian navy warships are shelling. Yesterday the soldiers defused four tanks, [as well as] armored vehicles and troops. We still need ammunition, anti-tank weapons and air defense," Captain Svyatoslav Palamar of the National Guard Azov Regiment in Mariupol told CNN.

Palamar said he and his fellow fighters would not surrender in Mariupol.

Some background: The Russian-issued deadline for Mariupol authorities to surrender the city passed at 5 a.m. Moscow (10 p.m. ET Sunday), with Ukrainians rejecting the ultimatum.

The port city of 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.

While the Russian ultimatum appeared to offer those who chose to surrender safe passage out of the city, it made no such guarantees for those remaining.

Russia has repeatedly been accused of targeting civilians, with trapped residents describing the onslaught as "hell."

The Russian attacks have led to a total collapse in basic services, with residents unable to access gas, electricity or water. Bodies are being left in the street because there is either no one left to collect them, or it is simply too dangerous to try.

An official in the city said people are scared to leave their underground shelters even to get hold of essentials, meaning they were trying to drink less water and eat less food, only emerging to prepare hot meals.

Taken against their will: On Sunday, the Mariupol City Council said residents are being taken to Russia against their will by Russian forces. Captured Mariupol residents were taken to camps where Russian forces checked their phones and documents, then redirected some of the residents to remote cities in Russia, the council said. Russia denied the accusations Saturday.

Why Russia wants to control Mariupol: The city is a strategic port that lies on a stretch of coast connecting the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas with the Crimean peninsula. Russian-backed separatists have formed breakaway statelets in parts of the Donbas and Crimea has been under Russian control since 2014. Russian forces appear to be trying to take full control of the area to create a land corridor between the two regions, squeezing Mariupol with brutal military force.

5:41 a.m. ET, March 21, 2022

At least eight people killed in Russian attack on Kyiv shopping center, says Prosecutor General

From CNN's Andrew Carey

At least eight people have been killed in a Russian attack on a shopping center in the Podilskyi district of the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, according to the Ukrainian Prosecutor General.

A shopping center and cars in an adjacent parking lot caught fire following Russian shelling in Kyiv’s Podilskyi district, Ukraine State Emergency Service said late Sunday, adding that 63 firefighters worked to extinguish the flames that had reached as high as the third and fourth floors of the shopping center.

An aerial view of the completely destroyed shopping mall after a Russian shelling in Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 21.
An aerial view of the completely destroyed shopping mall after a Russian shelling in Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 21. (Emin Sansar/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

"As a consequence of the enemy missile strike and the resulting fire, a shopping mall was destroyed, windows in the nearby residential buildings and the vehicles parked in the vicinity were damaged," the Prosecutor General said in a post in its Telegram channel.

The Prosecutor General suggested the number of fatalities could rise, adding that the number of the dead was based on preliminary information.

4:50 a.m. ET, March 21, 2022

China to provide another $1.57 million in humanitarian aid to Ukraine

From CNN's Beijing Bureau

Humanitarian aid supplies sent by the Red Cross Society of China to the Ukrainian Red Cross Society are transported in Warsaw, Poland, on March 15.
Humanitarian aid supplies sent by the Red Cross Society of China to the Ukrainian Red Cross Society are transported in Warsaw, Poland, on March 15. (Chen Chen/Xinhua/Getty Images)

China will provide another batch of humanitarian aid, worth 10 million RMB ($1.57 million), to Ukraine “based on the development of the situation and actual needs,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Monday.

“China will continue to play a constructive role in promoting the de-escalation of the situation in Ukraine and is willing to make its own efforts to overcome the humanitarian crisis,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said during a regular briefing.

China provided its first batch of humanitarian assistance -- worth 5 million RMB ($790,000) -- to Ukraine earlier this month.

4:03 a.m. ET, March 21, 2022

"More than 10,000" Ukrainians have arrived in France, interior minister says

From CNN’s Joseph Ataman and Camille Knight

Ukrainians queue outside a refugee welcome center in Paris, France, on March 17.
Ukrainians queue outside a refugee welcome center in Paris, France, on March 17. (Alain Jocard/AFP/Getty Images)

More than 10,000 Ukrainian refugees have crossed into France since the beginning of the Russian invasion, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told French broadcaster RTL on Monday.

Speaking of the number of Ukrainian arrivals, he said, “It’s more than 10,000 but it’s probably many more.”

Darmanin added that Ukrainian nationals can enter France without a visa.

Many of those arriving were only passing through France, mainly heading towards the large Ukrainian community in Spain, he said.

“It’s certain that tens of thousands of Ukrainians are going to arrive in the country in the days and weeks to come,” Darmanin said.

At the request of French President Emmanuel Macron, the country is also preparing for possible Russian cyber interference in April's presidential election, Darmanin said.

Some context: Prior to the 2017 French presidential elections, campaign staff with Macron’s campaign were targeted by suspected Russian-linked hackers. The Russian government denied involvement.

3:48 a.m. ET, March 21, 2022

How Ukrainian news outlet Kyiv Independent is protecting its journalists

From CNN's Ramishah Maruf

As Russia's attack on Ukraine continues to intensify, reporting from the war zone is becoming increasingly difficult — and dangerous. Four journalists have so far been killed reporting on the war and many more are injured or missing.

Olga Rudenko, editor-in-chief of the Kyiv Independent, said journalist Oleh Baturyn, who was kidnapped last week in the southeastern Ukrainian city of Kakhovka, was just released by Russian fighters.

The Kyiv Independent is a fairly new publication but has earned acclaim for its war coverage.

"It's gone from being a three-month-old startup and a relative unknown in the Western world to now one of the leading sources of information on the war in Ukraine," CNN chief media correspondent Brian Stelter said on Reliable Sources Sunday.

Rudenko said reporting on the conflict is a "daily risk" and the outlet is learning as they go when it comes to protecting employees who have suddenly found themselves war correspondents. 

Read the full story: