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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3:50 a.m. ET, March 21, 2022

Mariupol rejects Russia's demand to surrender as 5.a.m deadline passes

Civilians trapped in Mariupol are seen on the road on Sunday.
Civilians trapped in Mariupol are seen on the road on Sunday. (Stringer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

The Russian issued deadline for Mariupol authorities to surrender the city has now passed with Ukrainians rejecting the terms as a false choice.

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.

Bobing of maternity hospital, theater: The city is increasingly bearing the brunt of Russia's fierce assault on the country, with shelling day and night, said Major Denis Prokopenko, from the National Guard Azov Regiment. The assault has included deadly strikes on a maternity ward, and separate bombings of a theater and art school where hundreds of people were sheltering — the losses from which are still unknown as the rescue operations continue. The word "children" was spelled out on two sides of the theater before it was bombed, according to satellite images.

Civilians trapped: For weeks, Ukrainian officials have accused Russian forces of blocking evacuation corridors that would allow residents a safe escape from the city. Adviser to the mayor of Mariupol Petro Andrushenko said on his Telegram channel Sunday said people trying to flee the city in their cars were being shot at by Russian forces. The Ukrainian government said a relief convoy for the besieged city has repeatedly been blocked.

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 region of Donbas with the Crimea peninsula, both of which have 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.

"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," the Mariupol city council said last week.
11:54 p.m. ET, March 20, 2022

Ukraine rejects Russian ultimatum that Mariupol surrender by Monday morning. Here's what we know

From CNN's Tim Lister, Andrew Carey, Yulia Shevchenko, Josh Pennington and Olga Voitovych 

The Russian Defense Ministry has presented an ultimatum to the leadership of the besieged city of Mariupol: surrender before dawn on Monday. 

Both the government in Kyiv and the Mariupol city authorities have flatly rejected the Russian terms. 

Here's what we know:

Deadline looms: The Russian Ministry of Defense called on Mariupol local authorities to surrender the city to Russian forces by 5 a.m. Moscow Monday (4 a.m. Monday in Mariupol and 10 p.m. ET Sunday), according to Russian state media.

Ukraine rejects deadline: In an interview late Sunday, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vereshchuk rejected Russia’s terms, which were laid out in an eight-page document. 

"There can be no discussion of any surrender or of laying down arms,” she said.  

 “We have already informed the Russian side about it. I wrote: ‘Instead of wasting your time to write an 8-page letter – open the corridor.’ We have informed the UN and the ICRC and are awaiting a response from the international community. This is a conscious manipulation and true hostage taking.” 

On its Facebook page, Mariupol city council also rejected Russian demands, saying “They gave time until the morning to formulate a response. But why wait so long?” There followed an expletive. 

Ceasefire:  The Russian Defense Ministry proposed “to the fighting parties to declare a ceasefire and guarantee its strict observance from 9:30 a.m. Moscow time,” (8:30 a.m. in Mariupol and 2:30 a.m ET).  

It would then open evacuation corridors to the city half-an-hour later, it said.

"All who lay down their arms are guaranteed safe passage out of Mariupol,” Russian state media outlet, RIA Novosti, quoted the head of the National Center for Defense Management, Colonel-General Mikhail Mizintsev,Mizintsev as saying. 

Russia blames Ukraine "bandits": In calling on city officials to surrender, RIA Novosti quoted Mizintsev saying "we appeal to the odious bandits, who are responsible for hundreds of lives of innocent people, and now call themselves representatives of the official local authorities, of this unique city Mariupol."

“It is you who now have the right to a historic choice – either you are with your people, or you are with bandits, otherwise the military tribunal that awaits you is only a minor thing that you have already deserved because of the despicable attitude towards your own citizens, as well as the terrible crimes and provocations already arranged by you," Mizintsev said, according to RIA Novosti.

Some context: Mariupol has been under siege for several weeks and has seen some of the worst attacks in the war since Russia began its invasion of Ukraine in February. These have included deadly strikes on a maternity ward, the bombing of a theater and art school, the losses from which are still unknown as the rescue operations continue.

Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky said Sunday that what Russian forces had done to Mariupol was an “act of terror that will be remembered for centuries”

11:49 p.m. ET, March 20, 2022

Kyiv's mayor, police department post images of explosions in the Podilskyi district of Ukraine's capital

From CNN's Claudia Dominguez

The mayor of Kyiv, as well as the city's police, posted images of explosions in the Podilskyi district in Ukraine’s capital on Telegram Sunday.

One person was killed following the explosions, Mayor Vitali Klitschko said late Sunday. Several explosions were heard in Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv, according to CNN’s team on the ground.

Images from the Kyiv police below:

Fire and smoke seen bellowing after explosions occurred in the Podilskyi district of Kyiv.
Fire and smoke seen bellowing after explosions occurred in the Podilskyi district of Kyiv. (Kyiv Police)

(Kyiv Police)
(Kyiv Police)

11:49 p.m. ET, March 20, 2022

Ukraine Ministry of Foreign Affairs calls Russia's actions in Mariupol "a chapter from WWII"

From CNN's Hande Atay Alam 

Oleg Nikolenko, Ukraine Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson, called Russia's actions in Mariupol on Sunday "a chapter from WWII."

"First they came to destroy the cities, bombing hospitals, theaters, schools, and shelters, killing civilians and children. Then they forcibly relocated the scared, exhausted people to the invader’s land. A chapter from WWII? No – the actions of the Russian army, today in Mariupol," Nikolenko wrote.

The Mariupol City Council said Saturday residents are being taken to Russia against their will by Russian forces.

Russia denied the accusations Saturday.

According to the Russian state media outlet, RIA Novosti, Russian Colonel-General Mikhail Mizintsev said nearly 60,000 residents of Mariupol have “found themselves in Russia in complete safety.”

11:49 p.m. ET, March 20, 2022

Nearly half of Chernobyl nuclear plant staff was able to rotate, UN nuclear watchdog says

From CNN’s Pierre Meilhan

Nearly half of Chernobyl's nuclear plant staff were able to rotate and return to their homes, Ukraine’s nuclear regulator, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said Sunday.

Those who were able to leave the plant had been working for nearly four weeks, according to the IAEA.

IAEA Director Gen. Rafael Grossi tweeted that he welcomed news of the staff's rotation, emphasizing “they deserve our full respect and admiration for having worked in these extremely difficult circumstances. They were there for far too long. I sincerely hope that remaining staff from this shift can also rotate soon.”

Grossi also said he is “continuing consultations with a view to agree on a framework for the delivery of IAEA assistance. The initiative aims to ensure safety and security at Ukraine’s nuclear sites.”

On March 15, Ukraine informed the UN's nuclear watchdog the Chernobyl nuclear power plant had reconnected to the national electricity grid after losing on-site power. 

As of Monday, the site had been receiving all required power from the repaired line, enabling the staff to switch off the emergency diesel generators they were relying on since March 9, it said in a statement.

Since Russian troops took control of the nuclear plant on February 24, the plant's 211 technical personnel and guards had not been able to leave, meaning they had been "in effect living there for the past three weeks," according to the watchdog. 

The Ukrainian regulator told the IAEA the information it received regarding Chernobyl was “controlled by the Russian military forces” and consequently it could not “always provide detailed answers to all” questions posed.

11:49 p.m. ET, March 20, 2022

Zelensky: "I'm ready for negotiations" with Putin, but if they fail, it could mean "a third World War"

From CNN's Chandelis Duster

Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky speaks with CNN on Sunday, March 20.
Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky speaks with CNN on Sunday, March 20.  (CNN)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Sunday 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,” Zelensky told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria in an exclusive interview Sunday morning.

“If there’s just 1% chance for us to stop this war, I think that we need to take this chance. We need to do that. I can tell you about the result of this negotiations — in any case, we are losing people on a daily basis, innocent people on the ground," he said.

He continued, “Russian forces have come to exterminate us, to kill us. And we can demonstrate that the dignity of our people and our army that we are able to deal a powerful blow, we are able to strike back. But, unfortunately, our dignity is not going to preserve the lives. So, I think we have to use any format, any chance in order to have a possibility of negotiating, possibility of talking to Putin. But if these attempts fail, that would mean that this is a third World War.”