March 23, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Helen Regan, Seán Federico O'Murchú, George Ramsay, Hafsa Khalil, Adrienne Vogt and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 12:00 a.m. ET, March 24, 2022
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2:55 p.m. ET, March 23, 2022

Nearly 1,000 residential buildings have been destroyed in Kharkiv, mayor says

From CNN's Andrew Carey and Yesa Kesaieva in Lviv

A man leaves an apartment building damaged after shelling the day before in Kharkiv on March 8.
A man leaves an apartment building damaged after shelling the day before in Kharkiv on March 8. (Sergey Bobok/AFP/Getty Images)

About 1,000 residential buildings have been destroyed in Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, Mayor Ihor Terehov said Wednesday.

The city, which is regarded as a key target for Russian President Vladimir Putin's invading forces and has sustained weeks of heavy assault, sits just 30 kilometers (about 18 miles) from the Russian border. 

Terehov revealed the extent of the damage done, reporting a total of 1,143 buildings destroyed by Russian fire, of which 998 were residential buildings.

2:47 p.m. ET, March 23, 2022

700 people escape from towns in eastern Ukraine despite "massive" Russian shelling, governor says

From CNN's Andrew Carey and Yulia Kesaieva in Lviv

Seven hundred people have managed to escape towns in the far east of Ukraine on Wednesday, according to Luhansk’s regional governor, despite continued Russian shelling through the day.

Authorities had posted the addresses of collection points on Facebook where people could pick up buses and small vans to drive them to railway stations and then onward to the west of Ukraine.  

In addition to the evacuations, Gov. Serhii Haidai said about 600 tons of aid had made it into the region, even though he suggested Russia’s observation of a ceasefire around the evacuation corridor had been “nominal.”

The governor said shelling on the towns of Rubizhen and Popasna had been “massive and continuous” adding that Kreminna and Severodonetsk were also under fire. There were civilian casualties, he said, without providing additional details.

3:13 p.m. ET, March 23, 2022

Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who championed NATO's expansion, has died

From CNN's Caroline Kelly

Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is presented with a Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2012.
Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is presented with a Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2012. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Madeleine Albright — who championed the expansion of NATO and was the first woman US secretary of state — has died. She was 84 years old.

She pushed for the alliance to intervene in the Balkans to stop genocide and ethnic cleansing, sought to reduce the spread of nuclear weapons, and championed human rights and democracy across the globe. 

The news of her death comes as NATO leaders, including US President Joe Biden, prepare to meet Thursday in Brussels for a summit on Russia's invasion in Ukraine.

Her death was confirmed in an email to staff of the Albright Stonebridge Group, a global strategy firm founded by Albright.

Albright was a central figure in President Bill Clinton’s administration, first serving as US ambassador to the United Nations before becoming the nation’s top diplomat in his second term.

In a New York Times op-ed, written last month just before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Albright argued that Russian leader Vladimir Putin would be making “a historic error” in invading Ukraine and warned of devastating costs to his country.

“Instead of paving Russia’s path to greatness, invading Ukraine would ensure Mr. Putin’s infamy by leaving his country diplomatically isolated, economically crippled and strategically vulnerable in the face of a stronger, more united Western alliance,” Albright wrote.

Read more about Albright and her leadership here.

2:37 p.m. ET, March 23, 2022

US and European officials held "intense back and forth" on Russian energy dependence

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

US and European officials have held an “intense back and forth” on reducing dependence on Russian energy in the lead-up to emergency summits in Brussels this week, the White House said.

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the matter would be a “substantial topic of conversation” among US President Joe Biden and other leaders at G7 and EU summits Thursday, and was a “major priority” for them. 

Sullivan said leaders have weighed a “practical roadmap” for ending European dependence on Russian oil and natural gas, and that Biden would have more to say on the matter on Friday.

He said the US would look to increase supplies of liquified natural gas in Europe in the short-term, though did not spell out specifics of a plan.

2:35 p.m. ET, March 23, 2022

White House declines to weigh in on removing Russia from G20, but leaves open possibility

From CNN's Nikki Carvajal

The White House on Wednesday left open the possibility that Russia could be kicked out of the Group of Twenty, but declined to weigh in publicly on reports that the US and allies want the country removed from the group.

“We don't believe it can be business as usual with Russia an international institutions,” National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on Air Force One, when asked directly if Russia could be booted from the forum. “In terms of specific answers to that kind of question, for the G20, or other international organizations, we want to have the opportunity to consult with our allies partners around the world…before I opine on that question publicly.”

As CNN previously reported, China said on Wednesday that no member of the G20 has the right to “expel another country” from the intergovernmental economic forum, amid reports the US and its Western allies are assessing whether Russia should remain within the group of major economies following its invasion of Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin “wants to go” to the G20 summit in Indonesia in November, Russia’s ambassador in Jakarta said on Wednesday, also in response to those reports.

2:25 p.m. ET, March 23, 2022

Biden will unveil new sanctions against Russian political figures and oligarchs during Thursday's summits

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

US President Joe Biden will unveil new sanctions on Russian political figures and oligarchs when he attends a series of summits in Brussels on Thursday.

Speaking aboard Air Force One as Biden headed to Europe, US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Biden would also discuss NATO’s force posture on its eastern edge and contingency plans for a potential Russian use of chemical or nuclear weapon in his talks.

Biden will begin at NATO by meeting Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg “to check signals” and get on the same page for the ensuing summit. Biden will attend the extraordinary NATO summit for approximately 3 hours, Sullivan said.

Among the priorities is “how we make sure that we're continuing to support Ukraine and its effort to defend itself,” Sullivan said, even though NATO itself hasn’t facilitated military assistance to Ukraine, but left those decisions to individual members.

Sullivan said the alliance would “discuss the question of NATO's force posture on the Eastern flank.” He said leaders would ratify certain decisions taken by defense ministers last week, and task their military and political officials to set out a “longer term game plan for what forces and capabilities are going to be required in those eastern flank countries. 

The longer-term plan will be agreed to at this summer’s NATO summit in Madrid, which had been previously announced. The new force posture will ensure “we've got a long term footprint that is matched to the new security reality that's been created both by Russia's full scale invasion of Ukraine and by what's happening in Belarus,” Sullivan said. 

At a subsequent meeting of the G7, Biden and fellow leaders will “agree on an initiative to coordinate on sanctions enforcement,” disallowing Russian efforts to evade existing sanctions, Sullivan said.

Biden will also “announce a package of sanctions designations tomorrow that relate both to political figures and oligarchs." 

Sanctions will also be up for discussion at the European Union, along with how to manage China as it considers providing military assistance to Russia.

And in all his discussions, Biden will “consult on potential contingencies” surrounding potential cyberattacks or the use of chemical or biological weapons, along with “how to deal with the rhetoric and the commentary coming out of Russia on this whole question of the potential use of nuclear weapons.”

Sullivan said US concerns about chemical or nuclear weapons centered primarily around the “deliberate drumbeat of misinformation, propaganda and lies on this subject that has all the markers of a precursor to them actually using these weapons.”

4:20 p.m. ET, March 23, 2022

US government formally declares Russian military has committed war crimes in Ukraine

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler 

An evacuated resident is comforted by Svitlana Vodolaga, spokesperson for State Emergency Services of Ukraine outside a burning apartment building in Kyiv on March 15, after strikes on residential areas killed at least two people.
An evacuated resident is comforted by Svitlana Vodolaga, spokesperson for State Emergency Services of Ukraine outside a burning apartment building in Kyiv on March 15, after strikes on residential areas killed at least two people. (Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images)

The US government has formally declared that members of the Russian armed forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement Wednesday.

The official US declaration that Moscow has committed the violations of the laws of conflict come after Blinken, President Joe Biden and Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman all said it was their personal opinion that war crimes have taken place.

“Today, I can announce that, based on information currently available, the U.S. government assesses that members of Russia's forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine,” Blinken said.

“Our assessment is based on a careful review of available information from public and intelligence sources,” he said.

“As with any alleged crime, a court of law with jurisdiction over the crime is ultimately responsible for determining criminal guilt in specific cases,” Blinken continued. “The U.S. government will continue to track reports of war crimes and will share information we gather with allies, partners, and international institutions and organizations, as appropriate. We are committed to pursuing accountability using every tool available, including criminal prosecutions.”

1:59 p.m. ET, March 23, 2022

Up to 15,000 Russians have been killed in ongoing Ukraine invasion, senior NATO military officials estimate

From CNN's Ellie Kaufman, Barbara Starr and Natasha Bertrand

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

Up to 15,000 Russians soldiers have been killed in one month in the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, two senior NATO military officials said. The officials made the estimate during a briefing with reporters on Wednesday. 

The officials specified the range could be as low as 7,000 or as high as 15,000 in total Russian soldiers killed in the conflict so far. Their estimate is based on what Ukraine is telling them, what they know from Russia “intentionally or by mistake” and from “open source” information, one of the officials said.

“The estimate we have is based on what the Ukrainians tell us, what the Russian let us know, intentionally or by mistakes, because mistakes happen in a war, and on intelligence we get on open sources, we think that the Russians have lost between 7,000, up to maximum 15,000 dead,” the official said Wednesday. 

The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces estimates that 15,600 Russian soldiers have been killed in the conflict. 

Overall, they estimate that there could be between 30,000 to 40,000 Russian soldiers either killed, wounded or missing altogether. 

“Statistically in conflicts when you have one killed soldier, you generally have three wounded soldier, so if you go four fold, it would be, I would say between 30,000 to 40,000 losses, losses killed in action, wounded in action, prisoner of war are missing, you don’t know what happened to the soldier,” the official said.

Other US officials have estimated a similar range of as low as 7,000 and as high as 14,000 Russian soldiers killed, but they have expressed “low confidence” in those estimates.

Neither NATO nor the United States have troops on the ground in Ukraine, making it incredibly difficult to get an accurate estimate on the number of Russian casualties. An accurate tally could take weeks or even months and may only be possible after the fighting has ceased. 

The Russian government has not put out a number of total soldiers killed in the conflict. The Russian tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda published — then later removed — a report that the Russian Ministry of Defense had recorded 9,861 Russian Armed Forces deaths in the war in Ukraine.

The report from the tabloid originally read: "According to the Russian Defense Ministry, during the special operation in Ukraine, the Russian Armed Forces lost 9861 people killed and 16153 wounded."

1:45 p.m. ET, March 23, 2022

WHO reports 64 attacks on health care facilities in Ukraine

From CNN’s Virginia Langmaid

Nurses cry after seeing the damage sustained by a psychiatric hospital hit by Russian shelling in Mykolaiv on March 22.
Nurses cry after seeing the damage sustained by a psychiatric hospital hit by Russian shelling in Mykolaiv on March 22. (Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images)

The World Health Organization has confirmed 64 attacks on health facilities in Ukraine so far, WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Wednesday.

 “WHO has now verified 64 attacks on health care since the start of the war, and we are in the process of verifying further attacks,” Tedros said in a media briefing.

 “Attacks on health must stop. Health systems, facilities, and health workers are not and should not, [ever] be a target,” he said.

Dr. Mike Ryan, director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, shared statistics from the International Organization of Migration on the vulnerabilities of the millions of people who have been internally displaced in Ukraine, including that 32% of displaced households include someone who is chronically ill and nearly 20% include someone who is disabled.

Situations like those in Ukraine, Ryan said, frequently lead to conditions where even accessing health facilities “becomes a life-threatening experience.”

“This is dehumanizing at a level that is very hard to explain. It is very hard to understand. It is very hard to even imagine what people are going through in this situation,” he said.

“We have reached maybe for once in my lifetime an appropriate level of horror of what's happening in Ukraine and particularly what's happening in Mariupol. And I hope that is the new level of horror we will express in all of these situations around the world from now on.”

Speaking on the difficulty of working in Ukraine and other regions in crisis including Ethiopia, Ryan said “basic” principles around aid are being forgotten. 

“It shouldn't be upon the humanitarian community to have to constantly renegotiate and negotiate and then have bureaucratic blocks and stop, start, stop, start,” he said. 

“This is not the way it is supposed to be. We are forgetting the basic principles of humanitarian law, when we end up in these interminable discussions about getting the most simple and basic of access to populations who desperately, desperately need us.”