March 25, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Jessie Yeung, Adam Renton, Sana Noor Haq, Adrienne Vogt, Melissa Macaya, Ed Upright, George Ramsay, Aditi Sangal and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 12:01 a.m. ET, March 26, 2022
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8:55 a.m. ET, March 25, 2022

Biden will meet with Ukrainian refugees in Poland on Saturday and deliver "major address," White House says

From CNN's Sam Fossum

US President Joe Biden will meet with Ukrainian refugees and American humanitarians in Poland on Saturday, according to White House national security advisor Jake Sullivan.

He added that the President will also deliver a "major address" and meet with President Andrzej Duda of Poland. 

"He will give a major address tomorrow that will speak to the stakes of this moment, the urgency of the challenge that lies ahead, what the conflict in Ukraine means for the world, and why it is so important that the free world sustain unity and resolve in the face of Russian aggression," Sullivan told reporters on Air Force One. 

Biden is traveling to Poland today after attending a round of emergency summits in Belgium Thursday.

9:30 a.m. ET, March 25, 2022

Putin instructed energy giant Gazprom to switch to ruble payments, Kremlin spokesperson says

From CNN staff

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a government meeting via a video link at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow on March 23.
Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a government meeting via a video link at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow on March 23. (Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik/AFP/Getty Images)

Russian President Vladimir Putin has instructed Russian state energy giant Gazprom to switch to ruble payments, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Friday.

Asked in a conference call with reporters whether Russia would continue to supply gas to the EU if the European countries refuse to pay in rubles, Peskov said, “Gazprom has been instructed by the Russian president to accept payment in rubles." 

"Within a week, or rather, within the remaining four days, Gazprom should… develop an understandable system of how this can be done technically and logistically," Peskov added. 

Putin said Wednesday Russia will seek payments for gas in rubles from countries it considers "unfriendly." German Chancellor Olaf Scholz Thursday rejected Putin’s demand that those countries begin paying for Russian gas in rubles.

The Russian president's order does not apply to independent gas producer Novatek, Peskov added, as it is a private company.

The German Minister for Economic Affairs Robert Habeck said Putin’s demand amounts to “blackmail.”

Putin’s instruction is a breach of contract with Gazprom, Habeck said during a news conference in Berlin on Friday, during which he outlined how Germany is moving away from Russian energy. 

“Germany is accelerating independence from Russian energy with high speed," he said. 

Germany is preparing for a possible scenario in which Putin stops energy supplies, with Habeck saying Berlin is well-prepared. By winter, Germany aspires to be completely independent from Russian oil, he added. He said that Germany was working on erecting liquefied natural gas terminals as quickly as possible.

US President Joe Biden has announced plans to supply Europe together with other nations with at least 15 billion cubic meters of LNG in 2022.

CNN's Inke Kappeler contributed reporting to this post from Berlin.

8:31 a.m. ET, March 25, 2022

Half of all Ukrainian kids have been displaced since the Russian invasion began, UNICEF says

From CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq and Sana Noor Haq

Ukrainian refugees arrive at Hendaye train station, southwestern France, on March 9.
Ukrainian refugees arrive at Hendaye train station, southwestern France, on March 9. (Bob Edme/AP)

One in every two Ukrainian children has been displaced since Russia began its invasion on February 24, according to a statement from the UN Children's Fund on Thursday.

UNICEF's statement added that 4.3 million children have been displaced, which represents more than half of Ukraine's estimated 7.5 million child population.

This figure includes over 1.8 million children who have crossed into neighboring countries as refugees, and 2.5 million children who are also internally displaced in Ukraine, the statement said.

The statement added that 78 children have been killed and 105 children have been injured in Ukraine since the invasion began over a month ago, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

However, these figures represent those that the UN has managed to confirm, and the true toll is expected to be higher, the statement said.

"It's mind-boggling," UNICEF spokesperson James Elder told CNN earlier this week. "Since the start of the war a month ago, out of every boy and girl in the country, one out of two now has had to flee their homes."

It's a situation we've not seen before, not in living memory, and it's almost impossible to deal with," Elder said.

Elder said UNICEF is trying to get blankets, water purification tablets, generators, medical supplies and obstetric kits for mothers giving birth into the country.

"Unless the war stops, unless the indiscriminate attacks stop, we're going to see more children wrenched from their homes and the bombardments," he added.

8:33 a.m. ET, March 25, 2022

Where have chemical weapons been used, and are they really a red line for the West?  

From CNN's Rob Picheta

U.S. President Joe Biden attends a press conference after the special NATO summit at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on March 24.
U.S. President Joe Biden attends a press conference after the special NATO summit at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on March 24. (Michael Kappeler/picture alliance/Getty Images)

US President Joe Biden said on Thursday that NATO would respond if Russia used chemical weapons in Ukraine, and has previously warned that Moscow would “pay a severe price” if it did so.  

The use of such weapons against Ukrainian people would mark a dramatic escalation to Russia’s invasion, and would likely demand heavy retaliation from the West.  

But concerns have been growing that Russia may be planning to take the step, after the Kremlin planted the unsubstantiated idea that Ukraine and the US may use these weapons. "It's a tell that they themselves may be preparing to do so, and then trying to pin the blame on someone else," US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said earlier this month.   

Why would their use be so significant? Chemical weapons contain toxic substances designed to cause death or harm to their targets. They can spread dangerous chemicals including choking, blister and nerve agents, which can attack the body and cause death on a vast scale, indiscriminately and across a wide area if they are deployed inside a bomb or an artillery shell.  

Their use is banned by international law. Russia has signed those treaties and claims it doesn't have chemical weapons, but the country has already been linked to the use of nerve agents against critics in recent years. Those cases include the poisonings of Alexander Litvinenko, Sergei Skripal and Alexey Navalny. 

A painful history: Widespread horror over the use of chemical agents during World War I resulted in the Geneva Protocol, signed in 1925, which banned chemical weapons attacks.  

Nonetheless, as many as 25 countries worked to develop chemical weapons during the Cold War, according to the United Nations’ Office for Disarmament Affairs. Lengthy negotiations eventually led to the adoption of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) in 1992, requiring nations to destroy their stockpiles and prohibiting the development, production or use of chemical weapons.

There have, however, been limited occasions in which they have been used in combat -- and those occasions have led to political fallout around the world. 

Former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein used a variety of chemical weapons against Iran during the 1980s, and their use in Syria over the past decade brought the threat of US intervention in that country’s civil war. 

Attacks in Ghouta in 2013, and in Khan Sheikhoun in 2017, both involved the alleged use of sarin gas, a nerve agent banned under the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention. 

In 2013, the use of the gas, reported by United Nations investigators, crossed one of then-President Barack Obama's self-declared red lines, yet no military action came. Instead, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) went into Syria to monitor the destruction of the country's chemical weapons program. 

Warnings to Russia: While Biden’s declaration may conjure memories of Obama’s ill-fated “red line” warning in 2013, the current US President has a united NATO on his side.  

On Thursday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance would reinforce its chemical, biological and nuclear defense systems amid fears over Russia’s intentions.

In a joint statement Thursday, the leaders of the G7 warned Russia against the use of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. 

“Any Russian use of chemical or biological weapons “would be a breach of all rules, all agreements and all existing conventions,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz added. “We can only say: Don't do it!” 

8:10 a.m. ET, March 25, 2022

It's just past 2 p.m. in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know

It has now been over a month since Russia began its invasion of Ukraine in late February. Here's the latest in the ongoing conflict:

New death toll in theater bombing: Mariupol city council says that based on eyewitness reports, it now believes around 300 people died in a Russian airstrike on a theater in the city on March 16. CNN has not independently verified the casualty figures. The building was being used as one of the main shelters in Mariupol, with estimates of the number of people taking refuge there ranging from between 800 to 1,300. Information about the full extent of the attack has been slow to emerge due to the almost complete breakdown of essential services in the city, including communication networks. 

Battles on the ground: The UK's Ministry of Defense said Ukrainian forces have retaken towns and defensive positions on the eastern outskirts of Kyiv in its latest intelligence update. Further east, however, intense clashes around Izyum have left much of the city destroyed, city officials say, with new satellite images revealing the extent of the devastation in the region. The city has been caught in the crossfire as Russia attempts to link advances made in the Kharkiv region of northern Ukraine with its stronghold in the far east of the country.

Evacuation corridors: Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk announced two evacuation routes for Mariupol and occupied Melitopol on Friday. Speaking in a televised message, Vereshchuk said the corridors will link the two cities with Zaporizhzhia, which lies to the north and is still under Ukrainian control. A centralized evacuation is also planned by bus from the Russian occupied city of Berdyansk, the deputy prime minister said, adding that 48 buses are parked at the entrance to the city.

Biden heads to Poland: US President Joe Biden has departed Brussels, and is now heading to the Poland-Ukraine border region, where he plans to meet Polish President Andrzej Duda for a briefing on humanitarian aid efforts. Biden's visit to Poland is will be the second stop of his wartime trip��through Europe and is intended to highlight the massive refugee crisis that has ensued from Russia's war in Ukraine, the White House said.

US and EU announce joint task force: US President Joe Biden announced a new initiative meant to deprive Russian President Vladimir Putin of European energy profits used to “drive his war machine," adding that the United States would help Europe reduce its dependence on Russian oil and gas, and would ensure the continent had enough supplies for the next two winters. The United States will work toward supplying Europe with at least 15 billion cubic meters of liquefied natural gas in 2022, in partnership with other nations, the White House said. Speaking alongside Biden, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, hailed the joint energy task force as a "big step" in efforts to diversify gas supplies away from Russia. 

10:25 a.m. ET, March 25, 2022

Teen who escaped Mariupol says her city is now "a ghost"

An 18-year-old who fled from the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol said her city "turned into a ghost."

"I don't think nobody abroad can understand truly what just happened in my hometown," Maria she told CNN's John Berman in an interview. Her last name was withheld for security reasons.

"Rockets fell down on the street, in our houses, in our cars, on the streets, on the hospitals, on the schools. And it's actually terrifying. The sounds of bombs just makes your blood stop and boil because of fear. And the only thing you're thinking about is like how to make [it] out alive," she said.

She and her family sheltered in a huge basement with others before they escaped, and they are now staying with relatives in Dnipro.

Her family managed to secure a car to get out of the city, but she said soldiers at Russian checkpoints were telling them to delete photos and videos of destruction on their phones. The soldiers took their phones and were scrolling through to find footage. Her family deleted the majority of their photos to get through, "but the truth is that these photos cannot be hidden" because photos and videos from Mariupol have already sent to others worldwide, Maria said.

"It's impossible to hide anything because we see it. We live in that condition so we can't be defeated easily. ... We are not fools," she said.

Maria also said that 20 minutes after they left a Russian checkpoint, she heard rockets begin firing.

"Unfortunately, you cannot help Mariupol now. The only thing you can help is ... to close the sky in Ukraine. Because the main weapon of Russian soldiers are rockets and bombs dropping from the sky," she said.

Watch the interview:

8:16 a.m. ET, March 25, 2022

Germany takes in more than 250,000 Ukrainian refugees

From CNN's Benjamin Brown

Ukrainian war refugees are accommodated in a sports hall equipped with camp beds in the small Bavarian village of Eichenau near Munich, Germany, on March 24.
Ukrainian war refugees are accommodated in a sports hall equipped with camp beds in the small Bavarian village of Eichenau near Munich, Germany, on March 24. (Christof Stache/AFP/Getty Images)

More than quarter of a million refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine have arrived in Germany, according to the German Ministry of the Interior.

As of Friday, 253,157 refugees had been registered by German police. The actual number of incoming refugees could be significantly higher due to the absence of border checks between Poland and Germany, an interior ministry spokesperson told CNN.

The majority of refugees arriving in Germany are women, children and elderly people, the spokesperson said.

Some background: Since the start of Russia's invasion over four weeks ago, more than 3.6 million Ukrainians have fled the country with more than two million going to Poland, according to statistics from the United Nations.

Half of all Ukrainian children have been displaced since Russia's attack began on February 24.

7:28 a.m. ET, March 25, 2022

Turkish president says Ukraine and Russia have reached "an understanding" on certain topics of negotiation

From CNN's Yusuf Gezer and Radina Gigova

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a news conference after an extraordinary NATO summit at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on March 24.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a news conference after an extraordinary NATO summit at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on March 24. (Markus Schreiber/AP)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Friday that Ukraine and Russia seem to have reached 'an understanding' on four out of six topics of disagreement discussed during negotiations. 

Speaking to reporters on his way back from a NATO summit in Brussels, Erdoğan also said he will speak with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday and with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the weekend "or [during the] first days of the next week."

“There are six topics of negotiation between Russia and Ukraine, there seems to be an understanding between them about four topics," Erdoğan said. 
"At first, Ukraine was hung up on this issue, but later on, Zelensky began to express that he could withdraw from NATO membership. Another issue is the acceptance of Russian as an official language. Zelensky also admitted this. Russian is a language spoken almost everywhere in Ukraine. There is no problem at this point either," Erdoğan said. 

Erdoğan also said Zelensky's comments about the need for a referendum on compromises with Russia was "smart leadership." Zelensky said Monday any constitutional changes that relate to security guarantees in the country would need to be decided through a referendum and not by him alone. 

About his upcoming call with Putin, Erdoğan said "we should discuss and evaluate" NATO meetings. "We have to look for a way to smooth this business by saying 'make an honorable exit to this,'" Erdoğan said.  

"On the other hand, we [Turkey] certainly consider the use of weapons of mass destruction as a crime against humanity," he added. 

8:17 a.m. ET, March 25, 2022

As Biden heads to Poland, Europe's mounting refugee crisis comes into focus

From CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq, Maegan Vazquez, Kevin Liptak and Allie Malloy

Refugees from Ukraine line up as they wait for further transport at the Medyka border crossing in southeastern Poland, on March 23.
Refugees from Ukraine line up as they wait for further transport at the Medyka border crossing in southeastern Poland, on March 23. Photo by Angelos Tzortzinis / AFP) (Photo by ANGELOS TZORTZINIS/AFP via Getty Images)

One in every two Ukrainian children has been displaced since Russia began its invasion on February 24, according to a statement from the UN Children's Fund on Thursday.

UNICEF's statement added that 4.3 million children have been displaced, which represents more than half of Ukraine's estimated 7.5 million child population.

This figure includes over 1.8 million children who have crossed into neighboring countries as refugees, and 2.5 million children who are also internally displaced in Ukraine, the statement said.

"It's mind-boggling," UNICEF spokesperson James Elder told CNN earlier this week. "Since the start of the war a month ago, out of every boy and girl in the country, one out of two now has had to flee their homes."

It's a situation we've not seen before, not in living memory, and it's almost impossible to deal with," Elder said.

Elder said UNICEF is trying to get blankets, water purification tablets, generators, medical supplies and obstetric kits for mothers giving birth into the country.

"Unless the war stops, unless the indiscriminate attacks stop, we're going to see more children wrenched from their homes and the bombardments," he added.

The news comes as US President Joe Biden has departed Brussels, and is now heading to the Poland-Ukraine border region, where he plans to meet Polish President Andrzej Duda for a briefing on humanitarian aid efforts.

Biden's visit to Poland is will be the second stop of his wartime trip through Europe and is intended to highlight the massive refugee crisis that has ensued since Russia's war in Ukraine began a month ago, the White House said.

The President confirmed on Thursday that he hopes to meet with Ukrainian refugees while in Poland. It's not clear, however, when or where those potential meetings will take place.

More than 3.5 million refugees have now fled Ukraine, according to data from the United Nations refugee agency released on Tuesday. A vast majority of those refugees have fled to Ukraine's western neighbors across Europe.

Poland, which borders Ukraine to the west, has registered more than 2 million Ukrainian refugees crossing into the country. However, the number of refugees staying in Poland is lower, with many continuing on in their journey to other countries.

Meanwhile, the United States will welcome up to 100,000 Ukrainians and others fleeing Russia's aggression, a senior administration official announced Thursday.

"To meet this commitment, we are considering the full range of legal pathways to the United States," the official said, which includes US refugee admissions program, parole and immigrant and non-immigrant visas.