March 28, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Aditi Sangal, Travis Caldwell, Helen Regan, Amy Woodyatt, Maureen Chowdhury, Jason Kurtz and Kathryn Snowdon, CNN

Updated 12:03 AM ET, Tue March 29, 2022
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7:49 p.m. ET, March 28, 2022

Adviser to Ukrainian president calls Biden's comments on Putin "impressive"

From CNN's Jason Kurtz

Ihor Zhovkva, a top adviser to Ukraine's president
Ihor Zhovkva, a top adviser to Ukraine's president (CNN)

Ihor Zhovkva, a top adviser to Ukraine's president, praised US President Joe Biden's declaration that Russian President Vladimir Putin "cannot remain in power."

"I like the statement of President Biden which was very impressive," said Zhovkva, the Deputy Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine.

Today, Biden reiterated he was not announcing a change in US policy when he made the remark. “I just was expressing my outrage," Biden said.

"But again, it's no use to speculate whether [Putin is] still in power or not," Zhovkva said. "If Russia would become a democratic country, he would not probably stay in power. But since Russia is far away from democratic country, unfortunately we all have to witness probably, for some period of time, him being in power."

Zhovkva's comments came as part of an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, during which he said the country doesn't plan to lose any territory to Russia, but could amend that position should it quickly bring the conflict to an end.

"The general position is we do not trade any inch of Ukrainian territory, but yesterday my President acknowledged that in order to immediately stop the war and to have an immediate cease-fire and immediate withdrawal of Russian troops, we are ready to agree to withdraw Russian troops to their positions they had before February 24th," said Zhovka.

On the topic of recently surfaced video showing what appear to be Ukrainian soldiers shooting men who are apparently Russian prisoners in the knees, Zhovkva disputed the footage's authenticity.

"This video has already proved to be a fake," he said, adding "Ukraine is a civilized country, unlike Russia, and we will be treating any war prisoners according to international law, unlike Russians who are treating Ukrainian civilians awfully ... Ukraine will never be such a barbaric country as Russia."

6:43 p.m. ET, March 28, 2022

UK Defence official: Wagner Group is expected to deploy more than 1,000 mercenaries to Ukraine

From CNN’s Alex Marquardt and Ellie Kaufman

The notorious Russian private military group Wagner has deployed to eastern Ukraine according to UK Defence Attaché to Washington, AVM Mick Smeath. 

According to a British embassy statement, Smeath said, “They are expected to deploy more than 1,000 mercenaries, including senior leaders of the organisation, to undertake combat operations.” 

Smeath added, “Due to heavy losses and a largely stalled invasion, Russia has highly likely been forced to reprioritise Wagner personnel for Ukraine at the expense of operations in Africa and Syria.”

Last Tuesday, a senior US defense official told reporters the Wagner Group is “active” in Ukraine.

Right now, the US is not seeing “tangible indications” that Russians are making an effort to re-supply, but “we do continue to see indications that they are having these discussions and that they are making these kinds of plans both in terms of re-supply and also reinforcement,” the official said.

6:45 p.m. ET, March 28, 2022

Ukrainian forces "continue to maintain circular defense" of Mariupol amid call for full evacuation, staff says

From CNN's Nathan Hodge and Yulia Kesaieva

A local resident reacts while standing in the courtyard of an apartment building destroyed in Mariupol on March 28.
A local resident reacts while standing in the courtyard of an apartment building destroyed in Mariupol on March 28. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

The Ukrainian general staff said its forces "continue to maintain the circular defense" inside the port city of Mariupol, even as Russian forces consolidated control around the city.

The announcement came shortly after midnight on Tuesday.

Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boichenko said earlier Monday that the city was "in the hands of occupiers," as evacuation corridors from the city have been surrounded on all sides by Russian forces. 

Boichenko called for "a complete evacuation" of the remaining citizens from the battered city. Ukrainian officials say 90% of the residential buildings in the city have been damaged or destroyed during the heavy fighting of the last month.

8:04 p.m. ET, March 28, 2022

Incident on sidelines of Ukraine-Russia talks left negotiators with minor skin peeling and sore eyes

From CNN's Matthew Chance and Katya Krebs in London

Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich attends a meeting in Moscow in 2016.
Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich attends a meeting in Moscow in 2016. (Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)

A source close to the Ukrainian negotiation team tells CNN’s senior international correspondent Matthew Chance that there was an incident "a few weeks ago" during Ukraine-Russia talks in Turkey in which Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich along with two Ukrainian negotiators suffered minor skin peeling and sore eyes, the source adding the incident was not regarded as serious.  

The Reuters news agency on Monday citing an unidentified US official says that intelligence suggests Abramovich and the Ukrainian peace negotiators were sickened due to an environmental factor, not poisoning. "The intelligence highly suggests this was environmental," adding: "not poisoning," the official said to Reuters.  

This after the Wall Street Journal and investigative group Bellingcat reported on Monday that Ukrainian peace negotiators and Abramovich suffered from suspected poisoning earlier this month on the sidelines of talks aimed at ending the Russia-Ukraine conflict. The Wall Street Journal and Bellingcat reported the poisoning occurred during the sidelines of talks in Kyiv while a source close to the Ukrainian negotiation team tells CNN the incident occurred on the sidelines of talks in Turkey.

A source close to the Office of Ukraine’s Presidency speaking to CNN on condition of anonymity said of poisoning reports, “This is not true. Just another case of disinformation.”

Ukrainian negotiator Mykhailo Podoliak did not outright deny the incident, saying instead that all Ukraine’s negotiators were working as usual. Podoliak said to CNN: "All members of the negotiation group are working today as usual. There is a lot of speculation, various conspiracy theories and elements of different information games in the media field now. Therefore, I repeat once again — the members of the negotiation group are working today in a regular mode."

A spokesperson for Abramovich would only say “No comments from us, thank you”, when contacted by CNN on Monday. 

Abramovich, who was sanctioned earlier this month by the UK government along with other Russian oligarchs following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, has been acting as an intermediary between Russia and Ukraine, shuttling between Moscow, Kyiv, Istanbul, Warsaw and beyond amid a whirlwind of talks aimed at ending the conflict, his spokesman confirmed last month. 

On Feb. 28, Abramovich’s spokesperson said “I can confirm that Roman Abramovich was contacted by the Ukrainian side for support in achieving a peaceful resolution, and that he has been trying to help ever since. Considering what is at stake, we would ask for understanding as to why we have not commented on neither the situation as such nor his involvement.”

Abramovich’s role as interlocutor in Russia-Ukraine talks is not in an official capacity. He is not acting as part of a Russian delegation or as a Russian mediator. 

4:56 p.m. ET, March 28, 2022

Cyberattack hits big Ukrainian telecom provider, Ukrainian officials say

From CNN's Sean Lyngaas

Ukrtelecom, a prominent Ukrainian internet and phone line provider, was the target of a “powerful cyberattack” on Monday, Ukrainian officials said.

The cyberattack was “neutralized” and, as recovery from the hack continues, priority has been given to maintaining communications services for Ukraine’s military, according to a tweet from Ukraine’s State Service of Special Communications and Information Protection.

The agency blamed “the enemy,” for the hack in an apparent reference to Russia.

Connectivity at Ukrtelecom, which describes itself as the “largest fixed line operator in Ukraine,” plummeted on Monday to 13% of pre-war levels, according to NetBlocks, which tracks internet connectivity.  

Ukrainian telecom providers have experienced a wave of hacks as the Russian bombardment of the country continues. 

Hackers earlier this month caused outages at a Ukrainian internet service provider Triolan, which has customers in major cities. 

8:21 p.m. ET, March 28, 2022

It's almost midnight in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know.

From CNN Staff

Ukrainian soldiers pass by a damaged Russian tank in the town of Trostyanets, east of Kyiv, on Monday.
Ukrainian soldiers pass by a damaged Russian tank in the town of Trostyanets, east of Kyiv, on Monday. (Efrem Lukatsky/AP)

US President Joe Biden said he isn't walking back his remarks that President Vladimir Putin cannot remain in power.

"I'm not walking anything back," President Biden said Monday at the White House, emphasizing he wasn't voicing a policy change but that he was expressing an opinion based on his emotions from the day. "I was expressing the moral outrage I felt toward the way Putin is dealing and the actions of this man.”

"I'd just come from being with those families," he said, referring to Ukrainian refugees in Warsaw. 

"I wasn’t then or wasn’t now expressing a policy change," Biden said.

"I make no apologies for it," he added.

Biden said he doesn't care what Putin thinks of his comment that he shouldn't be in power in Russia.

"I don’t care what he thinks. He’s going to do what he’s going to do," Biden said when asked by a reporter whether he was concerned Putin would see the remark as escalatory. 

Here are more of the latest headlines in the Russia-Ukraine conflict:

  • Children account for half of all Ukrainian refugees, EU commissioner says: Children make up half of the 3.8 million refugees from Ukraine that have arrived in the European Union since the Russian invasion, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson says. “The numbers of arrivals is going down,” Johansson said Monday of Ukrainians arriving in the EU. “At the peak, we had 200,000 arrivals per day now it’s down to 40,000 per day,” she said. Johansson, who was speaking after a meeting of EU interior ministers in Brussels, added that 800,000 of the 3.8 million arrivals have already applied for temporary protection in the EU.
  • President Biden says he was "talking to the Russian people" when he went off-script: Biden said that he was talking to the Russian people when he made the off-the-cuff remark that Russian President Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power” during a speech over the weekend. “I was talking to the Russian people,” Biden said, when asked on Monday by CNN’s Kaitlan Collins why he ad-libbed the line. “The last part of the speech was talking to Russian people,” he said. “I was communicating this to not only the Russian people but the whole world. This is, this is just stating a simple fact that this kind of behavior is totally unacceptable." Moments before, Biden likened the meaning of his comment to a person saying objectively, “bad people shouldn't continue to do bad things,” and not announcing a change in policy.
  • US deploying 6 Navy electronic warfare jets to Germany as it bolsters forces in eastern Europe: The Pentagon is deploying six US Navy electronic warfare jets and more than 200 accompany troops to Germany as the US bolsters its forces in eastern Europe amid Russia’s war with Ukraine. Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters Monday that six Navy E/A-18G Growler jets were deploying from Naval Air Station Whidbey in Washington state to Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany, and the jets were expected to arrive today. In addition, they would be accompanied by about 240 Navy air crew, pilots and maintenance staff, he said. The Navy Growler jets are primarily used for flying electronic warfare missions, including radar jamming to help suppress air defenses.  
  • Russian forces have stalled in several parts of Ukraine, senior US defense official says: Russian forces are largely stalled in several parts of Ukraine, a senior US defense official told reporters Monday. There have been “no changes” to the situation in Mariupol, Chernihiv, Mykolaiv or Kharkiv, the official said. “They’ve made no progress in moving towards Kyiv, they’ve made no progress elsewhere in the north, whether its Chernihiv or Kharkiv,” the official said of Russian forces. In Mariupol, Russian forces continue to use “long-range fires,” but “they have not been able to take Mariupol,” the official said. Russian forces “aren’t making any advances on Mykolaiv over the course of the weekend,” the official said, “so they are outside the city.”
  • Russian foreign minister: Putin-Zelensky meeting not necessary until key issues clarified: A meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is required after there is “clarity on all vital issues for Moscow,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Monday. The West has ignored these issues, despite having been raised by Moscow for years, he added. “Now, the main thing is to stop pandering to the Ukrainians who only seek to generate an image of negotiations and settlements. They succeeded in this when they sabotaged the Minsk agreements shortly after they inked them in February 2015, and as a result declared that they would not implement them," Lavrov continued.
  • Russia-Ukraine talks to resume on Tuesday in Istanbul: Russia-Ukraine talks are set to resume in-person in Istanbul this week, Lavrov said earlier on Monday during a news conference. "These negotiations are ongoing. They will be resumed today-tomorrow in Istanbul in-person after a series of video conferences," Lavrov said. "And we are interested that these negotiations would bring a result and that this result would achieve our fundamental goals," he said. "The fact that it was decided to continue negotiations in person is important," Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Monday during a call with journalists. Peskov said the talks between the two sides are likely to resume Tuesday.
  • Biden's new budget proposal includes billions to counter Russia's aggression in Ukraine: President Biden’s 2023 budget proposal includes increased funding for security – both domestically and internationally – and reduces the deficit, the White House said Monday morning, but officials admit inflation could continue to cause problems for the overall economy. As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues, the proposed budget includes $6.9 billion for the European Deterrence Initiative and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and “countering Russian aggression to support Ukraine.”
4:37 p.m. ET, March 28, 2022

Ukrainian regional military administrator says Russia struck fuel depot in western Ukraine

From CNN's Yulia Kesaieva in Lviv 

Russian forces struck a fuel depot in western Ukraine, a Ukrainian regional military administrator said Monday. 

"The enemy has hit Rivne region with a missile again," said Vitalii Koval, the Rivne regional military administration head. "It's a fuel depot again. SES [emergency services] and the chemical laboratory are out on the way to the scene."

Russian forces have struck fuel depots at several locations around Ukraine in recent days. 

4:09 p.m. ET, March 28, 2022

Turkish presidential spokesperson describes Russia's Donbas and Crimea demands as "not realistic"

From CNN’s Zeena Saifi in Doha

Turkish presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin told CNN’s Becky Anderson in an interview Sunday that Russia’s demands to recognize the annexation of Crimea and the independence of the Donbas region is “very maximalist” and “not realistic”.

“These are the red lines for the Ukrainians in the Crimea and Donbas, and rightly so, because they pertain directly to Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. We have not recognized the annexation of Crimea as, like the rest of the world, even China has not recognized the annexation of Crimea …They [the Russians] should really come up with some other ideas,” he told CNN on the sidelines of the Doha Forum.

Turkey has been offering to mediate between Russia and Ukraine and has hosted several meetings, including a meeting between Ukrainian and Russian Foreign Ministers on March 10. The next round of talks between the two sides will be held in the Turkish city of Istanbul on Tuesday.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan relayed a message to Moscow urging the negotiating teams to agree on the final sticking points in order to transition to a meeting at the leadership level between President Volodymyr Zelensky and President Vladimir Putin, Kalin told CNN.

“President Zelensky is ready to meet President Putin, it’s President Putin who has said no so far. And our president has said, I'm ready to facilitate bringing the two of you together, in Turkey or somewhere else… We believe that it's only through that meeting, that this war will come to an end,” he added.

The spokesperson emphasized that President Erdogan is keeping his line of communication open with both his Russian and Ukrainian counterparts to help achieve to end the war, especially with Russia. When asked if President Putin listens to Erdoğan, Kalin said the two have a “long-standing relationship.”

“Certainly President Putin is listening to President Erdoğan and to his advice and to his ideas and suggestions. You can understand from their point of view that they don't trust most of the NATO countries, they don't want to talk to them anymore, right or wrong. But the reality is that someone has to talk to the Russian side, someone whom the Russians can also trust. Otherwise, this war can go on for months, for years, and the world cannot afford another prolonged war like that, and certainly, we cannot afford another Cold War.“

4:34 p.m. ET, March 28, 2022

Expo center in Warsaw is now the largest refugee hub in Europe for those fleeing Ukraine

From CNN's Kyung Lah

An expo center in Warsaw, Poland, is now the largest refugee hub in all of Europe for those fleeing the conflict in Ukraine, CNN's Kyung Lah reported as she showed viewers inside the building.

Lah said 95% of the refugees being housed in the temporary shelter are women, children and the elderly.

"They're the ones who have left safely out of Ukraine, but the emphasis here is that this is hub," she said.

Kyung noted that the expo center has various different areas for refugees to get their papers sorted out, get a bus ticket to travel to other parts of Europe, places to receive consistent meals and even healthcare assistance.

The center is privately owned but run jointly with the city.

Earlier Monday, the EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson told journalists children make up half of the 3.8 million refugees from Ukraine that have arrived in the European Union since Russia's invasion.

Watch CNN's full report from the ground here: