March 29, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Maureen Chowdhury, Adrienne Vogt, Aditi Sangal, Mike Hayes, Jason Kurtz, Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Travis Caldwell, Seán Federico O'Murchú, Jack Guy and Hafsa Khalil, CNN

Updated 11:06 a.m. ET, March 30, 2022
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7:24 a.m. ET, March 29, 2022

Humanitarian corridors reopen in southeast Ukraine after one day pause

From Andrew Carey and Olga Voitovych in Lviv 

Local resident Inga Serbina, 45, has her passport checked by a service member of pro-Russian troops before she leaves the city of Mariupol, Ukraine, on March 27.
Local resident Inga Serbina, 45, has her passport checked by a service member of pro-Russian troops before she leaves the city of Mariupol, Ukraine, on March 27. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

Evacuation corridors linking Mariupol, Melitopol and Enerhodar with Zaporizhzhia were agreed Tuesday, according to Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk.

Residents of the three cities should be able to reach Zaporizhzhia, which remains in Ukrainian hands and has become the key transit point for people looking to escape fighting in the southeast. 

But logistics around Mariupol remain complicated, with buses unable to make it into the besieged city to take out residents.

Instead, people must make their own way out as far as Berdyansk, where they can then pick up buses to complete the journey. 

Some 75,000 people have been evacuated from Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia, Vereshchuk said. 

The number of corridors announced each day continues to fluctuate. On Monday, none were announced after Ukraine said it had intelligence suggesting possible Russian "provocations" along the routes.

Other days have seen up to nine evacuation routes announced, serving towns and cities in the north of the country and the far east, as well as those in the southeast. 

7:00 a.m. ET, March 29, 2022

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

From CNN's Jack Guy

Delegations from Russia and Ukraine are meeting for in-person talks today in Istanbul, as Ukraine continues to launch counterattacks against Russian forces.

Here's the latest:

  • Talks in Turkey: Russian and Ukrainian delegations are meeting in Istanbul, Turkey, for the latest round of talks. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that now is the time to "expect solid outcomes" from the talks.
  • Ukraine counterattacks: Military officials say Ukraine has launched counteroffensives against Russian forces in the Kyiv region as well as in the south of the country. Russian forces have been struggling to hold their front line northwest of the city of Kherson, and Ukrainian officials say the military has also pushed Russian troops back around 31 miles (50 kilometers) in fighting near the city of Kryvyi Rih.
  • Evacuation routes reopen: On Tuesday the Ukrainian government said residents of Mariupol, Melitopol and Enerhodar are once again able to reach the city of Zaporizhzhia, which remains in Ukrainian hands and has become the key transit point for people looking to escape fighting in the southeast. On Monday, Ukraine said no corridors would function over fears of possible "provocations" by Russian forces.
1:24 p.m. ET, March 29, 2022

Abramovich attends Russia and Ukraine talks in unofficial capacity, Kremlin says

Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich is attending the current talks in Istanbul between Russia and Ukraine, but is not an official member of the Russian delegation, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday.

Abramovich is "facilitating" to "ensure certain contacts between the Russian and Ukrainian sides," he added.

"In order to hold contacts between the two parties, it is necessary to obtain approval from both parties. In the case of Abramovich, he has approval [of his participation] from both sides."

Some background: Abramovich, who was sanctioned earlier this month by the UK government along with other Russian oligarchs following Russia’s invasion, 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 Monday, a source close to the Ukrainian negotiation team told CNN that Abramovich and two Ukrainian peace negotiators suffered minor skin peeling and sore eyes during Ukraine-Russia talks "a few weeks ago" in Turkey, adding the incident was not regarded as serious.  

8:57 a.m. ET, March 29, 2022

Moscow says "main tasks" of "special military operation" are complete

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu delivers a speech during an expanded meeting of the Defence Ministry Board in Moscow, Russia, on December 21.
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu delivers a speech during an expanded meeting of the Defence Ministry Board in Moscow, Russia, on December 21. (Mikhail Tereshchenko/Sputnik/Reuters)

The "main tasks" of what Russia calls its "special military operation" in Ukraine have been completed, Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Tuesday. 

"The Ukrainian army has suffered significant damage, this allows us to focus efforts on achieving the main goal - the liberation of Donbas," Shoigu said.

Russia will "respond adequately" in the event NATO supplies aircraft and air defense systems to Ukraine, Shoigu added.

Some background: The Ukrainian government in Kyiv asserts the two separatist-controlled regions in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region, known as the self-proclaimed Luhansk People's Republic and the Donetsk People's Republic, are in effect Russian-occupied, where unmarked Russian forces have been propping up separatist fighters since 2014.

The Ukrainian army has shown resistance to the invasion, with Ukrainian officials reporting potentially significant gains in parts of the south, as well as around Kyiv.

Russia's death toll has not been released by the Kremlin since March 2 when they put the dead Russian military personnel at 498. The US Department of Defense said last week there had been up to 10,000 deaths. The Russian Defense Ministry on March 22 said it "does not have the authority" to publicize a count of Russia’s military deaths while the "military operation" is still ongoing.

5:58 a.m. ET, March 29, 2022

Ukraine reports fresh counterattacks against Russian forces in the south

From CNN's Andrew Carey, Kostan Nechyporenko and Olga Voitovych

A member of the Ukrainian Volunteer Corps fires with a howitzer at a position in the Zaporizhzhia region of Ukraine, on March 28.
A member of the Ukrainian Volunteer Corps fires with a howitzer at a position in the Zaporizhzhia region of Ukraine, on March 28. (Stanislav Yurchenko/Reuters)

Russia’s most significant battlefield achievement in south Ukraine has been the capture of Kherson in the first week of March – seen as the first important gain towards a possible offensive against Odesa, the country’s third largest city. 

But in recent days, CNN has reported on Russia’s struggles to hold its front line northwest of the city, as well as Ukrainian successes targeting Russian attack helicopters at nearby Kherson airport. 

Now, Ukrainian officials are reporting potentially significant gains elsewhere in the south, pushing Russian forces back as much as around 31 miles (50 kilometers) in fighting near the city of Kryvyi Rih. 

"The enemy is no longer just stopped in all directions - but has actually been pushed back from the distant approaches to the city," Oleksandr Vilkul, the top official in Kryvyi Rih, said late Monday.

"Today, several more settlements in the Kherson region have been liberated. The invaders are at a distance from Kryvyi Rih of at least 40 kilometers (25 miles), in some directions as much as 60 kilometers (37 miles)."

Previously, Ukrainian officials said Russian troops were within 10 kilometers (6 miles) of the city, which has a population of more than 500,000 and lies between Kherson and Dnipro. 

"The contact line is no longer on the border with the Dnipropetrovsk region, and it is already in the Kherson region. Our military shows real bravery and inflicts serious damage on the enemy," Vikul said.  

Most residents had remained in Kryvyi Rih since the start of the war, Vikul added. "You can see for yourself that the city lives and works," he said on a video statement posted on Facebook.  

In a reminder of the ongoing threat posed by Russian attacks, regardless of any changes in control of territory, the top official in the nearby city of Nikopol reported a missile strike close to his city. There were no reports of casualties, Eugen Evtushenko said on Facebook.

5:20 a.m. ET, March 29, 2022

Counterattacks underway in Kyiv after shelling of reclaimed territory, says Ukrainian Interior Minister

From CNN's Olga Voitovych and Nathan Hodge in Lviv

Ukrainian forces have started counterattacks in parts of Kyiv while Irpin to the west of the capital has come under shelling, after the Ukrainian government claimed to have retaken the suburb on Monday, a Ukrainian Interior Ministry official said Tuesday. 

Vadym Denysenko, an adviser to the Interior Minister of Ukraine, said in a live television broadcast that Ukrainian forces were counterattacking to the east of the capital. 

"In Kyiv region, after the village of Lukianivka, where there were very fierce battles a few days ago, we liberated Rudnytske village," he said. "That is, we are entrenching. We are beginning to move on to certain counterattacks."

CNN was not immediately able to verify that claim, but Ukrainian media have broadcast images from Lukianivka. 

On Monday, local authorities said the suburb of Irpin, to the west of Kyiv, had been retaken by Ukrainian forces.

"We are entrenching there and clearing the city," Denysenko said. "At night, unfortunately, the shelling took place again. We saw that rocket artillery was being fired. Now we are clarifying the information."

1:24 p.m. ET, March 29, 2022

Ukrainian Embassy says meeting has started in Turkey

From CNN's Isil Sariyuce in Istanbul

The meeting in Istanbul between the Ukrainian and Russian delegations has started, says the Ukrainian Embassy in Turkey.

1:24 p.m. ET, March 29, 2022

Turkish President says Russia and Ukraine both have "legitimate concerns" ahead of talks

From CNN's Yusuf Gezer and Niamh Kennedy

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks ahead of the peace talks between delegations from Russia and Ukraine at Dolmabahce Presidential Office in Istanbul, Turkey, on March 29.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks ahead of the peace talks between delegations from Russia and Ukraine at Dolmabahce Presidential Office in Istanbul, Turkey, on March 29. (Arda Kucukkaya/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Russia and Ukraine both have "legitimate concerns" heading into the next round of talks in Istanbul on Tuesday, according to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. 

Erdogan said it "is possible to reach an agreement that can address both countries’ legitimate concerns," in a speech before the meeting between the delegations started.

The Turkish President also passed on his "sincerest greetings" to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, whom he called "valuable friends of mine."

4:33 a.m. ET, March 29, 2022

What does Zelensky mean when he talks about neutrality?

From CNN’s Nathan Hodge

In an interview Sunday with Russian journalists, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke at length about an important point in potential peace negotiations: the possibility of neutrality for Ukraine. 

“We are ready to accept this,” Zelensky said. “This is the most important point.”  

Zelensky and Ukrainian officials have long said they are willing to talk about neutrality for Ukraine if NATO is not ready to accept the country as a member of the alliance. 

That, in theory, would meet one of the demands of Russian President Vladimir Putin: that Ukraine gives up its NATO aspirations. 

But it’s not as simple as that. Zelensky has also made it clear that Ukraine would reject “neutrality” without legally binding security guarantees. And with Ukraine under invasion by Russia, the Ukrainian leader has said he isn’t interested in empty promises. 

“I'm interested in making sure it's not just another piece of paper a la the Budapest Memorandum,” he said. 

Zelensky was referring to a little-remembered moment in post-Cold War history. With the collapse of the USSR, Ukraine – on paper at least – came into possession of the world’s third-largest nuclear stockpile.

Russia did maintain operational control of those weapons, but Ukraine signed an agreement in 1994 to give up the nuclear weapons stationed on its territory in exchange for security guarantees, including the protection of the territorial integrity and political independence of Ukraine. That’s something Russia, a signatory to the Budapest Memorandum, decisively trampled on with the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the invasion of Ukraine in February. 

Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior adviser to Zelensky, has said that security guarantees must, in essence, include a commitment from guarantors to assist Ukraine in the event of aggression.  

And it’s important to add that neutrality – of a sort that Putin might find palatable – is not something Zelensky can simply offer up. Aspiration to NATO membership is enshrined in Ukraine’s constitution. 

That’s where Zelensky gave Russian interviewers a bit of a lesson in Ukraine’s democratic processes. Security guarantees, he explained, would have to be followed by a referendum in Ukraine.  

“Why? Because we have a law about referendums,” Zelensky said. “We have passed it. Changes of this or that status... And security guarantees presuppose constitutional changes. You understand, don't you? Constitutional changes.” 

And therein lies the difference. Russia has a political system built around one man — Putin — and Zelensky is the head of a democratic state. Even if neutrality is on the negotiating table, the Ukrainian people will have to have their say.