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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10:52 p.m. ET, March 29, 2022

New satellite images show entire city blocks destroyed in central Mariupol

From CNN’s Paul P. Murphy

A satellite photo shows entire city blocks destroyed in central Mariupol.
A satellite photo shows entire city blocks destroyed in central Mariupol. (Maxar Technologies)

Entire city blocks in central Mariupol have been obliterated — a level of destruction previously not seen in the besieged Ukrainian city — new satellite images from Maxar Technologies show.

With communications in and out of Mariupol non-existent, the images are the first visual update in the past few days that have not come from Russian propaganda.

The images confirm what sensory satellite data from NASA has picked up: dozens of explosions have taken place in and around Mariupol.

A drama theater in ruins after being bombed.
A drama theater in ruins after being bombed. (Maxar Technologies)

The area just east of the bombed drama theater — where authorities believe about 300 people died in a Russian attack — is in ruins. In one satellite image, the roofs are either missing or have been significantly damaged on nearly every building.

Every house surrounding two separate apartment complexes is destroyed in eastern Mariupol.
Every house surrounding two separate apartment complexes is destroyed in eastern Mariupol. (Maxar Technologies)

In eastern Mariupol, another residential area has sustained similar destruction. Every house surrounding two separate apartment complexes is destroyed.

Another sprawling apartment complex in southeastern Mariupol, near the Azovstal iron and steel works factory, has been destroyed. CNN has previously confirmed that Russian troops and Chechen fighters have been active near that apartment complex.

Hundreds of people gather in lines outside the Metro supermarket in western Mariupol.
Hundreds of people gather in lines outside the Metro supermarket in western Mariupol. (Maxar Technologies)

The satellite images also show survivors of the carnage.

Outside the Metro supermarket in western Mariupol, hundreds of people are seen gathered in lines, waiting to enter the building. Its roof has holes from military strikes. 

Mariupol's mayor estimated that as many as 160,000 people remain in the city as of Monday. 

Russian military vehicles are seen parked directly next to homes northeast of Mariupol.
Russian military vehicles are seen parked directly next to homes northeast of Mariupol. (Maxar Technologies)

Just northeast of the city, Russian military positions are seen, including vehicles parked directly next to homes. Towed artillery positions are seen just northeast of those vehicles.

Towed artillery positions are seen just northeast of Mariupol.
Towed artillery positions are seen just northeast of Mariupol. (Maxar Technologies)

10:25 p.m. ET, March 29, 2022

The UN's nuclear watchdog chief is in Ukraine. Here's what we know

Rafael Mariano Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is in Ukraine for urgent talks with the Ukrainian government about the safety of the country's nuclear facilities. 

Here's what we know:

Grossi posted a photo of himself on Twitter standing in front of an official UN vehicle on Tuesday, saying he had "just crossed the border into Ukraine to start the IAEA's mission to ensure the safety and security of the country's nuclear facilities." 

  • In a statement, the IAEA said Grossi is in Ukraine to "initiate prompt safety and security support to Ukraine’s nuclear facilities."
  • Talks with senior government officials will center on the agency's plans to deliver "urgent technical assistance" and "help avert the risk of an accident that could endanger people and the environment," the statement said. 
  • Grossi's location in Ukraine has not been disclosed.

Some context:

  • Russian forces have occupied Ukraine's largest nuclear power plant, Zaporizhzhia, since March 4, and the Chernobyl nuclear power plant — site of the infamous 1986 accident — since Feb. 24. 

Safety fears:

  • There are concerns over the safety of the nuclear sites, reactors and staff at the facilities.
  • Grossi said the conflict is "putting Ukraine’s nuclear power plants and other facilities with radioactive material in unprecedented danger."  

Preventing a nuclear accident:

  • Grossi warned "there have already been several close calls" at Ukraine's nuclear facilities since Russia's invasion began.
  • He is set to visit one of the country's power plants during his trip.
  • His visit comes after Ukraine "requested our assistance for safety and security," Grossi said.
"We can’t afford to lose any more time," he said, adding that the IAEA's expertise is needed urgently to prevent any nuclear accident.

Nuclear sites in Ukraine:

  • The country has 15 nuclear power reactors at four plants, as well as the Chernobyl plant.
  • The IAEA said eight reactors continue to operate, including two at the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia plant, three at Rivne, one at Khmelnitsky, and two at the South Ukraine facility. The other reactors remain closed for regular maintenance.
  • The watchdog said it has drawn up "concrete and detailed plans for safety and security assistance."

Several scares:

  • On March 23, the Ukrainian government said Russian forces looted and destroyed a lab close to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, which was used to monitor radioactive waste. The government agency also reported that samples of radionuclides — unstable atoms that can emit high levels of radiation — had been removed from the lab.
  • Staff working at Chernobyl on the day it was captured only recently had the chance to go home, three weeks after they were due to rotate with an incoming team. Workers had been confined to the plant for 10 days and were “exhausted, both mentally and emotionally, but mainly physically," the local mayor said.
  • Earlier this month, the site was forced to use power from emergency diesel generators for several days, before being reconnected to the national electricity grid after repairs to damaged lines.
  • Ukraine’s government also warned of several fires close to the plant, which it said had probably been triggered by Russian artillery or arson.
10:35 p.m. ET, March 29, 2022

FIRST ON CNN: Video shows extensive destruction in deserted Irpin

From CNN's Paul P. Murphy and David Lauterbach

A screengrab from the video shows the extent of the destruction in Irpin on the northwestern outskirts of Kyiv.
A screengrab from the video shows the extent of the destruction in Irpin on the northwestern outskirts of Kyiv. (Ukrainian Witness Project)

The full extent of the devastation in the city of Irpin can be seen in new video taken by a Ukrainian NGO and provided to CNN.

It comes after Ukrainian forces pushed Russian troops out of the city in Kyiv's northwestern suburbs in the past 36 hours.

Some context: CNN has geolocated and verified the authenticity of the video taken by Ukrainian Witness Project, which is chronicling the war in Ukraine. This is one of the first videos in weeks from the eastern part of Irpin, as intense fighting there made it impossible to access safely.

On Monday, Irpin's mayor said Ukainian troops has reclaimed the area from Russian forces.

A wasteland: The video, filmed Tuesday, shows the wooded suburb akin to an apocalyptic wasteland.

Wind passing through the remaining trees and the clanging of sheet metal against metal is the only thing that's heard in the video, save for the dull boom of a military strike in the distance.

Ongoing shelling: Russia claims it will reduce military activity near Kyiv, but CNN has seen no sign that's happening yet as military strikes continued on Tuesday evening around the Ukrainian capital.

The video shows that while the gunfire, the bombs and the war may have — for now — left Irpin, so has most of the life in the city.

Bodies in streets: Aside from debris and destruction of buildings, the bodies of civilians are the only thing in the streets.

An individual in a leather jacket, who had apparently been pulling a small cart when killed, is seen face down on the ground. Another casualty is shown on their back in the backseat of a bullet-ridden car.

There are at least five bodies in the video. It is unclear how and when they died.

The video shows they remain where they were struck dead in the street, in wind-filled silence, among the charred buildings and splintered trees.

Watch: Graphic video shows extensive destruction in Irpin

8:30 p.m. ET, March 29, 2022

Ukraine needs a new multilateral security system, top Zelensky adviser says

From CNN's Mariya Knight and Hira Humayun

Andriy Yermak, top adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Andriy Yermak, top adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. (Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky/Facebook)

Ukraine needs to build a new international security system that should make any aggression against the country "impossible," according to the top adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

In a video message posted to Facebook on Tuesday, the head of Ukraine's presidential office, Andriy Yermak, said relevant work is underway with the United States, Britain, China, Canada, France, Germany, Turkey, Italy, Poland and Israel on a “future document on security guarantees.”

“That is why I keep in touch daily with our international partners to make a new multilateral security treaty a reality," he said, without giving details to what such a system would look like.

Peace talks: On the negotiations between Russian and Ukrainian representatives in Istanbul on Tuesday, Yermak said, “I'm sure everyone understands how difficult it is to negotiate with representatives of Russia today.”

Sanctions: A group of international and Ukrainian experts are “working daily” to analyze the sanctions imposed on Russia, he said. Ideas from a Tuesday meeting with American experts include punitive measures against the largest Russian banks and an embargo on Russian oil exports. The US has already banned Russian oil imports but an embargo would go further.

“Critical import chains will be targeted, including suppliers cooperating with the Russian military-industrial complex,” Yermak said.

11:06 a.m. ET, March 30, 2022

Mariupol woman recounts escaping deadly theater bombing: "I'm very lucky ... I have my arms, I have my legs"

From CNN's Jason Kurtz

Maria Kutnyakova
Maria Kutnyakova (CNN)

A famed drama theater in Mariupol seemed like a safe haven for Maria Kutnyakova and her family. And then the iconic structure came under attack on March 16.

“When the theater was bombed, my sister was standing with the window and the window was like blown up. And she’s fallen down,” Kutnyakova, who was elsewhere checking on an uncle who lived nearby when the initial bombing occurred, told CNN's Ivan Watson during an interview. “My mom was in another part of the theater and a wall fall on to her.”

Upon returning to the theater, Kutnyakova found that the building was destroyed. Her family suffered injuries but survived. Several hundred of her fellow Ukrainians weren’t as fortunate, as fresh strikes followed the initial bombing, resulting in further devastation.

“Everyone starts screaming that theater is on fire. So we should run. And we run, but Russians bombed it. So we running from the theater and bombs were [exploding all around her],” she told CNN.

It took Kutnyakova and her family nine days to get through Russian checkpoints and reach relative safety in Ukrainian-controlled territory.

Kutnyakova told CNN why she remains positive despite all she has experienced.

“I'm very lucky. You understand? Like thousands and hundreds people still in Mariupol and they bombed. They have no food, no water. They have no medicine, nothing. And I understand, I'm very lucky. Like I have my arms. I have my legs... what do I need anymore," she said, adding that she also has her family and her her pet, a two-year-old cat named Mushka who survived the destruction throughout Mariupol.

Maria's cat Mushka also survived the theater bombing.
Maria's cat Mushka also survived the theater bombing. (CNN)

Now more than a month into the conflict, Kutnyakova wishes only that her country be left alone.

“I want the Russians just go away. This is Ukrainian territory. I don't understand why they come in and tell me that it's not my land. They're not fighting with an army. They fighting with every citizen," she said. "They bombed hospitals. They bombed kindergartens. They bomb the houses of peaceful people. They not fighting with the armies," she continued.

Watch the interview below:

8:01 p.m. ET, March 29, 2022

Izyum has not received a humanitarian convoy since March 14, city council deputy says

From CNN's Paul P. Murphy

A satellite photo shows damage to izyum, Ukraine from Russian strikes.  A massive crater can be seen in the image, on one side of the crater is a school, and the other a soccer field. A damaged hospital can also be seen. 
A satellite photo shows damage to izyum, Ukraine from Russian strikes. A massive crater can be seen in the image, on one side of the crater is a school, and the other a soccer field. A damaged hospital can also be seen.  (Maxar Technologies)

Max Strelnyk, a deputy in the Izyum city council's office, says the humanitarian situation in the city "gets worse" every day.

Strelnyk had previously told CNN that there was a humanitarian catastrophe in Izyum. Since March 14, the city has not received any food, water, or medicine, he told CNN Tuesday.

"There's been no pause in the bombing — it started weeks ago — by the Russians. Although Russia claims that they will decrease military operations in the Kyiv and Chernihiv oblasts, Izyum and the greater Kharkiv region will have no such luck," Strelynk said.  

Two of CNN's three text conversations with Strelnyk have been cut short. He needed to seek safety in a bomb shelter.

The city also remains under a Russian blockade, Strelnyk said. 

He previously told CNN that Russian forces there are trying to snuff out the Ukrainian forces in the city, while they are en route to Ukraine's Donbas region.

"They go south to Kamyanka because it is the road to the city of Sloviansk," Strelnyk said. "We have radio interceptions of their talks; their task is to capture the Donetsk region from the north," he added.

He claimed that the attempted advance is what's holding Izyum's residents' hostage. He previously estimated that over a hundred civilians in Izyum had been killed in the fighting.

"In the city, the dead are buried in the central park of our city," he told CNN.  

Video, geolocated and its authenticity verified by CNN, showed dead bodies across the city's central park. 

Information out of Izyum is scant, as communications and cell networks work sporadically ever since the Russians neared. Strelnyk says it's being deliberately jammed by the Russians.  

7:36 p.m. ET, March 29, 2022

Top US general in Europe: An intelligence gap could have caused the US to overestimate Russia's military

From CNN's Barbara Starr, Ellie Kaufman and Jeremy Herb

General Tod Wolters, U.S. European Command and NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe, testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, March 29, in Washington, DC.
General Tod Wolters, U.S. European Command and NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe, testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, March 29, in Washington, DC. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

The top US general in Europe said Tuesday there “could be” a gap in US intelligence gathering that caused the US to overestimate Russia’s capability and underestimate Ukraine’s defensive abilities before Russia attacked Ukraine.

When Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine last month, US intelligence assessed that the country-wide assault could lead to Kyiv falling into Russian hands within days. But Russia’s military has been bogged down around the capital as the war has entered its second month, beleaguered by sustainability and logistics problems, along with an unexpected stiff resistance from Ukrainian fighters.

Testifying at a US Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday, US European Command chief Gen. Tod Wolters was asked by Sen. Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican, if there was an intelligence gap that caused the US to overestimate Russia’s strength and underestimate the Ukrainian defenses.

“There could be,” Wolters responded. “As we’ve always done in the past, when this crisis is over with, we will accomplish a comprehensive after-action review in all domains and in all departments and find out where our weak areas were and make sure we can find ways to improve, and this could be one of those areas.”

While US intelligence was spot on in predicting Russia was planning to invade Ukraine —which the Biden administration aggressively released to turn global sentiment against the Kremlin — the intelligence community did not assess the poor performance of the Russian military.

In the opening hours of the war, US officials offered to help Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky flee the country as Russian troops moved toward Kyiv, fearing that he would be killed. Zelensky refused, asking instead for weapons to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia.

The US and NATO allies have continued to help re-supply Ukraine’s military with weapons, including Javelin anti-tank missiles and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles that have been used against Russian forces. While estimates vary widely, sources familiar with the estimates say thousands of Russian troops have been killed in the conflict. US officials say they have anecdotal evidence of morale problems in the Russian military.

More than a month into the war, Russia said on Tuesday that it would “drastically reduce” its military assault on the Ukrainian cities of Kyiv and Chernihiv after talks took place between representatives of the two nations on Tuesday. US officials told CNN it was a “major” strategy shift by Moscow, with Russian forces pulling back in some areas of the north and focusing on gains in the south and east.

Read more here.

7:06 p.m. ET, March 29, 2022

Doctors Without Borders official in Ukraine describes the challenges medical workers are facing on the ground

From CNN's Jason Kurtz

Avril Benoit is the acting as the emergency communication coordinator for Doctors Without Borders.
Avril Benoit is the acting as the emergency communication coordinator for Doctors Without Borders. (CNN)

Avril Benoit is on the ground in Ukraine, acting as the emergency communication coordinator for Doctors Without Borders. During a live interview on CNN, she offered a first-hand perspective on what medical workers are facing as the conflict continues.

"It's incredibly impressive," Benoit said speaking from Lviv of the work Ukrainian doctors and nurses are doing on the ground.

"What we're finding on the ground is a huge appetite to prepare for a mass casualty influx of wounded people all at once. Surgeons are interested, really keen to learn from an organization like us, that has a lot of experience of war surgery, of triage in situations like this. They've been doing a lot of training," she told.

On the topic of supplies, Benoit told CNN's Jake Tapper that necessary materials are still able to reach Ukraine, though the process is not an easy one.

"It's still possible to bring supplies in through various routes through Poland, Slovakia. There are ways with trucks to navigate the security environment. Amazingly enough, also the train system seems to be working quite well. So that's another way we are able to move shipments to and from," she said.

"There was a convoy of supplies that we were working with other organizations to reach Mariupol and it was far too dangerous on the road leading to it, littered with landmine's that perhaps a car could slalom through, but certainly not a transport truck with significant amounts of cargo. So it is also of course a dangerous and volatile environment. Sometimes you reach a place and you just have to hunker down for a while, while you're assessing is it possible to go further ... We're just making do the best we can," she told CNN.

Benoit's conversation with Tapper was then interrupted and ultimately cut short by the sounding of an air alarm in Lviv.

Watch the interview here:

6:52 p.m. ET, March 29, 2022

US officials voiced extreme caution Tuesday at signals Russia is scaling back military operations near Kyiv

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

President Joe Biden speaks with the media during a visit by Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in the East Room of the White House on Tuesday, March 29.
President Joe Biden speaks with the media during a visit by Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in the East Room of the White House on Tuesday, March 29. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

US President Joe Biden and other American officials voiced extreme caution Tuesday following signals Russia is scaling back its military operations near Kyiv, suggesting they were waiting to see stronger signs of de-escalation before making an assessment of Moscow's intentions.

"We'll see. I don't read anything into it until I see what their actions are. We'll see if they follow through what they're suggesting," Biden said at the White House, where officials were busy digesting intelligence and reports from the ground that Russian troops were moving their focus away from Ukraine's capital toward other areas of the country.

Biden's don't-trust-but-verify approach reflects deep American skepticism at Russian President Vladimir Putin's motives amid his monthlong invasion of Ukraine. While the US has observed movements of Russian forces away from Kyiv, there remains doubt the Russian assault on Ukraine will end soon.

Some Western officials viewed Russia's moves as a mere tactical exercise amid a stalled campaign in Ukraine. US officials also said Russia could always reverse itself if the battle conditions allow.

Similarly, American officials appeared wary of voicing optimism about ongoing negotiations between Russia and Ukraine, which both sides suggested Tuesday had yielded progress. Instead, Biden was focused on ensuring the stringent sanctions regime he's enacted with European allies remains in place as the hostilities continue.

Meeting in Istanbul, Russian and Ukrainian teams began outlining the contours of a settlement, including discussions over the status of Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014, and Donbas, the eastern region that Russia claims is independent. Ukraine's neutral status and international security guarantees are also up for discussion, as is a potential meeting between Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

US officials have questioned Putin's seriousness in negotiating an end to the violence from the start of the crisis. Some have also made plain they aren't certain of Zelensky's endgame in the talks and are wary of whatever concessions he may offer.

Speaking in the East Room alongside the visiting Singaporean Prime Minister, Biden said he'd discussed the nascent peace talks with European leaders on a 53-minute telephone call earlier in the day. He said there was a "consensus" among the leaders to "let's just see what they have to offer. We'll find out what they do."

"In the meantime, we're going to continue to keep strong the sanctions. We're going to continue to provide the Ukrainian military with their capacity to defend themselves and we're going to continue to keep a close eye on what's going on," Biden added.

Biden's aides echoed his sentiment, saying that while there were signs of troop movements, a new strategy did not appear afoot.

"We have no reason to believe that they have adjusted, that they've adjusted that strategy," White House communications director Kate Bedingfield said during a daily briefing. "Obviously, we continue to do everything we can to impose costs for this decision."

Speaking on a diplomatic visit to Morocco, Secretary of State Antony Blinken cautioned the pullback of troops could amount to "a means by which Russia once again is trying to deflect and deceive people into thinking it's not doing what it is doing."

Read more here.