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March 31, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

CNN gets close-up look at destruction in Kyiv suburbs
02:26

What we covered

  • Russian forces said they will reopen the evacuation corridor from the besieged city of Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia on Friday at the request of French and German leaders. More than 100,000 civilians are trapped in the southern city, officials say.
  • A Ukrainian minister said some evacuation buses en route to Mariupol were held at a Russian checkpoint and 14 tons of humanitarian aid bound for Melitopol was confiscated. 
  • Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said he has removed two generals for being “antiheroes” who did not support their homeland. He did not give specifics. 
  • NATO’s chief warned Russian forces are not withdrawing, but are repositioning as they maintain pressure on Kyiv and other cities. Ukrainian and US officials say Russians may be regrouping in Belarus. Heavy shelling, meanwhile, has been reported in eastern Ukraine amid an apparent shift by Russia to redirect military efforts to the Donbas region.
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Russian Ambassador to US hits back at sanctions targeting technology sector

Russian Ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov decried US sanctions targeting the Russian technology sector as “illegal” on Thursday, after the US Treasury Department announced the move as part of a crackdown on sanctions evasion by Russia.

In response to a question on Facebook, Antonov wrote the Biden administration was showing its “uncompromising attitude” as it expanded its “illegal sanction lists.”

Some context: The US Treasury Department said on Thursday it was sanctioning “21 entities and 13 individuals as part of its crackdown on the Kremlin’s sanctions evasion networks and technology companies, which are instrumental to the Russian Federation’s war machine.”

The agency has also determined “that sanctions apply to the aerospace, marine, and electronics sectors of the Russian Federation,” meaning that the US can “impose sanctions on any individual or entity determined to operate or have operated in any of those sectors.”

The US and its allies have imposed a raft of sanctions on Russian officials and entities since Moscow launched its attack on Ukraine.

Ukrainian officials say humanitarian convoys were stopped and raided by Russian forces. Here's what we know

Evacuees from the Mariupol region arrive at reception center in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine on March 31.

Russian forces said they will reopen the evacuation corridor from the besieged city of Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia on Friday. According to Ukrainian authorities, the convoys ran into several issues on Thursday, including Russian troops confiscating aid and blocking buses.

Here’s what we know:

  • The Russian Defense Ministry said the military will reopen the humanitarian corridor from the southern city of Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia on April 1 at the request of the leaders of France and Germany.
  • The corridor will open from 10 a.m. Moscow time and Russian troops will set up an intermediate point in the southern city of Berdiansk, the ministry said.
  • France said the evacuation corridor on Thursday was “insufficient” to allow rescue from Mariupol.
  • Ukrainian minister Iryna Vereshchuk said about 100,000 civilians remained trapped in the city, which has suffered weeks of bombardment from Russian forces.
  • The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is preparing to facilitate the safe passage of civilians from Mariupol.

Aid confiscated, buses stopped:

  • Russian forces on Thursday confiscated 14 tons of humanitarian aid from buses bound for Melitopol in southern Ukraine, according to Vereshchuk, the Ukrainian minister of reintegration of temporarily occupied territories.
  • Vereshchuk said the food and medication was loaded on 12 buses.
  • Russian forces also blocked 45 buses going to Berdiansk on Thursday en route to Mariupol, she added.

“We are negotiating for the buses to be returned and for the Melitopol residents tomorrow to evacuate using these buses,” she said.

Evacuations:

  • 1,458 people reached Zaporizhzhia in their own cars on Thursday, Vereshchuk said.
  • 631 of them escaped from Mariupol.
  • 827 were from Berdiansk, Enerhodar, Melitopol, Polohy, Huliapole and Vasylivka in the Zaporizhzhia region.

UK Defense Ministry: Russia is redeploying troops from Georgia to join Ukraine invasion

Russia is redeploying some of its forces from the country of Georgia to reinforce its invasion of Ukraine, British military intelligence said on Thursday. 

“Between 1,200-2,000 of these Russian troops are being reorganized into 3 x Battalion Tactical Groups,” the UK’s Ministry of Defence said in its latest intelligence update.
“It is highly unlikely that Russia planned to generate reinforcements in this manner and it is indicative of the unexpected losses it has sustained during the invasion.”

Why Georgia? Russian troops have been stationed in Georgia following Russia’s 2008 invasion of the former Soviet republic on its southwestern border. 

Some context: The British intelligence update comes just days after Moscow said it would scale back its military assault on Kyiv and Chernihiv. In an address Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russian troops are concentrating in the eastern Donbas region for new attacks and the Ukrainians are “ready for this.”

Focus on Donbas: In a briefing Thursday, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said a “small number” of Russian troops are “beginning to reposition” but it is not exactly clear where they are going. The Russians want to “reprioritize” their operations in the Donbas area, Kirby added.

He said the US does not “see any indication that they are going to be sent home,” adding the best assessment the US has is the troops will probably be repositioned into Belarus to be “refit, resupplied and used elsewhere in Ukraine.”

Zelensky removes two top Ukrainian generals, says he does not have "time to deal with all the traitors"

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he removed two top Ukrainian generals, calling them “antiheroes” in his nightly address posted to social media on Thursday night.

The generals — former chief of the Main Department of Internal Security of the Security Service of Ukraine, Naumov Andriy Olehovych, and the former head of the Office of the Security Service of Ukraine in the Kherson region, Kryvoruchko Serhiy Oleksandrovych — have been stripped of their rank.

“Those servicemen among senior officers who have not decided where their homeland is, who violate the military oath of allegiance to the Ukrainian people as regards (to) the protection of our state, its freedom and independence, will inevitably be deprived of senior military ranks. Random generals don’t belong here!” Zelensky said.

Situation in southern Ukraine and Donbas "remains extremely difficult," Zelensky says

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a video posted on Facebook on Thursday March 31.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said the situation in southern Ukraine and Donbas “remains extremely difficult” as Russia continues to prioritize military operations in the separatist controlled region.

Speaking in a video posted on social media on Thursday, Zelensky said Russian forces are “trying to figure out how to consolidate their presence there.”

In the Donbas region, the besieged southern city of Mariupol and in the direction of northeastern city of Kharkiv, “Russian troops are accumulating the potential for strikes,” Zelensky warned.

This echoes the remarks of a senior US defense official on Thursday who said that the Donbas is one of the four areas where Russia is focusing current airstrikes.

On Thursday evening, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said it is “clear the Russians want to reprioritize their operations in the Donbas area.”

Russian forces were regrouping in order to “intensify operations in priority areas and, above all, to complete the operation for the complete liberation of Donbas,” Russian Ministry of Defense spokesperson Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said on Wednesday.

Zelensky reiterated Ukraine’s commitment to “do everything we can to stop the invaders.”

European Parliament president will be first leader of EU institution to travel to Ukraine since invasion began

European Parliament President Roberta Metsola will be the first leader of an EU institution to travel to Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion.

No details of the trip or the president’s agenda in Ukraine have been shared prior to the visit “due to security concerns,” a European Parliament official told CNN. 

In a speech on Monday, Metsola called it “important for the European Parliament to support Ukraine’s aspiration to be a candidate country for accession.” 

On Thursday, Metsola posted a photo of herself saying: “On my way to Kyiv.” 

Ukrainian women recount how they escaped to Poland to give birth in a country free of war

Khrystyna Pavluchenko tends to her newborn daughter, Adelina.

Khrystyna Pavluchenko strokes the tiny hand of her newborn, Adelina. She had anticipated the profound joy of becoming a mother for the first time — but not the guilt.

“(That’s) because I left,” Pavluchenko says, choking on tears, as her hours-old child sleeps in the crib next to her hospital bed in the Polish capital, Warsaw.

“I didn’t want to leave. I had to.”

On Feb. 24, when the Russian invasion began, Pavluchenko, then eight months pregnant, was jostled awake at 6 a.m. Air raid sirens blared through her hometown of Ivano-Frankivsk, a city in western Ukraine. The first Russian missiles were on the way.

Pavluchenko recounts the manic push to escape over the next 72 hours. Her husband, medically ineligible to serve in the Ukrainian military, was already in Poland.

She was desperate to stay behind with her parents, grandparents and extended family.

But they all insisted, “Go to Poland.”

So, reluctantly, she began to plan her dangerous escape from Ukraine.

“Missiles are flying. Where they might hit next, no one knows,” she recalls.

Adelina Pavluchenko was born in Warsaw, Poland after her mother fled the war in Ukraine.

Pavluchenko raced to pack with that in mind. Anything she could imagine she needed for her unborn child had to fit in a bag that she could wheel across the border on foot, once her bus reached the border.

That was the same fear Polish customs officers had when they saw her. They quickly called an ambulance.

She was whisked to a nearby hospital and eventually to Inflancka Specialist Hospital in Warsaw, where psychiatrist Magda Dutsch is treating Ukrainian women.

“It’s unimaginable,” says Dutsch. “They’re often evacuating. They’re talking about shelling and about bombardment, about hours, sometimes days, that they spend in a bunker. They’re talking about the escape and how difficult it was to get to the border and out of the warzone. For someone who hasn’t seen the war, I don’t think it’s possible to imagine such pain and such stress.”

At least 197 Ukrainian children have been born in Polish hospitals since the war began, according to Poland’s Ministry of Health. When she fled, Pavluchenko had no idea that so many other Ukrainian women were in a similar situation.

To her, she felt utterly alone.

Tatiana Mikhailuk survived an attack in her hometown of Buchad before being diagnosed with cervical cancer in Poland.

“A second war”: In another section of the hospital sits Tatiana Mikhailuk, 58, is who is also one of Dutsch’s patients.

From her hospital bed, Mikhailuk tells the harrowing story of her escape from a town outside the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. As a missile flew overhead, Mikhailuk fled her home with her granddaughter in her arms.

Explosions had already blown out all the windows of her apartment building. As she and her husband drove with their grandchildren out of Buchad, an hour north of Kyiv, something exploded on the left side of the road.

“We were crying and praying the whole time,” says Mikhailuk.

They made it out just in time.

Two days later, Russian missiles would destroy the bridges into their suburb.

Mikhailuk had survived the attack at home. But once she crossed the Polish border, she began hemorrhaging blood.

Doctors at Inflancka Specialist Hospital diagnosed her with cervical cancer and performed emergency surgery.

“This is like a second war for me,” says Mikhailuk. “They (the hospital) did everything they could to save me. I’m very grateful to them, to all of Poland. I will never forget their kindness and what they’re doing for Ukrainians.”

She adds, “I’m grateful to Dr. Khrystyna,” another Ukrainian refugee, who is sitting in the corner of the room while we speak with her.

Khrystyna isn’t sure how to describe what title we should use to refer to her.

At home in Lviv, Ukraine, she is a licensed gynecologist. But in Poland, her official title is “secretary.”

“I’m helping,” Khrystyna, who asked CNN to not reveal her last name. explains.

On Feb. 24, Khrystyna’s husband sent her a text message saying, “Pack your stuff and leave. The war began.”

Like so many other Ukrainian women at the hospital, she ran, taking her young son with her.

Read more here.

CNN was granted rare access to the retaken Ukrainian city of Irpin. Here's what our reporters saw.

Irpin Mayor Oleksandr Markushin leads one of the special force units looking for Russian infiltrators still present in the town.

A child’s doll lies curb side, covered in dirt and debris, in the war-torn Kyiv suburb of Irpin.

There’s not a sign of the child who owned it, or of any of the residents of the building next to it, which was shattered to pieces after taking a direct hit from Russian artillery.

This is what Irpin — or what’s left of it — looks like, just a couple of days after Ukrainian forces took it back from Russian control.

The area is still extremely dangerous and remains off limits to civilians. As fighting continues in the nearby areas of Bucha and Hostomel, Irpin is still well within range for Russian artillery.

CNN was granted rare access to the city by Ukrainian forces on Thursday.

We snake our way to Irpin through dirt roads in the middle of the forest that separates the suburb from Kyiv at breakneck speed.

“It’s safer this way,” Andriy, the 29-year-old Ukrainian soldier driving us explains. “It’s the best way of avoiding Russian artillery.”

Across the Irpin river, the destruction caused by a month of confrontation between Russian and Ukrainian forces is everywhere. There are few unbroken windows, fallen trees in nearly every corner and no shortage of broken down or destroyed military equipment. Most of it is Russian.

Ivan Boyko, 66, says he's had to move to a bomb shelter because its not safe to remain at home.

The majority of the town’s residents have fled, but Ivan Boyko decided to stay. He sent most of his family away, to safety, opting to endure the inferno of the Russian offensive.

“I am 66 years old, I’m not afraid anymore,” he says.

Despite staying in Irpin, Boyko has been forced to move out of his house and into a bomb shelter because of all the intense shelling.

“It’s impossible to go home,” he explains. “Every night and day they shoot. It’s scary to go out.”

Read the full report here.

Ukrainian minister provides update on Thursday's evacuations from Mariupol and other key cities 

Evacuees from the Mariupol region arrive at reception center in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine on March 31.

Iryna Vereshchuk, the Ukrainian minister of reintegration of temporarily occupied territories, said Thursday that 1,458 people reached Zaporizhzhia in their own cars today, with 631 of them coming from Mariupol and 827 coming from the towns of Berdiansk, Enerhodar, Melitopol, Polohy, Huliapole and Vasylivka in the Zaporizhzhia region.

Forty-five buses were going to Berdiansk on Thursday en route to Mariupol and that Russian forces did not let them into Berdiansk, she said.

“600 people came out from (Berdiansk) to the buses and tomorrow morning should leave for Zaporizhzhia. Over 30 buses are staying at the entrance to Berdiansk city (in advance of going on to) Mariupol and (then back to) Berdiansk (to finally deliver) residents to Zaporizhzhia,” Vereshchuk added.

Twelve buses full of humanitarian aid went to Melitopol on Thursday, but the 14 tons of food and medications they were carrying were confiscated by Russian forces, according to Vereshchuk.

“This is the price for the agreed corridors and for the Red Cross’s guarantees that the corridors will be provided and working. We are negotiating for the buses to be returned and for the Melitopol residents tomorrow to evacuate using these buses. 50 private cars and one bus with children left Enerhodar today. They passed all the checkpoints and have now reached Zaporizhzhia,” she said. “Tomorrow we will continue demanding the evacuation corridor for Mariupol.”

Russia will reopen the evacuation corridor from the besieged city of Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia on Friday, April 1, at the request of French and German leaders, the Russian ministry of defense on Thursday said.

European Union economy commissioner: "We will not be blackmailed by Moscow"

Paolo Gentiloni, the EU commissioner for economy, says the European Union “will not be blackmailed by Moscow” after Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened to cut off natural gas supplies to “unfriendly countries” unless they pay in rubles

Gentiloni told CNN’s Richard Quest that existing contracts do not include an obligation to pay in rubles and that they must be respected. 

“It is an attempt to circumvent European sanctions and to blackmail the European Union,” he said.

82nd Airborne troops in Poland and Truman carrier group in Mediterranean will stay in place "a while longer"

U.S. Army Paratroopers assigned to the 3rd Brigade Combat, 82nd Airborne Division prepare to train with their Polish Allies in Nowa Deba, Poland on March 3.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has decided that US military members deployed to Poland who are part of the 82nd Airborne will stay in position there for “a while longer,” Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said during a briefing at the Pentagon on Thursday.

The Harry S. Truman carrier strike group in the Mediterranean will also stay in place, Kirby added.

CNN previously reported these deployments would be extended, according to two US defense officials.

Both groups were deployed to Europe in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. About 7,000 troops and their support elements from the 82nd Airborne are stationed in Poland as a part of this deployment, according to the Pentagon. The carrier’s aircraft have been flying in support of US and NATO efforts to bolster the eastern flank of NATO in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Kirby stressed both the 82nd Airborne and the Truman carrier strike group have not been deployed “for that long,” only for about “eight to six weeks,” he said. 

Kirby said the “security environment in Europe is going to be different,” no matter when the war in Ukraine ends, and the Department of Defense doesn’t know what that looks like yet.

“No matter how this war ends, no matter when it ends, the security environment in Europe is going to be different. And we’re gonna have to respond to that,” Kirby said. “So what that looks like, we don’t know. But we’re going to stay open to having those kinds of conversations to about whether there needs to be more permanent, a larger permanent presence on the European continent,” he added.

White House: "No plans" for Biden-Putin to talk and any conversation would require "serious de-escalation"

There are “no plans” for US President Joe Biden to speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin, White House communications director Kate Bedingfield said Thursday, adding that any conversation would require “serious de-escalation” from the Russians in Ukraine and setting a high bar for reengagement between the two leaders.

“Not currently. We’ve been very clear that any reengagement of diplomacy at that level would require significant demonstration from the Russians of serious de-escalation and we have not seen that,” Bedingfield told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins. 

Biden last spoke to Putin over the phone on Feb. 12, less than two weeks before Russia began its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.  

US Commerce Department will take further action against Russia's defense, aerospace and maritime sectors 

The US Commerce Department will be adding 120 Russian and Belarusian entities to its “Entity List,” a US trade restriction list, in the “coming days,” according to White House communications director Kate Bedingfield. 

“In the coming days, the Commerce Department will also take further action to degrade Russia’s defense, aerospace and maritime sectors by adding 120 entities in Russia and Belarus to the Entity List, bringing the number of Russian and Belarusian parties added to the list to over 200 since the invasion began,” she told reporters on Thursday. 

Bedingfield noted that being added to the list means these companies or entities “can no longer get US cutting edge technology without a license, which will in most, if not all, of these cases be denied.”

She added: “The power of these restrictions will compound over time as Russia draws down any remaining stockpiles. For example, spare parts for certain planes and tanks. We will continue to impose unprecedented costs strengthen Ukraine’s hand and make Putin’s word choice, a strategic failure.”

Earlier on Thursday, the United States targeted members of the Russian technology sector in a crackdown on sanctions evasion. 

Ukraine’s defense ministry: At least 148 children killed since Russian invasion started

Empty baby strollers are seen during The price of War demonstration in Rynok Square in Lviv, Ukraine on March 18, to draw attention to the deaths of Ukrainian children.

At least 148 children have been killed in Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion five weeks ago, the country’s defense ministry said in a tweet on Thursday.

It said that some 1,370 Russian missiles have been fired at Ukraine since the start of the war, adding that Russia has so far “destroyed” 15 Ukrainian airports. 

More than 10 million Ukrainians have fled their homes due to the war, the ministry’s tweet also stated.

Russian military will reopen evacuation corridor from Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia Friday, defense ministry says

A child sits in a car after arriving in Zaporizhzhya, Ukraine with a a shrapnel-damaged car after fleeing from Mariupol on March 30.

The Russian military will reopen the evacuation corridor from the besieged city of Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia on Friday, April 1 at the request of French and German leaders, according to a statement from the Russia’s ministry of defense on Thursday.

The ministry said that “at the personal requests of the President of France E. Macron and the Federal Chancellor of Germany O. Scholz to the President of the Russian Federation V. Putin from 10:00 (Moscow time) on April 1, 2022” the Russian armed forces will reopen the corridor with an intermediate point in Berdiansk.

“For the successful implementation of this humanitarian operation, it is proposed to conduct it with the direct participation of representatives of the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Committee of the Red Cross,” the Russian statement added.