"It was confirmed that the occupiers, who seized the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and other facilities in the Exclusion Zone, marched in two columns towards the Ukrainian border with the Republic of Belarus," said Energoatom in a statement published on Telegram.
In late February, during the first week of the war, the plant and its surrounding territory fell into the hands of Russian troops.
Russian troops announced on Thursday their intention to leave and hand over control to Ukrainian personnel, said Energoatom.
CNN's Nathan Hodge contributed reporting to this post.
6:33 p.m. ET, March 31, 2022
Ukrainian soldiers in Kyiv boast of "stronger morale and spirit" than the Russians as the conflict continues
From CNN staff
It’s been more than a month since the start of the Russian invasion in Ukraine, and the impact of the conflict is being felt nationwide.
CNN’s Christiane Amanpour traveled to the outskirts of Kyiv, seeing the humanitarian crisis firsthand. Villagers line up, awaiting simple handouts, like bread. One woman tells Amanpour she barely survived the initial onslaught.
“The first week of the war a shell hit us near the greenhouse,” she said. “We had help from strangers around us. They gave us bread and canned food. We wouldn't have managed otherwise.”
Four days into the war, Ukrainian defenders stopped a Russian advance. As Amanpour traveled along a riverbank “littered with their skeletons,” she ultimately found a veteran fighter, a 40-year-old man who proudly detailed how he and others fought off incoming tanks.
“We all here have one role, to keep the enemy off our land,” he said. “[The Russian soldiers] didn't see us, they didn't know we were here, so they just started to work on houses, so I took the tank in my sights and I fired a rocket. And goodbye to him.”
Another Ukrainian soldier spoke confidently of his fellow fighters, saying they “are trained better” than the Russians.
“We have stronger morale and spirit because we're at home. They are afraid, but they go because they're made to,” he added.
Having fought in the first Russian invasion — in 2014 — the soldier boasted of experience and Ukrainian pride.
“I’m almost sure the Russians are regrouping and not retreating,�� he told Amanpour. “Besides, we are preparing ourselves to go forward. We're not preparing just to defend here.”
An old woman in the village told Amanpour that the current conflict with Russia is sadly not unique.
“I have seen one war and here we go again. I wish [Russian President Vladimir] Putin would go away,” she said.
CNN's Christiane Amanpour met with some of the Ukrainian resistence. Here's what they told her:
3:35 p.m. ET, March 31, 2022
French military intel chief told to step down partly for "failing to anticipate" Ukraine invasion, source says
From CNN's Dalal Mawad and Camille Knight in Paris
The chief of French military intelligence, Gen. Eric Vidaud, was told to step down from his post partly for “failing to anticipate” the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a military source with knowledge of the matter told CNN.
The source added that Ukraine was not the “only reason” for his departure but that “an internal reorganization of the Directorate of Military Intelligence” was also behind the decision.
Asked what went wrong with Vidaud’s assessment in Ukraine, the source referred to comments made by the Chief of Staff Gen. Thierry Burkhard to the French newspaper Le Monde on March 6 where he recognized shortcomings in the French intelligence assessment of the situation on the ground.
“The Americans said the Russians were going to invade and they were right,” said Burkhard to the French newspaper, while “our services rather thought that the invasion of Ukraine would have a huge cost and that the Russians had other options.”
According to the AFP news agency, Alexandre Papaemmanuel, an intelligence expert and professor at the Institute of Political Studies in Paris, said France was aware that its own intelligence had failed on this occasion. But Papaemmanuel said that Vidaud’s Directorate of Military Intelligence isn’t the only branch of the security services to take the blame.
Le Monde reported that other entities, such as the powerful foreign intelligence service the General Directorate for External Security, had sidelined the DRM. And a military source told AFP that the DRM's main role was to provide intelligence on operations, not on intentions.
Its services had concluded that Russia "had the means to invade Ukraine and what happened showed that it was right," the source said.
3:39 p.m. ET, March 31, 2022
Biden: There's some indication Putin is self-isolating and punishing his advisers
From CNN's Maegan Vazquez and Sam Fossum
US President Joe Biden on Thursday said there’s some indication that Russian President Vladimir Putin is self-isolating and punishing some of his advisers, but added that the US doesn’t have much hard evidence to say that with certainty.
When CNN’s MJ Lee asked the President how badly the Russian president is being misinformed by his advisers, Biden responded:
“That’s an open question. There’s a lot of speculation, but he seems to be — I’m not saying this with a certainty — he seems to be self-isolating and there’s some indication that he has, um, fired or put under house arrest some of his advisers.”
“But I don’t want to put too much stock in that at this time, because we don’t have that much hard evidence,” he added.
US government officials have expressed confidence this week in the intelligence assessment indicating Putin was being led astray by military advisers on the success of the Russian military’s performance during the war, which has gone on for more than a month.
Biden also noted that he is "skeptical" that Putin will withdraw all of his forces from around the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.
"Thus far there is no clear evidence that he's pulling all of his forces out of Kyiv,” Biden said. “There's also evidence that he is beefing up his troops down in the Donbas area. Depending on your view of Putin, I'm a little skeptical.”
He added, "I don't know the answer, but it appears so far that he has not pulled all of -- the idea he's pulling of his troops out from around Kyiv and moving south, there's no evidence that he's done that," Biden told reporters following remarks on the US Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
Biden, however, added that there is evidence Putin is "beefing up" his forces in the Donbas area of Ukraine.
What Moscow is saying: Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said earlier on Thursday before Biden spoke that Moscow finds it worrisome that the US allegedly lacks understanding of Moscow’s decision-making process, Russian state news agency TASS reported.
Dismissing comments from the US on Wednesday that Putin is being misinformed by his advisers, the Kremlin said it regrets that its style of work remains unclear to Washington, and such “misunderstanding” results in “careless decisions that have very bad consequences,” Peskov said, according to TASS.
CNN’s Zahra Ullah contributed reporting to this post.
2:38 p.m. ET, March 31, 2022
There is an evacuation convoy moving toward Mariupol, the Donetsk military says
From CNN's Nathan Hodge
A bus convoy for the evacuation of civilians was moving toward Mariupol, the head of the Donetsk regional military administration said Thursday.
However, it was unclear when the vehicles would reach the besieged city, the official revealed.
"The process of evacuation is ongoing," said Pavlo Kyrylenko in a televised briefing. "We will understand how they are progressing closer to midnight tonight. The evacuation convoy has passed Vasylivka. It's difficult to forecast now whether the convoys will reach Mariupol or its seaside. As far as we understand, the convoys are now in Berdiansk. But the enemy has made everything to make it impossible to keep in touch with the convoy in Berdiansk."
Kyrylenko noted that shelling had intensified elsewhere in the region, particularly along the frontline.
"It has increased in geometrical progression," he said. "It's hard to differentiate day from night shelling because they are constant."
"We are conducting some fortification of positions in the south and north directions in order to not just withstand the enemy,, but to defeat them. But now I see not just regrouping of the enemy — this is my subjective opinion — but it seems to me, based on the information that I receive, that there might be more professional servicemen coming in for the enemy to succeed at least in some directions. From what we see, looks like they are re-formatting their groups and relocating their troops in the Donetsk region suburbs."
The Russian military has said it will be refocusing its military efforts in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region.
2:29 p.m. ET, March 31, 2022
US extends deployment of aircraft carrier in Mediterranean as Russian invasion continues, officials say
From CNN's Barbara Starr
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has approved a plan to extend the deployment of the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman in the Mediterranean through the summer as the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues, according to two US defense officials.
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. The carrier deployed from the US East Coast in December and is now expected to be in the region possibly through August, one of the officials said. A typical carrier deployment is six months. Three Navy warships that are part of the Truman overall strike group are also being extended.
The extension comes as the Pentagon is now grappling with how to eventually rotate the units it has sent to Europe due to the invasion. It is expected that the 82nd Airborne Division troop in Europe could be the next to be extended, because their rapid response capabilities are considered vital.
In February, the US Army extended a brigade combat team of about 4,000 soldiers that had already been on a rotational deployment to Germany for an additional 60 days.
2:27 p.m. ET, March 31, 2022
This 94-year-old Ukrainian has fled her home twice — first in WWII and now
From CNN's Omar Jimenez
Even as the bombs began to fall, Yevhenia Khomenko didn’t want to leave her home in Kyiv, Ukraine. “I would rather die there,” the 94-year-old said. But eventually, it became too much, and her daughter convinced her to leave the home she had known her entire life.
When Khomenko was a child, she lived through the Great Famine of Ukraine — one that killed millions, driven by Josef Stalin. Years later, she fled her home during World War II as her country was targeted by Adolf Hitler. She’s now had to flee once more over an invasion prompted by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The Russian attacks have reminded Khomenko of the bombing, shooting and violence during World War II, she told CNN.
The bombs then, as they are now, were unpredictable, and she recalled running anywhere to escape them. Khomenko returned to Kyiv after World War II to help rebuild the city’s main square, she said. Now, she’s worried the city may never be the same — and that, given her age, she may never return.
Her 73-year-old daughter, Raisa Makhnovets, is also worried about that fate. Through tears, she told CNN how difficult it was to persuade her mother to leave Kyiv, and how their attempts to do so quickly became a “horror movie.”
They had no other family in the city, and first spent two days in a bomb shelter before trying to flee the country by train. The station was overrun with others trying to do the same.
“I just couldn’t believe it was actually happening. The train station was scary,” Makhnovets said, speaking in Russian, as many Ukrainians do, and translated by CNN. “So many people with their kids and things, just really terrifying. The first train left without us, then the second. It was so cold waiting there overnight. There were even newborn babies.”
Makhnovets said it took roughly 20 hours to get from Kyiv to Lviv, in the western part of Ukraine, and then out of the country altogether. She and her mother were then able to fly to the United States on a visa they had obtained years ago. They reunited in Sacramento with five generations of their family, as a great great grandmother and a great grandmother.
In Sacramento, Khomenko noted the peace in the California air.
“It hurts in my soul, for my home, where I lived. But here it’s quiet, I don’t hear anything. I have a home, and I want to go home. I want to be in my own home. But the circumstances forced us to come here. Just go wherever necessary not to have to see the war,” she said, in Russian.
Her feelings now are familiar to those from a lifetime ago, Khomenko said, but in her youth, she didn’t really understand war in the way she does now.
She then told CNN, “I wish you a good life and to not have to endure what we’ve had to. I hope for friendship between us and all peoples.”
Biden ties US gas price increases to Russian invasion of Ukraine
US President Joe Biden tied the increase in US gas prices directly to Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine, repeatedly calling it "Putin's price hike."
In remarks from the White House, Biden said gas in the US is averaging about $4.20 or $4.22 per gallon, up from $3.30 at the beginning of the year.
"The reason for that is because of Putin's war. And now, many people no longer buying Russian oil around the world. I banned the Russian import of oil here in America. Republicans and Democrats in Congress called for it and supported it. It was the right thing to do. But I said at the time, it's going to come with a cost. As Russian oil comes off the global market, supply of oil drops and prices are rising. Now, Putin's price hike is hitting Americans at the pump," Biden said.
"Our prices are rising because of Putin's action. There isn't enough supply. And the bottom line is if we want lower gas prices, we need to have more oil supply right now," he added.
"This is a wartime bridge to increase oil supply until production ramps up later this year, and it is by far the largest release of our national reserve in our history," he said.
Biden said he coordinated the release of oil with allies and partners around the world.
"Already, we have commitments from other countries to release tens of millions of additional barrels into the market. Together, our combined efforts will supply well over a million barrels a day," he said. "Nations coming together to deny Putin the ability to weaponize his energy resources against American families and families and democracies around the world."
Watch US President Joe Biden explain why "Putin's price hike is hitting Americans at the pump":
2:03 p.m. ET, March 31, 2022
France says evacuation corridor "insufficient" to allow rescue from Mariupol
From CNN’s Joseph Ataman in Paris
The evacuation corridor in Mariupol agreed by Ukrainian and Russian officials, announced on Thursday, is “insufficient” to allow the rescue of civilians “in the right conditions,” the Elysee Palace said.
“The few hours announced by the Russian authorities are not in fact sufficient to allow the organization of this evacuation in the right conditions,” the Elysee said.
French President Emmanuel Macron had been working with Turkey and Greece to organize the evacuation of the remaining civilians in the Mariupol. An Elysee source told CNN on March 29 that some 170,000 civilians remained trapped in the city.