March 31, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Travis Caldwell, Seán Federico O'Murchú, Adrienne Vogt, Jason Kurtz, Joe Ruiz, Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Maureen Chowdhury and Aditi Sangal, CNN

Updated 1:26 p.m. ET, April 8, 2022
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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.  

1:51 p.m. ET, March 31, 2022

Russia blocks EU's "top leadership" from entering in response to bloc's sanctions

From CNN's Niamh Kennedy in London

Russia announced Thursday that it has blocked the European Union's "top leadership" from entering the country, in a reciprocal move against the bloc sanctioning Russian citizens and companies. 

In a statement, the Russian foreign ministry said that "on the basis of reciprocity" it is "expanding significantly the list of representatives of EU Member States and institutions who will be denied entry to the Russian Federation."  

"The restrictions apply to the top leadership of the EU, a number of European commissioners and heads of EU military bodies, as well as the overwhelming majority of members of the European Parliament that have advanced anti-Russian policies," the statement said.  

No individuals were named in either the Russian or English language versions of the statement. CNN has reached out to the Russian foreign ministry for a list of the individuals' names.  

The foreign ministry said that the so-called Russian "blacklist" also includes "high-level officials including government and parliament members of some EU Member States, public and media figures who are personally responsible for promoting illegal anti-Russian sanctions, inflaming Russophobic sentiments and infringing on the rights and freedoms of Russian-speakers."  

The EU has sanctioned a host of leading figures in Russian politics, business and industry, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, CEO of Russian oil firm, Rosneft, Igor Sechin and Chelsea Football Club Roman Abramovich.   

Russia maintained in the statement that the bloc's "actions are not only driving the relationship with Russia into a deadlock but are similarly jeopardizing the well-being and security of its own citizens, as well as the stability of the global financial and economic system." 

"Any further unfriendly action by the EU and its member states will inevitably be met with a forceful response," it added.

1:50 p.m. ET, March 31, 2022

Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher say "much more" can be done to help Ukraine after the couple raised over $30M

Actors Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher have raised more than $30 million in donations for Ukrainians fleeing the war, and they outlined their next steps for helping Ukraine to CNN+'s Chris Wallace on "Who's Talking to Chris Wallace?"

Kunis said sanctions imposed on Russia by Western nations has been successful, but the public needs to keep up pressure on companies working with Russia.

"Sanctions work. ... In the meantime, the thing that the people can do on the Internet, in the world, is reach out to these companies and ask them to stop producing and stop working and close their doors in Russia," Kunis said.

Kutcher said that in addition to publishing an index of companies that are still doing business with Russia, the couple will be organizing 20,000 bulletproof vests to send to Ukraine and work to track children leaving Ukraine without parents or guardians to thwart human trafficking.

"There's so much more that can be done. This is just the beginning of our work," he said. "This is going to be a long war, because Putin doesn't seem to step down and face the reality that he made a huge mistake," also calling on China to "wake up."

"We're not going to stand down," he said.

Kunis was was born in Ukraine in 1983 and her family moved to the US eight years later.

Watch some of the interview here.

1:01 p.m. ET, March 31, 2022

Separatist leader orders formation of city administration for Mariupol, Russian state news reports

From CNN's Nathan Hodge in Lviv

Denis Pushilin, the head of the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic, has ordered the formation of a city administration for the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol, according to a decree published on the DPR head’s website on Thursday, Russian state news agency TASS reported Thursday.

"A local administration of the Donetsk People’s Republic is to be formed in the city of Mariupol," the document said according to TASS. 

Mariupol, which endured weeks of Russian bombardment, has been encircled by Russian forces, and Ukrainian authorities are racing to organize the evacuation of over 100,000 people who remain in the city.

Around 90% of the residential buildings in the city are damaged or destroyed, and power supplies and communications have been cut, Ukrainian officials say.

About Mariupol: The city is within the boundaries of the Donetsk region of Ukraine. The city was under Ukrainian government control before the war, but the Russian government — which recognized the independence of the DPR in late February — considers the entire region to belong to the separatist republic.

12:58 p.m. ET, March 31, 2022

UN official calls for parties to agree to terms of humanitarian pauses

From CNN's Richard Roth

The United Nations Humanitarian coordinator in Ukraine called for all parties to agree to the exact terms of humanitarian pauses. 

“These efforts have regrettably not yet succeeded, as we have been informed repeatedly that the safety and security of aid convoys and civilians could not be guarantee," Osnat Lubrani said in a statement

Meanwhile, they said food rations from UN programs like the World Food Programme and more will benefit nearly 6,000 people. In addition “blankets, kettles and other basic household items from UNHCR will support 1,500 people, while the sanitation kits help 6,000 people with hygiene and drinking water.”

“The WHO medical supplies and trauma kits will treat 150 patients requiring intensive care for serious injuries while the other medical supplies will support 10,000 people for three months,” Lubrani added.

12:37 p.m. ET, March 31, 2022

"Quite likely" that Ukraine won’t be able to harvest or export wheat this year, French government source says 

From CNN’s Joseph Ataman and Camille Knight in Paris 

Wheat is harvested in the Khmelnytskyi region of Ukraine in 2013.
Wheat is harvested in the Khmelnytskyi region of Ukraine in 2013. (Inna Sokolovskaya/AFP via Getty Images)

It’s “quite likely” that Ukraine — one the world’s largest exporters of wheat — won’t be able to process its harvests or export any wheat reserves this year following the Russian invasion, an Élysée Palace source said Thursday.  

The ongoing fighting and the loss of agricultural manpower “make any harvest and the possibility of sowing [the next crop] extremely difficult,” the French government source said. 

“Ukraine alone is central to the balance of the world food market,” the source added.  

The Ukrainian government banned exports on key agricultural goods — including wheat, corn, grains, salt, and meat — according to a cabinet resolution that passed earlier this month. 

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization warned on March 11 that the Russian invasion of Ukraine could see cereal harvest and export disruptions in Ukraine in addition to price rises resulting from the fighting there and the effect of economic sanctions on Russian exports. 

Ukraine had been on track for a record year of wheat exports prior to the invasion, while Russia's wheat exports were slowing, according to the US Department of Agriculture. 

A French-led initiative, FARM (Food and Agriculture Resilience Mission), announced on March 24 during the G7 summit that it will aim in the short-term to keep borders open and cereal exports flowing, with a focus on the transparency of prices and stocks and dissuading the stockpiling of cereals, per the source.  

France will also work on a mechanism to ensure “solidarity” in the process to a crisis food market, the source said, adding, “we must prepare for a crisis situation” in the food market. 

French President Emmanuel Macron will speak tomorrow with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping regarding the country’s cereal stocks, the source said, adding that US authorities remain “very mobilized” to respond to possible food shortages.  

The source raised particular concerns regarding the stresses of a slowdown in cereal exports from Ukraine on the Middle East.  

12:23 p.m. ET, March 31, 2022

UK says it will not accept Putin's demand to pay for Russian gas in rubles

From CNN's Niamh Kennedy and Anastasia Graham Yooll in London  

Britain will not accept Russian President Vladimir Putin's demand to pay for Russian gas in rubles, a spokesperson for the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.  

The spokesperson said that British Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng had made it clear that "this is not something that the UK would be looking into."  

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Thursday that according to a newly signed decree regarding the natural gas trading with "unfriendly countries," companies will need to open ruble accounts in Russian banks and payments should come from these accounts. 

The UK will examine the impact of this measure on the European market, the spokesperson added.  

French and German economic ministers on Thursday also refused to pay for gas in rubles, saying they are committed to existing agreements with Russia on making the payments for Russian gas supplies only in euros.  

12:31 p.m. ET, March 31, 2022

President Zelensky asks Belgian lawmakers for help with weapons, sanctions and EU membership

From CNN’s Cece Armstrong

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks to the Belgian parliament via video conference in Brussels on Thursday.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks to the Belgian parliament via video conference in Brussels on Thursday. (Virginie Lefour/Belga Mag/AFP via Getty Images)

On Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky asked the Belgian government to help with “weapons, sanctions, membership of the European Union," adding, "maybe soon the future will pay you back.”

In an address to the Belgian parliament, Zelensky said “we need to know that Ukraine will be in the European Union because if we are they will lose. But if we lose, if we lose Mariupol and other Ukrainian cities there will no longer be a strong European Union because tyranny will come and take away from you that which you have and you are proud of. This is not a threat, this is reality.”

Zelensky went on to praise Belgium’s response to the war, saying the country was “one of the first to provide our defensive support. This is historic support and we are grateful. We will never forget that.”

“But you are in the heart of Europe and you can inspire all other Europeans to do more to help us get the occupiers off our land and restore precious peace. A peace that is worth more than anything,” Zelensky added.

Zelensky continued to say that peace in Ukraine is worth “more than any treaties with Russia. Any Russian vessels in the European ports. Any barrels of Russian oil.”

During the address, Zelensky also spoke of the situation in Mariupol, the city under heavy bombardment from Russian forces.

“More than 90% of all the buildings in the city have been completely destroyed by artillery, rocket attacks, and tanks from the Russian army,” he said. “Thousands are hiding in the basements of multi-story buildings or whatever is left of them.”

“There is nothing there. No water, no food, no medication, no life. There is none. Nothing that is required to maintain any kind of life,” Zelensky said. “But Mariupol is not giving up.”

“Every day we try to do all we can to make the humanitarian corridors from Mariupol work to save civilians who remain in the city. Women, children, elderly,” Zelensky said.

“Today, this is the worst place in Europe. It is hell. It is a catastrophe there,” he said.

2:19 p.m. ET, March 31, 2022

Russian troops have withdrawn from Chernobyl, according to Ukrainian nuclear operator

From CNN staff in Lviv

Russian military vehicles are seen at Chernobyl near Pripyat, Ukraine, in this screenshot taken from a video uploaded to social media in late February.
Russian military vehicles are seen at Chernobyl near Pripyat, Ukraine, in this screenshot taken from a video uploaded to social media in late February. (from Telegram)

Energoatom, the state enterprise overseeing Ukraine’s nuclear power plants, said Thursday that Russian forces had withdrawn from Chernobyl, the site of the world's worst nuclear disaster in 1986. 

The Chernobyl nuclear power plant and its surrounding territory fell into the hands of Russian troops in the first week of the war in Ukraine. In a statement on Telegram, Energoatom said: "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."

The statement added that Russian troops announced their intention to leave and hand over control to Ukrainian personnel on Thursday. Energoatom posted the copy of a formal letter purportedly signed by a representative of Russia's National Guard, a representative of Russia's state nuclear energy company Rosatom and a Chernobyl plant shift manager, with the heading "The act of acceptance and transfer of protection of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant." 

The letter states that "the administration of the protected facility makes no claims in relation to the troops of the National Guard of the Russian Federation."

The Telegram statement from Energoatom said that a small number of "rashists" — a Ukrainian slur for Russians that combines the words "fascist" and "racist" — remained at the station.

"It should be noted that the information about fortifications and trenches that the rashists built right in the Red Forest, the most polluted in the entire Exclusion Zone, was also confirmed," Energoatom said. "So it is not surprising that the occupiers received significant doses of radiation and panicked at the first sign of illness. And it manifested itself very quickly. As a result, almost a riot broke out among the military, and they began to gather from there."

CNN was not immediately able to verify those claims. 

Separately, Energoatom said there were reports that a column of Russian soldiers who had encircled the town of Slavutych, which was built to house workers at Chernobyl, were also forming up to withdraw toward Belarus.

The US is also seeing Russian forces “drawing down” from Chernobyl and from the north and northwest of Kyiv, a senior US defense official told reporters Thursday.

The US believes Russian forces have likely “abandoned Hostomel airport,” also known as Antonov International Airport, outside of Kyiv to the northwest, the official said.

CNN's Ellie Kaufman contributed reporting to this post.