March 4, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news

By Sophie Tanno, Matt Meyer, Adrienne Vogt and Tori B. Powell, CNN

Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT) March 4, 2023
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4:05 p.m. ET, March 4, 2023

This map shows the latest state of control in Ukraine

From CNN's Radina Gigova and Maria Kostenko

Ukrainian forces are battling to hold on to the besieged eastern city of Bakhmut.

Ukraine's military said Saturday it is holding the front line and has not ordered any mass withdrawal, despite what the UK Ministry of Defence described as "increasingly severe" pressure. The Russian mercenary group Wagner claims the city is nearly surrounded.

Elsewhere in the country, Russian forces have recently launched artillery fire on Lyman, which is north of Bakhmut in the eastern Donetsk region, Ukraine's military said. Further attacks were reported near the city of Kupyansk in Kharkiv region and Kreminna in the Luhansk region.

In the southern Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions, Ukraine said Russia "is on the defensive, attempting to improve their tactical position to resume the offensive."

This map shows the latest state of control in Ukraine:

3:02 p.m. ET, March 4, 2023

US politician repeats false claim that Zelensky said Americans will have to fight in Ukraine

From CNN's Daniel Dale

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky attends a press conference on February 24, in Kyiv, Ukraine. 
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky attends a press conference on February 24, in Kyiv, Ukraine.  (Yan Dobronosov/Global Images Ukraine/Getty Images)

A viral video of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky wrongly implies that he demanded Americans send their sons and daughters to fight in the war in Ukraine.

The out-of-context, 19-second video has been viewed millions of times on Twitter, and a right-wing US politician repeated the debunked narrative this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), an annual Republican gathering.

The clip shows Zelensky speaking at a news conference last week as an interpreter translates his words into English: “The US will have to send their sons and daughters, exactly the same way as we are sending, their sons and daughters to war. And they will have to fight, because it’s NATO that we’re talking about. And they will be dying, God forbid, because it’s a horrible thing,” the Ukrainian leader says.

Critics of US military and financial support for Ukraine pounced on the remarks, claiming Zelensky was demanding the US send its young people to defend Ukraine from Russia's ongoing invasion.

Here's the key context: Zelensky was not saying Americans will have to fight or die in Ukraine. Rather, he predicted that if Ukraine loses the war against Russia, Moscow will proceed to enter NATO-member countries in the Baltics (a region made up of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia), which the US will have to send troops to defend.

Under the treaty that governs NATO, an attack on one member is considered an attack on all. Ukraine is not a NATO member.

In leaving out the context that Zelensky was discussing this hypothetical situation, which he used to support his argument for sustained US aid in Ukraine's defense, posts featuring the shortened clip twisted his meaning.

Since going viral, it has been fact-checked by CNNReuters and BBC journalist Shayan Sardarizadeh, among others.

Yet the claims are still circulating: While some elected officials have removed posts about the video after learning it was taken out of context, other voices in US politics have amplified the falsehoods.

At CPAC on Friday, GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene said the Republican Party has a duty to protect children. Listing supposed threats to kids, she referenced "Zelensky saying he wants our sons and daughters to go die in Ukraine.”

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene speaks at CPAC on Friday, March 3.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene speaks at CPAC on Friday, March 3. (Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket/Getty Images)

Later in her speech, she said, “I will look at a camera and directly tell Zelensky: You’d better leave your hands off of our sons and daughters, because they’re not dying over there.”

Read CNN's full fact check here.

1:10 p.m. ET, March 4, 2023

Man killed by Russian shelling in Kherson region, Ukrainian authorities say

From CNN's Denis Lapin

A 57-year-old man was killed by Russian shelling on the village of Lvove in Ukraine's southern Kherson region Saturday, Ukrainian officials said.

Several other civilian houses and the area's Palace of Culture were also damaged, according to Kherson regional military administration.

12:14 p.m. ET, March 4, 2023

Russia claims it rescued a Ukrainian girl who spoke at a pro-war rally. Those who know her fear she’s a victim

CNN uncovered more details this week about a teen girl from the Ukrainian city of Mariupol who spoke on stage at a pro-war rally attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on February 22.

The girl, named Anna, was seen getting emotional and then encouraged by an organizer to hug a uniformed man described as her rescuer.

The group of children, who were also described as being rescued from eastern Ukraine, were ushered to hug the man.

CNN's Melissa Bell reported that Anna's mother, a single parent of three, was killed in besieged Mariupol after leaving a basement shelter.

Bell said she was able to track down a family member and a woman who sheltered in the city for weeks with Anna.

The woman was shocked and burst into tears at one point, Bell said, telling CNN "this is a child, and what's being done to her is simply completely inhumane."

Bell also reported that the girl has faced abuse online for her appearance.

Anna has been "several times over a victim of this war," the woman said.

"It's an extraordinary story of a child completely unprotected, and open to very public abuse ever since," Bell said.

According to a new report released in mid-February, the Russian government has been operating a network of camps where it has held thousands of Ukrainian children and undertaken a campaign of political re-education.

Watch here:

11:48 a.m. ET, March 4, 2023

Russia is to blame for anime-inspired teen gangs brawling in the streets of Ukraine, Kyiv says

From CNN's Tim Lister

Russia is being accused of exporting influence on Ukrainian streets with teenage gangs inspired by a Japanese anime show.
Russia is being accused of exporting influence on Ukrainian streets with teenage gangs inspired by a Japanese anime show. (Telegram)

Ukrainian authorities are accusing Russia of trying to export an unlikely phenomenon: teenage gangs inspired by a Japanese anime game who are taking to the streets for mass brawls.

These gangs have become known as “Redan PMC,” combining the name of a Japanese anime character with the acronym for Private Military Company, made infamous by the Wagner mercenary group.

They appear to have started in Moscow as a vehicle for teenagers to fight organized gangs of football fans. The teenagers organize through Telegram channels and turn up at designated venues as flash mobs. A recent video showed a running battle at a shopping mall in the Russian capital. Russian news agencies also reported a brawl at a subway station in Moscow.

Redan gangs have also begun appearing on the streets of several Ukrainian cities – giving more work to an already overstretched police force. Groups of teenagers have gathered in the capital, Kyiv, as well as Lviv and Kharkiv; a 16-year-old alleged ringleader was detained in Dnipro.

Redan’s emergence has even gotten the Kremlin talking. Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday it was important to stop “illegal actions," referring to the gangs as a "pseudo-subculture" that "does nothing good for our youth.”

But Ukraine’s national police claim the Russians are trying to export Redan’s negative influence to Ukrainian teenagers through a disinformation campaign on Telegram channels.

Read more here.

8:59 a.m. ET, March 4, 2023

Ukrainian deputy commander: "Every hour in Bakhmut is like hell," but Ukraine has stabilized the front line

From Maria Kostenko in Kyiv

The front line in Bakhmut has been stabilized over the past few days by Ukrainian troops, despite intense and ongoing attacks by Russian forces, a deputy commander in the National Guard of Ukraine said Saturday.

According to the Svoboda battalion's Volodymyr Nazarenko, Russian forces have not crossed the Bakhmutka River, and the city center remains under control of Ukrainian forces.

“Every hour in Bakhmut is like hell. The enemy had successes in the north, northwest of Bakhmut a week ago. Ukrainian soldiers are fighting back. Over the past few days, the front line has been stabilized thanks to our hard work and efforts,” Nazarenko told Ukrainian broadcaster Kyiv24.  

Near the village of Ivanivske, southwest of Bakhmut, “the Kostiantynivka-Bakhmut road is under the control of Ukrainian forces. They are doing this with enormous efforts,” he said.

Russian forces lack ammunition and are resorting to “chaotic shelling” and are attempting to bomb supply lines. Moscow's troops, however, still have more ammunition than the Ukrainians, he added.

9:03 a.m. ET, March 4, 2023

Bakhmut is still controlled by Ukraine and there's been no mass withdrawal, military spokesperson says

From Maria Kostenko in Kyiv

Ukrainian soldiers drive towards frontline positions near Bakhmut, Ukraine, on Saturday, March 4.
Ukrainian soldiers drive towards frontline positions near Bakhmut, Ukraine, on Saturday, March 4. (Evgeniy Maloletka/AP)

Russia has not taken control of the eastern city of Bakhmut, a spokesperson for the Ukrainian Armed Forces told CNN Saturday.

“The fighting in Bakhmut is more on the outskirts, with the city controlled by Ukrainian defense forces: the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the Border Guard and the National Guard,” according to Serhiy Cherevatyi, the spokesperson for the eastern grouping of the armed forces.

Ukrainian troops are rotating positions in Bakhmut in controlled, planned rotations, he said in response to reports of the withdrawal of some units. 

“There is also no mass withdrawal of Ukrainian troops,” he said. 

So far on Saturday, he said there have been hostilities surrounding Bakhmut, in the villages of Vasiukivka and Dubovo-Vasylivka to the north of the city, and in the villages of Ivanivske and Bohdanivka to the west. 

“There were 21 enemy attacks with the use of various artillery systems and MLRS near Bakhmut alone, and 9 combat engagements. 131 attacks and 38 combat engagements took place on this front in total,” Cherevatyi said.

Over 150 Russian soldiers were killed and 239 were wounded, and three were taken prisoner, he added.

8:38 a.m. ET, March 4, 2023

Why is Bakhmut important for Russia?

From CNN's Rob Picheta

An empty street and buildings are seen damaged by a Russian military strike Bakhmut on Friday.
An empty street and buildings are seen damaged by a Russian military strike Bakhmut on Friday. (Oleksandr Ratushniak/Reuters)

Russian forces are continuing their efforts to encircle the eastern city of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region. The city sits toward the northeast of the Donetsk region, about 13 miles from Luhansk region, and has been a target for Putin's forces for some time, but why is the city so important for Russia?

Since last summer the city has been a stone's throw from the front lines, so its capture would represent a long sought-after success for Moscow's forces -- and bring some limited strategic value.

The city has important road connections to other parts of the Donetsk region; eastwards to the border with Luhansk, northwest to Sloviansk and southwest to Kostiantynivka. 

For several weeks, the routes into Bakhmut have gradually come under the control of Russian forces. Rather than drive directly toward the city center, Wagner groups sought to encircle the city in a wide arc from the north. In January, they claimed the nearby town of Soledar, and have since taken a string of villages and hamlets north of Bakhmut.

If the Russians can take the high ground to the west of the city, nearby industrial towns Kostiantynivka and Kramatorsk would be at the mercy of their artillery and even longer range mortars. And it is unclear where exactly Ukrainian forces would fall back to should they retreat from the city.

But the battle for Bakhmut has been costly for the Russians, which will come as some consolation to Kyiv.

1:01 p.m. ET, March 4, 2023

Russian defense minister pays rare visit to troops in Ukraine

From CNN's Uliana Pavlova

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu awards service members deployed in Ukraine, in this handout image published March 4.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu awards service members deployed in Ukraine, in this handout image published March 4. (Russian Defense Ministry/Handout/Reuters)

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu made a rare visit to Russia’s forces deployed in Ukraine, the country’s defense ministry said on Saturday.

In a statement, the ministry said Shoigu “inspected the forward command post of one of the formations of the Vostok forces in the South Donetsk direction."

In a video from the ministry, Shoigu is seen handing out medals to Russian military personnel and inspecting damaged buildings with the Eastern Military District’s commander, Colonel-General Rustam Muradov. 

“Awards deserved, earned. You fight with dignity! There is still a lot of work ahead. I really hope that you will continue to faithfully serve our country,” Shoigu told the military.

Shoigu and other members of Russia's defence establishment have faced criticism from the head of the Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, and military bloggers.

Prigozhin has since the start of the Ukraine war been openly taking credit for Wagner’s efforts to secure some territorial gains, particularly in the battles raging around the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut.

His unexpected rise prompted speculation about possible infighting among Moscow's elite as Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine sputtered.