March 24, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Helen Regan, Aditi Sangal, Leinz Vales, Matt Meyer and Elise Hammond, CNN

Updated 0251 GMT (1051 HKT) March 25, 2023
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4:38 p.m. ET, March 24, 2023

US and Canada pledge to stand alongside Ukraine as reliable partners

From CNN's Hira Humayun

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses parliament in Ottawa on March 24.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses parliament in Ottawa on March 24. (Andrew Harnik/Pool/Reuters)

Ukraine can rely on the United States and Canada as partners, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in an address to parliament in Ottawa alongside US President Joe Biden on Friday. 

Trudeau said like the US, Canada has provided “significant military support” to Ukraine, such as artillery, ammunition, armor and tanks. He said the Canadian armed forces have been training Ukrainian military members since 2015.

“As you well know, Mr. President, Canada will continue to stand strong with Ukraine, with whatever it takes,” Trudeau said. “Together, both of us are partners that Ukraine — and the world —can count on."

The prime minister pointed to sanctions and other economic measures put in place by the US, Canada and other allies "to continue to deplete the Kremlin's war chest.”

Trudeau called Biden a ‘’true friend to Canada,” saying that the alliance “matters more than ever in this consequential moment.”

US President Joe Biden delivers a speech in Ottawa on March 24.
US President Joe Biden delivers a speech in Ottawa on March 24. (Blair Gable/Reuters)

Biden calls out Putin: Addressing parliament after Trudeau, Biden said Russian President Vladimir Putin has failed to meet his goals with the Ukraine invasion.

"Guess what? His lust for land and power has failed thus far," the US leader said of Putin. "The Ukrainian people's love of their country is going to prevail."

Biden echoed Trudeau's remarks about the US and Canada standing in support of Ukraine.

"Let's once more affirm that we're going keep that torch of liberty burning brightly and support the Ukrainian people," Biden said.

The president also said Moscow has failed to shake the resolve of the NATO alliance.

"Putin was certain he would have been able to break NATO by now," Biden told the assembled lawmakers.

But, he said, the US and Canada will "keep our alliance strong and united, and we'll defend every inch of NATO territory. An attack against one is an attack against all."

2:26 p.m. ET, March 24, 2023

UN documents hundreds of disappearances and arbitrary detentions by Russian and Ukrainian forces

From CNN’s Jade Wurapa and Hira Humayun

The United Nations has documented hundreds of cases of enforced disappearances and arbitrary detentions by both Ukrainian and Russian forces since the beginning of the invasion, according to the Head of the UN Monitoring Mission in Ukraine.

The UN has documented more than 600 cases of enforced disappearances and arbitrary detentions carried out by Russian forces, and 91 by Ukrainian forces, since the war began on February 24 of last year up until the end of January 2023.

“Unfortunately, we found that there have been significant violations on both sides,” , Matilda Bogner said, referring to prisoners of war being subjected to “summary executions," torture, “ill treatment” and “horrific conditions” while being detained.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights issued Friday its latest report, which cataloged cases of civilian casualties, torture, rape, enforced disappearances and arbitrary detention.

2:31 p.m. ET, March 24, 2023

Ukraine repelled 38 Russian attacks in the last day, military says

From CNN's Olga Voitovych and Vasco Cotovio

Ukraine repelled 38 Russian attacks over the past 24 hours, the country’s military said in a situation update on Friday evening. 

Russia is focusing its efforts in the Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiivka, Maryinka and Shakhtarsk areas, the military’s general staff said, adding that's where Ukrainian forces repelled more than three dozen attacks.

The general staff said Moscow’s armies were still putting pressure on the eastern city of Bakhmut, but it remained under Ukrainian control. 

“In the Bakhmut direction, the enemy continues to assault the city of Bakhmut, which is held by our defenders, as well as in the areas of Orikhovo-Vasylivka, Bohdanivka, Ivanivske and Stupochky in the Donetsk region,” it said. 

1:13 p.m. ET, March 24, 2023

Ukraine eyes an offensive around embattled eastern city of Bakhmut, as Russian momentum stalls

From CNN's Rob Picheta, Vasco Cotovio and Olga Voitovych

Ukrainian soldiers ride atop a tank on the front line in Bakhmut, Donetsk region, Ukraine on Wednesday, March 22.
Ukrainian soldiers ride atop a tank on the front line in Bakhmut, Donetsk region, Ukraine on Wednesday, March 22. (Libkos/AP)

Russian forces are depleted in Bakhmut and a Ukrainian counteroffensive could soon be launched, one of Kyiv’s top generals has said, raising the prospect of an unlikely turnaround in the besieged city.

Oleksandr Syrskyi, the commander of Ukraine’s land forces, said on his Telegram channel Thursday that “[Russians] are losing significant forces [in Bakhmut] and are running out of energy.”

“Very soon, we will take advantage of this opportunity, as we did in the past near Kyiv, Kharkiv, Balakliya and Kupyansk,” he said.

His comments come days after Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky made a surprise trip to the front lines of the Donetsk region, and will raise hopes in the West that Kyiv’s contentious decision to keep troops in Bakhmut will pay dividends.

A counteroffensive has seemed an unlikely prospect for several weeks, as forces from Russia’s Wagner mercenary group bombarded Bakhmut and edged closer toward seizing control of the city.

But that effort has come at a considerable cost to manpower and resources, and now appears to have slowed.

Russian troops have launched more than 200 strikes on the area in the past 24 hours alone but are losing hundreds of men each day in their efforts, the spokesman for the Eastern Grouping of the Armed Forces, Serhii Cherevatyi, said later on Thursday. CNN is unable to verify those figures.

Cherevatyi said another area that was seeing intense fire was to the northeast of Bakhmut, on the front line running north from the town of Kreminna.

Speaking on Ukrainian television Friday, Cherevatyi said that “It is not that [Wagner] are withdrawing, but that due to heavy losses they have to be reinforced by units of the regular army of the Russian Federation, primarily by airborne troops.”

He added that Russian forces in the area are “making several dozen attacks every day. There were 32 firefights over the last day,” in and around Bakhmut. There were also air strikes launched by both fixed-wing planes and attack helicopters, he said, but added that “artillery is a much bigger factor of influence on military operations there than aviation.”

Read more here.

12:18 p.m. ET, March 24, 2023

Belarusian president's "luxury airliner" sanctioned under US Treasury's new round of actions 

From CNN's Sam Fossum

Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko speaks at the Independence Palace, Minsk, Belarus, on February 16.
Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko speaks at the Independence Palace, Minsk, Belarus, on February 16. (Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP/Getty Images)

In its latest financial and diplomatic sanctions, the US is going after companies and individuals involved in the crackdown against Belarus' pro-democracy movement and the existing regime's involvement in Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The Biden administration on Friday sanctioned Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko's personal "luxury airliner."

Lukansheko's regime "relies on state-owned enterprises and key officials to generate substantial revenue that enables oppressive acts against the Belarusian people,” Treasury Under Secretary Brian Nelson, a top US sanctions official, said in a statement

The US remains "committed to imposing costs" on Lukashenko's regime for its suppression of democracy and support for Putin’s war, the statement added.

Here are other individuals and entities facing sanctions:

  • Two companies — Open Joint Stock Company Belarusian Automobile Plant and Open Joint Stock Company Minsk Automobile Plant — and both of their directors "for supporting and generating revenue for the Belarusian government."
  • The Central Election Commission of Belarus and its seven new members for their role in "barring opposition candidates, denying access to poll observers, and certifying inaccurate vote tallies" in the fraudulent 2020 elections.
  • The US State Department is also issuing visa restrictions on 14 additional individuals, including regime officials. Lukashenko's jetliner, EW-001PA, is a Boeing 737 used by the Belarusian strongman and his family for international travel, according to the Treasury. 

More on the Belarus-Russia relationship: Lukashenko is a close ally to Russian President Vladimir Putin who permitted Russian troops to use Belarus to stage their initial invasion into Ukraine last year. The US and its allies have since then targeted Minsk with a set of sweeping sanctions. Additionally, the European Union does not recognize the results of the 2020 Belarus election and the US has called it a "fraudulent." The widespread fraud sparked mass pro-democracy protests which led to a brutal crackdown from the government. 

6:12 p.m. ET, March 24, 2023

Russia says 56 Ukrainian children await reunification with their families

From CNN's Katharina Krebs in London

Maria Lvova-Belova, Russian children's rights commissioner, attends a meeting with Russian President at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence, outside Moscow, Russia, on February 16.
Maria Lvova-Belova, Russian children's rights commissioner, attends a meeting with Russian President at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence, outside Moscow, Russia, on February 16. (Mikhail Metzel/Sputnik/AFP/Getty Images)

Russia’s Commissioner for Children's Rights Maria Lvova-Belova said on Friday that 56 Ukrainian children who are now in Crimea and Krasnodar Krai are awaiting reunification with their families.

"Currently 56 children remain in the health resorts of the Krasnodar Krai and Crimea. They are safe and in touch with their families. There is an action plan for each child so that they are reunited with family," said Lvova-Belova in a statement on her Telegram channel.

Remember: Last Friday, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Lvova-Belova for an alleged scheme to deport Ukrainian children to Russia. The ICC said that Lvova-Belova was “allegedly responsible for the war crime of unlawful deportation.”

Lvova-Belova dismissed the ICC’s arrest warrant against her, saying it was “great” that the international community appreciated her work for children, according to Russian state news agency TASS.

According to Lvova-Belova, to date 33 Ukrainian children have returned to their parents in Kharkiv, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions. The children were brought home by their parents or a trusted representative.

"Children have been in health camps in the Crimea and the Krasnodar Territory since autumn. With the consent of their parents, citizens of Ukraine, they were temporarily sent away from the hostilities - to rest and gain strength," she said.

"It was not possible to immediately ensure a safe return trip for everyone, since the front line has changed significantly, [and] parents and children found themselves on different sides," she added.

Lvova-Belova said that since October last year, the Russian authorities have been "consistently assisting in the reunification of children who arrived on vacation" from areas of conflict; and from this group, more than 2,000 children have already returned to their families.

CNN's Rob Picheta and Lauren Said-Moorhouse contributed to this post.

9:47 a.m. ET, March 24, 2023

Russia claims it is increasing production of strategic bombers

From CNN's Katharina Krebs in London

A Russian Tupolev Tu-160 strategic long-range heavy supersonic bomber aircraft is pictured upon landing at Maiquetia International Airport, Venezuela, on December 10, 2018.
A Russian Tupolev Tu-160 strategic long-range heavy supersonic bomber aircraft is pictured upon landing at Maiquetia International Airport, Venezuela, on December 10, 2018. (Federico Parra/AFP/Getty Images)

The Kazan Aircraft Building Plant claims it is increasing the production of modernized version of Tu-160M strategic bombers, according to the statement published on Friday by the Russia's state industrial corporation Rostec.

“The plant is producing upgraded strategic missile carriers Tu-160M. The decision to resume their production was made by the President of Russia. The updated aircraft have significantly expanded combat capabilities, they have a significant potential,” the statement said. “Further development of the platform will make it possible to use it for new types of weapons, including advanced ones.”

More background: Russia relies heavily on imports of Western components for its military industry, and has struggled to produce advance long range missiles as well as other equipment to continue its war in Ukraine because of sanctions. Moscow has relied heavily on older equipment and even brought back previously decommissioned armored vehicles and tanks, with analysis suggesting it has happened in part because of Western sanctions. 

Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced a large-scale effort to build up capacities to produce more weapons for its so-called ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine. Putin said increased production of an “additional volume” of weapons is “urgently needed” and assured that special attention would be paid to the legalities and allotment of funding towards the initiative. 

9:08 a.m. ET, March 24, 2023

UN report details dozens of cases of summary executions of Ukrainian and Russian POWs 

From CNN's Andrew Carey

The United Nations says it has documented dozens of cases of summary executions of prisoners of war (POWs) carried out by both Russian and Ukrainian forces since February 2022, but admits it is far harder to get information from Russia, or territories under Russian control than it is from Ukrainian authorities.

In a new report, the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) says it has documented the summary execution of 15 Ukrainian POWs by Russian forces, in addition to the use of Ukrainian POWs as human shields, the death of two wounded POWs due to lack of medical care, as well as torture. 

Among the cases documented in the report is that of an officer of the Ukrainian National Guard tortured and then executed after refusing to hand over a password for entry to a radio station in Mariupol in April 2022. In another case, in September, a wounded Ukrainian serviceman was shot three times in the chest and once in the head after being captured by fighters from the Wagner mercenary group in a village south of Bakhmut. 

“Summary executions and attacks against POWs and persons hors de combat are prohibited under international law, and where deliberate, constitute war crimes,” the report notes.

The report also highlights the lack of cooperation UN investigators have received from Russian and Russian-occupying authorities, saying it has been unable to gain any access to POWs interned by the Russian Federation, despite repeated such requests. It mentions one occasion only, in August, when a UN team was allowed to meet, but not interview, 13 Ukrainian POWs held in Russian-occupied Luhansk.

On the other side, the report says it has documented – through open-source information, in situ visits and witness interviews – the summary execution of at least 25 Russian POWs being held by Ukrainian forces. 

In one incident in March 2022 in the Luhansk region, the UN report suggests some members of Russian-affiliated armed groups were killed by Ukrainian servicemen after refusing to pronounce their intent to surrender. The UN report says the Russian fighters, some possibly injured or dead, were lying on the ground in the wake of an artillery attack.

In contrast to the lack of cooperation from Russian authorities, the report says UN teams have been given “full and confidential access” to Russian POWs held in official places of internment by Ukraine, “which OHCHR acknowledges with great appreciation.”

8:53 a.m. ET, March 24, 2023

UN agency reports "dire" human rights situation in Ukraine conflict as it documents torture

From CNN's Tim Lister

A war crime prosecutor inspects a basement of an office building, where prosecutor's office says 30 people were held for two months during the Russian occupation, in Kherson, Ukraine, on December 20.
A war crime prosecutor inspects a basement of an office building, where prosecutor's office says 30 people were held for two months during the Russian occupation, in Kherson, Ukraine, on December 20. (Anna Voitenko/Reuters)

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has catalogued thousands of cases of civilian casualties along with cases of torture, rape and arbitrary detention in the Ukraine conflict over six months — August to January.

“The human rights situation across the country remains dire amid the ongoing armed attack by the Russian Federation against Ukraine,” the OHCHR said in its latest report issued Friday.

OHCHR reported the following numbers it has recorded since August:

  • At least 1,605 persons have been killed and 4,382 persons injured, but noted that actual numbers “are likely considerably higher, since these figures only include the cases that OHCHR has been able to verify.” Numbers in places like Mariupol and Lysychansk were still to be verified, it added.
  • It documented 214 cases — 185 men, 24 women and 5 boys — of enforced disappearances and arbitrary detentions of civilians in territory of Ukraine that was or remains under the occupation of the Russian Federation. Russian armed forces arrested victims in their homes, workplaces, in the street, or at checkpoints during so-called "filtration" processes.

Among those subsequently released, OCHCR had been able to interview 89 people, the vast majority of whom reported torture and ill-treatment while in detention. It said this was aimed at forcing them “to confess to providing assistance to Ukrainian armed forces, to compel them to cooperate with the occupying authorities or to intimidate those with pro-Ukrainian views.”

The abuse included beatings with batons and rifle butts, threats to shoot their hands and legs, mutilate or execute them; sleep deprivation and exposure to freezing temperatures, sometimes after pouring water on them, according to the victims. Some were threatened with being raped.

The OHCHR highlighted the case of a woman subjected to repeated rape while being held by members of the Russian armed forces and the Security Service of Russia (FSB). According to her testimony, she and her husband had been blindfolded and taken to the men’s base. “A man who introduced himself as the commander told her: 'Tell me how you love Ukraine now. We’ll beat Ukraine out of you',” the report said.