March 25, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news

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

Updated 8:17 p.m. ET, March 25, 2023
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1:28 p.m. ET, March 25, 2023

Ukrainian military says it repelled over 50 Russian attacks over the past day

From CNN's Kostan Nechyporenko

The Ukrainian military has repelled more than 50 Russian attacks over the past 24 hours, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces claimed in an update Saturday.

The majority of the repelled attacks were concentrated in communities of the eastern Donetsk region, the General Staff said, including the embattled city of Bakhmut and the towns of Avdiivka, Lyman and Marinka.

This map shows the latest state of control in Ukraine:

1:21 p.m. ET, March 25, 2023

Around 10,000 people "pushed to limit of existence" in besieged Bakhmut, Red Cross says

From CNN’s Allegra Goodwin

Around 10,000 Ukrainian civilians are being “pushed to the very limit of their existence,” in the beleaguered eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut and the nearby area, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said Friday. 

The bloody battle for Bakhmut has been at the center of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in recent months, as soldiers from the private Russian mercenary company Wagner have bombarded the city and edged closer towards seizing control. 

“Based on our understanding, there are several thousands of residents still living in Bakhmut, and if we talk about the communities around, the numbers would be coming closer to several thousands, possibly around 10,000,” the ICRC’s Umar Khan, who has been in the city in recent days providing aid, told a news briefing. 
Civilians stuck in Bakhmut are “living in very dire conditions, spending almost the entire days in intense shelling in the shelters,” Khan said, adding, “all you see are people pushed to the very limit of their existence and survival and resilience in them.”

The ICRC has delivered hygiene kits, solar lamps, water containers, essential repair supplies and handheld tools to the community. 

“These are the practical items that give them practical solutions to the problems they are facing every day,” Khan said. 
“No matter how many times I’ve been there, or near the frontline communities and areas over the past 13 months, I still feel the same shock, as when we visited those places the first time. Houses are crushed by military firepower, roofs are ripped off, apartment buildings are littered with holes, chunks missing, the constant threat of unexploded shells, bombs underfoot, and some people still living in the shelters, trying to survive these intense hostilities,” he continued. 
1:56 p.m. ET, March 25, 2023

Reminders of war motivate Ukraine to perform "miracle" against England

From CNN's Ben Church

Midfielder Taras Stepanenko leads Ukraine out against Brentford B on March 23.
Midfielder Taras Stepanenko leads Ukraine out against Brentford B on March 23. (Courtesy UAF/Pavlo Kubanov)

It may be thousands of miles from the frontline, but the Ukrainian soccer team is never far from the horrors of war.

While the squad has assembled in the leafy suburbs of London ahead of its Euro 2024 qualifying match against England, Russian forces continue to bombard Ukraine – with deadly missile strikes seen across the country this week.

It’s why, despite the comfort of their luxury hotel, the minds of the team are very much with their friends and family back home as they prepare for Sunday’s game.

Oleksandr Glyvynskyy, the Ukrainian team’s media representative, says many members of the squad have an application on their phone that alerts them when there is an air-raid siren back home.

Others start every day by scrolling through social media to check whether there were any Russian attacks from the night before.

They do this to ensure their loved ones are safe, but it also serves as a constant reminder of just how perilous the situation is.

Read the full story here.

1:52 p.m. ET, March 25, 2023

A Ukrainian orphanage tried to hide its children when war began. Then the Russians came

From CNN's David McKenzie, Ghazi Balkiz and Maria Avdeeva

Cots stand empty at the orphanage in Kherson.
Cots stand empty at the orphanage in Kherson. (Ghazi Balkiz/CNN)

When the war began in February last year, the staff at Kherson's Children's Home came up with a plan.

They spirited all the children, mostly under 5, to the Holhofa church on the other side of town, orphanage worker Olena recounted.

The church and caregivers from the home kept the children safe and warm in the basement. They hid them to keep them safe from the fighting and to escape the Russians, said Olena.

Kherson fell to the Russian forces in the early days of the war. The invading troops moved swiftly over the Dnipro River; it was the first major city to be taken and the only regional capital.

“Yes, the children were here,” Victor, the 74-year-old caretaker of the church, told CNN. “But after the Russians occupied this city, they started asking questions.”

After a few weeks, he said, agents from Russia’s security service, the FSB, came to the church and demanded that the caregivers transport the children back to the orphanage.

Read the full story here.

8:49 a.m. ET, March 25, 2023

5,000 prisoners pardoned after serving with Russian forces, mercenary chief says

From CNN’s Uliana Pavlova

Wagner Group owner Yevgeny Prigozhin said on Saturday that over 5,000 prisoners completed contracts with Russian forces and received pardons.

“At the moment, more than 5,000 people have completed their contract with PMC Wagnerand have been pardoned,” Prigozhin said in an audio message published on his Telegram channel.

“The percentage of persons who reoffended during the month is 0.31, which is 10-20 times less than the standard figures before the special operation,” he said.

Prigozhin’s private army heavily relied on recruiting convicts from Russian prisons with a promise of a free pardon and monetary compensation if they survived six months on the battlefield.

The group has now stopped recruiting from prisons. Last week it said it was seeking 30,000 more fighters, and has been focusing its efforts on sports clubs and gyms.

1:44 p.m. ET, March 25, 2023

UK's MoD says Russia's assault on Bakhmut has largely stalled

From CNN's Sophie Tanno

A Ukrainian serviceman looks through goggles while another sits on an anti-air gun near Bakhmut on March 24.
A Ukrainian serviceman looks through goggles while another sits on an anti-air gun near Bakhmut on March 24. (Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images)

Britain's Ministry of Defence has said that Russia's assault on Bakhmut has largely stalled.

According to a statement issued Saturday, this is "likely primarily a result of extreme attrition of the Russian force."

"Ukraine has also suffered heavy casualties during its defence," the statement said.

Russia has shifted its focus to nearby Avdiivka, the ministry says -- a place Ukrainian officials previously warned could become a second Bakhmut.

According to the ministry, this suggests an "overall return to a more defensive operational design after inconclusive results from its attempts to conduct a general offensive since January 2023."

Some context: The exact picture of the fighting in and around Bakhmut is unclear, but Russia has made it a major target.

This week one of Ukraine's top generals said Russian forces were depleted in Bakhmut, and that his troops could "soon" launch a counterassault, raising the prospect of a turnaround in a city Ukraine has at times appeared on the brink of losing.

5:31 a.m. ET, March 25, 2023

Sixteen people killed in Russian shelling over eight regions of Ukraine 

From CNN's Maria Kostenko

Sixteen civilians have been killed and fifty-nine people injured in Russian shelling across eight regions of Ukraine, according to the Defence Forces of Ukraine.

Ukraine's Defense Force said in a statement that "119 settlements have been shelled with various weapons including mortars, tanks, artillery, multiple launch rocket systems, S-300 air defense missile system, Lancet UAVs and Onyx cruise missiles."

It is the latest wave of Russian attacks -- Russia pounded towns and cities across Ukraine on Wednesday as Chinese leader Xi Jinping departed from Moscow following talks with President Vladimir Putin, killing at least nine people.

In the aftermath of that attack one man, a student in Zaporizhzhia, told CNN: “We are mostly angry. We are not afraid. Why would we be? It is our home."

5:27 a.m. ET, March 25, 2023

Ukraine's top general says situation in Bakhmut is "stabilized" in discussion with UK Chief of Defense staff 

From CNN's Olga Voitovych in Kyiv and Vasco Cotovio in London

The commander in chief of Ukraine’s military emphasized the difficulty of the battle for the eastern city of Bakhmut during a call Friday with the head of the British Armed Forces.

Ukrainian Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi shared a Telegram post outlining his conversation with Britain’s Chief of the Defence Staff Adm. Sir Tony Radakin.

“I informed my colleague about the operational situation along the entire front line. The situation in the Bakhmut direction is the most difficult,” Zaluzhnyi wrote. “Due to the titanic efforts of the Defense Forces, the situation has been stabilized."
“We also discussed the issue of strengthening Ukrainian air defense,” he added.

Zaluzhnyi thanked Radakin, the United Kingdom and other allies for their support.

“Thanks to the help of our partners, we are holding on and will definitely win,” he said.

The battle for Bakhmut: The besieged city of Bakhmut in Ukraine's Donetsk region has been a focal point of the frontline fighting between Russia and Ukraine for months.

One of Kyiv's top generals this week said that Russian forces are depleted in Bakhmut, and a Ukrainian counteroffensive could soon be launched. It raised the prospect of an unlikely turnaround for Ukraine.

While experts say that capturing Bakhmut is unlikely to dramatically alter the overall picture of the war in eastern Ukraine — where little territory has changed hands in 2023 — it would hand Russia a symbolic victory and mark the first Ukrainian city it has captured in eight months.

9:46 a.m. ET, March 25, 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 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.