March 27, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Kathleen Magramo, Sana Noor Haq, Kathryn Snowdon, Maureen Chowdhury and Aditi Sangal, CNN

Updated 11:10 a.m. ET, March 28, 2023
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6:28 a.m. ET, March 27, 2023

Western criticism won't affect Russia’s plans to station nuclear weapons in Belarus, says Kremlin

From CNN’s Anna Chernova

The Kremlin has maintained its position on storing nuclear weapons in neighboring Belarus, after Western leaders condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin's plans as "dangerous and irresponsible."

"Obviously, such a reaction cannot affect Russia’s plans," Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters Monday.

Putin announced Saturday that Moscow plans to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, which is among Russia's closest allies. It helped Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, allowing the Kremlin's forces to enter the country from the north.

The statement from Putin over the weekend prompted strong reaction in the West. NATO said it is "vigilant" and "closely monitoring the situation," and Lithuania called for new sanctions against Russia.

The US has downplayed the move, saying there are no indications Russia will use nuclear weapons.

6:00 a.m. ET, March 27, 2023

25 wounded in Sloviansk missile strike, Ukrainian authorities say

From Olga Voitovych in Kyiv

Aftermath of strike in Sloviansk, Ukraine, on March 2
Aftermath of strike in Sloviansk, Ukraine, on March 2 (Pavlo Kyrylenko/Telegram)

At least one person was killed and 25 wounded in Russian missile strikes on Monday against the eastern city of Sloviansk, according to Pavlo Kyrylenko, head of the Donetsk regional military administration.

A number of high-rise buildings and offices were damaged or destroyed by the missile strikes at around 10:30 a.m. local time, Kyrylenko said, adding that two S300 missiles were used.

“In addition, at the same time [the town of] Druzhkivka was hit by a missile attack — two S300 missiles hit the Druzhkivka orphanage and almost completely destroyed it,” Kyrylenko said. 

There are “currently no casualties in Druzhkivka,” he said.

It’s not known whether the orphanage was occupied.

5:29 a.m. ET, March 27, 2023

One killed in Russian shelling of Sloviansk, Zelensky says

From CNN's Olga Voitovych in Kyiv

Russian bombardments killed one person in the city of Sloviansk in the Donetsk region on Monday, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Zelensky posted video of the aftermath of the attack, showing widespread damage and two fires. It is unclear whether rockets or missiles were used.

"Another day that began with terrorism by the Russian Federation. The aggressor state shelled our Sloviansk. Unfortunately, there is one dead person and victims of various degrees of severity. All services are working on the ground," the Ukrainian leader said on Telegram.
4:51 a.m. ET, March 27, 2023

Assassination attempt against Mariupol police chief, says Russian state media

From CNN's Olga Voitovych

There was an assassination attempt against the police chief in the occupied city of Mariupol on Monday, according to Russian news agency TASS.

Mikhail Moskvin is alive, TASS reported, citing the security services of the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic, which administers Mariupol.

TASS said that Moskvin's car exploded a few meters away from him.

The news comes after Ukrainian officials said that the car of a top Russian commander was blown up in a central area of the city's Primorskyi district.

4:42 a.m. ET, March 27, 2023

Battle for Bakhmut enters "most intense phase," says top Ukrainian official

From CNN's Tim Lister and Olga Voitovych

Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi walks in a trench at a position north of the capital Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 29, 2022.
Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi walks in a trench at a position north of the capital Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 29, 2022. (Vadim Ghirda/AP)

Russian and Ukrainian forces are caught in "the most intense phase" of the battle for control of Bakhmut, where both sides are caught in a grueling stalemate as Moscow strives to capture the city after failing to make major gains elsewhere.

Oleksandr Syrskyi, the commander of Ukraine's land forces, has made decisions "aimed at strengthening" Kyiv's forces on the ground to "deter and defeat the enemy," according to the Ministry of Defense.

The ministry said that Syrskyi "took a number of measures to resolve problematic issues that impede the effective performance of combat missions."

"The most intense phase of the battle for Bakhmut is underway. The situation is consistently difficult. The enemy is suffering significant losses in human resources, weapons and military equipment, but continues to conduct offensive actions," Syrskyi said.

The exact status of the battle for the city is unclear after unverified claims that Russia's private military group Wagner has made gains in Bakhmut, despite suggestions from Ukrainian officials that Moscow is running out of power.

Serhii Cherevatyi, spokesman for the Eastern Grouping of the Armed Forces, said on Sunday that Ukraine has "enough forces to hold the front line."

An aerial view of Bakhmut,in the Donetsk region, Ukraine, Sunday, March 26, 2023. (AP Photo/
An aerial view of Bakhmut,in the Donetsk region, Ukraine, Sunday, March 26, 2023. (AP Photo/ (Libkos/AP)

Cherevatyi also said that the intensity of Russian attacks had declined. On Saturday, he said there had been 18 separate attacks attempting to advance in the Bakhmut area, compared to up to 50 in the recent past. But the same dense shelling continued, he said.

The Institute for the Study of War said in its latest battlefield assessment that attempts from Wagner to break through Ukrainian defenses in the eastern cities of Bakhmut and Avdiivka have "so far failed."

3:44 a.m. ET, March 27, 2023

Russian commander's car explodes in occupied Mariupol, Ukrainian officials say

From CNN's Olga Voitovych

The car of a top Russian commander was blown up in the occupied southern port city of Mariupol on Monday morning, Ukrainian officials said.

"According to preliminary information, the car of one of the occupiers' commanders exploded," Mariupol's city council said.

The council said the blast occurred in a central area of the city's Primorskyi district. It did not name the Russian officer or say whether the explosion caused any casualties.

Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boichenko said: "The Mariupol resistance struck in occupied Mariupol, blowing up the car of one of the top military officers. More details to follow."

Russia is yet to comment.

3:34 a.m. ET, March 27, 2023

Explosions rock Russian-occupied city of Melitopol

From CNN's Hannah Ritchie and Olga Voitovych

Both Ukrainian and Russian officials have reported explosions Monday morning in the occupied city of Melitopol in Ukraine's southern Zaporizhzhia region.

“There have already been several explosions in the city...We are finding out what is burning this time by the enemy," said Melitopol's mayor Ivan Fedorovon Telegram, who is not in the city.

Social media video and images showed thick smoke rising in the middle of the city, which is a hub for Russian occupying forces nearly 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the front lines.

Vladimir Rogov, a Russian-appointed official in the occupied part of the Zaporizhzhia region, said it was "loud" in the city around 8:15 a.m. local time.

Rogov said “the air defense system worked" but he also posted video of emergency services working at the site of a strike. He said “information about casualties and damage is being clarified.”

“The militants of the Ukrainian armed forces are trying to fight the civilians in powerless rage, terrifying them by shelling them with heavy weapons,” he said.

The local Russian-appointed administration said a building in central Melitopol “was partially destroyed."

"According to preliminary information, four people were injured and several buildings were damaged,” it said.

Rogov said the building struck was close to a college where classes were ongoing. But Fedorov said the building was occupied by Russian security forces.

3:37 a.m. ET, March 27, 2023

Clearing land mines by hand, farmers in Ukraine risk their lives for planting season

From CNN's Rebecca Wright, Ivan Watson, Olha Konovalova and Tom Booth in Valika Komyshuvaha, Ukraine

Oleksandr Havriluk with some of the Russian anti-tank mines he dug up in his fields using a metal detector.
Oleksandr Havriluk with some of the Russian anti-tank mines he dug up in his fields using a metal detector. (Rebecca Wright/CNN)

The first time Oleksandr Havriluk returned to his farm after it had been stormed and occupied by Russian troops, tears rolled down his face when he saw what they had left behind.

His farm buildings were almost completely destroyed, millions of dollars worth of heavy machinery had been left in ruins, and last year’s wheat harvest had been incinerated.

But the most pressing problem for Havriluk were the land mines which had been buried across his 12 square miles of surrounding fields.

Now, the 69-year-old is digging them up by hand, in a desperate effort to clear some of his fields before planting season begins in early April.

“I was afraid,” Havriluk said. “But I have to sow.”

So far, Havriluk says he has removed around 20 mines from his fields in Valika Komyshuvaha, close to the city of Izium, using only a metal detector he purchased himself.

“You go, you find it, take a stick, tap it to determine the size, and then you dig it up,” he said. “And then you pick it up gently and take it out.”

The work is dangerous, he admits, but he adds, “I don’t have any other choice.”

Read more here.

5:48 a.m. ET, March 27, 2023

Authorities urge residents to evacuate eastern Ukrainian town as constant Russian attacks disrupt utilities

From CNN's Kostan Nechyporenko and Hira Humayun

A residential building damaged by a Russian military strike is seen in Avdiivka, Ukraine, on March 20.
A residential building damaged by a Russian military strike is seen in Avdiivka, Ukraine, on March 20. (Alex Babenko/Reuters)

Authorities in the Ukrainian town of Avdiivka — located in the eastern Donetsk region — are urging people to evacuate as critical resources like mobile service and electricity are disrupted by Russian shelling, a top regional official said.

Starting Sunday, the town’s utilities will be shut off as “more and more of the town is shelled and destroyed daily," Vitalii Barabash, the head of Avdiivka military administration, said in a Telegram post.

“The town is being wiped off the face of the earth. You have to leave the town — if the public utilities (personnel) are evacuated," he said. "We will evacuate utilities in several stages. There was an incoming hit near the utility company facility today."

The regional leader said mobile coverage for the town will be shut off, too. He also cautioned that people will not be able to charge their phones, because in the coming days there will be nobody to service the generators or run the mobile tower.

“The prospects for the town are very bad. Every day we have multi-story buildings falling apart. There hasn't been a day in the last couple of weeks when we haven't been shelled,” he said.

“That's why you need to move out, you need to get ready for this. Especially those with children,” he said, “Real life shows that basements will not save you at the rate they are hitting the town with airstrikes now. Soon, I think Avdiivka may become a second Marinka — that is, nothing of the town will remain.”

About Avdiivka: The town is located just north of Donetsk city, a large metropolitan area.

The industrial town, home to a large smelting plant, has been shelled persistently since the Russian invasion began. However, in recent weeks Russian ground attacks in the area have intensified.

Some Ukrainian officials have said the town could become a second Bakhmut, the mostly abandoned city where Ukrainian and Russian forces have fought for weeks to what is, at this moment, a bloody stalemate.

Barabash has said in previous updates that civilian evacuations from the town are perilous, with a "road of death" leading out of town that's monitored by Russian troops who "immediately open fire."

CNN's Svitlana Vlasova contributed to this report.