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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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.

12:41 a.m. ET, March 27, 2023

Analysis: With plan for tactical nukes in Belarus, Putin is scaring the world to distract from his problems

Analysis from CNN's Jill Dougherty

Vladimir Putin says he plans to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, the neighboring ally from which he staged part of his February 2022 invasion of Ukraine. When the Russian president uses the word “nuclear” the world pays attention and that appears to be a major reason why he said it.

As usual with Putin, the world should read the fine print and check the context. The weapons Putin plans to move to Belarus are not strategic nuclear weapons, those giant intercontinental ballistic missiles that, if fired, could end life on earth.

Tactical nuclear weapons are smaller, but powerful, and can be used on the battlefield. Putin has been threatening the possibility of nuclear war for the past year, especially when his military operation in Ukraine is faltering.

That could help to explain the context of Putin’s announcement. He’s a man with a lot of problems right now. Russian forces are bombarding Ukrainian cities from the air, but their ground war is not making much headway.

Aside from several new trade agreements with China, Putin didn’t get much out of his summit with Chinese leader Xi Jinping. If anything, Russia now appears to be China’s junior partner.

Then there’s the International Criminal Court and the arrest warrant it has issued for Putin.

Now, about that fine print: Putin is blaming his decision on the other side, saying he made it in response to the United Kingdom supplying Ukraine with anti-tank ammunition that contains depleted uranium.

That, Putin charges, is a dangerous escalation. The UK denies this, explaining that the ammunition is used only for conventional purposes.

Putin says Russia already is constructing a storage facility for the tactical nukes that will be ready by July. He gave no specific date on which the tactical weapons would arrive.

What’s more, he notes, Russia already has 10 aircraft capable of carrying nuclear weapons, as well as several short-range Iskander missile systems that could carry nuclear weapons.

Significantly, the Russian leader said he will not transfer control of the tactical nuclear weapons to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who has been requesting the weapons for a long time.

Read the full analysis here.

8:48 p.m. ET, March 26, 2023

How US troops in Germany are training Ukrainians to save one another on the battlefield

From CNN's Haley Britzky

For US troops, the training is nothing new: Applying tourniquets, clearing someone’s airway, recognizing signs of traumatic brain injuries.

But to the Ukrainian troops receiving it, the training is literally a matter of life or death on the battlefield in the war against Russia.

US troops have been providing critical medical instruction and combat casualty care to Ukrainians at Grafenwoehr Training Area in Germany for almost a year, in between other significant training on weapon systems. And while it may not be as high profile as that on tanks, Patriot missile systems, or combined arms tactics, it could arguably have an even more immediate impact on the battlefield.

“Just knowing and keeping in the back of our minds that everything we were doing and saying would have that direct impact on their ability to save lives, and to save each other, and to prolong their lives during their fight for their country — it definitely is going to I think stick with us for the rest of our careers,” Sgt. Alexis Ballard, a combat medic, who helped start the medical training program in Germany, told CNN.

Ballard and Capt. Christina Whitler, the field artillery squadron physician assistant, were among the medics on-site last May as Ukrainians were training on M777 Howitzers. It’s typical for medics to be present at a range during training, and hoping to be as useful as possible, Whitler told CNN she spoke with a Ukrainian leader on the ground to see what else they might need.

The answer was clear: More medical training.

Read the full story here.

8:46 p.m. ET, March 26, 2023

Russia claims 3 people injured in explosion caused by Ukrainian drone in Russia's Tula region 

From CNN's Mariya Knight in Atlanta

Russia says a Ukrainian drone caused an explosion that wounded three people in the country's Tula region, about 140 miles south of Moscow, Russian state news agency Tass reported Sunday. 

"The explosion in the city of Kireyevsk in the Tula region was caused by a Ukrainian Tu-141 Strizh unmanned aerial vehicle. The drone was stuffed with explosive substances," a spokesperson for the local law enforcement agencies told Tass. “Fragments of the Ukrainian Tu-141 Strizh drone have been retrieved from the blast.”

According to Tass, “two young men received fragmentation wounds and one more person was slightly hurt. Three apartment blocks and four household structures were damaged.” 

Ukraine has not commented on the incident so far, and CNN has not been able to independently verify Moscow's claim.