March 29, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Rhea Mogul, Joshua Berlinger, Ed Upright, Adrienne Vogt, Aditi Sangal, Maureen Chowdhury and Tori B. Powell, CNN

Updated 2:17 a.m. ET, March 30, 2023
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5:23 p.m. ET, March 29, 2023

Battle for Bakhmut has turned into a "slaughter-fest for the Russians," top US general says

From CNN's Haley Britzky

A Ukrainian tank rolls on a muddy road near Bakhmut on March 29.
A Ukrainian tank rolls on a muddy road near Bakhmut on March 29. (Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty Images) 

There are roughly 6,000 Wagner group mercenaries fighting in the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley told US lawmakers on Wednesday. 

“They're conducting combat operations right now in Bakhmut primarily. It's probably about 6,000 or so actual mercenaries and maybe another 20 or 30,000 recruits that they get, many of whom come from prisons,” Milley told the House Armed Services Committee alongside US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. “And they are suffering an enormous amount of casualties in the Bakhmut area; the Ukrainians are inflicting a lot of death and destruction on these guys.” 

The battle over Bahkmut has turned into a “slaughter-fest" for the Russians, Milley said.

“The Ukrainians are doing a very effective area defense that is proven to be very costly to the Russians. For about the last 20, 21 days, the Russians have not made any progress whatsoever in and around Bahkmut,” he said. “So it's a slaughter-fest for the Russians. They're getting hammered in the vicinity of Bahkmut and the Ukrainians have fought very, very well.”

The head of the Russian private military company, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said in an audio message earlier Wednesday that the battle for the city "has already practically destroyed the Ukrainian army," but added that Wagner has "been pretty battered" as well.

Milley also addressed Russia's allies: China, Russia and Iran are “moving closer together” and will be a persistent problem for years to come, Milley said. 

He said that he's concerned about “any coherence and cohesion between Russia and China,” and that the two countries are “getting closer together.”��

“I wouldn't call it a true full alliance in the real meaning of that word, but we are seeing them [Russia and China] moving closer together, and that's troublesome,” Milley said. “And then if you add in Iran … those three countries together are going to be problematic for many years to come I think, especially Russia and China because of their capability.”

Last week, China's leader Xi Jinping met with President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. China in recent weeks has repeatedly attempted to portray itself as an aspiring broker of peace, reiterating its calls for a ceasefire and peace talks in a vaguely-worded position paper released last month. Western countries have viewed Beijing’s intentions with deep suspicion, and NATO’s chief said that the alliance has seen “some signs” that Russia is pressing China to provide lethal aid.

CNN's Rob Picheta, Simone McCarthy, Darya Tarasova and Sarah Dean contributed reporting to this post.

12:48 p.m. ET, March 29, 2023

Rail infrastructure hit in Melitopol strike, Russian-appointed official confirms

From Olga Voitovych in Kyiv

Vladimir Rogov, a member of the Russian-appointed military-civilian administration in occupied Zaporizhzhia in southeast Ukraine, said Wednesday that six Ukrainian HIMARS rockets had struck rail infrastructure in a pre-dawn attack. 

Rogov said Russian air defenses shot down three of the rockets, and the remaining three hit objects in the city of Melitopol: a railway, electricity substation and the railway depot.

He added that fragments of the downed missiles fell at the airfield.

“Thank God, there were no casualties,” Rogov added. 

Earlier, Melitopol's Ukrainian mayor, who is not in the city, said some districts were without electricity after "explosions."

Rogov has said earlier Wednesday that Melitopol was shelled by Ukrainian forces early Wednesday causing power supply suspensions.

Melitopol is a hub for Russian occupying forces, located approximately 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the front lines.

CNN's Sarah Dean contributed reporting to this post.

12:06 p.m. ET, March 29, 2023

Videos show smoke rising from vicinity of Russian military airbase in Crimea

From CNN's Tim Lister and Josh Pennington

Social media videos and posts indicate an explosion or fire at or near a Russian military airfield in Crimea.

Videos posted Wednesday afternoon local time show a plume of dark smoke rising from Hvardiiske in the Simferopol district of central Crimea, where there is an airbase.

The Russian-appointed head of Crimea, Sergey Aksyonov, said on his Telegram channel that "a UAV [drone] was shot down in the Simferopol region."

"It crashed in a field. There were no casualties or damage," he added.

There has been no official comment from the Ukrainian side.

11:57 a.m. ET, March 29, 2023

Ukrainians say clergy from pro-Russian Ukrainian Orthodox Church should not be ordered to leave Kyiv monastery

From Svitlana Vlasova in Kyiv and Catherine Nicholls in London

Some Ukrainians have reacted with disbelief and frustration to an order for clergy from the pro-Russian Ukrainian Orthodox Church to leave a historic cave monastery complex in Kyiv.

The Kyiv Pechersk Lavra is home to the UOC, a branch of Orthodox Christianity in Ukraine that has been traditionally loyal to Patriarch Kirill, the leader of the Russian church.

Kirill is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and a supporter of his war on Ukraine. In May 2022, the UOC cut ties with Moscow and declared “full independence.” The agreement that permitted the UOC to occupy the historic cave monastery complex was terminated on March 10, and the UOC was instructed to leave the premises by March 29. 

Here's what some Ukrainians told CNN about the news:

Oksana (CNN)

Oksana, a resident of Odesa, cried as believers sang prayer songs while waiting to touch an icon in one of the complex's churches.  

“I'm crying because I love the Lavra so much. I have a lot of connections with it. I came here especially from Odesa today and I am very sorry that people do not understand what they are doing. It's a real shame,” she told CNN.  
“Many of our people, our men are being killed at the front. And the Lord may turn away from us because of such rejection. And that's it. The church will not disappear. But God bless our country! We are called unpatriotic, and pro-Russian, and this is not true. All the patriots here, if they were not patriots, would not pray for our country and our victory,” she said.
Domnika (CNN)

Domnika, a resident of Kyiv, first went on a school trip to the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra when she was young. She is now 85 years old.

“The monks have been here for a thousand years, where should they go? Nowhere. They pray for all of us. For Ukrainians who live here and for everyone in the world. There is no Ukrainian, Russian, or Belarusian church. There is the church of Christ,” Domnika told CNN. “I do not want our church to leave the Lavra. I can barely walk, but today I would stay here so that no one leaves the Lavra and our monks are here.”  
Natalia Drozd
Natalia Drozd (CNN)

Natalia Drozd moved to Kyiv from Luhansk in 2015. She attended the Lavra with her 10-month-old daughter on Wednesday. 

“I feel the pain of unfairness,” Natalia said. “We are Ukrainians, and this is our only Ukrainian canonical Orthodox Church, where monks, priests, and parishioners pray for our victory, for our defenders of Ukraine. If you close our church and deprive people of hope, what kind of victory can we talk about?”  
Heorhii (CNN)

Heorhii, a protodeacon in the Lavra, told CNN that the Orthodox Church is being persecuted.

"The monks will not leave their cells until they are expelled from there or taken out by force," he said.
Klyment (CNN)

Klyment, bishop of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, told CNN that services will continue to be held. 

“We have no right to leave the property for which we are responsible under the contract. It would be a crime,” he said. 

11:53 a.m. ET, March 29, 2023

Polish prime minister criticizes IOC’s guidelines to let athletes from Russia and Belarus compete as neutrals

From CNN’s Sugam Pokharel

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki speaks at a press conference in Bucharest, Romania, on March 28.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki speaks at a press conference in Bucharest, Romania, on March 28. (Daniel Mihailescu/AFP/Getty Images)

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki on Wednesday slammed the International Olympic Committee’s guidelines that allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete as neutrals, calling it a “wrong and bad decision.”

“We here will protest very strongly against this, because it is a step towards getting used to and getting others used to this cruel war that Russia has started against Ukraine, and therefore also against the whole free world,” he told a news conference in Warsaw. 

Russian and Belarusian athletes were banned from most international competitions in February 2022 over Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, following the IOC executive board recommendations. On Tuesday, IOC President Thomas Bach outlined new guidelines that would allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete as neutrals, paving the way for their return to international competitions. 

“We certainly will not withdraw our athletes on our own, but we will try to build a coalition of countries. And that's what I instructed [Sports] Minister [Kamil] Bortniczuk to demand together with a strong voice from the IOC to withdraw this very wrong and bad decision,” the Polish prime minister added. 

The Kremlin earlier on Wednesday said the guidelines have “elements of discrimination.”

11:39 a.m. ET, March 29, 2023

Ukrainian defense minister hints that offensive action may begin in April or May

From CNN's Tim Lister

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov suggested that Ukrainian offensive action involving Western tanks may begin in April or May in an interview with Estonian television.

Reznikov said that German Leopard tanks, which have begun arriving in Ukraine, will be part of “the counteroffensive campaign under the decision of our General Staff. … They are planning that in different directions.”

“And it will depend on the time, the best time,” Reznikov said, speaking in English. “It will depend on weather conditions. During the springtime, we have wet land. And you know, you can use only tracked vehicles without wheels for example.”

“I think that we will see [the tanks] during these two months. I mean April and May,” Reznikov said.

Last week, Oleksandr Syrskyi, the commander of Ukraine’s land forces, said on his Telegram channel that the 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.

10:48 a.m. ET, March 29, 2023

Russia says it has suspended all nuclear notifications with US, according to state media

From CNN's Darya Tarasova and Tim Lister

Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said that all types of notifications between Russia and the United States under the nuclear New START treaty have been suspended.

Russian state media said that Ryabkov’s statement included suspending notifications on test missile launches, although Ryabkov himself was not specific on that point. Such notifications are covered by the original 1988 treaty, which remains in force.

Ryabkov did say that "there will be no notifications at all. All formats are suspended.”

“All notifications, all forms of notifications, all data exchange, all inspection activities, in general, all types of work under the contract are suspended, they will not be carried out. And this does not depend on the position that the United States may take," Ryabkov said, according to Russian state media.

On Tuesday, CNN reported that senior US officials had disclosed that Russia will not provide the United States with data on its nuclear forces that is normally shared semi-annually – and in response, the US said it will not do so either.

Moscow’s move not to provide the information comes after President Vladimir Putin in February suspended Russia’s participation in the New START treaty, the only bilateral agreement left between the world’s two largest nuclear powers. 

On Tuesday, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy John Plumb said that the US had pressed Russia about the exchange of information, due at the end of this month.  

“Russia responded that they will not be providing that information,” he said. “And so as a diplomatic countermeasure, the United States will not be providing that information back.”

Notices about missile tests and other events involving nuclear weapons have been an important part of preserving strategic stability for decades. They ensure that neither Russia and the United States misinterpret each other’s moves.

What to know about New START: The treaty puts limits on the number of deployed intercontinental-range nuclear weapons that both the US and Russia can have. It was last extended in early 2021 for five years, meaning the two sides would soon need to begin negotiating on another arms control agreement. Under the key nuclear arms control treaty, both the United States and Russia are permitted to conduct inspections of each other's weapons sites, though inspections had been halted since 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

CNN's Kylie Atwood and Jennifer Hansler contributed previous reporting to this post.

11:01 a.m. ET, March 29, 2023

Pussy Riot member placed on Russia's federal wanted list

From CNN's Darya Tarasova and Tim Lister

Nadya Tolokonnikova speaks onstage during Unfinished Live at The Shed on September 22,  in New York City.
Nadya Tolokonnikova speaks onstage during Unfinished Live at The Shed on September 22, in New York City. (Roy Rochlin/Getty Images)

A member of the Russian feminist punk group Pussy Riot is now on Russia’s federal wanted list, according to an interior ministry database.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova is wanted under a criminal article, according to the interior ministry list published by the independent Russian outlet Mediazona. At the beginning of this month, a case was introduced against Tolokonnikova for “insulting the religious feelings of believers," as outlined in Russia's Criminal Code.

Tolokonnikova is no longer in Russia. She was recently in the United States.

She was declared a foreign agent in December. In that same month, Pussy Riot issued an anti-war statement and video, “Mama, Don’t Watch TV,” condemning Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The chorus of the song was inspired by the words of a captured Russian conscript soldier who, in a telephone conversation with his mother, said "Mom, there are no Nazis here, don't watch TV." 

“This is the music of our anger, indignation, disagreement, a reproachful desperate cry against Putin's bloodthirsty puppets, led by a real cannibal monster, whose place is in the infinity of fierce hellish flames on the bones of the victims of this terrible war,” Pussy Riot said in a statement shared with CNN.

In 2012, Tolokonnikova and two other members of Pussy Riot, Maria Alyokhina and Ekaterina Samutsevich, were sentenced to two years in prison after performing a "punk prayer" in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior. 

5:57 p.m. ET, March 29, 2023

Russian girl in orphanage tells father accused of anti-war posts that "victory will be ours"

From CNN's Tim Lister, Darya Tarasova and Anna Chernova

Russian citizen Alexei Moskalyov, who is accused of discrediting the country's armed forces in the course of Russia-Ukraine military conflict, attends a court hearing in the town of Yefremov in the Tula region, Russia, on March 27.
Russian citizen Alexei Moskalyov, who is accused of discrediting the country's armed forces in the course of Russia-Ukraine military conflict, attends a court hearing in the town of Yefremov in the Tula region, Russia, on March 27. (SOTA/Reuters)


The 13-year-old daughter of a Russian man sentenced to two years in prison for anti-war posts online has written him a letter from the orphanage where she has been sent, telling him that "we will win."

“Know that we will win, that victory will be ours, no matter what happens, we are together, we are a team, you are the best,” according to the letter from Masha Moskalyova to her father Alexey Moskalyov. The letter was released at Moskalyov's request, according to his lawyer Dmitry Zakhvatov.

In April 2022, Masha drew a picture of Russian missiles being fired at a Ukrainian family and wrote “No to war” and “Glory to Ukraine” during her art class. Her school subsequently called the police, who later visited the family home. 

A court in the Tula region, south of Moscow, sentenced Moskalyov to two years in jail on Tuesday for a series of anti-war online postings. But he had escaped his house arrest, which began earlier this month, the night before the hearing, according to a court spokesperson.

Masha was sent to an orphanage when her father began his house arrest. 

Masha told her father in the letter that “everything is fine with me, I love you very much and know that you are not guilty of anything, I am always for you and everything you do is right.” 

“I hope, no, I know that you will not give up, you are strong, we are strong, we can, and I will pray for you and for us, dad … I can say that I'm proud of my father,” she continued.

“I don’t want to write about my health and mood, I don’t want to upset you, but I understood that the bitter truth is better than the sweet lie,” she added.

She ends the letter with a peace sign. Describing her father as her hero, she said, “I will give this pendant to you as the bravest person in the world!”

What the Kremlin says: Asked about the case, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday he could not comment as it was the court’s decision.

“The matter of the story with the child is completely different," he claimed. "Indeed, the state of things with the fulfillment of parental duties and with ensuring the child's living is very deplorable.”

“Everything is much more complicated there, everything is not so straightforward,” Peskov said.

Correction: An earlier version of this post gave an incorrect age for Masha Moskalyova.