March 4, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Jessie Yeung, Julia Hollingsworth, Adam Renton, Joshua Berlinger, Sana Noor Haq, Blathnaid Healy, Adrienne Vogt, Meg Wagner and Melissa Macaya, CNN

Updated 0512 GMT (1312 HKT) March 5, 2022
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3:40 a.m. ET, March 4, 2022

Russia's lower house passes law criminalizing "discredit of Russian military," state media reports

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio and Nathan Hodge in Moscow

The lower house of the Russian Parliament has passed a law criminalizing the spreading of false information discrediting the Russian military and any calls for sanctions against Russia, state news agencies TASS and Ria Novosti reported on Friday.

Those charged with breaking the new law could face fines of 1.5 million rubles (about $14,000) or prison sentences of up to 15 years, TASS and RIA reported.

What happens next: The legislation will be submitted to the upper house of parliament and, if approved, submitted to Russian President Vladimir Putin for his signature. 

3:34 a.m. ET, March 4, 2022

UK Defense Ministry: Mariupol remains under Ukrainian control but subject to "intense Russian strikes"

From CNN's Sharon Braithwaite in London

The southeastern city of Mariupol is still under Ukrainian control but subject to "intense Russian strikes," the UK Ministry of Defense said Friday in its latest intelligence update on Ukraine.

"Mariupol remains under Ukrainian control but has likely been encircled by Russian forces," the ministry said, adding "the city’s civilian infrastructure has been subjected to intense Russian strikes."

Some context: Mariupol authorities warned Thursday of a "critical" situation for residents amid heavy shelling. It's not clear how many of the strategically important port city's roughly 400,000 population have been able to evacuate or how many have been killed or injured.

3:21 a.m. ET, March 4, 2022

In Ukraine's cultural capital, residents are preparing to protect the city's heritage

From CNN's Oscar Holland

A statue outside Lviv's 14th-century Latin Cathedral.
A statue outside Lviv's 14th-century Latin Cathedral. (Pau Venteo/Europa Press/Getty Images)

Residents of the Ukrainian cultural capital Lviv are assisting efforts to safeguard historic monuments, according to local heritage officials, with several stone statues seen being wrapped in protective sheets.

Photos taken at the city's central Market Square on Thursday show men on stepladders enveloping sculptures of the Roman god Neptune and Greek goddess Amphitrite in plastic. Along with nearby statues of the classical deities Adonis and Diana, the limestone figures were built over 200 years ago, with accompanying fountains located at each of the square's corners.

Outside the neighboring Latin Cathedral, built in the 14th century, a smaller statue was seen covered in what appeared to be foam and secured with tape.

Although CNN was unable to verify the individual workers' identities, heritage NGO the Lviv Foundation for the Preservation of Architectural and Historical Monuments said art conservators and "concerned" locals had both been involved in protection efforts.

On Thursday, the organization shared a series of images to Facebook showing a man on a cherry picker boarding up a stained-glass panel at the city's 17th century Dormition Church. Another post showed monuments at St. Anthony's Church being encased in protective wooden frames.

"We hope that this preventive action will not be tested by real explosions, but our hearts are glad that the vulnerable but valuable elements of this monument are protected," the foundation wrote on the latter post. "Today we thank everyone involved, without naming names. Thank you to those who silently helped financially without seeking glory!
"This is what true love for Ukrainian cultural heritage looks like!"

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3:11 a.m. ET, March 4, 2022

Russian forces have "occupied" Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Ukrainian authorities say

From CNN's Olga Voitovych in Lviv, Ukraine

Surveillance camera footage shows a flare landing at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant during shelling in Enerhodar, Ukraine, on March 4.
Surveillance camera footage shows a flare landing at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant during shelling in Enerhodar, Ukraine, on March 4. (Zaporizhzhya NPP/YouTube/Reuters)

Russian forces have “occupied” the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant (NPP) in southern Ukraine after a fire broke out at the facility early on Friday, according to Ukraine’s State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate.

"Currently, the site of the Zaporizhzhia NPP is occupied by the military forces of the Russian Federation," the regulatory body said in a statement Friday.

The “administrative building and the checkpoint at the station are under occupiers’ control,” Energoatom, Ukraine’s nuclear power operator, said in a statement via Telegram on Friday.

“The plant's staff continues to work on power units, ensuring the stable operation of nuclear facilities,” Energoatom added. “Unfortunately, there are dead and wounded among the Ukrainian defenders of the station." 

The power plant’s six reactors remain intact, though reactor unit 1’s compartment auxiliary buildings have been damaged, the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate said.

“The systems and components important to the safety of the NPP are operational,” the statement said. With Unit 1 out of order, four out of the six units are being cooled down while one unit is providing power.

“At present, no changes in the radiation situation have been registered,” the statement added.

Some context: After heavy shelling from Russian forces early Friday, a fire broke out at the nuclear plant, prompting alarm from experts and Ukrainian officials.

Firefighters were initially unable to access the site. After a while, fighting stopped, firefighters were allowed to enter and the fire was put out. No casualties were reported from the fire.

US and Ukrainian authorities said radiation levels looked normal.

2:56 a.m. ET, March 4, 2022

The Moscow stock exchange will remain closed on Friday

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio in Moscow

The Moscow stock exchange will not open for trading Friday, the Russian Central Bank said in a statement.

Soon after, the stock exchange said in a statement it would remain closed through March 8. The closure includes "trading and settlements on all markets of the Moscow Exchange," the statement said.

The stock exchange has not opened all week, after Western sanctions were imposed on Russia over the past weekend.

Some context: US President Joe Biden announced new sanctions on Russian oligarchs on Thursday. The United Kingdom also sanctioned two leading oligarchs with a combined worth of $19 billion.

"We won’t stop here. Our aim is to cripple the Russian economy and starve Putin’s war machine," UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said in a statement.

2:43 a.m. ET, March 4, 2022

In Odessa, nannies and computer programmers step to the front line

Odessa residents preparing to defend the city, Odessa, Ukraine, on March 3.
Odessa residents preparing to defend the city, Odessa, Ukraine, on March 3. (Gilles Bader/Le Pictorium/Cover Images/Reuters)

In Odessa, a strategically important port city on Ukraine's Black Sea coast, civilians — computer programmers, IT workers, everyday workers — have taken up weapons to defend against Russia's invasion.

Zhena was a chief marketing officer for an IT company before he joined Ukraine's armed forces. He told CNN two of his friends had already been killed in the war, both volunteers who had been fighting in the besieged city of Kherson.

"They have no military grounding at all. Both of them are programmers," he said.

One 19-year-old volunteer, who formerly worked as a nanny, says she faced the Russian threat to her home once before. When she was 11, she fled Crimea, which was occupied by Russia in 2014 and annexed after a referendum widely seen as a sham.

"We're ready to the end to defend our land," she told CNN. "The occupiers came to my home before. My family is still there. Only I could leave because I don't want to live in Russia." 

On the other side of the southern city, Odessa's mothers knit camouflage netting as they pray for their children's safety on the front lines.

"We know the danger. We know it will come. But we didn't know when will it come," said one mother, Nellia Kononova.

She had asked her children to stay with her for their safety — but they were determined to fight and defend Ukraine "because everybody loves our motherland," she said, before breaking into tears. "I pray every day, I pray every night, for them to stay alive."

1:31 a.m. ET, March 4, 2022

Children moved to basement of hospital in Kyiv as shelling continues

As the Russian assault on Kyiv steps up, some of the city's most vulnerable residents can't leave.

For the Ukrainian capital's largest children's hospital, shutting down is not an option, even with the sound of heavy fighting and shelling outside. Children who are too sick to be transferred have been moved to the basement, in case bombardment starts again. There are about 10 patients being treated in the underground hallway, where exhausted staff hover nervously.

One of the patients is 3-month old Milena, who has a brain tumor. Her mother, Sonia, told CNN she had been sleeping on the floor next to Milena for the past seven nights as the bombing gets closer.

"We must stay underground and we don't know how long for," she said. "I'm alone here at the hospital and my husband is at home with my other kid." 

She said she has become so stressed that she can't lactate, and is now using formula to feed her daughter.

Resources are stretched tight as hospitals deal with trauma injuries — so some parents have stepped in to help care for other children in the basement. Non-essential procedures are now on hold. When CNN visited the hospital, one 11-year-old boy needs to have his sutures removed — but the risk of infection is too high.

With no clear end in sight, for many families here the only glimmer of hope is evacuation. On Thursday, Ukrainian and Russian delegations met in Belarus for another round of talks, where they agreed to provide humanitarian corridors for civilians and a possible temporary ceasefire in areas where evacuation is happening.

1:08 a.m. ET, March 4, 2022

Ukraine's energy minister in "urgent" call with US counterpart about Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant 

From CNN's Radina Gigova

Ukraine's Minister of Energy German Galushchenko had an "urgent" telephone conversation with his US counterpart Jennifer Granholm about the situation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant early Friday, according to a statement from Ukraine's Ministry of Energy.

The fire at the facility broke out in the early hours of Friday morning, and has since been extinguished with no casualties, according to the Ukrainian State Emergency Service.

"The enemy is not concerned about nuclear and radiation security," Galushchenko said, according to the statement. He added that Russia was "indifferent to the human lives of Ukrainians, Europeans and their own citizens."

"We have been trying to convey this message to the International Atomic Energy Agency for several days now. We demanded the intervention of this international organization and tough decisions regarding the aggressor. But they are not there yet," Galushchenko said.

"Therefore, we demand not only a professional assessment of what is happening, but also real intervention, taking the toughest measures, including by NATO and the countries that possess nuclear weapons," he added.

12:46 a.m. ET, March 4, 2022

A fire at Ukraine's largest nuclear power plant has been put out. Here's how the situation unfolded

A fire was reported at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southeastern Ukraine early on Friday, according to Ukrainian officials.
A fire was reported at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southeastern Ukraine early on Friday, according to Ukrainian officials. (Zaporizhzhia NPP)

Ukrainian authorities said a fire that broke out at a nuclear power plant early Friday amid heavy shelling by Russian forces has now been extinguished.

Here's what happened:

When did the fire start? Ukrainian authorities said about 2:30 a.m. local time Friday that a fire had broken out at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, located in Enerhodar, southeastern Ukraine. The plant is the largest of its kind in Ukraine and contains six of the country's 15 nuclear energy reactors, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

When did the blaze stop? The Ukrainian State Emergency Service said the fire at the plant's training building was extinguished at 6.20 a.m. No deaths or injuries were reported, according to the statement.

Are they still fighting? Fighting has since stopped in the area, a spokesperson for the power plant told CNN. In a Facebook post early Friday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia of intentionally firing at the nuclear plant — and urged European leaders to "wake up now" and stop Russian forces "before this becomes a nuclear disaster." 

How serious is the situation? It's hard to say since there is still a lot we don't know. But the plant has not sustained any "critical" damage, the spokesperson for the facility said. The fire has not affected any "essential" equipment, and staff are taking action to mitigate any damage, the IAEA said, citing Ukrainian authorities.

Are we seeing any radiation spikes? No — nuclear regulators and government bodies in the United States and Ukraine say radiation levels appear normal.

What are the risks? The worst-case scenario would be if a fire or attack reached the reactors, disrupted their cooling system and caused a meltdown, which would release large amounts of radioactivity. However, Graham Allison, professor at the Belfer Center, Harvard University, told CNN early Friday that "not all fires in a power plant, have catastrophic consequences."