March 12, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Jessie Yeung, Adam Renton, Tara John, Sana Noor Haq, Adrienne Vogt, Joe Ruiz and Alaa Elassar, CNN

Updated 12:06 a.m. ET, March 13, 2022
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3:57 a.m. ET, March 12, 2022

Protest in Melitopol against mayor's arrest by Russian forces

From CNN's Tim Lister in Kyiv and Josh Pennington

Several hundred people protested outside the city hall in the southern Ukrainian city of Melitopol after the arrest of the mayor Ivan Fedorov by Russian forces Friday.

"Freedom for the Mayor" and "Fedorov," chanted the crowd, according to a short video by Ukrainian state TV on its Facebook page. It reported that more than 2,000 people flocked to the occupied building demanding the official's release

Russian forces occupied Melitopol within days of the invasion beginning in late February, but the city has seen sporadic protests since.

This comes after Fedorov was seen on video Friday being led away from a government building in the city by armed men. A short time later, the Russian-backed Luhansk regional prosecutor claimed that the mayor had committed terrorism offenses and was under investigation.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky called Fedorov's arrest a "crime against democracy" in a Facebook video Friday.

Today in Melitopol the invaders captured mayor of the city, Ivan Fedorov, a mayor who courageously defends Ukraine and the people of his community. Obviously, this is a sign of the weakness of the invaders. They did not find any support on our land, although they counted on it. Because for years they've been lying to themselves that people in Ukraine were supposedly waiting for Russia to come," he said.
4:56 a.m. ET, March 12, 2022

Russia's richest businessman tells Putin: Don't take us back to 1917

From CNN's Mark Thompson in London

Russian billionaire Vladimir Potanin.
Russian billionaire Vladimir Potanin. (Chris J. Ratcliffe/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Russia's richest businessman has warned the Kremlin against confiscating assets of companies that have fled in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine, saying such a step would set the country back more than 100 years.

Vladimir Potanin, president of metals giant Norilsk Nickel (NILSY) and its biggest shareholder, said that Russia risked returning to the tumultuous days of the 1917 revolution if it slammed the door on Western companies and investors. He urged the Russian government to proceed with extreme caution regarding the seizure of assets.

Firstly, it would take us back a hundred years, to 1917, and the consequences of such a step — global distrust of Russia on the part of investors — we would experience for many decades," he said in a message posted on Norilsk Nickel's Telegram account on Thursday.

"Secondly, the decision of many companies to suspend operations in Russia is, I would say, somewhat emotional in nature and may have been taken as a result of unprecedented pressure on them from public opinion abroad. So most likely they will come back. And personally, I would keep such an opportunity for them," he added.

Potanin is Russia's wealthiest billionaire and still worth about $22.5 billion, according to Bloomberg, despite losing about a quarter of his fortune this year as shares in Norilsk Nickel crashed. The company's shares lost more than 90% in London trading before they were suspended this month, despite soaring prices for its commodities.

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3:14 a.m. ET, March 12, 2022

Overnight shelling sparks fire at warehouse northeast of Kyiv, Ukrainian authorities say

From CNN's Radina Gigova

Shelling causes fire at a warehouse in Kvitneve, Brovary District, northeast of Kyiv. 
Shelling causes fire at a warehouse in Kvitneve, Brovary District, northeast of Kyiv.  (Interior Ministry of Ukraine)

A frozen goods warehouse caught fire early Saturday morning due to shelling in Brovary district, northeast of Kyiv, according to Ukraine's Interior Ministry.

The shelling happened in the village of Kvitneve about 3:30 a.m. local time (8:30 p.m. ET Friday), the ministry said. Preliminary reports show there were no casualties.

4:57 a.m. ET, March 12, 2022

UK Defense Ministry: Bulk of Russian forces are 25 kilometers from Kyiv

From CNN's Radina Gigova in Atlanta 

The bulk of Russian ground forces are currently about 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) from the center of the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, the UK's Ministry of Defence said Saturday in its latest intelligence assessment.

Fighting north-west of Kyiv continues with the bilk of Russian ground forces now around 25 kilometers from the center of the city," the ministry said. 

"Elements of the large Russian column north of Kyiv have dispersed. This is likely to support a Russian attempt to encircle the city. It could also be an attempt by Russia to reduce its vulnerability to Ukrainian counter attacks, which have taken a significant toll on Russian forces," the ministry said. 

CNN teams in Kyiv reported explosions in the early hours of Saturday morning, but it's unclear whether the explosions were Russian or Ukrainian strikes.

The other key cities of Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Sumy and Mariupol remain encircled by Russian forces, the ministry added.

12:55 a.m. ET, March 12, 2022

For loved ones ripped apart by war in Ukraine, phone messages bring hope and despair

From CNN's Tamara Qiblawi, Mohammed Tawfeeq and Olga Voitovych

In the midst of a days-long, chaotic cross-country train ride to the northwestern city of Lviv, near Ukraine's border with Poland, a terrible realization dawned on Marina.

The 54-year-old carer, who managed to evacuate an orphanage in a besieged industrial town in the eastern Luhansk province, had no way to return to her own family.

Marina, who did not give her surname, was still reeling from the journey — days spent desperately trying to calm the panic-stricken children in her care against the backdrop of booms and thuds of Russia's brutal assault, while still fearing for her family at home.

"And now I am all alone," Marina told CNN from a daycare center-turned-shelter in Lviv, where she and the children from her orphanage were camped out. "I have left my own (adult) children to save the children in the orphanage."

CNN is not disclosing Marina's full name because of the risks to her family who have not been evacuated.

Families separated: The fracturing of families underpins many of the stories of displacement in Ukraine, with millions of people trapped in besieged cities with virtually no way out.

Several people CNN spoke to in recent days said they have been unable to contact their loved ones since the start of the invasion. They described frenzied escapes from the country's worst-affected cities, in which parents, spouses, siblings and grandparents were left behind.

With the Russian assault knocking out power and telephone networks, whole cities have been cut off from the outside world. Many say they don't know if their loved ones are still alive.

"I don't understand why the government didn't try to evacuate us before the invasion started," Marina said. "I don't want to blame them. Still, I can't help but think my predicament could have been avoided."

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12:34 a.m. ET, March 12, 2022

Death and destruction in Ukraine overshadows Roman Abramovich's Chelsea legacy

From CNN's Issy Ronald and Jack Bantock

Roman Abramovich is seen in this file photo watching the Europa League final between Chelsea and Arsenal in Baku, Azerbaijan on May 29, 2019.
Roman Abramovich is seen in this file photo watching the Europa League final between Chelsea and Arsenal in Baku, Azerbaijan on May 29, 2019. (Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images)

For almost 20 years, Roman Abramovich rocketed Chelsea from a club on the periphery of the elite to a global football superpower — but Russia's invasion of Ukraine has resulted in his reign coming to an abrupt end.

Bloody conflict in Ukraine and international outrage over Russia's invasion placed a renewed focus on Abramovich and his ownership of Chelsea.

It's a focus that has shone a light on the jarring friction between sport and politics: Abramovich the dream-realizing football owner — adored by much of the Chelsea fanbase — versus Abramovich the Russian oligarch.

Impact of sanctions: Days after the war began, as the West responded by imposing sanctions on Russia and its oligarchs, Abramovich's assets — including Chelsea — appeared increasingly vulnerable to a more punitive financial environment and he soon announced his plans to sell the club.

Before the sale could be completed, however, the UK government announced that Abramovich would be subject to sanctions as one of "Russia's wealthiest and most influential oligarchs, whose business empires, wealth and connections are closely associated with the Kremlin."

What this means for Chelsea: The club will be somewhat shielded from the sanctions, allowed to continue fulfilling its fixtures under a special license. But it does mean Chelsea is not able to sell merchandise or tickets to upcoming games, engage in the transfer market, or issue new contracts to players while under the ownership of Abramovich.

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12:58 a.m. ET, March 12, 2022

CNN team reports at least 2 explosions in Ukraine's Dnipro

From CNN's Bex Wright

Suspected remnants of anti-aircraft fire are spotted in the skies of Dnipro early Saturday morning.
Suspected remnants of anti-aircraft fire are spotted in the skies of Dnipro early Saturday morning. (CNN)

CNN journalists in the central Ukrainian city of Dnipro said they felt at least two explosions and saw what looked like the remnants of anti-aircraft fire early Saturday.

The team also saw smoke rising east of the river. 

Air raid sirens started at 5:25 a.m. local time Saturday (10:25 p.m. ET Friday) and are still sounding.

Friday assault: Dnipro was hit by three strikes early Friday, which hit a school, an apartment building and a shoe factory. One civilian was killed.

12:07 a.m. ET, March 12, 2022

It's 7 a.m. in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know

Russian forces are pressing closer to Kyiv, and stepping up their assault on other key cities in Ukraine. Here are the latest developments.

  • Attacks on key cities: Russian forces expanded their offensive to the west of Ukraine for the first time on Friday, with strikes targeting military airfields. To the east, there's growing evidence that the town of Volnovakha has fallen to Russian forces and their allies in the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic. The southern city of Kherson appears to have been captured, according to US defense intelligence.
  • Russian forces advance on Kyiv: CNN teams in Kyiv reported hearing explosions in the early hours of Saturday, as the capital comes under pressure. The cities of Kharkhiv, Mariupol, Mykolaiv and Sumy are also under a sustained Russian onslaught. On Friday, major cities including Dnipro, Lutsk, and Chernihiv were struck by missiles, with fatalities reported. The strikes hit civilian structures including a school, apartment buildings, a shoe factory, a soccer stadium and library.

  • Ukrainian mayor detained: The mayor of Melitopol, Ivan Fedorov, was seen on video Friday being led away by armed men from a government building in the southeastern city. A short time later, the Russian-backed Luhansk regional prosecutor claimed Fedorov had committed terrorism offenses and was under investigation. Ukraine's President said Fedorov's detention was a "crime against democracy," and Kyiv's Foreign Ministry called it a war crime violating the Geneva Conventions.
  • Chernobyl power: Technicians are working to repair damaged power lines to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, according to the UN's nuclear watchdog. Ukrainian authorities said the lines were entirely cut this week due to Russian shelling. The plant, which has been relying on diesel generators for backup power since Wednesday, is under Russian control with more than 200 staff effectively living and working there under difficult conditions.
  • Biden's warning: US President Joe Biden warned Friday that Russia would pay a "severe price" if it uses chemical weapons, and reiterated the US will not send ground troops to Ukraine. "We will not fight the third world war in Ukraine," Biden said — adding the US would help provide weapons, money and food aid for the country instead.
  • The human toll: At least 2.5 million people have fled Ukraine, the UN said Friday. The UN has recorded 1,546 civilian casualties in Ukraine as of Friday, including 564 killed and 982 injured — though they estimate the real number is much higher.

10:27 p.m. ET, March 11, 2022

How this baker is resisting the Russian onslaught without picking up a gun

From CNN's Teele Rebane

As Ukrainians around the country gathered glass bottles for Molotov cocktails and armed themselves against the Russian onslaught, Pavlo Servetnyk headed for the kitchen.

For the past two weeks since the Russians invaded, he's been barely sleeping, working 20 hours a day to feed the people of Russian-occupied Kherson. Each day, the 28-year-old bakes thousands of loaves of bread, loads them into his truck or car, and drives them through the deserted streets, delivering them to people who are increasingly being cut off from outside food supplies as Russian forces choke the city of nearly 300,000.

Kherson was the first major city to fall since the war began. Unified against a common enemy, Ukrainians are finding ways to resist — without even carrying a gun.

Before the war, Servetnyk was a successful chef — he won Ukrainian MasterChef in 2019, and ran a pizza restaurant in Kherson. But on Feb. 24, the Russians invaded Ukraine — and his life changed.

As the Russians shelled his country, Servetnyk and his partner drove to his parents' house in a village on the outskirts of Kherson, desperate to flee Ukraine. "Get into the car, we will go somewhere," he told them. His parents — who had witnessed other periods of tumult in their lives — laughed. "Where would we escape? Who is waiting for us there?" he remembers them saying. "The Russians are coming soon, they tell us that this is Russia now and we will go on with our lives."

So Servetnyk decided to stay and resist. Many of Kherson's bakers had either fled or gone into hiding, so Servetynyk turned his pizza restaurant into a bakery, and began making thousands of loaves of bread. To feed more people, he also roped in other bakers and distributed their bread, too.

"We did not escape, did not leave, but rather started saving people as best as we could," he says.

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