March 15, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Eric Levenson, Meg Wagner, Helen Regan, Adam Renton, Ben Church, Jeevan Ravindran, Maureen Chowdhury, Melissa Macaya and Jason Kurtz, CNN

Updated 11:12 a.m. ET, March 16, 2022
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7:30 p.m. ET, March 15, 2022

Citing a sense of duty, these women decided to return to Ukraine after fleeing the war 

From CNN's Jason Kurtz

As war rages in Ukraine, and refugees flee to nearby European countries, many individuals eventually hope to return.

In Poland, CNN's Ed Lavandera found a train shuttling Ukrainians in both directions — some arriving, seeking safety, and others returning to their war-torn nation.

Mostly, reported Lavandera, it has been men returning to Ukraine. But on this day, the train platform featured many women, each feeling a sense of duty as their country fights to survive.

“Ukraine is equally important for men and women," Tatiyana Veremychenko told Lavandera. "We're the real Ukrainians, women have the strength and will and the heart as well.”

Another woman, Irina Orel, told Lavandera that while she is nervous about returning to Ukraine she admits to becoming numb to the violence.

I'm anxious … but the feeling has become dull over time," she said. "I just want to be next to my family.”

In a sense, said Orel, returning home is a way of standing up and fighting for her country.

"We have all become united during this time. Each one doing what they can to help our military. Women are doing it and men as well," she said.

Mariia Halligan, yet another woman Lavandera met waiting for transport to Ukraine, spoke of a certain duty to fight what she's labeling "Russian terrorists."

“If you know what you need to do, it’s impossible to feel nervous over something like this," Halligan said. "If I have to do this, I will do it. For my country, for my relatives, for my friends.”

As for the growing number of women Lavandera spotted, Halligan noted a certain role to be played for those not physically engaging in combat.

“I’m not man, I can't kill, I’m woman. And my work keep balance, and help, and be kind, and care about relatives, family, friends. All we care," she said.

"Now I feel that all Ukrainians [are] my relatives," she added.

6:59 p.m. ET, March 15, 2022

Zelensky: Ukraine "truly trusts" its partners after meeting with Polish, Czech and Slovenian prime ministers

From CNN’s Niamh Kennedy in London

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that Ukraine "truly trusts" its partners and is "100% assured" that a positive outcome will be reached following a meeting with the Polish, Czech and Slovenian prime ministers in Kyiv on Tuesday.

Speaking in Kyiv, Zelensky thanked Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša and Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala for their "wonderful support" of Ukraine when "so many other ambassadors have left Ukraine because of the full-scale Russian invasion." 

"Most important, is that we truly trust these leaders. When we are talking about the security guarantees, about our future in the European Union, or when we talk about the sanctions policy, we are 100% assured that whatever we are discussing, whatever we talk about, this will reach a positive outcome for our country," the Ukrainian president said. 

He continued that with "friends like this" Ukraine "can win."

The three European leaders — who said they were representing the European Council at the Kyiv meeting — traveled to the Ukrainian capital by train.

6:47 p.m. ET, March 15, 2022

Zelensky signals he doesn't expect Ukraine to join NATO anytime soon

From CNN's Andrew Carey, Oleksandra Ochman in Lviv, Kylie Atwood and Paul Le Blanc

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has dropped his clearest hint yet that he does not expect his country to join NATO anytime soon. 

In comments made in an address by video-link to leaders of the UK-led Joint Expeditionary Force on Tuesday, Zelensky appeared to shift further away from what until recently had been seen as a key Ukrainian ambition. 

“For years we have been hearing about how the door is supposedly open [to NATO membership] but now we hear that we cannot enter. And it is true, and it must be acknowledged,” he said. 

“I am glad that our people are beginning to understand this and rely on themselves and on our partners who assist us,” he added. 

Ukraine’s desire to join NATO, and its status as a NATO partner — seen as a step on the way to eventual full membership — was among the reasons Vladimir Putin gave for launching what he called Russia’s “special military operation” against its southern neighbor. 

In an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, US Secretary of State Tony Blinken called it a “reflection of reality” for Zelensky to signal today that he will not join NATO anytime soon.

“I don't think that's a concession. I think first of all it's a reflection of reality that even before this aggression by Russia, Ukraine was not going to get into NATO tomorrow. All the more reason why as we've seen when Putin was saying that their concerns about Ukraine centered on its admission to NATO, that was wrong. That was a lie,” Blinken said.

Blinken said that Putin has demonstrated that this war in Ukraine is about “denying Ukraine its independent existence.”

Blinken called the US support for Ukraine “extraordinary” and said that support will continue “to make sure that Ukraine has the means to defend itself."

Blinken would not detail what consequences China would face if they provide military or economic support to China but he said the US has "made very clear that is not something we are going to face sitting down.”

6:38 p.m. ET, March 15, 2022

US secretary of state: There will be an independent Ukraine "a lot longer" than there will be a Vladimir Putin

From CNN's Kylie Atwood

(CNN)
(CNN)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said there will be an independent Ukraine for “a lot longer” than there is going to be a Vladimir Putin, during an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.

“First of all, there's going to be a Ukraine, an independent Ukraine a lot longer than there's going to be a Vladimir Putin. One way or the other, Ukraine will be there and at some point Putin won’t,” Blinken said. 

Blinken said the US is trying to prevent as much death and destruction as possible right now.

“The real question is how much death and destruction is wrought by Russia's aggression in the meantime, and that's what we're working as hard as we can to limit, to stop, to put an end to the war of choice that Russia is committing,” Blinken said. “We're doing that through the support we're providing Ukraine every single day. We're doing that by the pressure we're exerting against Russia every single day.”

Blinken said his hope is that the death and destruction can be ended “sooner rather than later.”

 

6:34 p.m. ET, March 15, 2022

Key things to know about Zelensky's virtual address to members of US Congress Wednesday 

From CNN's Clare Foran and Kevin Liptak

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is set to deliver a virtual address Wednesday to members of US Congress.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced the remarks earlier this week, saying that "as war rages on in Ukraine, it is with great respect and admiration for the Ukrainian people that we invite all Members of the House and Senate" to attend the virtual address at 9 a.m. ET.

There is widespread bipartisan support among US lawmakers for aid to Ukraine, and just last week, Congress approved an emergency aid package with $13.6 billion in humanitarian, defensive and economic assistance to the embattled country. US President Joe Biden signed the bill into law Tuesday.

According to a new letter sent to the Biden administration on Tuesday, top House and Senate Republicans are also calling on the administration to provide Ukraine with Soviet and Russian-made air defense systems to help defend against Russia’s invasion.

Zelensky recently pressed Biden during their latest call for more sanctions to further squeeze Russia, CNN learned. According to multiple sources familiar with the call, Zelensky specifically asked Biden for further efforts to cut off Russia from international trade and to continue targeting the Russian elite, as the US has continued to add more oligarchs and their families to its sanctions list. Zelensky also mentioned closing off Russia's access to international waterways during the call.

In their letter to lawmakers, Pelosi and Schumer reaffirmed US support for Ukraine amid the war.

"The Congress remains unwavering in our commitment to supporting Ukraine as they face (Russian President Vladimir) Putin's cruel and diabolical aggression, and to passing legislation to cripple and isolate the Russian economy as well as deliver humanitarian, security and economic assistance to Ukraine," they wrote.

The two top congressional Democrats said they "look forward to the privilege of welcoming" Zelensky's address to Congress and "to convey our support to the people of Ukraine as they bravely defend democracy."

In a separate speech Wednesday: Biden plans to detail US assistance to Ukraine, hours after Ukraine's president is expected to lay out new requests for help in his speech to Congress. 

Zelensky is likely to make fresh calls for steps like a no-fly zone and help acquiring fighter jets in his address to lawmakers. Biden has rejected those steps as potentially dragging the US into conflict with Russia, suggesting it could begin World War III.

But he is intent on demonstrating the support the US is providing, and will detail it in a speech on Wednesday, the White House says.

Biden referenced the speech in remarks on Tuesday: "I'll have much more to say about this tomorrow," he said when signing a spending bill.

Speaking on CNN, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said Biden would talk "about the security assistance that we have provided, that we are providing, it's just unparalleled in amounts. Anti-tank, anti-aircraft, anti-armor, all kinds of support that the Ukrainians have asked for."

6:03 p.m. ET, March 15, 2022

EU energy commissioner: US is supporting Europe's efforts to transition off Russian gas

From CNN's Pamela Boykoff

Europe’s efforts to transition off Russian natural gas are underway and they are being supported by deliveries of liquefied natural gas from the United States, EU Commissioner for Energy Kadri Simson told CNN’s Richard Quest.

“LNG deliveries have already increased significantly, and particularly from the United States,” she said.

“This has helped us this winter and we do have also good contacts with other reliable partners,” she added.

More background: The EU formally approved on Tuesday a new barrage of sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, which include bans on investments in the Russian energy sector, luxury goods exports and imports of steel products from Russia.

The European Commission said in a statement on Tuesday that the sanctions included "a far-reaching ban on new investment across the Russian energy sector with limited exceptions for civil nuclear energy and the transport of certain energy products back to the EU."

5:58 p.m. ET, March 15, 2022

Nearly 29,000 people were evacuated from Mariupol and Sumy on Tuesday, deputy prime minister says

From CNN’s Mariya Knight

Civilians who were evacuated from Mariupol gather in the southeastern city of Zaporizhia on March 15.
Civilians who were evacuated from Mariupol gather in the southeastern city of Zaporizhia on March 15. (Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

According to Ukraine's deputy prime minister, nearly 29,000 civilians in the war-torn nation were evacuated through evacuation corridors on Tuesday.

In a video statement, Iryna Vereshchuk said most of them — 20,000 — left the besieged city of Mariupol. Of the 4,000 cars that left the city, 570 have already arrived in the  southeastern city of Zaporizhia, senior government official Kirill Timoshenko said on his Telegram channel.

Vereshchuk said another 8,533 people were evacuated from cities and towns in the Sumy region, while 320 wards and employees of a hospital were evacuated from the Kharkiv region.

6:24 p.m. ET, March 15, 2022

Zelensky hails European leaders' visit to Kyiv as a "strong sign of support"

(Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky/Facebook)
(Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky/Facebook)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has welcomed the Prime Ministers of Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia to a meeting in Kyiv.

Zelensky posted a two-minute video of the meeting on his Telegram channel, saying: “Your visit to Kyiv at this difficult time for Ukraine is a strong sign of support. We really appreciate it.”

The three European leaders — who said they were representing the European Council at the Kyiv meeting — traveled to the Ukrainian capital by train.

5:18 p.m. ET, March 15, 2022

US and European officials working to come up with "deliverables" for NATO summit, sources say

From CNN's Kevin Liptak 

US and European officials are currently discussing potential announcements for Western leaders to make at next week's NATO summit in Brussels, according to people familiar with the plans, though as of right now there is no agreement on "deliverables" to come from the crisis talks.

US President Joe Biden hopes to use the session to illustrate western unity amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and having a major announcement could help underscore cooperation among the allies. 

But one European official said the discussions haven't yet settled on a single decision or takeaway for the summit to produce. 

Major items that Ukraine wants, like establishing a no-fly zone or providing fighter jets, appear for now off the table.

That means any announcement coming out of the meetings would likely focus more on ramping up smaller-scale assistance that's already being provided, financial aid or new sanctions on Russia.