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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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.

5:14 p.m. ET, March 15, 2022

Russian prisoners of war voice disquiet, shame over the invasion of Ukraine: "We all will be judged"

From CNN's Tim Lister and Sebastian Shukla

"I want to tell our commander-in-chief to stop terror acts in Ukraine because when we come back we'll rise against him."

Russian President Vladimir Putin "has given orders to commit crimes. It's not just to demilitarize Ukraine or defeat the Armed Forces of Ukraine, but now cities of peaceful civilians are being destroyed."

"The crimes that we committed; we all will be judged."

These are the voices of Russian prisoners of war now held by Ukraine.

Nearly a dozen have appeared in news conferences held by the Ukrainian authorities, just a few of the 600 that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says have been captured.

Their public appearances may be questionable under the Geneva Conventions, which forbid states from causing unnecessary humiliation to prisoners of war. And it is possible that they felt pressure to express views sympathetic to those of their captors.

But three captured Russian air force pilots who spoke to CNN did not suggest they were speaking under duress.

Read the full report here.

5:48 p.m. ET, March 15, 2022

It's 11 p.m. in Kyiv. Catch up on the latest developments on the war in Ukraine.

From CNN staff

Reporters and local residents stand outside a damaged residential building in Kyiv on March 15.
Reporters and local residents stand outside a damaged residential building in Kyiv on March 15. (Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky criticized the effectiveness of NATO's Article 5 provision, calling it "weak," during an address Tuesday. His comments came as key cities in Ukraine, including around Kyiv and Mariupol, reported extensive damage and dire situations.

Here's a catch up of key developments that took place today:

On the ground: Fatalities were reported after shelling hit buildings in residential areas across Kyiv on Tuesday, according to Ukrainian authorities and new satellite images show widespread destruction across Ukraine, including damaged houses in a village near Kyiv.

In the besieged city of Mariupol, smoldering homes could be seen, where more than 2,500 civilians have died, Ukrainian officials estimate.

Captive situation in Mariupol: A Ukrainian official has accused Russian troops of holding people captive at a Mariupol hospital on Tuesday.  

Pavlo Kyrylenko, the Head of Donetsk regional administration, said doctors and patients were being held against their will in the Mariupol regional intensive care hospital, also referred to as Hospital No. 2.  

Sergei Orlov, deputy mayor of Mariupol, said Russian forces are "destroying" the besieged Ukrainian city and that patients in a hospital were used as captives.

"There are a lot of fights on our streets, and the situation yesterday was terrible," he told CNN's Bianna Golodryga.

Evacuation corridors: US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said there are reports of cars leaving Mariupol, noting that if this is in fact the beginning of an evacuation corridor, such a development would be a “step forward.”

Negotiations between Russia and Ukraine: Talks between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators have ended for the day and will resume Wednesday, according to Ukrainian negotiator Mykhailo Podoliak. He noted the negotiation process has been "very difficult and viscous." "There are fundamental contradictions. But there is certainly room for compromise," he said in a tweet.

Prime ministers from Poland, Slovenia and the Czech Republic arrive in Ukraine: The prime ministers of Poland, Slovenia and the Czech Republic arrived by train on Tuesday in Kyiv to meet with Zelensky and Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal.

The prime ministers arrived in the city on behalf of the EU council, Shmyal said on Twitter, praising the “courage of true friends.”

Zelensky to address US Congress on Wednesday: The Ukrainian president is set to deliver a virtual address to the US Congress tomorrow. The address by Zelensky comes amid Russia's ongoing unprovoked and deadly invasion of the country and as Ukraine continues to press the United States for more assistance as it fights back.

US President Joe Biden to deliver his own address on Wednesday after signing into a law a massive aid package for Ukraine: Biden plans to detail US assistance to Ukraine in a speech on Wednesday, hours after Ukraine's president is expected to lay out new requests for help in a speech to Congress, the White House said.

massive spending bill was signed into law by Biden Tuesday, which will provide a, one-time, $13.6 billion infusion of military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine as it fights back against Russia's invasion.

Biden is also is set to travel to Europe next week for an extraordinary meeting of NATO and show of US support for Ukraine, the White House has confirmed. Biden will join NATO world leaders in person in Brussels, Belgium, next Thursday, March 24. 

Here's a look at the Russian-occupied areas in Ukraine:

5:16 p.m. ET, March 15, 2022

US secretary of state announces $186 million more in humanitarian assistance for Ukrainians

From CNN's Kylie Atwood

(Elizabeth Frantz/Pool/AP)
(Elizabeth Frantz/Pool/AP)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced $186 million in additional humanitarian assistance to support Ukrainian refugees and internally displaced people due to the war in Ukraine.

“The United States is providing over $186 million in additional humanitarian assistance to support internally displaced persons and the more than three million refugees affected by Russia’s premeditated, unprovoked, and unjustified war in Ukraine. This will provide further support for humanitarian organizations responding to the crisis and complement the generosity of the neighboring countries that are welcoming and supporting refugees,” Blinken said.

Blinken added, the US “commends the hospitality of the neighboring countries that are hosting those fleeing Ukraine.” The additional US financial support will go to backing the basic necessities that the refugees need, and will be channeled through humanitarian organizations on the ground, he said.

“The additional humanitarian assistance for refugees in Ukraine’s neighboring countries supports the provision of food, safe drinking water, protection, accessible shelter, and emergency health care through the support of our international and non-governmental partners. This funding will also help victims of this conflict maintain contact with family members who have been separated and promote family reunification when possible," Blinken said.

He also reiterated the need for the safe passage of humanitarian support into the country.

“We call for an immediate end to Russia’s continuing war against Ukraine and for Russia to facilitate unhindered humanitarian access in Ukraine and safe passage for those who seek to leave the cities where they are trapped. Humanitarian aid deliveries must be allowed to continue without interference, and humanitarian workers must have safe passage to deliver aid and assistance to those in need,” Blinken said.

CNN has reported Biden administration is considering expediting the resettlement of Ukrainian refugees with US ties, including family already living in the US. State Department spokesperson Ned Price would not comment on any efforts to expedite that process during the department briefing on Tuesday.