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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11:59 a.m. ET, March 15, 2022

Doctors worry that a surge in Covid-19 and other infectious diseases could be next for Ukraine

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard

Global health officials have warned that there will be a rise of Covid-19 in Ukraine tied to Russia's invasion, but doctors also worry about a surge in other infectious diseases too: polio, cholera and measles. Doctors without borders also claimed that Ukraine is facing an insulin shortage.

Before the war, Ukraine had low vaccination rates against those diseases, Kate White, an emergency program manager for Doctors Without Borders, told CNN on Tuesday.

"In terms of what we call vaccine-preventable diseases, the status in Ukraine was that the population was not vaccinated to the extent which you would get herd immunity like you would in many other European countries or in the US," White told CNN.

"Given that that was your baseline, and then now we have a situation where that system or routine immunization is no longer functioning because the health system has been disrupted — and then on top of that, you have the overall public health situation, so many cities where lack of access to health care is compromised, some places where they no longer have the water supply that they used to, they don't have electricity, there's issues with sanitation — so, all of these risk factors pile up on top of each other, which means that there is an increased risk," White said, referring to diseases like polio, cholera and measles.

"There was a polio outbreak in Ukraine last year," White said. "Ukraine was the last country within Europe to have a cholera outbreak in 2011, and that was in Mariupol. And as you are probably aware, Mariupol right now has significant issues around water and sanitation and an inability to do your basic kind of daily activities around hygiene."

The city of Mariupol remains a major site of Russian attacks and damage.

"There's also a risk of measles," White said. "The baseline vaccination status was not particularly high."

White added that she has heard of some physicians and volunteers testing positive for Covid-19 while in Ukraine, but "testing capacity is minimal right now."

Last week, officials at the World Health Organization said that as the pandemic continues, Russia's invasion will impact the spread of coronavirus.

"Certainly, there’ll be a rise in Covid-19 within the population within Ukraine, without a doubt, because not testing, without access to treatment, with vaccinations stopped, and there's already low vaccination — I think about 34% or 35% vaccination rate before the conflict," Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO's health emergencies program, said in a news briefing last week. "So, there are many people who still remain vulnerable to infection."

Additionally, the organization claimed that Ukraine is facing an insulin shortage.

In a statement, the World Health Organization lists insulin as one of the many medications it is supplying to Ukraine.

According to the International Diabetes Foundation, there are over 2.3 million people with diabetes in Ukraine, making up 7.1% of the population. 

11:11 a.m. ET, March 15, 2022

NATO chief expresses concerns over possible Moscow "false flag" operation in Ukraine 

From Sharon Braithwaite in London

NATO is concerned that Russia might use chemical weapons in a "false flag" operation in Ukraine, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Tuesday.

Moscow’s “absurd” claims about biological labs and chemical weapon is part of a “long list of lies,” which causes worry about the possibility of such an attack, the NATO chief warned.

“They claimed they did not plan to invade Ukraine but they did. They claimed that they were withdrawing their troops, but then sent in even more. They claim to be protecting civilians, but they are killing civilians,” he said while speaking at a press conference in Brussels, adding that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “brutal” invasion of Ukraine is “causing death and destruction every day.” 

“It has shocked the world and shaken the international order,” he added.

NATO defense ministers will hold a meeting in Brussels on Wednesday.

Here's why is this under discussion: US President Joe Biden warned on Friday that Russia will pay a "severe price" if the country uses chemical weapons in Ukraine. While the US has so far not presented any evidence that Russia plans to use chemical weapons in Ukraine, the White House — most notably, press secretary Jen Psaki — has warned that the weapons could be used in the conflict. In a tweet, she also noted Russia's "long and well-documented track record of using chemical weapons."

The US government previously found that the Russian government used chemical weapons in both the 2020 poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny and in 2018 against Sergei and Yulia Skripal in England.

Read more here.

11:57 a.m. ET, March 15, 2022

Number of people fleeing Ukraine tops 3 million, according to UN migration agency

From CNN's Ivana Kottasová in Lviv

Displaced Ukrainians wait in line at the Medyka border crossing in Medyka, Poland, on March 15.
Displaced Ukrainians wait in line at the Medyka border crossing in Medyka, Poland, on March 15. ((Angel Garcia/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

More than three million people have fled Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion on February 24, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said Tuesday. 

The organization, a United Nations agency, said that 157,000 of those who have left the country were foreign nationals. 

Poland was by far the biggest recipient of refugees from Ukraine. As of Sunday, more than 1.7 million people arrived from Ukraine to Poland, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

12:54 p.m. ET, March 15, 2022

US issues new sanctions on Belarusian president

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko during a news conference at the Kremlin in Moscow, on February 18.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko during a news conference at the Kremlin in Moscow, on February 18. (Sergei Guneyev/Sputnik/AFP/Getty Images)

The United States applied new sanctions Tuesday on Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who has allied with Russia in its war in Ukraine.

A number of other Russians, including a Russian judge, were also targeted with sanctions for human rights abuses, according to the US Treasury Department.

The sanctions were applied to Lukashenko as well as his wife, Halina. They would block their property and interests in the United States and prohibit Americans from engaging in transactions with them.

“Today’s designations demonstrate the United States will continue to impose concrete and significant consequences for those who engage in corruption or are connected to gross violations of human rights,” Office of Foreign Assets Control Director Andrea Gacki said. “We condemn Russia’s attacks on humanitarian corridors in Ukraine and call on Russia to cease its unprovoked and brutal war against Ukraine."

The US previously applied sanctions to members of Lukashenko’s family in December after a migrant crisis on Belarus’s border with Poland, which led to accusations of human rights abuses.

The US has also targeted Belarus with sanctions previously for its role in the Russian invasion of Ukraine, including extending export control policies to Belarus and preventing diversion of tech and software to Russia through the country.

In addition to the Lukashenkos, the US targeted four individuals involved in the death of whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky, who died in suspicious circumstances in 2009.

10:47 a.m. ET, March 15, 2022

Water the plants, feed the pets, call the relatives: The busy schedules of those left behind in Ukraine

From Oleksandr Fylyppov in Lviv

(Volodymir Hrynivetsky)
(Volodymir Hrynivetsky)

While 2.8 million people have fled Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion in late February, men between 18 and 60 years old have been banned from leaving.

Many of those who have stayed behind have joined the armed forces, but there are some who are not able to do so. The Territorial Defense Forces — the mostly volunteer branch of the Ukraine military — has received so many applications on the first day after the invasion, it had to start turning volunteers away.

Some of those volunteers who are not able to join are now on duty taking care of pets, flowers, houses and property left behind.

Volodymir Hrynivetsky’s wife and kids left Odessa, while he has stayed behind. He has keys to four apartments that belong to his friends and relative, and he says he's never been busier.

(Volodymir Hrynivetsky)
(Volodymir Hrynivetsky)

Hrynivetsky visits the homes to water the plants and look after the animals that live in the communal yards. He’s taking care of supplies and is in constant communication with the relatives.

The daily rhythm of his life is very different now, and for the first time in decades, he has far more space for himself than he wants.

10:35 a.m. ET, March 15, 2022

French and German officials offer support to Russia TV anti-war protester

From Inke Kapeller in Berlin and Eva Tapiero in Paris

French President Emmanuel Macron visits a center for refugees from Ukraine, in La Pommeraye, near Mauges-sur-Loire, France, on March 15.
French President Emmanuel Macron visits a center for refugees from Ukraine, in La Pommeraye, near Mauges-sur-Loire, France, on March 15. (Yoan Valat/AFP/Getty Images)

Officials in France and Germany offered their support for Marina Ovsyannikova, the Russian TV editor who held up an anti-war sign during a live broadcast Monday. Her lawyer had not been able to locate her for some time after the protest, but a photo showing her and a lawyer was published on Telegram on Tuesday.

French President Emmanuel Macron offered protection to Ovsyannikova in a press conference Tuesday.

“France strongly condemns any imprisonment of a journalist as well as any manipulation, and obviously we are going to launch diplomatic steps aimed at offering protection either at the embassy or an asylum protection to your colleague,” Macron said at a Ukrainian refugee center in the French region of Maine-et-Loire, about 300 kilometers southwest of Paris.

Macron also said he will address the issue directly to Russian President Vladimir Putin during their next call. 

“In any case I hope that we can have full clarity as soon as possible about her personal situation and her ability to continue her work," Macron added.

In addition, German Minister of Finance Christian Lindner offered his support in a post on Twitter.

"My respect for Marina Ovsyannikova. She has courage and is a fighter against propaganda and Putin's war. Thank you. CL," he wrote.

10:30 a.m. ET, March 15, 2022

Ukraine says it detained a "hacker" helping Russian troops communicate

From CNN's Sean Lyngaas

Ukrainian authorities have detained a “hacker” that was allegedly helping the Russian military send commands and instructions via mobile phone networks to its troops, Ukraine’s SBU security service said Tuesday.

The suspect, whom the SBU did not identify, was accused of being on “thousands” of phone calls to Russian officials, including senior military officials, and of sending text messages to Ukrainian officials suggesting that they surrender.

The battle for communication networks in Ukraine is ongoing as the Russian military continues to shell the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.

Hackers last week caused outages at a Ukrainian internet service provider Triolan, which has customers in major cities. Triolan blamed “the enemy,” a reference to Russia, but did not provide evidence supporting that claim.

11:16 a.m. ET, March 15, 2022

Russia TV anti-war protester has been found and is in Moscow court, according to one of her lawyers

From CNN’s Paul P. Murphy

Marina Ovsyannikova with lawyer Anton Gashinsky in a picture taken from Telegram on March 15.
Marina Ovsyannikova with lawyer Anton Gashinsky in a picture taken from Telegram on March 15. (Telegram)

A lawyer for the Russian television editor who held up an anti-war sign during a live broadcast on Monday confirmed to CNN that they have found Marina Ovsyannikova and she is in Moscow court.

A photo showing Ovsyannikova and one of her lawyers, Anton Gashinsky, was published on Telegram this afternoon. 

Dmitry Zakhvatov and other lawyers had been trying to locate the Channel One editor since her protest on Monday.

Correction: An earlier version of this post misspelled Marina Ovsyannikova's name.

10:18 a.m. ET, March 15, 2022

Ukrainian negotiator says talks with Russia are "ongoing"

From CNN's Sarah Dean in London

Talks with Russia are ongoing, Ukrainian negotiator Mykhailo Podoliak said in a brief message on Twitter on Tuesday.

“Consultations on the main negotiation platform renewed. General regulation matters, ceasefire, withdrawal of troops from the territory of the country,” he tweeted.

The update comes after a fourth round of talks between the two sides began on Monday before being “paused” until Tuesday.

The Russian delegation said later Monday that talks are now happening “daily,” state media reported.