March 18, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Aditi Sangal, Meg Wagner, George Ramsay, Jeevan Ravindran, Laura Smith-Spark, Peter Wilkinson, Adrienne Vogt and Melissa Macaya, CNN

Updated 12:01 a.m. ET, March 19, 2022
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1:35 p.m. ET, March 18, 2022

US defense secretary tells US and NATO troops in Bulgaria they are creating "trust" by training together

From CNN's Ellie Kaufman

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaks with US troops in Bulgaria on March 18.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaks with US troops in Bulgaria on March 18. (Robert Burns/AP)

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin met with US and NATO troops in Bulgaria on Friday, where he told the troops that they are creating “trust” by training alongside one another.

“You can’t surge trust at the eleventh hour; trust is something you have to work on every day. And from what I’ve heard, it’s exactly what you’re doing. You’re building trust with, amongst, with our allies, and you’re learning more about each other, and I think that’s just fantastic,” Austin said.

The US troops that are in Bulgaria are part of the US troop deployment to reinforce the United States' commitment to the NATO alliance and to reinforce the Eastern flank. 

Reporters traveling with Austin conducted a brief interview with an Army major who is on deployment in Bulgaria from his home base in Rosenberg, Germany. 

“Our mission here with the 2nd Cavalry Regiment is to reinforce our NATO allies in the southeastern flank of NATO and also to train with them in order to assure our allies of US commitment to NATO,” Maj. Ryan Mannina said. 

The focus of the US troop deployment there is to partner with Bulgarian land forces, Mannina said. The US troops are there to be a part of “NATO’s effort to stand up a multinational battle group here in Bulgaria,” he added.

Mannina said the soldiers there are “anxious” but “understand the strategic relevance of our mission.”

“We're very, we're very aware and attuned to the fact that there's a war going on only a few hundred miles from us and, and we, but I think the soldiers are also excited to be a part of something really important here and to understand the strategic relevance of our mission and assuring our allies and building combat credible forces on behalf of NATO,” Mannina said.

1:32 p.m. ET, March 18, 2022

Zelensky: 130 people have been rescued from bombed Mariupol theater, but hundreds still under the rubble 

From CNN's Alex Hardie and Chris Liakos

Debris is seen after a theater was damaged by shelling in Mariupol, Ukraine on March 17.
Debris is seen after a theater was damaged by shelling in Mariupol, Ukraine on March 17. (Azov Battalion/AP)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Friday that 130 people have been rescued from the bombed theater in the city of Mariupol so far.

Hundreds of people were taking shelter at the theater when it was bombed on Wednesday.

Speaking on Ukrainian TV, Zelensky said that rescue operations are continuing at the site despite the difficulties.

However, hundreds of people are still under the rubble in Mariupol, Zelensky added.

Earlier on Friday, officials from the Donetsk region and Kyiv said they had no further update on how many people had survived the attack. On Thursday, Ukraine’s human rights commissioner Liudmyla Denisova said there was no update on figures released, which reported 130 people rescued from a total of 1,300 people believed to have been sheltering in the building.

Zelensky also warned that it will be Western leaders’ moral defeat if Ukraine does not receive advanced weapons.

“We still have no missile defense. We do not have enough fighter planes,” Zelensky said.

“We shall call even louder on certain Western leaders and remind them that this will be their moral defeat if Ukraine does not receive the advanced weapons that will save the lives of thousands of our people,” Zelensky continued.

“Russian missiles are not going to be defeated by certain hunting guns that they are trying to sell us sometimes,” he said.

On Ukraine’s bid to become a member of the European Union, Zelensky said, “We will become a full member of the EU and every civil servant is working towards this 24/7.”

 

1:23 p.m. ET, March 18, 2022

US ambassador says Russia's "disinformation is a sign of its desperation"

From CNN's Laura Ly

US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield delivers a statement at the United Nations Security Council meeting on Friday, March 18.
US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield delivers a statement at the United Nations Security Council meeting on Friday, March 18. (Jason DeCrow/AP)

United States Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield slammed Russia's attempts to lie about allegations of biological weapons in Ukraine once again Friday morning. 

"As I said one week ago, Ukraine does not have a biological weapons program. There are no Ukrainian biological weapons laboratories – not near Russia’s border, not anywhere. There are only public health facilities, proudly, and I say proudly, supported and recognized by the US government, the World Health Organization, and other governments and international institutions," Thomas-Greenfield said in prepared remarks to the UN Security Council. 

Ukrainian and US officials have repeatedly debunked claims of US-supported biological programs in Ukraine. 

Friday's emergency session was called by Russia after they announced Thursday that they would not call for a vote on their humanitarian draft resolution on Ukraine. 

Thomas-Greenfield instead said "it is Russia that has a well-documented history of using chemical weapons" and that Friday's meeting is 'the result of their isolation on this Council and on the world stage." 

"We aren’t going to dignify Russia’s disinformation or conspiracy theories," Thomas-Greenfield said. "I will not repeat the slurs and false accusations that Russia has hurled against the Ukrainian people and the United States repeatedly at this table. But we know that Russia’s disinformation is a sign of its desperation. That’s the truth, and we will continue to ensure the world sees it and hears it."

Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vassily Nebenzia claimed Friday that new details show evidence of US-supported biological weapons in Ukraine. 

"Over the last week, new details have come to light which allows to state that the components for biological weapons were being created on the territory of Ukraine," Nebenzia said in translated remarks to the council. "We can see that the American colleagues were not helping, as they claim, the Ukrainian Ministry of Health, but rather the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense."

Nebenzia claimed that a new document distributed to the council Friday morning "confirms direct funding and supervision of the Pentagon and its defense threat reduction agency of military and biological projects in Ukraine." 

"The representative of the US State Department continue to muddle the information and ascertain that US allegedly does not operate in any biological laboratories in the territory of Ukraine, but the facts show otherwise," the Russian ambassador claimed. 

More context: There are US-funded biolabs in Ukraine, but they are not building bioweapons. Actually, it's the opposite: Part of the reason for their creation was to secure old Soviet weapons left behind in the former Soviet republics. The State Department has described the claims as nonsense — and the US and Ukrainian governments have repeatedly, and for years now, tried to bat down conspiracy theories about the labs and spoken about the work that is actually being done in them.

Russia's falsehoods about labs like this have not been limited to Ukraine, and the country has been pushing various bits of disinformation about the US and biological weapons since the Cold War.

CNN's Kiely Westhoff and Donie O'Sullivan contributed reporting to this post.

1:16 p.m. ET, March 18, 2022

Polish prime minister will submit proposal for peacekeeping mission in Ukraine

From Anna Odzeniak in Przemsyl, Poland

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki speaks during a summit in Warsaw, Poland, on March 14.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki speaks during a summit in Warsaw, Poland, on March 14. (Mateusz Wlodarczyk/NurPhoto/Getty Images)

Poland plans to submit a proposal at a NATO summit in Brussels next week for a peacekeeping mission in Ukraine, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Friday. 

Speaking at a news conference in Warsaw, Morawiecki told reporters that “at the next NATO summit, the proposal for a peace mission in Ukraine will be formally submitted.” 

Morawiecki was asked whether he thinks there was consensus for such a mission in Ukraine among NATO members. 

“Poland is very active in this forum, both in NATO and in the EU and we are the ones who urge them to take the following steps,” he said.  

“When the bombs are falling closer and closer to the Polish border, we will, of course, use this as an argument, both in the context of the most argument presented by [Ukrainian] President Volodymyr Zelensky, as well as the arguments formulated by us during our mission in Kyiv," he added. 

On Friday, Russia launched missile strikes near an airport in Lviv, a strategic Ukrainian city not far from the Polish border.

12:36 p.m. ET, March 18, 2022

Russian soldiers don't appear to be "particularly motivated" about Ukraine war, US Central Command head says

From CNN's Ellie Kaufman

Russian soldiers do not seem “to be particularly motivated,” Gen. Frank McKenzie, the Commander of US Central Command, told reporters during a briefing at the Pentagon Friday.

“They don’t appear, from where I sit at least, to be particularly motivated or particularly engaged in the campaign they’re undertaking,” McKenzie said of Russian forces fighting in Ukraine.

US Central Command oversees the US military presence in the Middle East. McKenzie is set to retire in the coming weeks.

11:36 a.m. ET, March 18, 2022

Activists set up strollers to mark the deaths of more than 100 children in Ukraine

Casualties in Russia's invasion of Ukraine are mounting. In central Lviv, local activists and authorities placed 109 empty strollers to symbolize the children who have been killed during the invasion.

According to the Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine, 109 children had been killed. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights noted the office's report on Friday.

109 empty prams placed in the center of Lviv during the "Price of War" campaign organized by local activists and authorities to highlight the large number of children killed during Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Lviv, on March 18.
109 empty prams placed in the center of Lviv during the "Price of War" campaign organized by local activists and authorities to highlight the large number of children killed during Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Lviv, on March 18. (Roman Baluk/Reuters)

109 empty prams placed in the center of Lviv during the "Price of War" campaign organized by local activists and authorities to highlight the large number of children killed during Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Lviv, on March 18.
109 empty prams placed in the center of Lviv during the "Price of War" campaign organized by local activists and authorities to highlight the large number of children killed during Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Lviv, on March 18. (Roman Baluk/Reuters)

11:01 a.m. ET, March 18, 2022

It's 5 p.m. in Kyiv. Here are the latest developments in Ukraine

A Ukrainian serviceman stands among debris after shelling in a residential area in Kyiv, Ukraine on March 18.
A Ukrainian serviceman stands among debris after shelling in a residential area in Kyiv, Ukraine on March 18. (Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images)

Intense fighting and shelling continued across different parts of Ukraine on Friday. Here's what you should know:

Impacted areas: Multiple explosions were heard at about 6:30 a.m. local time and smoke was seen rising in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, according to a CNN team on the ground. Mayor Andriy Sadovyi said the Russian missiles struck an aircraft repair plant, which is close to Lviv airport. Russia launched six missiles toward the city, but two of them were intercepted by air defense systems, according to the Ukrainian armed forces.

One person died and four others were injured as a fire broke out after the remains of a downed rocket hit the five-story residential building in the Podilskyi district of Kyiv on Friday, Ukraine's Emergency Service said.

At least two people have died and six were wounded after a missile strike in the city of Kramatorsk in eastern Ukraine, according to Pavlo Kyrylenko, the head of the Donetsk regional administration.

Russian losses: At least five Russian servicemen, including the commander of the Kostroma airborne forces, died in battle in Ukraine, Russian regional state TV network GTRK Kostroma reported Thursday.

Evacuations: Nine corridors to evacuate civilians from towns and cities badly hit by Russian attacks have been agreed for Friday, according to the Ukrainian government. For the second day running, one of the agreed corridors links the besieged southeastern city of Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia, which remains under Ukrainian control.

Biden-Xi call: A call between Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden was underway Friday. Since the war began, China has tried to project a neutral stance. It has not condemned Russian actions, and has refused to label the attack an invasion. Chinese diplomats have criticized NATO expansion and accused the United States of fueling the conflict. But they have also called for a diplomatic solution.

Though not military allies, China and Russia have in recent years burnished their partnership in trade, technology and coordination of military exercises, while becoming increasingly vocal about what they view as Western interference into their domestic affairs — pushing back on US-led sanctions and often voting as a bloc in the United Nations.

Russia has asked China for military and economic support and Beijing has expressed some openness to this request, according to US intelligence and diplomacy officials. It is not yet clear whether China intends to provide Russia with that help, US officials familiar with the intelligence tell CNN — but according to the White House, Biden will lay out the potential ramifications of such an action during the call with Xi.

1:04 p.m. ET, March 18, 2022

UN: More than 800 people have been killed since Russia began invading Ukraine

From CNN's Sarah Diab

Relatives stand around the coffin of a Ukrainian soldier on March 15 in Lviv, Ukraine.
Relatives stand around the coffin of a Ukrainian soldier on March 15 in Lviv, Ukraine. (Alexey Furman/Getty Images)

At least 816 people have been killed and 1,333 have been injured since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, the United Nations Human Rights Office said Friday. 

Most of the casualties were due to “the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including shelling from heavy artillery and multiple-launch rocket systems and missile air strikes," the OHCR said in a report.

Those killed include 152 men, 116 women, seven girls, and 16 boys, as well as 36 children, and 489 adults whose sex is yet unknown, the UN agency said.

The OHCR said, it “believes that the actual figures are considerably higher, especially in Government-controlled territory and especially in recent days, as the receipt of information from some locations where intense hostilities have been going on has been delayed and many reports are still pending corroboration.” 

11:14 a.m. ET, March 18, 2022

Russia's foreign minister says Russia will target any weapons shipments entering Ukraine

From CNN's Amy Cassidy

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov speaks during a press conference in Moscow, Russia on March 17.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov speaks during a press conference in Moscow, Russia on March 17. (Russian Foreign Ministry/Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Any weapons shipments entering Ukraine will be a “legitimate” target for Russia, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Friday, according to Russian state news agency TASS. 

"We have made it very clear that any cargo that will enter the territory of Ukraine, which we will consider ... [carrying] weapons, will become a legitimate target," he reportedly told state TV channel RT.

Some context: A number of NATO countries have pledged military aid to Ukraine ranging from drones to anti-tank missiles. 

Lavrov said Soviet and Russian-made missile defense systems, which are available to some NATO countries, cannot be legally transferred to third countries, according to TASS.