March 19, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Jessie Yeung, Adam Renton, Luke McGee, Jeevan Ravindran, Joe Ruiz, Adrienne Vogt and Emma Tucker, CNN

Updated 12:05 a.m. ET, March 20, 2022
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9:26 a.m. ET, March 19, 2022

People in Mariupol risking their lives each time they leave shelter, Ukrainian Army major says

From Khrystyna Bondarenko, Ivan Watson, AnneClaire Stapleton and Tom Booth in Ukraine 

Residents carry their belongings as they leave Mariupol, Ukraine on March 16.
Residents carry their belongings as they leave Mariupol, Ukraine on March 16. (Maksim Blinov/Sputnik/AP)

People sheltering in Mariupol from some of the most intense fighting anywhere in Ukraine are risking their lives each time they step foot outside their underground bunkers, a Ukrainian army commander stationed in the city has told CNN. 

With Russia’s assault in its fourth week, Major Denis Prokopenko of the National Guard Azov Regiment said the besieged city was now under almost constant bombardment. 

“Usually, Mariupol is under fire during the whole day and night. Sometimes there is 30 minutes of silence, but then the city is again under attack [from] tanks, artillery, multiple rockets, and [aircraft] like bombers and helicopters,” he said. 

The Azov Battalion is an ultra-nationalist militia that has since been integrated into the Ukrainian armed forces.

People are reluctant to leave their underground shelters even to get hold of essentials, meaning they were trying to drink less water and eat less food. One of the few times people did leave the shelter was to prepare hot food, he said.  

“People are cooking food in the streets, risking their lives under the continuous shelling and bombing. The temperature is minus 5 degree Celsius in the street,” Prokopenko told CNN. 

Basic services like gas, electricity and water are all out. 

Bodies are left lying in the street because there is either no one left to collect them or it is simply too dangerous to try. 

Prokopenko said no one knew the exact number of people killed.  

“Some people are buried under ruined buildings, buried alive,” he said.  

Information about a huge attack three days ago on a theater in Mariupol being used as a shelter has been slow to emerge.  

Prokopenko said he believed the building, which also acted as the city’s main humanitarian assembly station, was providing temporary home to about 800 people when it was hit. 

Former Donetsk regional head Sergiy Taruta said on Thursday that 1,300 people were in the building when it was bombed.

Prokopenko confirmed earlier reports that continued Russian artillery fire made attempts to get survivors out of the building very difficult. 

Figures released by several Ukrainian leaders, including President Volodymyr Zelensky, say 130 people have been rescued, among them one person with serious injuries. 

8:27 a.m. ET, March 19, 2022

It's just past 1 p.m. in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know

Soldiers conduct search efforts at the scene of a missile strike in Mykolaiv, Ukraine.
Soldiers conduct search efforts at the scene of a missile strike in Mykolaiv, Ukraine. (Niclas Hammarström/Expressen)

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky called for negotiations on peace "without delay," otherwise Russia's losses would be "huge," in a video message on Saturday morning.  

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said that Russia continues to make "incremental gains" in Ukraine's south and has used "brutal, savage techniques'' in the way it has targeted civilians.

Some examples of that brutality: Rescue operations are still underway in Mykolaiv Saturday morning at the scene of a missile strike on a barracks housing Ukrainian soldiers, regional boss Vitalli Kim said. Dozens of troops are reported to have been killed in the attack by Russian forces, according to journalists from CNN Swedish affiliate Expressen who were at the scene.

Russia's Ministry of Defense said Saturday hypersonic Kinzhal missiles destroyed a military ammunitions warehouse in western Ukraine on Friday.

Other key cities Lviv and Kramatorsk were also hit Friday by Russian attacks, according to Ukrainian authorities.

But Kyiv holds on. Satellite images show the Russian military digging in, constructing protective earthen berms around its military equipment northwest of Kyiv. According to NATO officials, Russia's offensive to capture the capital has largely stalled. The Ukrainian army said Russia’s two main routes for attacking Kyiv have been blocked.

2:32 p.m. ET, March 19, 2022

Battle rages for control of huge steel plant in Mariupol

From Andrew Carey and Yulia Kesaieva in Lviv 

The Azov Steel plant in Mariupol, Ukraine on February 17, 2022. Due to conflicting reports from both sides, it is currently unclear whether Ukraine remains in control of the plant. 
The Azov Steel plant in Mariupol, Ukraine on February 17, 2022. Due to conflicting reports from both sides, it is currently unclear whether Ukraine remains in control of the plant.  (Pierre Crom/Getty Images)

There are conflicting reports over the status of one of Ukraine’s key industrial facilities – the Azov Steel plant in Mariupol.   

Late Friday, a government advisor reported the plant was in Russian hands after ongoing battles with Ukrainian troops for control of the seafront site. 

But in an update Saturday, the Azov battalion, which has a large presence in Mariupol, said the plant remained in their hands.  

“The enemy has not reached this far into the city. The [Ukrainian] navy, along with the Azov battalion, along with the police, continue defending the city and its civilians,” battalion member Vladislav Sobolievskyi told Ukrainian television.  

“Today the Azov Steel plant is under our control. Air strikes hit the whole city, including the plant, but the enemy has not laid his hands on our plant.” 

The giant steelworks lies immediately to the east of Mariupol city centre. Losing control of the facility to Russian forces would be a huge setback to Ukrainian efforts to hang on to the city. 

8:17 a.m. ET, March 19, 2022

Hypersonic Kinzhal missiles destroyed military warehouse in western Ukraine, Russian Ministry of Defense says

Russia's Ministry of Defense said Saturday powerful hypersonic "Kinzhal" missiles destroyed a military ammunitions warehouse in western Ukraine on Friday.

"On March 18, the Kinzhal aviation missile system with hypersonic aeroballistic missiles destroyed a large underground warehouse of missiles and aviation ammunition of Ukrainian troops in the village of Delyatin, Ivano-Frankivsk region," the ministry said. 

CNN is unable to independently verify this claim. 

The ministry has previously made claims that the highly maneuverable missile, which travels faster than the speed of sound, is unmatched for potency when coupled with its MiG-31 fighter jets.

In his 2018 annual address to Russia's parliament, President Vladimir Putin said Russia had developed an "invincible" missile that could deliver a warhead at hypersonic speed.

7:31 a.m. ET, March 19, 2022

Rescue operations continue in Mykolaiv where dozens reported killed in strike on Ukrainian barracks

From CNN's Abby Baggini, Samson Desta and Jonny Hallam and Yulia Kesaieva 

Soldiers conduct search efforts at the scene of a missile strike in Mykolaiv, Ukraine.
Soldiers conduct search efforts at the scene of a missile strike in Mykolaiv, Ukraine. (Niclas Hammarström/Expressen)

Rescue operations were still underway in Mykolaiv Saturday morning at the scene of a missile strike on a barracks housing soldiers, regional boss Vitalli Kim said. 

Dozens of troops are reported to have been killed in the attack by Russian forces, according to journalists from CNN Swedish affiliate Expressen who were at the scene.

Expressen correspondent Magnus Falkehed and photojournalist Niclas Hammarström reported that around 6 a.m. local time on Friday (12 a.m. ET), “Two Russian fighter jets dropped what appeared to be five bombs,” destroying several buildings at the barracks. 

Speaking on his Telegram channel Saturday, Kim said he was not yet able to provide information on fatalities, as he was waiting for official data.  

Rescuers at the scene have been using shovels and their bare hands to free survivors from the rubble of the buildings. In dramatic video filmed by Expressen, one Ukrainian soldier is seen being pulled alive from wreckage. 

Expressen quoted one of the surviving soldiers, 54-year-old Serhil, who was sleeping in the barracks opposite where the attack hit, as saying, “of the approximately 200 who were there, I would guess about 90% did not survive.” 

"Glass flew everywhere. I prayed to God that I would have time to take shelter before more bombs came. There are always more bombs," Nikita, a 22-year-old Ukrainian soldier, told Expressen. 

Mykolaiv, a southern city that sits along the Black Sea, has been a frequent target of Russian attacks. 

It is seen as a strategic target for Russian land forces in any move to capture Ukraine's third-largest city, Odesa, which lies further west along the coast. 

8:27 a.m. ET, March 19, 2022

Norway's prime minister says four US soldiers have died in a plane crash

Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre speaks during a press conference in Brussels, Belgium on February 23.
Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre speaks during a press conference in Brussels, Belgium on February 23. (Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Norway's Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre said Saturday that four US soldiers have died in a plane crash. 

"It is with great sadness we have received the message that four American soldiers died in a plane crash last night," he said on his official Twitter account

"The soldiers participated in the NATO exercise Cold Response. Our deepest sympathies go to the soldiers' families, relatives and fellow soldiers in their unit," he added. 

According to NATO: "Cold Response 2022 is a long-planned and regular exercise, which Norway hosts biannually. This year’s exercise was announced over eight months ago. It is not linked to Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine, which NATO is responding to with preventive, proportionate and non-escalatory measures."

6:00 a.m. ET, March 19, 2022

Russia continues to make "incremental gains" in Ukraine's south, has used "savage techniques," US Defense Secretary says

From CNN's Radina Gigova in Atlanta

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Bulgaria's Prime Minister Kiril Petkov in Sofia, Bulgaria on March 19.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Bulgaria's Prime Minister Kiril Petkov in Sofia, Bulgaria on March 19. (Vassil Donev/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

Russia continues to make "incremental gains" in Ukraine's south and has used "brutal, savage techniques'' in the way it has targeted civilians, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said Saturday.

"In terms of Russians' progress in the south, I would say that they continue to make incremental gains. I would also say that they've used some brutal, savage techniques in terms of the way that they've been targeting civilian populations," Austin said during a joint press conference with Bulgaria's Prime Minister Kiril Petkov in Sofia. 

"And again, we would hope that they [Russia] would choose a different path," Austin added. The amount of pain that the civilians have endured "has been hard to watch," he said. 

Austin also said Europe faces its "largest security challenge in generations," and that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s "war of choice" against Ukraine has been "tragic."

"Russia’s aggression has galvanized the Ukrainian people, NATO, and the free world," Austin said. "Our commitment to Article 5 is ironclad."

"Improving Bulgaria’s military readiness and NATO interoperability is even more vital today," Austin said, adding "the United States will continue to stand strong with Bulgaria and our other NATO Allies."

Austin condemned Russia’s "reckless and ruthless aggression against a peaceful neighbor" and praised Bulgaria for helping Ukrainian civilians.

Austin has traveled to Bulgaria and Slovakia this week as part of a trip to bolster NATO allies.

More context: Troops have made progress in the south of the country using tactics "ripped from the Syria playbook," Mason Clark, lead Russia analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, told CNN Friday evening.

These tactics include "specific neighborhood-by-neighborhood targeting," less precise weapons that take a more brutal toll, and hitting civilian infrastructure, he said.

5:18 a.m. ET, March 19, 2022

Zelensky calls for negotiations on peace "without delay" in latest video message

From CNN's Radina Gigova

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a video message early Saturday morning March 19.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a video message early Saturday morning March 19. (Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky/Facebook)

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky has called for negotiations on peace "without delay" and warned that otherwise Russia's losses would be "huge." 

Speaking on Saturday, Zelensky said that "negotiations on peace, on security for us, for Ukraine -- meaningful, fair and without delay -- are the only chance for Russia to reduce the damage from its own mistakes," in his latest video message. 

"We have always insisted on negotiations. We have always offered dialogue, offered solutions for peace," he said. "And I want everyone to hear me now, especially in Moscow. It's time to meet. Time to talk. It is time to restore territorial integrity and justice for Ukraine."

"Otherwise, Russia's losses will be so huge, that several generations won't be enough to rebound," Zelensky added. 

5:13 a.m. ET, March 19, 2022

Putin tries to justify war on Ukraine at Moscow rally, but TV glitch cuts off broadcast

Russian President Vladimir Putin gives a speech at a concert marking the eighth anniversary of Russia's annexation of Crimea on March 18 in Moscow.
Russian President Vladimir Putin gives a speech at a concert marking the eighth anniversary of Russia's annexation of Crimea on March 18 in Moscow. (Alexander Vilf/Pool/AFP/Getty Images)

Russian President Vladimir Putin laid out his justification for the invasion of Ukraine at a rally in Moscow on Friday, where his speech was abruptly cut off on the state TV broadcast in what the Kremlin described as a technical error.

Tens of thousands of people waved the Russian flag at the national stadium as they took part in celebrations commemorating the eighth year of Russia's annexation of Crimea -- which is deemed illegal by the Ukrainian government and not recognized in the West.

Speaking from a stage in front of a banner that read, "For a world without Nazism," Putin said Russia "will definitely implement all our plans" in Ukraine.

Read the full story here.