March 20, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Helen Regan, Steve George, Ben Church, Luke McGee, Ed Upright, Maureen Chowdhury, Joe Ruiz, Mike Hayes and Amir Vera, CNN

Updated 12:02 a.m. ET, March 21, 2022
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11:41 a.m. ET, March 20, 2022

White House says Biden has "no plans" to visit Ukraine this week

From CNN's Jasmine Wright

US President Joe Biden attends a meeting at the White House on March 18 in Washington, DC.
US President Joe Biden attends a meeting at the White House on March 18 in Washington, DC. (Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Sipa USA/AP)

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said there are “no plans,” for US President Joe Biden to travel to Ukraine this week as he heads to Europe for snap emergency summits.

"The trip will be focused on continuing to rally the world in support of the Ukrainian people and against President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, but there are no plans to travel into Ukraine,” she said in a tweet.

On CNN’s "State of the Union," US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield cast major doubt on the possibility for President Joe Biden to visit Ukraine this week when he heads to Europe, saying “as far as I know, it’s not on the table.”

Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine's former president, told CNN's Jim Acosta on Saturday that a Biden visit to Ukraine would be a "symbol of our solidarity."

He continued, saying that Biden was a "very good friend of mine and a very good friend of Ukraine," adding that a visit by the US president would be "an extremely right step to demonstrate that the whole world is together with us against Russia."

Read the tweet:

11:22 a.m. ET, March 20, 2022

Russian attack killed 56 elderly residents of a care home in eastern Ukraine, says regional official

From CNN staff

Fifty-six elderly residents of a care home in the eastern Ukrainian town of Kreminna were killed when a Russian tank opened fire on a care home, according to the head of the Luhansk region.  

Serhii Haidai said the attack happened nine days ago, on March 11, and that fifteen other residents of the care home had been abducted and taken to the town of Svatove in what is now Russian-occupied territory.  

Haidai first reported the attack in a video statement posted to Twitter on March 12 but said at the time he had no information on casualties, indicating Ukrainian emergency services and officials had come under fire when they tried to gain access the area.  

“[Russian forces] opened fire on a nursing home for elderly people with a tank. There were only elderly people living there, many of them with disabilities. We have no idea how many people have died and how many survived. When we tried to reach the scene, they started shelling us,” he said on March 12.  

In his statement posted Sunday on Telegram, Haidai said it had still not been possible to reach the scene of the attack.

Kreminna lies immediately to the west of the towns of Rubizhne and Severodonetsk, two towns that have seen some of the most intense fighting in the eastern part of the country.  

CNN has been unable to independently verify the claim.  


11:54 a.m. ET, March 20, 2022

US defense secretary: Putin resorting to "disgusting" civil attacks because his campaign is "stalled" 

From CNN's Natasha Bertrand

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin attends a press conference in Sofia, Bulgaria on March 19.
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin attends a press conference in Sofia, Bulgaria on March 19. (Vassil Donev/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said on Sunday that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s campaign in Ukraine is “stalled,” which is why he has resorted to “disgusting” attacks against civilians there.

“We've seen deliberate targeting of cities and towns and civilians throughout the last several weeks,” Austin told CBS's "Face the Nation." 

“And again, I believe that he's taking these kinds of steps because as was described earlier, his campaign has stalled. He's not been able to achieve the goals as rapidly that he wants to achieve as rapidly as he wants to achieve them. And so he's, he's resorting to the types of tactics that we see on display every day. And again, this is really disgusting.”

Austin added later that “the maneuver forces on the ground are essentially stalled and it's been, it's had the effect of him moving his forces into a wood chipper.” 

Even so, Austin said there does not yet appear to be evidence that mercenaries or foreign fighters have shown up in Ukraine to help Russia. “We have not seen mercenaries show up on the battlefield, to my knowledge,” he said.

Asked about Russia’s claim that it has launched hypersonic missiles against Ukraine, Austin said he does not believe Russia’s use of such missiles would be a “game changer,” though he cautioned that he “cannot confirm or dispute” that they have been deployed.

“I would not see it as a game changer,” he said. “I think, again, the reason that he's resorting to using these types of weapons is because he's trying to reestablish some momentum … you kind of question why he would do this. Is he running low on precision guided munitions?”

US officials confirmed to CNN on Saturday that Russia had used hypersonic missiles in its war against Ukraine.

Austin also said that if Putin used chemical or biological weapons against Ukraine, “he would see a significant reaction from not only the United States but also the global community.”

“And again, I don't want to speculate about what exactly would change our calculation. I think, I think, you know, engaging in hypotheticals is probably not helpful here, either. But I think this is a very serious step. And as you heard our president say, we won't take that lightly.”


11:18 a.m. ET, March 20, 2022

Putin's claims of neo-Nazis in Ukraine show he "might be capable of very horrendous steps," Zelensky says

Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky speaks with CNN on Sunday, March 20. 
Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky speaks with CNN on Sunday, March 20.  (CNN)

President Zelensky was asked about Vladimir Putin's claims that the Ukrainian government is full of neo-Nazis. He said that he cannot take these statements by Putin "seriously" and called it "laughable." 

Zelensky added that Putin is in an information bubble but he noted that remarks like this from the Russian president worry him about what he is capable of.

"I'm not afraid of anything except for people, but the fact -- the fact is that if he is serious about this statement he might be capable of very horrendous steps because that would mean that this is not a game for him. If he really believes in this, if it's not a game, then we will just continue fighting against it. If it's a game. But if it's not a game, if he's serious about it, if he thinks that this is his mission to conquer our territory and if he sees signs of neo-Nazis in our country, then many questions emerge about what else he is capable of doing for the sake of his ambitions, for the sake of his mission." 

Zelensky called Putin's remarks "very frightening, very hazardous."


11:04 a.m. ET, March 20, 2022

Zelensky: ‘If we were a NATO member, a war wouldn't have started’

CNN's Chandelis Duster

Smoke rises after an explosion in Lviv, Ukraine, on Friday, March 18.
Smoke rises after an explosion in Lviv, Ukraine, on Friday, March 18. (AP)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Sunday that if his country had been admitted into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization alliance earlier, then Russia would not have invaded the country.

“If we were a NATO member, a war wouldn't have started. I'd like to receive security guarantees for my country, for my people,” Zelensky told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria on “GPS,” adding that he was grateful for the aid NATO has provided since the invasion began. “If NATO members are ready to see us in the alliance, then do it immediately because people are dying on a daily basis.”

He continued, “But if you are not ready to preserve the lives of our people, if you just want to see us straddle two worlds, if you want to see us in this dubious position where we don't understand whether you can accept us or not — you cannot place us in this situation, you cannot force us to be in this limbo.”

"I requested them personally to say directly that we are going to accept you into NATO in a year or two or five, just say it directly and clearly, or just say no," Zelensky said. "And the response was very clear, you're not going to be a NATO member, but publicly, the doors will remain open," he said.


11:11 a.m. ET, March 20, 2022

More than 900 civilians killed in Ukraine since invasion began, UN says

From CNN’s Martin Goillandeau in London

Ukrainian policemen carry a body after a residential building was hit by shelling in Kyiv, Ukraine on March 18.
Ukrainian policemen carry a body after a residential building was hit by shelling in Kyiv, Ukraine on March 18. (Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images)

At least 902 civilians have been killed and 1,459 injured since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said Sunday.

The OHCHR added that most of the casualties recorded were caused by the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including shelling from heavy artillery and multiple-launch rocket systems, and missile and air strikes.

In a statement, the UN body detailed the 902 deaths as “179 men, 134 women, 11 girls, and 25 boys, as well as 39 children and 514 adults whose sex is yet unknown.”

OHCHR said that 248 civilians had died in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

According to the UN Office, the actual figures could be “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.”

OHCHR said this would be the case for (among others) the city Mariupol, “where there are allegations of numerous civilian casualties,” adding that the figures were being “further corroborated and not included in the above statistics.”

10:29 a.m. ET, March 20, 2022

Zelensky says on CNN that Ukraine cannot compromise its "territorial integrity"

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenksky said there are "compromises" that Ukraine cannot make in negotiations with Putin.

Zelensky was asked by CNN's Fareed Zakaria about the Russian demands — including that they recognize that Crimea is part of Russia, the two republics in the Donbas are independent republics, and they guarantee that Ukraine will never be a member of NATO. He said, "There are compromises for which we cannot be ready as an independent state." 

Zelensky continued: "Any compromises related to our territorial integrity and our sovereignty and the Ukrainian people have spoken about it, they have not greeted Russian soldiers with a bunch of flowers, they have greeted them with bravery, they have greeted them with weapons in their hands." 

Zelensky said that Russia "cannot curry favor with the citizens of another country forcibly." 

"You cannot just make a president of another country to recognize anything by the use of force," he added. 

Some more context: In his interview with CNN, Zelensky said he is ready to negotiate with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but warned that if any negotiation attempts fail, it could mean the fight between the two countries would lead to "a third World War."

“I’m ready for negotiations with him. I was ready for the last two years. And I think that without negotiations, we cannot end this war,” Zelensky told Zakaria in an exclusive interview Sunday morning.

12:34 p.m. ET, March 20, 2022

Zelensky: "My children know for sure what is happening"

From CNN's Maureen Chowdhury

Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky speaks with CNN on Sunday, March 20. 
Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky speaks with CNN on Sunday, March 20.  (CNN)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told CNN's Fareed Zakaria that his children are aware of the realities of war in Ukraine, despite him not overtly telling them about it initially.

"My children know for sure what is happening. I do not know whether it's good or bad. I have not explained anything to my children. They have said to me war is raging in Ukraine," Zelensky said.

He added, "Fortunately, we do not have to explain anything to our children. Fortunately, they have access to videos and news. I see to it that their access to these videos is open, they have access to it. I think that my children should not be prohibited from seeing any kind of videos of what Russia has made. My son has to be aware of it because while my son is alive that means that some Ukrainian army member is giving up his own life for this."

Zelensky has two children, a son and a daughter with this wife Olena Zelenska.

"The first two days, we did not talk about it at all. They did not ask questions. They were thinking about it themselves," Zelensky explained.

He said that his children have hope for victory for Ukraine, "They are proud of Ukraine, very proud. They entertain a sincere hope in our victory."


10:03 a.m. ET, March 20, 2022

Russia will feel more consequences if they use chemical weapons in Ukraine, US Ambassador to UN says

CNN's Chandelis Duster

US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield speaks with CNN on Sunday.
US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield speaks with CNN on Sunday. (CNN)

Russia will face more consequences from the US if it uses chemical weapons in it’s invasion of Ukraine, US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said Sunday.

“What we see happening is, again, this is a false flag effort by the Russians. They are advancing what they might intend to do. We've seen it happen before. They are the ones who have used chemical weapons ... And we are concerned that they may use chemical weapons in Ukraine," Thomas-Greenfield told CNN's Jake Tapper on "State of the Union."

She continued, “We've been clear if they escalate to this level, we will respond aggressively to what they are doing. You've seen the consequences so far of our actions against Russia and against Putin, and they are feeling those consequences. And they will feel more if they take this unfortunate decision to use chemical weapons.”

The US and NATO has advised that Russia may use chemical weapons or create a “false flag” operation where they are used in its attack against Ukraine. Earlier this month, US President Joe Biden also warned Russia “will pay a severe price if they use chemicals.”

The US previously found that the Russian government used chemical weapons in the 2020 poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny and in 2018 against Sergei and Yulia Skripal in England. Both determinations led to sanctions under the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act, which requires the President to impose economic and diplomatic sanctions if a country is found to have used chemical weapons.

The US has also said that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose regime is supported by Russia, has used chemical weapons on its people dozens of times during the war there.