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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8:44 a.m. ET, March 20, 2022

Ukraine war is "a senseless massacre," Pope Francis says

From CNN’s Nicola Rutuolo in Rome

Pope Francis speaks from his studio overlooking St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City, on Sunday, March 20.
Pope Francis speaks from his studio overlooking St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City, on Sunday, March 20. (Andrew Medichini/AP)

Pope Francis called the war in Ukraine “a senseless massacre, where havoc and atrocities are repeated every day,” in his weekly Sunday address and blessing.

“I beg all the actors of the international community to make a real effort to put an end to this repugnant war,” the head of the Catholic Church told the crowd in St Peter’s Square after his Angelus Prayer.

“This week, missiles and bombs hit civilians, the elderly, children and pregnant mothers,” Pope Francis said, adding he visited injured children treated in Rome. “One of them is missing an arm, another one wounded in the head, innocent children,” the Pope said.

“Let us stay close to this battered people, embrace them with affection and with concrete commitment and prayer, and please do not get used to war and violence,” he added.

Pope Francis invited “every faithful and every community” to join him on March 25, the day of the Christian Annunciation, “in carrying out a solemn act of consecration of humanity, especially of Russia and Ukraine.”

“All this is inhumane, indeed it is also sacrilegious because it goes against the sacredness of human life. Especially against defenseless human life, which must be respected and protected, not eliminated, and which comes before any strategy, let's not forget, it is cruel, inhuman and sacrilegious,” he concluded.

10:18 a.m. ET, March 20, 2022

It's 2 p.m. in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know

Residents walk past debris and damaged buildings in Mariupol, Ukraine on March 18.
Residents walk past debris and damaged buildings in Mariupol, Ukraine on March 18. (Stringer/Reuters)

An art school being used as a shelter in the besieged city of Mariupol has been bombed by Russian forces, according to Mariupol city council in a statement on its Telegram channel.

About 400 people were sheltering in the building, which was destroyed in the attack, the council said. Information on casualties is still unclear but people remain trapped under the rubble.

It’s Sunday afternoon in Ukraine. Here are more of today's latest developments around the conflict:

  • Ukraine claims death of general: Ukrainian officials say that another Russian commander has died during fighting, which they say would be the fifth Russian general to have been killed since the invasion on February 24. Gen. Oleg Mityaev, of Russia's 150th Motorized Rifle Division, and members of his unit were killed by Ukrainian forces near Mariupol last week, according to a Telegram post shared by Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister. CNN cannot independently verify the Ukrainian claims.
  • Russia claims use of hypersonic missiles: The Russian military claimed on Sunday that it had launched a series of strikes on military targets in Ukraine employing hypersonic and cruise missiles on Saturday night and Sunday morning. US officials have also confirmed to CNN that Russia launched hypersonic missiles against Ukraine last week, the first known use of such missiles in combat.
  • No air superiority: Britain's military said Russian forces have still not managed to gain control over Ukraine's airspace. An intelligence assessment provided by the UK's Ministry of Defense said Russia has failed to gain air superiority and is largely depending on stand-off weapons, “launched from the relative safety of Russian airspace to strike targets within Ukraine.”
  • Australia announces aid: Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced additional military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine, while also imposing an immediate ban on exports of alumina and aluminium ore to Russia. The package brings Australia’s total military assistance so far to A$91 million (US $66.3 million), the statement said.
  • Forced to go to Russia: Citizens of the battered city of Mariupol are being taken to Russian territory against their will by Russian forces, according to the Mariupol city council. Captured residents were taken to camps where Russian forces checked their phones and documents, the council said. They were then redirected to remote Russian cities. Mariupol is under almost constant bombardment, according to a major in Ukraine's army, and residents are rationing food and water as bodies are left in the streets. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said what Russian forces have done to Mariupol is an "act of terror that will be remembered for centuries."
8:32 a.m. ET, March 20, 2022

Millions of children displaced by Russia's war in Ukraine, say UNICEF

From CNN’s Mohammed Tawfeeq in Lviv

Ukrainian children hold toys while they wait at the Przemysl train station in Poland on March 19.
Ukrainian children hold toys while they wait at the Przemysl train station in Poland on March 19. (Victoria Jones/PA Images/Getty Images)

At least 1.5 million children have been made refugees by Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, UNICEF spokesperson Joe English told CNN Sunday.

A further 3.3 million minors are currently displaced within the country, English told CNN’s Hala Gorani.

Each of these is an individual child whose life has been torn apart, whose world has been turned upside down," English said.

At least 150 children have been killed and 160 injured since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, according to the UN agency.

7:24 a.m. ET, March 20, 2022

Ukrainian warplanes flying over country indicate Russia does not have control of skies

From CNN’s Ivan Watson in Dnipro

Ukrainian military aircraft are moving slowly and unhindered over Ukraine, supporting the notion that Russia does not have control of the country’s airspace.

A CNN team traveling through Ukrainian-held territory Saturday saw individual fighter jets flying low over the countryside on three separate occasions over the span of several hundred kilometers.

On the third occasion, Ukrainian troops at a checkpoint did not react to the presence of the jet.

A security analyst traveling with CNN observed the jets were not flying at high speed, indicating they were not engaging in an attack and were therefore likely Ukrainian.

The same team saw a Ukrainian-marked MI-8 helicopter armed with rocket pods flying fast and low over the outskirts of Vinnytsia, central Ukraine on Tuesday.

The sightings support Western intelligence reports that Russia has not achieved air supremacy in Ukraine.

7:10 a.m. ET, March 20, 2022

Ukraine claims another Russian general was killed last week

From CNN's Angus Watson

Ukrainian officials say that another Russian commander has died during fighting, which they say would be the fifth Russian general to have been killed since the invasion on February 24.

Gen. Oleg Mityaev, of Russia's 150th Motorized Rifle Division, and members of his unit were killed by Ukrainian forces near Mariupol last week, according to a Telegram post shared by Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s Interior Minister, on Tuesday.

The Russian Ministry of Defense nor Russian state media have issued any statements on his death.

Mityaev was part of a small group sent to Mariupol, Aleksei Arestovich, an adviser to the head of the president’s office, told Ukraine’s NV News.

He said Mityaev “most likely went to show, by example, how to fight. Because his soldiers refused to fight.

"Usually, the general is killed in close combat only if he personally comes to lead on the spot.” 

CNN cannot independently verify the Ukrainian claims.

The official Facebook page of the Strategic Communications Department of the Office of the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU StratCom) also confirmed Mityaev’s death via a Facebook post. 

In 2016, Mityaev was appointed commander of Russia’s 201st military base in Tajikistan, according to Russian state media.

The 201st military base is the largest Russian military facility located outside of its borders. Most recently, he was stationed as the deputy commander of the Russian military grouping at Hmeimim Air Base in Syria, according to Russian state media.

The Azov Battalion, an ultra-nationalist militia that has since been integrated into the Ukrainian armed forces, was the first to share a photo of the General’s body on their Telegram account. 

6:17 a.m. ET, March 20, 2022

Biden's trip to Europe will be heavy on Western unity but could be light on actions to stop Putin

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

US President Joe Biden and his fellow world leaders hope to finalize and unveil a package of new measures to punish Russia, help Ukraine and demonstrate Western unity at a string of emergency summits in Europe this week.

But aside from a dramatic wartime show of resolve, few observers believe anything the leaders can agree upon will be enough to end the bloodshed in Ukraine or dissuade Russian President Vladimir Putin from continuing his attacks that are increasingly harming civilians.

Read the full story here:

7:03 a.m. ET, March 20, 2022

Harvard students create website matching Ukrainian refugees with host families

From CNN's Alaa Elassar

Harvard students Avi and Marco.
Harvard students Avi and Marco. (From Avi Schiffmann)

Two Harvard University students have created a website connecting thousands of Ukrainian refugees with hosts around the world offering them a safe haven from the fighting. 

More than three million people have fled Ukraine since Russia began its invasion of Ukraine on February 24 and teenager Avi Schiffmann felt like he needed to help. 

After coming face to face with hundreds of Ukrainian Americans at a pro-Ukraine demonstration in San Diego, the student contacted his classmate Marco Burstein and told him about his idea. 

The pair then spent almost ƒevery waking moment designing, editing and perfecting a website dedicated to assisting refugees.

"They need assistance, immediately and on a really big scale, and I had to find a way to make that happen as soon as possible,” Schiffmann, 19, told CNN.

Ukraine Take Shelter launched on March 3 and, within a week, more than 4,000 people had created listings offering shelter to Ukrainian refugees.

The website design is simple. Refugees enter the nearest city where they hope to flee and go through available listings, each with its personalized description of the accommodation.

Finally, the refugee can click on the phone or email button to get the personal contact information of the listing holder.

"For me, I'm behind a computer across the world, which is what I'm good at, but it's very disconnected sometimes," Schiffmann said. 
"To see so many people from countries in every corner of the world doing something to help these refugees, who need and deserve safety, is really inspiring."

Read the full story here:

5:53 a.m. ET, March 20, 2022

Russian military claims hypersonic, cruise missile strikes on Ukraine

From CNN's Nathan Hodge

The Russian military claimed on Sunday that it had launched a series of strikes on military targets in Ukraine employing hypersonic and cruise missiles on Saturday night and Sunday morning. 

In a statement released on Sunday, Russian Ministry of Defense spokesperson Igor Konashenkov said sea-launched Kalibr cruise missiles were fired from the Caspian Sea and air-launched Kinzhal hypersonic missile systems were fired from the airspace over Crimea.

Konashenkov said the missiles targeted what he described as a large storage base for fuels and lubricants of the Ukrainian armed forces near the settlement of Kostyantynivka, in Ukraine’s southern Mykolaiv region. Konashenkov claimed the location was used as a main supply and refueling base for Ukraine armored forces. 

Separately, Konashenkov said sea-launched Kalibr cruise missiles were fired from the Black Sea and targeted a workshop for the repair of Ukrainian armored vehicles. 

Konashenkov said air-launched precision missiles targeted what he described as a training center of the Ukrainian armed forces near the settlement of Ovruch, in Ukraine's northern Zhytomyr region. The Russian military claimed in that statement that dozens of Ukrainian special-operations forces and “foreign mercenaries” -- apparent shorthand for international volunteers heading for Ukraine -- had been killed. CNN could not immediately verify any of those claims.

US officials have also confirmed to CNN that Russia launched hypersonic missiles against Ukraine last week, the first known use of such missiles in combat.

7:15 a.m. ET, March 20, 2022

Airlines have found new routes over the top of the world

From CNN's Jacopo Prisco

Finnair is routing flights to Asia over the North Pole.
Finnair is routing flights to Asia over the North Pole. (Finnair)

The closure of Russian airspace to some international carriers, including many in Europe, has forced airlines to seek alternate routes. For some flights, such as those linking Europe and Southeast Asia, that's especially problematic since Russia, the world's largest country, stands directly in between.

The problem is best illustrated by Finnair's flight from Helsinki to Tokyo. Before the invasion of Ukraine, planes from Finland's national carrier would take off and quickly veer into the airspace of neighboring Russia, crossing it for over 3,000 miles.

They would then enter China near its northern border with Mongolia, fly in its airspace for about 1,000 miles, before entering Russia again just north of Vladivostok.

Finally, they'd cross the Sea of Japan and turn south towards Narita Airport. The journey would take just under nine hours on average and cover nearly 5,000 miles.

The last such flight departed on February 26. The next day, Russia barred Finland from using its airspace, forcing the temporary cancellation of most of Finnair's Asian destinations, including South Korea, Singapore and Thailand.

By that point, however, the airline's route planners had long been at work to find a solution. "We made the first very rough calculation about two weeks before the actual closure of the airspace," says Riku Kohvakka, manager of flight planning at Finnair.

The solution was to fly over the North Pole.

Read the full story here: