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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11:18 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."

WATCH:

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.

WATCH:

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."

WATCH:

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.

10:07 a.m. ET, March 20, 2022

10 million people have been forced to flee their homes in Ukraine, UN commissioner says

From CNN's Chris Liakos

Citizens evacuate Mariupol, Ukraine, on Sunday, March 20.
Citizens evacuate Mariupol, Ukraine, on Sunday, March 20. (Stringer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

10 million people have been forced to flee their homes in Ukraine, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said Sunday.

“Among the responsibilities of those who wage war, everywhere in the world, is the suffering inflicted on civilians who are forced to flee their homes. The war in Ukraine is so devastating that 10 million have fled — either displaced inside the country, or as refugees abroad,” Grandi said on Twitter.

According to figures provided by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) on Friday, 6.48 million people have been internally displaced as of March 16.

See the tweet:

 

9:22 a.m. ET, March 20, 2022

Zelensky: "I'm ready for negotiations" with Putin, but if they fail, it could mean "a third World War"

From CNN's Chandelis Duster

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 said Sunday 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 CNN’s Fareed Zakaria in an exclusive interview Sunday morning.

“If there’s just 1% chance for us to stop this war, I think that we need to take this chance. We need to do that. I can tell you about the result of this negotiations — in any case, we are losing people on a daily basis, innocent people on the ground," he said.

He continued, “Russian forces have come to exterminate us, to kill us. And we can demonstrate that the dignity of our people and our army that we are able to deal a powerful blow, we are able to strike back. But, unfortunately, our dignity is not going to preserve the lives. So, I think we have to use any format, any chance in order to have a possibility of negotiating, possibility of talking to Putin. But if these attempts fail, that would mean that this is a third World War.”

8:59 a.m. ET, March 20, 2022

Mariupol struggling to learn more about art school bombing

From CNN staff

An advisor to Mariupol’s mayor said in an update on the art school that was bombed by Russian forces in the last hours that city officials are struggling to learn more about how many people were hiding in the school that was acting as a shelter.

Petro Andrushenko wrote on social media: 

“So far, there is no exact operational data on how many people were hiding in the shelter or the number of casualties. I expect we will have it later today. But the situation is difficult and there is nowhere to get the data from.” 

An earlier estimate from the city council put the number sheltering in the school building at 400. 

The information black hole reflects a similar lack of clarity about how many people survived an attack five days ago on a theatre in Mariupol that was also being used as a shelter, possibly for up to 1,300 people. 

The number of people reported having survived – put at 130 - has been unchanged for several days. 

Fighting continued Sunday for control of the port city in southeastern Ukraine that has become a focus of Russia’s assault on the country. 

“The city continues to be shelled both from the sky and the sea,” Andrushenko wrote on his Telegram channel.  

“It seems the occupiers are so eager to wipe out Mariupol that they are ready to cover themselves with fire.” 

He also said people trying to flee the city in their cars were being shot at by Russian forces.  

“Evacuation is difficult - difficult but moving. The Russians are doing everything to complicate things. Last night, cars trying to drive towards the village of Melekine [10 kilometers west of the city center] were fired upon.” 

Other residents looking to flee were having their cars seized from them at a checkpoint just outside Mariupol, he said. 

Despite the dangers, Ukraine’s government announced the humanitarian corridor linking Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia, outside Russian-occupied territory, had been agreed for Sunday.  

A council official reported that a column of eleven buses carrying almost 800 people had completed the second part of the journey, from Berdiansk to Zaporozhzhia, by midday Sunday.