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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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:

3:18 a.m. ET, March 20, 2022

Russian forces bomb school sheltering 400 people in Mariupol, city council says

From CNN's Yulia Kesaieva and Andrew Carey in Lviv

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 is still not clear how many people survived an attack on a theater in the city on Wednesday.

A satellite image released Saturday showed two thirds of the building – also being used as a shelter – had been completely destroyed. The theater was clearly marked with the word "children" in large Russian writing visible from the air. Estimates of how many people were inside at the time of the attack range from 800 to 1,300.

3:44 a.m. ET, March 20, 2022

Russia will continue heavy firepower to support urban assaults, says UK defense ministry

From CNN’s Wayne Chang

Damaged buildings in Kharkiv, Ukraine on March 19.
Damaged buildings in Kharkiv, Ukraine on March 19. (Wolfgang Schwan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Russia will continue to use heavy firepower to support urban ground assaults, the UK Ministry of Defence said Sunday in its latest intelligence assessment.

In the past week, Russia increased its indiscriminate shelling of urban areas as its army made limited progress in capturing cities in eastern Ukraine, the assessment said.

“It is likely Russia will continue to use its heavy firepower to support assaults on urban areas as it looks to limit its own already considerable losses, at the cost of further civilian casualties,” the ministry said. 

The indiscriminate shelling of residential areas has resulted in “widespread destruction and large numbers of civilian casualties,” the ministry added.  

2:42 a.m. ET, March 20, 2022

Australia announces new humanitarian visa scheme for Ukrainians

From CNN's Isaac Yee

Australia on Sunday announced it will make a temporary humanitarian visa available to all Ukrainian temporary visa holders currently in Australia and those who arrive in the coming months.

The visa scheme will allow people to work and access government support including Medicare for three years, according to Minister of Immigration Alex Hawke.

The Australian government said it will work with the Ukrainian-Australian community to ensure appropriate permanent visa options are made available to this cohort "at an appropriate time."

Since Feb. 23, Australia has granted around 5,000 mostly temporary visas to Ukrainians, of which around 750 have arrived in the country. 


2:24 a.m. ET, March 20, 2022

What we know about the desperate situation in Mariupol

Residents leave the city of Mariupol on March 18. The city has been a site of intense fighting in recent weeks.
Residents leave the city of Mariupol on March 18. The city has been a site of intense fighting in recent weeks. (Alexey Kudenko/Sputnik/AP)

The south eastern city of Mariupol has been under siege for several weeks, with residents facing a constant barrage of deadly unprovoked Russian attacks. These have included deadly strikes on a maternity ward and the bombing of a theater, the losses from which are still unknown as the rescue operation continues.

Here's what we know about the situation in the besieged city:

Taken against their will: Residents of Mariupol are being taken to Russia against their will by Russian forces, the Mariupol City Council said Saturday. Captured Mariupol residents were forcibly taken to camps where Russian forces checked their phones and documents, then redirected some of the residents to remote cities in Russia, the council said.

Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boichenko compared Russia's actions to "horrific events of World War II, when the Nazis forcibly captured people."

Constant bombardment: A Ukrainian army commander told CNN people in Mariupol risk their lives each time they emerge from underground bunkers, and claimed the strategic port is facing the most intense fighting anywhere in the country. Major Denis Prokopenko, from the National Guard Azov Regiment, said air and land attacks on the city were now almost relentless.

Bodies in the street: Prokopenko said people in the city were reluctant to leave their underground shelters even to get hold of essentials, meaning they were trying to drink less water and eat less food, only emerging to prepare hot meals. Basic services like gas, electricity and water, are all out in the city. Bodies are being left in the street because there is either no one left to collect them, or it is simply too dangerous to try.

Theater attack: A new satellite image shows the Mariupol theater, which was bombed several days ago, almost completely destroyed, with just the western façade still standing. Still clearly visible in the photo is the Russian word for "children" painted by sheltering residents in large letters on the ground in front of the entrance. Hundreds of Ukrainians, including many children, were taking shelter inside the theater when it was attacked. Communications in the besieged city have been difficult for days and rescue work has been hampered by the danger of near-continuous shelling, according to reports from inside the city.

Zelensky: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the sustained Russian attack on Mariupol is an "act of terror" that will be "remembered for centuries." In a video message posted to Facebook early Sunday, the Ukrainian President said Mariupol will go down in history as an example of war crimes.

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

Read more here.

1:03 a.m. ET, March 20, 2022

China on the "right side of history" with Ukraine, foreign minister claims

From CNN's Isaac Yee

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi. (Greg Baker/Pool/Getty Images)

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Sunday said “time will prove that China's position is on the right side of history” over the Ukraine war.

“China will continue to make independent judgments based on the merits of the matter and in an objective and fair attitude. We will never accept any external coercion and pressure, and we also oppose any groundless accusations and suspicions against China,” Wang Yi told reporters, according to a statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

Wang said “the long-term solution is to abandon the Cold War mentality, refrain from engaging in group confrontation, and truly form a balanced, effective and sustainable regional security architecture. Only in this way can long-term stability on the European continent be achieved.”

Some context: His comments come after US President Joe Biden spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday in an attempt to dissuade China from assisting Russia in its war on Ukraine.

"China has to make a decision for themselves on where they want to stand and how they want the history books to look at them and view their actions," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at the time. "That is a decision for President Xi to make."

While China has not condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine outright, it has also not offered explicit support.

Experts believe Beijing is navigating a complex position as the crisis in Ukraine intensifies, attempting to balance its strategic partnership with Moscow while maintaining economic ties with the West.

The US has watched warily as Xi cultivates a close partnership with Russian President Vladimir Putin, believing the alliance of authoritarian leaders is positioning itself to oppose the United States militarily and economically. During high-profile talks in Beijing last month, Xi and Putin sealed their affiliation, declaring in a lengthy statement the relationship was limitless.

1:27 a.m. ET, March 20, 2022

Russia sanctions "outrageous," says China's vice foreign minister

From CNN's Isaac Yee, Wayne Chang and Lizzy Yee

China’s Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng.
China’s Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng. (Mark Schiefelbein/AP)

China’s Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng on Saturday claimed Western countries were "weaponizing" globalization.

He said sanctions imposed against Russia are getting "more and more outrageous" and claimed the "abuse" of sanctions will have "disastrous consequences" for the world. 

"Sanctions will only harm ordinary people, impact the post-war economic and financial system, and make the world economy worse," Le said at the International Forum on Strategy and Security held by Tsinghua University. 
He added that "historical experience has proven time and again that sanctions cannot solve problems." 

Le said the “root” of Ukraine’s conflict is “Cold War mentality and power politics” and blamed NATO for “going back” on a purported “promise” to not expand eastward.

NATO should have disbanded and been “consigned to history” with the Warsaw Pact, he said.

“NATO continues to strengthen and expand. One can imagine the result of this, the Ukraine crisis is a warning,” Le added.

China's statements about the war in Ukraine have stopped short of denouncing the invasion but also not offered explicit support. Chinese leader Xi Jinping has offered nominal backing for mediation efforts between Russia and Ukraine, but China has also fanned Russian disinformation about the conflict and echoed Russian talking points criticizing NATO and the US.

5:15 a.m. ET, March 20, 2022

Australia announces additional military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine

From CNN's Isaac Yee

Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Sunday announced additional military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine, while also imposing an immediate ban on exports of alumina and aluminium ore to Russia.

“It is clear that Ukraine’s need for military assistance remains urgent and ongoing," Morrison’s Office announced in a statement.

Military aid: The package includes A$21 million (US $15.3 million) in defensive military assistance for the Ukrainian Armed Forces, bringing Australia’s total military assistance so far to A$91 million (US $66.3 million), the statement said.

Morrison said the assistance will include ammunition and body armor.

Humanitarian aid: The government said it will also provide US $21.8 million worth of emergency humanitarian assistance which will focus on “protecting women, children, the elderly and the disabled.”

A woman cries as she takes refuge in a metro station being used as bomb shelter in Kyiv, Ukraine on March 18.
A woman cries as she takes refuge in a metro station being used as bomb shelter in Kyiv, Ukraine on March 18. (Fadel Senna/AFP/Getty Images)

Export ban: Australia also announced immediate ban on Australian exports of alumina and aluminium ores (including bauxite) to Russia, which “will limit its capacity to produce aluminium – a critical export for Russia.”

Some context: According to the Australian government, Russia relies on Australia for nearly 20% of its alumina needs.

“This significant step demonstrates the Morrison Government’s absolute commitment to holding the Putin regime to account for the egregious way in which it is flouting international law and the law of armed conflict by invading its neighbor without justification, and targeting innocent civilians,” the statement said.

Coal donations: Australia will donate "at least 70,000 tonnes of thermal coal" to Ukraine following a request from Kyiv, the government said.

“The assistance will help keep the country’s coal-fired power generators operating and supplying electricity to country’s power grid, supporting the Ukrainian people by keeping lights on, homes heated, and factories running at this very difficult time,” the statement added.

Sanctions: Australia has so far imposed 476 sanctions on 443 individuals, including on Russian oligarchs with close connections to President Vladimir Putin, and on 33 entities, including Russia's Finance Ministry.