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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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.


12:08 a.m. ET, March 20, 2022

71 children have been evacuated from an orphanage in Sumy

From CNN's Yulia Shevchenko and Hira Humayun

Seventy-one children from an orphanage in northeastern Ukraine have been evacuated to safety after spending two weeks in a basement sheltering from Russian shelling.

The orphans, many of whom are disabled and all under the age of four, were rescued from their care home in Sumy and taken out of the combat zone through an evacuation corridor, according to Sumy regional governor Dmytro Zhyvytsky.

"For nearly two weeks we’ve been hiding these babies in bomb shelters," Zhyvytsky said in a Facebook post early Sunday. "These are children that have no parents (for various reasons) and most of them require constant medical care," he said.

He said they quickly found people in other countries to take the children in.

According to Zhyvytsky, some of the children remain in the care of specialists of a hospital in Kyiv. 

 "My heartfelt gratitude goes to them for hosting our babies!" he said.

In a video accompanying the post, Borys Todurov, Director of the Heart Institute of the Ministry of Health of Ukraine, said the children were brought to the Kyiv hospital from Sumy a day prior, and that some are going to be sent to Lvivwhile some will stay in Kyiv longer.

12:03 a.m. ET, March 20, 2022

It's 6 a.m. in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know

A new satellite image shows the bombed theater in Mariupol completely destroyed, as the City Council said trapped residents are being taken to Russia against their will. Meanwhile dozens of Ukrainian troops have reportedly died in a strike on a military barracks in Mykolaiv.

Here are the latest developments:

Russia hasn't gained 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 over Ukraine and is largely depending on stand-off weapons, “launched from the relative safety of Russian airspace to strike targets within Ukraine.”

Mariupol residents forced to go to Russia: Residents of besieged 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 city council said. They were then redirected to remote Russian cities. The besieged city of 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."

Ukrainian troops killed in missile strike: Rescue efforts are ongoing in the southern city of Mykolaiv at the scene of a missile strike on barracks housing soldiers, regional official 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 uses hypersonic missile: US officials confirmed Russia launched hypersonic missiles against Ukraine last week, the first known use of such missiles in combat. Russia claimed it deployed powerful hypersonic missiles on Friday to destroy an ammunition warehouse in western Ukraine.

Russian bombardment of civilians continues: Two children and a women were killed in the eastern town of Rubizhne after being pulled from the rubble of a residential building pummeled by Russian artillery fire, the emergency services said. In Kyiv, a mother covered her one-month-old baby with her body while their home was being shelled, according to the National Children's Specialized Hospital Ohmatdit. The child was unharmed, but the mother sustained multiple injuries, the hospital said. US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said Russia continues to make "incremental gains" in Ukraine's south and has used "brutal, savage techniques'' in the way it has targeted civilians.

More than 6,600 people evacuated via evacuation corridors: At least 6,623 people were rescued via evacuation corridors from besieged Ukrainian cities Saturday, according to Kyrylo Tymoshenko, a senior official in President Volodymyr Zelensky's office. Tymoshenko said 4,128 people, including 1,172 children, were evacuated from Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia. Zelensky said eight evacuation corridors were operating Saturday but due to Russian shelling, authorities were unable to evacuate people from Borodyanka in the Kyiv region. Authorities were also unable to deliver humanitarian aid to the cities in the southern Kherson region.

Zelensky singles out Nestle: Zelensky addressed the Swiss people via video link, calling for Switzerland to take further action against Russia. He singled out Swiss company Nestle, which unlike many other major brands, has not left the Russian market. "Your company that refuses to leave Russia. Even now — when there are threats from Russia to other European countries. Not only to us. When there is even nuclear blackmail from Russia," he said.