March 21, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Helen Regan, Travis Caldwell, Amy Woodyatt, George Ramsay and Hafsa Khalil, CNN

Updated 12:23 a.m. ET, March 22, 2022
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6:25 a.m. ET, March 21, 2022

"What I saw, I hope no one will ever see," says Greek consul general evacuated from Mariupol

From Reuters

Greece's Consul General Manolis Androulakis talks to the media after arriving back in Greece by plane from Romania after evacuating the city of Mariupol, Ukraine on March 15 and arriving in Athens, Greece, on March 20.
Greece's Consul General Manolis Androulakis talks to the media after arriving back in Greece by plane from Romania after evacuating the city of Mariupol, Ukraine on March 15 and arriving in Athens, Greece, on March 20. (Louiza Vradi/Reuters)

Greece's consul general in Mariupol, the last EU diplomat to evacuate the besieged Ukrainian port, said on Sunday the city was joining the ranks of places known for having been destroyed in wars of the past.

Manolis Androulakis has assisted dozens of Greek nationals and ethnic Greeks to evacuate the ruined city since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He left Mariupol on Tuesday and after a four-day trip through Ukraine he crossed to Romania through Moldavia, along with 10 other Greek nationals.

What I saw, I hope no one will ever see," Androulakis said as he arrived on Sunday at Athens International Airport and was reunited with his family.

"Mariupol will become part of a list of cities that were completely destroyed by war; I don’t need to name them -- they are Guernica, Coventry, Aleppo, Grozny, Leningrad," Androulakis said.

6:21 a.m. ET, March 21, 2022

"Bombs falling every 10 minutes," says Ukrainian officer in Mariupol

From Khrystyna Bondarenko, Ivan Watson and AnneClaire Stapleton in Dnipro

People dig a grave in the street in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, on March 20.
People dig a grave in the street in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, on March 20. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

Mariupol came under further heavy bombardment overnight, according to a Ukrainian officer inside the city.

“Bombs are falling every 10 minutes; Russian navy warships are shelling. Yesterday the soldiers defused four tanks, [as well as] armored vehicles and troops. We still need ammunition, anti-tank weapons and air defense," Captain Svyatoslav Palamar of the National Guard Azov Regiment in Mariupol told CNN.

Palamar said he and his fellow fighters would not surrender in Mariupol.

Some background: The Russian-issued deadline for Mariupol authorities to surrender the city passed at 5 a.m. Moscow (10 p.m. ET Sunday), with Ukrainians rejecting the ultimatum.

The port city of Mariupol, which before the war was home to around 450,000 people, has been under near constant attack from Russian forces since early March with satellite images showing significant destruction to residential areas.

While the Russian ultimatum appeared to offer those who chose to surrender safe passage out of the city, it made no such guarantees for those remaining.

Russia has repeatedly been accused of targeting civilians, with trapped residents describing the onslaught as "hell."

The Russian attacks have led to a total collapse in basic services, with residents unable to access gas, electricity or water. 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.

An official in the city said people are scared 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.

Taken against their will: On Sunday, the Mariupol City Council said residents are being taken to Russia against their will by Russian forces. Captured Mariupol residents were 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. Russia denied the accusations Saturday.

Why Russia wants to control Mariupol: The city is a strategic port that lies on a stretch of coast connecting the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas with the Crimean peninsula. Russian-backed separatists have formed breakaway statelets in parts of the Donbas and Crimea has been under Russian control since 2014. Russian forces appear to be trying to take full control of the area to create a land corridor between the two regions, squeezing Mariupol with brutal military force.

5:41 a.m. ET, March 21, 2022

At least eight people killed in Russian attack on Kyiv shopping center, says Prosecutor General

From CNN's Andrew Carey

At least eight people have been killed in a Russian attack on a shopping center in the Podilskyi district of the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, according to the Ukrainian Prosecutor General.

A shopping center and cars in an adjacent parking lot caught fire following Russian shelling in Kyiv’s Podilskyi district, Ukraine State Emergency Service said late Sunday, adding that 63 firefighters worked to extinguish the flames that had reached as high as the third and fourth floors of the shopping center.

An aerial view of the completely destroyed shopping mall after a Russian shelling in Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 21.
An aerial view of the completely destroyed shopping mall after a Russian shelling in Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 21. (Emin Sansar/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

"As a consequence of the enemy missile strike and the resulting fire, a shopping mall was destroyed, windows in the nearby residential buildings and the vehicles parked in the vicinity were damaged," the Prosecutor General said in a post in its Telegram channel.

The Prosecutor General suggested the number of fatalities could rise, adding that the number of the dead was based on preliminary information.

4:50 a.m. ET, March 21, 2022

China to provide another $1.57 million in humanitarian aid to Ukraine

From CNN's Beijing Bureau

Humanitarian aid supplies sent by the Red Cross Society of China to the Ukrainian Red Cross Society are transported in Warsaw, Poland, on March 15.
Humanitarian aid supplies sent by the Red Cross Society of China to the Ukrainian Red Cross Society are transported in Warsaw, Poland, on March 15. (Chen Chen/Xinhua/Getty Images)

China will provide another batch of humanitarian aid, worth 10 million RMB ($1.57 million), to Ukraine “based on the development of the situation and actual needs,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Monday.

“China will continue to play a constructive role in promoting the de-escalation of the situation in Ukraine and is willing to make its own efforts to overcome the humanitarian crisis,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said during a regular briefing.

China provided its first batch of humanitarian assistance -- worth 5 million RMB ($790,000) -- to Ukraine earlier this month.

4:03 a.m. ET, March 21, 2022

"More than 10,000" Ukrainians have arrived in France, interior minister says

From CNN’s Joseph Ataman and Camille Knight

Ukrainians queue outside a refugee welcome center in Paris, France, on March 17.
Ukrainians queue outside a refugee welcome center in Paris, France, on March 17. (Alain Jocard/AFP/Getty Images)

More than 10,000 Ukrainian refugees have crossed into France since the beginning of the Russian invasion, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told French broadcaster RTL on Monday.

Speaking of the number of Ukrainian arrivals, he said, “It’s more than 10,000 but it’s probably many more.”

Darmanin added that Ukrainian nationals can enter France without a visa.

Many of those arriving were only passing through France, mainly heading towards the large Ukrainian community in Spain, he said.

“It’s certain that tens of thousands of Ukrainians are going to arrive in the country in the days and weeks to come,” Darmanin said.

At the request of French President Emmanuel Macron, the country is also preparing for possible Russian cyber interference in April's presidential election, Darmanin said.

Some context: Prior to the 2017 French presidential elections, campaign staff with Macron’s campaign were targeted by suspected Russian-linked hackers. The Russian government denied involvement.

3:48 a.m. ET, March 21, 2022

How Ukrainian news outlet Kyiv Independent is protecting its journalists

From CNN's Ramishah Maruf

As Russia's attack on Ukraine continues to intensify, reporting from the war zone is becoming increasingly difficult — and dangerous. Four journalists have so far been killed reporting on the war and many more are injured or missing.

Olga Rudenko, editor-in-chief of the Kyiv Independent, said journalist Oleh Baturyn, who was kidnapped last week in the southeastern Ukrainian city of Kakhovka, was just released by Russian fighters.

The Kyiv Independent is a fairly new publication but has earned acclaim for its war coverage.

"It's gone from being a three-month-old startup and a relative unknown in the Western world to now one of the leading sources of information on the war in Ukraine," CNN chief media correspondent Brian Stelter said on Reliable Sources Sunday.

Rudenko said reporting on the conflict is a "daily risk" and the outlet is learning as they go when it comes to protecting employees who have suddenly found themselves war correspondents. 

Read the full story:

2:53 a.m. ET, March 21, 2022

Russia likely to prioritize encircling Kyiv over the coming weeks, UK defense ministry says

From CNN’s Sarita Harilela

An attack in the Podilskyi district of Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 18.
An attack in the Podilskyi district of Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 18. (Emin Sansar/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Russian forces are likely to prioritize attempting to encircle Kyiv over the coming weeks, the UK Ministry of Defence said in its latest intelligence update on Monday.

“Despite the continued lack of progress, Kyiv remains Russia’s primary military objective,” the ministry said, and “heavy fight continues north of Kyiv."

Russian forces advancing on the capital from the northeast have stalled, while forces advancing from the direction of Hostomel city to the northwest have been repulsed by “fierce Ukrainian resistance,” the ministry said.

The bulk of Russian forces remain more than 15 miles (25 kilometers) from the center of the capital, the ministry added.

2:30 a.m. ET, March 21, 2022

Analysis: Inside Russia, a campaign gathers steam against fifth columnists and life under the "Z"

Analysis from CNN's Nathan Hodge

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a concert marking the eighth anniversary of Russia's annexation of Crimea at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow, Russia, on March 18.
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a concert marking the eighth anniversary of Russia's annexation of Crimea at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow, Russia, on March 18. (Alexander Vilf/AFP/Getty Images)

Look at Moscow through the lens of Russian state television, and everything seems to be going swimmingly for President Vladimir Putin.

On Friday, the Kremlin leader attended a concert at the capital's Luzhniki stadium to mark the eighth anniversary of Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. The show, in effect, was a pep rally for Putin's war in Ukraine.

Putin appeared in front of a flag-waving crowd in front of a podium that read, "Zа мир без нацисма" -- "For a world without Nazism" -- a sort of marketing slogan-slash-propaganda case for the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The slogan even made use of the letter "Z," which is morphing into the official symbol of support for Putin's war: the Cyrillic letter "З" in the slogan was replaced by a Z, evoking the markings first spotted on Russian military vehicles ahead of the Feb. 24 invasion.

For those Russians who don't support the war, life under the sign of the 'Z' is becoming increasingly grim.

Take a look at social media posts by some opposition activists. On March 16, Olga Misik — a youthful activist best known for reading a copy of Russia's constitution in front of riot police at an anti-government demonstration — posted a photo of a Z spray-painted in white on her apartment door.

Another democratic activist posted a similar photo on Friday, the Z tag spray-painted in black along with graffiti accusing them of being an "enemy of the people."

But why the vitriol, if everything — as Putin reassures his people — is going to plan?

Read the full analysis:

2:24 a.m. ET, March 21, 2022

Invasion could worsen food crisis in the Middle East and North Africa, says Human Rights Watch

From CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq in Lviv

A Sudanese woman buys vegetables at the Al-Khaimah market in Khartoum's Arkawit district on March 17 as food prices rise across Sudan and the region due to the conflict in Ukraine.
A Sudanese woman buys vegetables at the Al-Khaimah market in Khartoum's Arkawit district on March 17 as food prices rise across Sudan and the region due to the conflict in Ukraine. (Ashraf Shazly/AFP/Getty Images)

The Russian invasion of Ukraine could worsen the food crisis in the Middle East and North Africa, the US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned in a statement Monday.

"Both Ukraine and Russia are leading exporters of agricultural products to many Middle Eastern and North African countries, and disruptions related to the war are already exacerbating already-rising food prices and deepening poverty," the statement said.

"Global food chains demand global solidarity in times of crisis," said Lama Fakih, the executive Middle East and North Africa director at HRW.
"Without concerted action to address the supply and affordability of food, the conflict in Ukraine risks deepening the world's food crisis, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa."

The Ukrainian government banned exports on key agricultural goods, including wheat, corn, grains, salt and meat, according to a cabinet resolution that passed on March 9.

HRW said even if the supply chain disruptions are resolved soon, the problems would likely continue "because farmers are fleeing the fighting and the conflict is destroying infrastructure and equipment." The fighting could also diminish the coming harvest.

Some context: Combined, Russia and Ukraine are responsible for almost 30% of global wheat exports, according to Gro Intelligence, an agricultural data analytics firm.

Ukraine had been on track for a record year of wheat exports prior to the invasion, while Russia's wheat exports were slowing, according to the US Department of Agriculture.