March 22, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Travis Caldwell, Seán Federico O'Murchú, Sana Noor Haq, Lauren Said-Moorhouse, Kathryn Snowdon and Adrienne Vogt, CNN

Updated 12:00 a.m. ET, March 23, 2022
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8:19 a.m. ET, March 22, 2022

Ukrainian President Zelensky talked to Pope Francis about the war in Ukraine 

From Hada Messia in Rome and Sharon Braithwaite in London

Members of the Italian Parliament and government listen to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky during his virtual address to the parliament in Rome, Italy, on March 22.
Members of the Italian Parliament and government listen to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky during his virtual address to the parliament in Rome, Italy, on March 22. (Remo Casilli/AP)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Pope Francis talked over the phone on Tuesday about the war, Zelensky told Italian lawmakers on Tuesday.

"Today I spoke with his Holiness Pope Francis, and he said very important words: 'I understand that you want peace. I understand that you have to defend yourselves, that soldiers defend civilians, they defend their homeland. Everyone is defending it,'" Zelensky said in an address to Italian Parliament.

"And I answered: 'Our people have become the army, when they saw how much evil the enemy brings, how much devastation it brings, and how much bloodshed it (Russia) wants to see,'" the president said. 

Zelensky said that 117 children have died so far during the war, calling it "the price of procrastination" of other countries in stopping the war.

Zelensky told the Pope "about the difficult humanitarian situation and the blocking of rescue corridors by Russian troops," he tweeted. 

"The mediating role of the Holy See in ending human suffering would be appreciated," Zelensky added.

In a tweet, Ukraine's Ambassador to the Vatican Andriy Yurash said the pair had "very promising" talks. 

Yurash also said that the Pope " is the most expected guest in Ukraine."

8:21 a.m. ET, March 22, 2022

Some towns in Ukraine don't have more than 3-4 days' worth of food, according to aid agency

From CNN’s Antonia Mortensen

Some towns in Ukraine don’t have more than three or four days’ worth of food, the aid agency Mercy Corps said Tuesday, warning that the humanitarian system in the country “is entirely broken down.”

“One of our biggest concerns right now is the vulnerability of the supply chain. We know that most municipalities in areas seeing the most intense fighting don’t have more than three to four days’ worth of essentials like food,” said Mercy Corps’ Ukraine humanitarian response adviser Steve Gordon, who is in Kharkiv, the site of some of the heaviest fighting since the Russian invasion.

At least 70% of the population of Kharkiv and Sumy is entirely dependent on aid, he estimated.

“These are areas like Sumy, with 800,000 people nearly entirely reliant right now on aid shipped in on a day-to-day basis. Cities need at least a month’s worth of food, stored in different warehouses in case they come under fire,” Gordon said.

“The reality is that right now the humanitarian system is entirely broken down. We are not seeing a high-functioning, coordinated international aid effort covering the whole of Ukraine like we often see in other conflict zones,” he said. “While the United Nations is getting aid into some areas, we’ve seen through the failure of humanitarian corridors that many people are only surviving through support from small Ukrainian civil society organization like church groups, which are coordinating essential deliveries such as food and medical supplies. These amazing volunteer networks are working as hard as they can but they are stretched to the max.”

8:14 a.m. ET, March 22, 2022

Russian Nobel Peace Price winner will auction medal for Ukrainian refugees

From CNN’s Eoin McSweeney in Abu Dhabi and Niamh Kennedy in London

Dmitry Muratov, 2021 Nobel Peace Prize winner and Novaya Gazeta editor-in-chief, is presented with a diploma and gold medal at the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony at the Oslo City Hall, Norway, on December 10.
Dmitry Muratov, 2021 Nobel Peace Prize winner and Novaya Gazeta editor-in-chief, is presented with a diploma and gold medal at the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony at the Oslo City Hall, Norway, on December 10. (Sergei Bobylev/TASS/Reuters)

Russian independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta will auction the Nobel Peace Prize medal won by its editor-in-chief Dmitry Muratov in aid of Ukrainian refugees. 

In a statement published on the newspaper’s website Tuesday, Muratov said the droves of “wounded and sick children” requiring “urgent treatment” compelled him to offer up the prestigious medal. 

Muratov, the co-founder of Novaya Gazeta, won the Nobel Peace Prize last October for his tireless defense of freedom of speech in Russia. 

The editor-in-chief stressed in the statement the urgent need for a ceasefire, exchange of prisoners and provision of humanitarian corridors. 

The proceeds from the sale of the medal will go to The Foundation of Assistance to the Ukrainian Refugees, a nongovernmental organization that strives to "provide moral and material support to refugees from Ukraine."

More than 3.5 million refugees have now fled Ukraine, according to the latest update from the UN Refugee Agency.

Muratov concluded his statement by saying he was applying to auction houses for a “response that will tender this award known to the whole world.” 

8:06 a.m. ET, March 22, 2022

What we know about Russia’s death toll in Ukraine

From CNN's Lauren Said-Moorhouse in London

Destroyed Russian military vehicles are seen on a street in the settlement of Borodyanka, Ukraine, on March 3.
Destroyed Russian military vehicles are seen on a street in the settlement of Borodyanka, Ukraine, on March 3. (Maksim Levin/Reuters)

It’s been nearly a month since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, deploying tens of thousands of troops into an offensive against its neighbor from three sides.

While Ukraine’s military is much smaller, its forces have mounted a fierce resistance that has managed to hold off Russian advances in some parts of the country. A senior NATO intelligence official said Monday signs were pointing to a stalemate emerging in Russia’s offensive, with Russian ground forces remaining stalled and Russian combat aircraft unable to achieve air superiority.

Precisely how many Russian troops have been killed in their campaign thus far is unclear.

On March 2, a Russian defense ministry spokesman put the number of dead Russian military personnel at 498. But that number has not been updated by officials since then.

Then on Monday a pro-Putin Russian tabloid published -- then later removed -- a report with an updated toll of 9,861 Russian armed forces deaths in the war in Ukraine, citing the Russian defense ministry.

The report from the tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda originally read: "According to the Russian Defense Ministry, during the special operation in Ukraine, the Russian Armed Forces lost 9861 people killed and 16153 wounded."

CNN analyzed the website’s HTML code, which indicated that the article was published on Monday at 12:09 a.m. Moscow time.

Seconds after CNN read the original article -- at 9:56 p.m. Moscow time, according to the HTML code -- the story was updated and all references to the death count were removed. That update on the outlet's website came shortly after the article began to get attention from social media posts, which referenced the death count.

The original report from the tabloid is in line with US Department of Defense estimates that there have been up to 10,000 Russian military deaths. Ukraine has put the number even higher.

CNN is not able to independently verify any of these figures.

After the update, Komsomolskaya Pravda, published a statement saying that "access to administrator interface was hacked" and that "a fake insert was made into a publication."

They claimed that "inaccurate information was immediately removed." CNN analysis showed that the update came after 21 hours.

The Kremlin dodged questions on the course of the war in Ukraine, which were put to the Defense Ministry on Tuesday. The ministry said it "does not have the authority" to publicize a count of Russia’s military deaths while the "military operation" is still ongoing.

CNN’s Natasha Bertrand, Paul P. Murphy, Vasco Cotovio and Nathan Hodge contributed reporting to this post.

8:02 a.m. ET, March 22, 2022

Woman who escaped Mariupol with her elderly parents says dead were left in the road or buried in yards

Natalia Hayetska said it was “incredibly difficult” for her and her elderly parents to escape from the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol. 

She said her family and their four cats were able to escape to Lviv thanks to “good people” who helped them on a four-day journey.

Conditions in Mariupol are desperate, she said.

“No infrastructure, no potable water — no water at all — no electricity. And there was constant bombing. And not only artillery, they were also using UAVs and some aircrafts. They are dropping bombs all over the city," Hayetska told CNN's John Berman.

"People were carrying those who were killed closer to the road and covering them with blankets. They were waiting for someone to collect the bodies. Some people buried the bodies in the yard because they knew no one would come to them. This is all true," she said.

Her mother, Halyna Zhelezniak, expressed gratitude to her daughter for making sure everyone evacuated together.

"I'm 84, and this was the first time in my life when I felt horror. I couldn't believe it happened. It was just a shock. I couldn't believe it. But this is the reality my family and I had to face. I'm grateful to my daughter Natalia for saving us. She simply saved us. She didn't leave us behind," she said.

Her father, Ihor Zhelezniak, said that he doesn't expect to see his city rebuilt again in his lifetime.

"The Mariupol I left will maybe be back in the year 3000, but I'm not going to live that long. Because there are only ruins," he said.

Watch more:

8:00 a.m. ET, March 22, 2022

It's 12 p.m. in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know

After days of fighting, Ukrainian forces have regained control of Makariv, a town 30 miles west of Kyiv, the Armed Forces of Ukraine said in a post on Facebook on Tuesday. The "state flag of Ukraine was raised over the city of Makariv" as the Russians retreated, the post said. CNN could not confirm the claim by the Ukraine forces.

Meanwhile, Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny was found guilty of fraud on Tuesday by a Moscow court, according to state-owned news agency Tass. While not directly connected to the invasion of Ukraine, the verdict coincides with Putin's broad crackdown on opposition voices and independent media over the past four weeks.

Here's the latest on Russia's invasion of Ukraine:

  • Hypersonic missiles: Russia has used hypersonic missiles in its invasion of Ukraine, US President Joe Biden confirmed Monday. "It's a consequential weapon ... it's almost impossible to stop it. There's a reason they're using it," Biden said. Essentially, all missiles are hypersonic, which means they travel at least five times the speed of sound. What military powers -- including Russia, China, the United States and North Korea -- are working on now is a hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV), a weapon that in 2018 Russian President Vladimir Putin called "practically invulnerable" to Western air defenses.
  • Japan's PM protests Russia's suspension of peace talks: Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Tuesday protested Russia's decision to suspend peace treaty talks to formally end World War II hostilities between Moscow and Tokyo. "This entire situation has been created by Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and Russia's response to pass this onto Japan-Russia relations is extremely unjustified and absolutely unacceptable. Japan would like to protest this move," said Kishida during a parliamentary session. "We will unite with the international community and take resolution action so Japan can continue following the foundation of the international order."
  • Ukrainian mayor urges residents to leave: The mayor of a city to the east of the capital of Kyiv is calling on residents to leave. "There is no urgent need to be in the city at the moment. Fighting is already raging around the region. I appeal to the population, be smart and leave the city if you can," Boryspil mayor Volodymyr Borysenko said in a video statement posted to Facebook. Borysenko said authorities would help with the evacuation of those who did not have their own vehicles, adding there were almost daily transfers to the west of Ukraine, where Russian attacks have been much lower in numbers. 
  • Refugees continue to flee Ukraine: More than 3.5 million refugees have now fled Ukraine, according to the latest update from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). According to the update, 3,532,756 refugees have fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion began on February 24. In a separate update, the agency said it has ramped up supplies of thermal blankets, hot meals, and tents along the Ukrainian border, with a particular focus along the Polish side as temperatures plummet.
  • Ukraine accuses Russia of forcibly deporting children: Russian forces forcibly deported 2,389 children from Donetsk and Luhansk, the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement on Monday, calling the move "a gross violation of international law." The Russian Defense Ministry said on Sunday that 16,434 people, including 2,389 children were evacuated a day earlier, and people left of their own volition. UNICEF commented on these latest reports on Tuesday and raised concerns, though noted they have not been able to independently verify them.
7:14 a.m. ET, March 22, 2022

"The enemy was unable to 'blitzkrieg' Rubizhne, so they are destroying the town," says Ukraine regional head

From CNN's Andrew Carey and Yulia Kesaieva in Lviv 

A man walks amongst the damaged in buildings in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on March 19.
A man walks amongst the damaged in buildings in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on March 19. (Wolfgang Schwan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Ukrainian towns and cities that are withstanding Russia’s attempts to conquer them are being hammered by artillery fire in response, according to local officials.  

In the far east of the country, close to two breakaway pro-Russian statelets, the city of Rubizhne is under constant shelling, regional head Serhii Haidai said in a social media post. 

"The enemy was unable to 'blitzkrieg' Rubizhne, so they are destroying the town, targeting hospitals, schools, and residential buildings," Haidai said. 

Emergency services and ambulances are often unable to reach the wounded, he said, due to the risk of coming under fire. 

Two days ago, Haidai reported the deaths of 56 elderly care home residents in a town about 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) from Rubizhne. The regional official said a Russian tank had opened fire on the building on March 11, but it had taken several days to confirm the fatalities due to the dangers of constant shelling.

Meanwhile, the head of the Kharkiv region, Oleh Syniehubov, said the city was shelled 84 times overnight, marking an increase in the rate of attacks on the city. 

Kharkiv is Ukraine’s second largest city, sits close to the Russian border, and is a key target for Putin’s invading forces. 

Syniehubov said city neighborhoods and outlying towns had come under fire from Derhachi to the northwest, through Saltivka and Tsyrkuny in the northeast, to the city’s huge tractor plant to the southeast. 

6:54 a.m. ET, March 22, 2022

Russian TV host dismisses Arnold Schwarzenegger video as US propaganda

Fron CNN's Irene Nasser in Hong Kong

Arnold Schwarzenegger delivers a video message via social media
Arnold Schwarzenegger delivers a video message via social media (Arnold Schwarzenegger/Instagram)

Russian TV host Vadim Gigin dismissed Arnold Schwarzenegger’s address to the Russian people as US propaganda.

Gigin made the comments on the show "Sunday Evening with Vladimir Solovyov."

On the show, Gigin referred to Schwarzenegger as the face of "American imperialism and colonialism."

Gigin criticized Schwarzenegger, adding: "He who is in California will tell us, who live here, who have family members and friends in Ukraine, the truth?" 

It comes after Schwarzenegger posted a video on his verified Twitter account on March 17 speaking against the Russian invasion of Ukraine and asking Russians to resist their country's disinformation.

"There are things that are going on in the world that are being kept from you, terrible things that you should know about," Schwarzenegger said in the video. He asked Russians to challenge the war, which he said is being pushed by government leaders. 

"Ukraine did not start this war. Neither did nationalists or Nazis," he said. "Those in power in the Kremlin started this war."

"I know the Russian people are not aware such things are happening, so I urge the Russian people and the Russian soldiers in Ukraine to understand the propaganda and the disinformation that you are being told. I ask you to help me spread the truth."

The video has since garnered more than 35 million views.

CNN's Travis Caldwell contributed reporting to this post.

6:34 a.m. ET, March 22, 2022

More than 3.5 million refugees have fled Ukraine, according to the UNHCR

From CNN's Niamh Kennedy in London 

Women and children who have fled war-torn Ukraine rest in a shelter set up in a primary school close to the Ukrainian border on March 21, in Przemysl, Poland.
Women and children who have fled war-torn Ukraine rest in a shelter set up in a primary school close to the Ukrainian border on March 21, in Przemysl, Poland. (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

More than 3.5 million refugees have now fled Ukraine, according to the latest update from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

According to the update, 3,532,756 refugees have fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion began on February 24. 

In a separate update, the agency said it has ramped up supplies of thermal blankets, hot meals, and tents along the Ukrainian border, with a particular focus along the Polish side as temperatures plummet.