March 23, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Helen Regan, Seán Federico O'Murchú, George Ramsay, Hafsa Khalil, Adrienne Vogt and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 12:00 a.m. ET, March 24, 2022
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7:09 a.m. ET, March 23, 2022

Sending NATO peacekeepers to Ukraine would be "reckless" and "extremely dangerous," Kremlin says

From CNN's Lindsay Isaac

The deployment of a NATO peacekeeping mission to Ukraine would be “very reckless” and “extremely dangerous,” according to Moscow.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told journalists on Wednesday: “Any possible contact between our military and NATO military can lead to quite understandable consequences that are difficult to repair."

Some context: Last week, Poland's Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski called for an international peacekeeping mission to be sent to Ukraine following a meeting with the leaders of Poland, Slovenia, the Czech Republic and Ukraine.

Poland plans to submit its proposal for a peacekeeping mission in Ukraine at a NATO summit in Brussels on Thursday.

Polish Ambassador to the United States Marek Magierowski recently told CNN's Jake Tapper that NATO needs to consider "all possibilities" in Ukraine to send a "very clear signal to the Kremlin."

Magierowski said any peacekeeping mission would take place "without engaging Russia in direct military confrontation because this is not the intent."

7:44 a.m. ET, March 23, 2022

Russians aim to surround Ukrainian troops in east, UK believes

From CNN's Niamh Kennedy

Russian troops are attempting to envelop Ukrainian forces in the east as they advance westward "from the direction of Kharkiv in the north and Mariupol in the south," an intelligence update from the UK Ministry of Defense said on Wednesday.

The battlefield across the northern part of Ukraine "remains largely static with Russian forces likely conducting a period of reorganization before resuming large-scale offensive operations," according to the update. 

As far as southern Ukraine is concerned, the Russian forces are still "attempting to circumvent Mykolaiv as they look to drive west towards Odesa,” it added.

Some context:

A senior US defense official said Ukrainians are fighting to push Russian forces from the northeast of Mykolaiv, forcing them to reposition south of the city.

On Monday, Mariupol rejected terms to surrender. The city is a strategic port that lies on a stretch of coast connecting the eastern region of Donbas with the Crimea peninsula, both of which have 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.

Last week, Russian warships in the Black Sea shelled the Ukrainian coast in areas close to the key southern city of Odesa, according to Ukraine’s armed forces.

According to a statement posted on the Ukrainian armed forces’ Facebook page, the villages of Lebedivka, Sanzheika, Zatoka and Bilenke, all of which lie about about 18 miles (30 kilometers) south of the port city, had been shelled. 

Odesa is Ukraine’s third largest city and regarded as a key target of Russia’s campaign. 

6:41 a.m. ET, March 23, 2022

Russian military claims strikes on military arsenal in northwestern Ukraine

From CNN's Nathan Hodge

The Russian military said Wednesday it had struck a military arsenal in northwestern Ukraine with sea-launched missiles.

CNN was not immediately able to verify that claim, but such an attack would continue an apparent campaign against targets closer to Ukraine's western border.

"On the evening of March 22, sea-based high-precision long-range weapons targeted an arsenal in the village of Orzhiv, 14 kilometers (about 8.6 miles) northwest of the city of Rivne," said Russian Ministry of Defense spokesperson Igor Konashenkov.

"As a result of the strike, a large arsenal of weapons and military equipment of Ukrainian troops, including those received from Western countries, was destroyed."

On Monday, the Russian military said it fired air-launched cruise missiles at what was described as a Ukrainian military training center in Nova Lyubomyrka, located in Ukraine's northwestern Rivne oblast.

Vitalii Koval, head of the Rivne regional administration, confirmed that two Russian missiles had struck the territory of a military training ground.

6:01 a.m. ET, March 23, 2022

It's noon in Kyiv. Here's what we know

  • Russian attacks on Mariupol: A convoy of 11 empty buses driving towards Mariupol to rescue fleeing Ukrainians was commandeered by Russian forces, according to the Ukrainian government. The Russians have driven the buses, along with the original bus drivers and several emergency services workers, to an undisclosed location, the government says. Meanwhile from the sea, strikes are coming from Russian ships in the Sea of Azov to the coastal city, according to a senior US defense official. The city has already been under an ongoing Russian bombardment from long-range missile launches and artillery outside the city.

  • Naval offensive: The Russians now have about 21 ships in the Black Sea, a senior US defense official has said, as a video emerged showing the launch of cruise missiles from a vessel off Crimea, just west of the city of Sevastopol. The video, which was geolocated by CNN, shows the missiles heading toward Ukraine.  

  • Moscow doesn't rule out nukes: Russian President Vladimir Putin's chief spokesperson refused to deny that Moscow could resort to the use of nuclear weapons. Dmitry Peskov, speaking to CNN, repeatedly refused to rule out that Russia would consider using nuclear weapons against what Moscow saw as an "existential threat."

  • Belarus could join war: The US and NATO believe that Belarus could “soon” join Russia in its war against Ukraine, US and NATO officials told CNN, and that the country is already taking steps to do so. It is increasingly “likely” that Belarus will enter the conflict, a NATO military official said Monday. 

  • More talks: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said talks with Russia are ongoing. "We continue our difficult negotiations. This is challenging. Sometimes scandalous," he said. He is due to address the Japanese parliament and the French National Assembly separately this morning.

  • US action: US President Joe Biden will be arriving in Brussels on Wednesday for a planned NATO summit – one of many summits he will be attending in Europe this week. At these summits, he is expected to unveil sanctions on members of the Duma. These sanctions will be on hundreds of Russians serving in the country’s lower legislative body, an official familiar with the announcement said.

  • Ukrainian counteroffensive: Ukrainian forces have been trying to regain territory in the last few days, according to a senior US defense official. They have taken control of Makariv, a town 30 miles west of Kyiv, the Armed Forces of Ukraine said in a Facebook post. There are also indications that Russian forces have suffered setbacks to the north of Kyiv in areas they have held almost since the beginning of the invasion.

  • Russian oil: French energy giant TotalEnergies said it would stop buying Russian oil and oil products by the end of 2022 at the latest "given the worsening situation in Ukraine," according to a news release from the company. TotalEnergies cautioned that it will continue to purchase natural gas from Russia. Meanwhile oil prices continue to soar by 7% as Europe debates banning Russian oil.
6:17 a.m. ET, March 23, 2022

How one of Ukraine's top young golfers escaped the war

From CNN's Ben Morse and Jim Sciutto

Mykhailo "Misha" Golod of Ukraine stands in front of the clubhouse on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass on March 14 in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.
Mykhailo "Misha" Golod of Ukraine stands in front of the clubhouse on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass on March 14 in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. (Keyur Khamar/PGA Tour/Getty Images)

When Mykhailo "Misha" Golod stepped off the plane at Orlando International Airport in Florida on March 11, it marked the end of a marathon journey the 15-year-old and his mother had undertaken to escape the war in his homeland of Ukraine.

But his arrival in the US from Kyiv -- while it assured his safety -- came at a price.

Golod’s mother would soon return to Ukraine to be with his dad, who had to remain due to martial law that bans males aged 18-60 from leaving the country, and his grandparents. Although Golod thinks his grandparents and mother will travel to the US, he's unsure when he'll next see his father.

Although he appreciates his safety, having the majority of his family back in Ukraine in the midst of Russia's invasion of the country has weighed heavily on him.

"It's very devastating, but thankfully, they all have Wi-Fi and a source of internet, food, water, and I can still talk to them and make sure they're safe," he told CNN.

"And I know that once everything is over, I'll definitely bring them here to be with me."

Golod added: "My father will only be able to leave once the martial law ends. And otherwise, he'll have to stay in there and we'll hope for the best."

Golod is one of the best young golfers in Ukraine and has participated in competitions around the world. After his grueling, 5,000-mile journey, it was a visa he had obtained from playing in a tournament in the US that helped him re-enter the country and find safety.

Read more about Golod’s escape from Ukraine here and watch his interview with CNN here:

6:29 a.m. ET, March 23, 2022

China rejects calls to expel Russia from the G20

From CNN's Beijing Bureau and Martin Goillandeau

China has said no member of the G20 has the right to “expel another country” amid reports the US and its Western allies are assessing whether Russia should remain in the group of leading economies following its invasion of Ukraine.

“Russia is an important member [of the G20],” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told reporters Wednesday, adding that Russia belonged to the world’s major economies “brought together” by the G20.

Wang also said that the G20 should “practice true multilateralism” and “strengthen solidarity and cooperation.”

Also on Wednesday, Russia’s Ambassador to Indonesia Lyudmila Vorobieva said President Vladimir Putin “wants to go” to the G20 leaders' summit in Bali at the end of this year.

Vorobieva said Putin's attendance would “depend on many, many things, including the Covid situation, that is getting better.”

Speaking to reporters in Jakarta, Vorobieva said she hoped “that the Indonesian government will not give in to the horrible pressure that’s being applied not only to Indonesia, but so many other countries in the world by the West.”

Indonesia currently holds the rotating chair of the G20.

“G20 is not only a summit. G20 is a process. There are a lot of meetings that were held by Indonesia both online and offline and Russia is actively participating in these meetings,” Vorobieva added.

4:21 a.m. ET, March 23, 2022

Local ceasefire agreed for civilians to flee Luhansk in eastern Ukraine, official says

People stand in a queue to board a bus in Sievierodonetsk in the Luhansk region of Ukraine on March 21.
People stand in a queue to board a bus in Sievierodonetsk in the Luhansk region of Ukraine on March 21. (Oleksii Kovalov/Reuters)

A temporary ceasefire was expected to come into force at 9 a.m. local time Wednesday to allow civilians to flee the Luhansk region of eastern Ukraine, according to local Ukrainian administrator Governor Serhiy Gaidai on social media.

The post detailed gathering places where civilians could arrive before getting on trains taking them away from Luhansk, which sits in the disputed Donbas region.

“Attention!! A humanitarian corridor has been agreed: residents of Rubizhne, Lysychansk, Severodonetsk, Hirska Community (specifically, Nizhne) will be evacuated today,” Gadai wrote.  

Some context: Fierce fighting has gripped the Luhansk region including the alleged Russian shelling of an elderly care home, killing 56 people on March 11. On Monday, the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused Russian forces of forcibly deporting 2,389 children from Donetsk and Luhansk region in an incident the US Embassy labeled “kidnapping." Russia said 16,434 people, including 2,389 children, were evacuated a day earlier of their own volition.

3:01 a.m. ET, March 23, 2022

Protesters try to block yacht with ties to Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich from docking in Turkey

From CNN's Tim Lister and Teele Rebane 

Bermuda-flagged luxury yacht 'My Solaris' docked at the Aegean coastal resort of Bodrum in the south-west of Turkey, on March 21.
Bermuda-flagged luxury yacht 'My Solaris' docked at the Aegean coastal resort of Bodrum in the south-west of Turkey, on March 21. (Ihlas News Agency/AFP/Getty Images)

Protesters in the Turkish port of Bodrum tried to block "My Solaris," a yacht with reported ties to Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, from docking on Monday.

The reported members of the Odessa Children and Youth Sailing School — commonly referred to as the Optimist Sailing Club — were carrying Ukrainian flags and signs reading "No war."

"It was the whole team’s decision to block the approach of the yacht of the Russian oligarch Abramovich," team coach Pavlo Dontsov told CNN.
"We raise the flag of our country at many international competitions. We just want to show everyone who Ukraine is."

According to Marine Traffic, "My Solaris" did dock in Bodrum on Monday evening. 

1:54 a.m. ET, March 23, 2022

Russia intensifying crackdown at home as Ukraine war rages, Human Rights Watch says

From CNN's Angus Watson

Alexey Navalny (extreme left) is seen in a video feed during the verdict in his embezzlement and contempt of court trial on March 22.
Alexey Navalny (extreme left) is seen in a video feed during the verdict in his embezzlement and contempt of court trial on March 22. (AFP/Getty Images)

The conviction Tuesday of Russian opposition figure and Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny on “new trumped-up charges” shows Moscow is intensifying its crackdown on dissent at home while it fights its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, Human Rights Watch said Wednesday.

“This verdict is apparently intended not only to silence Navalny but to serve as a warning to Russian civil society and anyone who dares to stand up to the Kremlin’s policies,” Hugh Williamson, Europe and central Asia director at Human Rights Watch said in the statement.

Already serving a two-and-a-half-year sentence, Navalny was found guilty of embezzling money from his own Anti-Corruption Foundation and sentenced to a further nine years in prison. He was also fined the equivalent of $11,200.

Navalny was detained in February 2021 upon arrival in Moscow from Berlin, Germany, where he had spent several months recovering from poisoning with nerve agent Novichok — an attack he blames on Russian security services and on President Vladimir Putin himself.

“The cases against Navalny are part of the Kremlin’s grim landscape of repression against Russia’s civil society and peaceful dissent, which has drastically intensified since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine,” Williamson said.

Russian authorities have detained thousands of protesters against the war since it began on Feb. 24.

“The Kremlin seems determined to isolate Russian society from the outside world to cut Russians off from uncomfortable facts, including about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” Williamson said.