March 24, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Helen Regan, Seán Federico O'Murchú, George Ramsay, Sana Noor Haq, Adrienne Vogt, Melissa Macaya, Maureen Chowdhury, Meg Wagner and Jason Kurtz, CNN

Updated 12:19 p.m. ET, March 25, 2022
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10:32 a.m. ET, March 24, 2022

NATO will reinforce chemical, biological and nuclear defenses in response to Russia, secretary general says

From CNN's Amy Cassidy in London

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg addresses a press conference at NATO Headquarters in Brussels on March 24.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg addresses a press conference at NATO Headquarters in Brussels on March 24. (Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images)

NATO will reinforce its chemical, biological and nuclear defense systems on fears Russia is planning to use such weapons against the people of Ukraine, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday. 

"Our top military commander General Walters has activated NATO's chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense elements, and allies are deploying additional chemical and biological and nuclear defenses to reinforce our existing and new backing groups,” he told reporters in Brussels following an extraordinary meeting of heads of state and government.

The concerns stem from “absolutely false” Russian “rhetoric” that the United States, NATO allies and Ukraine are preparing to use biological weapons, Stoltenberg said.

“We’ve seen before that this way of accusing others is actually a way to try to create a pretext to do the same themselves."

Before he spoke, NATO leaders issued a joint statement vowing to “enhance our preparedness and readiness for chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats,” adding “further decisions” will be taken at the next NATO summit, scheduled for this summer in Madrid. 

“Any use by Russia of a chemical or biological weapon would be unacceptable and result in severe consequences," the statement added.

10:18 a.m. ET, March 24, 2022

Civilian death toll in Ukraine exceeds 1,000, according to UN

From CNN’s Chris Liakos

The civilian death toll in Ukraine has exceeded 1,000 since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said Thursday — warning that "the actual figures are considerably higher."

“Most of the civilian casualties recorded were caused by the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including shelling from heavy artillery and multiple-launch rocket systems, and missile and air strikes,” according to the OHCHR.

In a statement, the UN body detailed the 1,035 civilian deaths as “214 men, 160 women, 14 girls, and 28 boys, as well as 48 children and 571 adults whose sex is yet unknown.”

It added that at least 1,650 civilians have been injured since the start of the invasion.

In the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in eastern Ukraine, the OHCHR has recorded 311 civilian deaths and 857 civilians injured. In other regions, including the city of Kyiv, Cherkasy, Chernihiv, Kharkiv, Kherson, Kyiv, Mykolaiv, Odesa, Sumy, Zaporizhzhia, Dnipropetrovsk and Zhytomyr regions, 724 civilians have been killed and 793 injured.

“OHCHR believes that the actual figures are considerably higher, as the receipt of information from some locations where intense hostilities have been going on has been delayed and many reports are still pending corroboration. This concerns, for example, Mariupol and Volnovakha (Donetsk region), Izium (Kharkiv region), Sievierodonetsk and Rubizhne (Luhansk region), and Trostianets (Sumy region), where there are allegations of numerous civilian casualties,” it said.

10:10 a.m. ET, March 24, 2022

Ukrainian Air Force pilots say they've been able to fend off Russians, but need more advanced technology

Two Ukrainian Air Force pilots trained by the US, who go by the names Moonfish and Juice to protect their identities, told CNN that Russian forces "have control of very little part of Ukrainian sky."

"Combining the efforts of our fighters, as well as ground air defense, it is a really good mix, it is a real good match. And yes, it is true, we feel free right now ... and they have control of very little part of Ukrainian sky, and that is where those brutal bombings of peaceful cities like Mariupol and Kharkiv are happening. But so far, by joining all the efforts we have, we have been able to, we are able to keep our skies out of Russia," Moonfish said.

He said that reinforcements from Western countries would be a boon to Ukrainian forces.

Juice said they need more jets and more advanced technology.

"The first problem is ... the number of jet[s]," he said.

"Unfortunately, Russian Air Force gets an advantage in technologies. So using this baby [referring to his plane], I'm not efficient. ... We need something more advanced, something modern" to push Russians further from the front lines, he said.

Watch the interview:

10:13 a.m. ET, March 24, 2022

Russian TV shows defense minister on a pre-taped video conference "reporting on operation in Ukraine"

From CNN's Anastasia Graham-Yooll in London

A Russia 24 TV channel anchor interrupted a live interview on Thursday to broadcast pre-taped footage of the country’s National Security Council operational meeting, which included Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, who hasn’t been seen in over a week. The broadcaster, however, did not say when the meeting took place.  

The anchor quoted Russia’s presidential spokesperson Dmitriy Peskov, suggesting Shoigu was giving a report on the so-called "Ukrainian military operation" remotely. The footage did not show Shoigu speak, but his image appeared on screen among other video call participants reporting to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Shoigu, a close ally of Putin, has not been seen lately despite having a leading role in Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Some Russian media reports have speculated that he could have health problems.

The Kremlin spokesman previously dismissed Shoigu’s lack of public presence by saying he “has a lot on his plate at the moment.” Speaking to CNN on Thursday, Peskov also refused to comment on an independent investigation into Defence Ministry sources leaking information about Shoigu’s health problems.  

Shoigu last appeared in a Channel One broadcast on March 18, which the Russian outlet said was from that day. But Russian journalists have speculated that the event being broadcast was from March 11.

10:27 a.m. ET, March 24, 2022

The G7 meeting is underway

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

US President Joe Biden is meeting with the G7 to discuss new sanctions and other actions to punish Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

At the start of the meeting the leaders stood for a family photo, but did not otherwise engage with the press as the talks got underway.

Biden was seen sitting down at a round table and opening his notebooks as the meeting began. He walked in alongside British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, left, talks with US President Joe Biden ahead of a G7 summit in Brussels, Belgium, on March 24.
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, left, talks with US President Joe Biden ahead of a G7 summit in Brussels, Belgium, on March 24. (Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images)

Some background: The G7 is shorthand for Group of Seven, an organization of leaders from some of the world's largest economies: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the US.

Russia was indefinitely suspended from the group — which was at the time known as the G8 — in 2014 after the majority of member countries allied against its annexation of Crimea. It was the first violation of a European country's borders since World War II.

10:17 a.m. ET, March 24, 2022

Biden on NATO summit: "NATO is as strong and united as it has ever been"

From CNN's Allie Malloy

U.S. President Joe Biden attends a North Atlantic Council meeting at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on March 24.
U.S. President Joe Biden attends a North Atlantic Council meeting at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on March 24. (Evelyn Hockstein/AFP/Getty Images)

US President Joe Biden in a statement said that the NATO alliance remains “as strong and united as it has ever been” and vowed continued support for Ukraine following Thursday’s NATO summit in Brussels. 

“NATO leaders met today on the one-month anniversary of Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine to reiterate our strong support for the Ukrainian people, our determination to hold Russia accountable for its brutal war, and our commitment to strengthening the NATO Alliance,” Biden said. 

Biden noted that the leaders were able to hear from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky via videoconference and said in the statement that NATO and the United States will “continue to support him and his government with significant, and increasing, amounts of security assistance to fight Russian aggression and uphold their right to self-defense.”

9:55 a.m. ET, March 24, 2022

US provides $1 billion in humanitarian assistance for people impacted by Russian invasion of Ukraine 

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

The United States said Thursday it would provide more than $1 billion in humanitarian assistance for people affected by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The funds will help provide food, shelter, clean water, medical supplies and other assistance, the White House said.

The money comes as US President Joe Biden meets with European leaders and works to determine the next phase of the response to Russia’s war.

In addition, the White House said it would stand up a $320 million fund meant to bolster democracy in countries bordering the European Union, including funding for human rights, independent media and anti-corruption initiatives.

10:25 a.m. ET, March 24, 2022

G7 leaders take family photo ahead of emergency summit

Left to right: NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, U.S. President Joe Biden, Germany's Chancellor Olaf Scholz, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, France's President Emmanuel Macron, Italy's Prime Minister Mario Draghi and European Council President Charles Michel pose for a G7 leaders' family photograph during a NATO summit at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on March 24.
Left to right: NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, U.S. President Joe Biden, Germany's Chancellor Olaf Scholz, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, France's President Emmanuel Macron, Italy's Prime Minister Mario Draghi and European Council President Charles Michel pose for a G7 leaders' family photograph during a NATO summit at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on March 24. (Photo by Henry Nicholls/AFP/Getty Images)

The G7 leaders just took a family photo in Brussels ahead of an emergency summit to discuss Russia's invasion in Ukraine.

US President Joe Biden is expected to speak soon to the group.

9:46 a.m. ET, March 24, 2022

Ukrainian teen escaped from Chernihiv and survived a blast that killed his mother

Andriy, a 15-year-old Ukrainian teen from Chernihiv, escaped his city after being forced from his home and then drove over what he thinks was a land mine, he told CNN.

"I see a yellow explosion. Sound in ears. And I just remember like I woke up in road. I see the broken car. And I see like my mother with fire," he told CNN's John Berman while recovering in a children's hospital in Lviv.
"I feel blood in my left ear. Then I hear shooting ... from rockets or something."

He said he was screaming and couldn't walk. Villagers who heard the explosion brought him to safety.

His mother burned to death.

Andriy started crying when asked about his mother, saying it is "very difficult" for his family.

"I want you to know my mother was a very beautiful woman," he said via a translator.

The northern city of Chernihiv has seen some of the most intense shelling since Russia invaded Ukraine a month ago. Badly damaged buildings line rubble-strewn streets, while still-burning fires fill the air with heavy smoke, as seen in a new video from Mayor Vladyslav Atroshenko.

"It's very hard to look what going on with my city," he added, saying that he'll go back once the war ends. 

Andriy said he wants to "distance myself from this war," then played a song on his guitar for Berman.

Watch the interview: