March 25, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Jessie Yeung, Adam Renton, Sana Noor Haq, Adrienne Vogt, Melissa Macaya, Ed Upright, George Ramsay, Aditi Sangal and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 12:01 a.m. ET, March 26, 2022
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7:28 a.m. ET, March 25, 2022

Turkish president says Ukraine and Russia have reached "an understanding" on certain topics of negotiation

From CNN's Yusuf Gezer and Radina Gigova

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a news conference after an extraordinary NATO summit at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on March 24.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a news conference after an extraordinary NATO summit at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on March 24. (Markus Schreiber/AP)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Friday that Ukraine and Russia seem to have reached 'an understanding' on four out of six topics of disagreement discussed during negotiations. 

Speaking to reporters on his way back from a NATO summit in Brussels, Erdoğan also said he will speak with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday and with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the weekend "or [during the] first days of the next week."

“There are six topics of negotiation between Russia and Ukraine, there seems to be an understanding between them about four topics," Erdoğan said. 
"At first, Ukraine was hung up on this issue, but later on, Zelensky began to express that he could withdraw from NATO membership. Another issue is the acceptance of Russian as an official language. Zelensky also admitted this. Russian is a language spoken almost everywhere in Ukraine. There is no problem at this point either," Erdoğan said. 

Erdoğan also said Zelensky's comments about the need for a referendum on compromises with Russia was "smart leadership." Zelensky said Monday any constitutional changes that relate to security guarantees in the country would need to be decided through a referendum and not by him alone. 

About his upcoming call with Putin, Erdoğan said "we should discuss and evaluate" NATO meetings. "We have to look for a way to smooth this business by saying 'make an honorable exit to this,'" Erdoğan said.  

"On the other hand, we [Turkey] certainly consider the use of weapons of mass destruction as a crime against humanity," he added. 

8:17 a.m. ET, March 25, 2022

As Biden heads to Poland, Europe's mounting refugee crisis comes into focus

From CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq, Maegan Vazquez, Kevin Liptak and Allie Malloy

Refugees from Ukraine line up as they wait for further transport at the Medyka border crossing in southeastern Poland, on March 23.
Refugees from Ukraine line up as they wait for further transport at the Medyka border crossing in southeastern Poland, on March 23. Photo by Angelos Tzortzinis / AFP) (Photo by ANGELOS TZORTZINIS/AFP via Getty Images)

One in every two Ukrainian children has been displaced since Russia began its invasion on February 24, according to a statement from the UN Children's Fund on Thursday.

UNICEF's statement added that 4.3 million children have been displaced, which represents more than half of Ukraine's estimated 7.5 million child population.

This figure includes over 1.8 million children who have crossed into neighboring countries as refugees, and 2.5 million children who are also internally displaced in Ukraine, the statement said.

"It's mind-boggling," UNICEF spokesperson James Elder told CNN earlier this week. "Since the start of the war a month ago, out of every boy and girl in the country, one out of two now has had to flee their homes."

It's a situation we've not seen before, not in living memory, and it's almost impossible to deal with," Elder said.

Elder said UNICEF is trying to get blankets, water purification tablets, generators, medical supplies and obstetric kits for mothers giving birth into the country.

"Unless the war stops, unless the indiscriminate attacks stop, we're going to see more children wrenched from their homes and the bombardments," he added.

The news comes as US President Joe Biden has departed Brussels, and is now heading to the Poland-Ukraine border region, where he plans to meet Polish President Andrzej Duda for a briefing on humanitarian aid efforts.

Biden's visit to Poland is will be the second stop of his wartime trip through Europe and is intended to highlight the massive refugee crisis that has ensued since Russia's war in Ukraine began a month ago, the White House said.

The President confirmed on Thursday that he hopes to meet with Ukrainian refugees while in Poland. It's not clear, however, when or where those potential meetings will take place.

More than 3.5 million refugees have now fled Ukraine, according to data from the United Nations refugee agency released on Tuesday. A vast majority of those refugees have fled to Ukraine's western neighbors across Europe.

Poland, which borders Ukraine to the west, has registered more than 2 million Ukrainian refugees crossing into the country. However, the number of refugees staying in Poland is lower, with many continuing on in their journey to other countries.

Meanwhile, the United States will welcome up to 100,000 Ukrainians and others fleeing Russia's aggression, a senior administration official announced Thursday.

"To meet this commitment, we are considering the full range of legal pathways to the United States," the official said, which includes US refugee admissions program, parole and immigrant and non-immigrant visas.

7:14 a.m. ET, March 25, 2022

First video emerges from inside Mariupol theater after Russian airstrike

From CNN's Celine Alkhadi

New footage has emerged on social media showing people making their escape from the Mariupol theater that was struck by a Russian bomb nine days ago.

The video shows debris on the floor and holes in the walls as people make their way down a staircase to leave the building.

“The missile hit right in the center of the drama theater,” a male voice can be heard saying.

In a second video, which shows massive internal structural damage to the building, a man's voice offers reassurance that he and others with him on the ground floor of the building were not injured in the attack.

But he expresses fears that many others who were using the building as a shelter remain buried under the rubble.

Some context: On Friday, Mariupol city council said that based on eyewitness reports, it now believes about 300 people died in the theater attack. CNN has not independently verified this number.

The building was being used as one of the main shelters in the besieged city, but was hit by a Russian airstrike on March 16. Estimates of the number of people taking shelter in the theatre ranged from between 800 to 1,300. 

Aerial pictures before the attack showed the Russian word for children painted in large lettering on the ground outside the front and back of the theater building.

8:20 a.m. ET, March 25, 2022

"The Russians are not saving us, they are killing us," says Mariupol resident

From CNN's AnneClaire Stapleton in Zaporizhzhia

Natalia has just arrived in Zaporizhzhia from the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol.

The journey took her family two days after leaving their home in Mariupol, which was shelled by Russian forces just as the family happened to walk outside to try to get cell signal.

It's the only reason she's alive.

“The Russians are not saving us, they are killing us,” Natalia says, adding that the family has nothing to return home to.

Natalia has arrived in Zaporizhzhia from Mariupol
Natalia has arrived in Zaporizhzhia from Mariupol

Some background: Mariupol has been under near-constant attack from Russian forces since early March with satellite images showing significant destruction to residential areas. The southeastern city was home to around 450,000 people before the war, but many have fled following Russia’s invasion.

On Friday, Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk announced two evacuation routes from Mariupol and occupied Melitopol to Zaporizhzhia.

6:31 a.m. ET, March 25, 2022

Biden announces new energy task force with Europe to deprive Putin of profits used to "drive his war machine"

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

President Joe Biden and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen talk to the press about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, at the U.S. Mission in Brussels, Belgium, on March 25.
President Joe Biden and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen talk to the press about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, at the U.S. Mission in Brussels, Belgium, on March 25. (Evan Vucci/AP)

US President Joe Biden announced a new initiative meant to deprive Russian President Vladimir Putin of European energy profits used to “drive his war machine.”

Speaking in Brussels alongside European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Biden said Russia was using its hold on providing Europe with oil and gas to “coerce and manipulate its neighbors.” 

Biden said the United States would help Europe reduce its dependence on Russian oil and gas, and would ensure the continent had enough supplies for the next two winters.

“It's going to take some time to adjust gas supply chains and infrastructure that was built for the last decade so we're going to have to make sure the families in Europe can get through this winter and the next while we're building an infrastructure for a diversified, resilient and clean energy future,” Biden said. 

The panel, chaired by representatives from the White House and the European Commission, will be aimed toward finding alternative supplies of liquefied natural gas and reducing overall demand for natural gas moving forward.

Europe’s dependence on Russian gas and oil has proved a major sticking point in Western efforts to punish Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine. While the US banned Russian energy imports, Europe found it far more difficult to cut off its supplies.

“I know that eliminating Russian gas will have costs for Europe, but it's not only the right thing to do from a moral standpoint, it's going to put us on a much stronger strategic footing,” Biden said.

The United States will work toward supplying Europe with at least 15 billion cubic meters of liquefied natural gas in 2022, in partnership with other nations, the White House said.

Senior administration officials said the 15 billion cubic meters of liquefied natural gas being sent to Europe is coming from multiple sources, including the United States and nations in Asia. But officials did not have an exact breakdown on where the gas was coming from.

The announcement Friday was the culmination of a US effort over the past months to identify alternate sources of energy for Europe, particularly in Asia. Officials said those efforts would continue through this year to hit the 15 billion cubic meter target.

One official said weaning Europe from Russian energy amounted to "replacing an unreliable supplier of LNG with a much more reliable supplier in the US."

The group will also work toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions through reducing methane emissions and using clean energy to power operations.

“This crisis also presents an opportunity. It's a catalyst,” Biden said. “A catalyst that will drive the investments we need to double down on our clean energy goals and accelerate progress towards our net zeroes emissions future.”

Von der Leyen has hailed the joint energy task force as a "big step" in efforts to diversify gas supplies away from Russia. 

"We want as Europeans to diversify away from Russia, towards suppliers that we trust that are friends and that are reliable and therefore, the US commitment to provide the European Union with additional at least 15 billion cubic meters of LNG this year is a big step in this direction, because this will replace the LNG supply we currently receive from Russia," von der Leyen told the press conference.

The US has also committed to ensuring stable demand and supply for an additional 50 billion cubic meters of US liquefied natural gas until 2030, which von der Leyen said will replace one third of Russian gas supply to Europe. 

This puts the bloc "right on track now," she said, stressing the need for the EU to secure supplies "not just for next winter, but also for the years ahead."

Furthermore, as the current gas infrastructure may be used in future for clean hydrogen, it plays a part in the "decarbonizing of our economy," she continued.

The cooperation between the EU and US "shows the power of our democracies,” and Biden’s presence in Europe sends a “powerful message to the world,” she added.

6:44 a.m. ET, March 25, 2022

Mariupol authorities estimate that 300 people were killed in Russian strike on theater

From CNN's Olga Voitovych and Andrew Carey in Lviv 

Mariupol theater seen in the aftermath of the Russian strike in this satellite image from March 19.
Mariupol theater seen in the aftermath of the Russian strike in this satellite image from March 19. (Maxar Technologies)

Mariupol city council says that based on eyewitness reports, it now believes about 300 people died in a Russian attack on a theater in the city nine days ago. 

The building was being used as one of the main shelters in the besieged city of Mariupol, but was hit by a Russian airstrike on March 16. Estimates of the number of people taking shelter in the theatre ranged from between 800 to 1,300. 

Information about the full extent of the attack has been slow to emerge due to the almost complete breakdown of essential services in the city, including communication networks. 

“Unfortunately, we start the day with bad news," Mariupol city council said on its Telegram channel on Friday.

"There is information, based on eyewitnesses, that about 300 people died in the Drama Theater in Mariupol as a result of a bombing by Russian aircraft.

"We still do not want to believe in this horror. We still want to believe that everyone managed to escape. But the words of those who were inside the building at the time of this terrorist act say otherwise.”

Aerial pictures before the attack showed the Russian word for children painted in large lettering on the ground outside the front and back of the theater building.

“The occupier knew where he was hitting. He knew what the consequences might be, and anyway the bombs fell on this place,” the city council's statement continued.

There is still no word on possible casualties after a separate attack on an art school building in Mariupol that was also being used as a shelter.

The school was hit five days ago. Officials estimated about 400 people were sheltering there.

Some context: Mariupol, the southeastern Ukrainian city home to around 450,000 people before the war, has been under near-constant attack from Russian forces since early March with satellite images showing significant destruction to residential areas. 

New video shows inside bombed Mariupol theater:

CNN's Olena Mankovska and Sugam Pokharel contributed reporting to this post.

6:06 a.m. ET, March 25, 2022

IRC warns of "catastrophic health crisis" in Ukraine as health facilities are attacked

From CNN's Radina Gigova

Pregnant women walk in the basement of maternity hospital as air raid sirens are heard in Mykolaiv, Ukraine, on March 14.
Pregnant women walk in the basement of maternity hospital as air raid sirens are heard in Mykolaiv, Ukraine, on March 14. (Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images)

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) warned Friday that civilians in Ukraine are facing a "catastrophic health crisis" as attacks on health infrastructure are limiting access to "life-saving services and supplies." 

The IRC said 64 attacks on healthcare facilities, transport, and personnel were recorded over the first four weeks of the invasion.

During this time, the IRC claimed more than 4,300 babies have been born in Ukraine and 80,000 births are expected in the next three months, but "as Ukraine’s health system continues to collapse, the risk to new mothers and babies will grow."

"Lack of access to safe water and critical healthcare, and the potential for a surge in vaccine-preventable diseases like Covid-19 and polio may significantly exacerbate the ongoing humanitarian crisis," the IRC said.

The organization's Senior Director of Health Mesfin Teklu said people displaced in crowded reception centers and bunkers are at risk of contracting Covid-19 as fewer than 40% of Ukrainians have been vaccinated against the virus.

Teklu said Ukraine was also experiencing a polio outbreak and the conflict has disrupted vaccinations.

"In some areas most affected by the conflict, including Ukraine’s second largest city of Kharkiv, polio vaccination rates are below 50%," he said.

“Ukraine also struggles with high rates of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis," Teklu added. "The IRC is worried about these and other infectious diseases spreading as the conflict persists and water, sanitation and hygiene systems continue to become damaged.”

The IRC called for the protection of healthcare access "by ensuring the safety of providers and the free flow of medical supplies and equipment," adding that "global leaders must prioritize support to the most vulnerable, including women, children and the elderly."

5:48 a.m. ET, March 25, 2022

New evacuation corridors announced from Mariupol and Melitopol

From CNN's Niamh Kennedy

Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk speaks via a video message on social media on March 25.
Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk speaks via a video message on social media on March 25. (President of Ukraine/Facebook)

Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk announced two evacuation routes for the besieged southern city of Mariupol and occupied Melitopol on Friday.

Speaking in a televised message, Vereshchuk said the corridors will link the two cities with Zaporizhzhia, which lies to the north and is still under Ukrainian control.

A centralized evacuation is also planned by bus from the Russian occupied city of Berdyansk, the deputy prime minister said, adding that 48 buses are parked at the entrance to the city.

Previous days have seen Ukraine announce up to nine corridors, serving badly-hit towns and cities in the country’s east and north, as well as the south. There was no word from Vereshchuk explaining why these locations were not on Friday’s list.

Some background: Fighting in Mariupol has lasted for weeks, with people who have escaped Russia's bombardment saying that the city has been effectively wiped off the map. Russian troops gained control of Melitopol on February 26 and a new mayor was installed in the city earlier this month.

8:17 a.m. ET, March 25, 2022

The Russian ship destroyed in Berdyansk was the "Saratov," says Ukraine

From CNN's Andrew Carey in Lviv 

In this satellite photo smoke rises after an attack that Ukraine's navy said sank a large Russian landing ship in the port city of Berdyansk, Ukraine, on March 24.
In this satellite photo smoke rises after an attack that Ukraine's navy said sank a large Russian landing ship in the port city of Berdyansk, Ukraine, on March 24. (Planet Labs PBC/AP)

Ukrainian armed forces named the Russian landing ship they say they attacked and destroyed in Berdyansk as the "Saratov," in a statement on Friday.  

In earlier reporting, the ship was named as the "Orsk."

“In the Azov operational zone, according to updated information, a large landing ship 'Saratov' was destroyed during the attack on the occupied Berdyansk port," the statement said.

The statement identified the two other large landing ships -- the "Caesar Kunikov" and "Novocherkassk" -- that were also said to have been destroyed during the attack.

"Other losses of the enemy are being clarified," the statement said.

Ukrainian armed forces said they destroyed the large Russian landing ship at the port of Berdyansk in southern Ukraine on Thursday.

The port, which had recently been occupied by Russian forces with several Russian warships in dock, was rocked by a series of heavy explosions soon after dawn.

Social media videos showed fires raging at the dockside, with a series of secondary explosions reverberating across the city.

Several Russian ships had been unloading military equipment at Berdyansk in recent days, according to reports from the port by Russian media outlets.