March 26, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Jessie Yeung, Adam Renton, Lauren Said-Moorhouse, Barry Neild, Adrienne Vogt, Joe Ruiz and Ray Sanchez, CNN

Updated 12:04 a.m. ET, March 27, 2022
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7:27 a.m. ET, March 26, 2022

Ukrainian civilians protest as Russians take city north of Kyiv

From CNN's Tim Lister, Celine Alkhaldi, Gianliuca Mezzofiore and Olga Voitovych

People gather for a protest in Slavutych, Ukraine, on Saturday, March 26.
People gather for a protest in Slavutych, Ukraine, on Saturday, March 26. (From Telegram)

Russian troops have entered the city of Slavutych, north of Kyiv -- a move which has sparked protests among hundreds of Ukrainian civilians.

Early Saturday, Oleksandr Pavliuk, head of the Kyiv regional administration, said "the Russian occupiers entered the city of Slavutych and seized the city hospital." 

The mayor of Slavutych, Yuri Fomichev, asked residents to come to the city square with Ukrainian symbols to "show their position."

Images and video geolocated by CNN showed a crowd -- possibly several hundred people -- chanting "Slavutych is Ukraine" and "Glory to Ukraine" in the main square. A large Ukrainian flag was unfurled.

The sound of at least three stun grenades, whose origin is unclear, can be heard.

Later, as the crowd moves through the square, several bursts of heavy gunfire can be heard.

Pavliuk also said that "according to the latest information, the mayor Yuri Fomichiv was abducted by invaders."

Late on Friday, the mayor had issued a statement on Facebook saying that: "Our defenders defended bravely and selflessly! But we do not have equal strength! Unfortunately, we have our dead."

Some background: The arrival of Russian forces in Slavutych follows several days of shelling against the city, which is strategically located close to the Dnieper River, about 95 miles (150 kilometers) north of Kyiv and close to the border with Belarus.

According to local officials, the city has been isolated almost since the beginning of the Russian invasion.

Slavutych was built for workers at the Chernobyl nuclear plant after the 1986 disaster left the area uninhabitable.

5:55 a.m. ET, March 26, 2022

Amid speculation, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu resurfaces

From CNN's Radina Gigova in Atlanta

Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu held an official meeting on Saturday, state media reported, amid speculation over his whereabouts and health during the ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

State news agency Tass said Shoigu met with the country's Ministry of Finance to discuss maintaining the supply of advanced weapons for the conflict.

Those items include "robotic complexes, information support and electronic warfare equipment, and of course, logistics, as it has always been the case,” Shoigu said, according to TASS.

"With the challenges we are facing today, we are moving according to plan in implementing the state defense procurement contract," Shoigu said. "Considering the fact that the government funding for this year is 15% higher than for the previous year, we must of course take a look at what needs particular attention when fulfilling the state defense procurement contract.”

Shoigu reportedly claimed that despite sanctions on Russia, the level of execution of state contracts is at 85%. Outside observers have expressed skepticism that Russia can continue to produce high-tech weaponry amid severe international sanctions, particularly if procurement of some technology by Russia is restricted.

In addition, Shoigu spoke about legal changes that would guarantee government support to Russian troops who have fought in Ukraine, TASS reported.

"According to these amendments, participants of the special military operation in Ukraine acquire the status of combat veterans. Support will also include relatives of this category of military service members," he said. 

According to a separate report from TASS, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the law on Saturday. It had been "unanimously" adopted by the State Duma and approved by the Federation Council on Wednesday.

The new law means that those who have taken part in Russia's military operations in Ukraine, will have access to the "social protection system used by veterans of Afghanistan, Syria, and other hot spots," which includes additional payments from the state, tax benefits and medical care, the Russian state media outlet reported.

The bigger picture: Speculation has been mounting over Shoigu's whereabouts in recent days, as the Defense Minister has kept a low profile in the last few weeks despite having a leading role in Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

On Thursday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment on media reports and speculation that Shoigu had been experiencing health problems.

"The defense minister has a lot on his plate at the moment," he said when CNN asked about Shoigu's reported absence. "The special military operation is going on. Naturally, now is not exactly the time for media activity, this is quite understandable."

Read more:

5:40 a.m. ET, March 26, 2022

Biden to attend meeting with Ukrainian officials today 

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

US President Joe Biden, center, talks to service members from the 82nd Airborne Division during his trip to Poland on March 25.
US President Joe Biden, center, talks to service members from the 82nd Airborne Division during his trip to Poland on March 25. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

US President Joe Biden will attend a meeting Saturday with Ukrainian officials as he completes his visit to Poland.

The White House said Biden would drop by a meeting between his Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and their Ukrainian counterparts, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov.

It comes as Ukraine laments the outcomes of this week's NATO summit, which rebuffed calls from the country's leader to impose a no-fly zone.

“We expected more bravery. We expected some bold decisions,” Andriy Yermak, the chief of staff to President Volodomyr Zelensky, told the Atlantic Council in a live video interview Friday.

4:46 a.m. ET, March 26, 2022

UK to provide $2.64 million in food supplies to Ukraine 

From CNN's Wayne Chang in Taipei

Volunteers are seen preparing and distributing food for locals and the territorial defense in Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 25.
Volunteers are seen preparing and distributing food for locals and the territorial defense in Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 25. (Wolfgang Schwan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said on Saturday that the UK will provide £2 million (approximately $2.64 million) in food supplies for areas of Ukraine encircled by Russian forces, following a direct request from the Ukrainian government, according to a government press release on Saturday. 

This vital donation of food and supplies will help support the Ukrainian people in the face of Russia’s barbaric invasion,” Truss said. 

Truss said the UK government is working with Poland and Slovakia to provide “dried food, tinned goods and water” to Ukraine from “early next week,” where approximately 25 truckloads of supplies will be transported by road and rail to communities in need. 

The donation comes as part of the £400 million (approximately $528 million) the UK has committed in humanitarian and economic aid, according to the press release. 

Access to food, water and cooking facilities for cities encircled by Russian forces is becoming increasing difficult, the statement added. 

UK's Ministry of Defence said on Saturday in its intelligence update that Russia "continues to besiege" several major Ukrainian cities, including Kharkiv, Chernihiv and Mariupol.

4:29 a.m. ET, March 26, 2022

Zelensky asks energy producing countries to increase output of oil and gas to avoid Russia’s “blackmail”

From CNN’s Mostafa Salem in Doha

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky delivers a video link address to the Doha Forum in Qatar's capital on March 26.
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky delivers a video link address to the Doha Forum in Qatar's capital on March 26. (Karim Jaafar/AFP/Getty Images)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky asked energy producing countries at the Doha Forum in Qatar on Saturday to increase oil and gas output to avoid Russia’s global “blackmail.” 

“The future of Europe rests on your efforts, I ask you to increase the output of energy to ensure that everyone is Russia understands that you cannot use energy as a weapon,” Zelensky told the political forum virtually. 

“[Qatar] can make their contribution to the stabilization of Europe,” he said. 

Zelensky also referenced other conflict-stricken countries, saying the international order needs to be protected not just for Ukraine, but for Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen. 

The Ukrainian president also warned of the potential effect the invasion is having on food exports from Ukraine to countries around the world, saying no country is insured against food disruption.

3:48 a.m. ET, March 26, 2022

Emir of Qatar: We stand with refugees and "victims of this unjust war"

Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani addresses the Doha Forum in Qatar's capital on March 26.
Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani addresses the Doha Forum in Qatar's capital on March 26. (Karim Jaafar/AFP/Getty Images)

Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani said his country stands with millions of refugees in the “unjust” war on Ukraine. 

Speaking at the opening of the Doha Forum, Sheikh Tamim said Qatar also stands against any hostilities against national sovereignties. 

“We stand in solidarity with the millions of innocent people and refugees who are victims of this unjust war and the geopolitical calculations," he said.

The question of gas: Qatar, one of the world's top suppliers of liquefied natural gas (LNG), has been thrust into the limelight as European states rush to find alternatives to the Russian gas that has powered their economies for decades, while Moscow presses on with its brutal war in Ukraine.

The European Union depends on Russia for about 40% of its natural gas. This week, German economy minister Robert Habeck left the Qatari capital, Doha, with an understanding to have Qatar supply it with gas. Germany currently has no terminals to receive direct shipments of LNG from Qatar, but it plans to build two.

Read more here about Qatar's key role in supplying gas.

4:50 a.m. ET, March 26, 2022

UK defense ministry: Russia is likely to continue using "heavy firepower" on urban areas

From CNN's Wayne Chang

A man recovers items from a burning shop following a Russian attack in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on March 25.
A man recovers items from a burning shop following a Russian attack in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on March 25. (Felipe Dana/AP)

Britain's Ministry of Defence said Saturday in its latest intelligence update that Russia prefers “indiscriminate” bombardments and will likely continue using “heavy firepower” on urban areas. 

“Russian forces are proving reluctant to engage in large scale urban infantry operations, rather preferring to rely on the indiscriminate use of air and artillery bombardments in an attempt to demoralise defending forces,” the ministry said. 

"It is likely Russia will continue to use its heavy firepower on urban areas as it looks to limit its own already considerable losses, at the cost of further civilian casualties."

Russia "continues to besiege" several major Ukrainian cities, including Kharkiv, Chernihiv and Mariupol, the ministry added. 

2:19 a.m. ET, March 26, 2022

Kyiv's historical, irreplaceable treasures are at risk

From CNN's Aya Elamroussi and Seán Federico-O'Murchú

St. Michael's Golden-Domed Cathedral in Kyiv, Ukraine, on April 1.
St. Michael's Golden-Domed Cathedral in Kyiv, Ukraine, on April 1. (Adobe Stock)

When Vladimir Putin's forces last approached a capital city, they leveled it.

As the invasion of Ukraine enters its second month, Russian forces are digging in on the outskirts of Kyiv — and there are fears they could be preparing for the same indiscriminate scorched-earth tactic used in the Chechen capital of Grozny in 1999.

Kyiv is one of Ukraine's many jewels — a city more than 1,500 years old, a once-bustling capital of 2.8 million people, and home to irreplaceable international treasures, including architectural landmarks and cultural monuments.

"If Putin levels Kyiv the way he's been leveling Kharkiv and other cities, there is a lot that will be lost forever," said Olenka Z. Pevny, an associate professor of Slavonic and Ukrainian Studies at the University of Cambridge.

Here are some of the sites experts say are at risk:

  • St. Sophia Cathedral: Built in the 11th century, the cathedral is topped with sparkling golden domes and sits in the center of Kyiv.
  • St. Michael's Golden-Domed Cathedral and Monastery: This church, first constructed in 1108, played a major role in the Revolution of Dignity, also known as the Maidan Revolution — providing safe haven for those injured in the violence.
  • The Monastery of the Caves: This UNESCO World Heritage Site features underground churches, and is home to relics of saints dating back to the 10th century.
  • Presidential Palace: The majestic Baroque-style Mariinsky Palace is the ceremonial home of the President of Ukraine and is located near the Parliament.

Read more:

These are some of the historical sites at risk in Kyiv
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These are some of the historical sites at risk in Kyiv

Aya Elamroussi, CNN | Seán Federico-O'Murchú, CNN

1:04 a.m. ET, March 26, 2022

Zelensky says Ukraine has "dealt powerful blows" to Russian forces

(Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky/YouTube)
(Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky/YouTube)

In a video address on Friday, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky said the country's military had dealt "powerful blows" to Russia, and thanked all those who were helping defend the nation.

"Over the past week, our heroic armed forces have dealt powerful blows to the enemy, significant losses," Zelensky said. "I am grateful to our defenders who showed the occupiers that the sea will not be calm for them even when there is no storm. Because there will be fire."

Russian losses: Zelensky claimed that more than 16,000 Russian soldiers had been killed since the war began, a far higher number than the estimate Russia put forth Friday. CNN cannot independently confirm these figures.

"By restraining Russia's actions, our defenders are leading the Russian leadership to a simple and logical idea: talk is necessary. Meaningful. Urgent. Fair. For the sake of the result, not for the sake of the delay," he said. "16,000 Russian servicemen have already died. For what? What does it give and to whom?"

Any negotiations with Russia must guarantee Ukraine's sovereignty and the country's territorial integrity, he added.

Civilian evacuations: The President added that Ukraine had established 18 evacuation corridors this week, allowing more than 37,000 people to escape "blocked cities" — including more than 26,000 residents from Mariupol, which has been under relentless shelling for weeks. "The situation in the city remains absolutely tragic," Zelensky said.