March 28, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Aditi Sangal, Travis Caldwell, Helen Regan, Amy Woodyatt, Maureen Chowdhury, Jason Kurtz and Kathryn Snowdon, CNN

Updated 0403 GMT (1203 HKT) March 29, 2022
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4:56 p.m. ET, March 28, 2022

Cyberattack hits big Ukrainian telecom provider, Ukrainian officials say

From CNN's Sean Lyngaas

Ukrtelecom, a prominent Ukrainian internet and phone line provider, was the target of a “powerful cyberattack” on Monday, Ukrainian officials said.

The cyberattack was “neutralized” and, as recovery from the hack continues, priority has been given to maintaining communications services for Ukraine’s military, according to a tweet from Ukraine’s State Service of Special Communications and Information Protection.

The agency blamed “the enemy,” for the hack in an apparent reference to Russia.

Connectivity at Ukrtelecom, which describes itself as the “largest fixed line operator in Ukraine,” plummeted on Monday to 13% of pre-war levels, according to NetBlocks, which tracks internet connectivity.  

Ukrainian telecom providers have experienced a wave of hacks as the Russian bombardment of the country continues. 

Hackers earlier this month caused outages at a Ukrainian internet service provider Triolan, which has customers in major cities. 

8:21 p.m. ET, March 28, 2022

It's almost midnight in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know.

From CNN Staff

Ukrainian soldiers pass by a damaged Russian tank in the town of Trostyanets, east of Kyiv, on Monday.
Ukrainian soldiers pass by a damaged Russian tank in the town of Trostyanets, east of Kyiv, on Monday. (Efrem Lukatsky/AP)

US President Joe Biden said he isn't walking back his remarks that President Vladimir Putin cannot remain in power.

"I'm not walking anything back," President Biden said Monday at the White House, emphasizing he wasn't voicing a policy change but that he was expressing an opinion based on his emotions from the day. "I was expressing the moral outrage I felt toward the way Putin is dealing and the actions of this man.”

"I'd just come from being with those families," he said, referring to Ukrainian refugees in Warsaw. 

"I wasn’t then or wasn’t now expressing a policy change," Biden said.

"I make no apologies for it," he added.

Biden said he doesn't care what Putin thinks of his comment that he shouldn't be in power in Russia.

"I don’t care what he thinks. He’s going to do what he’s going to do," Biden said when asked by a reporter whether he was concerned Putin would see the remark as escalatory. 

Here are more of the latest headlines in the Russia-Ukraine conflict:

  • Children account for half of all Ukrainian refugees, EU commissioner says: Children make up half of the 3.8 million refugees from Ukraine that have arrived in the European Union since the Russian invasion, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson says. “The numbers of arrivals is going down,” Johansson said Monday of Ukrainians arriving in the EU. “At the peak, we had 200,000 arrivals per day now it’s down to 40,000 per day,” she said. Johansson, who was speaking after a meeting of EU interior ministers in Brussels, added that 800,000 of the 3.8 million arrivals have already applied for temporary protection in the EU.
  • President Biden says he was "talking to the Russian people" when he went off-script: Biden said that he was talking to the Russian people when he made the off-the-cuff remark that Russian President Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power” during a speech over the weekend. “I was talking to the Russian people,” Biden said, when asked on Monday by CNN’s Kaitlan Collins why he ad-libbed the line. “The last part of the speech was talking to Russian people,” he said. “I was communicating this to not only the Russian people but the whole world. This is, this is just stating a simple fact that this kind of behavior is totally unacceptable." Moments before, Biden likened the meaning of his comment to a person saying objectively, “bad people shouldn't continue to do bad things,” and not announcing a change in policy.
  • US deploying 6 Navy electronic warfare jets to Germany as it bolsters forces in eastern Europe: The Pentagon is deploying six US Navy electronic warfare jets and more than 200 accompany troops to Germany as the US bolsters its forces in eastern Europe amid Russia’s war with Ukraine. Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters Monday that six Navy E/A-18G Growler jets were deploying from Naval Air Station Whidbey in Washington state to Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany, and the jets were expected to arrive today. In addition, they would be accompanied by about 240 Navy air crew, pilots and maintenance staff, he said. The Navy Growler jets are primarily used for flying electronic warfare missions, including radar jamming to help suppress air defenses.  
  • Russian forces have stalled in several parts of Ukraine, senior US defense official says: Russian forces are largely stalled in several parts of Ukraine, a senior US defense official told reporters Monday. There have been “no changes” to the situation in Mariupol, Chernihiv, Mykolaiv or Kharkiv, the official said. “They’ve made no progress in moving towards Kyiv, they’ve made no progress elsewhere in the north, whether its Chernihiv or Kharkiv,” the official said of Russian forces. In Mariupol, Russian forces continue to use “long-range fires,” but “they have not been able to take Mariupol,” the official said. Russian forces “aren’t making any advances on Mykolaiv over the course of the weekend,” the official said, “so they are outside the city.”
  • Russian foreign minister: Putin-Zelensky meeting not necessary until key issues clarified: A meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is required after there is “clarity on all vital issues for Moscow,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Monday. The West has ignored these issues, despite having been raised by Moscow for years, he added. “Now, the main thing is to stop pandering to the Ukrainians who only seek to generate an image of negotiations and settlements. They succeeded in this when they sabotaged the Minsk agreements shortly after they inked them in February 2015, and as a result declared that they would not implement them," Lavrov continued.
  • Russia-Ukraine talks to resume on Tuesday in Istanbul: Russia-Ukraine talks are set to resume in-person in Istanbul this week, Lavrov said earlier on Monday during a news conference. "These negotiations are ongoing. They will be resumed today-tomorrow in Istanbul in-person after a series of video conferences," Lavrov said. "And we are interested that these negotiations would bring a result and that this result would achieve our fundamental goals," he said. "The fact that it was decided to continue negotiations in person is important," Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Monday during a call with journalists. Peskov said the talks between the two sides are likely to resume Tuesday.
  • Biden's new budget proposal includes billions to counter Russia's aggression in Ukraine: President Biden’s 2023 budget proposal includes increased funding for security – both domestically and internationally – and reduces the deficit, the White House said Monday morning, but officials admit inflation could continue to cause problems for the overall economy. As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues, the proposed budget includes $6.9 billion for the European Deterrence Initiative and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and “countering Russian aggression to support Ukraine.”
4:37 p.m. ET, March 28, 2022

Ukrainian regional military administrator says Russia struck fuel depot in western Ukraine

From CNN's Yulia Kesaieva in Lviv 

Russian forces struck a fuel depot in western Ukraine, a Ukrainian regional military administrator said Monday. 

"The enemy has hit Rivne region with a missile again," said Vitalii Koval, the Rivne regional military administration head. "It's a fuel depot again. SES [emergency services] and the chemical laboratory are out on the way to the scene."

Russian forces have struck fuel depots at several locations around Ukraine in recent days. 

4:09 p.m. ET, March 28, 2022

Turkish presidential spokesperson describes Russia's Donbas and Crimea demands as "not realistic"

From CNN’s Zeena Saifi in Doha

Turkish presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin told CNN’s Becky Anderson in an interview Sunday that Russia’s demands to recognize the annexation of Crimea and the independence of the Donbas region is “very maximalist” and “not realistic”.

“These are the red lines for the Ukrainians in the Crimea and Donbas, and rightly so, because they pertain directly to Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. We have not recognized the annexation of Crimea as, like the rest of the world, even China has not recognized the annexation of Crimea …They [the Russians] should really come up with some other ideas,” he told CNN on the sidelines of the Doha Forum.

Turkey has been offering to mediate between Russia and Ukraine and has hosted several meetings, including a meeting between Ukrainian and Russian Foreign Ministers on March 10. The next round of talks between the two sides will be held in the Turkish city of Istanbul on Tuesday.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan relayed a message to Moscow urging the negotiating teams to agree on the final sticking points in order to transition to a meeting at the leadership level between President Volodymyr Zelensky and President Vladimir Putin, Kalin told CNN.

“President Zelensky is ready to meet President Putin, it’s President Putin who has said no so far. And our president has said, I'm ready to facilitate bringing the two of you together, in Turkey or somewhere else… We believe that it's only through that meeting, that this war will come to an end,” he added.

The spokesperson emphasized that President Erdogan is keeping his line of communication open with both his Russian and Ukrainian counterparts to help achieve to end the war, especially with Russia. When asked if President Putin listens to Erdoğan, Kalin said the two have a “long-standing relationship.”

“Certainly President Putin is listening to President Erdoğan and to his advice and to his ideas and suggestions. You can understand from their point of view that they don't trust most of the NATO countries, they don't want to talk to them anymore, right or wrong. But the reality is that someone has to talk to the Russian side, someone whom the Russians can also trust. Otherwise, this war can go on for months, for years, and the world cannot afford another prolonged war like that, and certainly, we cannot afford another Cold War.“

4:34 p.m. ET, March 28, 2022

Expo center in Warsaw is now the largest refugee hub in Europe for those fleeing Ukraine

From CNN's Kyung Lah

An expo center in Warsaw, Poland, is now the largest refugee hub in all of Europe for those fleeing the conflict in Ukraine, CNN's Kyung Lah reported as she showed viewers inside the building.

Lah said 95% of the refugees being housed in the temporary shelter are women, children and the elderly.

"They're the ones who have left safely out of Ukraine, but the emphasis here is that this is hub," she said.

Kyung noted that the expo center has various different areas for refugees to get their papers sorted out, get a bus ticket to travel to other parts of Europe, places to receive consistent meals and even healthcare assistance.

The center is privately owned but run jointly with the city.

Earlier Monday, the EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson told journalists children make up half of the 3.8 million refugees from Ukraine that have arrived in the European Union since Russia's invasion.

Watch CNN's full report from the ground here:

4:23 p.m. ET, March 28, 2022

What does Zelensky mean when he talks about neutrality?

From CNN’s Nathan Hodge 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during an interview with independent Russian news media on March 27.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during an interview with independent Russian news media on March 27. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office/AP)

In an interview Sunday with Russian journalists, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke at length about an important point in potential peace negotiations: the possibility of neutrality for Ukraine. 

“We are ready to accept this,” Zelensky said. “This is the most important point.”  

Zelensky and Ukrainian officials have long said they are willing to talk about neutrality for Ukraine if NATO is not ready to accept the country as a member of the alliance. 

That, in theory, would meet one of the demands of Russian President Vladimir Putin: that Ukraine gives up its NATO aspirations. 

But it’s not as simple as that. Zelensky has also made it clear that Ukraine would reject “neutrality” without legally binding security guarantees. And with Ukraine under invasion by Russia, the Ukrainian leader has said he isn’t interested in empty promises. 

“I'm interested in making sure it's not just another piece of paper a la the Budapest Memorandum,” he said. 

Zelensky was referring to a little-remembered moment in post-Cold War history. With the collapse of the USSR, Ukraine – on paper at least – came into possession of the world’s third-largest nuclear stockpile.

Russia did maintain operational control of those weapons, but Ukraine signed an agreement in 1994 to give up the nuclear weapons stationed on its territory in exchange for security guarantees, including the protection of the territorial integrity and political independence of Ukraine. That’s something Russia, a signatory to the Budapest Memorandum, decisively trampled on with the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the invasion of Ukraine in February. 

Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior adviser to Zelensky, has said that security guarantees must, in essence, include a commitment from guarantors to assist Ukraine in the event of aggression.  

And it’s important to add that neutrality – of a sort that Putin might find palatable – is not something Zelensky can simply offer up. Aspiration to NATO membership is enshrined in Ukraine’s constitution. 

That’s where Zelensky gave Russian interviewers a bit of a lesson in Ukraine’s democratic processes. Security guarantees, he explained, would have to be followed by a referendum in Ukraine.  

“Why? Because we have a law about referendums,” Zelensky said. “We have passed it. Changes of this or that status... And security guarantees presuppose constitutional changes. You understand, don't you? Constitutional changes.” 

And therein lies the difference. Russia has a political system built around one man — Putin — and Zelensky is the head of a democratic state. Even if neutrality is on the negotiating table, the Ukrainian people will have to have their say.  

4:53 p.m. ET, March 28, 2022

Biden says he doesn't care if Putin views his remark as escalatory

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

US President Joe Biden speaks at the White House on Monday.
US President Joe Biden speaks at the White House on Monday. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

US President Joe Biden said he doesn't care what Vladimir Putin thinks of his comment that he shouldn't be in power in Russia.

"I don’t care what he thinks. He’s going to do what he’s going to do," Biden said when asked by a reporter whether he was concerned Putin would see the remark as escalatory. 

Biden said he was skeptical Putin could be swayed by any outside event, his remark included.

"Given his recent behavior, people should understand he is going to do what he thinks he should do, period," Biden said at the White House. "He’s not affected by anyone else, including, unfortunately, his own advisers. This is a guy who goes to the beat of his own drummer. And the idea he is going to do something outrageous because I called him for what he was and what he’s doing I think is just not rational."

 Watch Reporters and Biden go back and forth over Putin remarks:

3:38 p.m. ET, March 28, 2022

President Biden says he was "talking to the Russian people" when he went off-script

From CNN's Jasmine Wright

US President Joe Biden said that he was talking to the Russian people when he made the off-the-cuff remark that Russian President Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power” during a speech over the weekend.

“I was talking to the Russian people,” Biden said, when asked on Monday by CNN’s Kaitlan Collins why he ad-libbed the line.

“The last part of the speech was talking to Russian people,” he said. “I was communicating this to not only the Russian people but the whole world. This is, this is just stating a simple fact that this kind of behavior is totally unacceptable. Totally unacceptable. And the way to deal with it is to strengthen and keep NATO completely united and help Ukraine where we can.”

Moments before, Biden likened the meaning of his comment to a person saying objectively, “bad people shouldn't continue to do bad things,” and not announcing a change in policy.

3:32 p.m. ET, March 28, 2022

Biden says he's not walking back Putin remark, but not voicing policy change

From CNN's Kevin Liptak and DJ Judd

US President Joe Biden says he isn't walking back his remarks that President Vladimir Putin cannot remain in power.

"I'm not walking anything back," President Biden said Monday at the White House, emphasizing he wasn't voicing a policy change but that he was expressing an opinion based on his emotions from the day. "I was expressing the moral outrage I felt toward the way Putin is dealing and the actions of this man.”

"I'd just come from being with those families," he said, referring to Ukrainian refugees in Warsaw. 

"I wasn’t then or wasn’t now expressing a policy change," Biden said.

"I make no apologies for it," he said.

Biden continued, “I was expressing just what I said — I was expressing the moral outrage I felt towards this man. I wasn't articulating a policy change. And I think that you know, if he continues on this course, he is going to become a pariah worldwide, and who knows what it can become at home in terms of support.”

The US President dismissed the suggestion that his remarks might escalate the conflict in Ukraine, telling reporters, “No, I'm not.”

Biden said the suggestion that other leaders may take issue with Biden’s unscripted remarks during his address in Poland has not borne, nor has it weakened NATO.

“NATO has never ever, ever, ever, ever, ever been as strong as it is today,” Biden said.