March 29, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Maureen Chowdhury, Adrienne Vogt, Aditi Sangal, Mike Hayes, Jason Kurtz, Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Travis Caldwell, Seán Federico O'Murchú, Jack Guy and Hafsa Khalil, CNN

Updated 11:06 a.m. ET, March 30, 2022
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5:58 a.m. ET, March 29, 2022

Ukraine reports fresh counterattacks against Russian forces in the south

From CNN's Andrew Carey, Kostan Nechyporenko and Olga Voitovych

A member of the Ukrainian Volunteer Corps fires with a howitzer at a position in the Zaporizhzhia region of Ukraine, on March 28.
A member of the Ukrainian Volunteer Corps fires with a howitzer at a position in the Zaporizhzhia region of Ukraine, on March 28. (Stanislav Yurchenko/Reuters)

Russia’s most significant battlefield achievement in south Ukraine has been the capture of Kherson in the first week of March – seen as the first important gain towards a possible offensive against Odesa, the country’s third largest city. 

But in recent days, CNN has reported on Russia’s struggles to hold its front line northwest of the city, as well as Ukrainian successes targeting Russian attack helicopters at nearby Kherson airport. 

Now, Ukrainian officials are reporting potentially significant gains elsewhere in the south, pushing Russian forces back as much as around 31 miles (50 kilometers) in fighting near the city of Kryvyi Rih. 

"The enemy is no longer just stopped in all directions - but has actually been pushed back from the distant approaches to the city," Oleksandr Vilkul, the top official in Kryvyi Rih, said late Monday.

"Today, several more settlements in the Kherson region have been liberated. The invaders are at a distance from Kryvyi Rih of at least 40 kilometers (25 miles), in some directions as much as 60 kilometers (37 miles)."

Previously, Ukrainian officials said Russian troops were within 10 kilometers (6 miles) of the city, which has a population of more than 500,000 and lies between Kherson and Dnipro. 

"The contact line is no longer on the border with the Dnipropetrovsk region, and it is already in the Kherson region. Our military shows real bravery and inflicts serious damage on the enemy," Vikul said.  

Most residents had remained in Kryvyi Rih since the start of the war, Vikul added. "You can see for yourself that the city lives and works," he said on a video statement posted on Facebook.  

In a reminder of the ongoing threat posed by Russian attacks, regardless of any changes in control of territory, the top official in the nearby city of Nikopol reported a missile strike close to his city. There were no reports of casualties, Eugen Evtushenko said on Facebook.

5:20 a.m. ET, March 29, 2022

Counterattacks underway in Kyiv after shelling of reclaimed territory, says Ukrainian Interior Minister

From CNN's Olga Voitovych and Nathan Hodge in Lviv

Ukrainian forces have started counterattacks in parts of Kyiv while Irpin to the west of the capital has come under shelling, after the Ukrainian government claimed to have retaken the suburb on Monday, a Ukrainian Interior Ministry official said Tuesday. 

Vadym Denysenko, an adviser to the Interior Minister of Ukraine, said in a live television broadcast that Ukrainian forces were counterattacking to the east of the capital. 

"In Kyiv region, after the village of Lukianivka, where there were very fierce battles a few days ago, we liberated Rudnytske village," he said. "That is, we are entrenching. We are beginning to move on to certain counterattacks."

CNN was not immediately able to verify that claim, but Ukrainian media have broadcast images from Lukianivka. 

On Monday, local authorities said the suburb of Irpin, to the west of Kyiv, had been retaken by Ukrainian forces.

"We are entrenching there and clearing the city," Denysenko said. "At night, unfortunately, the shelling took place again. We saw that rocket artillery was being fired. Now we are clarifying the information."

1:24 p.m. ET, March 29, 2022

Ukrainian Embassy says meeting has started in Turkey

From CNN's Isil Sariyuce in Istanbul

The meeting in Istanbul between the Ukrainian and Russian delegations has started, says the Ukrainian Embassy in Turkey.

1:24 p.m. ET, March 29, 2022

Turkish President says Russia and Ukraine both have "legitimate concerns" ahead of talks

From CNN's Yusuf Gezer and Niamh Kennedy

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks ahead of the peace talks between delegations from Russia and Ukraine at Dolmabahce Presidential Office in Istanbul, Turkey, on March 29.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks ahead of the peace talks between delegations from Russia and Ukraine at Dolmabahce Presidential Office in Istanbul, Turkey, on March 29. (Arda Kucukkaya/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Russia and Ukraine both have "legitimate concerns" heading into the next round of talks in Istanbul on Tuesday, according to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. 

Erdogan said it "is possible to reach an agreement that can address both countries’ legitimate concerns," in a speech before the meeting between the delegations started.

The Turkish President also passed on his "sincerest greetings" to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, whom he called "valuable friends of mine."

4:33 a.m. ET, March 29, 2022

What does Zelensky mean when he talks about neutrality?

From CNN’s Nathan Hodge

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.  

1:24 p.m. ET, March 29, 2022

Heads of Russia-Ukraine delegations are now meeting in Istanbul

From CNN's Isil Sariyuce in Istanbul and Tim Lister

Russian and Ukrainian delegations meet at Dolmabahce Presidential Office for the peace talks in Istanbul, Turkey, on March 29.
Russian and Ukrainian delegations meet at Dolmabahce Presidential Office for the peace talks in Istanbul, Turkey, on March 29. (Arda Kucukkaya/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

The heads of the Russian and Ukrainian delegations are meeting now in Turkey ahead of the latest round of talks at the Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul.

Russia’s deputy defense minister Alexander Fomin is leading the Russian delegation, which also includes negotiator Vladimir Medinsky, while David Arakhamia is the head of the Ukrainian delegation.

Correction: This post has been updated to more accurately reflect the latest developments in negotiations.

1:24 p.m. ET, March 29, 2022

Erdogan: Now is the time to "expect solid outcomes" from Russia-Ukraine talks

From CNN's Yusuf Gezer and Niamh Kennedy

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks ahead of the peace talks between delegations from Russia and Ukraine at Dolmabahce Presidential Office in Istanbul, Turkey, on March 29.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks ahead of the peace talks between delegations from Russia and Ukraine at Dolmabahce Presidential Office in Istanbul, Turkey, on March 29. (Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that now is the time to "expect solid outcomes" from the latest round of talks between Russia and Ukraine.

Speaking in Istanbul as talks commenced on Tuesday, Erdogan stressed that "it's up to both sides to stop this tragedy."

"We think we’re in a period where we should expect solid outcomes from negotiations. You’re laying the foundations of peace with the directives of your leaders," he said, emphasizing that an "immediate ceasefire and peace would benefit all."

Some context: While Turkey is a NATO member and Erdogan characterized the invasion as "unacceptable" at its onset, the president has tried to position himself as a potential broker for peace between Russia and Ukraine.

Erdogan told reporters Friday that Ukraine and Russia seem to have reached "an understanding" on four out of six topics discussed during negotiations, including Ukraine staying out of NATO as well as the acceptance of Russian as an official language.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said last week any constitutional changes that relate to security guarantees would need to be decided through a referendum and not by him alone.

12:32 a.m. ET, March 29, 2022

They tried to reveal what life was like under Russian occupation. Then they disappeared

From CNN's Eliza Mackintosh and Yuliia Presniakova

When there was a knock on Yulia Olkhovska's front door at 5:30 a.m., she knew who would be waiting for her in the pre-dawn darkness outside. But she was still terrified.

Ever since Russia invaded Ukraine, rolling tanks into several small cities in the country's southeast, including her hometown Melitopol, there had been a steady, grim drumbeat of disappearances.

Journalists like herself, as well as activists, politicians, public figures and residents in Russian-occupied areas were being picked up off the street and snatched from their homes. She had conferred with her husband in hushed tones about what to do if they came for her; the pair decided they would try to remain calm.

So when five armed men in military uniform turned up at her house in the suburbs of Melitopol on March 21, she took a deep breath and let them in. After carrying out a room-by-room search, startling their sleeping teenage daughter and four cats, the Russians told Olkhovska to come with them.

Read what happens to Olkhovska and other Ukrainians here:

12:00 a.m. ET, March 29, 2022

It's 7 a.m. in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know

With Russia's troops stalled in many parts of Ukraine, delegations from both countries are set to resume in-person talks today in Istanbul.

Here's the latest:

  • Talks in Turkey: The latest round of Russia-Ukraine negotiations will be held in-person in Istanbul on Tuesday, according to Russian and Turkish authorities. Russia's Foreign Minister said Moscow hoped the meeting "would achieve our fundamental goals." The last round of talks was held virtually two weeks ago, following earlier face-to-face negotiations in Belarus.
  • Stalled progress: Russian forces are largely stalled in several parts of Ukraine, including around Chernihiv, Mykolaiv and Kharkiv, according to a senior US defense official. Troops have "made no progress in moving towards Kyiv," though fighting continues on the outskirts of the capital.
  • Evacuations under threat: Russian forces have consolidated control around the southeastern port city of Mariupol, with evacuation corridors largely under their control, according to the city's mayor. Weeks of bombardment have devastated the city and killed an unknown number of civilians. Those who remain are living without heat, electricity or water. "We are in the hands of the occupiers," the mayor said Monday, calling for a complete evacuation of all residents.
  • The nuclear question: In a PBS interview Monday, a Kremlin spokesperson ruled out Russia using nuclear weapons in Ukraine, saying Moscow would only use them if there was a threat to the country's existence.
  • Biden on Putin: The US President on Monday refused to walk back remarks about Vladimir Putin, but clarified it was an opinion, not a change in official policy. On Saturday, Biden made an improvised comment that his Russian counterpart "cannot remain in power" — which sent the White House into clean-up mode over the weekend.
  • Refugees flee: More than 3.8 million people have fled Ukraine since the war began, according to the United Nations — and half of them are children.