March 30, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Maureen Chowdhury, Travis Caldwell, Seán Federico O'Murchú, Lianne Kolirin and Sana Noor Haq, CNN

Updated 12:02 a.m. ET, March 31, 2022
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10:48 p.m. ET, March 29, 2022

New satellite images show entire city blocks destroyed in central Mariupol

From CNN’s Paul P. Murphy

A satellite photo shows entire city blocks destroyed in central Mariupol.
A satellite photo shows entire city blocks destroyed in central Mariupol. (Maxar Technologies)

Entire city blocks in central Mariupol have been obliterated — a level of destruction previously not seen in the besieged Ukrainian city — new satellite images from Maxar Technologies show.

With communications in and out of Mariupol non-existent, the images are the first visual update in the past few days that have not come from Russian propaganda.

The images confirm what sensory satellite data from NASA has picked up: dozens of explosions have taken place in and around Mariupol.

A drama theater in ruins after being bombed.
A drama theater in ruins after being bombed. (Maxar Technologies)

The area just east of the bombed drama theater — where authorities believe about 300 people died in a Russian attack — is in ruins. In one satellite image, the roofs are either missing or have been significantly damaged on nearly every building.

Every house surrounding two separate apartment complexes is destroyed in eastern Mariupol.
Every house surrounding two separate apartment complexes is destroyed in eastern Mariupol. (Maxar Technologies)

In eastern Mariupol, another residential area has sustained similar destruction. Every house surrounding two separate apartment complexes is destroyed.

Another sprawling apartment complex in southeastern Mariupol, near the Azovstal iron and steel works factory, has been destroyed. CNN has previously confirmed that Russian troops and Chechen fighters have been active near that apartment complex.

Hundreds of people gather in lines outside the Metro supermarket in western Mariupol.
Hundreds of people gather in lines outside the Metro supermarket in western Mariupol. (Maxar Technologies)

The satellite images also show survivors of the carnage.

Outside the Metro supermarket in western Mariupol, hundreds of people are seen gathered in lines, waiting to enter the building. Its roof has holes from military strikes. 

Mariupol's mayor estimated that as many as 160,000 people remain in the city as of Monday. 

Russian military vehicles are seen parked directly next to homes northeast of Mariupol.
Russian military vehicles are seen parked directly next to homes northeast of Mariupol. (Maxar Technologies)

Just northeast of the city, Russian military positions are seen, including vehicles parked directly next to homes. Towed artillery positions are seen just northeast of those vehicles.

Towed artillery positions are seen just northeast of Mariupol.
Towed artillery positions are seen just northeast of Mariupol. (Maxar Technologies)

10:27 p.m. ET, March 29, 2022

The UN's nuclear watchdog chief is in Ukraine. Here's what we know

Rafael Mariano Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is in Ukraine for urgent talks with the Ukrainian government about the safety of the country's nuclear facilities. 

Here's what we know:

Grossi posted a photo of himself on Twitter standing in front of an official UN vehicle on Tuesday, saying he had "just crossed the border into Ukraine to start the IAEA's mission to ensure the safety and security of the country's nuclear facilities." 

  • In a statement, the IAEA said Grossi is in Ukraine to "initiate prompt safety and security support to Ukraine’s nuclear facilities."
  • Talks with senior government officials will center on the agency's plans to deliver "urgent technical assistance" and "help avert the risk of an accident that could endanger people and the environment," the statement said. 
  • Grossi's location in Ukraine has not been disclosed.

Some context:

  • Russian forces have occupied Ukraine's largest nuclear power plant, Zaporizhzhia, since March 4, and the Chernobyl nuclear power plant — site of the infamous 1986 accident — since Feb. 24. 

Safety fears:

  • There are concerns over the safety of the nuclear sites, reactors and staff at the facilities.
  • Grossi said the conflict is "putting Ukraine’s nuclear power plants and other facilities with radioactive material in unprecedented danger."  

Preventing a nuclear accident:

  • Grossi warned "there have already been several close calls" at Ukraine's nuclear facilities since Russia's invasion began.
  • He is set to visit one of the country's power plants during his trip.
  • His visit comes after Ukraine "requested our assistance for safety and security," Grossi said.
"We can’t afford to lose any more time," he said, adding that the IAEA's expertise is needed urgently to prevent any nuclear accident.

Nuclear sites in Ukraine:

  • The country has 15 nuclear power reactors at four plants, as well as the Chernobyl plant.
  • The IAEA said eight reactors continue to operate, including two at the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia plant, three at Rivne, one at Khmelnitsky, and two at the South Ukraine facility. The other reactors remain closed for regular maintenance.
  • The watchdog said it has drawn up "concrete and detailed plans for safety and security assistance."

Several scares:

  • On March 23, the Ukrainian government said Russian forces looted and destroyed a lab close to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, which was used to monitor radioactive waste. The government agency also reported that samples of radionuclides — unstable atoms that can emit high levels of radiation — had been removed from the lab.
  • Staff working at Chernobyl on the day it was captured only recently had the chance to go home, three weeks after they were due to rotate with an incoming team. Workers had been confined to the plant for 10 days and were “exhausted, both mentally and emotionally, but mainly physically," the local mayor said.
  • Earlier this month, the site was forced to use power from emergency diesel generators for several days, before being reconnected to the national electricity grid after repairs to damaged lines.
  • Ukraine’s government also warned of several fires close to the plant, which it said had probably been triggered by Russian artillery or arson.
10:55 p.m. ET, March 29, 2022

FIRST ON CNN: Video shows extensive destruction in deserted Irpin

From CNN's Paul P. Murphy and David Lauterbach

A screengrab from the video shows the extent of the destruction in Irpin on the northwestern outskirts of Kyiv.
A screengrab from the video shows the extent of the destruction in Irpin on the northwestern outskirts of Kyiv. (Ukrainian Witness Project)

The full extent of the devastation in the city of Irpin can be seen in new video taken by a Ukrainian NGO and provided to CNN.

It comes after Ukrainian forces pushed Russian troops out of the city in Kyiv's northwestern suburbs in the past 36 hours.

Some context: CNN has geolocated and verified the authenticity of the video taken by Ukrainian Witness Project, which is chronicling the war in Ukraine. This is one of the first videos in weeks from the eastern part of Irpin, as intense fighting there made it impossible to access safely.

On Monday, Irpin's mayor said Ukainian troops has reclaimed the area from Russian forces.

A wasteland: The video, filmed Tuesday, shows the wooded suburb akin to an apocalyptic wasteland.

Wind passing through the remaining trees and the clanging of sheet metal against metal is the only thing that's heard in the video, save for the dull boom of a military strike in the distance.

Ongoing shelling: Russia claims it will reduce military activity near Kyiv, but CNN has seen no sign that's happening yet as military strikes continued on Tuesday evening around the Ukrainian capital.

The video shows that while the gunfire, the bombs and the war may have — for now — left Irpin, so has most of the life in the city.

Bodies in streets: Aside from debris and destruction of buildings, the bodies of civilians are the only thing in the streets.

An individual in a leather jacket, who had apparently been pulling a small cart when killed, is seen face down on the ground. Another casualty is shown on their back in the backseat of a bullet-ridden car.

There are at least five bodies in the video. It is unclear how and when they died.

The video shows they remain where they were struck dead in the street, in wind-filled silence, among the charred buildings and splintered trees.

Watch: Graphic video shows extensive destruction in Irpin

8:07 p.m. ET, March 29, 2022

Top US general in Europe: An intelligence gap could have caused the US to overestimate Russia's military

From CNN's Barbara Starr, Ellie Kaufman and Jeremy Herb

The top US general in Europe said Tuesday there "could be" a gap in US intelligence gathering that caused the US to overestimate Russia's capability and underestimate Ukraine's defensive abilities before Russia attacked Ukraine.

When Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine last month, US intelligence assessed that the country-wide assault could lead to Kyiv falling into Russian hands within days. But Russia's military has been bogged down around the capital as the war has entered its second month, beleaguered by sustainability and logistics problems, along with an unexpected stiff resistance from Ukrainian fighters.

Testifying at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday, US European Command chief Gen. Tod Wolters was asked by Sen. Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican, if there was an intelligence gap that caused the US to overestimate Russia's strength and underestimate the Ukrainian defenses.

"There could be," Wolters responded. "As we've always done in the past, when this crisis is over with, we will accomplish a comprehensive after-action review in all domains and in all departments and find out where our weak areas were and make sure we can find ways to improve, and this could be one of those areas."

While US intelligence was spot on in predicting Russia was planning to invade Ukraine — which the Biden administration aggressively released to turn global sentiment against the Kremlin — the intelligence community did not assess the poor performance of the Russian military.

Read more:

8:04 p.m. ET, March 29, 2022

US skeptical of Russian claims it's scaling back the war in Ukraine

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

President Joe Biden and other American officials voiced extreme caution Tuesday at signals Russia is scaling back its military operations near Kyiv, suggesting they were waiting to see stronger signs of de-escalation before making an assessment of Moscow's intentions.

"We'll see. I don't read anything into it until I see what their actions are. We'll see if they follow through what they're suggesting," Biden said at the White House, where officials were busy digesting intelligence and reports from the ground that Russian troops were moving their focus away from Ukraine's capital toward other areas of the country.

Biden's don't-trust-but-verify approach reflects deep American skepticism at Russian President Vladimir Putin's motives amid his monthlong invasion of Ukraine. While the US has observed movements of Russian forces away from Kyiv, there remains doubt the Russian assault on Ukraine will end soon.

Read more:

8:42 p.m. ET, March 29, 2022

Russia says it will reduce military operations around Kyiv following talks with Ukraine

From CNN's Nathan Hodge, Daria Markina, Tim Lister, Niamh Kennedy and Lindsay Isaac

Russia said it would "drastically reduce" its military assault on the Ukrainian cities of Kyiv and Chernihiv after talks took place between representatives of the two nations on Tuesday that appeared to show signs of progress towards an off ramp to the conflict.

The Russian Defense Ministry has decided to "radically, at times, reduce military activity" in the direction of Kyiv and Chernihiv, deputy defense minister Alexander Fomin said, state media RIA reported. The ministry's Telegram channel also said that Moscow would "drastically reduce military activity" in the cities.

The announcement comes after Ukrainian and Western intelligence assessments suggested in recent days that Russia's advance on Kyiv was stalling.

Talks between Russian and Ukrainian delegations in Istanbul, Turkey on Tuesday covered an array of important issues, including the future of the eastern Donbas region, the fate of Crimea, a broad alliance of security guarantors and a potential meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Fomin told reporters that the ongoing discussions regarding the "neutrality and non-nuclear status of Ukraine" had contributed to the decision. More details on the steps to reduce hostilities will follow after the Russian delegation returns from Istanbul, Fomin said in remarks carried by Russian state news agency TASS.

Despite the announcement, intense fighting continued around the suburbs of Kyiv on Tuesday afternoon, especially in the northwest and northeast of the city.

Ukraine echoed the announcement regarding the reduction in military action, saying some Russian troops were pulling back from Kyiv and Chernihiv.

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