European Parliament president will be first leader of EU institution to travel to Ukraine since invasion began
From CNN's James Frater in Brussels and Niamh Kennedy in London
European Parliament President Roberta Metsola will be the first leader of an EU institution to travel to Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion.
No details of the trip or the president's agenda in Ukraine have been shared prior to the visit "due to security concerns," a European Parliament official told CNN.
In a speech on Monday, Metsola called it "important for the European Parliament to support Ukraine’s aspiration to be a candidate country for accession."
On Thursday, Metsola posted a photo of herself saying: "On my way to Kyiv."
6:39 p.m. ET, March 31, 2022
Ukrainian women recount how they escaped to Poland to give birth in a country free of war
From CNN's Kyung Lah and Sarah Boxer
Khrystyna Pavluchenko strokes the tiny hand of her newborn, Adelina. She had anticipated the profound joy of becoming a mother for the first time — but not the guilt.
“(That’s) because I left,” Pavluchenko says, choking on tears, as her hours-old child sleeps in the crib next to her hospital bed in the Polish capital, Warsaw.
“I didn’t want to leave. I had to.”
On Feb. 24, when the Russian invasion began, Pavluchenko, then eight months pregnant, was jostled awake at 6 a.m. Air raid sirens blared through her hometown of Ivano-Frankivsk, a city in western Ukraine. The first Russian missiles were on the way.
Pavluchenko recounts the manic push to escape over the next 72 hours. Her husband, medically ineligible to serve in the Ukrainian military, was already in Poland.
She was desperate to stay behind with her parents, grandparents and extended family.
But they all insisted, “Go to Poland.”
So, reluctantly, she began to plan her dangerous escape from Ukraine.
“Missiles are flying. Where they might hit next, no one knows,” she recalls.
Pavluchenko raced to pack with that in mind. Anything she could imagine she needed for her unborn child had to fit in a bag that she could wheel across the border on foot, once her bus reached the border.
“I was afraid of delivering prematurely,” she says, as she remembers entering Poland.
That was the same fear Polish customs officers had when they saw her. They quickly called an ambulance.
She was whisked to a nearby hospital and eventually to Inflancka Specialist Hospital in Warsaw, where psychiatrist Magda Dutsch is treating Ukrainian women.
“It’s unimaginable,” says Dutsch. “They’re often evacuating. They’re talking about shelling and about bombardment, about hours, sometimes days, that they spend in a bunker. They’re talking about the escape and how difficult it was to get to the border and out of the warzone. For someone who hasn’t seen the war, I don’t think it’s possible to imagine such pain and such stress.”
At least 197 Ukrainian children have been born in Polish hospitals since the war began, according to Poland’s Ministry of Health. When she fled, Pavluchenko had no idea that so many other Ukrainian women were in a similar situation.
To her, she felt utterly alone.
"A second war": In another section of the hospital sits Tatiana Mikhailuk, 58, is who is also one of Dutsch’s patients.
From her hospital bed, Mikhailuk tells the harrowing story of her escape from a town outside the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. As a missile flew overhead, Mikhailuk fled her home with her granddaughter in her arms.
Explosions had already blown out all the windows of her apartment building. As she and her husband drove with their grandchildren out of Buchad, an hour north of Kyiv, something exploded on the left side of the road.
“We were crying and praying the whole time,” says Mikhailuk.
They made it out just in time.
Two days later, Russian missiles would destroy the bridges into their suburb.
Mikhailuk had survived the attack at home. But once she crossed the Polish border, she began hemorrhaging blood.
Doctors at Inflancka Specialist Hospital diagnosed her with cervical cancer and performed emergency surgery.
“This is like a second war for me,” says Mikhailuk. “They (the hospital) did everything they could to save me. I’m very grateful to them, to all of Poland. I will never forget their kindness and what they’re doing for Ukrainians.”
She adds, “I’m grateful to Dr. Khrystyna,” another Ukrainian refugee, who is sitting in the corner of the room while we speak with her.
Khrystyna isn’t sure how to describe what title we should use to refer to her.
At home in Lviv, Ukraine, she is a licensed gynecologist. But in Poland, her official title is “secretary.”
“I’m helping,” Khrystyna, who asked CNN to not reveal her last name. explains.
On Feb. 24, Khrystyna’s husband sent her a text message saying, “Pack your stuff and leave. The war began.”
Like so many other Ukrainian women at the hospital, she ran, taking her young son with her.
CNN was granted rare access to the retaken Ukrainian city of Irpin. Here's what our reporters saw.
From CNN's Vasco Cotovio, Frederik Pleitgen and Byron Blunt
A child's doll lies curb side, covered in dirt and debris, in the war-torn Kyiv suburb of Irpin.
There's not a sign of the child who owned it, or of any of the residents of the building next to it, which was shattered to pieces after taking a direct hit from Russian artillery.
This is what Irpin — or what's left of it — looks like, just a couple of days after Ukrainian forces took it back from Russian control.
The area is still extremely dangerous and remains off limits to civilians. As fighting continues in the nearby areas of Bucha and Hostomel, Irpin is still well within range for Russian artillery.
CNN was granted rare access to the city by Ukrainian forces on Thursday.
We snake our way to Irpin through dirt roads in the middle of the forest that separates the suburb from Kyiv at breakneck speed.
"It's safer this way," Andriy, the 29-year-old Ukrainian soldier driving us explains. "It's the best way of avoiding Russian artillery."
Across the Irpin river, the destruction caused by a month of confrontation between Russian and Ukrainian forces is everywhere. There are few unbroken windows, fallen trees in nearly every corner and no shortage of broken down or destroyed military equipment. Most of it is Russian.
The majority of the town's residents have fled, but Ivan Boyko decided to stay. He sent most of his family away, to safety, opting to endure the inferno of the Russian offensive.
"I am 66 years old, I'm not afraid anymore," he says.
Despite staying in Irpin, Boyko has been forced to move out of his house and into a bomb shelter because of all the intense shelling.
"It's impossible to go home," he explains. "Every night and day they shoot. It's scary to go out."
Ukrainian minister provides update on Thursday's evacuations from Mariupol and other key cities
From CNN's Nathan Hodge and Hira Humayun
Iryna Vereshchuk, the Ukrainian minister of reintegration of temporarily occupied territories, said Thursday that 1,458 people reached Zaporizhzhia in their own cars today, with 631 of them coming from Mariupol and 827 coming from the towns of Berdiansk, Enerhodar, Melitopol, Polohy, Huliapole and Vasylivka in the Zaporizhzhia region.
Forty-five buses were going to Berdiansk on Thursday en route to Mariupol and that Russian forces did not let them into Berdiansk, she said.
“600 people came out from (Berdiansk) to the buses and tomorrow morning should leave for Zaporizhzhia. Over 30 buses are staying at the entrance to Berdiansk city (in advance of going on to) Mariupol and (then back to) Berdiansk (to finally deliver) residents to Zaporizhzhia,” Vereshchuk added.
Twelve buses full of humanitarian aid went to Melitopol on Thursday, but the 14 tons of food and medications they were carrying were confiscated by Russian forces, according to Vereshchuk.
“This is the price for the agreed corridors and for the Red Cross's guarantees that the corridors will be provided and working. We are negotiating for the buses to be returned and for the Melitopol residents tomorrow to evacuate using these buses. 50 private cars and one bus with children left Enerhodar today. They passed all the checkpoints and have now reached Zaporizhzhia,” she said. “Tomorrow we will continue demanding the evacuation corridor for Mariupol.”
Russia will reopen the evacuation corridor from the besieged city of Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia on Friday, April 1, at the request of French and German leaders, the Russian ministry of defense on Thursday said.
5:59 p.m. ET, March 31, 2022
European Union economy commissioner: "We will not be blackmailed by Moscow"
From CNN staff
Paolo Gentiloni, the EU commissioner for economy, says the European Union “will not be blackmailed by Moscow” after Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened to cut off natural gas supplies to “unfriendly countries” unless they pay in rubles.
Gentiloni told CNN’s Richard Quest that existing contracts do not include an obligation to pay in rubles and that they must be respected.
“It is an attempt to circumvent European sanctions and to blackmail the European Union,” he said.
5:22 p.m. ET, March 31, 2022
82nd Airborne troops in Poland and Truman carrier group in Mediterranean will stay in place "a while longer"
From CNN's Barbara Starr and Ellie Kaufman
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has decided that US military members deployed to Poland who are part of the 82nd Airborne will stay in position there for “a while longer,” Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said during a briefing at the Pentagon on Thursday.
The Harry S. Truman carrier strike group in the Mediterranean will also stay in place, Kirby added.
CNN previously reported these deployments would be extended, according to two US defense officials.
Both groups were deployed to Europe in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. About 7,000 troops and their support elements from the 82nd Airborne are stationed in Poland as a part of this deployment, according to the Pentagon. The carrier’s aircraft have been flying in support of US and NATO efforts to bolster the eastern flank of NATO in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Kirby stressed both the 82nd Airborne and the Truman carrier strike group have not been deployed “for that long,” only for about “eight to six weeks,” he said.
Kirby said the “security environment in Europe is going to be different,” no matter when the war in Ukraine ends, and the Department of Defense doesn’t know what that looks like yet.
“No matter how this war ends, no matter when it ends, the security environment in Europe is going to be different. And we're gonna have to respond to that,” Kirby said. “So what that looks like, we don't know. But we're going to stay open to having those kinds of conversations to about whether there needs to be more permanent, a larger permanent presence on the European continent," he added.
4:46 p.m. ET, March 31, 2022
White House: "No plans" for Biden-Putin to talk and any conversation would require "serious de-escalation"
From CNN's Sam Fossum
There are "no plans" for US President Joe Biden to speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin, White House communications director Kate Bedingfield said Thursday, adding that any conversation would require "serious de-escalation" from the Russians in Ukraine and setting a high bar for reengagement between the two leaders.
"Not currently. We've been very clear that any reengagement of diplomacy at that level would require significant demonstration from the Russians of serious de-escalation and we have not seen that," Bedingfield told CNN's Kaitlan Collins.
Biden last spoke to Putin over the phone on Feb. 12, less than two weeks before Russia began its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
4:30 p.m. ET, March 31, 2022
US Commerce Department will take further action against Russia's defense, aerospace and maritime sectors
From CNN's Sam Fossum
The US Commerce Department will be adding 120 Russian and Belarusian entities to its "Entity List," a US trade restriction list, in the "coming days," according to White House communications director Kate Bedingfield.
"In the coming days, the Commerce Department will also take further action to degrade Russia's defense, aerospace and maritime sectors by adding 120 entities in Russia and Belarus to the Entity List, bringing the number of Russian and Belarusian parties added to the list to over 200 since the invasion began," she told reporters on Thursday.
Bedingfield noted that being added to the list means these companies or entities "can no longer get US cutting edge technology without a license, which will in most, if not all, of these cases be denied."
She added: "The power of these restrictions will compound over time as Russia draws down any remaining stockpiles. For example, spare parts for certain planes and tanks. We will continue to impose unprecedented costs strengthen Ukraine's hand and make Putin's word choice, a strategic failure."