March 31, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Travis Caldwell, Seán Federico O'Murchú, Adrienne Vogt, Jason Kurtz, Joe Ruiz, Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Maureen Chowdhury and Aditi Sangal, CNN

Updated 1:26 p.m. ET, April 8, 2022
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8:03 p.m. ET, March 31, 2022

Ukrainian minister provides update on Thursday's evacuations from Mariupol and other key cities 

From CNN's Nathan Hodge and Hira Humayun

Evacuees from the Mariupol region arrive at reception center in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine on March 31.
Evacuees from the Mariupol region arrive at reception center in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine on March 31. (Marko Djurica/Reuters)

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

U.S. Army Paratroopers assigned to the 3rd Brigade Combat, 82nd Airborne Division prepare to train with their Polish Allies in Nowa Deba, Poland on March 3.
U.S. Army Paratroopers assigned to the 3rd Brigade Combat, 82nd Airborne Division prepare to train with their Polish Allies in Nowa Deba, Poland on March 3. (Sgt. Catessa Palone/82nd Airborne Division)

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."

Earlier on Thursday, the United States targeted members of the Russian technology sector in a crackdown on sanctions evasion. 

4:54 p.m. ET, March 31, 2022

Ukraine’s defense ministry: At least 148 children killed since Russian invasion started

From CNN’s Martin Goillandeau 

Empty baby strollers are seen during The price of War demonstration in Rynok Square in Lviv, Ukraine on March 18, to draw attention to the deaths of Ukrainian children.
Empty baby strollers are seen during The price of War demonstration in Rynok Square in Lviv, Ukraine on March 18, to draw attention to the deaths of Ukrainian children. (Mykola Tys/Sipa/Reuters)

At least 148 children have been killed in Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion five weeks ago, the country’s defense ministry said in a tweet on Thursday.

It said that some 1,370 Russian missiles have been fired at Ukraine since the start of the war, adding that Russia has so far "destroyed" 15 Ukrainian airports. 

More than 10 million Ukrainians have fled their homes due to the war, the ministry’s tweet also stated.

5:47 p.m. ET, March 31, 2022

Russian military will reopen evacuation corridor from Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia Friday, defense ministry says

From CNN's Nathan Hodge and Hira Humayun

A child sits in a car after arriving in Zaporizhzhya, Ukraine with a a shrapnel-damaged car after fleeing from Mariupol on March 30.
A child sits in a car after arriving in Zaporizhzhya, Ukraine with a a shrapnel-damaged car after fleeing from Mariupol on March 30. (Diego Herrera Carcedo/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

The Russian military 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, according to a statement from the Russia's ministry of defense on Thursday.

The ministry said that "at the personal requests of the President of France E. Macron and the Federal Chancellor of Germany O. Scholz to the President of the Russian Federation V. Putin from 10:00 (Moscow time) on April 1, 2022” the Russian armed forces will reopen the corridor with an intermediate point in Berdiansk.

“For the successful implementation of this humanitarian operation, it is proposed to conduct it with the direct participation of representatives of the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Committee of the Red Cross," the Russian statement added.

5:59 p.m. ET, March 31, 2022

It's 11 p.m. in Kyiv. Here are the latest developments in Russia's invasion of Ukraine

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo speaks prior to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky statement during a plenary session of the Chamber at the Federal Parliament in Brussels on Thursday March 31.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo speaks prior to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky statement during a plenary session of the Chamber at the Federal Parliament in Brussels on Thursday March 31. (Virginie Lefour/Belga/Reuters)

If you are catching up on the latest developments in the Ukraine-Russia conflict, here's what you should know:

From Mariupol: Denis Pushilin, the head of the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic, has ordered the formation of a city administration for the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol, according to a decree published on the DPR head’s website on Thursday, Russian state news agency TASS reported Thursday.

The city is within the boundaries of the Donetsk region of Ukraine. The city was under Ukrainian government control before the war, but the Russian government — which recognized the independence of the DPR in late February — considers the entire region to belong to the separatist republic.

Meanwhile, the evacuation corridor in Mariupol agreed by Ukrainian and Russian officials, announced on Thursday, is “insufficient” to allow the rescue of civilians “in the right conditions,” France said.

Rubles for Russian gas: According to a newly signed decree, gas buyers from "unfriendly countries" will need to open and pay from ruble accounts in Russian banks, President Vladimir Putin announced. France, Germany and the UK made statements to say they will not pay for Russian gas in rubles.

Russia withdraws from Chernobyl: The site of the world's worst nuclear disaster in 1986 and its surrounding territory fell into the hands of Russian troops in the first week of the war in Ukraine. But in a Telegram post made on Thursday, Energoatom, the state enterprise overseeing Ukraine’s nuclear power plants, said that Russian troops announced their intention to leave and hand over control to Ukrainian personnel. The US is also seeing Russian forces “drawing down” from Chernobyl and from the north and northwest of Kyiv, a senior US defense official told reporters Thursday.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky asked the Belgian government to help with “weapons, sanctions, membership of the European Union," adding, "maybe soon the future will pay you back.” By the end of Thursday, Zelensky will have addressed 17 global parliaments in a bid to drum up support during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

NATO secretary-general says Russian troops "are not withdrawing but repositioning": Speaking at a news conference in Brussels for the secretary general’s 2021 Annual Report, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that according to intelligence, “Russian units are not withdrawing but repositioning. Russia is trying to regroup, resupply and reinforce its offensive in the Donbas region. At the same time, Russia maintains pressure on Kyiv and other cities ... we can expect additional offensive actions bringing even more suffering,” Stoltenberg said.

3:56 p.m. ET, March 31, 2022

Pentagon: "Half a dozen" shipments of security assistance to Ukraine from US aid package "already arriving"

From CNN's Ellie Kaufman

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said that "half a dozen” shipments of security assistance for Ukraine has already “flowed into the region” from the $800 million package US President Joe Biden signed on March 16, during a briefing on Thursday.

“Those shipments are already arriving, in fact from the time he signed the order to the first shipment going on its way was like four days Jen, and there’s already been a half a dozen shipments that have flowed into the region,” Kirby said.

“I can tell you that things aren’t sitting long at these intermediate staging shipment sites before they’re getting picked up by convoys and getting taken into Ukraine, so four days is pretty quick,” he added.

Kirby estimated it will likely take “a couple of weeks” to complete shipments from the $800 million package.

“We don’t think it’s going to take very long to complete the $800 dollar package, getting it all filled out, we really don’t think that’s going to take long at all, couple of weeks probably,” he said.

The shipments are not all solely weapons. They are a mixture of “weapons systems” and then “support and sustainment items” which includes “food, body armor, helmets small arms and ammunition, medical and first aid kits,” Kirby said.

Some weapons systems, like Javelins and Stingers, have been in these first few packages to Ukraine, Kirby added.

“In these first half a dozen or so, there have been weapons systems, there have been Javelins, there have been Stingers, that have gone in as well as medical supplies and body armor and small arms and ammunition,” he said.