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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6:24 a.m. ET, March 31, 2022

Zelensky urges new sanctions against Russia in address to Australian parliament

From CNN’s Mayumi Maruyama and Irene Nasser

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky addresses Australian federal parliament via video link on March 31, in Canberra, Australia.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky addresses Australian federal parliament via video link on March 31, in Canberra, Australia. (Martin Ollman/Getty Images)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for further sanctions on Russia during a virtual address to the Australian parliament on Thursday.

“The distance between our country is big,” said Zelensky, “but there is no such thing as distance to Russians' brutality to our Ukrainian land.”

Zelensky warned of great implications to global security if Russia isn’t stopped and also spoke about what will come after the war, calling on nations and companies to invest in the restoration of Ukraine. Zelensky specifically spoke about the development of ports and cities on the Black Sea and rebuilding the naval sector.

Australia then pledged to provide "an additional $25 million AUD of defensive military assistance for the Ukrainian Armed Forces."

The new package will include tactical decoys, unmanned aerial and unmanned ground systems, rations and medical supplies, according to a government statement.

In an earlier statement, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison replied to Zelensky -- who he referred to as a "lion of democracy" -- to express his country's solidarity.

We stand with you, Mr. President, and we do not stand with the war criminal of Moscow, Mr. President. I know that man. You know that man. We know that man, Mr Speaker. And we know his regime. We have seen them unleash unspeakable horror against your children, your hospitals and shelters," Morrison said.

Some context: Australia has imposed sanctions on more than 500 Russian individuals and entities, including oligarchs with close connections to President Vladimir Putin as well as Russia's finance ministry.

Australia has provided military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine and also announced a ban on exports of alumina and aluminum ore to Russia. Russia relies on Australia for nearly 20% of its alumina needs, according to the Australian government.

5:46 a.m. ET, March 31, 2022

Germany will be poorer due to Ukraine war, but it's a small price to pay, says economy minister

From CNN's Inke Kappeler, Chris Stern and Mark Thompson 

Robert Habeck, Germany's economy minister, holds a news conference on energy security, in Berlin on March 30.
Robert Habeck, Germany's economy minister, holds a news conference on energy security, in Berlin on March 30. (Kay Nietfeld/picture alliance/Getty Images)

The German economy minister has warned that his country -- Europe’s largest economy --will take a hit following the war in Ukraine.

Robert Habeck told public broadcaster ZDF on Wednesday: “We will be poorer.” 

“It is not possible that this ends without costs for the German society, it is unthinkable. I believe that we are ready to pay this price which is small enough compared to the sufferings in Ukraine,” he added.

We are a war party, an economic war party, Habeck said. "And we are paying [a] high price, a price that is not comparable to the price that Ukrainians are paying. They are dying, they are being displaced, they are being shelled, we have a high inflation.”

Spat over gas supplies; On Wednesday, Germany issued a precautionary "early warning" of possible natural gas shortages after Russia said it wanted to be paid in rubles and threatened to cut off supplies if that didn't happen. Germany said it was committed to a G7 agreement that energy supplies from Russia would be paid for only in euros or US dollars.

Russia later said Germany could pay in euros, which would then be converted into rubles via Gazprom Bank, which is not affected by sanctions. Scholz did not agree to this and has asked for further written information.

5:29 a.m. ET, March 31, 2022

Parts of the Kharkiv region are under "constant shelling," says military governor

From CNN's Julia Presniakova

Fire and smoke light up the night sky, east of Kharkiv, Ukraine, on March 30.
Fire and smoke light up the night sky, east of Kharkiv, Ukraine, on March 30. (Fadel Senna/AFP/Getty Images)

The Kharkiv region of northeastern Ukraine has come under heavy shellfire in the past 24 hours, the region's military governor said in a statement Thursday. 

The intense bombardment has prevented the opening of evacuation corridors in the region, Oleh Synyehubov, the head of the Kharkiv region military administration, said in a statement on Telegram. 

Over the past day, Russian troops have struck 47 times with artillery, mortar, tank, and strikes in the areas of Piatihatky, Oleksiyivka, and the residential area of the Kharkiv Traсtor Plant district," Synyehubov said.

"About 380 shellings from Grad and Smerch [rocket artillery] were recorded. In Saltivka, the enemy damaged the gas pipeline, there was a major fire, and rescuers have worked to localize it," he added.

Synyehubov said Russian forces had also inflicted heavy fire on Derhachi, northwest of the city of Kharkiv, killing one person and injuring three others, and destroying a city council building. 

"The fiercest point [in Kharkiv region] remains Izium, where fighting and constant shelling continue," he said. "We are working every day to open 'green' [evacuation] corridors. But so far Russia does not give us such an opportunity."

5:25 a.m. ET, March 31, 2022

Zelensky chief of staff tells CNN "it looks like dialogue" following Istanbul diplomatic talks

From CNN’s Alex Hardie and Emmet Lyons

Andriy Yermak, chief of staff to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, speaks to CNN on March 31
Andriy Yermak, chief of staff to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, speaks to CNN on March 31 (CNNI)

Andriy Yermak, chief of staff to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, has said he has a “small portion of optimism” following diplomatic negotiations with Russia in Istanbul and that “it looks like dialogue.”

“We have a very principled position and we wanted to go for any compromise which corresponded to our independence, territorial integrity and sovereignty,” Yermak told CNN’s chief international anchor Christiane Amanpour from Kyiv Wednesday.

“I have a very, very small portion of optimism on this. We continue this talking, but we’ll start to believe in reality if some real things start to happen …

“We want to stop this war, we want the Russian troops to withdraw from our territory. We insist that the humanitarian corridors will be open especially once again to Mariupol,” Yermak said.

Meanwhile, satellite images from Maxar Technologies have shown that entire city blocks in central Mariupol have been obliterated.

Satellite image showing destruction of homes and buildings in Mariupol, Ukraine, on March 29.
Satellite image showing destruction of homes and buildings in Mariupol, Ukraine, on March 29. (Maxar Technologies/Reuters)

Referencing the destruction of the city, Yermak said that “the city of Mariupol is gone … the Russian troops forced thousands of them [Mariupol citizens] to move to Russia. 

“I think that the catastrophe of Mariupol, I can say is very similar to what happened in the time of the second war -- the Second World War in the blockade of Leningrad because the people practically died without food, without water.”

When asked by Amanpour about whether Ukraine had enough weapons to maintain its resistance from Russian aggression, Yermak said: “We have not enough weapons and we need it, we need it to continue our fighting, and I hope that all our partners now absolutely understand.”

“We are fighting for our land. We are fighting for our country and we are fighting for all of [the world’s democracies],” he added.

5:10 a.m. ET, March 31, 2022

What is the Donbas and why is it so important in the current conflict?

From CNN's Tamara Qiblawi, Nathan Hodge, Tim Lister and Ivana Kottasová

Russia’s recent actions suggest an apparent shift to redirect its military efforts to the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine. 

But what is the Donbas and how significant is its role in the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine?

The events of 2014 are pivotal to the situation today. Back then Russian-backed rebels seized government buildings in towns and cities across eastern Ukraine. Intense fighting left portions of Luhansk and Donetsk, in the Donbas region, in the hands of Russian-backed separatists.

Russia also annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 in a move that sparked global condemnation.

The separatist-controlled areas in Donbas became known as the Luhansk and the Donetsk People's Republic, but the Ukrainian government in Kyiv asserts that the two regions are, in effect, Russian-occupied. The self-declared republics are not recognized by any governments, other than Russia and its close ally Syria. The Ukrainian government refuses to talk directly with either separatist republic.

Language around the conflict is heavily politicized. The Ukrainian government calls separatist forces "invaders" and "occupiers." Russian media calls separatist forces "militias" and maintains that they are locals defending themselves against the Kyiv government.

More than 14,000 people had died in the conflict in Donbas between 2014, prior to Russia's invasion of Ukraine in late February. Ukraine said 1.5 million people were forced to flee their homes during that period, with most staying in the areas of Donbas that were still under Ukrainian control and about 200,000 resettling in the wider Kyiv region.

The separatists in Donbas have had substantial backing from Moscow, with the US, NATO and Ukrainian officials saying the Russian government supplies the separatists, provides them with advisory support and intelligence, and embeds its own officers in their ranks.

Moscow has also distributed hundreds of thousands of Russian passports to people in Donbas in recent years. Prior to the invasion, Western officials and observers had accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of attempting to establish facts on the ground by naturalizing Ukrainians as Russian citizens, a de facto way of recognizing the breakaway states. 

Putin has long accused Ukraine of violating the rights of ethnic Russians and Russian speakers in Ukraine, and in the weeks before the invasion he alleged that  "genocide" was being committed in Donbas.

As in 2014, the region once again sits at the center of both the military and geopolitical conflict.

8:14 a.m. ET, March 31, 2022

Heavy shelling continues in Ukraine's east

From CNN's Nathan Hodge and Julia Presniakova in Lviv 

Damage after shelling in the pro-Russian separatists-controlled Donetsk, in Ukraine on March 30.
Damage after shelling in the pro-Russian separatists-controlled Donetsk, in Ukraine on March 30. (Leon Klein/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Ukrainian military governors in the country's east reported heavy shelling Thursday amid an apparent shift by the Russian military to redirect military efforts to the Donbas region. 

"We clearly feel that the transfer of [military] technology in our direction is beginning now," said Serhiy Haidai, head of Luhansk region military administration, in televised remarks. 

"And as the equipment and personnel are being turned over, our enemies are simply firing more densely, powerfully. Everything is already involved here: aircraft, artillery, heavy-caliber weapons, mortars -- all settlements are being shelled," he said.

Separately, Pavlo Kyrylenko, head of Donetsk region military administration, said on Telegram that Russian forces overnight continued shelling in the central part of the region.

"In Maryinka, Krasnohorivka and Novomykhailivka, the enemy again used white phosphorous shells," he said, referring to munitions that are either banned or circumscribed under international law in populated areas.

Eleven wounded civilians from the Maryinka community, including four children, were taken to the Kurakhiv City Hospital."

Planned evacuation: Ukrainian and Russian officials announced a major evacuation was planned for Thursday from the besieged city of Mariupol, in Ukraine's southeast.

Haidai, the Luhansk regional administrator, said efforts had also been underway to evacuate civilians from small towns in his region, even without such agreements with the Russian side.

"Our evacuation is going on every day without the so-called humanitarian corridors," he said. "We don't trust the orcs [a derogatory Ukrainian term for Russian troops] very much, and secondly, they don't really agree with those corridors. It would be very important for us to evacuate people from Rubizhne and Popasna -- the settlements that are under maximum fire.

"There are fights right in the cities. And from those cities it is impossible to evacuate people and even to deliver humanitarian aid, as such dense shelling is going on there."

Haidai added: "So we work as usual, evacuation buses are constantly coming from Kreminna, from Lysychansk, from Severodonetsk, partly from Rubizhne, from the territory controlled by our defenders. And sometimes our carriers break into Popasna, where they pick up some small groups of people."

4:53 a.m. ET, March 31, 2022

Australia increases tariffs on all Russian and Belarusian imports

From CNN's Lizzy Yee

Australia will apply an additional tariff of 35% on all imports from Russia and Belarus, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade announced in a press release Thursday.  

"Australia will issue a formal notification withdrawing entitlement to the Most-Favoured-Nation (MFN) tariff treatment and applying an additional tariff of 35 per cent to all imports from Russia and Belarus," the press release said, adding that Australia would be joining “other like-minded” countries by doing so.

Reiterating Australia’s support for "the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine," Australia will "work closely with (its) partners to ensure Russia is held to account for its actions," according to the release.

The statement coincided with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's virtual address to the Australian parliament on Thursday.

Some background on similar economic measures: US President Joe Biden on March 11 called for suspending normal trade relations with Russia and said the US would ban imports of seafood, vodka and diamonds from the nation as part of an effort to ramp up economic pressure on Russia.

Biden said the US, along with the G7 and European Union, will call for revoking "most favored nation" status for Russia, referred to as permanent normal trade relations in the US. The status means two nations have agreed to trade under the best possible terms, which can include lower tariffs, fewer barriers to trade and high imports, Biden said.

3:27 a.m. ET, March 31, 2022

Analysis: Russian Foreign Minister visits China and India under shadow of Ukraine war

Analysis from CNN's Jessie Yeung in Hong Kong

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, center left, holds talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, center right, in Tunxi, China, on March 30.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, center left, holds talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, center right, in Tunxi, China, on March 30. (Zhou Mu/Xinhua/Getty Images)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is meeting his counterparts in China and India this week — two countries under pressure to condemn Russia's actions in Ukraine as the death toll from the unprovoked conflict rises.

Lavrov met first with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Wednesday before a planned flight to India on Thursday, in only his second trip abroad since the Russian invasion began on Feb. 24.

On paper, Lavrov's meeting with Wang was ostensibly about the turmoil in Afghanistan. But one expert said it was "inconceivable" they wouldn't discuss the situation in Ukraine, including harsh sanctions imposed by the international community on Russia and its ally Belarus.

"It is inconceivable that the sides will avoid Ukraine in their discussions, whatever they say the focus of the visit is about," said Steve Tsang, director of SOAS China Institute at the University of London, ahead of the visit.

Lavrov's trip will offer him the opportunity to gauge the state of Russia's relations with China and India as they come under increasing international scrutiny over their lack of forceful response to Moscow.

Both China and India have refused to condemn Russia's brutal invasion outright, and both abstained from voting on United Nations resolutions demanding Moscow immediately stop its attack on Ukraine.

By the end of Lavrov's first day in China on Wednesday, Beijing had made its stance clear.

"There is no ceiling for China-Russia cooperation, no ceiling for us to strive for peace, no ceiling for us to safeguard security and no ceiling for us to oppose hegemony," said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbinaccording to state-run news agency Xinhua.

Read more about Lavrov's trip to Asia:

3:14 a.m. ET, March 31, 2022

Ukraine officials reach agreement with Russia on evacuation corridor for Mariupol

From CNN's Olga Voitovych and Nathan Hodge in Lviv

An evacuation corridor had been agreed with the Russians for the besieged Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, Ukrainian officials said Thursday.

The Ukrainian side received a message through the International Committee of the Red Cross confirming Russian readiness to open a "humanitarian corridor" from Mariupol through the city of Berdiansk, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said in a statement on Telegram.

"On the route to Mariupol we are sending 45 buses," she said. "28 buses have to get a permit to pass through the Russian checkpoint in Vasylivka. Also, 17 buses have already left Zaporizhzhia. We will do everything possible to ensure that buses arrive in Mariupol today and pick up people who haven't yet been able to leave the city."

Ukrainian officials say around 90% of the buildings in the city have been damaged or left uninhabitable after weeks of intensive bombardment by Russian forces. 

Local residents walk near a destroyed apartment building in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, on March 30.
Local residents walk near a destroyed apartment building in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, on March 30. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

Additional corridors had been agreed for delivery of humanitarian aid and evacuation of people from the city of Melitopol, Vereshchuk said, and for a column of people in private vehicles to leave the city of Enerhodar for Zaporizhzhia.

"Our military has fully confirmed and guarantees a full ceasefire," Vereshchuk said. "So at 9 a.m. we start the evacuation.

Kyrylo Tymoshenko, a senior official in President Volodymyr Zelensky's office, also confirmed 45 buses would be sent to support the evacuation plan.

Earlier, Colonel-General Mikhail Mizintsev, head of Russia’s National Defense Management Center, said the corridor would open at 10 a.m., according to Russian state news agency TASS.