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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12:06 a.m. ET, April 1, 2022

Zelensky removes two top Ukrainian generals, says he does not have "time to deal with all the traitors"

From CNN's Mariya Knight and Hira Humayun

(Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky/YouTube)
(Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky/YouTube)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he removed two top Ukrainian generals, calling them "antiheroes" in his nightly address posted to social media on Thursday night.

"Today another decision was made regarding antiheroes. Now I do not have time to deal with all the traitors. But gradually they will all be punished," he said.

The generals — former chief of the Main Department of Internal Security of the Security Service of Ukraine, Naumov Andriy Olehovych, and the former head of the Office of the Security Service of Ukraine in the Kherson region, Kryvoruchko Serhiy Oleksandrovych — have been stripped of their rank.

“Those servicemen among senior officers who have not decided where their homeland is, who violate the military oath of allegiance to the Ukrainian people as regards (to) the protection of our state, its freedom and independence, will inevitably be deprived of senior military ranks. Random generals don't belong here!” Zelensky said.
7:50 p.m. ET, March 31, 2022

Situation in southern Ukraine and Donbas "remains extremely difficult," Zelensky says

From CNN's Niamh Kennedy in London and Mariya Knight in Atlanta

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a video posted on Facebook on Thursday March 31.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a video posted on Facebook on Thursday March 31. (Ukrainian Government/FaceBook)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said the situation in southern Ukraine and Donbas "remains extremely difficult" as Russia continues to prioritize military operations in the separatist controlled region.

Speaking in a video posted on social media on Thursday, Zelensky said Russian forces are "trying to figure out how to consolidate their presence there."

In the Donbas region, the besieged southern city of Mariupol and in the direction of northeastern city of Kharkiv, "Russian troops are accumulating the potential for strikes," Zelensky warned.

This echoes the remarks of a senior US defense official on Thursday who said that the Donbas is one of the four areas where Russia is focusing current airstrikes.

On Thursday evening, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said it is "clear the Russians want to reprioritize their operations in the Donbas��area."

Russian forces were regrouping in order to "intensify operations in priority areas and, above all, to complete the operation for the complete liberation of Donbas," Russian Ministry of Defense spokesperson Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said on Wednesday.

Zelensky reiterated Ukraine's commitment to "do everything we can to stop the invaders."

7:27 p.m. ET, March 31, 2022

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 tends to her newborn daughter, Adelina.
Khrystyna Pavluchenko tends to her newborn daughter, Adelina. (Kyung Lah/CNN)

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.

Adelina Pavluchenko was born in Warsaw, Poland after her mother fled the war in Ukraine.
Adelina Pavluchenko was born in Warsaw, Poland after her mother fled the war in Ukraine. (Kyung Lah/CNN)

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.

Tatiana Mikhailuk survived an attack in her hometown of Buchad before being diagnosed with cervical cancer in Poland.
Tatiana Mikhailuk survived an attack in her hometown of Buchad before being diagnosed with cervical cancer in Poland. (Kyung Lah/CNN)

"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.

Read more here.

5:36 p.m. ET, March 31, 2022

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

Irpin Mayor Oleksandr Markushin leads one of the special force units looking for Russian infiltrators still present in the town.
Irpin Mayor Oleksandr Markushin leads one of the special force units looking for Russian infiltrators still present in the town. (Vasco Cotovio/CNN)

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.

Ivan Boyko, 66, says he's had to move to a bomb shelter because its not safe to remain at home.
Ivan Boyko, 66, says he's had to move to a bomb shelter because its not safe to remain at home. (Vasco Cotovio/CNN)

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."

Read the full report here.

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.