April 3, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Simone McCarthy, Steve George, Sana Noor Haq, Melissa Macaya, Mike Hayes, Maureen Chowdhury and Amir Vera, CNN

Updated 1812 GMT (0212 HKT) April 4, 2022
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7:28 a.m. ET, April 3, 2022

Ukrainian forces regain control of Pripyat, the ghost town near the Chernobyl nuclear plant

From CNN's Yulia Kesaieva in Lviv

Ukrainian troops have reclaimed control of Pripyat, the ghost town near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said on Sunday.

"Today, April 3, units of paratroopers of the Armed Forces of Ukraine took control of the area of the city of Pripyat and the area along the State Border of Ukraine with the Republic of Belarus," it said on a Facebook post.

The post included a photograph of the Ukrainian flag flying over the town.

Some background: Pripyat was evacuated in 1986 following the explosion and fire at Chernobyl, the world's worst nuclear disaster

More than 30 people died in the immediate aftermath of the explosion, which tore through Chernobyl's No. 4 reactor on April 26, 1986.

In late February, during the first week of the war, Chernobyl plant and its surrounding territory fell into the hands of Russian troops.

But on Thursday, Russian troops announced their intention to leave and hand over control to Ukrainian personnel, according to the state enterprise overseeing Ukraine's nuclear power plants.

"It was confirmed that the occupiers, who seized the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and other facilities in the Exclusion Zone, marched in two columns towards the Ukrainian border with the Republic of Belarus," said Energoatom in a statement published on Telegram.

CNN's Gul Tuysuz, Tamara Qiblawi and Nathan Hodge

11:24 a.m. ET, April 3, 2022

Pope Francis prays for "martyred" Ukraine during his visit to Malta

From CNN's Hada Messia in Rome

Pope Francis celebrates mass on April 3 in Floriana, Valletta, Malta.
Pope Francis celebrates mass on April 3 in Floriana, Valletta, Malta. (Andreas Solaro/AFP/Getty Images)

Pope Francis called the country of Ukraine “martyred" and Russia's ongoing invasion “sacrilegious" during his message to the faithful at the end of a mass in Malta on Sunday morning. 

He asked the faithful, including some holding Ukrainian flags, to pray "for peace, as we think of the humanitarian tragedy in martyred Ukraine, still under the bombings in a sacrilegious war. May we be tireless in praying and in offering assistance to those who suffer."

Francis ends his two day visit to the Mediterranean island Sunday and is expected to return back to Rome.

The Pope's comments come a day after he said a trip to Ukraine "is on the table" while speaking to journalists.

When asked by a reporter on Saturday if he was considering visiting Kyiv, Pope Francis replied after a long pause and said, “Yes, it is on the table.”

While Pope Francis has not yet visited Ukraine amid Russia's invasion, he has shown his support for Ukrainian refugees and called for an end to the war.

7:25 a.m. ET, April 3, 2022

Human Rights Watch documents alleged war crimes by Russian forces in occupied regions of Ukraine

From CNN's Tara John in Lviv 

Rape, summary executions and unlawful violence are some of the alleged war crimes perpetrated by Russian forces in Ukraine against civilians in the occupied areas of Chernihiv, Kharkiv, and Kyiv regions, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement on Sunday. 

The independent rights group says it has documented allegations of war crimes which “include a case of repeated rape; two cases of summary execution, one of six men, the other of one man; and other cases of unlawful violence and threats against civilians between February 27 and March 14, 2022."

“Soldiers were also implicated in looting civilian property, including food, clothing, and firewood. Those who carried out these abuses are responsible for war crimes,” it added. 

CNN has not independently verified the details of those reports.  

Russian forces in Bucha, about 19 miles northwest of Kyiv, “rounded up five men and summarily executed one of them” on March 4, HRW wrote. A witness told the rights group that soldiers forced the men to kneel on the road and pulled their shirts over their heads before shooting one of the men in the back of the head. 

Days before, on February 27, six men were rounded up in the village of Staryi Bykiv, in the Chernihiv region, and were later executed, HRW wrote. 

In Malaya Rohan, a village in the Kharkiv region, a Russian soldier repeatedly raped a woman in a school where she was sheltering with her family on March 13, the victim told HRW. “She said that he beat her and cut her face, neck, and hair with a knife,” HRW wrote.  

The woman fled to Kharkiv the following day, “where she was able to get medical treatment and other services," HRW wrote. 

In the village of Vorzel, 31 miles northwest of Kyiv, Russian soldiers “threw a smoke grenade into a basement, then shot a woman and a 14-year-old child as they emerged from the basement, where they had been sheltering,” the rights group added. 

“The cases we documented amount to unspeakable, deliberate cruelty and violence against Ukrainian civilians,” Hugh Williamson, HRW’s Europe and Central Asia director said in the statement. “Rape, murder, and other violent acts against people in the Russian forces’ custody should be investigated as war crimes.” 

CNN has requested comment from the Russian Ministry of Defense regarding the report. 

9:37 a.m. ET, April 3, 2022

EU Council president vows fresh sanctions and accuses Russia of committing atrocities in Bucha

From CNN's Amy Cassidy and James Frater

European Council President Charles Michel speaks during a press conference in Brussels, Belgium on March 25.
European Council President Charles Michel speaks during a press conference in Brussels, Belgium on March 25. (EU Council/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

European Council President Charles Michel vowed fresh sanctions against Russia on Sunday, after shocking images emerged of 20 civilian corpses sprawled across the ground in the town of Bucha, northwest of Kyiv, Ukraine. 

The images were published by AFP on Saturday after journalists accessed the area following the withdrawal of Russian forces.

“Shocked by haunting images of atrocities committed by Russian army in Kyiv liberated region #BuchaMassacre," Michel wrote on Twitter.

“EU is assisting #Ukraine & NGO’s in (the) gathering of necessary evidence for pursuit in international courts. Further EU sanctions & support are on their way.”

Meanwhile, Josep Borrell, High Representative of the European Union, tweeted, "I congratulate Ukraine on liberation of most of Kyiv region.”

“Shocked by news of atrocities committed by Russian forces. EU assists Ukraine in documenting war crimes. All cases must be pursued, namely by the International Court of Justice," Borrell added. “The EU will continue strong support to Ukraine.”

8:03 a.m. ET, April 3, 2022

About 2.5 million Ukrainian refugees have crossed the border into Poland so far

From CNN's Anna Odzeniak and Sana Noor Haq

Ukrainian refugees arrive at Przemysl station in Poland on April 2.
Ukrainian refugees arrive at Przemysl station in Poland on April 2. (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

The Polish Border Guard says 2.461 million refugees have crossed the Ukrainian border into Poland.

More than 4.1 million refugees have fled Ukraine since Russia's invasion began on February 24, according to the latest figures from the UN.

The same data shows that while the vast majority of these refugees have fled to Poland, others have also crossed into neighboring countries in Europe including Romania, Moldova and Hungary.

In late March, a senior Biden administration official announced the United States would welcome up to 100,000 Ukrainians and others fleeing Russia's aggression.

CNN's Allie Malloy, Kevin Liptak, Maegan Vazquez contributed reporting to this post.

7:52 a.m. ET, April 3, 2022

Ukrainian President Zelensky announces posthumous award for slain photojournalist Maksym Levin

From CNN's Yulia Kesaieva in Lviv

Ukrainian photojournalist Maksym Levin poses for a photo in Donetsk region, Ukraine on January 12, 2018.
Ukrainian photojournalist Maksym Levin poses for a photo in Donetsk region, Ukraine on January 12, 2018. (Inna Varenytsia/AP)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky issued a decree on Sunday posthumously awarding a medal for bravery to Ukrainian photojournalist Maksym Levin.

The office of Ukraine’s attorney general said Saturday that Levin had been killed by Russian forces near Kyiv.

The decree read, "For personal courage and selfless actions shown during the coverage of the Russian aggression, I enact: To award the Order 'For Courage' of the III degree to LEVIN Maksym - photojournalist (posthumously)."

Some background: The body of Maksym (Maks) Levin -- who had been documenting the ongoing conflict -- was found with two gunshot wounds in the Vyshgorod district which sits just north of the capital, the Ukrainian attorney general’s office said Saturday in a Facebook post, citing preliminary reports. 

“According to the preliminary information, the soldiers of the Russian Armed Forces killed the unarmed Maksym Levin with two gunshots,” it claimed. His next of kin have been informed, the office told CNN. 

A criminal investigation is being carried out by the Vyshgorod District prosecutor's office into alleged violations of “laws and customs of war,” the attorney general’s office said, adding that “measures are being taken to establish all circumstances of the crime.”

Levin in Donetsk region, Ukraine on January 25.
Levin in Donetsk region, Ukraine on January 25. (Stanislav Kozliuk/Reuters)

Levin worked for a number of major Western news outlets, including Reuters and the BBC.

Photographer Markiian Lyseiko told CNN that he was last in touch with his friend, known as Maks, on March 12, the day before he went missing in a district north of Kyiv, where he had been reporting on the fighting and fleeing civilians.

In their final conversations, Lyseiko said that Levin had asked him to come to the Ukrainian capital so they could cover the war together.  

"The best way to understand Maks is to look at his work,” Lyseiko said. “When you watch Maks’ films or see his photos, you will understand him, without words.”

CNN's Mariya Knight, Amy Cassidy and Eliza Mackintosh contributed reporting to this post.

9:37 a.m. ET, April 3, 2022

Ukraine accuses Russia of trying to "eliminate as many Ukrainians as they can"

From CNN's Eoin McSweeney in Abu Dhabi

Russian forces are brutally targeting any Ukrainian citizens they come across, Ukraine's foreign minister said Sunday after the bodies of at least 20 civilian men were found strewn across streets in the town of Bucha, northwest of Kyiv. 

Bucha massacre was deliberate. Russians aim to eliminate as many Ukrainians as they can," Kuleba tweeted Sunday.

Kuleba posted his tweet alongside graphic pictures of the bodies released by AFP on Saturday.

He demanded fresh sanctions from G7 nations, including a total energy embargo, the closure of all ports to Russian vessels, and a ban on Russian banks using SWIFT -- a messaging service that connects financial institutions around the world. 

Some background: The shocking images were released by AFP on Saturday following the withdrawal of Russian forces from the area.

The dead, all in civilian clothing, were found in a variety of awkward poses, some face down against the pavement, others facing upwards with mouths open. The body of one man was seen with his hands tied behind his back.

The Mayor of Bucha, Anatoliy Fedoruk, said the dead civilians had received inhumane treatment at the hands of Russian forces.  

"Corpses of executed people still line the Yabluska street in Bucha. Their hands are tied behind their backs with white 'civilian' rags, they were shot in the back of their heads. So you can imagine what kind of lawlessness they perpetrated here," Fedoruk told Reuters on Saturday.  

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said the bodies of the men found with hands tied, "were shot dead by Russian soldiers," in a tweet on Saturday. 

Podolyak added, "these people were not in the military. They had no weapons. They posed no threat. How many more such cases are happening right now in the occupied territories?"

CNN has not been able to independently confirm the details around the men's deaths.

Russian forces withdrew from several towns near Kyiv in recent days after Moscow's bid to encircle the capital failed, with Ukraine declaring that Bucha had been "liberated."

CNN's Jonny Hallam contributed reporting to this post.

5:58 a.m. ET, April 3, 2022

Russian forces hold 11 Ukrainian mayors captive and kill one in detention, says Ukrainian minister

From CNN's Niamh Kennedy and Anastasia Graham Yooll in London

Russian forces are holding 11 mayors of Ukrainian local areas captive and have killed one mayor in detention, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said on Sunday.

In a message posted to social media, Vereshchuk said that 11 local mayors from Kyiv, Kherson, Mykolaiv and the Donetsk regions "are in Russian captivity."

She added that Ukraine will "inform the International Committee of the Red Cross, the UN and other organizations about their captivity."

Vereshchuk said the Ukrainian government learned on Saturday that Olga Sukhenko, the mayor of Motyzhyn -- a village in the Kyiv region -- was killed in captivity by Russian forces.

This is a war crime, those responsible will be punished in line with international humanitarian law," Vereshchuk said, adding that Ukraine will push to ensure "our civilians, our mayors, priests, journalists, and activists are liberated" from detention.

CNN could not independently verify those claims. Russian forces have detained local government officials in a number of instances around Ukraine.

The bodies of at least 20 civilian men have been found lying strewn across the street in the town of Bucha, northwest of Kyiv following the withdrawal of Russian forces from the area in shocking images released by AFP on Saturday.

CNN has requested comment from the Russian defense ministry regarding allegations of the execution of civilians in the Kyiv region and other parts of Ukraine.

5:52 a.m. ET, April 3, 2022

Evacuation attempts from Mariupol will pick up again on Sunday, Ukrainian minister says

From CNN's Niamh Kennedy in London

Attempts to evacuate people from the besieged port city of Mariupol will pick up again on Sunday, according to Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk. 

Vereshchuk said a total of 17 buses will set off from near the southern city of Berdiansk, with a view to evacuating people from Berdiansk and neighboring Mariupol. 

"10 (buses) to evacuate the people of Mariupol and local residents from Berdiansk ... seven buses will try to approach Mariupol accompanied by the Red Cross," Vereshchuk said in a video posted to social media Sunday.

On Saturday, an International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) team that had set off from Zaporizhzhia failed to reach Mariupol, spending the night en route to their destination, according to an ICRC press officer. 

Mariupol, which is ringed by Russian checkpoints, has been under weeks of intense bombardment. Ukrainian officials have described the situation there for the remaining residents as a major humanitarian emergency. 

Ukrainian authorities are also planning on evacuating people from Severodonetsk, Popasna, Lysychansk, Rubizhne, and the village of Nizhny in the Luhansk region on Sunday, Vereshchuk added.

Some background: Evacuation efforts across Ukraine have been ongoing, with over 4,000 civilians evacuated through corridors on Saturday, according to Vereshchuk.

Humanitarian convoy with 42 buses arrive at a refugee hub in Zaporizhzhia from Mariupol after 42 hours evacuation process on Saturday April 1.
Humanitarian convoy with 42 buses arrive at a refugee hub in Zaporizhzhia from Mariupol after 42 hours evacuation process on Saturday April 1. (Andrea Carrubba/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

In a statement on Telegram, Vereshchuk said 1,263 people from the besieged city of Mariupol and the Russian-held city of Berdiansk reached the Ukrainian-held city of Zaporizhzhia using their own vehicles. 

An evacuation convoy of 10 buses from the city of Berdiansk with more than 300 Mariupol residents also passed Vasylivka en route to Zaporizhzhia on Saturday, she said. 

CNN's Mariya Knight and staff in Lviv contributed reporting to this post.