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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3:11 p.m. ET, April 3, 2022

NATO secretary general calls civilian deaths in Bucha a "brutality"

From CNN's Chandelis Duster

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Sunday called the deaths of civilians in a town northwest of Kyiv a “brutality” after allegations they were executed by Russian forces in the area.

“It is a brutality against civilians we haven't seen in Europe for decades. And it's horrific and it's absolutely unacceptable that civilians are targeted and killed. And it just underlines the importance that this war must end,” he told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union” when asked if the act was genocide.

The bodies of at least 20 civilian men were found strewn across a street in the town of Bucha, northwest of Kyiv, following the withdrawal of Russian forces from the area in disturbing images released by AFP on Saturday. CNN has requested comment from the Russian Ministry of Defense regarding allegations of the execution of civilians in the Kyiv region and other parts of Ukraine.

Stoltenberg said, “I strongly welcome” an investigation by International Criminal Court, which has opened an investigation into war crimes in Ukraine.

3:09 p.m. ET, April 3, 2022

US secretary of state: Images of dead Ukrainians in Bucha "a punch to the gut"

From CNN's Jeremy Herb

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken attends a meeting on April 1 in Washington, DC.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken attends a meeting on April 1 in Washington, DC. (Olivier Douliery/Pool/AFP/Getty Images)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday that the State Department would help document any atrocities the Russian military committed against Ukrainian civilians, following new images from AFP out of the town of Bucha northwest of Kyiv showing the bodies of at least 20 civilian men found lying strewn across the street.

“You can’t help but see these images as a punch to the gut,” Blinken told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union” Sunday. “Since the aggression, we’ve come out and said that we believe that Russian forces have committed war crimes, and we’ve been working to document that, to provide the information we have to the relevant instructions and organizations that will put all of this together. And there needs to be accountability for it," he said.

Last month, the US State Department formally accused Russian forces of war crimes in Ukraine. Asked Sunday whether Russian troops were committed genocide, Blinken said, “We will look hard and document everything that we see, put it all together, make sure that the relevant institutions and organizations that are looking at this, including the State Department, have everything they need to assess exactly what took place in Ukraine, who’s responsible and what it amounts to.”

“I think the most important thing is we can’t become numb to this, we can’t normalize this,” Blinken added. “This is the reality that’s going on every day as long as Russia’s brutality against Ukraine continues. That’s why it needs to come to an end.”

Blinken declined to confirm reporting from CNN and others that the US was helping facilitate the transfer of Soviet-era tanks to Ukraine, which was one of the weapons systems Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has been seeking.

But Blinken said the US and NATO countries were helping to get Ukraine the weapons it needed, adding there would soon be 10 anti-tank weapons systems in Ukraine for every one Russian tank that’s in Ukrainian territory.

“Across the board, what we’re trying to do is make sure the Ukrainians have the systems they need that they can use and they can use right away,” Blinken said.

Asked about the prospect of Ukraine maintain neutrality between the West and Russian as part of a negotiated end to the war, Blinken said the Biden administration would support what the Ukrainians want to maintain their sovereignty.

“When it comes to the future, we and allies and partners are going to want to make sure to do everything we can to ensure that this can’t happen again and that Ukraine has the means to defend itself, to deter further Russian aggression,” he said. “So we will look at anything we can do back up that kind of outcome.”

Watch the interview:

10:59 a.m. ET, April 3, 2022

It's 4 p.m. on Sunday afternoon in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know

From CNN Staff

Ukrainian soldiers patrol the streets of Bucha, Ukraine on April 2.
Ukrainian soldiers patrol the streets of Bucha, Ukraine on April 2. (Zohra Bensemra/Reuters)

The Russian defense ministry on Sunday confirmed a strike on an oil refinery and fuel storage facilities in the key Ukrainian port city of Odesa, which has largely been spared the full brunt of Russian assaults since the invasion began in February.

A black plume of smoke was visible over the city Sunday morning, and a fuel depot in the Ukrainian city of Odesa was burning, according to a CNN team on the scene, with one witness telling CNN they heard six explosions at the fuel depot before sunrise.

The Odesa City Council confirmed an air attack on their Telegram account Sunday morning, saying that some Russian missiles were downed by their air defense system and that fire had broken out in some districts.

The coastal city of Odesa has been a place of relative calm during the Russian invasion and a haven for displaced Ukrainians from areas that have seen the worst fighting. But Odesa has been bracing for a Russian attack for weeks, with its city center full of anti-tank barricades to fortify against an invasion. 

Here are more of the latest headlines to catch you up on the Russia-Ukraine conflict:

  • Bodies discovered in the streets of Bucha: Civilian bodies were found littering the streets of a Ukrainian town northwest of Kyiv following the withdrawal of Russian forces, according to images released by AFP on Saturday – the latest horrifying mark of the mounting civilian toll of Russia’s brutal assault on Ukraine. The Russian withdrawal comes as Moscow attempts to shift its focus to eastern Ukraine and away from the areas around Kyiv, where Russian forces have faced fierce Ukrainian resistance. Ukraine's deputy defense minister said Saturday that the Kyiv region had been "liberated" from Russian forces. Following the events in Bucha, Ukraine's foreign minister said Sunday that Russian forces are brutally targeting any Ukrainian citizens they come across. "Bucha massacre was deliberate. Russians aim to eliminate as many Ukrainians as they can," Kuleba tweeted Sunday. Kuleba posted his tweet alongside the graphic pictures of the bodies released by AFP.
  • EU Council president vows fresh sanctions and accuses Russia of committing atrocities in Bucha: 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. “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.”
  • Russian aircraft remain "vulnerable" to Ukrainian defenses: Ukraine continues to present a "significant challenge" to Russian air and missile operations, leaving Russian aircraft vulnerable to short and medium range air defense systems, the United Kingdom's Ministry of Defense said Sunday. "Russia's inability to find and destroy air defence systems has seriously hampered their efforts to gain broad control of the air, which in turn has significantly affected their ability to support the advance of their ground forces on a number of fronts," the ministry wrote in a defense intelligence update posted on Twitter. The ministry also reported a concentration of Russian air activity towards southeastern Ukraine, "likely a result of Russia focusing its military operations in this area," it said.
  • Evacuation attempts from Mariupol to pick up again on Sunday: 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.
  • Ukraine says Russian forces hold 11 Ukrainian mayors captive and kill one in detention: 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.
  • About 2.5 million Ukrainian refugees have crossed the border into Poland so far: 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 Feb. 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.
8:52 a.m. ET, April 3, 2022

"Several missile strikes" reported in Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv, mayor says 

From CNN's Yulia Kesaieva and Nathan Hodge in Lviv

Oleksandr Syenkevych, the mayor of the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv, said in a Facebook post Sunday that there were "several missile strikes" on the city, adding that authorities were gathering information.

In a statement on Telegram, Vitalii Kim, the head of the regional military administration, said, "I'll tell you about the shelling tomorrow. Everything's fine." 

In a separate video, Kim said, "The orcs [a slur for Russians] are so dumb ... they said they should hit Mykolaiv with harassment fire so everyone would panic. We have lineups of cars at the entrance to the city!"

11:06 a.m. ET, April 3, 2022

There's a "post-apocalyptic picture" in towns retaken from Russian forces, says Ukrainian presidential adviser

From CNN's Julia Presniakova in Lviv 

A resident walks amid debris in Bucha, Ukraine on April 2. 
A resident walks amid debris in Bucha, Ukraine on April 2.  (Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images)

Reports emerging from towns in the Kyiv region show a "post-apocalyptic picture" of life under Russian occupation, Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said on Sunday.

"This is a special appeal aimed at drawing the world's attention to those war crimes, crimes against humanity, which were committed by Russian troops in Bucha, Irpin and Hostomel," Arestovych said.

"These are liberated cities, a picture from horror movies, a post-apocalyptic picture. Victims of these war crimes have already been found, including raped women who they tried to burn, local government officials killed, children killed, elderly people killed, men killed, many of them with tied hands, traces of torture and shot in the back of the head. Robberies, attempts to take gold, valuables, carpets, washing machines," he added.

"It of course will be taken into account by the Prosecutor's Office of Ukraine and law enforcement agencies and international criminal courts," the official noted.

Evidence of the horrors of Russia's invasion in Ukraine continued to emerge on Saturday, when images released by AFP showed the bodies of at least 20 civilian men lying strewn across the street in the town of Bucha, following the withdrawal of Russian forces from the area.

Human Rights Watch also released a report on Sunday alleging war crimes perpetrated by Russian forces in Ukraine against civilians in the occupied areas of Chernihiv, Kharkiv, and Kyiv regions, including summary executions, rape and looting. 

CNN's Jonny Hallam contributed reporting to this post.

11:10 a.m. ET, April 3, 2022

Lithuania becomes first EU member state to refuse Russian gas imports, country's prime minister says 

From CNN's James Frater in Brussels and Niamh Kennedy in London 

Lithuania has become the first European Union member state to refuse Russian gas imports, according to the country's prime minister. 

“From now and so on Lithuania won't be consuming a cubic cm of toxic Russian gas," Ingrida Šimonytė said in a tweet Sunday. 

This makes Lithuania the "first EU country" to refuse Russian gas imports, she added.

The EU has committed itself to reducing its dependence on Russian gas by 66% by the end of this year. 

Some background: The European Union depends on Russia for about 40% of its natural gas. Russia also supplies about 27% of its oil imports, and 46% of its coal imports. Taken together, that trade is worth tens of billions of dollars a year to Russia.

It has promised to diversify its energy supplies before, notably back in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine. Little progress was made, partly because Germany — Russia's biggest energy customer in Europe — didn't want to rock the boat with Moscow.

But President Vladimir Putin's decision to order last month's invasion changed all that. 

In early March, EU officials outlined plans to slash Russian gas imports by 66% this year.

A few days later, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that the bloc's leaders had agreed to spend the next two months drafting proposals for eliminating the EU's dependency on Russian energy imports by 2027.

And on March 25, US President Joe Biden announced a new initiative that includes the United States working toward supplying Europe with at least 15 billion cubic meters of liquefied natural gas in 2022, in partnership with other nations, the White House said.

Overall, Europe’s dependence on Russian gas and oil has proved a major sticking point in Western efforts to punish Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine. While the US banned Russian energy imports, Europe found it far more difficult to cut off its supplies.

CNN's Mark Thompson and Kevin Liptak contributed reporting to this post.

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.