Ukraine latest updates: Thousands seek evacuation from Mariupol

Ukraine news from March 22: Deputy prime minister says at least 100,000 civilians are trying to escape from Mariupol.

Civilians being evacuated along humanitarian corridors from the Ukrainian city of Mariupol
Civilians are seeking evacuation along humanitarian corridors from the city of Mariupol. [Anadolu Agency]
  • Russian and Ukrainian forces are fighting in the city of Mariupol as 100,000 people seek evacuation.
  • Ukraine’s defence ministry says its forces have regained control of the key Kyiv suburb of Makariv.
  • The United Nations refugee agency says 3.5 million people have fled Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion.
  • Russian Nobel Peace Prize winner announces plan to auction medal in a bid to raise funds for Ukrainian refugees.
  • Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urges his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to hold direct talks, reiterates he is prepared to commit to not seeking NATO membership.
  • US President Joe Biden warns Moscow is weighing the use of chemical weapons in Ukraine as West suggests Moscow’s offensive has stalled.

INTERACTIVE Russia Ukraine War Who controls what Day 27

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These were the updates for March 22:

Russia trades accusation with US, UK about chemical weapons in Ukraine

Russia has traded accusations with the United States and Britain at the United Nations over the possibility of a chemical weapons attack in Ukraine.

The comments were made by diplomats to reporters after Russia raised the issue of an ammonia leak in Ukraine’s besieged northeastern city of Sumy, blaming “Ukrainian radical nationalist groups,” during a closed-door UN Security Council meeting.

It was the third time Russia raised the issue of biological or chemical weapons since it began its invasion of Ukraine. “This might well be a prelude to the Russians themselves creating some sort of false flag chemical weapons attack,” Britain’s UN Ambassador Barbara Woodward told reporters.

Russia would only use nuclear weapons if its existence were threatened: Kremlin

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has told CNN in an interview that Russia would only use nuclear weapons if its very existence were threatened.

“We have a concept of domestic security and it’s public, you can read all the reasons for nuclear arms to be used. So if it is an existential threat for our country, then it [the nuclear arsenal] can be used in accordance with our concept,” he said.

The comment came amid Western concern that the conflict could escalate into a nuclear war after President Vladimir Putin last month ordered Russia’s nuclear forces to be put on high alert.

Rockets destroy rail station, kill one person in Dnipro region: Governor

Rocket strikes have destroyed a railway station in Ukraine’s central-eastern Dnipro region, killing one person and damaging rails enough to prevent train passage indefinitely, Governor Valentyn Reznichenko has said.

The rockets hit a station of the town of Pavlohrad about 60 kilometres east of the regional capital Dnipro.

Destroyed railroad tracks at the Pavlograd station.
Railroad tracks have been destroyed at the Pavlograd station [Ukrainian State Emergency Service/AFP]

WFP says ‘it’s going to be hell on earth’ if food production in Ukraine fails to resume

World Food Program director has told Al Jazeera that ending the war in Ukraine is key to avoiding a global food supply shortage, which would have catastrophic repercussions around the world.

“If we don’t act now, strategically and quickly, it’s going to be hell on earth,” David Beasley said in Brussels.

Beasley added that, before the Russian invasion, the UN agency was already cutting 8 million people to 50 percent rations in Yemen, Niger, Chad and other countries due to rising costs.

“Now we’ll have a supply issue because Ukraine and Russia produce between 20 and 30 percent of all the grain in the world,” he said.

US condemns Navalny conviction as attempt to silence opposition in Russia

The United States has condemned a Russian court verdict that found jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny guilty of additional charges, saying it was an attempt to silence him and distract him from the invasion of Ukraine.

“The court’s sham ruling is the latest in a series of attempts to silence Navalny,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said.

“This disturbing decision… is another example of the Russian government’s widening crackdown on dissent and freedom of expression, which is intended to hide the Kremlin’s brutal war, and unprovoked war against Ukraine.”

Ukraine’s Zelenskyy to take part virtually in NATO summit

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will take part virtually in a NATO summit on Thursday to discuss the war with Russia, but exact details are still being worked out, Interfax Ukraine cited a presidential spokesman as saying.

The spokesperson, Sergii Nykyforov, said Zelenskyy will make a video address to the meeting and might take part in the full discussion.

Moldova watching pro-Russia breakaway region for any escalation: Minister

Moldova is monitoring its breakaway pro-Russian region of Transdniestria for any sign of escalating tensions following Russia’s invasion of neighbouring Ukraine, Foreign Minister Nicu Popescu has said.

“So far the situation is calm. We have not seen any movement towards escalation,” Popescu said at the European parliament.

“We as a government cannot rule out any options and must consider the full range of scenarios for the development of events including negative ones.”

Transdniestria is a narrow strip of land held by pro-Russian separatists that runs along the east of Moldova, about 40 kilometres of the Ukrainian port of Odesa. Russian troops are stationed there, despite repeated calls for them to leave.

No one thought Ukraine ‘operation’ would take a couple of days: Kremlin

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said no one had ever thought the “special military operation” in Ukraine would take just a couple of days, the Tass news agency reported.

Peskov also reiterated Moscow’s assertion the campaign was going to plan.

France’s TotalEnergies to quit Russian oil supply contracts

French oil major TotalEnergies has said it will not renew its Russian gas oil and crude oil supply contracts for its German refinery, adding that it would instead source crude via Poland and gas oil from Saudi Arabia.

The firm, which owns stakes in several Russian projects, had come under criticism after it stopped short of joining rivals Shell and BP in planning to divest oil and gas assets in Russia.

Russian attacks in east Ukraine kill at least 12, Kyiv says

At least 12 people have been killed in strikes across eastern Ukraine, an official in Kyiv has said.

“In the Donetsk region, Avdiivka was fired on by artillery and aircraft, the city was razed to the ground. Five civilians were killed and 19 were injured,” Ukraine’s ombudswoman, Lyudmyla Denisova, said in a statement, adding that the attack occurred late on Monday.

Another Russian attack left two dead and three wounded in Lysychansk. In the Kharkiv region, a Russian tank targeted a civilian-marked car, killing three adults and a child.

In Severodonetsk, one person was killed and around a dozen were wounded in an attack in front of a store, Denisova added.

Biden to impose new Russia sanctions, top aide says

US President Biden will impose new sanctions on Russia during an upcoming trip to Europe, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan has said.

“He will join our partners in imposing further sanctions on Russia and tightening the existing sanctions to crack down on evasion and to ensure robust enforcement,” Sullivan told reporters.

The top aide also said Biden will announce “joint action” to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian gas. The US president banned Russian oil and gas imports in the United States earlier this month.

Russia ‘failed’ to achieve objectives in Ukraine, US says

Russia has failed to achieve its goals in Ukraine, Sullivan has said, stressing that Moscow will “never take the country away from the Ukrainian people”.

Biden’s national security adviser told reporters at the White House that Russia had set three “basic” objectives for itself when it started the invasion: subjugating Ukraine, enhancing Moscow’s power and prestige, and dividing the West.

“Russia has thus far manifestly failed to accomplish all three objectives. In fact, it has thus far achieved the opposite,” the top aide said.

Still, Sullivan predicted that violence will get worse in the coming days, warning that the war will not end easily.

Second Abramovich superyacht docks in Turkey

A second superyacht linked to Roman Abramovich has docked in the Turkish resort of Marmaris after Western governments slammed sanctions on the Russian billionaire.

On Monday, another yacht reached Bodrum after skirting the waters of European Union countries.

While strongly criticising the invasion, Turkey said it is against sanctions imposed by its NATO allies on principle, making Ankara a safe haven for Russians seeking to make investments and preserve assets.

Hungary asks for EU funds amid refugee crisis

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban has asked the European Commission to disburse all European Union funds allocated to the country including a loan under the Recovery and Resilience Facility to help handle the Ukrainian refugee crisis, his press chief has said.

Orban said Hungary wanted to use the loan facility for defence, border control, and humanitarian and other acute crisis management tasks, according to a copy of a letter seen by Reuters.

The European Commission has been withholding its approval to pay out pandemic recovery money to Poland and Hungary because the two countries have yet to address EU recommendations on the rule of law, including press freedoms and LGBT rights.

Regional governor says fighting raging in Mariupol

Russian and Ukrainian forces are fighting in the city of Mariupol, a regional governor in Ukraine has said.

Speaking on national television, Donetsk Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko accused Russian troops of firing indiscriminately at residential areas and Ukrainian military targets. Russia has denied targeting civilians.

‘Nothing left’ of Mariupol: Zelenskyy

Ukraine’s president has said the city of Mariupol has been razed to the ground in weeks of Russian bombardment.

“There is nothing left there. Only ruins,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said of the port city in a video address to the Italian parliament.

As he spoke, the city council said Russian forces had dropped two large bombs but gave no details of casualties or damage. It added Mariupol had turned into the “ashes of a dead land”.

A satellite image shows burning apartment buildings in Mariupol, Ukraine, March 19, 2022.
A satellite image shows burning apartment buildings in Mariupol [Maxar Technologies/Reuters]

Ukraine urges China to play more visible role to stop war

Ukraine has called on China to play a more “noticeable role” in halting the war and to become a future guarantor of its security, a senior aide to Zelenskyy has said.

Andriy Yermak, who heads the presidential office, also said he expected a dialogue “very soon” between Ukraine’s leader and Chinese President Xi Jinping, without elaborating.

“We treat China with utmost respect and we expect it to play a pro-active role,” he told a virtual news conference organised by the Chatham House think-tank in London.

No indication of imminent Russian chemical attack in Ukraine: US defence official

The United States has not yet seen any concrete indication of an imminent Russian chemical or biological weapons attack in Ukraine but is closely monitoring intelligence, a senior US defence official has said.

The comment comes after President Joe Biden said Russia’s accusations that Kyiv has biological and chemical weapons suggest Moscow is considering using them in the war against Ukraine.

The US official, speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity, shared Biden’s assessment but added: “There’s no indication that there’s something imminent in that regard right now.”

US Treasury deputy Europe-bound to coordinate Russia sanctions

US Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo will travel to Europe next week to coordinate on further measures to ramp up pressure on Russia, including targeting critical sectors of its economy, a Treasury Department spokesperson told Reuters.

Adeyemo will meet with counterparts responsible for sanctions in London, Brussels, Paris and Berlin between March 28 and April 1, the spokesperson said.

They are expected to also pursue efforts to find and seize assets of Russian elites through a newly created Russian Elites, Proxies and Oligarchs (REPO) Task Force.

‘Every second since this war started … a Ukrainian child has become a refugee’: UNICEF

James Elder, a UNICEF spokesman, has described the number of children whose lives have been uprooted by Russia’s invasion as “mind-boggling”.

“Every second since this war started almost a month ago a Ukrainian child has become a refugee – 55 a minute,” Elder told Al Jazeera from the city of Lviv, in western Ukraine.

He said each case signified a child likely “separated from their dad” and a “family split apart”.

“It’s probably a child … who was going to school a month ago but has now had their life turned upside down,” Elder added. “It is torturous.”

Children are seen looking out from an evacuation train from Kyiv to Lviv
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has triggered a major refugee crisis that has seen millions of people flee the country [File: Gleb Garanich/Reuters]

Russia must adhere to UN Charter, say UK and India

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi have agreed during talks by phone that Russia must adhere to the UN Charter, according to a readout provided by Johnson’s office.

“The pair agreed that Ukraine’s integrity and territorial sovereignty must be respected,” a statement issued by Johnson’s office following the call said.

“Russia needed to adhere to the UN Charter, the leaders said, and both agreed that respect for international law was the only way to ensure global peace and prosperity.”

Ukraine says 100,000 civilians want to escape Mariupol but cannot

Ukraine’s deputy prime minister says at least 100,000 civilians want to escape from Mariupol but cannot because of a lack of safe corridors out of the besieged southeastern port city.

Iryna Vereshchuk said shelling by Russian forces was also preventing rescue workers from accessing the site of a bombed theatre in Mariupol where city officials say hundreds were believed to be sheltering underground when it was hit by an air raid last week.

Russia has denied bombing the theatre or attacking civilians.

Russia-Ukraine talks: What are the issues between Kyiv and Moscow

Several rounds of discussions between Ukraine and Russia have so far produced no breakthrough on an agreement to end the war.

Click here to read Al Jazeera’s explainer on the talks.

Bond auction for war effort raises $207m, Ukraine’s finance ministry says

Ukraine has raised 6.04 billion hryvnias ($207m) at its latest auction of local bonds to raise money for its fight against Russian forces, the country’s finance ministry says.

After Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, the Ukrainian government said it hoped to raise about $1.36bn through new hryvnia bond issues.

Ukraine’s central bank asks international banks to suspend all work in Russia

The governor of Ukraine’s central bank has called on all international banks to suspend the work of their branches and subsidiaries in Russia to increase financial pressure on the Kremlin.

“It’s important to increase pressure further on the aggressor to weaken its position,” Governor Kyrylo Shevchenko was quoted as saying in a statement.

Poland pushes for Russia to be excluded from G20

Poland says it has suggested to the United States that Russia be excluded from the G20 group of major economies and that the proposal had received a “positive response”.

Polish Economic Development and Technology Minister Piotr Nowak said the matter had been discussed at meetings held in Washington, DC last week.

“During the meetings with, among others, [US Commerce Secretary] Gina Raimondo, we made a proposal to exclude Russia from the G20, which was met with a positive response and approval, and the matter is to be handed over to President Biden,” he told reporters in Warsaw.

Refugee crisis straining Moldova’s healthcare system, minister says

Moldova’s health minister says his country has appealed for help from the European Union and UN agencies as it struggles to deal with the pressure the arrival of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees has put on its healthcare system.

More than 331,000 refugees have entered Moldova since Russia invaded Ukraine, and 100,000 remain in the country, Ala Nemerenco told a joint news conference with the World Health Organization (WHO) streamed live from the country’s capital, Chisinau.

“Obviously the resources of the country are limited and we wouldn’t want this to affect or become a burden for the citizens of the Republic of Moldova,” Nemerenco said.

“That is why we have addressed all our partners to ask for support in this situation,” she added. “Unfortunately these events without any precedent here are really very serious and put our health system under very big pressure.”

Moldova, a small former Soviet republic sandwiched between Ukraine and EU member state Romania, is one of Europe’s poorest countries.

Ukraine says ‘food, medical supplies’ running out in Kherson

Ukraine’s foreign ministry says about 300,000 people in Kherson are running out of food and medical supplies and has accused Russia of preventing civilians evacuating from the occupied southern city to Ukrainian-controlled territory.

“Kherson’s 300k citizens face a humanitarian catastrophe owing to the Russian army’s blockade. Food and medical supplies have almost run out, yet Russia refuses to open humanitarian corridors to evacuate civilians,” ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko said on Twitter.

Kherson was seized by Moscow’s forces at the beginning of March in Russia’s most strategically significant capture of Ukrainian territory yet.

Kharkiv shelled more than 80 times overnight, official says

The besieged eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv was shelled more than 80 times overnight, according to the head of Kharkiv’s regional administration, Oleg Sinegubov.

“We registered 84 [shellings],” Sinegubov said in televised remarks.

He added that more than 600 apartment buildings have been damaged since Russia’s invasion started.

Firefighters are seen working in the rubble of an apartment block after a Russian rocket attack in Kharkiv
Kharkiv has been repeatedly pounded by Russian attacks since Moscow launched its invasion [File: Pavel Dorogoy/AP Photo]

US accuses Russian forces of ‘kidnapping’ thousands of children

More than 2,300 Ukrainian children have been “illegally removed” from territories in eastern Ukraine controlled by Moscow-backed separatists and taken to Russia, the US embassy in Kyiv has said, citing Ukraine’s foreign ministry.

“According to the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, Russian forces have illegally removed 2,389 Ukrainian children from Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts to Russia,” the US embassy tweeted.

“This is not assistance. It is kidnapping,” it added.

Ukrainian official says Belarus may deploy up to 15,000 soldiers to assist Russia

Belarus may send three waves of soldiers – totalling about 15,000 servicemen overall – into Ukraine to support Russia’s offensive, a top Ukrainian intelligence official has claimed.

“A chance of invasion from Belarus is pretty high,” Viktor Yagun, the major general of the Ukrainian Security Service, said in televised remarks. He suggested Belarusian forces may target Ukraine’s northwestern Volyn region, which borders both Poland and Belarus.

Yagun also claimed that Belarus’s military has already been assisting Russian forces with logistics and supplies since Moscow launched its invasion on February 24.

“Whether they want it or not, the Belarusians are already taking part in the war with Ukraine,” he said, before claiming that President Alexander Lukashenko “no longer” commands his army as the country’s commanding officers are “managed by Russia”.

UN chief calls for end to ‘absurd war’

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for an end to the “absurd war” in Ukraine, warning that the conflict is “going nowhere, fast” and that the Ukrainian people are “enduring a living hell”.

“Continuing the war in Ukraine is morally unacceptable, politically indefensible and militarily nonsensical,” Guterres told reporters at the UN headquarters in New York.

Russian court sentences Navalny to nine more years in prison

A Russian court has sentenced jailed Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny to nine years in prison on fraud charges – a ruling that will keep Putin’s most prominent domestic opponent out of active politics for years ahead.

Navalny, who was also found guilty of contempt of court, is already serving a two-and-a-half-year sentence at a prison camp east of Moscow for parole violations related to charges he has dismissed as politically motivated.

He had pleaded not guilty to the latest criminal case brought against him.

WHO warns of mental health crisis among Ukrainian refugees

About half a million refugees from Ukraine who fled to Poland need support for mental health disorders, and 30,000 have severe mental health problems, WHO’s representative in the country has said.

Those arriving in Poland are suffering from a range of health problems, including diarrhoea and dehydration, but the main need among those who have fled Ukraine is for support due to trauma, Paloma Cuchi told a briefing in Geneva.

Kremlin rejects US claims over cyberattack plans

The Kremlin has rejected claims made by the US that Moscow may be preparing to conduct cyberattacks in response to Western sanctions.

Speaking to reporters on a conference call, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, “Unlike many Western countries, including the United States, Russia does not engage in state-level banditry.”

His remarks came after Biden on Monday told US businesses to do more to protect themselves against possible cyberattacks by Russia, warning there was “evolving intelligence” that Moscow was exploring options on that front.

Red Cross chief travelling to Moscow for meetings on Ukraine

The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is on his way to Moscow for talks on the Ukraine conflict, a spokesperson for the aid agency has said.

Peter Maurer has “meetings planned on Wednesday and Thursday as part of the ongoing dialogue connected to the conflict in Ukraine”, Jason Straziuso said in an email to the Reuters news agency, without elaborating further.

Maurer has been in Kyiv this week seeking better humanitarian access to areas affected by the war and greater protection for civilians.

Zelenskyy speaks to Pope Francis, invites prospect of Vatican mediation

Ukraine’s president says he has spoken to Pope Francis and suggested the Vatican could mediate between Kyiv and Moscow.

“The mediating role of the Holy See in ending human suffering would be appreciated,” Zelenskyy tweeted.

He added he had told the leader of the Catholic Church about the “difficult humanitarian situation” in Ukraine and the “blocking of rescue corridors by Russian troops”.

Will Belarus join Putin’s war in Ukraine?

Analysts say Belarusian forces may spearhead the Russian advance on western Ukrainian regions, despite claims from Lukashenko to the contrary.

Read more here.

Russian and Belarusian soldiers are seen taking part in joint exercises near Brest
The Belarusian army has often held drills with Russian forces and Putin is a key ally of President Lukashenko [Belarusian Ministry of Defence Handout via AFP]

Russia, North Korea discuss developing relations

Russia’s foreign ministry says the country’s deputy foreign minister has met North Korea’s ambassador to Russia to discuss developing bilateral relations “in the context of changes happening on the international arena”.

Igor Morgulov talks with Sin Hong-chol come as Moscow faces increasing isolation over its invasion of Ukraine.

North Korea last month blamed the Ukraine crisis on the “hegemonic policy” and “high-handedness” of the US and the West.

Kremlin says it wants Ukraine talks to be more ‘active, substantive’

The Kremlin’s spokesman has said Moscow would like ongoing talks between Russia and Ukraine to be more “active and substantive” after several rounds of discussions so far have failed to produce any breakthroughs on an agreement to end the war.

Peskov added that Russia did not intend to make public its detailed demands to Ukraine, however.

Reports have suggested Moscow’s requests may include Kyiv committing to not seeking NATO membership, undertaking a disarmament process, ceding territory in eastern Ukraine and recognising the Crimean Peninsula – annexed by Russia in 2014 – as formally part of its neighbour.

‘We are on the brink of survival,’ Zelenskyy tells Italian parliament

Ukraine’s president has told the Italian parliament that his country is on the brink of surviving its war with Russian forces but warned Moscow was intent on breaking through his country to the rest of Europe.

“For Russian troops, Ukraine is the gates of Europe, where they want to break in, but barbarism must not be allowed to pass,” Zelenskyy said via video link.

He also reiterated earlier calls for more sanctions to be imposed on Russia over its offensive and cautioned the consequences of the war were already being felt in other parts of the world.

“The most terrible thing will be the famine that is approaching for some countries. Ukraine has always been one of the largest food exporters, but how can we sow [crops] under the strikes of Russian artillery?” Zelenskyy said.

Countries such as Lebanon, Egypt, Yemen and others have come to rely on Ukrainian wheat in recent years and the conflict has caused wheat prices to skyrocket – rising by 50 percent in the last month.

Ten Ukrainian hospitals destroyed since start of war, minister says

Ukraine’s health minister has said 10 hospitals have been destroyed amid Russia’s invasion, and warned others could not be restocked with medicines and supplies because of fighting.

Speaking on national television, Viktor Lyashkohe added that COVID-19 testing was being carried out only in areas where there was no fighting, and this was complicating efforts to track the disease in the country.

Lyashkohe’s remarks came as a WHO spokesperson said the global health body had confirmed 15 people had been killed and 37 others wounded in attacks on Ukrainian healthcare facilities till March 18.

Ukraine claims regained control of Makariv

Ukraine’s defence ministry says its forces have retaken control of Makariv, a strategically important suburb west of Kyiv, after a fierce battle with Russian troops.

The regained territory allowed Ukrainian forces to assume command of a key highway and block Russian troops from surrounding the capital from the northwest, it added.

Still, the ministry said, Russian forces battling towards Kyiv had taken partial control of other northwestern suburbs, including Bucha, Hostomel and Irpin, some of which have been under almost constant attack since Moscow launched its invasion.

Ukraine urges Russia to let humanitarian supplies into Mariupol, allow evacuations

Ukraine’s deputy prime minister has urged Russia to let humanitarian supplies into Mariupol and allow civilians to evacuate from the besieged southern port city.

“We demand the opening of a humanitarian corridor for civilians,” Vereshchuk said on Ukrainian television.

Vereshchuk also said Russian troops were preventing humanitarian supplies from reaching Kherson.

Russian newspaper that published troop death toll in Ukraine was hacked: Reporter

Russia’s mass-market Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper was hacked on Monday and a false article on Russian military deaths in Ukraine was posted on its site, the newspaper’s Kremlin correspondent has claimed.

Journalist Alexander Gamov said the article – which reported nearly 10,000 Russian soldiers had been killed – was fake and had been deleted after a few minutes of going online.

Gamov provided the explanation for the story, which was picked up by some Western media, on the Kremlin’s daily conference call after Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, said he was unable to comment on the incident.

More than 3.5 million people have fled Ukraine, UN says

The UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) says more than 3.5 million people have fled Ukraine since Russia’s invasion, marking another milestone in the mass exodus that has led to Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II.

More than two million of the refugees have entered neighbouring Poland, with more than 540,000 and 367,000 others crossing into Romania and Moldova respectively.

“This is another tragic milestone for the people of Ukraine and it has been achieved in just under one month,” UNHCR spokesman Matthew Saltmarsh told a briefing, adding that 6.5 million people had been internally displaced within Ukraine.

“You are looking at almost one-quarter of the entire population. The speed and the scale of this outflow and this displacement crisis is unprecedented in recent times.”

INTERACTIVE Russia-Ukraine war Refugees DAY 27 March 22 - 3.5 million

Mariupol witnessing ‘an increasingly grim struggle’ for control: AJE correspondent

Al Jazeera’s Rob McBride, reporting from the city of Lviv, in western Ukraine, says Mariupol remains the “focus” of the war in Ukraine as Russia’s assault moves towards the end of its fourth week.

“It is the scene of an increasingly grim struggle between Russian forces who are seemingly determined to take it at any cost, and regardless of what it looks like if and when they do take it, and equally determined Ukrainian defenders who want to deny them the city,” McBride said.

“The latest reports and … pictures [from Mariupol] bear that out, and show the deteriorating situation of the population, who are still trying to exist amid all of this,” he added.

“There are bodies lying in the streets, and sometimes bodies being buried in shallow graves close to apartment blocks … local people chopping down trees for firewood and makeshift stoves outdoors – it is all very grim.

“This was until just a few weeks ago a thriving city of 430,000 people, it is now thought there are about 300,000 people still in the city in an increasingly desperate situation.”

Japan summons Russian envoy after Moscow halts peace treaty talks

Japan’s vice foreign minister has summoned Russia’s ambassador, the country’s foreign ministry has said, after Moscow’s decision to halt peace treaty talks with Tokyo.

Russia announced on Monday that it was abandoning the discussions aimed at signing a formal World War II peace deal due to Tokyo’s moves to impose sanctions over Moscow’s military action in Ukraine.

Russia and Japan have still not formally ended World War II hostilities because of a standoff over the islands known in Russia as the Kurils and in Japan as the Northern Territories.

Russian Nobel Peace Prize winner to auction medal for Ukrainian refugees

Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov, the editor-in-chief of newspaper Novaya Gazeta and co-winner of last year’s Nobel Peace Prize, has said he will donate his award to be auctioned to raise funds for Ukrainian refugees.

“Novaya Gazeta and I have decided to donate the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize Medal to the Ukrainian Refugee Fund,” Muratov said in an article published in the newspaper.

Read more here.

Russian court finds jailed Kremlin critic Navalny guilty of fraud

A Russian court has found Navalny guilty of large-scale fraud and contempt of court, with the conviction likely to see the time that Putin’s most prominent domestic opponent spends in jail extended by years.

Russian authorities have cast Navalny and his supporters as subversives determined to destabilise Russia with backing from the West. Many of Navalny’s allies have fled Russia rather than face restrictions or jail at home.

Read more here.

Russian attempt to capture Kyiv is ‘suicide’: Ukrainian presidential adviser

One of Russia’s main priorities is to take control of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv but attempting to do so is “suicide”, Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych has said.

Arestovych added in a televised interview that active hostilities could end in two-three weeks.

Ukraine says evacuation efforts focused on Mariupol

Ukraine’s deputy prime minister has said efforts to evacuate civilians from the country’s besieged towns and cities are focused on Mariupol, but did not detail any new agreement with Russia to allow residents trapped there to escape.

“We are focusing on evacuations from Mariupol,” Vereshchuk said.

She listed several locations from which buses would try to evacuate civilians, but Mariupol was not among them. Vereshchuk also made no mention of any new agreements with Russia on establishing humanitarian corridors to allow civilians safe passage out of conflict zones.

Russian shelling kills two, injures three: Ukrainian official

Russian shelling has killed two people and injured three others in the town of Lysychansk, in Ukraine’s eastern Luhansk region, according to a local official.

Eight people were rescued from the debris of houses destroyed by the shelling, Luhansk region head Serhiy Hayday said in a Facebook post.

The shelling also hit a children’s hospital, setting fire to the building, Hayday added.

“Russian animals opened fire on a children’s hospital in the town of Severodonetsk, but luckily, all the patients, their mothers and the medical personnel were evacuated,” he said.

The Distant Barking of Dogs: In the shadow of Ukraine’s war


Ukraine accuses Russia of using banned phosphorus bombs in Kramatorsk

A Ukrainian official has accused Russia of using banned phosphorus munitions in the besieged eastern town of Kramatorsk.

“You will burn the way this phosphorus burns,” police chief Oleksiy Bilochitsky said on Monday in a Facebook post.

Ukrainian officials have repeatedly accused Moscow of using phosphorus bombs, which can cause fires that spread over large areas.

The 1977 Geneva Convention banned the use of white phosphorus bombs in conflicts.

Swaths of Ukraine suspected to contain explosive devices

The Association of Ukrainian Sappers has said at least 82,525 square kilometres (31,863 square miles) of Ukraine’s land area is suspected to contain explosive devices.

The organisation said in a Facebook post on Monday that it now considered the swaths of territory – which amount to an area bigger than Austria – as “dangerous”.

It did not specify how much of the area quoted was classified as containing explosive devices prior to Russia’s invasion beginning and said its calculations were preliminary, based on information calculations made jointly with the Ukrainian mine action operator Demining Solutions.

Russia’s Gazprom continues gas exports to Europe

Russian energy giant Gazprom says it is continuing to supply gas to Europe via Ukraine in line with requests from European consumers.

The company said requests stood at 108 million cubic metres for March 22, up from 104.7 million cubic metres for March 21.

Ukraine flag beamed on to Russia’s embassy in London

Demonstrators in London have beamed the colours of the Ukrainian flag onto the front of the Russian embassy in protest against the killing of journalists reporting on the war in Ukraine.

Demonstrators who gathered outside the building on Monday night also held up pictures of the journalists who had died in Ukraine.

Civilians living near Kyiv airport told to evacuate

The mayor of Boryspil, a town outside Kyiv and home to Ukraine’s main international airport, has urged civilians there to evacuate the area.

Volodymyr Borysenko said the departure of civilians would make it easier for Ukrainian forces to operate in the area, given the continuing hostilities.

Air raid alerts heard across Ukraine: Report

Kyiv Independent, a Ukrainian news outlet, is reporting air raid sirens “in almost every region” of the country.

Zelenskyy to address Japan’s parliament

Ukraine’s president is set to virtually deliver an address to the Japanese parliament on Wednesday to rally international support for his country’s fight against the Russian invasion.

Zelenskyy’s speech, expected to be about 10 minutes long, will be shown in a meeting room at the lower house — the more powerful of Japan’s two-chamber parliament which Prime Minister Fumio Kishida belongs to.

Zelenskyy has made virtual addresses to the US Congress, as well as parliaments in Europe, Canada, and Israel.

4,431 residential buildings destroyed, damaged in war

The State Emergency Service of Ukraine says at least 651 residential buildings in the country have been destroyed since the Russian invasion began on February 24, according to NEXTA Television.

About 3,780 houses have been damaged, the TV station quoted the service as saying.

Russian athlete loses Speedo deal after attending Putin rally

Swimwear maker Speedo has ended its sponsorship with Russia’s double Olympic swimming champion Evgeny Rylov after he attended a rally hosted by Putin in Moscow last week, according to the Olympics news website

Rylov, who won gold in 100 metres and 200 metres backstroke events at last year’s Tokyo Olympics, was among eight athletes identified at the rally last Friday, insidethegames said.

“Following his attendance at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow at the weekend, Speedo can confirm that it has terminated the sponsorship of Rylov with immediate effect,” insidethegames quoted Speedo as saying in a statement.

“We condemn the war in Ukraine in the strongest possible way and stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine, our athletes and our team mates who have been impacted by the conflict.”

Russian forces blocking access to the Sea of Azov: Ukraine army

Ukraine’s military says Russian forces now hold the land corridor with occupied Crimea and are blocking access to the Sea of Azov.

The Russian ground offensive remains largely stalled, but its air forces are continuing to bomb infrastructure in Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and in the Donetsk regions, it said.

Ukrainian troops have repulsed 13 Russian attacks and killed 300 Russian soldiers, it added.

Al Jazeera could not verify the claims.

Zelenskyy reiterates willingness to drop NATO plans

Ukraine’s president has said that he is prepared to discuss a commitment from Ukraine not to seek NATO membership in exchange for a ceasefire, the withdrawal of Russian troops and a guarantee of Ukraine’s security.

“It’s a compromise for everyone: for the West, which doesn’t know what to do with us with regard to NATO, for Ukraine, which wants security guarantees, and for Russia, which doesn’t want further NATO expansion,” Zelenskyy said late on Monday in an interview with Ukrainian television channels.

Zelenskyy said that Kyiv will be ready to discuss the status of Crimea and the eastern Donbas region held by Russian-backed separatists after a ceasefire and steps towards providing security guarantees.

Satellite pictures show extent of destruction in Mariupol, Chernihiv and Irpin

A satellite image shows closer multispectral image of burning oil storage tanks in Chernihiv, Ukraine, March 21, 2022.
A satellite image shows burning oil storage tanks in Chernihiv, Ukraine, on March 21, 2022 [Maxar Technologies/Handout via Reuters]
A satellite image shows an overview of Mariupol burning building and Mariupol Theater, Ukraine, March 21, 2022.
A satellite image shows an overview of a Mariupol burning building and the Mariupol theatre, Ukraine, March 21, 2022 [Maxar Technologies/Handout via Reuters]
A satellite image shows burning apartment buildings in Mariupol, Ukraine, March 19, 2022.
A satellite image shows burning apartment buildings in Mariupol, Ukraine, on March 19, 2022 [Maxar Technologies/Handout via Reuters]
A satellite image shows large craters and destoyed homes in Novoselivka, Ukraine, March 21, 2022
A satellite image shows large craters and destoyed homes in Novoselivka, Ukraine, March 21, 2022 [Maxar Technologies/Handout via Reuters]
A satellite image shows damaged and burning buildings in Irpin, Ukraine, March 21, 2022.
A satellite image shows damaged and burning buildings in Irpin, Ukraine, on March 21, 2022 [Maxar Technologies/Handout via Reuters]

45,000 people evacuated from Mariupol since blockade: Ukraine official

Vereshchuk, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, has told local media that at least 45,000 have been evacuated from Mariupol since Russian forces blockaded the city.

“More than 100,000 people remain there,” she said.

Japan protests against Russia move to drop peace talks

Japan says it “strongly protests” against Russia’s decision to abandon talks on a World War II peace treaty because of Tokyo’s strong response to the invasion of Ukraine.

“The latest situation occurred as a result of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, and Russia’s attempt to shift the issue to Japan-Russia relations is extremely unjustified and absolutely unacceptable,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said in parliament.

Japan “strongly protests,” he added, condemning Russia for its actions to “unilaterally change the status quo by force”.

Russia’s use of hypersonic missiles ‘unlikely to materially affect’ war outcome: UK

The United Kingdom’s defence ministry says claims by Moscow that it has used hypersonic missiles in Ukraine are “highly likely intended to detract from a lack of progress in Russia’s ground campaign”.

In its latest intelligence update, the ministry also said the deployment of such weapons was “highly unlikely” to “materially affect” the outcome of Russia’s incursion.

Russia ‘kidnapped three Israeli citizens’: Ukraine official

Ukraine’s deputy prime minister says Russian forces have “kidnapped” three Israeli citizens in Melitopol.

Vereshchuk urged the Israeli government to take a tougher stand against Russia.

“Ukrainian Jews and other Ukrainians are disappointed by Israel’s position and tonality in the matter of the Ukrainian-Russian war. I am sure that the Israeli people are on the side of Ukraine.”

Four children wounded in Russian attack on humanitarian corridor: Zelenskyy

Russian forces shelled along a humanitarian corridor on Monday, wounding four children who were among the civilians being evacuated, Ukraine’s president has said in his nighttime video address to the nation.

Zelenskyy said the shelling took place in the Zaporizhzhia region, the initial destination of those fleeing Mariupol.

Divide at UN over naming Russia in Ukraine aid resolution

France and Mexico are pressing members of the UN to mention Russia’s invasion in a resolution on the worsening humanitarian situation in Ukraine.

But South Africa is arguing against that approach, saying that inserting political issues may block consensus on helping civilians.

A French-Mexican draft resolution expected to be voted on this week in the 193-nation UN General Assembly makes clear that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is responsible for its humanitarian crisis.

A rival South African draft resolution circulated late Monday makes no mention of Russia, referring instead to “all parties”.

Unlike the Security Council, there are no vetoes in the General Assembly. But assembly resolutions are not legally binding, as Security Council resolutions are, though they do have clout in reflecting world opinion.

Kadyrov video claims to show Chechens in Mariupol

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has posted a video on his Telegram page that purported to show the arrival of Chechen fighters in the encircled Ukrainian city of Mariupol.

The accompanying text said: “They directly started the assault on the town, liberating district by district.

“We will completely liberate Mariupol from Ukrainian nationalists and Banderites [followers of a nationalist movement] shortly,” it added.

Al Jazeera could not verify the authenticity of the video.

Russia carried out 300 aircraft sorties over Ukraine in past 24 hours: US official

A senior US defence official says the Russians have increased the number of military aircraft sorties over Ukraine over the past two days, doing as many as 300 in the last 24 hours.

But Russia still does not have air superiority over the country yet.

The official said Ukraine has also increased the pace of its military flights, but declined to provide numbers.

The official said that most of the military flights involve air-to-ground strikes, mainly on stationary targets, and that the Russian aircraft are not spending a lot of time in Ukrainian airspace. The Ukraine military has continued to use its short and long-range air defence systems and drones to target Russian aircraft.

The Russians have also increased naval activity in the northern Black Sea, but there are no indications at this point of an amphibious assault on Odesa. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the military’s assessment.

Polish, Dutch leaders discuss further sanctions on Russia

The prime ministers of Poland and the Netherlands have held talks on additional steps to punish Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said the pair talked “about a blockade of all European ports to Russian ships and also on all sorts of sanctions, including on oil and gas”.

Dutch leader Mark Rutte said Putin has made a “very big mistake” by bringing war again to Europe.

“We will not accept this kind of aggression against a sovereign and democratic nation,” Rutte said. “And these are not empty words. We are showing we are willing to put out money where our mouth is.”

India ‘somewhat shaky’ in its response to Russian invasion: Biden

The US president has described India as an exception among Washington’s allies with its “shaky” response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Addressing a meeting of US business leaders in Washington, Biden said there had been “a united front throughout NATO and in the Pacific”.

“The Quad is, with the possible exception of India being somewhat shaky on some of this, but Japan has been extremely strong – so has Australia – in terms of dealing with Putin’s aggression.”

Indian oil refiners have reportedly continued to purchase discounted Russian oil, even as the West seeks to isolate Moscow.

Putin weighing use of chemical weapons in Ukraine: Biden

Russian accusations that Kyiv has biological and chemical weapons are false and illustrate that Russia’s president is considering using them himself in his war against Ukraine, Biden has said, without citing evidence.

Putin’s “back is against the wall and now he’s talking about new false flags he’s setting up including, asserting that we in America have biological as well as chemical weapons in Europe, simply not true,” Biden said at a Business Roundtable event.

“They are also suggesting that Ukraine has biological and chemical weapons in Ukraine. That’s a clear sign he’s considering using both of those.”

Potential Russian cyberattack would be ‘consequential’: Biden

Biden has offered US government help to companies to step up their defences, saying any potential Russian cyberattacks would be “consequential”.

“The magnitude of Russia’s cyber capacity is fairly consequential, and it’s coming,” Biden said.

US companies told to ‘harden’ defence against cyberattacks

President Biden has urged companies to “harden” their cyber-defences amid concerns Russia could conduct “malicious cyber activity” in response to US sanctions over the war in Ukraine.

The White House said in a statement that the warning was based “on evolving intelligence that the Russian Government is exploring options for potential cyberattacks”.

“Most of America’s critical infrastructure is owned and operated by the private sector and critical infrastructure owners and operators must accelerate efforts to lock their digital doors,” it said.

Aid group concerned about potential child trafficking in Ukraine

Peter Walsh, country director of Save the Children in Ukraine, has said the organisation is concerned about the potential of human trafficking and child trafficking in the country amid the Russian invasion.

“One of our main focuses both in Ukraine and in neighbouring countries is to identify unaccompanied and separated children,” Walsh told Al Jazeera from the western city of Lviv.

“We must have some international agreements between the neighbouring countries and Ukraine to ensure safeguarding measures are put in place to protect children and prevent them from being trafficked.”

Zelenskyy again calls for meeting with Putin

A meeting with Putin is necessary to determine Russia’s position on ending the war, the Interfax Ukraine news agency quoted Ukraine’s president as saying in a television interview.

“I think that, without this meeting, it is impossible to fully understand what they [the Russians] are willing to do to stop the war,” Zelenskyy said.

US-Russia tensions may hinder issues beyond Ukraine: AJE correspondent

The spike in tensions between the US and Russia may affect the Biden administration’s policy goals beyond Ukraine, including efforts to revive the Iran nuclear deal, Al Jazeera’s Kimberly Halkett, reporting from Washington, has said.

“The fact that the US ambassador has been summoned in Russia – and the fact that ties are not only strained, but have the potential to be severed completely – could put a number of US policy objectives at risk,” Halkett said.

Ukraine war exposes cracks in US ties to Middle East allies

With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine dominating discussions around the world, the Biden administration has been promoting global unity against what it calls Putin’s “war of choice”.

But despite those efforts, the conflict has highlighted cracks in some of the US’s most prominent alliances in the Middle East, notably with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia appear to be sending a message to the US, Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, a Middle East fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, told Al Jazeera: “’We’re going to act upon our interests and not what you think our interests are.’”

Read more here.

US, European leaders underscore support for Ukraine

The leaders of the UK, the US, France, Germany and Italy have discussed via phone their “coordinated response to the escalating crisis in Ukraine”, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office has said.

“The Prime Minister underlined his horror at President Putin’s use of increasingly brutal tactics in Ukraine, such as siege warfare and the targeting of civilians,” the UK government said in a statement.

“The leaders affirmed their ongoing commitment to support Ukraine militarily, diplomatically and economically, equipping the democratically-elected government in Kyiv with the tools it needs to defend itself,” it added.

Biden meets business leaders to discuss mitigating price increases

Biden and other top officials from his administration have met with 16 CEOs of major companies to discuss dealing with the economic effects of the war in Ukraine, the White House has said.

“They conveyed the Administration’s commitment to continue imposing heavy costs on Putin to degrade Russia’s war machine and support the people of Ukraine, while taking concrete actions to mitigate the price increases on American consumers caused by Putin’s action,” the White House said in a statement.

“Participants also discussed the need to work together to address Putin’s disruptions to global markets and supply chains, especially for energy and agricultural commodities, and identify alternative sources of supply for key goods.”

More than 8,000 people evacuated on Monday, Ukrainian deputy PM says

A total of 8,057 people were safely evacuated on Monday through seven humanitarian corridors from Ukrainian towns and cities under fire, Vereshchuk has said.

Among those brought to safety were 3,007 residents of the city of Mariupol, which has been under siege from Russian troops for more than two weeks.

Biden not planning to visit Ukraine: White House

The US has not explored options for President Biden to visit Ukraine during his upcoming trip to Europe, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

Psaki told reporters the decision was about increasing the “efficiency” of the US president’s trip amid the security risks that would come with visiting Ukraine.

Pentagon to help gather evidence of war crimes in Ukraine

The Pentagon has accused the Kremlin of carrying out indiscriminate attacks as part of an intentional strategy in Ukraine.

“We certainly see clear evidence that Russian forces are committing war crimes and we are helping with the collecting of evidence of that,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.

“But there are investigative processes that are going to go on, and we’re going to let that happen. We’re going to contribute to that investigative process.”

All Chernobyl staff who wanted to leave have been rotated out: IAEA

The remaining technical staff who had been on duty at Chernobyl’s radioactive waste facilities since Russian forces seized the site last month have now been relieved, the UN nuclear watchdog has said.

“Ukraine’s regulatory authority said about half of the outgoing shift of technical staff left (Chernobyl) yesterday and the rest followed today, with the exception of thirteen staff members who declined to rotate,” the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in a statement on Monday.

Any compromises with Russia will need to go to referendum: Zelenskyy

Ukraine’s president has said that any compromises agreed to with Russia to end the war would need to be voted on by Ukrainians in a referendum.

“The people will have to speak up and respond to this or that form of compromise. And what they [the compromises] will be is the subject of our talks and understanding between Ukraine and Russia,” Zelenskyy said in an interview published by the public broadcasting company Suspilne.

He said issues that could be raised in any referendum could concern territories occupied by Russian forces, including Crimea, or security guarantees offered to Ukraine by countries in lieu of NATO membership.

US ambassador to Russia calls on Moscow to abide by international law

The US ambassador to Russia has called on the Russian government to follow international law, the State Department said, after Moscow summoned John Sullivan over strained relations with Washington.

The department confirmed that a meeting took place between Sullivan and the Russian government, during which the ambassador also called for consular access to US citizens detained in Russia.

Russia’s foreign ministry earlier said it summoned Sullivan over Biden’s recent comments labelling Putin a “war criminal” amid the invasion of Ukraine. It said the remarks “put Russian-American relations on the verge of rupture”.

Welcome to Al Jazeera’s continuing coverage of the Ukraine-Russia crisis.

Read all the updates from Monday, March 21 here.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies