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Latest Developments in Ukraine: March 19

The Orthodox church of the Holy Mother of God-Joy of All Who Grieve lies in ruins in the village of Bohorodychne as a result of shelling amid Russia's attacks on Ukraine, March 18, 2023.

For full coverage of the crisis in Ukraine, visit Flashpoint Ukraine.

The latest developments in Russia's war on Ukraine. All times EDT.

6:20 p.m.:

5:30 p.m.: Caregivers at a Ukrainian orphanage in previously occupied Kherson detail ways they hid orphaned Ukrainian children from being abducted by Russians. In an interview with the The Guardian's Observer Magazine, orphanage staffers described how they concealed the children, a fraction of the 16,226 taken, their story rivaling a Hollywood movie script. Theirs was only one of the many scenarios Ukrainians devised to save unprotected Ukrainian children from being dispatched to Russia and Russian-occupied territories for adoption and reeducation.

5:05 p.m.: White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said Sunday the United States would be watching closely to see what emerges from the upcoming meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin this week in Moscow.

China and Russia, Kirby said on “Fox News Sunday,” “are two countries that are chafing against this international rules-based order that the United States and so many of our allies and partners have built up, since the end of World War II.” He said the two superpowers are attempting to shake up international order. “They’d like to rewrite the rules of the game globally,” he noted. “They have been increasing their cooperation and their relationship, certainly of late,” Kirby said.

China recently floated a 12-point plan designed to end the Russia-Ukraine war. Kirby told host Mike Emanuel that Washington remains skeptical of China’s intentions regarding Russia’s invasion on Ukraine.

“What we have said before,” Kirby said, “and we’ll say it again today, that if coming out of this meeting, there’s some sort of call for a cease-fire, well, that’s just going to be unacceptable because all that’s going to do ... is ratify Russian’s conquest to date.”

Kirby expressed hopes that China’s president would keep open “lines of communication” with President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Politico reports.

4:20 p.m.: In a tweet, Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser in the Office of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy likened Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to the occupied city of Mariupol to that of a criminal returning to the crime scene.

4:10 p.m.: In another tweet, Podolyak said that the warrant by the International Criminal Court against Russian President Vladimir Putin “must be complied with.”

3:15 p.m.: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy condemned the ongoing Russian shelling of Ukrainian cities and villages, killing civilians. “The evil state will be held accountable for every act of terror against Ukrainians,” he said in his nightly video address. “This week has finally brought a truly significant international legal result for Ukraine, for justice. There is a warrant of the International Criminal Court for the arrest of the Russian leader, and this is a turning point,” he said, for Russia to face consequences for its crimes in Ukraine. “Responsibility for every strike on Ukraine, for every destroyed life, for every deported Ukrainian child... And, of course, for every manifestation of destabilization of the world caused by Russian aggression,” he said.

2:05 p.m.: Speaking on Russian state television Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that he had decided to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022 rather than earlier because of economic and military factors, The Kyiv Independent reported.

Putin explained that Russia didn't wage a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2014, when it invaded Crimea and started a war in the eastern Donbas region because it wasn't ready militarily in 2014 for a full-scale war, primarily because it didn't have "hypersonic weapons."

Russia's hypersonic missile Kinzhal entered service in 2014. Since the start of the full-scale invasion, both Russia and Ukraine have said that Russia had launched Kinzhal missiles at targets in Ukraine. The missiles are considered impossible to intercept.

Putin also said that Russia had been preparing economically to withstand the cost of the war. He cited good harvests, import substitution policies, and “improving” the country’s financial system as the factors that allowed him to start the invasion.

1:20 p.m.: In a statement, Ukraine’s State Intelligence Service says Russian hackers distribute software online that includes malicious codes. Officials are warning that downloading hacked software is dangerous. “Hackers trojanize ISOs and installers and make them freely available on torrent trackers. If a victim downloads and installs such files on their computer, hackers gain access to its contents and can remain undetected for a long time," the statement says.

“By installing hacked software from torrents, they actually give Russian intelligence services access to the contents of working machines. The use of a hacked operating system is especially dangerous, because in this case, attackers have full administrative access to the computer on which it is installed,” it adds.

12:05 p.m.: Three civilians were killed and two wounded in Russian shelling of a residential building in the southern Ukrainian region of Zaporizhzhia on Sunday, Reuters reported.

The region's military administration said Russian troops fired grad rockets at the small village of Kamyanske which had a pre-war population of some 2,600 people.

The authorities warned residents in the region that the danger of shelling was constant near the front lines and urged them to evacuate.

11:05 a.m.: The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin for the war crime of unlawful deportation of people, in particular children, and their unlawful transfer from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.

The ICC issued a separate warrant on the same charge for Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova the Russian commissioner for children's rights.

Moscow dismissed Friday's move. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the allegations "outrageous." Russia, which has denied targeting civilians since its invasion in February last year, has repeatedly denied its forces have committed atrocities, and has rejected past allegations of illegally moving Ukrainians.

Ukraine's Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin said on March 17 the prosecutors were investigating cases of deportation of over 16,000 children from Russian-occupied areas of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kharkiv and Kherson regions. "But the real figure can be much higher," Kostin said on his Facebook page.

So far, Ukraine has managed to return 308 children according to officials, Reuters reported.

10:15 a.m.:

9:58 a.m.: Ukrainian forces outside the battered eastern city of Bakhmut are managing to keep Russian units at bay so ammunition, food, equipment and medicines can be delivered to defenders, the army said on Saturday.

"We are managing to deliver the necessary munitions, food, gear and medicines to Bakhmut. We are also managing to take our wounded out of the city," military spokesperson Serhiy Cherevaty told the ICTV television channel.

Kyiv said its troops had killed 193 Russians and injured 199 others during the course of fighting on Friday, Reuters reported.

Russia has made the capture of Bakhmut a priority in its strategy to take control of Ukraine's eastern Donbas industrial region. The city has been devastated after months of fighting and Russian repeated assaults.

9:17 a.m.: Russia has found itself in an unequal relationship with China since strengthening its relations toward Beijing, according to AFP.

Since Western countries imposed sanctions on Moscow, bilateral trade between the two neighbors has reached a record $190 billion and the proportion of Russian foreign trade carried out in yuan has gone from 0.5 percent to 16 percent.

"It's absolutely critical for Russia to be close to China, because Russia doesn't have many trade friends," Elina Ribakova, deputy chief economist at the Institute of International Finance, told Agence France-Presse.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is preparing to host Chinese leader Xi Jinping next week.

Ties between the two countries are particularly strong in the energy sector, which has been heavily targeted by Western sanctions.

"China and India have replaced the European Union as Russia's most important export market" for oil, said a group of economists from the Institute of International Finance.

However, most big Chinese companies that are well-integrated into Western markets opted to pause their activities in Russia for fear of potential sanctions, said Anna Kireeva, a research fellow at the prestigious MGIMO University in Russia.

Time will tell if the alliance of convenience will turn into a long-term sustainable partnership, Agence France-Presse reported.

8:40 a.m.: The General Staff of Ukraine's Armed Forces reported Sunday, that Russia had lost 164,910 troops in Ukraine since the beginning of its full-scale invasion on Feb. 24 last year.

The military said that Russian forces suffered 710 casualties just over the past day, The Kyiv Independent reported.

According to the report, Russia also lost 3,532 tanks, 6,853 armored fighting vehicles, 5,408 vehicles and fuel tanks, 2,568 artillery systems, 507 multiple launch rocket systems, 268 air defense systems, 305 airplanes, 290 helicopters, 2,159 drones, and 18 boats.

8 a.m.: Russian President Vladimir Putin made a surprise visit to the Russian-occupied Ukrainian city of Mariupol, a place where some of the worst devastation was inflicted by Russian forces.

According to Reuters, state television showed extended footage of Putin being shown around the city on Saturday night, meeting rehoused residents and being briefed on reconstruction efforts by Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin.

The port city of Mariupol became known around the world as a byword for death and destruction as much of it was reduced to ruins in the first months of the war, eventually falling to Russian forces in May.

Hundreds were killed in the bombing of a theater where families with children were sheltering and Russia's early bombing of a maternity hospital there was called a war crime by the Organization for Security and Cooperation and Europe (OSCE). Moscow contested that, saying that it does not target civilians.

Putin's visit took place after the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for his arrest on Friday, accusing him of the war crime of deporting hundreds of children from Ukraine.

The visit to Mariupol was the first Putin has made to the Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine's Donbas region since the beginning of the war, and the closest he has come to the front lines.

7:30 a.m.: U.S. drone flights over the Baltic Sea are a sign of direct U.S. involvement in conflict with Russia, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying on Sunday, Reuters reports. Peskov made these comments after a U.S. drone was intercepted by Russian fighter planes and crashed into the Black Sea last week.

"It is quite obvious what these drones are doing, and their mission is not at all a peaceful mission to ensure the safety of shipping in international waters," Interfax news agency quoted Peskov as saying in a TV interview.

“In fact, we are talking about the direct involvement of the operators of these drones in the conflict, and against us," he noted.

5:19 a.m.: The Institute for the Study of War, a U.S. think tank, said in its latest Ukraine assessment that Russian forces conducted limited ground attacks along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line.

They also continued offensive operations in and around Bakhmut and on the outskirts of Donetsk City.

4:10 a.m.: The latest intelligence update from the U.K. defense ministry said that earlier this month, officials in the Russian-controlled part of Zaporizhzhia Oblast have declared Melitopol the oblast capital. The U.K. defense ministry said that the declaration was likely "tactit acknowledgement" that Russia will control the much-larger city of Zaporizhzhia anytime soon. Zaporizhzhia, which has some 700,000 people, is about 35 kilometers from the current front line.

3:06 a.m.: Donetsk Oblast Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko reported that 10 people have been injured due to Russia’s attack on Kramatorsk, The Kyiv Independent reported.

Earlier on March 18, Kyrylenko reported that Russian forces used cluster munitions in their latest attack on the eastern city of Kramatorsk, killing at least two civilians and wounding five.

He said that the Russian forces targeted Bernatsky Park, located in the southern part of the city, damaging a dozen residential buildings and several cars.

2:22 a.m.: The Kyiv Independent, citing an official from Ukraine's Armed Forces, reported that Ukrainian forces repelled more than 80 Russian attacks Saturday. Russian forces were targeting Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiivka, Marinka, and Shakhtarsk, the Independent said.

1:30 a.m.: Russia's Wagner mercenary group plans to recruit approximately 30,000 new fighters by the middle of May, its founder Yevgeny Prigozhin said, according to Reuters.

He said in an audio message on Telegram that Wagner recruitment centers, which he said last week had opened in 42 Russian cities, were hiring on average 500-800 people a day.

He gave no evidence to support the numbers, which Reuters could not independently verify.

Prigozhin's men have sustained heavy losses while leading Russian efforts to capture the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, which has held out since last summer in the longest and bloodiest battle of the yearlong war.

In January, the United States assessed that Wagner had about 50,000 fighters in Ukraine, including 40,000 convicts Prigozhin had recruited from Russian prisons with a promise of a free pardon if they survived six months.

Ukrainian officials have claimed that some 30,000 of Wagner's fighters have deserted or been killed or wounded, a figure that could not be independently verified.

12:02 a.m.: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced sanctions on 400 more individuals and companies Saturday, vowing that Russia and those who help it wage war will be punished, The Kyiv Independent reported.

Most of the sanction targets are related to Russia’s military-industrial complex, but they also include Iranian and Syrian individuals, according to the president.

Zelenskyy said these sanctions contribute to global pressure on Russia and those that supply it “weapons of terror.” This includes Iran, which provides Russia with Shahed kamikaze drones that have been used to attack Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure for almost six months.

Russia must be punished for its aggression not just against Ukraine but other countries like Syria, Zelenskyy said.

Some information in this report came from Agence France-Presse, Associated Press and Reuters.