Return to Transcripts main page

Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

First Video Inside Mariupol Theater Hit By Russian Airstrike; Russia Says First Stage Of War Is Over As Its Advances Ukraine Appear Stalled; One-On-One With Nadya Tolokonnikova; Russia Says "First Stage" Of War Is Over As Its Advances In Ukraine Appear To Have Stalled; 11-Year-Old Ukrainian Girl Shot In The Face When Russian Soldiers Opened Fire On The Car She Was Fleeing In; UN: More Than 3.7 Million Refugees Flee War-Torn Ukraine; Jan. 6 Comte. Debating Bringing Ginni Thomas Before Panel. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired March 25, 2022 - 20:00   ET


ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: It's a pretty amazing moment that we're in where this is even under consideration, but there are 29 more texts -- 28 more text messages where the one I just shared came from.

Thanks so much for joining us. Don't forget you can watch "OUTFRONT" anytime. You just have to go to CNN Go.

AC 360 starts now.



There are potential signs tonight of what could be a change in Russian war aims in Ukraine, even as the definite signs of trouble for Russian forces on the ground are piling up.

Remember just a day ago, Russia's Foreign Ministry was saying the war was going according to plan. Well, today, a top Russian general shifted focus away from that plan, which by the way was Vladimir Putin's stated plan towards more limited goals. The question now, is he moving the goalposts?

We'll ask our correspondents and military analysts in the two hours ahead.

First though, new video from inside the theater Mariupol that Russian forces hit. The same theater with the Russian word for "children" written big enough on both sides of it to be seen from space.

Today, in addition to learning from an adviser to Mariupol's mayor, that as many as 900 people may have been sheltering there at the time. We've also got video which we've subtitled just moments after the strike.


(MALE speaking in foreign language.)

TRANSLATION: The missile hit right in the center of the Drama Theater. Now people are trying to evacuate.

We were on the ground floor and didn't get hurt. But under these rubble, there may be many people who were hiding from the shelling.

The airstrike was right in the center of the Drama Theater where people came to get some water.


COOPER: Now, the adviser to Mariupol's mayor said today that approximately 300 people were killed in that attack based on the information from City Council officials who had knowledge of the number of people using the theater, as well as data from people who live nearby or gone to the site after the attack. Three hundred people, they say.

Vladimir Putin spoke out as well today and to hear him tell that Western sanctions are not about punishing aggression or their barbarity of it, instead, it's about something else entirely.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Children's book writer J.K. Rowling was recently cancelled because, she, the author of books that spread far and wide in hundreds of millions of copies did not please the fans of the so-called Gender Freedoms.

Today, they are trying to cancel a whole thousand-year-old country, our people.


COOPER: He is putting this on cancel culture.

Today, he also signed a new law prohibiting the dissemination of what it deems false information or publicly discrediting Russian government agencies working abroad.

President Biden meantime is in Poland, dining today with members the 82nd Airborne at an airport and staging area for Western military assistance. He expressed gratitude for their role on NATO's Eastern frontier.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I came for one simple basic reason, not a joke, to say thank you.

Thank you. Thank you, thank you for your service. Thank you for who you are. And thank you for what you're doing.

And as my grandfather would say, every time I walked out of his house, he goes, "Joe," he was screaming, he said, "Keep the faith." My grandma -- my grandmother would yell, all kidding aside, this is serious, she'd yell, "No. Spread it."

You're spreading the faith.


COOPER: Well, this next person we want you to meet is certainly spreading the faith. A pianist named Alex outside the train station in Lviv. The video was taken Saturday. When an air raid siren you'll hear in the background began. Police asked everyone to move inside. Alex didn't budge he just played louder.


COOPER: Like so many of his fellow Ukrainians, whether physically or spiritually, he could not be budged.

We have live reports tonight from CNN's Frederik Pleitgen in Kyiv, CNN's Ben Wedeman is in Odessa.

First this, from CNN's Oren Liebermann.


OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Show them off like trophies, Russian tanks captured or destroyed in battle. Small victories in a bigger, bloodier war.

West of Kyiv, this drone footage shows the horrific aftermath of heavy fighting. Russian forces have dug into defensive positions around the capital city. According to a senior U.S. defense official, their progress stalled by a determined Ukrainian resistance.

MAYOR VITAL KLITSCHKO, KYIV, UKRAINE: We never ever go to the knee, better we die, than give up.

LIEBERMANN (voice over): Russia's attacks have intensified from the air with little progress to show on the ground claiming a strike on a large Ukrainian fuel depot near Kyiv. Russia has been unable to encircle the city.


ANDRIY YERMAK, HEAD OF THE OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT OF UKRAINE (through translator): They have not been able to fulfill any of their strategic plans they intended to attain during this aggression. They hoped that the invasion of Ukraine would be a walk over.

LIEBERMANN (voice over): A Ukrainian attack on the occupied city of Berdyansk destroyed a Russian warship as Ukrainian forces hit back against Russian forces in some places. Russia perhaps moving its goalposts. A top general says the first stage of the operation is nearing completion. So far, he says 1,351 Russian troops have been killed a number far lower than the up to 15,000 dead that NATO officials estimate.

Gen. Sergei Rudskoi says Russian forces will now focus on liberating part of southeast Ukraine, controlled by Russian backed separatists. GEN. SERGEI RUDSKOI, HEAD OF RUSSIAN GENERAL STAFF MAIN OPERATIONAL

DIRECTORATE: The combat potential of the Armed Forces of Ukraine has been considerably reduced, which makes it possible. I emphasize it once again, to focus our core efforts on achieving the main goal: The liberation of Donbas.

LIEBERMANN (voice over): One month in, the cost of war is growing for Russia, but so too for Ukraine. Video now emerging from the attack on the theater in Mariupol, an adviser to the mayor says about 300 people were killed while sheltering inside when the Russians bombed the building, 600 survived, the adviser says, even as the Russian word for "children" was written outside. Russia denies targeting the building.

Elsewhere in the city, video showing makeshift graves in a residential block and near a playground. The U.S. now believes Russia is running low on air launched cruise missiles, according to a Defense official, and their precision munitions are failing at rates between 20 and 60 percent.

Despite Russian claims of not targeting civilians, new video shows the moment a strike hit a line of people waiting for humanitarian aid in Kharkiv, near the Russian border. The Regional Governor says six people were killed.

Russia's invasion looking more and more like a scorched earth campaign in places as Western countries fear other types of weapons.

JENS STOLTENBERG, NATO GENERAL SECRETARY: And the use of chemical weapons or nuclear weapons will totally change the nature of the war in Ukraine. It will be absolutely unacceptable.

LIEBERMANN (voice over): Oren Liebermann, CNN at the Pentagon.


COOPER: As if to underscore the beginning of that report, Ukraine's President Zelenskyy tonight said that more than 16,000 Russian troops have now been killed since the war began. CNN cannot independently confirm that.

With that, we go to our correspondent starting with Fred Pleitgen in Kyiv.

Fred, the top Russian General saying today that the first phase of the war is over. Does that match what you've seen in Kyiv and Irpin? Do you think it's a purposeful change in the goalposts or instead, just a change in public messaging?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, now, certainly, it seems to us as the Russians are on the back foot. I mean, especially here in Kyiv, and, you know, some of the things that you're hearing from that Russian General, I mean, clearly, in the early days of the war, you know, when, for instance, I was in Belgorod, on the Russian side of the border, they certainly there were saying that they wanted to take Kharkiv, which was on the other side of the border. In fact, in the beginning, they said that they had already penetrated

the first defensive ring of Kharkiv. They also sent a bunch of troops to try and get into the center of Kyiv, which obviously then was repelled by the Ukrainian military.

So it certainly seems as though from our vantage point here, and also what the Ukrainians are saying as well is that the Russians simply haven't achieved a lot of the aims they have and therefore seem to be retrospectively trying to move the goalpost.

And if you listen to some of the things that this General said, where he said: Look, in essence, going here, around Kyiv with this large force, going to places like Kharkiv with a very large force was simply just a ploy to try and make sure that the Ukrainian military can't amass around the Donbas, then the Russians, you know, why would they expend so many Russian lives to do that? Why would they lose so much Russian military hardware around Kyiv, around Kharkiv, that in itself should raise some questions if that were the case among the Russian military and the Russian military leaders.

And then you look at the current situation, Anderson, if the Russians are saying that they are essentially just going after the Donbas, they are still surrounding the town of Chernihiv and shelling that town, killing a bunch of civilians. There's a town called Slavutyc, which is very near the Chernobyl nuclear reactor, that's also surrounded and being shelled.

You obviously still have Kharkiv where civilian areas are being attacked, and then Mariupol as well of course, we have that devastating humanitarian situation. So certainly, from our vantage point, it seems to be very difficult to explain the Russians saying that really, the only thing they're after is the Donbas and that been that way and that's been their strategy the entire time -- Anderson.

COOPER: Ben, you are in Odessa tonight. The Russians essentially you're saying now it is the south and the southeast, which will be the focus. What are you seeing and hearing in Odessa tonight?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, tonight we did hear a burst of anti-aircraft fire coming from within the city. It is not clear whether there was something incoming, a plane or what, but that does appear to have passed.


WEDEMAN: The city, however, is on edge. Odessa is Ukraine's most important port, and sometimes there are Russian ships visible, just offshore. Usually, they lurk right over the horizon. So people are nervous here.

There are Russian forces, just about two and a half hours drive to the east of here. Their advance toward Odessa has been stopped, according to the British Ministry of Defense because of what they say, Russian forces suffering from logistical problems, as well as fairly stiff resistance from a strategic city, blocking them. Mykolaiv, that has -- now the situation there is calm, but there was some intense fighting just on the outskirts of that city.

So at the moment, Odessa is safe, but as I said, on edge -- Anderson.

COOPER: Fred, Ukrainian President Zelenskyy issued new messages on social media today, what was he trying to get across?

PLEITGEN: Well, he was essentially trying to get across that the Russians are failing and basically appealing to the Russians to stop all of this, because of all the losses that they're essentially taking. I think some of it you already mentioned, he was saying, for the first time that the Russians had over 16,000 killed in action. That's according to Ukrainian figures, of course, impossible for us to independently verify that.

I think also interesting, he was talking about some very senior officers also being lost as well. We talked about the fact that six Russian Generals have now essentially been confirmed to have been killed even though the Russians don't acknowledge all of that also, of course, the Deputy Commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, who is also someone who has played very important roles in the Russian military as well.

So obviously, Volodymyr Zelenskyy paying tribute to that and telling the Russians you are failing here and your military is falling apart. The Russians, of course, not acknowledging very much of that. The Russian Defense Ministry came forward today, only the second time that they've actually acknowledged casualty figures and they were saying around 1,300 killed is what they are acknowledging so far. Obviously, the Ukrainians and the U.S. and its allies saying it is a lot more than that -- Anderson.

COOPER: Ben, what are you learning about what's happening in the southern city of Kherson?

WEDEMAN: Okay, Kherson is the city, the only major city the Russian forces have been able to occupy on the Sea of Azov. What we're hearing is that U.S. officials are saying that they believe that that city is now contested, no longer fully under Russian control.

But CNN was able to get in touch with four residents who dispute that claim. One resident who, of course, we can't name for their safety, suggesting that they saw what appeared to be Russian soldiers going around looking to buy vegetables, but this is a town where there have been daily protests against the Russian occupation.

A few days ago, in fact, Russian forces opened fire on those demonstrations. And today, we understand that some residents actually put the Ukrainian flag on City Hall -- Anderson.

COOPER: Yes, we are showing a picture. It's extraordinary.

Fred, the Ukrainian military, what have they been saying about a strike on an Air Force Command Center in western Ukraine.

PLEITGEN: Well, it seems as though the Russians are trying to essentially decapitate the Air Force Command. And you know, one of the things that we've obviously been reporting a lot about that the Ukrainian Air Force still appears to be quite effective and remains intact.

You've obviously also done some great interviews with some Ukrainian pilots who still are very much in the skies and challenging those Russian forces. We were in touch with some of the folks in that town, it is called Vinnytsia and they said that six cruise missiles were involved and that the Ukrainian military says that two of those missiles were actually shot down by air defense systems.

But there were several missiles that did hit that Air Force Command Headquarters. They said that there was substantial damage and we also know from folks on the ground, who are in that town that there were air alarms going off, sirens going off for the better part of this day, and it really didn't stop until well into the evening hours.

So it's a big strike. That's just one or two big strikes actually, the Russians conducted today, Anderson. There was another one on a fuel depot, the Russians say the biggest fuel depot that the Ukrainian military still has or that was still active here. They hit that they said with a caliber cruise missile. That was just south of Kyiv.

And you know one last thing we also did hear a lot of air raid sirens today here in the Ukrainian capital. And we also heard a lot of what we believe to be outgoing anti-aircraft fire and surface to air missile fire as well -- Anderson.

COOPER: Fred Pleitgen, Ben Wedeman, appreciate it. Thank you.

Coming up next, we'll speak with Russian dissident, the founder of the protest group Pussy Riot. She served prison time in Siberia for criticizing Vladimir Putin. We will get her thoughts about Putin now.

And later what CNN's Ivan Watson discovered about some extraordinary resilience of even terribly wounded children when he visited a hospital in Zaporizhzhia.


COOPER: In light of some of the Orwellian statements we've repeatedly heard from Russian officials as well as the broadening of Russian laws against so-called fake news, what our next guest has to say about it all is especially apartment.

Before bringing her in though, I want to play you a moment from Christiane Amanpour's recent interview with Vladimir Putin spokesman in which he flat out denied something that is playing for anybody to see.

We played a bit of it a few nights ago but we want to play it again because it illustrates very clearly how bold faced the laws are as people continue to die.


DMITRY PESKOV, PUTIN SPOKESMAN: Russian military are not hitting civil aims, civil targets.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Look, I know you guys say that you're not targeting civilians. And you've just told me it was a Special Military Operation which is I know what the Kremlin military censorship demands.

It is a war and it is an invasion and we're all watching it all over global television no matter what you tell your own people.


There are so many civilian targets that it is hard to count them right now. And, you know, you may deny it. But even the Chinese, Dmitry, even the Chinese who are your friends have expressed a very, very deep concern about civilian targets.

The real question is, what is President Putin's strategic goal in blasting the civilian infrastructure of places like Mariupol, which we are watching turn to smithereens for the last several weeks now. What's the strategic goal?

PESKOV: Well, the strategic goal is to clear up the Mariupol from nationalistic regiments who are there in a heavily covered environment and so -- and by the way, they are simply not letting people out from the city, from the town. And this is a problem, because now we're receiving lots of refugees coming from there and they simply tell us, they are eyewitnesses. They simply tell us that they were used like a shield.


COOPER: Joining us now is Nadya Tolokonnikova, founding member of the Russian protest collective, Pussy Riot. She served prison time in Siberia for criticizing Vladimir Putin.

Nadya, thanks for being with us. When you hear the Russian spokesman they're just lying so smoothly, what goes through your mind?

NADYA TOLOKONNIKOVA, FOUNDER, PUSSY RIOT: It makes me want to puke. I hate him so much, I never hated him so much in my life, like Vladimir Putin and Peskov, and it is triggering to even watch him.

I never watch Russian television because it's just too hard to see how they lie to their own people.

I have my own family members back in Russia who believe that there is no civilians targeted by the Russian military. They just help people hostages, Putin and Peskov, they hold Russian hostages and buying them.

COOPER: You have family members who don't believe what you believe, who believe what Putin is saying.

TOLOKONNIKOVA: My step brother, but there's not much you can do because when we show them pictures from Mariupol, from Kharkiv, from Kyiv, they say this is fake news and propaganda from the West. COOPER: The protests that we've seen in Russia, I mean, it is

extraordinary to see so many people going out in the streets in small ways, in some small acts of protest even, and some, you know, holding up signs being arrested.

I'm wondering what you are hearing from friends there about the protests. I mean, does it make you hopeful at all?

TOLOKONNIKOVA: It's a direct opposite of what I feel when I see Peskov. It makes me feel proud and hopeful. It makes me feel full and full of love for Russian people. And I'm really grateful for those who actually separate these days, Russians from Russian government.

It really hurts that Putin destroys not just Ukraine, but Russia. These protesters, I seen the future of my country, a future for my country, and we will have to work for years to come in order to rebuild -- to rebuild our reputation that we just destroyed because we were not able to get rid of Putin in time.

And what you need to understand about Russian protesters is that there are so much more people who want to protest, but they cannot just because they are not ready to go to jail for 15 years. Not everyone is as brave a that where they have family responsibilities, and they just cannot show up in the streets or simple tweet because even tweet and Instagram story or Telegram posts can bring you to jail for up to 15 years.

COOPER: It was odd to hear Vladimir Putin today complaining about so- called cancel culture in the west and comparing himself to J.K. Rowling. I mean, it's surreal.

TOLOKONNIKOVA: It's nuts. But it is something that he has been doing for the last 20 years. It's just -- it's just -- I felt actually so much like I felt misled by my own government and by some people who didn't react and push him strong enough for the last 20 years because you know, this war that he started he didn't start it yesterday, he started it in 2014 and all this terrible machine of propaganda to say is this boring piece like just exactly like a famous Orwell novel.

It's something that we've been witnessing for the last 20 years and you know definitely, it could be as strong as today we've been witnessing it since 2014 and it just hurts me to see that Vladimir Putin, his regime and his power is definitely agonizing. It hurts for me to see that he is hurting so many people including my friend, Oksana Baulina, who was just murdered in Kyiv.

COOPER: I want to ask you about her because you mentioned her. Oksana Baulina was her name. She was killed in a shelling while working in Kyiv.

I want to just show our viewers Pussy Riot's tweet yesterday. It said: "2017 Alexei Navalny is still on freedom, Oksana Baulina is still alive. Putin destroys those who have passion, ethics and vision. Those who know how to laugh and love, how to fight and how to never be scared. That is the people -- I mean, all those qualities are things that Vladimir Putin is scared about. TOLOKONNIKOVA: It hurts me so much. I can't comprehend now just one

person can cause so much pain to the whole community. And I'm deeply -- I'm deeply sorry that we're not able to get him out earlier. Oksana is an amazing person who I have known for years, and she was working at Foundation against Corruption with Alexei Navalny who was just sentenced to nine years in jail and it has been the day before yesterday, I've heard that my friend, Alexei Navalny is sentence for nine years in jail, he served three years in jail already.

He was poisoned before. Two years before that my husband and father of my daughter was poisoned almost to death, and two days ago, I've heard that my friend Oksana died, and I'm honestly just scared to open my phone and look at the news because I'm terrified. It's getting more terrible news.

The father of my daughter is a journalist and he is the founder of Media Zona, co-founder with me, which is a media outlet that started in 2014. Putin blocked it a few weeks ago for covering the war.

But my ex-husband is in Ukraine right now. He's in Kyiv and me and my daughter are terrified to just read one day that he's not with us anymore, because it's another shelling from Russian Army.

COOPER: Nadya, I so appreciate talking to you. And it's such an important -- your voice is so important and I'm sorry for all the losses that you are able to count on your hands. It's sickening and unfair.

Nadya Tolokonnikova, thank you so much.

TOLOKONNIKOVA: Thank you for having me.

COOPER: We'll discuss those comments that we mentioned earlier by a top Russian General about a possible shift in the way that Russia is fighting this war, at least what they're going to be emphasizing now, fighting in the southeast.

Two retired Generals join us ahead.



COOPER: Unanswered questions tonight about whether Russia is actually shifting strategy. As we reported earlier, top Russian general suggested their attack would now be focused in the southeast. Pentagon official tell CNN that Russian forces around Kyiv are now in defensive positions. They also told that their indications Ukrainians are pushing back the Russians in Chernihiv in the north and possibly contesting Russian control Kherson in the south.

Fred Pleitgen as you saw earlier as in Kyiv, he filed this about the mood there.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on-camera): The Ukrainian capital Kyiv is still very much on a war footing. We're right in the city center. And as you can see, there's a tank barrier that was set up here with sandbags, obviously a defensive position. And this is something that you really see throughout the entire city with a lot of checkpoints. A lot of soldiers on the ground defense forces that as well. And just to give you an idea, we are literally in the city center. Over there, you see (INAUDIBLE) of course right in the middle of the Ukrainian capitol.

At the same time, though, you do get the sense here right now that the people here have a little more room to breathe, and they feel a little more secure because of some of the gains that the Ukrainian forces have been making. For instance, at a checkpoint like this one, you do see a lot more vehicle traffic than for instance, we have been seeing over the past couple of days, there's more cars going through here. Nevertheless, of course, the situation still remains very dangerous with Russian say that they hit a fuel depo just south of the Ukrainian Capitol. And in general, of course, fighting still going on, not very far from where we are.


COOPER: That's Fred Pleitgen in Kyiv. I'm joined now by retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, a CNN military analyst and retired Brigadier General Peter Zwack.

General Zwack, let me ask you, I mean, you hear Russian general saying, oh, we're really going to be focusing now in the south east. That's clearly where they have the have had the most successes thus far. What do you make of that? Is that an actual shift or is they just trying to focus on the one place where they seem to be at least in control of some cities?

BRIG. GEN. PETER ZWACK, RET FMR U.S. DEFENSE ATTACHE TO RUSSIA: Anderson, I think that they're changing the narrative, because they have been, and it's been bloody and brutal, but they've been roundly defeated in this first round. And, you know, there's that term, you can't you know, you can't paint lipstick on a pig. And they're doing it now. They're saying that the Kyiv thing was, was never the main objective, I believe, that they wanted in the first few days to decapitate the Zelenskyy government, put in a put in a proxy, and then focus on the Donbass and then possibly work up the coast. But they've been so, so incompetent, and they so underestimated, Ukrainian resolve that started with the President on that first night, that they -- no they've changed the narrative and a lot of this is to say face in their own country.

Putin needs to have a credible narrative for his people, why thousands of people are coming back and body bags, and that will be the liberation of the Donbass and maybe connecting to Crimea and new Russia (INAUDIBLE).


COOPER: General Hertling, do you agree LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I do. Anderson, I'll say a little bit differently. You've had a campaign plan and as I understand that, the announcement came that they were going into the second phase of their operation because the first phase hadn't been successful. If you're talking about the President being banished from the world stage, their economy starting to be in ruins, the destruction of close to two combined arms armies with over, you know, 2,000 vehicles, and probably by the time this is all over more than 20,000 dead soldiers to include by tonight's count seven dead generals.

You know, it's a pretty bold strategy to say you've succeeded in phase one, and you're about to transfer to phase two, after you've wrapped 190,000 Russian soldiers around a front that was 14 miles -- 1,400 miles long, and then say, yes, what we really wanted to do was go into the Donbass, an area that they had already at a stalemate in it. It's just beyond belief. It's laughable. And it shows that not only is Putin incompetent as a strategist, but his generals must be really sycophantic in terms of their comedic display of support for something like this. It just doesn't coincide with any kind of military plan or activity that I've ever seen before, and certainly one that doesn't have victory as an end state.

What I'd also say one of the things they said is they were attempting to destroy Ukraine's army. Well, Ukraine's army is currently destroying them in places like North of Kyiv and Kherson and Kharkiv, the counter offensive is going on in Mykolaiv. So every place that they attempted to make games, they are now being sucked into a vacuum. And I think by the end of this, we're going to see an awful lot of dead Russian soldiers and an awful lot of Russian prisoners of war before this is all over.

COOPER: General Zwack, the idea, you know, the reports that they are going to be calling up reinforcements of Russian forces who are in former Soviet Georgia, in Georgia. That can't that's clearly not a good sign of things are going well, for the Russians if they're calling and reinforcements from Georgia.

ZWACK: I totally agree with you, Anderson. There plus or minus nobody, maybe 10,000 A few call Russian peacekeepers and South Ossetia and Abkhazia that were the illegally if you will, Breakaway states and 2008. They're there. In my mind, these aren't -- yes, they do peacekeeping, but they're not particularly well combat trained. And you're going to probably take five or 6,000 of that 10 and send them and that isn't going to sway the fight in any major way. As well as the so-called Syrians that are out there or the Chechnya ins that will just aggravate and intensify Ukrainian resistance. And then they're the Belarusians that people keep talking about (INAUDIBLE) if they if they come that will probably bring down the Lukashenko regime.

COOPER: General Zwack, General Hertling, appreciate it as always, thank you. Fascinating.

Up next, some of the youngest victims of the war in Ukraine. We're going to take you to a hospital where they have to sandbags to protect the windows and babies as young as two weeks old, have to hide in the basement when air raid sirens go off. We'll hear from some of these kids ahead.



COOPER: The invasion of Ukraine is taking a heavy toll on some of the war's most innocent victims kids. UNICEF spokesman James Elder told CNN the most immediate need for Ukrainian children is safety. And this as the UN says at least 78 children have been killed in another 105 had been injured. Again, we warn you those numbers could be much higher.

Yesterday I spoke with CNN senior international correspondent Ivan Watson who visited children's hospital -- children's ward in a hospital and Zaporizhzhia are many of the injured kids are getting medical care. Well, tonight Ivan has another report from that hospital. He's able to talk to some of the staff and children including a little girl who was wounded by Russian soldier. Here's the story.


IVAN WATSON, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Eleven- year-old Milena Uralova (ph) lies in a hospital recovering nine days after a Russian soldier shot her through the face. Horribly wounded and yet quick to show off how she can count in English.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One, two, three, four, five, six, seven (INAUDIBLE).

WATSON (voice-over): She can't speak loudly her mother Elana explains.

She has a bullet wound to her jaw and the base of her tongue, she says. The bullet was lodged in her throat near her carotid artery.

(on-camera): Milena (ph) does gymnastics. She's going to show me a couple of videos.

(voice-over): This was Milena (ph) before Russia invaded Ukraine flipping and dancing. But now she can barely walk. We met Milena here in a makeshift bomb shelter in the basement of a children's hospital.

(on-camera): The nurses here say that six or seven times a day and night due to air raid sirens, they have to bring these newborns who all have medical complications in and out of this room for hours at a time for their safety.

(voice-over): The windows protected by sandbags. On March 16th, Elana, her two daughters and mother in law fled from the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol after enduring weeks of Russian bombardment. Jumping into the back of a car with two strangers to escape. They navigated many Russian military checkpoints and then at around noon Elana says they made a turn towards the town of Vasylivka and stumbled across Russian soldiers who opened fire on the car without warning.

ELENA URALOVA, DAUGTHER SHOT FLEEING MARIUPOL (through translation): We started turning and that's when they started firing at us from submachine guns. After that, of course the driver stopped. We started opening our doors walking out with our hands up after which they were shouting something we did not know what and that is when we saw what happened to my daughter the younger one. We took her out of the car as she was wounded


WATSON (voice-over): Her mother says realizing their mistake the Russian soldiers gave her daughter first aid and sent her to a nearby hospital in the Russian occupied town of Tokmak. A Red Cross vehicle later brought her to this hospital for life saving surgery. The hospital has treated nine wounded children in the last two weeks.

(on-camera): What injuries are you seeing now?

IVAN ANIKIN, ANESTHESIOLOGIST: Different injuries, different trauma. It's head trauma, it's amputation, traumatic amputation. It's bullets trauma.

WATSON (voice-over): Dr. Ivan Anikin says Milena (ph) is now stable and will live hopefully without long term physical disability.

ANIKIN: But she has not so good psychology status. She worries she cry she afraid. different sounds.

WATSON (voice-over): Milena's (ph) mother has a message for the Russian soldiers who shot her daughter.

URALOVA (through translation): Go back home. Why are they here? They're mercenaries, don't care about us. Don't care about the situation in this country or this war. They don't care who they are shooting at.

WATSON (voice-over): As for Milena (ph) she shows photos of her cats Musa and Boucher (ph) and looks forward to one day going back to doing gymnastics.

Ivan Watson, CNN, Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine.


COOPER: Many families such as Milena (ph) are still in Ukraine. The UN says that more than 3.7 million people have left the country with more than half a million escaping to neighboring Romania.

CNN's Miguel Marquez joins us now from Bucharest. Miguel, the Biden administration has announced it's going to allow 100,000 Ukrainian refugees into the U.S. I know you spoke to a family where you are, what did they tell you about trying to obtain visas.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: But they can't get them quite yet. Lots and lots of refugees that we spoke to would love to go to the U.S. and would love to be able to apply for those visas, but they're not able to do it yet. Probably in the days ahead, there will be some process we'll be able to but many are already applying for visas to other places. And we spoke to one woman who has a four kids from 13 to six years old and her husband they are in Romania today, they're almost all the way through the visa process now for Canada, so they think they'll be going soon. You know, the way she puts it, they just knew at one point, it was time to leave.


SVETLANA SHELKUNOVA, FLED DNIPRO (through translation): Now it's difficult for the kids, they really want to talk to their friends. About this situation as it is we are moving on.


MARQUEZ: And that simple sentence we are moving on. That's something that we had not heard a lot in the last few weeks because most refugees that we speak to say that they want to return they think they'll return very soon. But now there is that sinking realization among so many of them that even if they want to return there may not be much to return to, that sort of story that you heard that Ivan just reported. They want to avoid that for the kids. So they're literally coming to the reality that it is time to move on and figure out a new chapter in their life. Despite knowing no one in Canada that looks like they'll probably be there in the next couple of weeks.

COOPER: It's going to be so hard for officials in Poland or Romania where you are to plan ahead because it's so hard to figure out how long this won't go on how many more refugees will come across? What kind of planning is being put in place?

MARQUEZ: Yes, it is. It's nearly impossible. And they're putting a lot of effort into creating bed space right now in case they get another big wave of refugees. That's one big concern that number of internal refugees in Ukraine, if the war continues to move west and those refugees start to come across, they want someplace to put them very quickly. But beyond that, the ones that are staying while they were for a while they were moving on to other countries.

Now the whole sort of system is backing up, they are starting to stay in Romania. So everything from language classes to healthcare, to education, to jobs to long term housing, all these things with they're starting to wrestle with in places like Bucharest and Brasov and towns and cities and tiny little places all across Romania, and all over Europe.


MARQUEZ: Anderson.

COOPER: Miguel Marquez in Bucharest. Miguel, thanks so much.

Coming up, we turned to Washington and the fallout from the discovery of text messages from the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, where they could mean for the January 6 probe and what happened when CNN went to Justice Thomas with our questions. That's next.



COOPER: Breaking news tonight members the January 6 Select Committee are discussing whether to call Ginni Thomas before the panel. She's the wife of a Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and an outspoken conservative activist. And the committee now has nearly 30 text messages between Mrs. Thomas and then White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. She repeatedly encouraged him to fight to overturn the 2020 election results.

Our Ryan Nobles tonight in the growing ethical questions about her husband's role in key rulings.


RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): No, thank you. That was the response from Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas today, when asked by CNN to respond to the bombshell revelation of texts between his wife and former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. Meadows also still not responding to CNN requests.

The revelations coming in a series of texts obtained by CNN and in the hands of the January 6 Select Committee. On November 10, shortly after news networks had declared Joe Biden the winner, Thomas wrote Meadows quote, helped this great President stand firm Mark. She went on to say, the majority knows Biden and the left is attempting the greatest heist of our history. Thomas also pushed Meadows to get behind the dubious legal effort by conservative lawyer Sidney Powell to overturn the election. Writing on November 19th, sounds like Sydney and her team are getting inundated with evidence of fraud, make a plan. Release the Kraken and save us from the left taking America down.


It is this type of tax that could cause problems for Justice Thomas. He weighed in on one election case arguing the court should look at a case seeking to overturn the election results in four states.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: The problem is it creates an enormous impairment of impropriety that Justice Thomas is ruling on these issues when his wife is intimately involved in the underlying facts.

NOBLES (voice-over): Ginni Thomas is a longtime outspoken conservative activist, and while she has insisted that her work is separate from her husband's, they do have a close personal relationship.

CLARENCE THOMAS, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: My wife is totally my best friend.

NOBLES (voice-over): And now his wife is under scrutiny as part of an investigation he has already ruled on. Justice Thomas casting a dissenting vote on a decision by the High Court allowing the House Select Committee investigating January 6, to gain access to thousands of White House documents that Trump tried to keep secret. Several Democratic senators including Ron Wyden of Oregon, calling on Thomas to recuse himself going forward on all matters related to January 6. At the bare minimum, Justice Thomas needs to recuse himself from any case related to the January 6 investigation. And should Donald Trump run again, any case related to the 2024 election.

Clarence Thomas, who left the hospital on Friday recovering from an infection declined to talk to CNN. But he still has the backing of Republicans in Congress.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R) MINORITY LEADER: No, I think I think Justice Thomas could make his decisions like he's made him every other time. It's his decision based upon law.


COOPER: Ryan Nobles joins us now. So as we met -- I mean I can't believe she was using the term released the Kraken seriously to the Chief of Staff of the White House at the time. The committee is discussing whether or not to call Ginni Thomas before the panel. What do we know about that?

NOBLES: Anderson we know right now, there's a pretty vigorous debate amongst members of the committee right now privately as to how they should handle this information from Ginni Thomas. Keep in mind, these are texts that they've had for several months and have basically done nothing with, they've decided not to subpoena her or call her before the committee voluntarily. But now that it's come to light, this debate has somewhat reignited within the committee as they try and figure out the path forward.

The concern with the committee right now is that there aren't sure that the information that Ginni Thomas has would be specifically relevant to their investigation. And because she's such a prominent figure married to a sitting Supreme Court Justice, that it could bring a ton of attention upon the committee that would distract from their overall mission. Still, there are some members that still want to make that happen. Others that are reluctant, this is a debate that will probably continue next week when the House returns to session. Anderson.

COOPER: Ryan Nobles, appreciate it. Thanks.

We're live in Kyiv when we come back with the possible turning point in Russia's war on Ukraine, or at least what the Russians are claiming maybe phase two.

Plus the mysterious group of mercenaries that may be helping the Kremlin from inside Ukraine. That's coming up.