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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

Ukrainian Official Says Russian Offensive In The East Has Started; Austrian Chancellor On Face-To-Face Meeting With Putin, Not A Friendly Visit, Sources Say U.S. Believes Putin May Ramp Up Election Interference; Austrian Leader On Meeting With Putin: "This Is Not A Friendly Visit!"; Russian Teacher Turned Into Authorities For Anti-War Comments Made In Classroom; CNN Inside Ukrainian Villages Decimated By Russian Troops; Judge Appears Likely To Allow Jan.6-Related Candidacy Challenge Against Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired April 11, 2022 - 20:00   ET


ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: ... million barrels since February. And that's not all, India buys somewhere between 60 percent and 85 percent of its weapons from Russia and they're still under contract to buy a $5.4 billion air defense system and a $3.1 billion line of tanks -- all from Putin.

And while much of the world has condemned Russia, India has been on the sidelines refraining from criticizing Putin, all the while giving him a continued much needed cash lifeline to fund the war. Thanks so much for joining us.

AC 360 starts now.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: As the war in Ukraine enters a new and possibly even bloodier phase, we are learning about what the American Intelligence Community believes could be a Russian counteroffensive against this country, the United States.

John Berman here, in for Anderson.

According to four sources familiar with recent U.S. Intelligence assessments, Vladimir Putin may be willing to amp up efforts to interfere in U.S. elections, going further than he already has, possibly, including these sources say direct attacks on voting systems. Much more on this shortly.

First, the shifting battlefield away from the villages and woods around Kyiv on a flatter terrain of the Donbas to the east, better suited say our military analysts to large scale tank warfare, but also amenable to the kind of anti-tank weapons the Ukrainians now have in the tens of thousands.

A senior Ukrainian official says the Russian offensive has already begun. These are new satellite photos of an eight-mile long Russian convoy heading toward the region. A senior American Defense official says the column includes command and control, a support battalion, and other infantry support elements.

Meantime, in the northeast, Kharkiv is being shelled in the words of Ukraine's Interior Minister, practically all day long. Here is some of what CNN's Nima Elbagir saw there today.


NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: You can see all around us just the sheer devastation. Right here is the crater from where a bomb was dropped just two days ago. North of here, about 25 miles away, is inside Russia. That's where the Russian positions are shelling. That's where they are throwing devastation and death into places like this in Kharkiv, into civilian areas.

Most of the people who have been able to evacuate have already left the city, those that remain, have told us it is because they believe that nowhere in Ukraine is safe. They wouldn't speak on camera, because they're worried what will happen when and if the Russians finally arrive and that is what U.S. and Ukrainian Intelligence officials believe is about to happen.

They believe that Russian troops are amassing -- that was just a mortar strike -- as we were talking. It's about the third or fourth that we've heard. It is coming from that direction over there, we are continuing to hear strikes.


BERMAN: Ukraine's top military commander says the defense of Mariupol continues with heavy fighting inside the city, which still houses about 100,000 civilians. He says his forces are holding stable belying the assessment this weekend from an American defense think-tank indicating that Russian forces have essentially cut the city in two.

In any event, the bombardment continues even as new images come to light showing the damage already done. This drone video of the city theater that was being used as a bomb shelter where several hundred civilians were killed in a Russian strike. Look at that.

Ukraine's President Zelenskyy this morning said Mariupol's dead now number in the tens of thousands, and Russia's new Commander of the Operation unlikely to stop the attacks on civilians, highly unlikely. This man right there known as the Butcher of Syria, but as Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said today, brutal Russian tactics are nothing new.


REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET.) PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: There's a track record here before Ukraine of Russian brutality, and you've seen it on display every single day of the last 46 days, the brutality that the Russians are capable of. We're seeing it today, as you and I are talking here. You can see it today.

So I think, sadly, we can all expect that those same brutal tactics, that same disregard for civilian life and civilian infrastructure will probably continue as they now focus in a more geographically confined area in the Donbas.


BERMAN: As only CNN can, we have correspondents everywhere this story is unfolding. CNN chief international correspondent, Clarissa Ward is in Kyiv; CNN's Nic Robertson in Brussels on the talking to Vladimir Putin got from a top ally leader today; CNN's Katie Bo Lillis on the Russian election interference story; CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House for us; and in London, CNN's Matthew Chance on the teacher in Russia now facing prison time for telling the truth about the war.

We're going to start with Clarissa ward in Kyiv.

Clarissa, what's the mood in the Ukrainian capital tonight now that a senior Ukrainian official says the Russian offensive in the east has begun?


CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, essentially, John, all eyes are on the east, and everybody is bracing themselves for what this massive operation is going to look like.

You mentioned those satellite images that have come in from Maxar that appear to show this eight-mile long convoy pushing down east of the City of Kharkiv bearing to the south. The theory is that basically, as those forces pushed south, other Russian forces which are in the south will push north and essentially try to cut off a huge slice of this country.

There has been heavy, heavy fighting in the town of Izyum. There has been intensified shelling in Donetsk and Luhansk, also in the City of Kharkiv, as Nima mentioned in her report there, authority saying 66 incidents of shelling in just one day, 11 civilians killed, and among them a child of just seven years old.

So people now essentially holding their breath, Ukrainian forces preparing themselves. There was another attack on a Ukrainian railway station and the east. Ukrainian authorities are not revealing the name of that station. Nobody was killed unlike the deadly and horrific attack on Kramatorsk Railway Station on Friday that left some 57 people dead.

This really primarily targeting it appears power lines, tracks, and several locomotives, but it gives you a sense, the Russian forces are essentially trying to strike at Ukraine's ability to resupply, to bring in more weaponry because one of the complexities for the Ukrainian forces as they get into this renewed -- this larger offensive in the east, is that unlike the battles that were taking place to the north of Kyiv and around Chernihiv region, we are in the east, you are very far away from places like Poland, and other NATO countries that have been supplying weaponry to the Ukrainian forces. So it becomes that much more challenging to resupply troops in the eastern parts of the country --John.

BERMAN: So Clarissa, while I have you, what are you learning about the temporary bridge that has opened in Irpin, that of course, right next to Kyiv. I remember you reporting there, the collapsed bridge, at the start of the war, there is now a temporary bridge in its place.

WARD: So this is kind of an iconic moment, I think, in a sense, because that bridge became a symbol for the horror that was unfolding in the suburbs around Kyiv, and you saw this tide of humanity as people were desperately trying to escape the shelling, the bombardment, and get across to the relative safety of Central Kyiv and they were cut off for so long.

The Ukrainians had blown up that bridge in order to prevent Russian forces from gaining access to the city center. Well, now today, they have built a temporary bridge that will essentially allow aid workers and construction efforts to begin in earnest as they sort of start this Herculean task of trying to rebuild these areas.

The Mayor of Irpin has also announced that there will be a curfew throughout the day and night during this week, not because there is any danger at all, but because they want to allow those rescue workers, those construction workers unfettered and free access to move around and begin this work to try to repair some of the infrastructure so that people can start to go home and start to think about putting their lives back together -- John.

BERMAN: There is so much work to do.

So Nic, for the first time since the Russian invasion began, a European leader met face-to-face with Vladimir Putin today, but what happened in this meeting between the Austrian Chancellor and Putin?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, the Austrian Chancellor went into this meeting, having only two days ago been in Kyiv with government officials there, going to Bucha, saying what he saw was the -- what he said was the aftermath of war crimes and standing there and saying was important to hold those responsible for these war crimes to account.

So when he went to meet President Putin, his message was that he wanted to tell President Putin the truth about what President Putin's troops are doing on the ground. So, at no point in the future will President Putin ever, ever be able to turn around and say to a war crimes tribunal or to whoever, he'll never be able to say, "No one told me what my troops are doing," because of course at the moment he is directing his troops to continue the war in Ukraine.

Now, the Austrian Chancellor said the meeting was unfriendly. It was direct, it was open, it was tough. He doesn't think that he changed President Putin's mind at all. But he said he was able to tell President Putin, you know, I've looked in the eyes of people in Ukraine and seen the unimaginable suffering as a result of Russia's war with aggression.


ROBERTSON: So that was really telling Putin in a very tough and harsh way that he is responsible, his troops are responsible for these war crimes, and the Austrian Chancellor bearing witness to it.

And he also warned Putin as well, that as long as Ukrainians are being killed, then the international community is going to put tougher and tighter and tighter sanctions on Russia. At a minimum, he was hoping to be able to get agreements on humanitarian corridors, hoping to persuade Putin to put a ceasefire in place, to halt the war.

He said that Putin just pushed back and said that it was a war of necessity for Russia. That narrative that we've heard coming from the Kremlin so many times that they are the ones that feel threatened.

The Chancellor felt that he had to go there and take that opportunity for humanitarian reasons, but Putin is put on notice. The international community, through the Austrian Chancellor has told Putin to his face what his troops are doing. There can be no excuses, no misunderstanding whatsoever -- John.

BERMAN: Nic Robertson and Clarissa Ward, thank you both so much.

More now on this new Intelligence assessment we mentioned at the top on Vladimir Putin's willingness to again interfere in U.S. elections, perhaps more directly and more destructively this time.

CNN's Katie Bo Lillis covers Intelligence and National Security, and she joins us now, and Katie Bo, according to Intelligence officials, how much further might Vladimir Putin now be willing to go.

KATIE BO LILLIS, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: John, the concern for U.S. Intelligence officials is that as Putin comes under increasing pressure from the West, in part led by the United States and on the battlefield in Ukraine, that he may be more likely to take more aggressive action against the United States to include potentially ramping up his already ongoing efforts to try to meddle in American politics.

Now, sources familiar with the Intelligence Community's latest assessments tell us that there's a range of ways that Putin could try to do this, but one of the possibilities is that he could potentially attempt to target American voting infrastructure directly, something that up until now he has been apparently unwilling to do.

The thinking here, John, is that a Putin cornered is a Putin that is more likely to lash out against the United States, and sort of targeting American elections is one way that he might be able to do that -- John.

BERMAN: Yes, and so an attack on actual voting systems, that would be an escalation even over what he has done in the past. I mean, how much concern specifically is there about that kind of a cyberattack?

LILLIS: Yes, so look, U.S. officials are certainly taking this as if it is a real -- or treating this as if it is a very real threat, but it is important to note that the U.S. officials that we spoke to did emphasize that the Intelligence Community hasn't seen any sort of specific threat that they're tracking here. They don't have any direct Intelligence or evidence that Putin has issued any kind of a warning here, or sorry, any kind of an order here, I should say.

The way to think about these assessments, John, is that they are analysis. They are the result of the Intelligence Community, having spent years watching trying to understand the Russian President and this is part of their attempt to try to predict the way he will respond in an unpredictable situation.

BERMAN: Yes, and make sure the protections are in place. Katie Bo Lillis, thank you very much for your reporting.

LILLIS: My pleasure.

BERMAN: Next, our military analyst, retired Army General James "Spider" Marks on the Russian General -- the Russian General now in charge of the invasion and the ugly reputation he already has, and later what Clarissa Ward discovered in villages liberated by Ukrainian forces, but utterly devastated by what the Russian invaders inflicted on them.



BERMAN: Having presided so far over a remarkable show of allied unity on sanctioning Russia and supporting Ukraine, President Biden today reached out to India, which is not only neutral in the conflict, but a consumer of Russian oil and gas as well.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins at the White House for us tonight and Kaitlan, President Biden met virtually with the Indian Prime Minister today. What can you tell us about their discussion surrounding Ukraine?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Russia, of course really loomed over this entire conversation that President Biden and Prime Minister Modi had. The White House is really trying to get India off this fence that it's been on when it comes to this invasion, because John as you know, they've abstained from several votes at the United Nations condemning Russia's invasion. They've continued to snap up cheap Russian oil, and so that has kind of been this delicate balance that the White House is trying to strike when talking to them about this.

And we know publicly that they have used really delicate language saying things like it is not in India's interest to continue buying Russian oil, as the U.S. and the West has tried to isolate Russia since this invasion started.

Privately, we know behind the scenes, there has been some frustration with the fact that India has continued to act in this way, it has not condemned the invasion, though the White House noted today they have sent humanitarian aid. But I really think it really summed up the entire visit today of the top Indian officials who did come to the United States.

They met with Secretary Blinken, they met with the Defense Secretary Austin as well, and John, they were saying what they believe should happen is that nations, especially those that have leverage should continue to press Putin to end this war, of course, while standing right next to the Indian officials who have not condemned this invasion yet.

BERMAN: Yes, sending a message. I mentioned the new Commander of Russian forces. How is the administration responding to the news of his appointment?

COLLINS: They say they don't really think it will change the trajectory of things, though, I think there is understandably a level of concern given he was of course in charge of Russia's military operations with what we saw happening in Syria. They bombed indiscriminately in civilian areas including in hospitals.


COLLINS: They destroyed places like Aleppo, and so basically what you hear from White House officials and what Jen Psaki told us today during the briefing is they expect to continue to see more of the same, more of the same atrocities that Russia has been committing so far.

They said that they don't think a change in personnel is going to change the fact that there has been this strategic blunder by Russia in this invasion so far. Clearly, it has not gone the way that they planned, but that doesn't make it any less brutal and that doesn't change what you're seeing on the ground.

And the concern there is that that is only going to continue and as Jen Psaki told me today, they think it is going to last for a long time -- John.

BERMAN: Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thank you very much.

More now on this new Commander, the growing offensive in the east and the shape Russian forces may now be in after their defeat around Kyiv. Joining us, senior military analyst, retired Major General James "Spider" Marks. Spider, great to have you.

You heard the Pentagon on this new Russian Commander. They clearly expect more of the same when it comes to bombing campaigns and brutality towards civilians.

If the new Russian strategy is to secure and hold the Donbas region, what city or area do you see as the next major point of the conflict?

We lost Spider right there. We're going to try to get Spider back in just a moment.

Just ahead, the story of a Russian teacher whose crime was to tell her students the truth about the war. Details when we return.


BERMAN: All right, we've reconnected with CNN military analyst and retired Major General James "Spider" Marks. James, I was asking you about the new Russian offensive in the east.

What city or area do you see as the major point of conflict here?

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, thank you, John, for having me and I apologize for the-disconnect.

Mariupol pool clearly is what the Russians need to get their hands on in terms of their having a narrative or something they can go back and say we've accomplished our task.

The Donbas is being contested, but right outside the Donbas is Mariupol, which is a port city, they've devastated that. That needs to be taken in terms of their overall focus.

And what we see with the new commander, Dvornikov is that he has overall control --

BERMAN: Spider seems playing for us tonight. We'll come back and if we can --

As reported earlier, the leader of Austria left his meeting with Vladimir Putin in Moscow today saying he was not quote, "particularly optimistic." Austria's Chancellor also indicated that he gave Putin quote, "The facts about the war," and that he told Putin his view of the conflict was not shared by anybody.

Perspective now on the pushback Vladimir Putin has received today from CNN's Fareed Zakaria.

Fareed, given how infrequently Vladimir Putin is confronted face-to- face, how do you think he reacted to the Austrian Chancellor's pretty blunt message today?

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST, "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS": Putin is very comfortable with confrontation. I had the opportunity to meet him a number of times, interview him, he's very comfortable with a very straight direct conversation.

He has some -- I think there's a certain kind of internal confidence that he radiates in some ways. So I'm not sure that that was as unexpected as it might have been. But John, I think one of the things we all have to recognize is many people who have met him many, many more times than I have all feel this is a different Putin that 22 years in power, you know, a decade of rising oil prices, two years of COVID isolation where people had to quarantine for two weeks before they could even have a five-minute meeting with him, this may be a different person, more arrogant, more prickly, more isolated. So in that sense, it may be -- it may be unusual.

BERMAN: When an idea of a face-to-face meeting between Putin and the Ukrainian president Zelenskyy was brought up to Putin today, he apparently had no response. What do you think it would take for Putin to agree to a face-to-face meeting with Zelenskyy?

ZAKARIA: It's a kind of shattering of his dream, really, because Putin's theory of Ukraine, which I think, you know, one has to remember, this kind of megalomania, people often believe the propaganda they're spouting. They need that in order to be able to convincingly embrace it.

In his view, Ukrainians basically want to be little brothers to Russia's Big Brother. They look up to and respect Russia. They do not really respect Zelenskyy, who in his view is the product of a kind of American-sponsored or NATO-sponsored series of machinations that began in a coup in 2014.

So, for him recognizing Volodymyr Zelenskyy, you know, Volodymyr, being the Ukrainian version of Vladimir is very difficult. It is to recognize that this is the leader of a proud nation that wants to be separate from Russia, distinct, so it's not as easy as people make it out to be to just sit down with him.

His Plan A was Zelenskyy he was going to be deposed, and perhaps tried, and imprisoned. And instead, what we're talking about is an actual negotiation.

BERMAN: The Austrian Chancellor did not express much optimism that this meeting would change Putin's course of action, and said it might take meeting Putin like this a hundred times to achieve peace.

Do you think he's right that if engaging Putin like this has little to no impact on him, do you think it's even worth it?

ZAKARIA: Look, it's always worth trying to reach out and talk, but I think he is fundamentally wrong in the sense that what will change Putin's mind is defeat on the battlefield.

I have come to the view that even the sanctions at the end of the day, they are not going to have the impact that people imagine because remember Vladimir Putin is making, if you think of it in Russian oil and gas and coal revenues, he is making about $350 billion this year. That's up 30 percent from last year because the price of -- because the war on Ukraine has raised the price of oil.


So, we're giving Ukraine just to put it in perspective, about $13 billion worth of support, while we're giving $350 billion of oil revenues, oil, gas and coal revenues to Russia. What is going to change Putin's calculation is defeat on the battlefield. I think what is happening in eastern Ukraine now is going to be the absolutely decisive force here. If the Russian army which is already battered and bruised, in trying to take more of this territory, is unable to do it. If it actually loses territory, loses some of the territory it holds, then Putin starts to worry, maybe I need to negotiate to at least preserve what I have. I think that this is a calculation really about power, hard power and control.

The number of times you meet with them is not going to change that. All that said, I'm always in favor of, you know, diplomacy off ramps, keep the conversation going, don't make any foolish concessions. But the language Putin recognizes so clearly, this should be abundantly clear at this point, is forced hard power, hard military power. BERMAN: A sobering reality. Fareed Zakaria, thank you very much.

Coming up, liberated Ukraine. Clarissa Ward talks to those who survive more than a month of Russian occupation.



BERMAN: With major social media apps banned in Russia and censorship laws, effectively criminalizing accurate reporting of the war, it's difficult to get a sense of just what Russians really know about it, or how they react when they see people speak out against it, something that is dangerous to do with Vladimir Putin's Russia.

Matthew Chance joins us now with a story of a teacher at a prestigious school who's turned into authorities for basically just telling the truth in her classroom. Matthew, what more can you tell us about this, what this teacher allegedly said and how everything transpired?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Hey, John, it's not just dangerous in Russia to tell the truth or to contradict the official narrative. It's also illegal because there have been new laws passed in the country since the invasion began, basically banning the spread of what they call it false information. But obviously, it means information that is not in line with what official news media, what the government is saying. Also, you're not allowed to criticize the authorities there since the implementation of this law.

And that's the law that this teacher Irinia Gen is the name in the western Russian city of Penza has fallen foul of, because she's an English teacher in a school there, she was asked by her students in a class, you know why Russia was not able to take part in upcoming European Athletics Championships, many of them are athletics, some scholars. And she told him the truth, basically, she said, it's because Russia has become a pariah state, it's behaving like North Korea. It's, you know, attacked Ukraine, it's attacked Mariupol, the city there. It's attempted to overthrow the sovereign state of Ukraine and to topple Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the president there. And she said, if that continues, then these kinds of bands are going to last forever, which, you know, is the truth. I guess you figured that students needed to hear what they're not going to hear from, from state media.

The problem is that one of the students recorded the conversation. And the police were brought in, and this was in the middle of March, and she was forced to resign. She's been at the school for more than 20 years, she was forced to resign. Today, we spoke to her lawyer in Russia. And he told us that she is now being prosecuted for intentionally spreading false information. And she could face if she's found guilty, she could fake she faces up to 10 years in prison for what she's done.

So it's, you know, a really kind of telling glimpse of what the situation in Russia is like, at the moment as it is engaged in this brutal conflict inside Ukraine, John.

BERMAN: What a story. I mean, look, Matthew has been so hard to try to figure out what the sentiment is actually like in Russia right now, when it comes to the war. I mean, what does this story tell you?

CHANCE: Yes, it is really hard. And it's because of laws like that, because it's not just English teachers, like Irina Gen that have been targeted, that the main people who have been targeted, of course the journalists and the independent media has been under attack in Russia for several years now. But it's been silenced in the past few weeks, because of laws like this. Organizations have been fought that have been long standing and respected in the world of international media in Russia, have been completely closed down. The journalists have fled the country.

The Kremlin is doing everything it can to make sure that it controls the narrative, state media channels, broadcasting propaganda 24/7. They do not want to hear anybody putting across a different version of events and they're prepared to go to extreme measures to make sure that doesn't happen.

BERMAN: Matthew Chance, thank you so much.

So in a country where simply telling the truth is punishable by prison time, as you heard, it might not surprise you that lying about the war in Ukraine is officially sanctioned. That said the sheer amount of propaganda Russians are hearing about the war is staggering.

More on that from Brian Stelter.



BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Here's what Russia's upside down media world is like. They claim the train station missile strike in eastern Ukraine was committed by Ukraine. Despite all evidence to the contrary. This post from the foreign affairs ministry parroted by pro-Russian accounts on social media claims the key regime once more of its own civilians to die.

MADELINE ROACHE, SENIOR MISINFORMATION REPORTER, NEWSGUARD: Russians who gets the truth from the state media are living in alternative reality.


STELTER (voice-over): Every day Madeline Roache watches the morning news on Channel 1, a top state run TV channel in Russia.

ROACHE: The Russian army is portrayed as triumphant, as not sustaining any losses, any casualties and certainly not committing any atrocities. Meanwhile, according to the state media, it's the Ukrainian army committing atrocities, killing civilians, sustaining heavy losses and losing territory to the Russian forces. STELTER (voice-over): They deny, they deflect and according to Julia Davis, creator of the Russian Media Monitor. They portray the Russian Armed Forces as liberators.

JULIA DAVIS, RUSSIAN MEDIA ANALYST: They are presenting it like the Ukrainians want them there. They want to be liberated. They have been oppressed by this so-called Nazi government and they welcome Russia's intervention.

STELTER (voice-over): Independent news coverage disproves this, but there is almost none of that left in Russia.

ANNE APPLEBAUM, THE ALTANTIC: Essentially, journalism has been banned now in Russia.

STELTER (voice-over): T he Atlantic's Anne Applebaum notes that so many journalists have fled the country.

APPLEBAUM: So, the true story of what goes on in Russia is now getting harder and harder to tell.

STELTER (voice-over): Russians are thus even more dependent on state owned TV. CNN, Nic Robertson says.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: It's no surprise that so many people are just following along with the Kremlin's lines. It's the easiest thing for them to do. They don't see alternative. They feel powerless. And its information that they've been fed year upon year upon year by Putin, and by the Soviet leadership, back in those days,

ROACHE: The government is creating this sort of hermetically sealed bubble that doesn't allow for information that contradicts the government to enter.

STELTER (voice-over): Roache is now writing a daily report for NewsGuard, making a record of the false claims. She says others need to know what it's like.

ROACHE: Russians would have every reason to feel proud based on what they're seeing on the state TV.


BERMAN: And that was Brian Stelter reporting.

Just ahead, our Clarissa Ward shows us recently liberated towns in Ukraine and talks to survivors about what they witnessed and what they endured over more than a month of Russian occupation.



BERMAN: As Ukrainian slowly retake towns and villages a more complete picture is coming into view of the brutality of the Russian occupation, but also the silent courage it took for civilians to survived, mass killings of family, friends and neighbors.

Clarissa Ward spent time in two liberated areas and we do want to warn you, some of these images may be disturbing.


CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Ukrainian soldiers returning from the front jubilant after a humiliating defeat for Russian forces in the north. In the neighboring villages of (INAUDIBLE), exhausted residents are emerging from their homes after five weeks of Russian occupation and the horrors that came with it.

On day four of the war, this peaceful community became a front line and nowhere was off limits. Russian forces transformed the local school into their base. Pricipal Natalia Volvik (ph) shows us the carnage that was left behind.

(on-camera): She's saying that they were using this as a toilet as well.

(voice-over): The main entrance is now spattered with blood, the scene of heavy fighting. Russian soldiers took cover and classrooms and treated their wounded with whatever they could find.

(on-camera): So you can see they were eating here. These are some Russian military rations (INAUDIBLE) it says.

(voice-over): Walking the ravaged hallways, Volvik says she is still in a state of shock, what wasn't destroyed was looted.

We are for education. Education is the future our students, she says. It's such a shame that our occupiers didn't understand this. Why steal everything. This is a school.

In several classrooms, there are signs that some of the Russian soldiers felt ashamed of their actions, a message on a chalkboard.

(on-camera): So it says, forgive us we didn't want this war.

(voice-over): But forgiveness will be hard to come by here at the local cemetery. Valentina takes us to the graves of six men who authorities say were executed by Russian forces on the day they arrived.

It's so hard to get over this, she says. They murdered them. Valentina says the Russians held on to the bodies for nine days before dumping them at the end of the village with instructions to bury them quickly.

We dug very fast so they wouldn't shoot us, she says. But there was shooting over there and heavy shelling.

Among the dead for neighbors brothers Igor and Oleg Javon (ph). Outside the family home, we meet their mother Olga. For days she thought her sons were in hiding until a neighbor called her with the devastating news. The agony and the grief are still very raw. They were very good boys, she says. How I want to see them again.

(on-camera): Do you have any idea why the Russians would kill your sons?

(voice-over): Who knows? There was a bridge that was blown up and somebody shouted Russian drone she says. The Russians were searching the village and rounded them up on the street six boys. I don't know anything else.

A few streets away, Katarina and Rusya (ph) is also looking for answers. Her daughter Victoria, a school teacher was taken by Russian soldiers on March 25th. They said they found information on her phone about their forces, she says. They told me she was in a warm house that she was working with them, and she would be home soon. But Victoria never came home.

We hope that she would get in touch, Katarina says, with somebody somewhere.


In this small community of 2,000, it seems no street has been spared. The invaders marked their newly seized territory with crude graffiti and battle markings.

(on-camera): Another Z on their fridge.

(voice-over): The brave residents like Tamara carried out quiet acts of resistance. We kept it, we kept it she says, showing us the Ukrainian flag given to her husband for his military service. We hit it.

A bold risk in anticipation of this moment when Russian troops would be forced to retreat. And the villages would finally be free.


BERMAN: So Clarissa, how were the residents in those villages rebuilding? And do they fear the Russian forces could come back?

WARD: Well, John, I think for now, the main thing they're trying to do is take stock of the damage and start the Herculean cleanup. Literally every single home has been ransacked. Everything's been stolen. You saw that school that images, it's just been totally ravaged. But in the back of their minds, I think there's this lingering fear that maybe the nightmare isn't fully over, maybe Russian forces could come back again, there's a complete breakdown in trust, understandably.

And I think the other feeling is one of profound sadness, because when they look across the country, they understand that what they have been through may well be the experience of so many Ukrainians in areas where we just can't get those stories. We don't have access to those areas, they don't have access to phones, to the internet. And also the real fear that we're going to see even more of these types of harrowing reports as Russia pushes forward with this offensive in the East. John. BERMAN: Clarissa Ward, thank you very much.

Up next, a late update on the court challenge to Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene's candidacy, the effort to bar her from reelection and what the federal judge in the case signaled about her position.



BERMAN: A federal judge has signaled in an attempt to stop Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene from running for reelection will be allowed to proceed. A group of Georgia voters say Greene should be disqualified under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution because they say she aided the January 6 insurrection allegedly planned with protest organizers and encouraged the violence.

CNN's Ryan Nobles joins us now from Capitol Hill with more. And Ryan, we understand there was just some news from the court.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, John, we'd expected that Judge Amy Totenberg would make her decision in this case known by today on Friday when this case was heard. She said she was going to issue her ruling on Monday. About the court just updated its docket and said the ruling would not come tonight. But those who are looking to block this attempt from Marjorie Taylor Greene showing up on the Georgia ballot in the fall election were encouraged by what the judge said during their Friday court hearing. She expressed some concerns about a similar case in North Carolina where a federal judge blocked an attempt by voters to keep Madison Cawthorn another Republican firebrand off the ballot because of using the 14th Amendment, which said that you cannot run for office if you aided an insurrection.

So no decision yet, John. But we should point out that when this decision does come, it's just the beginning of a pretty lengthy process.

BERMAN: Yes, talk to me more about that. Because just to be clear, if this judge does rule against Greene, it would really just be the beginning. What will come next?

NOBLES: Yes, the way we have to look at this is this is a challenge to the Secretary of State, essentially, in the state of Georgia, it's an ask of the Secretary of State to deny Marjorie Taylor Greene access to the ballot, because those who are opposed to her believe that she aided and abetted the insurrection that took place here at the Capitol and they cite the 14th Amendment of for that reason. So this would be a process that would go before the Georgia Secretary of State who's in charge of elections there.

What Greene and her allies have attempted to do is prevent it from even getting to that stage by going to a federal judge and declaring it unconstitutional. That worked for Madison Cawthorn in North Carolina, we'll have to see if it will work in Georgia. But if this federal judge allows it to go through, it will still be up to the Georgia Secretary of State to make the final call.

BERMAN: You could see it also working its way up the federal court system also after the fact, maybe even to the Supreme Court.

Just lastly, Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney talked to Jake Tapper on "STATE OF THE UNION" regarding former President Trump's involvement on January 6, and she called his behavior unlawful. And that's an important word choice there. What else did she have to say about that?

NOBLES: Yes, I think what we should read from this language from Liz Cheney is that the January 6 Committee has uncovered a lot of information much of which we have not even heard yet, and there could be an opportunity here for the committee just to lay this information out and then let the Department of Justice decide whether or not they move ahead with a criminal indictment.

Remember the committee does have the ability to refer that information formally to the Department of Justice but that's just a formality. It's ultimately going to be up to Merrick Garland to make the final call. John.


BERMAN: Ryan Nobles on the Hill. Thank you so much.

NOBLES: Thank you.

BERMAN: The news continues. So let's hand it over to the aforementioned Jake Tapper, who is in Lviv in western Ukraine tonight. Jake.