Return to Transcripts main page

At This Hour

Ukraine Accuses Russia of Bombing Hospital in Mariupol; IAEA States "No Critical Impact" to Safety at Chernobyl after Russians Cut Power; Pentagon Works to Shore Up NATO Defenses in Europe. Aired 11- 11:30a ET

Aired March 09, 2022 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. We do begin with breaking news and the war in Ukraine.

Authorities in Mariupol, Ukraine, are accusing now Russian forces of bombing the city's maternity hospital. This video you're looking at right here, of what looks like apocalyptic imagery, this is the first video coming in from that.

Ukraine's president is condemning the strike. He says that there are children buried in the rubble. To be clear, details of this attack are just starting to come in. These are some of the first images that we are seeing. We're going to bring you much more as we learn.

But it is clear that something horrific happened here. This also comes just hours after Ukrainian and Russian officials agreed to a 12-hour cease-fire, to try to allow civilians to escape through six humanitarian corridors, including Mariupol.

But Ukraine are accusing Russian forces of blocking one area north of Kyiv. Adding to this, Ukraine is calling on Russia to observe another cease-fire near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant which has been knocked off the power grid.

Ukraine's foreign minister claims they could face a radiation leak within 48 hours if critical repairs aren't made. The IAEA says that there has been no critical impact to the safety of the plant, now under Russian control.

Scott McLean is live in Kyiv.

Scott, tell me the latest. We're just starting to learn more about this hospital in Mariupol.

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kate, this video is very difficult to watch. So the Mariupol city council first posted video of a maternity ward in the city, that they said was destroyed by several Russian bombs that were dropped on it.

They said the destruction is enormous, especially in the area where children were being treated. The head of the regional government says that, all in all, a maternity ward, a children's ward and the department of internal medicine were all destroyed.

Looking at the video inside, you can see it's difficult to see how there obviously wouldn't be people killed and likely many more injured, windows blown out of the building. It's obviously a difficult video to watch.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine condemned the Russians, saying there were children under the wreckage.

He added, "How much longer will the world be an accomplice, ignoring terror?"

He once again asked NATO to close the skies and institute a no-fly zone over his country. It is unclear what there are in terms of casualties and deaths. We're still trying to get more information on that.

Mariupol is also one of the cities that Ukraine has agreed with the Russians to open a humanitarian corridor on today. It is unclear the status of how those evacuations have been going, if they've been going at all. It's been a patchwork of successes and failures in the corridors they've agreed to.

For instance, in Enerhodar, where Russians are in control of the nuclear power plant there, there are people getting out of that city; same with Sumy in northeastern Ukraine, which has been taking an absolute pounding from the Russians as of late. And same thing with Irpin. We know things are moving there. That's a suburb just outside Kyiv.

Other places like Bucha, another Kyiv suburb, the Russians have actually blocked the convoy from going along that corridor so far. That is the latest word we have there.

And Izyum as well, the mayor says there's bombing in the area that makes it difficult to open up a corridor and get things out and obviously desperately, desperately needed supplies in, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Just to be clear and transparent with everyone, in the city of Mariupol, we are continuing to gather information on the ground. This is a city that has been under attack for days now. We're going to be bringing more information as soon as we get it.

At the same time, Scott, I wanted to ask you about the other really terrifying situation that Ukraine officials are warning about, the concerns at the Chernobyl nuclear site, which has been knocked off the power grid.

What are you hearing about this?

MCLEAN: Kate, so the Ukrainian nuclear regulator already didn't have access to the remote sensing system or the remote monitoring system. Now two power lines into the Chernobyl plant had been knocked off the grid.


MCLEAN: The regulator says those two power lines do not connect directly with any safety equipment at the site, which obviously still contains a large amount of nuclear radioactive material.

But what that is doing is making it extremely difficult for them to do repairs and do maintenance. There is a backup generator; the foreign minister said that generator lasted for about 48 hours. Beyond that, there may be difficulties, there may be problems, according to the foreign minister.

The other issue at that site, Kate, is the fact that the staff there, which, again, the site is under Russian control now, the staff there have been working for 13 days straight. They are essentially living at the site.

So Ukraine's nuclear regulator, which again, is not controlling the site, had some words for the International Atomic Energy Agency, trying to get them to do more, convince the Russians to swap out shifts because they are facing psychological pressure and moral exhaustion at this stage.

As for the International Atomic Energy Agency, they say when it comes to the power issue, there is no critical impact on safety, at least at this point.

BOLDUAN: All right, Scott, thank you so much.

We're going to stick close to Scott, we're going to stick close to all these developments.

Also this, Vice President Kamala Harris is on her way to Poland to continue to try to rally international support to isolate Russia. Her trip, though, taking a new urgency after the United States rejected Poland's proposal to send fighter jets to Ukraine. CNN's Jeremy Diamond is at the White House.

The U.S. was caught off guard by this proposal from Poland.

How big of an issue is this?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They certainly were caught off guard, even where you had the undersecretary of political affairs for the State Department testifying on Capitol Hill yesterday, saying she only learned about it as she was driving over to the Hill, a clear sign Poland did not consult the U.S. before this statement. I am told by an administration official that the U.S. and Polish

officials have had numerous conversations since yesterday, that that bilateral relationship remains strong and that they're continuing to coordinate on sending additional security assistance via Poland to Ukraine.

But they are, at the same time, no closer to finding a tenable situation, to use John Kirby, the Department of Defense's spokesperson's words, they are no closer to finding a tenable situation to actually get those fighter jets from Poland to Ukraine.

The main concern here being that the U.S. is worried about the prospect of sending fighter jets from a NATO base to Ukraine, the possibility of a miscalculation by the Russians, weighing heavy on this, that the Russians might see jets coming from the NATO base and get the wrong idea here, essentially.

And we know Russia has warned NATO countries of getting involved in this conflict directly. Meanwhile, Vice President Kamala Harris heading to Poland today. This discussion about the fighter jets will continue while she is there.

But again, it's really about the logistics of this that are so complicated.

Who exactly would fly these jets into Ukraine?

How would Russia perceive this move?

But we know that the U.S. is looking to provide Ukraine with more security assistance, including the possibility of air defense capabilities we're seeing the British is also working to provide. Kate.

BOLDUAN: Jeremy, thank you for that.

So with persistent concerns that Putin's war in Ukraine could spill over into other countries, the Pentagon is working to shore up its NATO defenses in Europe. They are deploying more U.S. troops and firepower to the region. CNN's Barbara Starr has the details from the Pentagon.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: The Pentagon announced it's sending two Patriot missile batteries to Poland. These are the missile batteries the U.S. has that can shoot down incoming ballistic missiles.

It's just one sign of how much concern there is on NATO's eastern flank right now, with some miscalculation by the Russians, as they step up their campaign in Ukraine, that any of their missiles, their weapons could go astray, land in NATO territory or that there could be a Russian decision to engage in overt, aggressive action against NATO.

So on the eastern flank, beefing up all over the place, not just the Patriot missile batteries but there are now about 15,000 extra U.S. troops in Europe to assist NATO in deterrence and reassurance.

There is an Army command headquarters, to be able to command and control ground forces, if that's needed; an air support center to help command and control air forces if needed.

Across the board, you're beginning to see that structure be put into place so, if NATO declares that it has to take some kind of action, because a NATO member country has been attacked, the structure will be in place and they will be able to move rapidly.



BOLDUAN: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon for us.

Barbara, thank you.

Over on Capitol Hill, the House is expected to vote today on a massive spending bill that includes more than $13 billion in aid to Ukraine. The bipartisan deal offering humanitarian assistance and military aid to the war-torn country. CNN's Manu Raju on the Hill with more.

What do you know about this?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is a massive bill to fund the entire government. In this proposal, that is 2,741 pages, is $2 billion of money that would help with the efforts in Ukraine on the military side and also with the refugee crisis we're seeing play out in Europe.

That proposal to provide money for Ukraine has bipartisan support. It is expected to pass as part of this massive bill, that was proposed at 1:30 in the morning, later today.

Now at the same time, the House is moving forward on another effort to try to combat the Russian threat, including to codify the ban that Joe Biden announced yesterday, to ban Russian energy imports. Legislation will move forward on that issue today.

But there is still a dispute about how far to go. Democrats and Republicans on the Hill had tried to go even further to revoke the trade status (ph), normal trade relations between the United States, Russia and Belarus.

But the White House intervened, had concerns about going that far. And that language in that separate bill has been changed, has been watered down to not go that far on that language.

Nevertheless, this effort today, both on the Ukraine aid and also to combat the Russian -- to push back on Russian energy, both will get bipartisan support, as Republicans and Democrats are trying to show unity in the U.S. response to what's happening in Ukraine -- guys?

BOLDUAN: Manu, thank you so much for that. Coming up still for us, we are learning more details about a Russian

airstrike that Ukraine says hit a hospital in the southern city of Mariupol. President Zelenskyy says there are children stuck under the rubble here. We're gathering new details and we'll break in.





UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

BOLDUAN: We're continuing to follow the breaking news that we're going to show you here. These are the first images coming in from what Ukraine says was a Russian bombing of a maternity hospital and children's ward in the southern port city of Mariupol.

Ukrainian President Zelenskyy says that there are children under the rubble. There are no known military targets anywhere near this hospital.

We have a lot to discuss here. Joining me right now is CNN military analyst Colonel Cedric Leighton, also with us Anne Applebaum. She's a writer.

You see where Mariupol is. It's a key port city in the southern part of the country. It's been under siege for days.

Why would a hospital be a target?

What is the objective?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It certainly should not be the object of an airstrike. That's an area that's absolutely prohibited, an area of target prohibited under international law. So it should be off the table completely.

The object is unfortunately terrorizing the entire population. These kinds of attacks are typical unfortunately of what the Russians have been doing. And this is another example, if proven, that there is absolutely no way in which the Russians are following standard targeting procedures in this war.

BOLDUAN: Anne, what we're showing right now, you might not be able to see it because this is brand new video. I'm seeing it for the first time along with you, of a different perspective from outside what looks like a very large complex.

You can see smoke billowing, a completely bombed-out car. It is completely and utterly devastated, from what we can see. It's shocking that that building is even still standing, as I'm looking at this.

And Putin has now hit apartment buildings, hospitals, a maternity ward, a children's ward.

What should that tell everyone about Russia's plan?

ANNE APPLEBAUM, "THE ATLANTIC": So Putin's initial plan was to occupy Ukraine quickly, take over the government and declare that the country was now part of Russia. That failed completely. He had no idea that the Ukrainians would resist the way that they have.

What he is doing now is really a policy of terror. He's trying to terrorize the population, he's trying to make people leave. He may be hoping to take over empty cities and claim those or populate them with Russians.

What he's really doing is a form of ethnic cleansing. The idea is to get rid of the population, replace them, get them away, murder them if necessary or scare them. It's a policy that the Russians have used before. They used it in Chechnya and they used it in Syria where they were actively known to target hospitals.

They would get the coordinates of the hospitals from the U.N. and target them on purpose. This is a longstanding Russian target, we recognize it and we should know it for what it is.

BOLDUAN: Before we move on to the next map, Colonel, what Anne is saying is something I've heard from other military men and women, which is this is not just a Putin playbook, this is a Russia playbook, a Soviet playbook. And civilians are just pawns in it.

Is that what we're seeing here?

I can only hope this hospital is evacuated but President Zelenskyy says there are children under the rubble.


LEIGHTON: I'm afraid President Zelenskyy is probably right. Anne's right, this is ethnic cleansing at its worst. And it's also part of the Russian playbook. Go way back in history to World War II, go back to Chechnya, go back to any of these conflicts Russia has been involved in.

This is exactly what they do. And it is a complete violation of international law and standard wartime procedures.

BOLDUAN: I want to turn now, as we wait for more details on this, I want to turn to new CNN reporting from the Pentagon, more troops, weapons, assets headed to bolster the eastern flank of NATO. You see all of these countries in blue.

This is where more assets are heading, according to the Pentagon. I want to read some of the details here: Patriot missiles to Poland; the Army's 5th Corps also deploying 300 headquarters troops to Poland and Germany for command and control for U.S. ground forces.

Air support operations center heading to Poland and Romania. Refueling and maintenance specialists to Germany and now what will be a total of 100,000 U.S. troops expected in Europe.

What sticks out to you, when you hear all this manpower and firepower heading over there?

LEIGHTON: Well, Kate, what we're looking at is a deployment in order to prevent war. That said, that's basically what we're doing here. We're doing this as a preventive measure to warn Putin that, if he moves one step into a NATO country, that we will respond to that, using Article 5 of the NATO treaty.

So that is what we're seeing. It's somewhat similar to what we did in the Middle East in the run-up to the first Gulf War, as well as the second Gulf War. And that is what is part of the U.S. playbook when it comes to these kinds of operations.

Standard operating procedure, lots of folks going over. And it's something that will probably be an operation that we'll have to sustain for some time.

BOLDUAN: You know, Anne, one of Putin's original and long-time goals was to push away and weaken NATO.

If we can put the map up, guys, beside me, because I want to go back to it.

The opposite seems to be happening here to this map.

Thank you very much, Rob.

As you see NATO allies, you see where they stand in comparison to Russia and why Ukraine is obviously in the center of it. This is reinforcing exactly what Putin has not wanted.

Was this a major miscalculation on his part?

Because the opposite is happening from his original and long-time goal here.

How does he react to this, Anne?

APPLEBAUM: Yes, I think Putin was listening to Trump's denunciations of NATO and his distance from NATO during that administration and he was following the divisions that kind of rhetoric created.

And he imagined that NATO was now permanently divided and would never be able to reunite again. I think he didn't count on what the sight of tanks rolling across a European country would do to people in Germany, people in Italy, people in France, people in Europe and, of course, people in the United States.

It reminds everybody of a part of the European past that we all hoped would never come back and of course that NATO was created to prevent. So you have seen a really remarkable shift all across Europe as Europeans do now what should have been done some months ago, which is to reinforce and rearm Ukraine.

BOLDUAN: Anne, thank you so much.

Colonel, thank you, as always.

I really appreciate both of you walking us through it just now.

Coming up, civilian evacuations are underway in several Ukrainian cities.

But are they working, given the onslaught of Russian attacks?





BOLDUAN: We're seeing really apocalyptic scenes coming in from the site of what was a maternity hospital in the southern port city of Mariupol. Ukraine is accusing Russia of bombing it. President Zelenskyy says there are children under the rubble. It's important to know there are no known military targets near this hospital. Joining me now for more, near Lviv, Ukraine, is Andrii Osadchuk, a member of Ukrainian parliament.

Thank you so much for being here.

What do you say about these images at the site of this hospital?

Thank you for having me here. First of all, I may confirm that the hospital and -- it was, by the way, kids' hospital -- was directly attacked by Russian missiles. It was confirmed by Ukrainian military there and for the confirmation.

Secondly, it is not surprising for me what is happening. Putin and the Russian army is repeating what they did before in all military conflicts in the territory former Soviet Union. The same they did in Chechnya, the same they did in Georgia, the same they did in Donbas and Ukraine in 2014 and 2015.