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At This Hour

United Nations: 2.5 Million Ukrainians Flee War-Torn Country; Ukraine Tells IAEA They Have Lost Communication With Chernobyl Plant; Facebook Allows Posts Calling For Violence Against "Russian Invaders." Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired March 11, 2022 - 11:30   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Two and a half million Ukrainians have now fled their war-torn country since the start of the Russian invasion, some 200,000 fleeing to neighboring countries in just the last 24 hours alone. CNN's Miguel Marquez is live in Romania with a family that's hosting nearly three dozen Ukrainian refugees. Miguel, this is amazing.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is amazing, it is terrifying, it is sad, it is heartening as well. We're in a bedroom actually with some of those refugees. This is Alexi, our translator, but the folks that we wanted to speak to are Alyona, her mother, and her aunts who have come here from Kharkiv, a town -- a city that has been hit very hard. You're 14 years old. Three weeks ago, you were in school, you want to be a doctor. What is life like right now?

ALYONA BATOCHKA, 14-YEAR-OLD UKRAINIAN REFUGEE FROM KHARKIV: It's really terrifying. And it took us five days to leave our -- to our house to leave our dad -- my dad, our families, my school, my dancing team. And it's really hard to us because our family is in Kharkiv now.

MARQUEZ: Your father and other family members are in there in Kharkiv, and your cat, more importantly, is also in Kharkiv as well. Your neighbors are caring for the cat, Booba, I think is her name. And how stressful is it? I mean, what will you do now? What -- how long will you be here? Where will you go?

BATOCHKA: Be -- now for us -- for four days here and it's good. And everyone is taking care for us. And we feel -- we felt really -- it's really --

MARQUEZ: You feel supported.

BATOCHKA: Yes, we feel really supported.

MARQUEZ: If Vladimir Putin is listening to this interview right now, what do you tell him?

BATOCHKA: Please stop firing. Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Stop giving the people when they grave please because it's very awful. It's very scary for us. MARQUEZ: Do you think you will go home again? Do you think you will have a country to go home to?

BATOCHKA: Yes. I will turn -- return to my home to my -- to my father. I really hope. I really hope.

MARQUEZ: Do you know when, weeks, months?

BATOCHKA: I don't know when.

MARQUEZ: This is -- we talked to so many people here, Kate, and that is the exact answer. They believe they will go home. They don't know when. The uncertainty in so many lives right now is just, it's overwhelming. Kate.

BOLDUAN: I mean, I will return to my home. That is his clear message. And really heartwarming and resilient a message as one can have. It really -- still I have to say, despite everything they've been through, the fact that there are three dozen refugees in one home and how these neighboring countries have just been opening up their homes their borders to these refugees, there is something amazing about that as well.

MARQUEZ: There really is. And they have three more coming tonight. So there are 31 right now, they'll be at 34 by night and in the last two weeks, they've cared for about 61 people. It is amazing. They are doing it all through -- the people who own this house, I want to give you their name actually. Aluziva is the name of the group that is sort of organizing this. At Aluziva, do I have that right? Yes, I do. And they are taking donations to keep all of this going. It takes an army to keep all of these people fed, clothes and laundry, and everything else. Back to you.

BOLDUAN: And their journey is only beginning. Thanks, Miguel. Thank you very much. Every refugee family has a harrowing story about their long and dangerous journey to escape the war. In this video, we're going to show you of crowds trying to flee on buses to Poland. It was shot by my next guest Jeffrey White. He's an American who's-- who was living in Ukraine. And it took him several days to get out of the country with his wife, Katya, and their newborn son.


JEFFREY WHITE, AMERICAN WHO EVACUATED FROM UKRAINE WITH HIS FAMILY: OK, so this is the women and children line. These are buses. Somewhere behind those, there we go. I think that's a car line coming up. Going up behind me is how far this goes back since we got here. OK.


BOLDUAN: And joining me now from Warsaw, Poland, Jeffrey, and Katya White. Thank you so much for joining me. I mean, Jeffrey, I guess where I want to begin is when did you know that you all had to leave?

JEFFREY WHITE, AMERICAN WHO EVACUATED FROM UKRAINE WITH HIS FAMILY: About five -- four or five hours after we were woken up by missiles hitting a base that was close to our house.

BOLDUAN: No question your mind it was time to get out.

JEFFREY WHITE: Yes, it was um, it's a really strange way to wake up. It's from your house shaking. And so we were still thinking there's no way that's real or this is what's happening.


JEFFREY WHITE: And then we found out that they were parachuting people into Odessa and that's when I think this is different than what Ukraine expected. We have to go.

BOLDUAN: And so then, Jeffrey, you drive for days to get to -- from Kyiv to the Polish border, traffic gets so backed up, you then have to walk on foot then to actually make it there with your newborn son -- with your wife and newborn son in tow. I mean, what was it like?

JEFFREY WHITE: That, different than anything I have ever experienced. Um, luckily, we live right by a gas station so I got gas at 6:30 in the morning. And then you just drive and there's people everywhere. Um, they blew up a bridge on day two of our journey. And so, us and thousands of other cars started going south down this very, not main road, full of potholes and everything else and there's cars broken down on the side of the road, there's gas lines that are half a kilometer long. It's insane. Yes, it is.

BOLDUAN: And Katya, I know that -- I know that you're nervous and understandably hesitant to talk on TV, but I just wanted to ask you, you're just -- what this has been like for you?

KATYA WHITE, EVACUATED FROM UKRAINE WITH HER FAMILY: Wow. It's hard to believe. It's like not even anyone in Ukraine or Russia believed that that can happen. It's too unbelievable.

BOLDUAN: Unbelievable and became believable in an instant.

KATYA WHITE: And horrible. Yes, and horrible in an instant. Yes.


BOLDUAN: Jeffrey, when you arrived at the border, this -- when I -- when I read this about your story, it just struck terror in me. When you arrive at the border and that that moment, it's almost like you think that you're in -- you finally got it to safety. But that is the moment you actually were separated, separated from your wife and your new child, women, and children in one line, men in another, that must have been terrifying, what happened?

JEFFREY WHITE: That was really hard. You know you -- we keep climbing these mountains and you think you're done and then there's another one. We went to the women and children line, we all stood together, we got to the gate to go through and the guard stopped me and just told me to go to the other line and told her to keep going.

There was no reasoning with him. There was nothing I could do. We've been traveling for three or four days at this point, exhausted and you know it was either not send my wife and child out of Ukraine when I knew that I could or just be separated and deal with that situation as it happens. Still, we got one way.

BOLDUAN: You eventually reconnect -- yes, you eventually reconnect.


BOLDUAN: You have still a long journey to go. You're going to be trying to make it back to the United States, hopefully, as a family. But before we go, how is your sweet baby doing?

JEFFREY WHITE: He is doing great. It took only 24 hours for him being not in a chaotic situation and her having rests where he calmed down and started sleeping and just being a normal newborn again.

BOLDUAN: Normal. I think you guys could use a serious dose of normal right now in the midst of all this. And Katya, I know you have a family --

JEFFREY WHITE: Yes, we're almost there.

BOLDUAN: Yes, exactly. And, Katya, I know you still have family in Ukraine, so our thoughts and prayers with them. And thank you, guys. It's really wonderful to meet you under these horrible circumstances.


BOLDUAN: For more information on how you can help the people of Ukraine go to We'll be right back.



BOLDUAN: New and concerning developments as Russian forces maintain control of the decommissioned Chernobyl Nuclear Plant. Ukraine telling the IAEA that it has lost all communication with the plant just a day after it lost external power supplies. Joining me now for more on this is former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. He's now the co-chair and CEO of the Nuclear Threat Initiative. Secretary, thank you for being here.


BOLDUAN: So Ukraine now saying that it's lost all communication with Chernobyl. I mean, what are your concerns there?

MONIZ: Well, certainly, a major concern was the status of the spent nuclear fuel pools without electricity coming in but the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency has stated and they are really experts in this, that they -- that Chernobyl should have sufficient water and cooling capacity to keep that under control.

But I am very concerned in general, it's not only Chernobyl but with other nuclear power plants -- operating nuclear power plants as well, that the staffs are clearly under enormous stress, under the guy, under the essential imprisonment, I believe, of the Russian military and so if anything goes untoward in any of these sites, I am concerned about the staff being able to react properly.


BOLDUAN: I think it's a huge concern with -- when considering the threatened stress that they're under right now and fatigue. You know, Ukraine's defense ministry now says that Russia plans to carry out some sort of terrorist attack at the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant, which is now as we said, under Russian control. Ukrainians are saying they would then try to blame the attack on Ukraine no matter whether it would be a staged false flag attack or not. What does a terror attack on this facility, or as you mentioned, any of the country's nuclear facilities mean?

MONIZ: Well, that -- at Chernobyl again, none of the plants there, the reactors are operating. So the big concern there is the rather large amount of radioactivity in the spent fuel that is still being stored there. At the other reactors, of course, it's both the spent fuel in the pools and the reactor itself.

And the concern that I have, particularly there is less a direct attack on the reactor itself, the reactor core, I just would observe, at least in the United States, the containment vessel, for the -- for the core can withstand an airplane crash. However, that shouldn't -- that should not be very comforting because the plant depends upon so many other systems that are not hardened, backup generators, electricity supply, and cooling the fuel for the backup generators.

So there are many, many of those systems that could be at considerable risk in addition to what we already discussed. The high-stress levels for the -- for the staff operating a reactor at gunpoint is not recommended. And so I think there's still lots of concern until this military action, at least around the reactors, but hopefully, in all of Ukraine, comes to a stop.

BOLDUAN: The ripple effects of this war, though, are reaching even to the Iran nuclear talks now. We're learning this morning that they're taking another pause what the talks. Officials are blaming, what they're calling external factors, not detailing what those are but we do know that Russia has started adding new demands to the Iran talks. What's your reaction to that, and can they get past it?

MONIZ: Well, first of all, in my view, there is no doubt that accomplishing -- you know, reimplementing, the Iran agreement would be in our interests. And I could explain that more but I want to make that clear. Secondly, I would say that in 2015, when we negotiated the agreement going into 2016 to implement it, Russia was actually extremely helpful. I would argue the most helpful of all the countries engaged, except for the -- except for us, for the U.S.

Now, however, it's clear that in the current situation, I do believe that these demands on sanctions by Russia, that is held up the deal because my understanding is that they were basically on the verge of being able to sign. So I think Russia is holding it up. I think I'm somewhat optimistic that we will find our way to re-implementing the agreement. However, Russia also has a big role -- played a big role in 2015 in how Iran could come into compliance with the deal. And that's another concern under the current situation.

BOLDUAN: This is all the way.

MONIZ: If Russia does, in fact, drag their feet on that, then France and the UK will have to step up.

BOLDUAN: This is -- this deserves much more attention as a ripple effect of this war that we're seeing play out before our eyes. Secretary, thank you for your time.

We also have this developing AT THIS HOUR. Facebook's parent company Meta is temporarily allowing users to violate their hate speech policy, allowing users to publish posts calling for violence against Russian, "Russian invaders." CNN's Chief Media Correspondent, Host of RELIABLE SOURCES, Brian Stelter joins me now with more. This is a big move by Facebook. It's already getting a reaction from Russia.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it is. The Russian Prosecutor General's Office filing a court application today to label Meta as an extremist organization so you know is a tit for tat sort of move between what is basically a nation-state Meta, as it makes choices against Facebook -- against Russia. This is all right now centered around a change to Facebook's rules about what you can post on the site. And here's how the company explains this really interesting change. "In light of the ongoing invasion of Ukraine, we've made a temporary exception for those affected by war to express violent sentiments toward invading armed forces, for example, you can now post on Facebook death to the Russian invaders."


STELTER: Facebook, saying "these are temporary measures designed to preserve voice and expression for people who are facing invasion. As always, we are prohibiting calls for violence against Russians who are outside the narrow context of the current invasion." Kate, these are impossible choices for social media platforms to make allowing violent content or not. It always feels that these sites are making it up as they go along. But today, Russia taking steps to block Instagram may be blocked WhatsApp next, what I've seen though on the internet people always find a way to communicate even if these services are blocked by Russia.

BOLDUAN: Thanks Brian for laying out it. I really appreciate it. We'll be right back.



BOLDUAN: I want to close now with a glimmer of hope amid the horror. The pregnant woman who survived the Mariupol hospital bombing has given birth. We showed you this image yesterday of the woman bloodied and injured being evacuated after the blast. This photo and others helped illustrate the horror of Putin's war. She was one of more than a dozen people injured in that attack. Three people including a young child were killed.

And this morning, we have learned that she has given birth to a baby girl. Look at this. In this newly published photo, you can see her in a hospital bed while her husband is holding and cuddling their sweet new baby. And while we don't have more details about the baby's name, or more about them, we wish them all well, safety, health, wish them well. Thank you so much for being here guys. CNN's breaking news coverage of this war on Ukraine continues now with INSIDE POLITICS and John Craig -- John King after the break.