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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Ukraine Claims To Have Defeated Russian Convoy Outside Kyiv; Ukraine: Russian Ship Carried Out Five Strikes Over Odessa; Inflation Rises 7.9 Percent In February, Highest Spike In 40 Years; U.N.: More Than 2.3 Million People Have Fled Ukraine; Sources: Biden Admin To Extend Travel Mask Mandate For 30 Days. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired March 10, 2022 - 16:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Okay. It looks like baseball is coming back. A source tells CNN that Major League Baseball and the players association have reached a tentative agreement on a new labor deal paving the way for the regular season to begin next month.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: To end the lockout, both sides need to sign the deal, but as of now, it's expected to be approved.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Mass graves in Ukraine, as Putin continues his bloody assault.

THE LEAD starts right now.

New and intense video shows what officials claim are Russian tanks being taken out by the Ukrainian military, but in another Ukrainian city, so many people are being slaughtered by the Russians, the city is using trenches to bury them.

And 1982. That was the last time prices in the U.S. jumped this much, and the cost of basic necessities such as food, housing and fuel are driving this spike for the American people.

Then, new concerns about the effectiveness of this year's flu shot just as the country emerges from the coronavirus pandemic.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

And we start with our world lead today. Amid new concerns for the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, as local officials there report intensified fighting on at least three sides of that capital city. Ukrainian defense officials sharing this video, claiming Ukrainian forces were able to destroy parts of a Russian military convoy advancing from the east forcing the rest of the tanks and armored personnel carriers to retreat.

Kyiv's mayor saying it's clear these advances are part of the Russian plan to encircle the city and topple the Zelenskyy government. We're also getting a horrific new look at some of the humanitarian costs of this war.

We want to warn you what we're about to show you is quite graphic. Photographers capturing this scene in the southeast city of Mariupol. A mass grave of murdered Ukrainians. The mayor saying at least 1,300 civilians have been killed in Mariupol alone since Putin's war begun.

Let's get straight to CNN's Clarissa Ward who's live for us in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.

And, Clarissa, does it appear the Russian military is starting to make real gains in the cities around Kyiv?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there was a major development today, Jake, and that is that the Russians now appear to be making a push not just in the northwest and west of the city, as they have been for the last ten days or so, but now also from the east. The eastern suburb of Brovary came under heavy fire today, a lot of fighting. There's some extraordinary drone video which shows you essentially a large column of Russian tanks coming under fire by Ukrainian forces. You can literally see them being picked off from their defensive positions along the side of the road by what one would imagine would be anti-tank missiles like the javelins that the U.S. has been supplying them with.

So they're definitely having a tough time in the sense the Ukrainians are fighting hard and in the sense have an advantage because the Russians are using the road so the Ukrainians can lie and wait. However, according to U.S. official, they are now on the eastern side about 25 miles outside of the capital now on the western and northwestern side. It's closer to 10 to 15 miles.

So there is a sense now that the picture is looking like an attempted encirclement and laying siege to the city. That's what we heard today, Jake, from the mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko, who said that he believes and Ukrainian officials believe that Kyiv is still the prize and that the objective of Russian forces is to try to completely surround it, lay siege to it, bombard it, and topple the government.

Now, that still could be a tall order for Russian forces and it may take them quite some time, but certainly this development, seeing Russian forces making that push to the east, is significant, and for the people of Kyiv, deeply concerning, Jake.

TAPPER: Clarissa, in a meeting between the foreign ministers of Ukraine and Russia ended not surprisingly with no real breakthroughs, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov even made the deranged lie that Russia did not attack Ukraine. So what's next on that front?

WARD: Well, you know, no one had been expecting a major breakthrough, but I think people were even more disappointed than they had expected to be, because what became clear from Foreign Minister Lavrov's comments was that there was no possibility within the context of these talks to even really discuss something like a cease-fire. He said that those negotiations have to take place in the sort of Belarus format that we've seen those Ukrainian and Russian delegations discussing in.

And that he -- you know, and Foreign Minister Kuleba said that it was apparent he didn't even have the authority to say that the Russians would adhere to any kind of a cease-fire, even if that was the intention.


One other thing that was really important, we heard Lavrov say and he was calling for the de-Nazification and demilitarization of the Ukrainian side. Those are two very extreme demands that the Russians had made that they had seemed to back away from a little bit before but putting them back on the table today, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Clarissa Ward, live in Kyiv, Ukraine -- thank you. Please stay safe.

To southern Ukraine now, and CNN's Nick Paton Walsh in the strategic port city of Odessa.

And, Nick, local military officials say a Russian warship carried out five strikes over Odessa today. What do we know about this?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Yeah, it's pretty hard to work out, frankly, how serious that was. We certainly saw a lot of panic early afternoon around the port area. Sirens going off, heightened anxiety, and then local officials said that there had been shots fired they thought by a Russian ship essentially trying to see what Ukrainian defenses here would do in response.

But the sirens relatively present throughout the afternoon and then before dusk what sounded like anti-aircraft fire in that direction over there, not something common here at all. And feeding into a broader picture of anxiety here in essentially a strategic goal for the Kremlin, the ports of Ukraine on the Black Sea and its third largest city, over which there's been quite a lot of fighting along the Black Sea coast in a bid to build up pressure here.

Now, we've been talking a lot about Mykolaiv and the regional governor there sounding kind of bullish today, although accepting that in the fighting on the outskirts of the town there had been Ukrainian losses at checkpoints. He said an air strike had taken out quite a bit of Russian armor.

His latest messages sounding similarly confident -- it's so hard to tell how that corresponds to what's happening on the battlefield. One thing he did do, though, the regional governor, was post essentially a cheat sheet for Russian soldiers who may want to surrender. He said that those soldiers had thought they were on a training exercise. They kept hearing again and again from prisoners and they didn't want to go forward to advance but couldn't go backwards without risking being killed by their own fellow soldiers.

Obviously, I can't verify those statements but it shows the source of propaganda or messaging that we're hearing from the Ukrainian side here and how that fight for Mykolaiv is increasingly brutal. We've seen shelling and strategically key when it comes to pressuring Odessa. I have to say for the first time today we feel a little bit more like Odessa is a little anxious like it hasn't been before.

TAPPER: Nick Paton Walsh in Odessa, Ukraine, thank you. Please stay safe.

Joining us now to discuss, General Wesley Clark, the former NATO supreme allied commander.

And, General, much of your focus in the 1990s was the war in former Yugoslavia. These upsetting scenes that we see from Mariupol today, the mass graves, they're really quite reminiscent of that horrible period.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Absolutely. The difference, of course, is that the Serbs then were an army and they were attacking the Muslim civilians who had no army. Today, the Ukrainians are really putting up a fight, but these poor people who are isolated in Mariupol and other areas, they're not armed, they're not combatants, they're just on the receiving end.

And it seems pretty clear that Mr. Putin is doing this on purpose, to put humanitarian pressure on President Zelenskyy and hope he'll break his morale, and he'll give up and surrender.

TAPPER: We saw that attack on the maternity and children's hospital yesterday. The World Health Organization says that they verified 24 Russian attacks on health care centers in Ukraine since the Russian invasion began. We saw Putin do this in Syria as well, according to aid groups.

What does Russia gain by bombing hospitals and medical centers?

CLARK: It's a terror campaign against the civilian population. It intimidates medical personnel, keeps people from going to the hospitals when they're wounded and need assistance. It runs out international aid organizations who might be in those hospitals. It's pure terror. It's absolutely a war crime. And the names of the Russian commanders as well as Mr. Putin who's ultimately in charge need to be taken on this. And I hope the international criminal court will do so.

TAPPER: "The Wall Street Journal" reported that the leaders of Saudi Arabia and the UAE declined to take phone calls from President Biden, in which he was going to try to get some help apparently for oil prices and also support for the NATO position against Putin's invasion and attack of Ukraine.

You see what's going on in the world right now as something of an inflection point. We're changing into something else. Explain that.

CLARK: It is, Jake. This is an inflection point. Even though we didn't choose it, this fight for Ukraine is critical for the future of American foreign policy and what the Biden administration says is a rules-based international order.

[1610:06] And many nations are on the sidelines. They have arrangements with Russia, in some countries in African they're receiving illegal Russian weapons, they're connected to Russia on the energy business or in financial transactions and they doubt the ability of the United States to stick with it and help Ukraine. If the United States stays with it, Ukraine wins on the ground, the facts on the ground will determine a successful outcome for President Zelenskyy and the United States.

If the United States backs away from this crisis, thinking that, well, they're not a member of NATO, maybe we can just focus on Taiwan, the whole position, the credibility of the United States, the strength of the dollar, our alliances, will be much, much weaker. NATO's best defense is provided by President Zelenskyy in Ukraine, and that's simply a matter of fact.

TAPPER: A fellow former supreme allied commander, Admiral Stavridis, said yesterday he thought the U.S. should rethink its opposition to getting those polish fighter jets, MiGs, through Ramstein Air Base to Ukraine. Earlier today Avril Haines, the director of national intelligence, suggested that there is new -- there is a new intel assessment that informed the decision for the U.S. to not send those jets.

How did you interpret that, and do you agree with Stavridis that the U.S. should figure out a way to get the jets to Ukraine?

CLARK: I do agree with Stavridis. I was happy he said that.

Look, there is always going to be an escalating threat from Mr. Putin. He believes he can scare us into not doing anything and he has the means to do some terrible things to the world. He's got chemical weapons, he's got biological weapons, he has nuclear weapons, he has weapons in space.

All of these things are a concern to the United States, but they're not going to go away. If we duck the challenge in Ukraine, those same pressures will be against us wherever we turn in foreign affairs. The time to face those pressures is now. This administration has to lean into the problem rather than ducking back from the problem.

We've got to be proactive rather than reactive. And being proactive means getting those additional fighter jets in, it means improving the arms shipments, it means putting in a humanitarian corridor and preventing the isolation of Kyiv.

If we let Kyiv be encircled, as clearly Russians want to do, then we'll be in a much, much worse position. Every move we've tried to make seems to be broadcast to the public. There's people talking about it.

And then before you know it, Mr. Putin says, well, that's an act of war. Pretty soon he's going to say giving food to the Ukrainians is an act of war and what are we going to do with that?

So the time to get it is now, to get ahead of this while the Ukrainians are still really in the fight. There is a very real chance that with the right air support and the right support in terms of javelins and stingers, they can defeat the Russian army on the ground. And if that army is defeated, Vladimir Putin goes, and it's a new world.

TAPPER: All right, that's two successive former NATO supreme allied commanders that have come on THE LEAD and said the U.S. should rethink this opposition to getting those Polish MiGs to Ukraine.

General Clark, thank you so much for your time. Really appreciate it.

Vice President Kamala Harris in Poland stopped just short of calling the Russian bombing of the maternity hospital a war crime. Why? Why not call it a war crime? Our next guest is an army veteran, a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

Then, it's not your wallet playing tricks on you. Gas is not the only thing costing much more. It's also basics, food, shelter.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: And we're back with our world lead. Today, Vice President Kamala Harris is in Warsaw, meeting with the Polish president and other world leaders amidst Russia's horrific invasion of Ukraine. And while Harris strongly condemned the Russian bombing of a maternity and children's hospital in Mariupol, Ukraine, Vice President Harris stopped short of calling the Russian atrocities war crimes.


KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are also very clear that any intentional attack on innocent civilians is a violation. The U.N. has set up a process by which there will be a review and investigations and we will, of course, participate as appropriate and necessary.


TAPPER: Here to discuss is Democratic Congressman Ruben Gallego of Arizona. He's an Iraq War veteran, now serves on the House Armed Services Committee.

Congressman, do you believe this attack on the maternity and children's hospital in Mariupol was a war crime perpetrated by the Russians?

REP. RUBEN GALLEGO (D-AZ): Absolutely. Look, I can't read into what the vice president was trying to say or why, but from my experience on the ground in Iraq, I was specifically told you don't shoot at civilian targets, you don't shoot at hospitals, you don't shoot at mosques or religious institutions. That is a war crime and you will be held responsible for that.

So the same goes for Russia, for those that order those types of bombings and for the leaders that approved it.

TAPPER: As a veteran of war, does seeing the aftermath of this hospital bombing change your calculation at all on your opposition to putting American forces into the sky over Ukraine to enforce a no-fly zone?

GALLEGO: Look, I still am against a no-fly zone. It does tell me that Russia is getting desperate. Adding a no-fly zone into this desperation mix would probably only escalate ourselves into a shooting war against Russia.

It doesn't mean that we can't arm Ukraine so they can defend themselves, whether it's with more sophisticated drones that they could use to really suppress the artillery fire and rocket fire that's causing this, or I think we should transfer the MiGs to Ukraine so they can fly and protect themselves.


But at this point, what Russia is trying to do is trying to basically hammer the civilian population into submission, and us getting to that mix will probably only cause a lot more tension between our two countries. And I think eventually war.

No-fly zones are not that easy to implement. It's going to require us to shoot down a lot of their planes, a lot of their SAMs and potentially other targets that will escalate us into something that we may not be able to control.

TAPPER: The director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, the DIA, said something that I'd love for you to explain to our viewers. He said that a no-fly zone would not protect against many of the weapons that Russian forces are using in Ukraine right now.

For our viewers who may not be familiar with all these weapons or what a no-fly zone is, et cetera, and think why aren't we protecting Ukraine from the skies and doing what Zelenskyy wants us, can you explain that?

GALLEGO: Yes. So, for example, a lot of the actual targeting is coming in three ways. They're coming through artillery fire, which in a no-fly zone we would not be able for us to fire at their artillery pieces. They're coming at rocket fire. Also we would not be eligible under a no-fly zone for us to target them.

And then they're also coming from long-range rocket fire that's actually coming from either Belarus or the Russian territory, which would be 100 percent out of our reach for us, number one, because it's out of the conflict zone and, number two, because it is not, again, another plane. So, a no-fly zone actually is effectively only doing two things. Number one, stopping the Russians from using their planes to attack civilians, civilian corridors, things of that nature. And in response to any type of provocation on our planes trying to protect a no-fly zone.

TAPPER: White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki warned yesterday that Russia might try to use chemical weapons in Ukraine. Earlier today, the British foreign secretary echoed those fears on CNN.

Is that a real possibility you think?

GALLEGO: Well, look, if we know Russia and we've seen what they have done in the past, they have used gas and chemical weapons in the past. They have done it in Syria, I believe they did it in Chechnya, so I wouldn't -- it would not be out of the realm for them to do it.

And I do say that I think that is an area that we have to start exploring. What is the line when they start using chemical, biological weapons? I think there is a definite line that the world has to respond to that and I think Russia needs to understand that's an escalation the world may not accept.

TAPPER: I certainly understand the idea, the argument made by individuals such as yourself who don't want to have a no-fly zone for any number of reasons but the least of which is the idea that an American pilot would end up confronting a Russian pilot and then there would be -- we would have a direct military confrontation between the two superpowers.

How do you respond to the counterargument Vladimir Putin doesn't respond to any rules, any lines? He is indiscriminately bombing hospitals, maternity centers, he has used chemical weapons. He is attacking a sovereign weapon.

What -- he's done assassinations in NATO countries like the U.K. What makes you think that after he conquers Ukraine, he's not going to turn around and attack Poland? How do you respond to that?

GALLEGO: Well, certainly, I think he doesn't have a death wish. I think this idea that Putin has some kind of legacy and is willing to roll into almost anywhere to do that I think is incorrect. His army is barely able to cope in Ukraine, trying to take on a major NATO operation would be almost suicidal, so that's number one.

Number two, we have to mitigate for the worst-case scenario. The worst-case scenario is that we find ourselves in a shooting war. And, look, Jake, it's not just us shooting another plane down. You have to realize that there are so many other platforms in Ukraine and in the theater that are going to start targeting our U.S. planes once they enter Ukraine.

What happens when it's a navy ship, a Russian navy ship that targets one of our planes and we have to respond in kind and defend it? We take down a massive Russian navy ship, you're escalating to the point where we may find ourselves again into a new paradigm of war. And we're talking about a country that is iffy about whether or not they want to use tactical nuclear weapons, and Russia has talked about it in the past.

So again, this is an escalation that we have to take very carefully. We have to think about it. We have to think about the consequences of it and not just run into this emotionally as some people are doing.

TAPPER: Democratic Congressman Ruben Gallego of Arizona, thank you so much, sir. And as always, thank you for your service.

Inflation hits its highest point in 40 years.


President Biden is pointing fingers at one man.

Stay with us.


TAPPER: In our money lead, President Biden is blaming Russia's invasion of Ukraine in part for soaring consumer prices. Today, a new report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows inflation has spiked 7.9 percent over the last 12 months. That's the highest surge in 40 years.

Biden said higher gas and energy prices were a large contributor, as markets continue to react to Putin's actions in Ukraine.

As CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports for us now, the White House today is also warning that Putin may try to use chemical weapons in his invasion of Ukraine in part for soaring consumer prices. Today, a new report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows inflation has spiked 7.9 percent over the last 12 months. That's the highest surge in 40 years.


Biden said higher gas and energy prices were a large contributor, as markets continue to react to Putin's actions in Ukraine.

As CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports for us now, the White House today is also warning that Putin may try to use chemical weapons in his invasion of Ukraine, but they were unwilling to say how the Biden administration might respond.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Ukraine will never, never be a victory for Putin.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Biden noting the global efforts to stop Russia's invasion of Ukraine as the White House is warning president Putin may be preparing to take a drastic step.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: They not only have the capacity, they have a history of using chemical and biological weapons. And that in this moment, we should have our eyes open for that possibility.

COLLINS: Biden has maintained that the U.S. will not send American troops to fight Russian forces in Ukraine, but top aides are declining to say whether a chemical weapons attack changes that position.

Are you saying if Russia does conduct a chemical weapons attack in Ukraine, there will not be a military response from the United States?

PSAKI: I'm not going to get into hypotheticals. What we're saying right now is they have the capacity and the capabilities.

COLLINS: Lawmakers from both parties pressing top officials after the Pentagon rejected the idea of sending more aircraft to Ukraine, despite pleas from President Zelenskyy.

SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D-NH): Get us a better answer. We haven't gotten a good answer to the question.

SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): This is war, people are dying. We need to get this aircraft immediately to the people of Ukraine.

COLLINS: In Poland, Vice President Harris also sidestepping questions on fighter jets and instead emphasizing the U.S./Polish relationship.

KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States and Poland are united in what we have done and are prepared to do to help Ukraine and the people of Ukraine. Full stop.

COLLINS: With no end in sight to Russia's war against Ukraine, U.S. inflation is climbing again and hitting a four-decade high, as prices rose 7.9 percent in February compared to a year ago. Gas, food and rent all more expensive as fears about the invasion's strain on global energy markets are growing.

PSAKI: We do anticipate that gas prices and energy prices will go up. That is something that the president has conveyed very clearly to the American public.

COLLINS: Biden casting the blame on Putin, but with the national average for a gallon of gas setting new records, including a seven- cent increase overnight, Republicans say Biden is deflecting.

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO (R-WY): He said it's all blamed on Russia. Energy prices have been going up dramatically from the day he took office.


COLLINS (on camera): Now, Jake, the White House is not ruling anything out when it comes to options for lowering gas prices. They have been in touch with oil companies but Republicans on Capitol Hill are being very critical of the Federal Reserve, saying they have been too slow to act. Next week they are expected to raise interest rates in hopes of cooling off the economy. Though, Jake, that is only expected to be the first in what is supposed to be a series of steps to do so.

TAPPER: All right. Kaitlan Collins at the White House for us, thank you so much.

Let's bring in CNN Business editor at large, Richard Quest, and CNN economics commentator, Catherine Rampell.

Catherine, let me start with you. This new inflation report reflects consumer prices in February which doesn't capture most of Russia's invasion and the sharp spike in energy prices.

How bad do you expect the numbers to be next month?

CATHERINE RAMPELL, CNN ECONOMICS COMMENTATOR: Pretty bad. Possibly worse. As you point out, we have seen a run-up in gas prices, oil prices in the weeks since those data were collected.

Beyond that, the other categories that are covered in that report, things like shelter, food, you know, hotels, airfare, almost any category you can imagine that consumers spend money on, those also went up generally.

So, yeah, next month I think is going to be pretty painful. Inflation is here to stay.

TAPPER: Richard, the Federal Reserve meets next week and is expected to begin raising interest rates. We had the inflation issue before Russia's invasion started. Will higher interest rates make any sort of difference?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN BUSINESS EDITOR IN CHIEF: Well, it's going to have to -- you've got to start somewhere and the Fed is going to start next week. The question will become not if, but when and how.

And it's also going to be how long. How long do they leave between rate hikes, because they know they have got to deal with the existing inflation. They have got to worry about the inflation that Catherine has just been talking about, and then on top of that, the uncertainty that they don't want to tip the economy, which could be fragile if the war gets worse.

So that's the balancing act that Jay Powell and his colleagues will be doing. We will look for nuance. You will look for guidance shift. You're going to look for different meetings, saying different things. But, Jake, rates are going up, period.

TAPPER: Catherine, the housing market is red hot right now.


Rent prices are up 4.3 percent from year to year. How much are you watching this market right now as the Feds weigh how much to raise interest rates?

RAMPELL: The housing market is incredibly critical. Shelter costs are the number one expense for most American households. They represent a huge share of total consumption each month. So, if those prices are going up, people will feel it. And the real question is what can be done, particularly in the near term, to bring the pressure down in terms of those housing price increases?

And there's very little without increasing supply. We've already seen a lot of disruptions in the construction part of the U.S. economy, you know, which is key, of course, to increasing housing supply. So it's really going to put a lot of pressure on middle income families, low income families who pay so much of their earnings in rent. QUEST: And, Richard, there are often a lot of residual effects when

economic sanctions are imposed. Sometimes the punishments are passed on to ordinary people, to average consumers. We got an example with the Chelsea soccer club which has been sanctioned because of its owner, a Russian oligarch.

QUEST: Right, Roman Abramovich. He's owned Chelsea for the last 20- odd years. Today he's being sanctioned and this is the evening newspaper in London. Abramovich's empire in ruins, as he's hit sanctions.

So what can Chelsea do? They can't buy new players. They can't take on -- they can't sell new tickets, they can't sell souvenirs, they can pay existing wages. The club is basically in a sanctions gridlock because of this.

Now, remember, you and I, Jake, have talked about this. This is why so many U.S. corporations pulled out of Russia even before things got bad, even before they were obliged to, because companies like Apple and now McDonald's, of course, and Marriott and others, they don't want to be caught in a sanctions trap where they don't know what they can and can't do trading.

So it's Abramovich's Chelsea, the fans and all of that, it's the inflation that Catherine was talking about that's hitting you, me, everybody. It's just -- we're going to feel the effects, and it's about time that the elected leaders started making this a little bit more clear. That an economic war is not painless.

TAPPER: Catherine Rampell, Richard Quest, thanks to both of you. Great to see both of you.

One day, they're a family, the next day separated by war, not sure where they're going to sleep at night. Getting out of Ukraine for refugees is only half the struggle.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our world lead, more than 2.3 million refugees have fled Ukraine since Russia started its brutal invasion into the country just two weeks ago, and nearly all of those refugees are women, children and seniors, according to the United Nations. Now, neighboring countries such as Poland, Moldova and Romania, where CNN's Miguel Marquez reports, are trying to house thousands of these Ukrainian refugees.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The refugee crisis deepening.

ANNA LEUKINENKO, FLED UKRAINE: They open just (INAUDIBLE), just think what they need, maybe about two hours.

MARQUEZ: Anna Leukinenko from Mykolaiv in southern Ukraine, a city hammered indiscriminately by Russian rockets and artillery. Leukinenko had two hours to pack up her two kids, her mother and her children's godmother. Two hours to pack. No idea if she'll see her husband, grandparents, or country again.

LEUKINENKO: In my heart, I said I think Ukraine will be free and everyone will be okay, but who knows when.

MARQUEZ: Leukinenko trying to get from Bucharest to friends in Poland, one story of millions, families now being torn apart in Ukraine and across Europe.

DR. RAED ARAFAT, STATE SECRETARY, ROMANIA MINISTRY OF INTERNAL AFFAIRS: We will see people who are without capabilities, without possibilities, financial possibilities, who are running from war, they are running for their lives, taking just very few things with them and sometimes even without documentation.

MARQUEZ: The speed at which Ukrainians are transformed into refugees increasing exponentially, as Russia continues punishing attacks on civilian and military targets alike.

COSMINA SIMIEAN, GENERAL MANAGER, DIRECTORATE FOR SOCIAL SERVICES, CITY OF BUCHAREST: We don't know what is coming and how many people are coming to Bucharest. As far as we know the people coming here are only in transit. A few of them remain in Romania, but we don't know how many people will come so we need to be prepared.

MARQUEZ: Romanians not just waiting to receive Ukrainian refugees. Now they're collecting and organizing massive amounts of humanitarian supplies, all to be shipped directly to Ukraine.

NICUSOR DAN, GENERAL MAYOR, BUCHAREST: They need drugs, and we have a specific list of what kind of drugs. They need medical kits. And they need food that can be preserved.

MARQUEZ: Did you ever think you'd be in this situation?

DAN: No. I mean, a war in 2022, it's unbelievable.


MARQUEZ (on camera): Unbelievable is right. This is the main train station here. I'll give you an idea of what's happening. It looks like another load of mainly refugees headed to the Hungarian border. We have seen this sort of ebb and flow into Romania for the last week. About 360,000 refugees have come here. Only about 85,000 have remained, but that number is growing here in the city of Bucharest. They are getting ready to open up their biggest indoor area in the next day or so.


That can hold up to 2,000 refugees on a temporary basis -- Jake. TAPPER: All right. Miguel Marquez from the capital of Romania, thank

you so much.

Not going anywhere, even though you are. Why the Biden administration is extending the mask mandate for planes and trains. That's next.



TAPPER: In our health lead, got spring break plans? Better still pack a mask.

In a story you saw first on CNN, the Biden administration is expected to announce a 30-day extension of the mask mandate. It was set to expire a week from tomorrow, but now, you will still need to wear a mask at airports or on planes and trains at least until April 18th.

Let's bring in Dr. Saju Mathew, who's a public health specialist.

Dr. Matthew, thanks for joining us.

Sources tell CNN this decision was made in accordance with current CDC data, but cities and states have been lifting mask mandates for weeks now.

Does this make any sense to you?

DR. SAJU MATHEW, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: You know, Jake, I'll be honest with you, I'm really absolutely excited but also in a way it's a no- brainer. I mean, this pandemic is still ongoing. I mean, people think that the pandemic is over. We have about 1,600 people dying a day. Let's remember, before vaccines actually came into being, it was masks that really helped us. I mean, a lot of health care providers fell sick.

But as we were close to COVID patients without a vaccine, it was an effective mask that helped us. Now think about an airport. You've got people traveling from all over the world, meeting, going between U.S. cities, restaurants, and my biggest concern is really congestion at the terminals, not as much as being in an aircraft with the HEPA air filtration system.

So, to me, it makes 100 percent sense that we are extending. I still think that this should be an indefinite extension until the pandemic actually becomes an endemic and we're far from that.

TAPPER: Do we know who is dying every day? You said about 1,600 people in the United States are dying every day. Are they almost entirely unvaccinated individuals, un-boosted individuals? Do we know?

MATHEW: You know, we just ran some data a couple of weeks ago at a meeting. I was on a zoom call meeting with my hospital, which is a pretty big hospital system. We went through pretty much each demographic and age group, and 98.8 percent of people in my hospital that are in ICUs that are dying are unvaccinated. We still have a number of people that are there, elderly with

diabetes, hypertension, obesity that may not be boosted, but the majority of people that are severely sick are people that are unvaccinated.

TAPPER: Speaking of masks, a new study out today in the journal "Pediatrics" shows that school districts that have universal masking, they reduced the spread of COVID in their school districts by a whopping 72 percent compared with school districts that have optional or no mask usage.

Does this mean in your medical opinion that kids should keep wearing masks in schools?

MATHEW: Yes. I mean, I definitely think that when you step out of your bubble, which is your home, and you're around people whose vaccination status you don't know, I am still a medical analyst that thinks that we should be wearing masks. Jake, what's also most important is the quality of masks.

I can tell you that the number of people that I correct at work, I'm a primary care doctor seeing about 20 patients. A good 40 percent of patients are not wearing the right mask and it doesn't have the right fit. So, a KN95 or N95 mask I definitely think should be worn in schools not only to protect the children but to protect the teachers who might be immunocompromised and older.

TAPPER: New preliminary CDC data out this afternoon shows that this year's flu vaccine is not as effective in fighting off the most common flu virus even though the flu season has been pretty mild compared to pre-pandemic flu seasons. Does that surprise you?

MATHEW: No, it doesn't. Actually every year when we look at the flu vaccine, the efficacy, it's about 40 to 60 percent in trying to prevent the onset of influenza against mild disease. Now, the bad news is this year was only 16 percent against the most dangerous strain, which potentially could have caused a lot of hospitalizations.

But it never took off. Yeah, this year's vaccine was definitely ineffective, but the good news is the same mitigation guidelines that we have taken to prevent COVID-19 basically has also prevented a surge of flu cases. I didn't see any flu cases last year, Jake. This year I just saw two. So that's the good news.

TAPPER: Dr. Saju Mathew, thank you so much for your time and expertise. Appreciate it.

Coming up, it's a new low. Russia now claiming Ukrainian victims of their own shelling are, quote, crisis actors.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

New this hour, play ball! Breaking details about a labor deal reached between the Major League Baseball owners and the players union. We'll tell you when you'll be able to go back to the ballpark.

Plus, for the first time, victims of the opioid crisis confront members of the billionaire Sackler family about how OxyContin ruined, if not took, their lives. We'll talk to one man who became addicted to the drug and had some choice things to say to the Sacklers earlier today.

And leading this hour, breaking news. Intense fighting on the outskirts of Ukraine's capital as Russia and Ukraine fail to reach an agreement on humanitarian corridors or a cease-fire. This comes as no surprise.