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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Russian Strikes Intensify, Hitting Ukraine's Western City Of Lviv; Biden And Xi Jinping Discuss Ukraine War, Weapons And Russian Sanctions; Russian Disinformation, Propaganda Ramp Up As Conflict In Ukraine Grows; U.N. Says 3.2M Plus Refugees Have Escaped War-Ravaged Ukraine; Ukrainians & Russian Dissenters Waiting To Enter U.S.; U.S. Army Vet Teaching Ukrainians How To Treat War Wounds; Senate Confirmation Hearings For Judge Jackson Begin Monday; CNN: GOP Senators Push Misleading Portrayal Of Judge Jackson's Record Child Porn Cases; NASA's New Moon Rocket Rolls Out For Launch Pad Tests. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired March 18, 2022 - 17:00   ET



FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We heard the sirens go off here in the city, the air raid sirens. And then there were some booms, a couple of minutes later.

And what got hit was a plane maintenance factory outside of the city, it was actually right by Lviv Airport. The damage there appears to be extensive. So far, we don't know anything about casualties. But what we do know from the Ukrainian military is they say that they believe that in total six cruise missiles were fired from Russian planes over the Black Sea. Two of those missiles were actually shot down by the Ukrainians, but four of them do appear to have hit their target.

And again, right now, Lviv also a city that has been fairly calm, but is now very much under fire. And all this of course, also Jake comes as the Russians have said that they consider any sort of weapons deliveries by Western nations and especially the United States to Ukraine to be legitimate targets that they say they will target if they find them coming in, Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And Fred, new estimate suggests that thousands of Russian service members have been killed in Ukraine. And in just the last month, what does this tell us about Russia's actual military readiness?

PLEITGEN: Well, I think it certainly shows that the Russians are having a lot of problems both with their gear and with their soldiers, and certainly very much with their strategy, as well. And one of the things that we've heard from the Ukrainians today, which really is something that seems remarkable, as they say now that they're pretty confident that they can hold the Russians off in Kiev. They say the Russians are trying to pinch that city from two sides, but they say they're making absolutely no progress. And the Ukrainians themselves are launching counter offensives, and that's not just in Kyiv, but in other major battlefields as well. Here's what we're finding.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): Another blow to Vladimir Putin is military. Ukrainian forces claiming they ambush this convoy of Russian airborne troops. While CNN cannot independently verify the information, Russian state TV for the first time acknowledged that a senior airborne commander and several soldiers have been killed.

While still outgunned, the Ukrainians feel they might slowly be turning the tie. The armed forces of Ukraine continue to deliver devastating blows like groups of enemy troops were trying to consolidate and hold the capture defensive lines, a Ukrainian army spokesman says.

The Ukrainian say they are launching counter attacks against Russian troops. This video allegedly showing an anti-tank guided missile taking out a Russian armored vehicle. They also claim they've already killed more than 14,000 Russian troops and shot down more than 110 combat choppers. CNN can confirm those numbers, but the Russians haven't updated their casualty figures in more than two weeks, instead claiming what they call their quote, military special operation is going as planned.

Russia's Defense Ministry released this video of helicopter gunships allegedly attacking a Ukrainian airfield. Still, Vladimir Putin clearly feels the need to rally his nation making a rare appearance at a massive rally at Moscow's main stadium, where a strange technical glitch cut off his speech, but not before he praised Russian troops.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): The best proof is the way our boys are fighting in this operation, shoulder to shoulder supporting each other, and if need be protecting each other like brothers, shielding one another with their bodies on the battlefield. We haven't had this unity for a long time.

PLEITGEN: But the Russians appear to be so angry at U.S. and allied weapons shipments to Ukraine. They vowed to target any deliveries entering Ukrainian territory, and they're hitting strategic targets as well firing several cruise missiles at an airplane repair plant near Lviv, while a Russian cruise missile dropped on a residential building in the capital Kyiv after being shot down by Ukrainian air defenses.

Former world heavyweight boxing champion brother of Kyiv's Mayor Wladimir Klitschko pleading for more help.

WLADIMIR KLITSCHKO, BROTHER OF KYIV MAYOR: This is genocides of the Ukrainian population. You have to act now. Stop fasula (ph) observing and stop doing business with Russia. Do it now.

PLEITGEN: The Biden administration has said more aid and weapons are on the way as Ukrainian forces continue to put up a fierce fight preventing Russia's troops from further significant gains.


PLEITGEN: And of course, Jake, we are now at the end of week three of this war that the Russians and Vladimir Putin have brought on here to Ukraine. If we summarize what we've seen in those three weeks, it continues to be the case the Russians have not managed to take any major population center here in this country. Mariupol continues to hold up. Kharkiv continues to hold up. Kyiv continues to hold up and the Ukrainians there are fighting back.

The one thing of course that continues to happen is the Russians are continuing to pound a lot of those places with some really heavy and indiscriminate weaponry, and the civilians continue to bear the brunt of that Russian assault. Jake.

TAPPER: Fred Pleitgen reporting for us live from Lviv. Thank you. Please stay safe.


An indelible image from Lviv today, a public square they're filled with empty baby strollers, one for each of the 109 Ukrainian children killed so far number cited by Ukraine's president.

My next guest is Tetiana Pechonchik. She's a head of the Ukrainian Human Rights Centre ZMINA. And she joins us live from New York where she's visiting the United Nations to try to gather international support for Ukraine. Tatyana, thanks for joining us. What goes through your mind when you see those strollers?

TETIANA PECHONCHIK, HEAD OF THE HUMAN RIGHTS CENTRE ZMINA IN UKRAINE: These are most tragic days in the life of modern Ukraine that we are experiencing now. I came from Ukraine several days ago to meet here in the UN different nations and to tell them what we are fixing on the ground. And we see that Russia uses the tactic of mass terror and Russian armies committing numerous war crimes. And this is happening because their initial plan to conquer Ukraine with just within a few days failed.

So now their strategy is to terrify local population. And we document a lot of deliberate killings of civilians including children, and also destruction of the people's houses as they bomb hospitals, kindergartens, schools, that are most cases of looting and robbery on the territories that were taken by them. They use civilians as the shields.

There are mass graves in the cities like Mariupol or Booja (ph) near Kiev, because people just cannot even organize a funeral for the members of their family under the constant shooting so people are buried in mass graves and this is very difficult to see all of this even for experienced human rights defenders. We've been documenting human rights abuses and war crimes in the occupied Crimea since during the last eight years. But even for us is very difficult to work with this nightmare.

TAPPER: Yes, I can't imagine three weeks ago your entire country came under attack by Putin and the Russian military. You send us some photos of you working while sheltering in a subway station then you spent the night in an underground parking garage. Somebody even set up a screen for kids to watch a movie while sheltering from the Russian airstrikes. How jarring has this experience been to your personal life and your home?

PECHONCHIK: There is no even single place which is safe in Ukraine. You show the pictures and video from me, from other cities, from in in the western part of Ukraine. Several days -- several times a day, we hear as the air strike alarm and we have to go to the shelters, to Metro stations, to basements and there is all the time Russian bombing. That's why we think it's very important to protect Ukraine from the sky. Our own nation is very united. And we are we stand in Russian aggression for more than three weeks.

During this time they manage -- they didn't manage to occupied a big Ukrainian cities. They took only Kherson. And we are fighting them. But what we need is just the protection from the sky no-fly zone and we talked a lot with different countries. If they do not want to do it, what can they do? Instead of it can they provide us planes? Can they provide us anti-air airplane and anti-tank weaponry? We are fighting Putin's Russia alongside with Belarus alone. We are ready to do it. We just need equipment to continue our fight because we are protecting not only us. We protect all democratic countries in the world.

TAPPER: All right, Tetiana Pechonchik, thank you so much. When you get back to Ukraine, we hope that you stay safe. And we're praying for the people of Ukraine.

We're learning more about the consequences. President Biden laid out to the Chinese president if China helps Russia in its war against Ukraine and Ukrainian people. Also ahead, can the Terminator break through Russians iron curtain of propaganda. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our world lead, a critical video conference that lasted nearly two hours. President Joe Biden and China's Xi Jinping discussing for the first time since Russia's war against Ukraine broke out what's at stake. But as CNN's David Culver reports for us now from Shanghai. The ties between China and Russia run rather deep and they are seriously worrying U.S. officials.


DAVID CULVER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping meeting virtually Friday morning to discuss Russia's war in Ukraine.

According to Chinese state media CCTV, Xi told Biden China and the U.S. have a responsibility to work for peace, saying, quote, The world is neither peaceful nor tranquil. The Ukraine crisis is something we don't want to see. These two governments have grown used to combating one another and have traded barbs as Russia's Vladimir Putin has reigned misery on the people of Ukraine.

ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: China's already on the wrong side of history when it comes to Ukraine and the aggression being committed by Russia. The fact that it has not stood strongly against it.

ZHAO LIJIAN, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, FOREIGN MINISTRY INFORMATION DEPARTMENT OF CHINA (through translator): The remarks by the U.S. are slandering and smearing against China. Such remarks are not helpful for solving the problem.

CULVER: The world's two biggest single economies may have the power to stop the suffering, but Biden needs Xi to set parameters for Putin tricky since Xi once called Putin his best friend.


The two leaders have met more than 30 times and their countries have grown closer while becoming increasingly isolated from the west. Here the pair are seen happily sampling a traditional Chinese pancake. A few months later, they remade the dish with vodka and caviar. And just a month ago, China praised its no limits partnership with Russia at the Olympics U.S. officials boycotted.

The U.S. worries that any economic or military support China sends to Russia has the potential to change the balance on the battlefield and could take the sting out of the Western sanctions currently crippling Russia's economy. The White House said Friday's discussion included the two leaders agreed to maintain open lines of communication. China may see this as an opportunity to burnish its credentials as a major global player capable of stepping in and solving the geopolitical crisis.

YUN SUN, THE STIMSON CENTER DIRECTOR, CHINA PROGRAM: So neither leaning towards Russia nor leaning towards Ukraine, and instead try to present yourself as a neutral third party.

CULVER: As China's economy takes hits from a new wave of COVID-19 the worst since Wuhan 2020, economic blowback from the war in Ukraine is the last thing Beijing can afford. American officials have warned that China will pay a price if it does circumvent sanctions to do business with Russia, or helps Putin militarily.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: China has to make a decision for themselves about where they want to stand and how they want the history books to look at them and view their actions. And that is a decision for President Xi and the Chinese to make.

CULVER: President Biden right now hoping to get Xi to take on the role of Peacemaker.


CULVER: Jake, interesting to compare the readouts from both sides of the U.S. stressing that this was mostly about Ukraine, and Biden warning Xi of the consequences should China help Russia. Meantime, Chinese state media here is saying that Xi also brought up Taiwan which China considers as part of its sovereignty. And Xi pointed out that China-U.S. relations, in his opinion, have not yet emerged from the predicament created by the previous U.S. administration. He of course is referring to former President Trump, Jake. TAPPER: All right, David Culver in Shanghai for us. Thank you so much. Also in our world lead, the Terminator has a new target Russian disinformation.


ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, FORMER CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR: This is an illegal war. Your lives, your limbs, your futures, are being sacrificed for a senseless war condemned by the entire world.


TAPPER: Arnold Schwarzenegger is just one part of a wide cast of characters from digital activists in Ukraine and members of the U.S. State Department trying to circumvent Russian censorship and get the truth out about the war to the Russian people. Let's go straight to CNN's Kylie Atwood live rest of the State Department. Kylie, explain what this wide effort to combat Russian disinformation looks like?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's not any one actor or any one individual. It's not on any one platform or another. But it is a lot of different folks who are involved in this effort. And they are trying to crowd this space on many different platforms.

The U.S. government is involved. The State Department with a number of things to try and reach Russians, to try and reach Russian speakers in Europe who may be talking to their relatives in Russia.

One thing that they did days after the war broke out was to set up a State Department account on Telegram, that's a messaging system that is used by Russians. And they're saying messages that we have heard from the Biden administration over the last few weeks that this is Russia's war, that the Kremlin is putting out disinformation. But of course, they're saying it in a place where they think they could reach Russians.

We're also seeing individual hackers based in Ukraine and around the world, try and get involved in this effort to try and pierce this disinformation bubble that Putin has set up around and within Russia. And then of course, as you said, Arnold Schwarzenegger, individuals are getting involved here as well. And that video from him earlier this week, was quite something, it went on for about 10 minutes talking about his personal love for Russia, for the Russian people, the trips that he has made there. But he also made it very clear that this is an illegal war. And he questioned why young Russian men would want to put their lives on the line for such terror.

TAPPER: And once a department source told you none of this is a silver bullet. So what is the U.S. up against in terms of Russia's wall of sensor -- censorship and the ability to permeate it so the Russian people hear what's really going on?

ATWOOD: Yes, it's not easy. And you will hear experts talk about the fact that more needs to be done. What the State Department has done thus far is something but the intelligence community could potentially get involved. We don't know for their clandestine efforts, but there could be efforts of the like, and the problem here is that Russia is really cracking down on the information getting into the country. We know that Putin has banned Facebook, they've banned Twitter recently and Russians are using VPNs try and get on to those websites.


But we're also watching the fact that they are trying to also tap into places from outside of the country. And I think it's important to note that some of these hackers have actually gone after Russian news outlets. And what they've done is hack on to those websites and provide information, such as how many Russians had been killed during this war in Ukraine so that Russians who aren't actually using those VPN to get on websites from the outside or going to the websites that are state backed and actually seeing some information because these hackers are getting through, Jake.

TAPPER: Kylie Atwood at the State Department for us. Thank you so much. Let's discuss this with Republican Senator Mike Rounds in the great state of South Dakota. Senator Rounds sits on both the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator, let's start with President Biden's call with China's Xi Jinping. According to the White House, the President laid out the consequences for China, if it does end up supporting Russia's war on Ukraine with military economic assistance. If that happens, if the Chinese helped the Russians, what do you think the consequences should be for China?

SEN. MIKE ROUNDS (R-SD) FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Well, first of all, China will do whatever they think is right for China. They're not going to be looking at it in terms of what's right for Russia or for us, or for Ukraine. So the message from the President needs to be one that says that you will suffer economic consequences. He will be separated from the rest of the world will make it more difficult for you to trade.

In other words, we will make it so that they feel it economically and more distance from otherwise their customers or the people that they want to do business with.

Furthermore, we have the ability using our financial resources to separate them from the financial tools that they need in order to do those transactions. Those are all on the table. And I'm quite certain that the President laid those out to Xi Jinping today.

TAPPER: Even after the phone call with President Xi, the White House remains concerned worried that China is going to send the age of Russia economic or military, is there anything more that President Biden should be doing now other than outlining the specific steps as you just said?

ROUNDS: First thing that we need to do is to make sure that the Ukrainians have all of the resources that they need. And that means releasing as many of the military supplies as we possibly can, the additional equipment, taking care of the humanitarian needs that we've got there, and making China look at this and say, I wonder what happens if we actually look at militarily going after Taiwan? That is something that China is looking at right now. They're following this as an experiment. They're watching to see how the West responds, when you invade a country.

China's going to look at that and say, if we go after Taiwan, what are the consequences for us? Will Europe and the United States remain united? Will the western part, you know, will the West actually come after us the way that they come after Russia? And what about Taiwan itself? Are we making them strong right now? So that China has to think twice about the cost militarily? Should they decide to aggressively go after Taiwan?

TAPPER: In terms of the reporting, we just heard from CNN's Kylie Atwood at the State Department. What do you make of these efforts from the State Department to try to combat Russian disinformation? Are they doing enough to try to break through Russia's censorship?

ROUNDS: Well, I can't speak so much for what the State Department is doing. But when she talks about the VPN, and that availability, she's absolutely right, in that respect, that is what the Russians are going to have to use in order to get some information.

But this multitude of hackers that are out there right now, in some very ingenious ways can get in, and they can start breaking through and piercing through that shield that Putin has put up there.

The other thing I can tell you is, is that we have very, very good capabilities within the Department of Defense, and when it comes to using a waste to break through in terms of internet connectivity. But once you use that tool, once you use it to get in and to do something with it, then they realize that you've got that tool, so you want to be very sparing in using them and take them and use them only when you can really get a major win out of it. Or when it really does fit a long term plan.

TAPPER: You've been critical of the Biden administration for not getting resources to Ukrainians as quickly as possible. Are you satisfied with the White House's announcement this week of $800 million more, including drones and anti-aircraft systems? Are there other steps you'd like to see President Biden take care?

ROUNDS: There are more and -- there's more dollars been committed right now. He can do more in terms of releasing more. Remember, if things don't go the way that we want them to, if they start cutting off those supply lines, it makes it more difficult to get resupplies in and so we need to be moving that equipment which means the stingers and so forth in as quickly as possible.

The concern that we've got is if we lose those supply lines, you may very well have Ukrainians that are fighting that are standing their ground but if they don't have the equipment necessary already in their hands when those supply lines get stretched, then it's going to be very tough for them to do as much damage as they are right now.

[17:25:12] So right now we'd love to see more of the stingers. We'd love to see more of the javelins. We want more of the grenades that -- the grenade launchers that we're talking about. And one thing that when we talk about aircraft, it's really important that these drones have some from Turkey, some from the United States, some from some other countries. We try to get as many of those in as possible. Those have been extremely effective in taking out some of the Russian air defenses and long term we're going to have to take out as many of those as possible before the Ukrainian Air Force is going to be able to fly again.

TAPPER: Republican Senator Mike Rounds of South Dakota, thank you so much for your time. Really appreciate it. Coming up, they barely escaped Russia's terror in Ukraine but now they're facing a new fight at the U.S.-Mexico border. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our world lead, the United Nation says more than 3.2 million, 3.2 million Ukrainians have fled their country since Putin's brutal assault on the independent nation started just about three weeks ago. An estimated 90 percent of those who have fled are women and children. 2 million have gone to Poland, most have stayed there.

But as CNN's Lucy Kafanov reports for us now, that leaves more than 1 million displaced and often traumatized Ukrainian. Some are waiting on America's doorstep side by side with Russian dissenters as the U.S. is beginning to re-evaluate a pandemic era rule that blocks asylum seekers coming from Mexico.


LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At America's southern border, anguish and uncertainty for the war weary. Kristina was in Kyiv when Russia unleashed tear from the skies.

KRISTINA: I just wake up from bomb.

KAFANOV (voice-over): She fled first to Poland then France then Mexico, unable to bring her parents or brother along.

KRISTINA, UKRAINIAN ASYLUM SEEKER: They're just crying so much, just hugging so much. Goodbye and we don't know maybe they don't look each other anymore in this life.

KAFANOV (on-camera): Too much.

(voice-over): Traumatized, shaken waiting for a chance to apply for asylum in the U.S.

KRISTINA: Two weeks, two weeks.

KAFANOV (on-camera): Two weeks at this border and --

KRISTINA: Yes. KAFANOV (on-camera): -- you have not been able to cross --


KAFANOV (on-camera): -- despite the fact that you're fleeing (ph) more.

KRISTINA: Yes, and here we are currently third time.

KAFANOV (on-camera): Third time at this border.

KRISTINA: Yes. And we just tried to go there.

KAFANOV (voice-over): Sidgey Fenick (ph) Phoenix, his wife Yana (ph) and their two little ones fled Kharkiv as soon as the invasion began, before the Russians turn their home to rubble.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking Foreign Language)

KAFANOV (voice-over): He said they're really hoping they'll be able to cross.

The baby says he wants to go to America.

KAFANOV (voice-over): An unreachable dream for many, with the U.S. southern border largely closed off to asylum seekers for the past two years, thanks to a controversial Trump era COVID health order known as Title 42. Shortly after we spoke, Kristina and other Ukrainians were allowed to cross but they weren't the only one seeking refuge from Vladimir Putin's wrath.

(on-camera): There is confusion at the border here in Tijuana. We saw some Ukrainians allowed to enter including those that have been turned away several time. This group consists of mostly Russians. They have been here for days. Their fate remains uncertain.

Patia Yaden (ph) and then her two children came from St. Petersburg. Her husband was arrested for protesting the invasion hours after was announced. He feared prison or forced conscription into the war.

(on-camera): She caught the last Aeroflot flight to Mexico hoping to gain refuge and safe haven in the U.S.

(Speaking Foreign Language)

(on-camera): You tried to cross, what do they tell you?

(voice-over): She says they were promised entry then told to wait. Six days later, they remain in limbo. No access to funds because of sanctions. A Department of Homeland Security memo obtained by CNN instructs Customs and Border Protection officers to consider exempting Ukrainians from Title 42. An agency spokesman said other vulnerable individuals could be accepted on a case-by-case basis, but no other nationality was singled out in the new guidance.

AGATHA, UKRAINIAN ASYLUM SEEKER: They told us that there is some limitations, they called it Title 42. Because of it, we cannot come in.

KAFANOV (voice-over): Agatha and her husband Ruslan (ph) were also part of Russia's opposition movement, having spent years organizing and protesting against Putin.

One of Ruslan's (ph) arrest was captured on camera. He describes threatening visits to his home and surveillance by police.

KAFANOV (on-camera): Are you scared for your life?

RUSLAN, UKRAINIAN ASYLUM SEEKER: (Speaking Foreign Language).

KAFANOV (voice-over): But this they tell me may have gone too far. Their efforts to organize protests against the war, calling it anything but a special military operation now illegal in Russia.

AGATHA: They are also in a very bad situation. Once we return, we will be thrown to jail and anything can happen to us.


KAFANOV: And, Jake, we've asked the Department of Homeland Security whether there will be an exception made for the Russians fleeing Putin's oppression. They said it's going to be decided on a case-by- case basis. But take a look behind me. A lot of these families are still here. Most of them are from Russia. Their numbers have grown, they have not been given the opportunity to even plead their case.

And critics say this raises a bigger issue, that Title 42 is being used selectively for the U.S. to decide which groups of people, which humans will be allowed to claim asylum. Jake?

TAPPER: Lucy Kafanov in Tijuana, thank you so much for that report.

Coming up next, how an American combat veteran is helping Ukrainian teachers, ballet dancers and high school students who are getting ready for battle. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our world lead, Ukrainian teachers and dancers and high school students uprooted from their daily lives and preparing for battle on the frontlines in Ukraine to protect their home country.

CNN's Scott McLean joins a first aid class now in Lviv where a U.S. veteran with decades of work experience is arming Ukrainians with lifesaving knowledge.


SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the kind of lesson that few people want to have to teach and fewer want to have to use in real life. It's basic first aid for a community coming to grips with the reality of war. MARIAN PAKHOLOK, CIVIL ENGINEER (through translation): I'm afraid because we are not prepared. I am not a professional soldier but I understand it is better to meet the enemy being prepared and with the right skills.

MCLEAN (voice-over): Dr. Robert Lim is an American war veteran working with the global surgical and medical support group. It's bringing medics, doctors and surgeons to Ukraine to train civilians. It seems fun now but these scenarios may soon become reality.


The civilian training held in a local gym attracts engineers, teachers, dancers, all kinds of professions and age groups, including high school students suddenly forced by the war to put their own plans on hold.

VIKTORIA HLADKA, HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: I don't understand and know when I will in future study, because now it's hard time and I don't know what can be tomorrow.

MCLEAN (voice-over): Lim is teaching people battlefield survival skills, and how to apply a tourniquet or how to keep an injured person breathing. With 23 years of experience as an army surgeon, he is also training doctors to prepare for the type of wounds rarely seen in civilians during peacetime.

DR. ROBERT LIM, VETERAN U.S. ARMY SURGEON: If you're in New York City or London or another big city, most of the injuries are blunt. So as a car accident or a fall or something like that, was most of the injuries in the battlefield are going to be penetrating wounds that might injure an artery or major vessel.

MCLEAN (voice-over): All with a small fraction of the resources they're used to.

LIM: Do what you can with what you've got.

MCLEAN (voice-over): In many parts of Ukraine, medical supplies and facilities are getting harder to come by. And in the worst hit areas, many hospitals are now operating in basements with only flashlights to avoid attracting Russian bomb.

Dr. Tania Boychuk is a dermatologist from Western Ukraine, one of dozens of medical professionals sharpening their skills for battle.

TANIA BOYCHUK, DERMATOLOGIST (through translation): In normal life, dermatologist do not provide first aid, do not stop bleeding, do not do tourniquets and punctures.

MCLEAN (voice-over): With her day job on hold, she's planning to join the military, and she won't wait for the fighting to come to her.

BOYCHUK (through translation): I plan to go to the war front. My close friends are where now and I want to be there too.

Scott McLean, CNN, Lviv, Ukraine.


TAPPER: And thanks to Scott McLean in Lviv.

U.S. history will be made next week. We're starting to see the Republican strategy for questioning Supreme Court Nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. What should you expect to see at her confirmation hearing? That's next.



TAPPER: In our politics lead today, Monday starts a pivotal and quite consequential week for the Biden administration's domestic agenda confirmation hearings are set to begin for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, Biden's picked to replace the retiring Justice Breyer on the U.S. Supreme Court. Republicans are sharpening their lines of attack against hearings attempting to drum up controversy over past rulings including her handling of sex crimes during her time as a judge.

Let's discuss with our analysts and contributors. And Ashley, let me start with you because Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, he began pushing this week the suggestion that Judge Jackson, in his view, is overly sympathetic to sex offenders in her judicial rulings. He said she has, quote, a pattern of letting child porn offenders off the hook.

Now as CNN -- our CNN team reviewed what he was saying and that shows that Jackson mostly followed the common judicial sentencing practices in these kinds of cases, and that Hawley seems to have taken some of her comments out of context. So what do you think this challenge does to her nomination? Is Hawley going to find supporters for what he's saying about her?

ASHLEY ALLISON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't know many people that would think that a Supreme Court nominee would actually be sympathetic to sex offenders and that the President would actually nominate someone like that, because Judge Jackson is not sympathetic to sex offenders. She is so qualified that he's throwing spaghetti at the wall.

And it's honestly typical Josh Hawley, I think he will be very performative during the hearing, as he usually is to get a lot of screen time, but I don't think it will actually stick. I'm not sure if she will get bipartisan support, but I think she is, even during some of the Obama nominations, one of the most qualified candidates that could potentially get some Republican support, and she should.

And we don't expect Josh Hawley, but I would just dismiss this claim because she's followed the law in many of her cases, not just in this issue.

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The question is certainly not whether or not she's followed the law. He brings up an interesting aspect of her judicial philosophy, right? Many are saying soft on crime, but the truth is, with her opinions, and many of her comments and a lot of her actions, she has suggested and represented the idea of downward departures for paedophiles of all things. And that's --

TAPPER: What do you mean downward departures?

STEWART: With regard to the sentencing guidelines, there's a range you can send it someone to with -- when you're a sex crime offender or paedophile --

TAPPER: Whether it's seven to 10 years and she --

STEWART: Right. She could go seek a downward departure closer to seven as opposed to 10 which is within her duty and her obligation to do so. But there's a question about seeking of downward departure for such criminals, also with regard to her support for abortions, pro-abortion issues and protecting the buffer zones at abortion clinics and representing GTMO detainees. These are valid parts of her judicial record that are subject to scrutiny and a confirmation.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: So our review of our people who cover the court and everything looked at this really carefully, and said that a review of what she had done showed that she followed the sentencing guidelines, which people agreed need to be looked at, generally, and so that she didn't do anything out of the ordinary. And I think this is a question of throwing the spaghetti against the wall.

Do you just want to make a huge deal about how she's soft? You know, she's soft on crime because don't forget, you have four potential Republican presidential candidates --


BORGER: -- sitting on this committee.


And the soft on crime for the Democrats seems to be something they're going to use all over. It's something Donald Trump like to use. It's something Republicans like to use. And if they can portray her as somebody, oh, she represented, you know, detainees in GTMO. Well, can you never have anyone who is a public defender assigned a client --


BORGER: -- represents someone?

TAPPER: Well, and the other thing when the White House was asked about this, Psaki, Jen Psaki, the White House Press Secretary suggested that Hawley has no ground to talk on to speak on this because he refused to say whether he would vote for Roy Moore, who was the Republican Senate candidate from Alabama who had been accused of sexually harassing underage girls.

I don't know that that really is responsive. It's certainly politically responsive, but it one is engaging in the kind of scrutiny of somebodies record, they're going to have to have more of a response, I think.

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And I think there's what this sort of out of the the blue comments by what Senator Josh Hawley has indicated is it shows just what Judge Jackson is in for in her confirmation hearing, to the extent that there has been kind of one common thread that Senate Republicans have discussed when it comes to Judge Jackson. It is the issue of crime.

Several Republicans have pointed to her service as a federal public defender, like we said her representation of GTMO detainees. I will point out, though, I talked to Senator John Kennedy, one of the Republicans on that committee, he told me he's actually very uncomfortable with those attacks, because he says, we've -- like attorneys have always represented people that we may not even like that.

But that is our job to provide our clients counsel. So there is some hesitation with Republicans on that committee. But --

TAPPER: And they haven't had a defender on the court since Thurgood Marshall.

KIM: Right. And she would actually be the first federal public defender on the court. So she's making a little bit of history there, should she be confirmed. So I think that, you know, the White House, Judge Jackson will take the weekend and take through Monday when the confirmation hearings start to really prepare for the answers. Because we know obviously, Josh Hawley will bring it up.

An aide to Senator Marsha Blackburn tells me she will bring it up. Senator Mike Lee has indicated that he would raise this issue as well. And I'm told that all the Republicans on the Judiciary Committee are very well aware of this research and could certainly bring it up themselves.

STEWART: And I think it's -- what we will see is that McConnell has really, I think, set the table for what we will expect to see a confirmation process of dignity and respect due to her impeccable judicial record. And she has a tremendous record of accomplishments, professionally and personally. And I don't expect to see any way shape or form character assassinations, like we've seen in the past. This will be about her record, and scrutinizing her judicial record is valid for a lifetime appointment.


ALLISON: Well, I just think, you know, Conservatives and Republic -- and Liberals have supported her. The Fraternal Order of Police usually don't endorse people who are technically soft on crime. And they were out the gate I think on the second day of her nomination. The Major City Chiefs, the sheriff's the, Cato Institute came out today in support of Judge Jackson.

I mean, she definitely has -- you don't have to agree with her on all the issues. But her integrity on how she applies the law, I think is pretty airtight.

BORGER: Well, and, you know, Mitch McConnell came out and said, look, she's probably going to get confirmed. You need just 51 votes. So he's sort of -- he said it. And so the question is, how far do Republicans want to go? Do they all agree how far they want to go?

The public right now is focused on a lot of other things including, of course, Ukraine, including their pocketbooks. They're worried about their future. They're worried about their families. And so the question is, how do Republicans do this? I don't think they all agree on what their strategy --

KIM: Right.

BORGER: -- ought to be.

KIM: And I can tell you, definitely, Republicans do not agree on how --

BORGER: Right.

KIM: -- far they should go.

BORGER: Right.

KIM: But I think broadly Republicans have acknowledged that they're most likely going to lose the confirmation battle, obviously, barring some major catastrophe on the White House's, and she will be confirmed most likely in early April --

TAPPER: In a bipartisan way, right?

KIM: Likely, yes. Susan Collins has voted for every Supreme Court Justice except for one, so she really wants to get to yes, if possible. But for some Republicans, it's all about kind of making the political case sort of make, as one adviser told me, they -- right now it's a political win for Democrats. They want to make it at least a political wash.

TAPPER: All right, thanks to all. Have a great weekend.

What's as tall as a 32-storey skyscraper, weighs more than 5 million pounds and takes eight hours to gas up? That's next.



TAPPER: Our out of this world lead, is still firmly planted on the ground for now. NASA's brand new moon rocket arrived at its launch pad earlier today after a nearly 11-hour trip from the assembly building in Florida. The SLS rocket, that's NASA speak for Space Launch System is as tall as a 32-storey skyscraper. In several weeks, that big rocket will be fueled up and NASA will count down to T minus 10 seconds and then without the engine's ever starting the fuel will be drained out and the rocket will be rolled back to the assembly building for more inspections.

Now, if all goes well, the next rollout will actually be for a trip to the moon this summer. But without any people on board.

Be sure to tune into this Sunday State of the Union. I'll be talking to the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas Greenfield, Retired General David Petraeus, plus Polish Ambassador to the United States Marek Magierowski and Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas. It's live at 9:00 a.m. at noon Eastern this Sunday.

Until then, you can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the TikTok at JakeTapper. You can tweet the show at TheLeadCNN. You can listen to our podcast wherever you get podcasts.

Our coverage now continues with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching. I'll see you on Sunday morning.