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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Ukrainian Officials: Russians Imprisoned Chernobyl Security Staff, Looted And Ransacked Power Plant; Ukraine: At Least 50 Killed In Russian Attack On Train Station; Aid Group Offers Plastic Window Covers For Damaged Homes; Russians Fleeing Persecution Burn Putin In Effigy; Russians Flee To Neighboring Country Georgia To Protest Putin; Satellite Imagery Shows Activity At North Korean Nuke Test Site; Poll: Nearly Half Of Americans Worried About Affording Food. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired April 08, 2022 - 17:00   ET




JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back to this special broadcast of THE LEAD live from Western Ukraine. I'm Jake Tapper. And I'm standing on a rooftop looking out on Lviv on day 44 of Russia's brutal invasion of this country.

We begin this hour with that horrific massacre of innocent civilians at the Kramatorsk train station, that's in the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine. The images we are about to bring you are graphic and disturbing but we feel it's important that you see the real horror of Putin's war. At least 50 people have been killed including five children and almost 100 people were injured, including more than 16 children according to Ukrainian officials.

This is a train station that 1000s of Ukrainians use every day to flee violence, just like this in Ukraine. And now it's a place of bloodstain, sidewalks and corpses and discarded suitcases. Suitcases their owners may very well never returned to claim. The attack comes as Ukrainian officials warn that Russian forces are preparing for a massive operation in eastern Ukraine.

Meanwhile, British intelligence says Putin's troops have fully withdrawn from Northern Ukraine to Belarus and to Russia, but the damage they have left behind the damage in their wake is devastating.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy today said that the situation in Borodianka, a Kyiv, suburb is, quote "much scarier" than the horrors uncovered in Bucha.

CNN is also getting an exclusive look at how Russians troop -- Russia's troops invaded Chernobyl's radioactive zone. Soldiers -- Russian soldiers may have been exposed to unhealthy levels of radiation during their month long occupation of that region. We'll have that story in a moment.

But first, CNN's Phil Black joins me here in Lviv with more on the train station attack in Kramatorsk.

And Phil, I want to read this reaction from French president, Emmanuel Macron. He said, quote, "Ukrainian civilians are fleeing the worst. Their weapons? Pushchairs, teddy bears and suitcases." Now he says quote, "Dozens are dead, hundreds wounded. This is abominable," unquote. So, what happens now?

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, with Russia planning a new imminent assault in the East, Jake, the Ukrainians have no choice, they must continue to encourage vast numbers of people to get out now while they still can. Today's attack proves the urgency. But it also proves the risk, how dangerous it is just to try and put your family on a train and get them to safety. This report has some very graphic images, but we think it's important to show.


BLACK (voice-over): For many who fear what is coming in eastern Ukraine, Kramatorsk Station has been a gateway to safety. Crowds of people have packed its platforms in recent days desperate to increase their distance from a region Russia says it will soon conquer with overwhelming force. Witnesses say 1000s came again on Friday morning. They sought safety, they couldn't escape the war.

These are the moments after a ballistic missile exploded at the station, after debris and shrapnel tore through the crowd. So many dead bodies, a person cries. Only children, just children.

When the screaming eventually stopped, the broken bodies of the innocent remained. We have to hide much of this scene. Most of those lying bleeding and still are women and children.

Survivors fled. We managed to contact some by phone while they sheltered together in a public building still scared and shaken.

This woman says she looked up when she thought she heard a plane then it exploded and everyone went down. This man says he heard the blast and through his body over his daughter.

The remains of the missile, the terrified and hurt so many crashed down near the station. Hand painted Russian words mark it side declaring the weapons avenging purpose. It says, for the children. The author and their intent are unknown. The result is yet another moment of horror in a war with endless capacity for taking and destroying innocent lives.



BLACK: So, once again, Jake, the world is blaming Russia for an atrocity in Ukraine. Once again, Russia is denying responsibility. The U.S. assessment is that this was a short-range ballistic missile fired from a Russian position inside Ukraine. The Ukrainian military says that missile was packed with cluster munitions. So small bomblets which spread out and explode across a wide area and which are banned in more than 100 countries.

TAPPER: All right, Phil, thank you so much for that grim report.

And Ukraine's North sits Chernobyl, that's the notorious side of the world's worst nuclear disaster back in 1986. The inoperative and radioactive former plant fell into the hands of Russian troops in late February at the beginning of this war, but last week, Russian forces announced their intention to withdraw. And now we are getting a firsthand look at just how much damage the Russians left behind. No other T.V. crew got access to Chernobyl since the Russians invaded until now.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen has our exclusive look.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Simply getting to the Chernobyl exclusion zone is a treacherous journey. Many streets and bridges destroyed we had to go off road crossing rivers on pontoon bridges. Finally, we reached the confinement dome of the power plant that blew up in 1986, the worst nuclear accident ever.

Russian troops invaded this area on the very first day of their war against Ukraine and took Chernobyl without much of a fight. Now that the Russians have left, Ukraine's interior minister, Denys Monastyrsky, took us to Chernobyl and what we found was troubling. The Russians imprisoned the security staff inside the plants own bomb shelter, the interior minister told us. No natural light, no fresh air, no communications.

(on camera): So the Russians kept 169 Ukrainians prisoner here at the entire time they held this place. And then when the Russians left, they looted and ransacked the place.

(voice-over): Among the prisoners, police officers, National Guard members and soldiers. Ukraine's interior minister tells me the Russians have now taken them to Russia and they don't know how they're doing.

When I arrived here, I was shocked, he says, but only once again realize that there are no good Russians and nothing good comes of Russians. It is always a story associated with victims, with blood and with violence.

What we see here is a vivid example of outrageous behavior at a nuclear facility. While the plant's technical staff was allowed to keep working, the Ukrainian say Russian troops were lacs with nuclear safety. And as we enter the area Russian troops stayed and worked in suddenly the dosimeters alarm goes off. Increased radiation levels.

They went to the Red Forest and brought the radiation here on their shoes these national guardsmen says everywhere else is normal only this floor is radioactive. I asked, everywhere is OK but here is not normal? Yes, he says, the radiation is increased here because they lived here and they went everywhere. On their shoes and clothes, I asked. Yes, and now they took the radiation with them. Let's get out of here, I say.

The so-called Red Forest is one of the most contaminated areas in the world, especially the soil. The Ukrainian government released this drone footage apparently showing that the Russians dug combat positions there. The operator of Ukraine's nuclear plants says those Russian soldiers could have been exposed to significant amounts of radiation.

We went to the edge of the Red Forest zone and found a Russian military food ration on the ground. When we hold the dosimeter close the radiation skyrockets to around 50 times above natural levels.

Ukraine says Russia's conduct in this war is a threat to nuclear safety in Europe.

(on camera): The Chernobyl nuclear power plant hasn't been in operation for years, but of course this confinement needs to be monitored 24/7. And also, there spent nuclear fuel in this compound as well.

(voice-over): And it's not only in Chernobyl, Russian troops also fired rockets at Europe's largest nuclear power plant near Zaporizhzhia in southern Ukraine and are now occupying it. Ukraine's Energy Minister tells me the international community must step in.

GERMAN GALUSHCHENKO, UKRAINIAN ENERGY MINISTER: I think it's dramatically impact and that is the really the act of nuclear terrorism of what they are they doing.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Chernobyl is close to the Belarusian border. The Russian army used this road as one of its main routes to attack Ukraine's capital.

The interior minister says his country needs more weapons to defend this border. Today, the border between totalitarianism and democracy passes behind our backs, he says. The border between freedom and oppression, we are ready to fight for it. And the Ukrainians fear they may have to fight here again soon as Russian President Vladimir Putin replenishes his forces continuing to put this nation and nuclear safety in Europe at risk.



PLEITGEN: And Jake, the Ukrainian Energy Minister, I talked to him for a while after that, and he said he believes it was absolutely crazy of the Russian troops to dig those positions inside one of the most contaminated places in the world. He believes that if those forces were there for an extended period of time, the Russians held that area for about a month that some of them might not actually have very long to live after going through that.

And of course, that doesn't bode well for the fact that the Russians still occupy another major nuclear power plant here in this country, the Zaporizhzhia power plant, which is the largest in Europe. The Ukrainians are saying they simply believe that the Russian military has absolutely no concept of nuclear safety whatsoever, Jake.

TAPPER: Fred Pleitgen live for us in Kyiv, thanks so much.

CNN's Nima Elbagir joins me now live here in the Lviv. She, of course, is our chief international investigative correspondent.

Let me just get your reaction to Fred's report there because you have the Ukrainian officials saying Russia's conduct in this war is a threat to nuclear safety and Europe. And then you heard the Ukrainian energy minister say that this is basically an act of nuclear terrorism. What do you think?

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we've seen consistently with Putin in this conflict is the intentionality with which he's evoking very specific fears. When you entrap 100 something employees who are tasked with keeping that functioning, then you're sending -- you're intentionally playing on the concerns that just the name Chernobyl evokes, right, the fears that people have both historically and in popular culture.

And while we, of course, are looking with horror at the fact that they're just marching in and out of that contaminated forest. But from a bigger picture perspective, what does it say when Putin is still holding on to another nuclear reactor, right? It says to the west, I have cards still to play.

TAPPER: And also just the callousness not even instructing the Russian troops, don't dig trenches in this radioactive dirt. I mean, that the callousness of the way -- look, I don't have sympathy for the Russian troops, but the callousness with which Putin is treating his own troops.

ELBAGIR: Well, he doesn't care about civilians, and he clearly does not care about his own men. And that's not a particularly good tactical way to engage in a conflict.

TAPPER: Yes. And then, of course, there was a missile strike in Kramatorsk. The train station was an evacuation hub. Thousands of people left that train station, they're trying to flee. We've been reporting now for days.

Ukrainian officials telling people in the Donbass region, there's going to be a major military operation in the east, please get out of there. The question, of course, was this a deliberate strike or not. At this point, I mean, it all seems fairly deliberate.

ELBAGIR: And it's almost impossible to not be deliberate, right, because it wasn't just where they struck the last remaining evacuation hub. They've also hit railway bridges to stop these terrified civilians from finding safety.

But it's also the weapons that they use. So they use the missile. And what's interesting is that we've already heard from U.S. defense officials saying, yes, this has confirmed U.S. -- Russian strike, apologies.


ELBAGIR: But they -- but on top of that, they put cluster munitions inside the missile.


ELBAGIR: Not only are cluster munitions band, but they also are intended to create the most damage. At a time when every single morning for the last few days, 1000s of people have been seeking refuge by that train station.


ELBAGIR: There is no way the message wasn't at a time when the drumbeat for investigations into Russian war crimes is growing. It sends a message of impotence in terms of the global community. You've had President Biden, you've had other world leaders saying Russia must be held to account. And then Russia does this.

TAPPER: Yes. And that's basically cluster munitions. For those who don't know, it's basically a professional version of the nail bombs that we saw when terrorists hit the London tube. It's just to kill and destroy as many people as possible, except it's designed by a military contractor.

Nima Elbagir, thank you so much. Always good to have you here for your insights.

Coming up, a critical port city in southern Ukraine is under fire. We're going to show you what's happening on the ground.

Plus, a former university becoming a safe haven for internally displaced people in Ukraine. We're going to show you and introduce you to Ukrainians forced to leave their homes at a moment's notice. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our world lead, the crucial Ukrainian port city of Odessa in the south is under a strict new curfew through Sunday morning. And as CNN's Ed Lavandera reports for us now, this comes as multiple Russian missile attacks struck just outside the city.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We are in a residential neighborhood on the northeast edge of Odessa, Ukraine, and this has been an area targeted twice in the last week by the Russian military with missile strikes. Last night around midnight, we heard three loud explosions followed by a barrage of air defense systems firing into the sky. Today, the Ukrainian military is saying that, quote, "infrastructure facilities were struck and that several people were injured." The Russian Minister of Defense is claiming that the attack actually struck a training facility, a military training facility for foreign fighters. Now, this is as close as we can get. The -- this area that was struck is several kilometers, several miles away from where we are standing. But because of roadblocks and checkpoints, the Ukrainian military officials here in this area are really blocking any kind of access to this area that has been targeted multiple times in the last week. And of course, this is an example of how the fight here in Ukraine is rapidly changing with this focus into eastern Ukraine and the south as well.



LAVANDERA: And Jake, we should also mention that just moments ago, once again here tonight in Odessa, we heard a loud explosion followed shortly after by some rounds of what we believe to be air defense systems firing into the air here tonight in Odessa. And all of this is prompting a city wide curfew that will go into place tomorrow night, Saturday night, and last into Monday morning. Normally, the curfews have been just in the overnight hours, but from Saturday night until Monday morning, this entire Odessa region will be under a mandatory curfew. They say it's due in large part -- Ukrainian officials here are saying it's due in large part to the attack at the train station in eastern Ukraine earlier today, Jake.

TAPPER: Ed Lavandera reporting live for us from Odessa, Ukraine. Thank you so much.

Joining us now to discuss, Yuri Levchenko is a former member of the Ukrainian parliament representing Kyiv. He's also the founder of UA Help, that's an organization that provides humanitarian aid and plastic window coverings for people whose homes had been hit by Russian shelling. Thanks so much for joining us.

We have some photos of these window coverings that your team offers.


TAPPER: Tell us about the people who come to you that need them.

LEVCHENKO: Well, basically what was happening was that Kyiv was being shelled and heavily bombed by the Russian forces in March, and this was happening across a couple of weeks. And we were approached at first by people from my districts where I used to be a member of parliament with some sort of -- asking for some sort of assistance to help them with a broken windows because their houses were intact but they couldn't live with them because they had no windows. And that's how the idea came to us to buy this plastic covering, this plastic sheeting unmasked in large scale and handed out to people which have their windows broken out.

And this started in my districts and just in one, like a couple of addresses, but then it branched over basically the whole of Kyiv, because unfortunately for about two weeks more, maybe more like closer to three weeks, Kyiv was constantly bombed by rocket attacks, by artillery, by other forms of shelling by the Russian forces. And this resulted in hundreds of housing -- houses being, well not destroyed, but being severely damaged and 1000s of citizens of Kyiv losing their windows.

So yes, so that's how I started and we were the only ones doing it. And even it's a bit of a interesting story that even the local government, the municipal government, our Mayor Klitschko was actually giving our phone number to whoever approached them for this assistance. Yes.

TAPPER: Yes, I mean, just for people who don't necessarily understand, it's freezing here. And so, in order to --

LEVCHENKO: Yes, yes, exactly.

TAPPER: -- still occupy your home, you need to have those window covers, because otherwise it would be inhospitable, otherwise, people would freeze to death. How long would it take theoretically to get a window properly replaced? Is that even possible right now in Ukraine?

LEVCHENKO: Well, that's the thing. I mean, it depend, of course, on the city. But if we're talking about cities which were under bombardment or are still under bombardment, yes, it's really impossible to do it currently. Kyiv now is better, because Kyiv is no longer under threat from any land forces. And so, life is returning to Kyiv with every day.

And I mean, with everyday Kyiv is less and less beginning to resemble a town under siege, so to speak, it's more starting to resemble the usual, the way it usually looks. And so, over the last couple of days, people have been able to get the services to actually get the windows back.

But if you're talking about Kharkiv, if we're talking about other cities which are still being bombarded, of course, this -- they don't have such services. And if you're looking about Kyiv two weeks ago, of course, didn't have such services either. And even now, I mean, it's still quite hard to get the relevant supplies and to get the relevant labor. Because you have to remember that more than half of Kyiv's population was evacuated or left.

TAPPER: What other supplies?


TAPPER: What other supplies do people tell you they need most right now, food, diapers, medicine?

LEVCHENKO: Well, yes, yes, yes. Exactly, yes. So, apart from, of course, so the window coverings is just one part of our work and it was actually like a separate project. What is ongoing and what people need all the time, especially people which are, let's say, they're not less protected, people with smaller incomes, pensioners, handicapped people, and so on, people need food, medicine, supplies for children and this is ongoing. We've been doing this from the beginning of March until now, this is never ending. So this is one part of our work.

And the second part of our work is also helping our troops at the front. So, for example, we started with helping members of our party because I'm head of our People's Power Party in Ukraine and we started helping with members of our party which got mobilized to the armed forces. But then, we all started -- decided to take a couple of separate brigades and help them, for example, the 43rd Artillery Brigade, which is really crucial -- which was really crucial in protecting Kyiv during the worst times, and now is crucial in the front -- on the front. And so we are providing that brigade with, for example --



LEVCHENKO: -- automobile parts, and food as well and many other things, which are necessary for them to be able to protect the us, people -- civilian people.

TAPPER: The group is UA Help, and the man is Yuri Levchenko, thank you so much for your time today. Really appreciate it.

LEVCHENKO: Thank you.

TAPPER: Still ahead, how one university in western Ukraine is trying to help families who have been forced to flee their homes. We talked to some of these internally displaced people. Hear their stories next.



TAPPER: We're back with our world lead, everyday thousands of Ukrainians were going to Kramatorsk train station trying to escape, trying to seek refuge out in western Ukraine where I'm standing. That was until a Russian strike killed dozens of innocent Ukrainian civilians there today. These Ukrainians were just a small number of the more than 7 million people that the International Organization for Migration says had been forced to leave their homes in Ukraine but are still here in the country.

We visited a university-turned shelter that has currently housing more than 700 of these internally displaced people from all over Ukraine. Each one of them has a unique view of this tragedy.


TAPPER (voice-over): Beneath the punching bags in this university gym in western Ukraine, those civilians able to flee their homes in the east and south and dodge the Russian military's relentless barrage are catching their breath. No one wants to be but it beats the alternative. And the stories they tell us reveal why they fled.

ANYA, FLED KYIV WITH HER DAUGHTER (through translation): We were very close to Irpin and it was very scary. The explosions were very loud. We spent two days in the basement. The kid was very scared and we decided to go.

TAPPER (voice-over): Anya, who once worked as a nanny, and her 1-year- old daughter Margarita, fled Kyiv on February 28th, with nothing but their documents and their dogs.

ANYA (through translation): We had to decide either bag or dog and we decided to take the dogs.

TAPPER (voice-over): The dogs too are a mother and daughter. The mattress is on this gym floor their home since March 1st. The fate of so many close to Anya, friends and Margarita's classmates, unknown.

ANYA (through translation): I have a lot of friends, including some of them which cannot be reached at this moment. You try to track them down on Facebook, but you see they don't come online, and it's scary.

TAPPER (voice-over): Anya has been able to connect with her husband still back east who now works for the local defense forces.

(on-camera): Is he fighting?

ANYA (through translation): Yes, in territorial defense.

TAPPER (on-camera): And how is he doing?

ANYA (through translation): It's better not to say.

TAPPER (on-camera): They come from Luhansk. They come from Donetsk. They come from Kharkiv. They come from Mariupol. They come from Kyiv. They come from Bucha to here, to this university, to this beat up old gymnasium just for a safe place away from Putin bombs and bullets.

YULIA LOZNITZA, UKRAINIAN SHELTERING IN LVIV (through translation): Putin is an a-hole.

TAPPER (voice-over): Yulia Loznitza who has called this mattress her home for one month as of today tries to brighten her small part of the gymnasium floor.

LOZNITZA (through translation): These are not even my things. It is hard to bear it, to have to wear someone else's clothes. That's why I like to have flowers to somehow make it comfortable and beautiful.

TAPPER (voice-over): Yulia was once an administrator for a chain of sushi restaurants. A chain that shut down after Kyiv came under attack. She fled in part because she needed to come somewhere where she could still buy vital medications for her aging mother, which she sends back through the still functioning post office Yulia lived once, just about six miles from Bucha the sight of so many atrocities.

LOZNITZA (through translation): It is hard to speak without crying because a lot of friends and colleagues leaving Irpin and Bucha. It is all impossible to imagine because it's so close and I might have known these people.

TAPPER (voice-over): She recently spoke with one of her friends, Alexei (ph).

LOZNITZA (through translation): The Russians couldn't open a cellar. So threw a grenade at the door and the girls were raped by the soldiers that entered the basement. I'm afraid to ask her more detail about it. I will know more when I meet her on the day of the victory.

TAPPER (voice-over): Her nephew's girlfriend is 18 and may have suffered a similar terror no one wants to talk about it.

(on-camera): Are you going to try to leave Ukraine?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): Yes.

TAPPER (voice-over): This 18-year-old did not want us to show his face or share his name. His parents live in a part of the Donbas region since taken over by Russians. He does not have the proper paperwork to return there. And communications from the area have been shut down. He is here with his phone and a few belongings all by himself.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): My parents are not allowed to leave the Russians.

TAPPER (voice-over): His father is a local fire chief, he says.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): He was forced to sign a contract with the Russians. He was given a choice either to lose all his property or to sign a contract to work with them.

TAPPER (voice-over): He was in Kharkiv when the shooting started. He spent 10 days sheltering in a subway then he fled here more than a month ago.


He wants to leave Ukraine but he turned 18, seven months ago, and he is not allowed to leave.

(on-camera): Fighting each man have to stay?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translation): Yes.

TAPPER (on-camera): It must be so tough to be on your own. You're just a kid.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): Yes, it's true. But I would like not to hear all the sirens and to try and live in peace.

TAPPER (voice-over): Just 18 on his own, with nothing. Unable to talk to his family, whom he may never see again. It is difficult to imagine but in Ukraine during Putin's war, this is what is considered relatively lucky.


TAPPER: Still ahead, the Republic of Georgia has become a refuge for Russians, Russians sickened by what their country is doing to Ukraine. We will take you to a Russian owned bar where only Putin haters are welcome. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our world lead, the Google search, how to leave Russia hit a 10-year high in Russia within a week of their invasion of Ukraine. It's difficult, of course, to calculate the exact number of Russians who have recently fled Putin's regime. But the exodus of activists, human rights defenders, political leaders, and just plain Russian citizens is a large and noticeable trend, that's according to the head of a pro-democracy foundation in the neighboring country of Georgia.

CNN's Matt Rivers now met Russians there who left everything they know behind in search of freedom from Putin's oppression.


MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Down into Tbilisi Side Street across from a church lies a bar called Grail, a holy place of sorts for a cold lager in a conversation. And bar owner Vincenty Alexeev, who is Russian says he's had one particular conversation a lot more lately.

VINCENTY ALEXEEV, RUSSIAN BAR OWNER IN TBILISI, GEORGIA: Hello, what are you doing here? I just moved two days ago. I just moved three days ago.

RIVERS (on-camera): So there's a lot more Russians coming in?


RIVERS (on-camera): And why are people leaving?

ALEXEEV: Why are people leaving? Because they're scared.

RIVERS (voice-over): We met about a half dozen such people here but one stood out. Alisa Kuznetsova left Russia with her husband, just a few days after the war began.

RIVERS (on-camera): You couldn't take it anymore after this invasion?

ALISA KUZNETSOVA, LEFT RUSSIA FOR GEORGIA AFTER INVASION: Yes. It was like an additional trigger. I just had to leave.

RIVERS (voice-over): The 33-year-old has long been a member of Russia's opposition in favor of democracy. She says, not Putin.

This is her being arrested in 2016 while she was working as an independent poll watcher in her hometown in Russia. She says pro-Putin authorities accused her of vague elections violations and held her in detention until voting ended. But the invasion was the final straw. Alisa could no longer live in Russia. Now in Georgia, she wants everyone to know what side she's on.

KUZNETSOVA: I'm just trying to take it in stride, signal as much as I can.

RIVERS (on-camera): With the Ukraine flag there?

(voice-over): It's a public show of support matched across Tbilisi. Ukraine flags fly all over in Georgia, a former Soviet republic also invaded by Putin's armies in 2008. Many here have deep sympathy for what Ukrainians are going through.

(on-camera): But it's not just about pro-Ukraine sentiment. It's also anti-Putin. So look at this coffee shop door, it says you are more than welcome here if you agree that Putin is a war criminal and respect the sovereignty of peaceful nations. Pretty clear how the owners of this store feel.

(voice-over): Another sign at the shop not far away, says in part, Putin is evil. If you do not agree with these statements, please do not come in. Many Russians in Georgia feel the same way. Some even taking part in recent protests where an effigy of Putin was burned. But there's sometimes grouped in with Putin and his supporters, nonetheless.

Over coffee the day after we met drinking out of cups emblazoned with Ukraine's colors, Alisa says that a cab driver told her recently that she was one of the good ones, because 90 percent of Russians should be hanged.

KUZNETSOVA: It's not nice knowing that you're the Nazis now.

RIVERS (voice-over): Back at the bar, every single Russian told us that the vast majority of Georgians had been kind and welcoming and that they're grateful to live in a freer place. Because everyone we spoke too also said, there'll be here for a while.

KUZNETSOVA: I love my life there. But I am not returning there anytime soon.


RIVERS: And Jake, Alisa says that she there speaks in English here or she asked people, Georgians, that she's speaking to if she can speak Russian and sometimes they just say no. According to the latest government statistics which are back from March 16, more than 30,000 Russians have crossed from Russia here into Georgia. And given that those figures are a couple of weeks old now, that number, Jake, has almost certainly risen.

TAPPER: Matt Rivers in Tbilisi, Georgia, thank you so much for that report.

Coming up, are the North Koreans preparing for another nuclear test? The tell-tale satellite images ahead.


[17:48:52] TAPPER: Staying in our world lead but moving east now to North Korea, the U.S. and allies say Kim Jong-un's regime could be preparing for its first underground nuclear weapons test since 2017. New satellite images show North Korea has resumed tunneling and construction activities at its remote nuclear test site.

CNN's Barbara Starr joins us now live from the Pentagon with more on this. Barbara, what are Pentagon officials telling you about how soon North Korea could be ready for another test?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, there are indications they say it could be ready in days. Let's put up that commercial satellite image that we have that shows the test site in the remote areas of North Korea. You will see there that there is a new tunnel now being dug by the North Koreans, clear evidence the U.S. says. They see the rock pile coming from under the mountain and this is a shorter tunnel.

The North Koreans could get to the precise place. They would need to detonate a nuclear test bomb underground. They could get there much more quickly. A State Department official saying that they are worried that by next Friday, April 15th, a major holiday in North Korea that the regime could mark the holiday either with a missile launch or resuming this underground nuclear testing for the first time since 2017 within a week potentially.


The Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby earlier today offered his assessment of the situation.


JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: We're well aware of the North Koreans, their efforts to advance their nuclear ambitions as well as to advance their ballistic missile capabilities. We have reacted to that, is just recently as a couple of weeks ago.

We don't need to hear threats and threatening comments from North Korean leaders to understand that the actual threat that Pyongyang represents to the peninsula and to the region, and that's why we're continuing to adjust our posture as needed.


STARR: So now, a waiting game into increasing amounts of intelligence are being collected. The U.S. watching the peninsula, obviously, very carefully, Jake.

TAPPER: So they're watching but is there any diplomatic path there? Is diplomacy with the Kim Jong-un's regime dead?

STARR: The -- it appears right now. It's certainly not even remotely warm. Both Pentagon and State Department officials say they have publicly and privately, the Biden administration, reached out to North Korea seeking diplomatic discussions, looking for a diplomatic path and there is silence. They have heard nothing back. Jake?

TAPPER: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you so much.

Coming up, soaring -- sorry -- soaring inflation hitting some of the most vulnerable Americans the hardest as food banks struggle to keep up with demand, that's next.



TAPPER: In our money lead, economies around the world are suffering as Putin's relentless war on Ukraine drags out. Before the war, global inflation was soaring. Now the United Nations says world food prices hit their highest levels ever in March. Back in the United States, food prices have been climbing all year. And as CNN's Gabe Cohen reports, some food banks are even rationing supplies.


GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Sabrina Faith is a mom on a mission.


COHEN (voice-over): To keep her pantry full. And her daughter Leila (ph) fed.

FAITH: It's been a doozy. No.

COHEN (voice-over): She's a delivery driver and part time student in Ohio, stretched thin by the rising costs of well, everything, especially gas and groceries. In the past year, the price of milk, eggs, meat, fish and fruit are all up at least 10 percent.

FAITH: It makes me feel insecure because I can't fail. You know, she has to eat.

COHEN (voice-over): More than one in 10 Americans are facing food hardship of 30 percent since August. A poll found nearly half of Americans are worried about affording enough to eat.

FAITH: Thank you.

COHEN (voice-over): So in recent months, Sabrina's turn to food pantries for the first time in her life.

FAITH: It means that I'm able to feed me and my daughter.

COHEN (voice-over): But food banks nationwide are in crisis. Demand is surging.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A highest February and March that we've ever had across our 20 counties.

COHEN (voice-over): But donations are plummeting and operating costs are way up. COHEN (on-camera): In several states, including Ohio, empty shelves are forcing pantries to ration supplies.

TYRA JACKSON, SECOND HARVEST FOOD BANK: And typically this would be completely full.

COHEN (voice-over): With bare donation bins, Second Harvest Food Bank in Springfield is giving families 20 percent less food.

JACKSON: They are not receiving one to two days worth of meals from the food bank.

COHEN (on-camera): Every week?

JACKSON: Every week.

COHEN (voice-over): Emily Lena's family relies on this food.

EMILY LENA, FOOD BANK CLIENT: If we didn't have this, we would probably be eating minimal.

COHEN (voice-over): Feeding America is 60,000 pantries and programs are now buying 58 percent more food to fill the gap. They're asking Congress for $900 million to keep food banks afloat.

CLAIRE BABINEAUX-FONTENOT, CEO, FEEDING AMERICA: And I'm very concerned that some of them are on the brink of closing and that without additional help that they will.

COHEN (voice-over): Meals on Wheels is also weathering price hikes on food and fuel with some programs cutting services or adding weightless.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good afternoon, good afternoon.

COHEN (voice-over): In Atlanta, around 150 seniors are in line.


COHEN (voice-over): Stella Stroud (ph) got off that list three months ago.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I knew I was in need for food, so I'm getting enough now.

COHEN (voice-over): This year, food costs are expected to rise another 5 percent with added pressure from the war in Ukraine and a looming global food crisis. It'll stretch these programs even further.

JACKSON: It is concerning because you just don't know.

COHEN (voice-over): Along with the families that desperately need their help.

FAITH: I just want to make sure that we can eat.


COHEN: And Jake, remember it's not just groceries and gas. Families are seeing price hikes on rent and health care plus the Child Tax Credit expired. So all of that, it's squeezing families and inscribing up food insecurity. Just as these food banks are facing their own turmoil. Jake?

TAPPER: Gabe Cohen, thanks so much for that report.

Join me Sunday for CNN State of the Union live from Ukraine. I'll have a joint interview with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen. Plus to sit down with Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney and much more, that's Sunday at 9:00 a.m. and noon Eastern right here on CNN.

You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the TikTok at JakeTapper. You can tweet the show at TheLeadCNN. If you ever miss an episode of the show, you can listen to THE LEAD wherever you get your podcasts. I'll be back at 9:00 p.m. Eastern for CNN tonight with more from Lviv and from our reporters on the frontlines of Putin's bloody invasion.

Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." I'll see you at 9:00 p.m. tonight.