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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Lviv Mayor: Russian Strikes Kill 7 People, Wound 11; Interview With Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy; Zelenskyy On Military Aid: "It Needs To Come Fast"; U.S. To Start Training Ukrainian Forces On Using American Weapons; Federal Judge Strikes Down Mask Mandate For Public Transport. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired April 18, 2022 - 16:00   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Richard is the last CNN original who started with us in 1980. He is still in the hospital. Samira is resting at home.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: And we look forward to seeing them back here as soon as possible.

And THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER starts right now.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: Putin's forces are now targeting Western Ukraine in a way rarely seen in this invasion.

THE LEAD starts right now.

In a bit of relatively safe area of Ukraine, but now missile strikes have killed at least seven in Ukraine's western city of Lviv. CNN is on the ground. As new video may show one of Russia's weapons in action.

Plus, more of Jake's exclusive interview with Ukrainian President Zelenskyy. He is pushing back on concerns his troops would need months of training to use advanced weapons systems. He says send them quickly and they'll be prepared.

Also ahead, a sharp rebuke of the Biden administration's travel mask mandate. A federal judge's ruling this afternoon that could end the days of masks required on planes, trains and public transportation.


BROWN: Hello and welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Pamela Brown. Jake Tapper is off today.

We begin in Mariupol, Ukraine, described as, quote, hell on Earth by one Ukrainian marine commander. In an open letter to Pope Francis, begging for intervention, adding, quote, the time has come when praying is not enough.

Ukrainian forces in the besieged city rejecting a deadline to surrender to the Russians. A local official says Russian forces plan to seal the city off from entry or exit. Russian troops also battering the city of Kreminna, in Luhansk, part of the Donbas. A Ukrainian official says the town has now been lost amid heavy fighting there. Not even western Ukraine was spared today. This airborne Russian missile was one of at least four to hit the western city of Lviv.

As CNN's Matt Rivers reports, those strikes killed at least seven people and wounded 11, including a child.


MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Lviv has largely been spared the horrors of this war which made the black smoke in Monday's skies so unusual here.

We chased one such plume until we arrived at its source. Flames shooting out two of buildings as firefighters rain water down from above. Ukrainian officials say at least four missile strikes across Lviv on Monday morning, three of which hit military infrastructure sites. Another hitting just across the railroad tracks behind me.

Let me show you the impact crater from where that Russian missile struck, military and first responders on the scene quickly thereafter. The explosion destroying an auto repair shop. And a dozen or so cars lined up outside. The explosion shock waves blew out windows, more than 500 feet away.

Mariya Holovchak showed us her building's damage. I got very scared, she says, and I was scared the whole building was going to fall down. I don't know whether I should stay here in this building or if I should move to Poland and flee for my life.

Overall, the four strikes across the city killed at least seven people and injured about a dozen, including a child. Here scenes from a hospital treating victims of the strike who survived. Other victims in body bags outside the repair shop where they worked.

The owner says they were just getting ready to open up the business for the day when the missile struck. Four of his employees, he says, were killed and several others were sent to the hospital. What appears to be such an obvious nonmilitary target, it begs the question, was this a mistake by the Russian military, or was this place targeted on purpose?

The owner told us the only vague connection his shop had to the military was volunteering time to make sure cars being sent to soldiers at the front were in good shape. For him, this is just another example of Russian military brutality.

He says they destroy our infrastructure. They kill people. They want to kill and destroy the Ukrainian nation. Several of those who died have families with young children. So instead of leaving work to go home and see them, their bodies were taken to the morgue, more victims in a needless war.

(END VIDEOTAPE) RIVERS: And, Pamela, this is the first time in the Lviv region that citizens, ordinary people have been killed by a Russian missile strike. And it signifies something, according to the European Union's foreign policy chief who said in a statement today, in part, that because Lviv and other Western cities in Ukraine have been targeted by missiles it, quote, shows that no part of the country is spared from the Kremlin's senseless onslaught -- Pamela.

BROWN: Matt Rivers in Lviv, thank you.

So sad about all these kids now without their family members due to that strike in Lviv.

Ukrainian defense ministry spokesperson warns Russian troops have completed regrouping for their anticipated offensive operation in eastern Ukraine.

CNN chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward joins us live from Dnipro.

So, Clarissa, how intense has the fighting been in and around the Donbas?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Pamela, there's no question there has been a marked uptick in the intensity of the pummeling of these frontline towns in the Donbas region. That's in the Luhansk and Donetsk areas. These are regions that have been at war with Russian-backed separatists for eight years, but they are also not experienced to deal with this level of intensity.

Now we are hearing reports from some regional Ukrainian military authorities that they believe in a sense that this Russian offensive has already begun. That essentially they are trying to soften the ground and are now trying to push across the front lines as they launch this three-pronged attack. Coming down from the north, from the city of Izyum where there has been heavy fighting, pushing up from the south, and also trying to push in from the east.

I should add that Ukrainian forces have been fighting back. They have been launching counter-offenses. They claim that they took back several villages near Izyum. But in the past few days, we have traveled to a couple of towns in these areas. A lot of people are desperate to flee and simply don't know how to do that in terms of having the money, the means, the infrastructure to get out, people to look after their homes. Other people are simply refusing to leave because they have seen the scenes that have played out in areas that were held by Russian forces north of Kyiv. And they don't want to risk their homes being looted, their possessions being stolen, and their lives potentially being destroyed.

So it's a very difficult situation for Ukrainian authorities who are telling people to leave, but a lot of people still not heeding the call, despite the uptick in the intensity of fighting, Pamela.

BROWN: And a senior Ukrainian official says the town of Kreminna in Luhansk has been lost. Tell us what happened there. WARD: So essentially this was part of a Russian effort to push in, to

essentially move that front line and start to move in towards these Donbas areas that are really the focus of this offensive in the east. We are hearing that there was heavy, heavy fighting in Kreminna, street-to-street.

We've also heard reports that civilians again, as I just mentioned before, had not yet evacuated from that town in many cases. Because they were not ready to, because they weren't sure that the offensive was actually imminent. Some of them were trying to flee in a civilian vehicle that was allegedly marked that it had civilians in it. They came under fire and there were some casualties. We don't have exact numbers yet.

So the sense is that Ukrainian forces all along this front line now are fighting very hard to try to push back Russian forces. And the thing you hear again and again from all of those frontline defenders is that they are desperately in need of heavy weapons, ammunition and as much support as they can possibly get because Ukrainian forces are certainly stretched thin now with, as I mentioned, Russia trying to push in from three different sides, Pamela.

BROWN: They are stretched thin, but they're keeping up the fight.

Clarissa Ward reporting live from Dnipro, thank you and stay safe, Clarissa.

We're seeing new video from inside the besieged city of Mariupol by AFP showing civilians wandering the ruins of their home town. A senior U.S. defense official says the city is still contested at this hour.

In a part of his exclusive interview with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy you haven't yet seen, Jake Tapper asked about his troops' readiness for advanced weapon systems and about his push for countries to cut off Russian oil.

But we began with Zelenskyy's dire warning about the threat his troops face in Mariupol.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We wanted to take away the wounded. We talked about it being a humanitarian mission. Give us the wounded back.

We even made plans for Turkey to be a mediator and get the wounded civilians and the military. We don't let them out because we understand Russia wants to shoot them dead. They say they are ready to let all the military go if they surrender, but they are not going to surrender.

They don't want to do so. And this is why it is a complicated and tragic situation, because the military doesn't want to surrender. And, without it, Russians are not ready to let them go. And this sounds like the beginning of our war, what happened in Ilovaisk, when you can make an agreement with Russians to let them go unarmed, but, after, what they do is shoot them dead.


That is why no one trusts Russia now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: One of the things I hear from Western leaders is that your government asks for weapons that your military doesn't know how to use.

Is it better to have the highest, top-of-the-line, best equipment that your troops need to be trained, and that could take weeks, if not months, or is it better to have equipment that you know how to use that might not be as advanced?

ZELENSKYY (through translator): I believe that this issue is definitely not up to us.

I have heard many times from certain states that did not want to give us weapons quickly because our soldiers are not ready, from a technical standpoint, to use them. But instructors of such equipment, our instructors, will get our troops ready to fight in them.

If it is a plane, for example, pilots can be ready in two weeks, whether it is kamikaze drones, artillery, howitzers, or MLRS complexes. We have very smart people for this. We have had training with NATO countries. And I have heard these tall tales that we would need months to train our troops to use new tanks.

OK, give us a Soviet era tank. And then the country says, well, there is a small problem. The decision is made, but then must go through parliament. But there are people offering solutions, but it seems they are just self-serving.

So it is precisely not up to us. We are prepared to use any type of equipment. But it needs to be delivered very quickly. And we have the ability to learn how to use new equipment. But it needs to come fast.

TAPPER: One of the things you have been calling for is for the world to stop using Russian fuel, because that's what is paying for Putin's war.


TAPPER: About a third of Russian fuel comes through pipelines in Ukraine. Have you thought about stopping the pipeline? About a third of the gas comes through Ukraine.

ZELENSKYY (through translator): Yes, we understand this problem.

We understand how much money Russia makes on energy carriers. And, yes, first of all, we are calling for an oil embargo, because they make $1 billion a day on oil. And we are calling for a gas embargo afterwards. And we are fighting together and looking into these options.

This is transit. We have a transit agreement. That is why it is necessary to have an agreement between Europe and Russia, so they have an embargo on gas supply, and then there will be no transit.

We can't just stop the transit if they have deals with Europe, if Europe doesn't want to stop these contracts of gas. That's why we can't stop -- just stop the transit, because I spoke about it with some of European leaders. And I said then that, you don't afraid that they shoot?

If you want to know, to be very honest, Russia...

(through translator): Russia is shelling gas lines on purpose and wants to show that Ukraine can't maintain a constant supply of gas.

And our military are dying right next to that transit in nearby areas. This is how it is happening. To the east of our country, they install their groupings and are shelling civilian neighborhoods from these areas. And we can't shoot back, because they are located precisely at the spots where the gas pipeline is.

So, if we start shooting back, we can hit the gas pipeline. And this is what Russia is aiming at. They are trying to act this way in order to show that Ukraine is not able to safely supply gas. They are doing it, and they have been doing it for a while now, because they want an opportunity to reopen Nord Stream 2.

And we are constantly observing it. I talked about it to our European partners. I don't want to say what leaders I talked to. I told them, please put embargo on gas, please. We are ready to lose money. Money is not the most important thing for us. People are most important.


BROWN: Jake Tapper reporting there.

Our thanks to him for that interview. He will be back anchoring the show tomorrow.

Russia's invasion has left a ghost town in some parts of Ukraine.


What city leaders tell loyalists who stay behind.

Plus, a U.S. assessment picks up a build-up of Russian forces in southern Ukraine. What could the strategy mean for Putin's overall mission? I'll ask the Pentagon spokesman, ahead.


BROWN: Staying in our world lead, Russian forces are intensifying their bombardment of eastern Ukraine. Cruise missile strikes overnight in Kramatorsk damaging at least eight civilian buildings. The mayor is warning the Russian offensive could begin at any moment.

But as CNN's Ben Wedeman reports, many residents have decided to stay despite the danger.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The playgrounds are empty. There nor children here. The pigeons indifferent to the air raid siren and so it would seem, are the people.


I close my ears when I'm walking around, says Nicolay, because it's all the time. As fighting flairs to the east, north and south, the few residents left in Kramatorsk carry on.

The train station seen ten days ago of a Russian missile strike that left almost 60 dead is closed. Trains don't come here anymore. The buses, oddly enough, still run.

A deep hole marks where overnight a Russian missile struck. There were no injuries this time. Nearby, signs of an earlier bombing.

After almost two months of war, Konstantine is fatalistic. I'm not suicidal, he says, but as long as other people stay here, I'll stay here.

Kramatorsk's Mayor Oleksander Goncharenko is blunt about the perils his city faces.

MAYOR OLEKSANDR GONCHARENKO, KRAMATORSK, UKRAINE: It's not safe. It's dangerous in each part of the city. They can be attacked in every place of the city.

WEDEMAN: Alisa and her husband stroll through the city's main square.

ALISA KRAMATORSK RESIDENT: It's very bad and terrible, but we want to live in Ukraine.

WEDEMAN: For now, they have most of their city to themselves.

Under normal circumstances on a mild spring evening here in the main square in Kramatorsk, there would be lots of people here. Now, it's just me and the pigeons.

Curfew approaches and dogs abandoned by their owners roam the empty streets of an almost empty city.


WEDEMAN (on camera): The head of the regional administration in the Luhansk region says there is no safe place left in all of eastern Ukraine. That message oft repeated by so many officials in this part may never sink in until, perhaps, it's too late -- Pamela.

BROWN: Ben Wedeman in Kramatorsk, Ukraine, thank you, Ben.

And up next, inside Zelenskyy's inner circle. Why one of his closest advisers said the Ukrainian president is made for this moment.



BROWN: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is the single most visible face of Ukrainian resistance to the Russian war, he is rarely alone. In fact, he relies on one man in particular for support.

Back to Jake Tapper now from Ukraine.


TAPPER: Pamela, around the world and, of course, here in Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has taken on an almost iconic mythical status. His face is on shirts and handbags and chocolates. He's a hero everywhere.

To get some insight into the man, we talked to one of his closest friends and top aides, Andriy Yermak, who has been by his side for years. After we sat down with President Zelenskyy, we sat down with Yermak, and here is our discussion.

(voice-over): Before he became chief of staff to a celebrated wartime president, 50-year-old Andriy Yermak was a lawyer and filmmaker.

His close friend Volodymyr Zelenskyy, an entertainment executive and well-known actor. Now just two years into his cabinet position, Yermak and Zelenskyy are fighting a war on the world's stage. And Yermak says this is exactly where they are meant to be.

How did you get here?

ANDRIY YERMAK, CHIEF OF STAFF TO VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY: I can say, first of all, I have my real profession is a lawyer. Yes, of course, I am some period of time, I'm in the parallel -- I work like a movie producers. But if we are talking about Volodymyr Zelenskyy, I can say, first of all, it's a very simple understanding of him.

I think just this very tragic situation and this terrible war in Ukraine show for all the world that he's a real leader. He is a leader, and he is the person who is coming to this politics career for one reason, to change our country.

Maybe two years ago I said in some interview that I am sure that our president will be the leader as minimum of our part of Europe and maybe more. A lot of critics was here, a lot of politics, just Ukrainians said, what is it? It's like a joke. But now it's all these people understand that it's true.

TAPPER: Russian forces have put Zelenskyy's leadership to the test with near-constant shelling, including in and around Ukraine's capital, Kyiv.

When the invasion began, and the United States offered President Zelenskyy a way out of the country, he said, I don't need a ride. I need ammunition. Was there ever a moment where he thought of leaving just to save his own life or the life of his family? [16:30:05]

YERMAK: No, no. I didn't -- I came to the office in the morning of the 24th. The president already was in his cabinet. And all those 50 days, he's in the office of the president.

TAPPER: If he hadn't stayed, do you think this war would have gone differently? Do you think maybe the Ukrainian people found inspiration in fighting because he stayed, too?

YERMAK: Absolutely, 100 percent. It was so important. We here in the office of the president and other government bodies, we are working. It's our obligations. I think it's heroic -- it is real heroes, it's the people who -- it's our soldiers, it's our army.

TAPPER (voice-over): Of course, the Ukrainian army was never supposed to be in this position with Russia. Now repeatedly violated agreement in the 1990s was meant to keep the two nations at peace, at least in theory.

Let's talk about the Budapest memorandum. Ukraine agreed to give up its nuclear weapons in a deal with the United States and Russia in which it was pledged that nobody would infringe on Ukraine's territorial sovereignty. Obviously, Russia has violated that. Do you think the United States has also violated that by not doing more to stand up for the Ukrainian sovereignty that the U.S. said it would stand up for?

YERMAK: No. Of course, violation of Russia of our, not just started in the 24th of February of this year. It started from --

TAPPER: Crimea, yeah.

YERMAK: -- the invasion of Crimea and then they were in Donbas. I think that it happened because we were a very young country. We was a very young independent country. We have not this experience.

TAPPER: The experience. But not the NATO membership and not the protected air space Zelenskyy has asked for.

While the international community has given massive financial backing to Ukraine, including more than $14 billion from the U.S., Yermak says the U.S. needs a new system.

YERMAK: All systems of the security not work and I can say not exist. Of course, we do our best to talk with our part with the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Turkey, with other countries to create this new system. And of course, after this war, after this heroic fightings of Ukrainian nations, we have absolutely rights not just to be a part of the new system but to be in the center and be one of the leaders of this new system of the security.

TAPPER: As a film producer, one of Andriy Yermak's most famous movies was called "The Fight Rules: Your Spirit is Your Weapon", now waging a real life fight, a real life war. That title could not be more appropriate. Jake Tapper in Ukraine. Back to you.


BROWN: So true. Jake Tapper, thanks so much.

What the White House just said about the possibilities of President Biden traveling to Ukraine during this Russian invasion, up next.



BROWN: In our politics lead, the United States just sent four planes full of military aid for Ukraine as part of the latest $800 million security assistance package. According to a senior defense official, another load is now on its way right now.

But President Zelenskyy telling Jake that the latest package still false short, and, quote, enough isn't possible.

Chief White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins joins us live.

So, Kaitlan, President Zelenskyy said he wanted President Biden to visit Ukraine. Is there any change in the White House position on that?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. And he said, ultimately, he believes President Biden will visit Ukraine. But whether or not that will happen any time soon, Pamela, seems very unlikely based on what we just heard from the White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, who said it still remains in place that there are no plans for President Biden to visit Ukraine and right now their focus is elsewhere.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There are no plans for the president to go. So, let me just reiterate that. But we would not outline from here or anywhere from the government who, if and when for security reasons. We wouldn't have any details to preview regardless.


COLLINS: So that comment there at the end, not about President Biden but that's something we have heard. There are discussions behind the scenes here at the White House. Maybe they would send Defense Secretary Austin or Secretary of State Blinken. We should note, both of them are in Washington today having meetings.

So whether or not they are sent there, she is saying because of security reasons, they likely won't disclose it before they would arrive. But right now, despite this hope by President Zelenskyy, they said there are no plans for that. What is the big thing behind that is the logistics of getting the president there. There have been a lot of questions about this ever since Boris Johnson ever visited Ukraine. BROWN: Yeah, certainly. What did Press Secretary Jen Psaki say when

you asked about making Russia a state sponsor of terrorism?

COLLINS: Yeah, this is a direct request that we are told Zelenskyy make to President Biden during a recent phone call that they had asking him to basically make Russia this pariah, putting them on a list that very few other nations are on, really a handful and make them a state sponsor of terrorism.

And so, the White House doesn't seem to be actively considering that right now. They said would it come from the State Department. It would it take a methodical process to look at that, to make that determination that they belong on that list with places like Cuba and Iran.


So it doesn't seem they've made that decision yet. They don't have anything to announce. But Jen Psaki noted that making them a state sponsor of terrorism, that would prompt sanctions and blocking them from certain exports are measures that the White House has already put in place to Russia as a response to their invasion of Ukraine.

BROWN: And Russia has warned that the U.S. -- consequences if America keeps articling Ukraine. That's notable given the military aid on its way over there. What are those consequences?

COLLINS: Well, the White House seems to think this is an empty threat from Russia. They warned of the unpredictable consequences without saying what it was. In this memo that Russia sent late last week, of course, clearly, the White House seems undeterred by this warning because they continued with the shipments.

The day after they got that warning from Russia last Tuesday was the day that President Biden announced this $800 million military package that includes a lot heavier duty stuff than previous packages the United States has sent. What we heard from the Pentagon today, since that announcement, four flights of that military aid have made their way into Ukraine. Four shipments, I should note, of that military aid. They believe a fifth will arrive in the next 24 hours or so.

And the Pentagon also said today, they are preparing to train Ukrainian forces on some of the artillery systems they've included in that latest package training a small subset so they can go back into Ukraine and train other forces. So, despite the warning from Russia, these shipments are still continuing.

BROWN: All right. Kaitlan Collins, live for us from the White House -- thanks, Kaitlan.

And coming up, I'm going to speak to the Pentagon spokesman about the possible new strategy the U.S. is assessing from Russia's actions in southern Ukraine. What it may take for Ukrainians to prevent a takeover.


BROWN: And we're back with our world lead. The Defense Department will start training Ukrainian defense forces on how to use American howitzers. Eighteen of the powerful pieces of towed artillery are in the latest $800 million U.S. assistance package.

And Pentagon press secretary, Admiral John Kirby, says he expects the training won't take long. He joins us now.

Hi, Admiral.

So, let's talk about what is going on in Mariupol. Ukrainian forces and civilians have dug in at a steel plant in four square miles around the besieged city. Russia says any further resistance means, quote, all of them will be eliminated.

What is the U.S. assessment on how long Ukrainians can keep hold of it?

JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: Very difficult to know with any certainty, Pamela. The Ukrainians continue to fight for Mariupol. It's an important city for them economically, culturally, and they're still in the city. They're still fighting for it.

But, of course, the Russians had done a lot to devastate that city. To rain down air strikes and artillery on Mariupol, and they, too, have forces inside the city.

So very difficult to know how many longer this fighting will go but we've seen no sign out of the Ukrainians that they're not willing to continue to defend that city.

BROWN: But do you think it is inevitable that the city will fall to the Russians?

KIRBY: No, I don't, actually. I mean, I know, you know, because they have superiority from the air. They have superiority on the ground. But the Ukrainians have held on to Mariupol for a long time, longer than people thought.

And I think if we've learned nothing out of the last 54, 55 days of warfare in Ukraine, it is that nothing is inevitable. The Ukrainians continue to fight for that city and we're doing the best we can to get them the kinds of security stance, the weapons systems they need to do that.

BROWN: They've certainly shown the will to fight. If Mariupol does fall, emphasis on if, and Russians have control of that region, how crippling will it be for Ukraine if Russia has complete control practically of that land bridge to Crimea?

KIRBY: Well, you just answered part of the question right there. It would give them a land bridge to Crimea. That's part of why they want it so bad. The other thing it would do for them, Pamela, is give them an anchor

on the southern part of that Donbas region. The southern part of eastern Ukraine and allow them to put more pressure on the Ukrainian forces in the Donbas, and, again, still trying to defend that part of their country from Russian advances. And we are seeing signs the Russians are moving in more elements, moving in more troops, moving in more helicopters to try to playing big a offensive their in Donbas.

So having Mariupol would not only allow the Russians geographic, southern geographic place to launch operations in the Donbas but it would free up battalion tactical groups, several of them that they have dedicated to Mariupol. They could move forth to reinforce forces there. So you can understand, just looking at the map, why the Russians are fighting as well so hard for Mariupol.

BROWN: You mentioned the Donbas. In fact, moments ago, we just heard from President Zelenskyy that the fighting has begun. What can you tell us about this newest from in the war?

KIRBY: Well, there's been fighting there for eight years, certainly since the beginning of this invasion, the Russians and Ukrainians. This is part of the country where terrain, they're both familiar with. They've been fighting there for a long time.

Again, we've seen the Russians reinforce their forces there. They've added some battalion tactical groups into the region. They've added helicopter, artillery support, and there have been offensives near the Donetsk area where the Ukrainians we believe have taken back towns and villages from the Russians.


So there is active fighting going on right now.

BROWN: We know the administration has said no to a no-fly zone. But would the administration consider doing something similar to that in the waters around Ukraine? Like an embargo around Ukraine?

KIRBY: Look, I think that the president has been very clear, Pamela. There's not going to be U.S. troops fighting in Ukraine and that would include the skies over Ukraine. And I see no indication that there would be a need for the United States to get involved in the maritime environment around Ukraine.

What we are trying to do is bolster the Ukrainian coastal defense capabilities. Not just us. Other countries are helping with cruise missiles and defensive weapons. We have also in this latest package that the president just authorized last week, included some unmanned surface vehicles that can help them with coastal defense capabilities.

So, we are trying to do the best we can to help them in the maritime environment, in the Sea of Azov, in the Black Sea, because again, we know the Russians are using the maritime environment to help reinforce their own invasion.

BROWN: What I hear from you is there will be no U.S. involvement in the waters there.

KIRBY: I know of no indication that we would be doing that.

BROWN: OK. A European Union official says the most recent Russian attacks on Lviv means nowhere is safe. That aggression in the west is always inching toward the door step of NATO countries. What do you make of the attack on Lviv and how it raises the stakes for something like that happening?

KIRBY: We've said from almost the beginning, that places like Kyiv and Lviv are going to be under threat by the Russians, by the air strike capability, the missile strike capability that they have available to them. It is difficult to know exactly what they were trying to achieve in Kyiv and Lviv with the strikes over the weekend. We largely assessed they were going after military or military-related targets.

But the vast preponderance are happening in the east, predominantly on Mariupol but also. In area of the Donbas where we know the Ukrainians have many troops and many formations.

BROWN: Zelenskyy says going back to what he has been saying, he wants President Biden to go to Ukraine. He just had an exclusive sit-down with my colleague, Jake Tapper.

KIRBY: Yeah.

BROWN: There are no official White House plans. Do you think it is a good idea for Secretary Austin to go?

KIRBY: Well, I don't want to get ahead of travel that hasn't been decided or announced. I think you can understand we want to be careful there. But as you saw over the weekend, Kyiv did receive air strikes. I mean, Kyiv is not out of the threat environment here with respect to Russian capabilities.

So, you know, look, any potential visit, and I'm not previewing one here today. But any one, we have to take force protection and security as a premium concern and make sure that we can only execute this in a safe way, not just for whatever principal goes, whatever U.S. official goes, but for the Ukrainian people themselves. We wouldn't want to put them at greater risk.

As we saw over the weekend, Kyiv is not out of the complete threat picture.

BROWN: So, is it fair to say the strikes in Kyiv more recently changed the calculation in sending a U.S. administration official?

KIRBY: Well, no decision has been made.

BROWN: Right. But did it change the calculation?

KIRBY: I think, look, we'll always be looking at the security environment before we make any kind of travel decision. And that's just -- that's just par for the course. BROWN: All right. I want to ask you very quickly. We heard this in

months, not years. What is the ultimate goal for the U.S. realistically?

KIRBY: Well, we want Ukraine to be whole and sovereign and free. We want their territorial integrity respected by Russia. We want the Russian attack and invasion and the war to end.

And that means we want Ukraine to win this fight and we're doing everything we can here at the Department of Defense to make sure they have the capabilities to do that. I mean, they have had enormous success so far. But there is still a lot of fighting ahead of them.

Because now, the Russians are going to be able to concentrate their vast amount of combat power on a smaller geographic area, one where they will have shorter lines of supply in the east than they did up in the north. We can expect that the fighting is going to be ugly. It's going to be bloody.

And as Chairman Milley said in front of Congress a week or so ago, it could be prolonged. How long? We don't know, but it's going to be a serious fight.

BROWN: All right. Admiral John Kirby, thank you.

KIRBY: My pleasure.

BROWN: So take it off or leave it on. A judge's ruling creates a gray area on masks required on airplanes and public transportation.



BROWN: In our national lead, it was a deadly holiday weekend of violence across the U.S., including at least ten mass shootings since Friday. In Pittsburgh, an urgent manhunt is underway for the suspect behind the house party shooting that left two 17-year-olds dead and at least eight others wounded by gunfire.

Authorities describe a chaotic scene as hundreds of people ran for their lives as more than 90 shots were fired inside the house. Dozens were injured after a pair of mass shootings in South Carolina, including one at a Columbia mall where at least nine suffered gun shot wounds. Police say the suspect in that shooting is now in custody.

So far this year, 144 mass shootings have been reported, according to the gun violence archive.

And turning now to our health lead, a federal judge has struck down the national mask mandate for airplanes and other public transportation. The Trump appointed judge in Florida says the CDC overstepped its authority in implementing the rule. The decision comes as airlines are experiencing a surge in spring travel.

But for those of you headed out on a trip, don't put your masks away just yet. The Justice Department can file an appeal and request an urgency order to keep it in place. The CDC recently recommended extended the masking rule until May 3rd.

You can follow me on Twitter @PamelaBrownCNN or tweet the show @TheLeadCNN. Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer and "THE SITUATION ROOM."