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Don Lemon Tonight

Russia Accused Of Bombing Maternity and Children's Hospital; WH Warns Russia Could Use Chemical Weapons In Ukraine; Young Woman's Story Of Life In Kharkiv; Getting The Truth Of War To Russian People. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired March 09, 2022 - 23:00   ET




DON LEMON, CNN HOST: This is DON LEMON TONIGHT. Our breaking news, as Russia's bombardment of Ukraine turns bloodier by the day, the White House now warning Russia could decide to use chemical or biological weapons and Putin might even make up a false flag lie using them.

That warning coming as Russia is accused of bombing a maternity and children's hospital in Mariupol, the southern city that Russia has been pummeling for days.

And the refugee crisis in Ukraine growing. The U.N. saying more than two million people have fled the country since Russia's invasion began two weeks ago.

We're going to get straight now to Ukraine and CNN's Michael Holmes. He is live for us tonight in Lviv. Michael, these images are heartbreaking. A mother carried out on a stretcher by volunteers and then this pregnant woman all bloodied up trying to make her way down a damaged flight of stairs. What more are you making about this unfathomable attack at a maternity hospital?

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is outrageous, Don. There is outrage in this country, around the world for that matter at what happened at that hospital in Mariupol. The president of this country saying the bombing is proof of a genocide of Ukrainians. He said that in a video message posted to Telegram late on Wednesday night.

I want to just get the satellite photos up, Don. I know you have them. I think we can show a photo of the hospital before the attack, and then another image of the after, and in the eyes of the world, of this brutal and careless attack.

And the after -- just trying to get your head around the scale of that -- look at the person in there. There is a person in there. That shows you how huge these blasts were.

Russia, well, I guess they are just trying to get their message straight. You had the Russian ambassador to France. He said, essentially, it wasn't us. He said it wasn't Russia. The Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman incredibly accused Ukraine of using the hospital for combat positions and clearing out the patients.

But, as you say, the videos, photographs show otherwise that heavily pregnant woman being carried out after the bombing, staff as well, bodies being collected, there are images of that. It's pretty easy to make a denial or an accusation or a deflection, but the images really speak for themselves, Don.

LEMON: Horrifying. And more images, really, speaking for themselves. Incredibly disturbing images just in to CNN, but we feel it is important to show the true cost of war.

Michael, these are from a mass grave in Mariupol. Ukrainians are burying their dead. Horrifying.

HOLMES: It's unbelievable. It's a scene out of -- I don't know what. It is hard to watch. It is important to see. You know, on top of no water, no food, no electricity, there is the death toll. The mayor says 1,300 dead in Mariupol. He first said a few days ago or a week or so ago, it was dozens and hundreds, now it was into the thousands.

We can't confirm those numbers ourselves independently, but just look at the images. These people, Don, a few weeks ago were living normal lives. They were going to work. They were sending kids to school, going shopping.

The mayor had said in the past days that they hadn't been able to collect or bury the dead. Well, now, they can in mass graves, in trenches. Dehumanizing. Frankly, sickening. And, you know, thousands of the living are still trapped inside that ongoing hell, Don.

LEMON (on camera): Yeah. Michael Holmes will be anchoring our live coverage from Ukraine in about an hour. So, thank you, Michael. We appreciate it.

I want to play one of the calls for help in the moments right after the hospital was attacked. I have to warn you, again, this one is disturbing as well.


UNKNOWN (on-screen translation): We are on a maximum extend. Whatever cars you got, send them here.

UNKNOWN (on-screen translation): Airstrike. Maternity hospital.


LEMON (on camera): Joining me now is Oleksiy Sorokin. He is the politics editor for "The Kyiv Independent" currently in Western Ukraine.


We really appreciate you joining us. You've been reporting extensively on this war that is ripping apart your country. The images of the attack at a maternity hospital are just horrific, Oleksiy. But you said the whole city of Mariupol is getting destroyed. Talk to us about that. Tell us about what is going on.

OLEKSIY SOROKIN, POLITICS EDITOR, THE KYIV INDEPENDENT: Yes, the city of Mariupol is encircled by the Russian troops for the past seven or eight days. The city is cut off from food, water, medicine, doesn't have electricity. The city is -- was home to 400,000 people, now is on the verge of human (INAUDIBLE).

LEMON: Do people in cities like Mariupol, do they have enough food and enough water to survive right now? We've been getting reports from people who are there that people are even melting snow in order to have drinking water.

SOROKIN: According to our reports, there is not enough food and water. People have their -- everything, they had already done. So, that's why the mayor was pleading Russia for allowing a humanitarian corridor to mainland Ukraine.

Ukraine and Russians met for three times and the main collection (ph) was allowing a safe passage from Mariupol. And all those three times, Russia continued shelling. And now, we see horrible images from the maternity hospital, from the children's hospital, from the university destroyed.

So, Russia is continuing attacking the city and it looks like their main message is that they're not going to let people out.

LEMON: Oleksiy, you say that it is important to pay attention to the city of Mykolaiv. It is currently being encircled by Russian troops. Do Ukrainians have what they need to fight for this city?

SOROKIN: Yes. Currently, we looked that Russians are advancing in the south, and the regional capital of Mykolaiv is going to be the next hot spot.

According to the governor and the mayor of the city, the city is ready. The city is preparing. There are Ukrainian troops ready to defend the city.

But the city right now is going to be the most important part of Ukraine because it is a direct road to Odesa. Odesa is one of the largest Ukrainian cities, port city of Odesa. And also, if Mykolaiv falls, then basically there is a direct road to Kyiv.

LEMON: Hmm, wow! A senior official in Kyiv -- in the Kyiv region, I should say, there are cars lined up for miles as people try to escape. How hard is it for Ukrainians to leave Kyiv right now?

SOROKIN: It has been very hard to leave Kyiv since the start of the war. Kyiv was home to over three million people. Right now, we know that the Russians are stationed in the northwest suburbs of Kyiv. They're occupied.

There is also a humanitarian catastrophe there with people trying to flee Bucha, Irpin, (INAUDIBLE). Once -- those cities were once prosperous suburbs of Kyiv. So, people understand that Russians are close. They're trying to flee. And obviously, we see traffic jams to Western Ukraine. And some people tell me that it took them three days to travel from Kyiv to a safe haven in Western Ukraine.

LEMON: As of now, you're in a safer location, but you're still in a country at war. As you report on all the shelling in so many Ukrainian cities, do you worry that at some point, that nowhere will be safe? We were speaking to people who said, you know, we feel safer in Lviv or we feel safer here. But are we getting to a point -- are you getting to a point where nowhere is really safe?

SOROKIN: Well, despite Ukrainian victories and we know that Russians are facing substantial casualties, we also don't see Russia slowing down, we don't see that Russia is stopping. And unfortunately, we understand that Russia has more soldiers, more planes, more tanks. And if this continues, it a is a matter of time that all of Ukraine is going to be covered by war.

LEMON: Oleksiy, thank you. I appreciate you joining us. Please, be safe. Thanks so much.

SOROKIN: Thank you.

LEMON (on camera): So, we're getting some new video of fighting in the streets of the city in Southeastern Ukraine. This is from earlier today. Watch this.







LEMON (on camera): So, that was Ukrainian forces using soldier-fired missiles.

Joining me now is defense secretary -- the former defense secretary, William Cohen. Always happy to have you. I always learn so much from you. So, thank you, secretary. We appreciate it.

The Ukrainians are putting up really a pierce resistance. But today, we saw Putin's forces are willing to strike women and children in hospitals, babies, right? Unborn babies. And now, the White House is warning that Russia could use chemical weapons in Ukraine with a madman calling the shots. What can the rest of the world do?

WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: Well, we can hold the course. At this particular point, I can tell you, in this household, there are thousand tears that are shed every night. I've got members of my family who can't sleep and they're spread around the country. Everybody is touched to the core with heartbreak over what Putin is doing.

I think we have to be careful. I've heard a number of commentators say that this is just the way that Russia operates. This is their kind of war. When we normalize it saying this is how they do it, it becomes more acceptable, I guess, on the international stage. But this is not the way you do it in the 21st century. And this is barbarism at its very core. So, the rest of the world has to stand up and do what we can.

You know, I'm angry most of the time, but this is a cool medium. And anger is said to blow out the lamp of the mind. And I have to try to maintain, and hopefully all of our leaders, maintain as much control as we can under circumstances that are barbaric.

Right now, there is a debate that continues to rage, can we have a partial no fly-zone? I don't know how you define that. I don't know how you go from partial to full given the -- either the inexperience of the conscripts who are in the front lines or some of the generals who are now ordering these missile shots from 15, 20, 30 miles away.

I think what we have to do is continue to give the Ukrainian people as much support as we can, keep pouring in the air defense systems that we have and the stinger missiles and the ability to take out tanks with the javelin and other types of perhaps armed UAVs so that we can put them over the skies and see the Russian troops and hit them where they are but not putting aircraft in the air beyond what they have now as far as the Ukrainian Air Force.

So, I think we're trying to really thread the needle here, but it may come to a point in time where we're no longer able to say this is acceptable, this is a red line that you cannot cross.

Right now, Putin is the only one drawing red lines, saying, if you try to put any kind of air defense equipment in or aircraft in, that's a red line. So, he keeps drawing lines and we keep waiting to see how far he's going to go.

Should he use chemical weapons and he has done it before, they've had anthrax facilities, they produce VX, sarin gas and other types of chemicals, they've used them, he has used them, so we have to say -- I don't know if we'll draw a red line there, but that comes awfully close to a nuclear type of use on his part on a tactical basis.

LEMON: Well, he is also -- he has already raised the specter of the possibility of nuclear weapons. And now, there is this possibility that the White House is warning that, you know, he could use chemical weapons, and then -- but, listen, that's a possibility.

What we know right now is that he -- they bombed a maternity hospital. And Ukrainian President Zelenskyy says that the maternity hospital strike is proof, secretary, of genocide of Ukrainians. He has been pleading with NATO to establish the no-fly zone over Ukraine. I know the fear is triggering a wider war. But is there a point that this needs to be considered or as you said, you know, should we stay the course? Should America, should NATO, should everyone stay the course now and not even a partial, as you say, or a limited no-fly zone?

COHEN: Well, if someone can explain to me how you can construct a limited no-fly zone that doesn't spill over into a full scare --

LEMON: And one mistake with a limited no-fly zone can escalate into just something that's atrocious, but go on, please.

COHEN: (INAUDIBLE) is for the Russians to shoot at our limited no-fly zone to take one of our aircraft out or for us to take them out for Putin to then say, you have declared war against Russia, and then expand it.

Now, I don't know. As heartbroken as the American people are, I don't know how many of the American people would say it's time to risk going to war with Russia. Perhaps, he is just bluffing.


You know, there is an old expression that a bluff that's taken seriously can be helpful, but a threat that is not taken seriously can be catastrophic. A serious threat that we ignore.

I think we have to walk very carefully here before we say, Mr. Putin, you have crossed the line and now we're prepared to take action against your forces on the ground or your forces in the air. I think that's something that the American people will not support, and I don't think the American leadership is going to support that.

So, the question is, can we keep Ukraine people alive long enough for these sanctions to really hit the Russian people? Because that -- that is what is going to change this war, is when the Russian people see the truth.

When they see what their president is doing to their fellow citizens, committing, you know, fratricide and the potential of matricide in terms of mother earth, when they see this, because they're not seeing it now, when they see this, they will take to the streets in tens of thousands. And already, there are thousands of people who are risking going to the (INAUDIBLE) because they're demonstrating on streets of Russia.

So, I think we have to keep pressure up, intensify it if we can on the sanctions part of it. Sanctions won't change everything. They are going to make life very hard for the Russian people. And hopefully, they will take to the streets at that point.

LEMON: But I hope there is -- I hope there is -- let's -- I'm sure the people who are in Ukraine dealing with this are saying, that is going -- as you said, that is going to take time, and I don't know if time is really on their side at this point.

We'll have to talk to you more another time. Thank you, secretary. Appreciate you joining us this evening. Thanks so much.

Next, a young woman in Kharkiv documents what is happening in a city under constant attack and why she says it's harder to leave than to live with the bombardment.




LEMON (on camera): Millions of Ukrainians have now seen bombs and shelling near their homes like the citizens of Kharkiv, Ukraine's second largest city. A nearly (INAUDIBLE) bombardment has made it difficult for reporters to cover what is happening.

So, what are they going to see now? What you're going to see now, I should say, is rare and incredibly important. This is ITV News' Dan Rivers. He filed this report about one woman in the city who is using her camera to tell the story of her city under assault.


DAN RIVERS, ITV NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Kharkiv is increasingly resembling the 21st century Stalingrad. Only this time, it is Russia laying siege to a city which is defiantly resisting. Somehow, amid all this, its residents are surviving.

The day after a missile slammed into Kharkiv's town hall, we asked a resident of this city, Annassia Para-skay-vova, to document what is happening to her home.

ANNASSIA PARA-SKAY-VOVA, KHARKIV RESIDENT: My city, Kharkiv, is under constant attack, bombings, rocket fire, artillery fire all day, non- stop. Just today, four Russian warplanes flew near my house.

RIVERS (voice-over): Annassia is trying to keep her body, mind, and soul together with her family in their apartment where they're sheltering from the bombs.

PARA-SKAY-VOVA (voice-over): This is our hiding place. It's (INAUDIBLE) area between two walls with no windows. We also have a little bit of space for our bunny rabbit.

(On camera): I just found out Russians have bombed my favorite place in Kharkiv. I feel really angry.

(Voice-over): Look what they've done. I celebrated my birthday one time in this bar.

RIVERS (voice-over): As the siege tightens, so Annassia's struggle to survive, forces her to venture outside.

PARA-SKAY-VOVA (on camera): Me and my sister are going to pick some water. My sister is going to fill this bottle. All set.

So, the elevator is not working for 10 ten days now. So, we need to walk upstairs, go, go. This is how we do it.

RIVERS (voice-over): Annassia's sleep is now often interrupted by the sound of warplanes circling as the bombing of Kharkiv intensifies.

PARA-SKAY-VOVA (on camera): Have some good news. My family is alive. I am alive. My house is still standing. My friends are okay. No one I personally know have yet died during Russian invasion of Ukraine. I have electricity, drinking water, some food. Not much but enough.

RIVERS (voice-over): Each day, the bombs are falling closer. This is the university sports complex.

PARA-SKAY-VOVA (voice-over): We heard very loud explosion. The door shook and windows, too. And this was it.


Apocalypse now. And among the ruins, we have found a little dog. Look at him. My sister says he's really trembling really hard.

(On camera): Last night was probably the most terrifying night of my life. Kharkiv was terribly bombarded last night. Airstrikes all over the city. Dozens of buildings destroyed. Civilian buildings where people live. Just --

(Voice-over): I'm not going to take much because I'm hoping I will return soon enough. My sister says it's like going on a trip but an awful one, I guess.

(On camera): So, as my parents can no longer withstand it, the constant bombing, especially after last night, which was truly a terrifying thing, we are going to leave. If we live that long, of course.

So, I don't want to leave, and I want to be living in Ukraine. We will be moving to somewhere just farther away from Russian border. I don't know why, but being bombarded is easier than leaving your home.


LEMON (on camera): Dan Rivers of ITV News, thanks for that report. Russia attacking civilian targets as Ukrainians try to hold on to key cities. How long will they be able to withstand Putin's assault?




LEMON: Russian missiles and airstrikes reeking havoc and targeting Ukrainian civilian infrastructure. In the north, one mayor says that the latest airstrike hit a power plant and a civilian building in the city.

A horrific bombing in Mariupol targeting a maternity and children's hospital, according to Ukrainian authorities.

And President Zelensky renewing his pleas for a no-fly zone.

Joining me now to discuss is CNN military analyst and retired Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton. Colonel, thank you for joining us once again. Russian forces bombarding Mariupol after they isolated the city in recent days. This is a strategically critical location for the invaders. How long can the defenders hold out?

CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST, RETIRED AIR FORCE COLONEL: Don, that's a really big question for them. Mariupol is right here, right on the coast of the Sea of Azov and it right between the separatists' areas and this new area that the Russians have occupied once they've moved north from Crimea.

So, what this means is the Russians are moving to that land bridge that they were talking about from the very beginning. They want this land bridge in order to cut off every single part of Ukraine's access to the Sea of Azov.

How long can Mariupol hold out? I -- it's probably a matter of days, unfortunately, based on the number of bombing raids that we've seen and the number of rocket attacks and missile attacks against the city and basically the pounding of that city through these means as well as the number of troops that are there. So, it's going to be a matter of days, I'm afraid.

LEMON: So, the scenes at the hospital, I mean, colonel, they are heartbreaking. Civilian locations like this, they're supposed to be avoided by any responsible military. Am I wrong with that?

LEIGHTON: Not at all. You're absolutely right, Don. In fact, the laws of war very explicitly state that civilian hospitals, any type of institution of care, any type of structure that helps people live their lives cannot be attacked and that's a key element of the laws of war. They have been violated in this case.

LEMON: We are getting this new video tonight of street fighting in Voznesensk, which is more than 50 miles north of the city of Mykolaiv. What does it mean that Russian soldiers are moving into that area?

LEIGHTON: So, the city of Voznesensk right here is just to the northwest of Kherson. So, what is happening here is very interesting because the Russians have two ways of going. They can either go this way toward Odesa, which is right about here, or they can go north towards Kyiv.


The main roadway that exists between Kherson and Kyiv goes right through this area. This is going to be another path that the Russians can take to go towards Kyiv and circle the capital of Ukraine.

LEMON: I mentioned airstrikes in the city west of Kyiv earlier. What strategic purpose can these strikes hold for Russians? LEIGHTON: So, this is the city of Zhytomyr. It is the city that was struck in the report that you're talking about. The strategic purpose right here is to basically cut off supplies that come in from the West. So, anything that's coming in from Poland, for example, can be interdicted by bombing the area of Zhytomyr and it can also mean that they're using this as a way to help the forces that they have encircling the capital.

So, this is, you know, basically the idea that they are going to take care of all of the opposition points in and around Kyiv and do it in a way that is going to help the sieging forces encircle that city.

LEMON: The Pentagon is opposing the idea of giving fighter jets to Ukraine, but there is a discussion about sending more anti-air capabilities, including surface to air missiles. And officials believe that Ukraine still has several squadrons of aircraft. Why don't they seem to be doing more?

LEIGHTON: There is one reason for that, Don, and that is this. This is the S-400 and the S-400 is a missile system that the Russians have. It is coming to the news every now and then because it has a fairly effective range. In fact, if we look at the broader map of Ukraine, if you have S400s raid in areas or even around Ukraine and you don't have to be in the country, you can actually take out any target that is in these areas.

So, it has a range of about 250 miles and it can actually take out anything that is in that area, any aircraft. So, all Ukrainian air fields that are within this area can be affected by the S-400 and its radar system. So, they're all at risk. That's one of the main reasons why the MiG-29s aren't a favorite solution by the Pentagon.

LEMON: Another informative report. Thank you, colonel. I appreciate it.

LEIGHTON: You bet, Don.

LEMON: Russian state media fueling support of Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine, spreading lies about what is really happening. But the pictures, well, they tell the real story. My next guest is working to get out the truth to the Russian people.




LEMON: A Ukrainian family fleeing Kharkiv soon after the Russian assault on the city began now in Vinnytsia. Victor Fateyeb is focused on getting accurate information to the people, the Russian people, and he joins me now.

Victor, I really appreciate you joining us. You sent my team some pictures of Kharkiv from before the invasion. Now, the Russian army is just outside of Kharkiv and the city has faced really serious damage. How are you processing the destruction of your home and how are you doing?

VICTOR FATEYEB, UKRAINIAN IT SPECIALIST: I'm fine, first of all. Family is fine as well and safe. House is still there. Our house (INAUDIBLE), which is perfectly good and other -- and other side of other houses. The pictures there, all damaged, all missiled, bombarded. So, all and everything. We will spend --

LEMON: Victor froze for a moment. We'll just give it a second to see if we can get him because we're dealing with long distances and they are in a war zone. Victor, are you back?

FATEYEB: Yeah. Can you -- can you see me?

LEMON: I can hear you and I can see you, so please start over. How are you doing and your family -- how is your family doing now?

FATEYEB: Yeah. Family is safe, first of all. All and everything good. I have the children, all of them safe, which is perfectly fine, and we are glad to have (INAUDIBLE). Our house we're living is still there, which is kind of surprise, but worst case is that other houses around Kharkiv are broken, bombarded, missiled. Many people were damaged, killed, especially children who are not really -- who are just civilians. People -- so yeah. It is awful.

LEMON: You're in Vinnytsia. You've got a 5-year-old son, 9-year-old daughter. How are they been dealing with all of this?

FATEYEB: You know, good side effect of -- that we moved out on the first day. They don't know anything about war, really. So, we don't know what bombarding is. We didn't hear the sounds around. So, all of them are good. My daughter is coming back to her school, online school, right now. So --


LEMON: Again, we're having trouble with Victor. We're looking at beautiful pictures of his family there. Nice Christmas pictures, as well. He is saying that his children don't really know what bombardment is right now.

So, Victor, we're sorry that we're having trouble. But again, you're in a war zone. We are with very long distances here. I know that you work for an IT company. You and your colleagues are working to get the real information to Russians. How are you doing that?

FATEYEB: Yeah, you probably know --

LEMON: Oh, boy. We're sorry for that. So, I wish we can get -- I'm sure he can hear us. So, Victor, thank you. We're sorry for the technical difficulties. We know that you're dealing with that. They are doing a good thing, trying get the right information out to Russians because there is such an information vacuum there. They are being fed information by state media, which is not true. So, our thanks again to Victor and we wish him and his family well.

The Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv brutalized by shelling from Russian forces, leaving the city in ruins and the innocent victims in hospital beds.




LEMON: Russian forces are pounding Ukraine's strategic southern port city, Mykolaiv. Residents are fighting back, but days of airstrikes and shelling are taking their toll.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is there.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR (voice-over): This is probably when Russian forces tried to cut off Mykolaiv, pushing to its north to encircle it. Ukrainian shells here not holding them back.

The governor told locals to bring tires to the streets, which they did fast. And in the dark, Russia's punishment of just about everyone here did not let up. An airstrike flattened this warehouse. And if you needed proof the Kremlin seeks to reduce all life here, 1,500 tons of onions, beer and pumpkins were an apparent target for a military jet.

So, (INAUDIBLE) in the back bedroom when a missile hit. Shenya (ph) built this home himself 43 years ago and knows he lacks the strength to do so again. Lormina (ph) says she doesn't even have her slippers now.

The hospitals are steeped in pain. Their corridors running underground. Svetlana (ph) lost three friends Tuesday when Russian shells hit the car that they were traveling in to change shift at a disabled children's home. When she ducked, she saved her life. She names her three dead friends.


PATON WALSH (voice-over): Nikolai (ph) was badly burned by a missile in his yard. Moscow targets hospitals and so they perversely need their own bomb shelters where sick children wait for the sirens to end.

Stas (ph) is 12 and alone, but he doesn't know the reason his father is not here just now is because he is burying his mother and sister.

UNKNOWN (on-screen translation): I was in the neighbor's basement when the bomb hit the roof on my side. We ran to my granny's house. Another hit there. My arm is broken. My dad and neighbor brought me here. I was in a coma for two days.

PATON WALSH (voice-over): Sonia has shrapnel in her head, causing her to spasm. Her mother explains they were outside taping up the house windows when the blast hit. While all the time, trying to get Sonya to keep still. UNKNOWN (on-screen translation): I cut the tape. Turned around to hear a noise. And I saw the missile flew behind us. And I said, Sonia, let's go. We ran. Sonia in front of me. And then I heard the blast. Little Sonia, quiet, quiet. Sonia, little Sonia, don't worry. Everything will be okay.

UNKNOWN (on-screen translation): I am cold.

PATON WALSH (voice-over): Outside, it is cold and loud.


Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, Mykolaiv, Ukraine.


LEMON (on camera): Thank you, Nick. And thanks for watching, everyone. Our live coverage continues.


UNKNOWN (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

HOLMES: Hello and welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. I am Michael Holmes coming to you live from Lviv in Ukraine.

Horrifying and depraved.