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Don Lemon Tonight

Russian Forces Approaching Kyiv From Multiple Directions; Many Russians Unaware Of Ukraine War; WNBA Star In Russian Custody For Three Weeks; Thousands Escaped Through Humanitarian Corridors. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired March 10, 2022 - 23:00   ET




DON LEMON, CNN HOST (on camera): This is DON LEMON TONIGHT. Here's our breaking news at this hour. Russian forces moving closer to Kyiv amid heavy fighting. A U.S. defense official saying tonight that at least one group of Russian troops are about nine miles from the center of the capital. But Ukraine is fighting back hard.

The Ukrainian armed forces releasing video showing the destruction of a Russian tank regiment northeast of Kyiv and claiming they also killed the commander of that regiment.

Straight now to CNN's Michael Holmes. He is covering this for us live. He is in Lviv for us. Michael, hello to you. This new video tonight showing the fighting intensifying in the suburbs of Kyiv as Russian forces try to encircle Ukrainian's capital. Watch this.




LEMON (on camera): Wow, that's intense, Michael. Just how close are Russian forces to Kyiv tonight?

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, they're getting closer, Don, aren't they? There's been a lot of fighting in recent days on the outskirts of the capital, out of suburbs, towns, mainly around the north and northwest, but it would now appear that Russian troops are making a bit of a push now for the east of the city, slowly reaching their goal of encircling the city, cutting it off.

I want to show you some satellite images, I think, you've got there. This is the Russian-controlled Antonov Air Base. It is in Hostomel, a northwestern suburb of Kyiv. And it shows images that appear to be a fuel storage tank on fire. This is at the southern end of that base. You can see the smoke rising now.

Of course, whatever on, once Kyiv is encircled or perhaps a bombardment of the type we've seen in Mariupol or Kharkiv goes ahead, it will be brutal, it will be relentless if that happens. And they're trying to break the will of the people, of course, in the city and force a surrender.

But the thing we've seen in all of those places is defiance. There has been no surrender, only a fightback, really courageous given how outmanned and outgunned Ukrainian forces are, Don.

LEMON: Michael, I want to put up these new satellite images showing that 40-mile-long Russian military convoy near Kyiv has largely dispersed and redeployed. What are you hearing about that?

HOLMES: Yeah, yeah, it's certainly not gone away. That's for sure. It's moved around, it would seem. Yeah, 40 miles long, 65 kilometers long. We've been reporting on it for some time now not moving but it does seem to have dispersed. It would seem positioning, taking cover from satellites in forests and things like that, but it is still there.

Russia is well aware that their movements, of course, are being watched from above, but as they try to maneuver through that encircling of Kyiv, they're making some moves which, of course, worry everyone in the capital, Don.

LEMON: There's also the failed diplomatic meeting in Turkey today with Russia's foreign minister pushing horrific lies and denying that the invasion even happened, Michael.


How can anything be accomplished with these kinds of lies?

HOLMES: Well, in short, Don, it's very hard to see how there can be progress given what we saw in Turkey. I mean, there were hopes -- and you and I talked about this -- there were hopes that a high-level foreign minister to foreign minister meeting might be a good sign, but nothing was achieved.

The Ukrainian foreign minister clearly frustrated that Russian Sergey Lavrov apparently couldn't offer anything substantive. The Ukrainian foreign minister pretty much said that it didn't seem that Lavrov was authorized to offer anything, even about humanitarian corridors.

There has been talk that, you know, a potential offramp for Russia, if they wanted to go that way, could be demanding that Ukraine recognize, occupy Crimea as Russian, recognize the independence of those break- away regions in the Donbas, and of course rule out any NATO aspirations, but nothing has come from that.

And the thing, I think, that's important to say, Don, think back over recent weeks as this all build up before the invasion even happened, this totally unprovoked buildup based on nothing, no threat. We've seen Russia say all the time, it's happy to talk. We have seen shuttled diplomacy. World leaders flying in and out of Moscow, being on the phone with Putin. Russia has not given an inch in that time. Most people think when, you know, when Russia talks about talks, it is just delaying and they go right ahead with whatever they want to do, which, of course, has been that completely unprovoked invasion of its neighbor.

LEMON (on camera): Michael Holmes -- Michael will pick our live coverage in just about an hour here on CNN. Thank you, Michael. We will see you soon.

I want to turn now to the crisis in the city of Mariupol. The Red Cross describes it as increasingly desperate with hundreds of thousands of people without food, water, heat, and medical care. Here's what Ukrainian President Zelenskyy said about it tonight.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKY, PRESIDENT OF UKRAINE (through translator): No matter what, we will try constantly. We will continue to try to bring to Mariupol the aid that people so desperately need.


LEMON (on camera): CNN's Phil Black has more on the horrific situation on the ground. And I must warn you, the images are disturbing.


PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When you hear a Ukrainian city is under siege, cut off and under bombardment by Russian forces, this is what that means. No one knows how many people have been killed in Mariupol. But it's too many to allow the care and dignity that usually comes with death.

Relatively few images have escaped Mariupol since the siege began. These were captured by "AP" photojournalist Evgeny Maloletka, who says he saw around 70 bodies buried in this trench over two days. They arrived wrapped in whatever people could find and use, plastic bags, even carpet.

And this shows why it's likely there are many more. Mariupol suffering from above. Before and after satellite images reveal extraordinary devastation in commercial and shopping areas, residential neighborhoods, too. Russian munitions are steadily wiping out this city. It's already unlivable. There is no food, water, or power.

Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, says a child in Mariupol has died of dehydration probably for the first time since the Nazi invasion.

During a meeting in Turkey, the Ukrainian foreign minister says he asked his Russian counterpart for a humanitarian corridor to allow people to leave Mariupol.

DMYTRO KULEBA, UKRAINIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: Unfortunately, Minister Lavrov was not in a position to commit himself to it, but he will correspond with respective authorities.

BLACK (voice-over): That means Sergey Lavrov has to ask his boss.

But Russia's top diplomat was comfortable repeating Russia's explanation for bombing a maternity hospital in Mariupol on Wednesday. The Russian version says there were in patients or staff in these buildings, just soldiers. This was the reality captured in the moments immediately after the blast. An obviously pregnant woman is stretchered from the side. Another hurt, bleeding, walks out carrying what she can.

Russians often honor the bravery and determination shown by their own citizens who are besieged by Nazi forces in the second world war. Now, Russia is inflicting that same suffering on the people of Mariupol.

Phil Black, CNN, London.


LEMON (on camera): All right, Phil, thank you very much.

The Ukrainian foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, posting an incredibly disturbing video tonight, sick orphans being evacuated in ambulances from a town north of Kyiv.


One of the children is clearly unconscious. We don't know whether these children were injured in the fighting, but the people in this suburb have been without water, medicine, food, and power for days.

The foreign minister also including a message calling Russia's aggression a barbaric crime not seen since World War II. This coming just hours after meeting with the Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov in Turkey.

So, joining me now is Inna Sovsun. She is a member of the Ukrainian parliament who has stayed in Kyiv, in the Kyiv region, to help inform the world of the horrors of the war. We're so happy to have you here. Thank you so much for joining us, Inna.

A senior U.S. defense official says that the Russians are approaching Kyiv from different directions. New video is showing fighting intensifying nearby. What's it like in your city now?

INNA SOVSUN, MEMBER OF UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT: Well, it is tense, of course, as it has been from the day one of the war. We don't know whether the Russians will actually get into the city. We do get different news because on the one hand, they have had fighting on the northwest of the city with the cities of Irpin and Bucha completely devastated, and we have also images of people trying to escape from those cities.

Now, they seem to be coming from the northeast, which is a different direction. There have been some battles yesterday over there. It seems like the Ukrainian army actually did make a good fight and many Russian convoys were actually stopped and killed, but there are many more coming.

So, we are fully aware that they can come into the city any time. That is a very scary perspective. Despite the city been fortified basically with territorial defense with the checkpoints and all, there are just too many of them, and it's just scary to imagine what they can do to our city.

LEMON: I want to put up this picture of you working with your rifle in the background. You have friends and family with the army as you inform the world of the horrors of this war but remain ready to fight. Now, based on what we have seen in other Ukrainian cities, do you think it could come to that, that you're actually picking up a gun and that you actually have to fight?

SOVSUN: You know, I'm a university professor. That is not something I expected to have ever in my life. That is what my life is right now. For two weeks, I haven't seen my son. He's with family in the Western Ukraine. I haven't seen my boyfriend. He's with the army. I haven't seen my parents because my mom is in Western Ukraine and my dad is with the territorial defense helping evacuate people.

I don't know what can happen. If someone told me three weeks ago that this would be my life, I would never believe. But this is what we turn to. I am now using my voice as a weapon. I am talking to the world and explaining what is happening here in Ukraine and why we need to help in terms of securing our sky and ensuring the no-fly zone.

But if that doesn't work, if the world does not react and does not help us, what else is there for me to do? I cannot just leave my city. I cannot leave my people. I cannot allow the Russians to take over. I've been building my life here in Kyiv for over 20 years.

I've seen what they have done to my native city of Kharkiv, where I spent 17 years. They just bombarded it, basically turned it into a lamp pot, with the whole world just pretending not seeing what is happening there. What else is there for me to do? I don't really see a bit of a choice.

LEMON: You mentioned -- the 9-year-old son that you mentioned, you said you haven't seen him since -- in two weeks since the war began. You shared this picture that he drew. It says, no fly-zone. I can't imagine how difficult it is to explain to a child why their life was completely upended and mom needs to be away. What do you say to him?

SOVSUN: That was probably the most difficult part of the last two weeks. When I had to call him -- I wasn't calling him the first three days of the war because I needed to stay put. And then the fourth day, he called me and we chatted. And he said, mom, when will I see you again? And that's when I started crying because I didn't know how to answer that question and when I will be able to see him again.

So -- then I said I will call him back. And in a few hours, I got myself together and I got ready for the talk. And I explained to him that the war is happening and that children are sitting in the bunkers and that the Russians are throwing bombs on their heads. And he asked me, is there any way that we can protect those children? He got really scared. He's completely freaked out by the very idea of somebody dying.

And now when it's so real, he got completely freaked out. And I explained that we can protect the sky with, you know, with the kind of support from the airplanes and other. And he's like, oh, we should build a roof. And that's what he drew on the picture.


But he did cover the sun under the roof, so it's slightly wrong.

LEMON: He wants the sunshine to come in. We can't blame him for that.

SOVSUN: Yeah, I do, too.

LEMON: Yeah.

SOVSUN: But this is -- this is how he feels. And he keeps on asking me, mom, how are the kids in the underground stations in Kharkiv? He drew another picture, but I didn't post that one. But he was particularly attached with Kharkiv because he knows that's my native city, so I was talking a lot to him about that. But then I'm also feeling lucky that he's safe and he's not waking up to bombs every night like other children.

LEMON: But do you worry that -- but do you worry -- I'm sorry. He's alive but what did you say? I don't mean to cut you off.

SOVSUN: He's alive. And I'm reading news about other children not waking up in the morning and that is just terrifying. That is the most scary thing for a parent to think about. I was reading about a man who was trying to escape from Bucha and two of his children were killed during the evacuation, and his wife. And that is something I can't even think about, how much pain he's in.

So, I miss my son, but I'm lucky that he's safe and well, and so is my boyfriend and my parents.

LEMON: Do you worry that your son may never be able to return to his home in Kyiv?

SOVSUN: I do. Yes. It is a real chance. I was thinking whether I should probably try to find some spot for him to go to school in Europe. I don't know. I don't want to do that. I still hope that there can be a rather relatively quick solution of kicking Russians out. But that frankly now depends on the level of support we shall get from the West.

LEMON: Yeah.

SOVSUN: So, yes, I am worried. I am worried and I don't want -- his school is here. His friends are here. He's missing his toys. He's asking me if I can transfer some of the toys to him, but it's impossible right now. I want him to have his life back. There is no good reason for him not having his life as it was, just crazy man in Kremlin deciding that he can just invade another state with no good reason.

LEMON: Yeah. What's his name?

SOVSUN: Martin.

LEMON: Martin. Well, Inna, we hope that you and Martin and your entire family stay safe. You're very brave and we just appreciate you joining us and telling us what's going on. Thanks so much.

SOVSUN: Thank you.

LEMON: Thank you.

SOVSUN: Thanks.

LEMON: What happened to that massive Russian convoy that we were watching north of Kyiv? Well, we're going to tell you what the new satellite images show. That's next.



LEMON: So, I want you to take a look at these new satellite images in to CNN showing -- it's tonight. It's showing incredible devastation in the city of Chernihiv and northern suburbs of -- and the northern suburbs of Kyiv. Russian troops advancing from multiple directions toward the capital tonight. But Ukrainian defenders really keep punching back as the invading forces try to surround a cutoff and cut off Kyiv.

So, joining me now to discuss is CNN military analyst and retired Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton. Loo, the Ukrainians are fighting back. The Russian forces are facing resistance as they move in from multiple directions. How long could it be before Russian soldiers encircle the city, and do they have the manpower they need for that?

CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST, RETIRED AIR FORCE COLONEL: Don, those are all great questions. So, of course, here is Kyiv right here. And if you go -- if we go into a more detailed look, we have this area right here. You see the forces here, and here, right on the outskirts of Kyiv. If you look in the western part, they are right here. They're very, very close to the city limits.

How long could it be before they get into these parts? Not long at all. In some cases, they're close to nine miles away from the city center. What they would have to do is they would have to go from here to here or from here to here in order to affect a total encirclement of Kyiv.

Whether or not they can do that is a bit questionable. It's got a big river right here that they have to worry about, and they also have to bring all their forces to bear. So, whether they can do this or not depends on how good their logistics is and how quickly they can move their forces.

LEMON: I want to put up this video of Ukrainian officials, colonel, releasing this new video of Russian tanks getting hammered from all sides in the city northeast of Kyiv. With Russian forces still inching closer to the capital, do Ukrainians have what they need to keep up this kind of defense?

LEIGHTON: Well, Don, one of the things that they have is this, the javelin rocket. And the javelin is an antitank missile that is designed to be fired by one person. Usually the crew is a two-member crew. But it's designed to be fired at a tank.

And the way it works is it has -- basically it is shoulder-fired, operable, like I mentioned, by a single soldier. It has a range of about 8,200 feet and it can cause a lot of damage to a tank or to anything that is moving on the ground.

For airborne targets, we have the stinger, which is the most prominent of the air-to-air missiles or ground to air missiles that are we are firing or giving the Ukrainians so that they can fire at aircraft. It has a range of five miles, altitude up to 12,500 feet, and it is a heat-seeking antiaircraft missile. So, this is probably the most sophisticated weapon of this type that the Ukrainian have.


But what it can do, of course, is it can destroy aircraft, whether it be helicopters or fixed-wing aircraft, and that is exactly what the Ukrainians need right now in order to gain control of the areas that they're operating in.

Doesn't mean they'll gain control of the skies, but at least they'll prevent some of the Russian aircraft from affecting their movements and affecting some of the things that are going on down below in and around Kyiv and other cities around Ukraine.

LEMON: I've been wanting to ask you, waiting for your segment to come up so I can ask you about these new satellite images that show the massive Russian convoy north of Kyiv has -- quote -- "largely dispersed and redeployed." What does that mean?

LEIGHTON: So, what that means in this particular case is that instead of being on these roads like here, you don't see anything right here except for maybe one vehicle right there and another one right here. But most of them have all gone.

And if you look really closely at the image, the trucks are right here. They're basically going into the wooded areas and they're protecting themselves using terrain masking. So, they're blending into the terrain, they're going under underneath trees and any other area that would cover them from aerial observation.

So, they want to protect themselves from drones. They want to make sure that they can survive any type of attack from the air. The Ukrainians have drones that they're using, Turkish drones that are able to not only spot them, but they're able to use them to actually go after some of these targets on the ground. So, this becomes a really important thing for them to do. What is surprising, Don, is that they haven't done this. The Russians haven't done this before. They're only doing this now. Before the convoy was a sitting duck, now it's moving, so it's becoming less of a sitting duck, but it's still somewhat vulnerable because we know where some of these vehicles are.

LEMON: Yeah. It is interesting. I don't think that they -- correct me if I'm wrong -- if they really anticipated this kind of resistance. And that probably was the holdup there. They had to re-strategize.

LEIGHTON: That's exactly right. They had to rethink how they're fighting a war. And what is really interesting about this is that it took them so long to do that. When something like that happens for us, we go in and we change tactics on the fly. They don't do that.

They are a much more rigid command and control situation than we are. And their structures, their command-and-control structures, are much less amenable to thinking on their feet, thinking on the fly, and responding to actual events as they occur.

LEMON: Colonel, I look forward to your segment every night. It's so good. Thank you very much. Appreciate it.

LEIGHTON: You bet, Don. Any time.

LEMON: Russian state media pedaling Vladimir Putin's lies about his invasion of Ukraine. But as more citizens bravely protest the war and the word gets out, could that change?




LEMON: So, tonight, adding to the growing list of Russian lies about the brutal attack on Ukraine, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov now claiming, without any evidence, that the bombed hospital in Mariupol was a base for radical and all the patients are radicals and all the patients and nurses had left. But we know that is false. We saw the pregnant women rescued from the bombed building.

Let's bring in now CNN counterterrorism analyst Philip Mudd. I mean, hey, Phil. This is crazy. Thanks for joining us. Russia's foreign minister not only --


LEMON: -- denying the facts of Mariupol, but even denying Russia invaded Ukraine at all. The international community for the most part calls it -- calls it really for what it is, and that a lie. But many Russians believe the lies. Is that the purpose really?

MUDD: Yeah. I think a lot of the objective here is persuading Russians about what the government wants them to believe is happening in Ukraine. Let me give you a couple of sorts of different characteristics here. Characteristic one, are the Russians winning in Europe and United States? The propaganda war there, the Russians are losing, I think partly because of what the White House has done in terms of putting out intelligence for months now explaining what the Russians are up to before the Russians actually do it.

But remember, you've got a closed society here in Russia where the Russian government controls the airwaves and where you have a leader who has been around for two decades. That is Vladimir Putin who's well respected among the Russian people. It would surprise me if the Russians lose internally the war, the propaganda war among their own people, unless this last for months or longer.

Remember, we're a year and a half out of American election in a society in America where the airwaves are open. There's still a lot of people in this country who believe the election was stolen. Propaganda is really powerful, especially in a country where only one side controls the airwaves, Don.

LEMON (on camera): Very true. I have been told, Phil, by multiple Ukrainians that we've had on the show that their family in Russia does not believe them when they tell them what is happening there. Listen to what one man told CNN this morning about his father's reaction. Watch.


MISHA KATSURIN, UKRAINIAN RESTAURANTEUR WHO HAS FAMILY IN RUSSIA: I told him that we woke up from the bombing and that I took my little son, who is 8 months old, and we tried to, like, to escape and to save the family. And he started to argue. He said, no, no, no, everything is not like this.


And he told me that Russia started peaceful operation and they're trying to save us from the Nazi regime, which occupied our country. And the most interesting thing was that the Russian soldiers are giving the local people food and warm clothing. So, that's the thing he saw on the TV.


LEMON (on camera): Didn't even believe his own son. Do you think reality can break through in Russia?

MUDD: I don't think it can. Americans don't like to believe that propaganda works. You've got to say it early. You've got to say it often. You've got to say it every hour. You've got to tell people in this country that vaccines don't work. People believe that. As I mentioned earlier, you've got to tell people that the election was stolen. People will eventually believe that.

And in closed societies, North Korea, Iran sort of, China, Russia, if you don't have a competitive narrative, it is going to take a long time for people to learn the reality in Russia what's happening in Ukraine, especially because you have a generational divide. Some people might have access to stuff like YouTube and other social media. That's typically youth in a place like Russia. But for people who are only looking at official media and getting one message, boy, Don, I'm not a big believer in the idea that we can break through that information bubble any time soon.

LEMON: It's really weird, the similarities to what's happening here with the election and with the last administration. Anyway, I'll move on. So, U.S. Intelligence is engaging in information war with Russia to expose the horrors of Russia's attack. What can they do to get the facts to Russians?

MUDD: I think the only way you can get to them is the social media avenue. We've seen in the past few weeks that Russia has closed down the last avenues in terms of standard media, traditional media for Russians to get information. But if you're talking about trying to change the way Russians think, I'm not an optimist on this. Maybe it will happen over months. Maybe it will happen over a year or two years.

But if you're talking about a Russian occupation over that period of time in changing the way the Russians think, in that case, it's going to be too late.

I think there's a simple truth here. I don't think it is weird, Don. I think in my experience in looking at places like, again, Iran, North Korea, and watching even the way al-Qaeda people talked 20 years ago, if you're in a closed cell and you're persuading each other that what you're doing is right, people will believe propaganda.

They do in this country. They do overseas. If you control the airwaves, you control the way people think. In this country, we don't think that's true. I'm telling you it is. Again, just look at the way some people think about vaccines in this country. It's incredible.

LEMON: Right on. Phil, good to see you. Wish it was under better circumstances.

MUDD: Thank you.

LEMON: Thank you. Thank you very much.

WNBA star Brittney Griner still believed to be detained in Russia after being stopped at a Moscow airport. My next guest is working with the State Department to get her released, and he has new details on her arrest. Congressman Colin Allred joins me next.




LEMON: New information tonight about WNBC star Brittney Griner who has been detained in Russia. Congressman Colin Allred saying that she has been in Russian custody for three weeks now. That is after she was detained at the Moscow Airport.

Russian authorities alleged cannabis oil was found in her suitcase during a luggage inspection. And they accused her of smuggling a narcotic substance.

Congressman Allred joins me now. He is working on getting Griner again out of Russia. Thank you so much, congressman, for joining us. This is going to be a tough one. You have been working with the State Department. I know there is a lot that you probably cannot say. But does the Biden administration have a clear idea of Griner's condition and how she is doing?

REP. COLIN ALLRED (D-TX): We know that she has been detained since February 17th. The embassy has requested consular access to her, the same way they would for any American detained or incarcerated overseas, and that has been denied now for three weeks.

But she has been in touch with her Russian lawyer. And the Russian lawyer has been in touch with her agent and her family back home. So, we do know that she is okay. We just know that she has been held now for three weeks without official government access to her, which really is unusual and extremely concerning.

LEMON: The Biden administration has been trying to get Griner out of Russia, but how much harder does Russia's invasion of Ukraine make it to get her out?

ALLRED: We are trying to keep this in the legal framework and to keep the larger geopolitical context out of this issue, because for Brittney's sake, we do not want her to become part of this kind of, you know, political battle that is going on.

And we want to make sure that her rights are respected and that we are able to get access to her and that she can get to the process and get home as quickly as possible.

So, what we prefer to do, of course, is to not have this get into the larger context of what is happening. But obviously, that does loom over the entire issue.

LEMON: Does the State Department see this as a priority?

ALLRED: Absolutely. For the State Department, one of their top priorities is any American who is detained abroad, but particularly in belligerent or difficult countries, to do everything we can to get them out.


We have other Americans who are being held there right now, who are still trying to get out like Trevor Reed, a Texan, Paul Whelan as well. And this is certainly one of our top priorities. We've requested consular access, as I said, for three weeks now. Have not been granted that. But the State Department and certainly I, we are not going to give up on trying to get access to her. LEMON: The Russian government says that Griner's alleged offense is punishable by 10 years in prison. If she's charged and if she is found guilty, would there be any way to get her released?

ALLRED: Well, there's always going to be negotiations back and forth over issues like this when an American is being held. We've also seen this in other context with other Americans who have either been held and charged and convicted of what we thought were trumped up charges. And we're still trying to get them out ahead of the tine of whatever their term was. And that's, I guess, what would probably happen here.

What we're hoping is that we can avoid that, get her out before it comes to that, and follow the legal process, of course, but make sure that she's able to come home because obviously this is the time of incredible tension. And we want to make sure that, you know, she's okay and that not being used here as part of the larger context of what's happening in the world.

LEMON: Have you spoken to her family? I mean, how are they dealing with everything that's going on now?

ALLRED: Yeah. Well, we've spoken with her agent who's in touch with her family. I just have to say -- and my heart goes out to them. And I just know that every day, when you have a loved one who's being held anywhere, it's like a lifetime. But to have now three weeks of this and to see what's happening in the news every day, I'm sure, you know, it's heartbreaking.

And for any American family out there who has their loved one being held abroad, I know this must also be traumatic for them as well. They should just know that our government and State Department, folks like myself and Congress and the Foreign Affairs Committee, we're going to do everything we can to get her home, get any other American who is being detained unjustly home. That's one of our top priorities, to take care of our folks.

LEMON: As you know, Russia is known to have a strict anti-gay policies or anti-gay laws.


LEMON: Do you think Griner's sexuality plays a role in her detainment?

ALLRED: Well, we don't know what their motive is right now, but it's clear, you know, Brittney has transcended, being one of the best basketball players on the planet to also being an LGBTQ plus icon and somebody who has used her platform for good.

And so, you know, I certainly hope that, you know, her identity is not a part of this. But she's one of the most high-profile basketball players in the world. And so, her detention certainly raises those concerns. And Russia's treatment of LGBTQ folks in their own country, I think, is extremely concerning, but also leads you to believe that it may have some impact on what's happening here.

LEMON: Congressman, we appreciate you joining us. Please keep us updated, okay? Thank you so much. Best of luck.

ALLRED: Yeah. Thanks, Don.

LEMON: People scrambling to evacuate through humanitarian corridors in Ukraine, including foreign students who were trapped by Russian shelling. Their harrowing escape, next.




LEMON: Tonight, the U.N. reporting more than 2.3 million people have fled Ukraine. Tens of thousands more are evacuating cities that are under constant Russian assault through humanitarian corridors, trying to get to the safety of Lviv in Western Ukraine before heading out of the country. Here's CNN's Scott McLean.


SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is what relief looks like for hundreds of foreign students who have been trapped in Sumy, Ukrainian city under constant Russian bombardment. They say they are exhausted. Journey to safety took more than 24 hours.

SHABNAM HEERAH, FOREIGN STUDENT IN SUMY, UKRAINE: I will never forget this in my whole life. It will just be in my mind.

MCLEAN (voice-over): Shabnam Heerah, a student from Mauritius, was one of hundreds who spent days sleeping in an underground bunker, hoping and praying the bombs would let up. They didn't.

(On camera): What was going through your mind when you are sheltering in the basement?

HEERAH: I just said to myself, I am ready to die, I'm going to die now.

MCLEAN (on camera): Really?

HEERAH: Yeah. Because when you hear that bomb explosion, you just freeze and you start shaking.

MCLEAN (voice-over): The evacuation of the students, who are mostly from India, China and countries in Africa, came after intense diplomatic efforts to get them out to safety, and tense negotiations between Russia and Ukraine to open a humanitarian corridor out of Sumy after days of failed efforts in other cities.

DURI NDISIRO, FOREIGN STUDENT IN SUMY, UKRAINE: How will I get out of this place? And even if I get out of this place, will I survive the journey out there? Because we had -- in Sumy, the Russian army was surrounding the city.

MCLEAN (voice-over): When the buses finally left, the students were prioritized in the first convoy. Local authorities say subsequent convoys were held up because of fighting on the outskirts of the city.


It took 11 hours along the indirect corridor to Poltava, vast rows of military vehicles. Then they were quickly put on a train bound for Lviv, arriving some 15 hours later.

BLESSING JOHN IBANGA, FOREIGN STUDENT IN SUMY, UKRAINE: We have been here (INAUDIBLE). We are also going to fight (INAUDIBLE) what Ukrainians are doing.

MCLEAN (voice-over): These students from Nigeria are headed to Budapest by bus, where their embassy will help them from there. Some say they are planning to go back as soon as the war is over.

SAMUEL OTUNLA, FOREIGN STUDENT IN SUMY, UKRAINE: I spent six years in this country and it's just -- it's a wonderful place to be. Ukrainians, they are going through all of this trauma in their country, but they are still able to look out for us, as foreigners. A lot of us are very grateful for that.

MCLEAN (voice-over): Scott McLean, CNN, Lviv, Ukraine.


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