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At least 39 Dead After Missile Hits Train Station; Nate Mook is Interviewed about the Train Station Bombing; Wesley Clark is Interviewed about Ukraine; Alina Polyakova is Interviewed about Sanctions. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired April 08, 2022 - 09:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Just shocking news this morning. Ukraine, once again, reeling from yet another horrific attack on civilians. Look at the aftermath there. A Russian strike on a train station in the eastern city of Kramatorsk where hundreds of evacuees were waiting, hoping to flee to safety. Instead, they lost their lives. Ukrainian officials say now at least 39 people are dead, 87 more wounded.

The Ukrainian president puts the number of wounded at around 300. The crowds at these train stations are immense. Just the devastation, heartbreaking. Just one image you can see suitcases, baby strollers, a pool of blood. We should warn you, images you're going to be seeing in the coming minutes, they're graphic. They show what this war looks like.

I'm Jim Sciutto.


Important to remind viewers that these are largely Russian speakers in the eastern part of Ukraine. The same people that Vladimir Putin said that he was going to liberate. Instead, there you see evidence of more crimes committed against civilians and more proof that Russia is targeting those civilians in barbaric and brutal fashion.

And they're warning, the Ukrainians are, that Russia is almost prepared for a massive breakthrough attempt in the Donbas region. That buildup is forcing officials to tell residents there to evacuate ahead of potential heavy fighting.

SCIUTTO: It's a reminder that the fighting is not over. It just moved to different parts of the country.

CNN's Ed Lavandera joins us now from Odessa, in southern Ukraine.

Ed, the images out of there are shocking. What have we learned about the strike, the missile strike from Ukrainian officials? Do they know what kind of weapon was involved, for instance?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Well, the missile strike hits a devastating point, Jim. These railway stations are a lifeline for thousands of civilians, tens of thousands of civilians still trapped in harm's way. There is video emerging from those scenes. And the aftermath of it, you can take a listen to what a horrific moment this was this morning at that railway station in eastern Ukraine.


LAVANDERA: Now, those chaotic moments we understand about almost 40 people killed, dozens more injured. And on the side of the missile, an image that has emerged from that, it says written "for the children." Now, we don't know, and CNN cannot confirm, who wrote that message on that missile. And it can also be intended to mean revenge for the children.

But this is a chaotic moment. Jim and Bianna, we can't overstate enough just how crucial these railway stations have been for tens of thousands of refugees who are trying to flee and escape to safer regions here in this country, if not -- if they don't want to leave the country altogether. And this was a -- clearly a civilian target, not a military target in any way, and that's what makes this just far more terrifying for those residents.

SCIUTTO: Yes, listen, we have to stop saying we're imagining these are not deliberately targeting civilians because we've seen so many. And instances where it's not a mistake or collateral damage, but the direct intention it appears.

Ed Lavandera here in Odessa, thanks so much.

I do want to bring in now Nate Mook. He's the CEO of World Central Kitchen. He was delivering food to the area of this train station when this all happened.

Nate, good to have you on.

I wonder if you could tell us what you're seeing there now and the aftermath of all this.

NATE MOOK, CEO, WORLD CENTRAL KITCHEN (via telephone): Absolutely, Jim.

So, our World Central Kitchen team was actually just passing by the railway station. We looked down from the overpass and I noted to my colleague Sebastian that there were thousands of people there today. We weren't sure if the trains were going to run because there was an attack on the railway line outside of Kramatorsk last night. And we had been working closely with the Ukraine railways to understand if they were going to continue these evacuation trains out of Kramatorsk. So, we saw all of the people on the platforms.

About two minutes later, as we were driving to our warehouse to pick up flour for one of our bakeries, we felt the explosion.


There were multiple of them, between five and 10 booms. It's hard to know which ones were missiles, which ones were air defense intercepting. Our -- one of our individuals at the warehouse said he could see the missiles were so close, he could see the wings on the missiles, it was flying before it was intercepted by Ukrainian some sort of response and did knock one of them out. We were able to get to the train station just a few minutes later after we heard that it did target there, to see both the volunteers that we've known that are there, not working directly with World Central Kitchen, but with our partners here and also to see the situation.

We had been working with the railways and the head of that railway station to set up a food distribution site as we have in so many Ukrainian cities to get food and coffee and tea to families as they're waiting, sometimes many, many hours to get on these evacuation trains. And the scene at the train station was simply catastrophic.

SCIUTTO: Nate, first of all, it sounds like it was a close call for you and your team as well, given you drove by just two minutes before. You know from the work you do that these train stations, they're evacuation points for civilians. Civilians go there to flee for their lives.

So, the idea of a bomb dropping on it, the Russians would know, in other words, right? I mean this is well-known. It's been going on for weeks, that train stations are gathering points. And you've see a lot of them for civilians fleeing to safety.

MOOK: We've spent the last two days, Jim, at this station, for many hours. It is women, it is children, it is seniors, it is people with disabilities, in wheelchairs, being helped on to the trains. It is -- it is families trying to get out as they have been told by the mayor of Kramatorsk. There is -- there was no military activity around there. There were railway workers. This was a seemingly -- a deliberate target at innocent civilians and especially where these missiles landed and how much damage they did spread out.

So, this was not one impact area, but there were multiple areas of impact from these missiles. In fact, one of them, I don't know if it was exploded or unexploded, but it was sitting out right in front in a parking lot. They eventually got it sort of roped off and were concerned that it was potentially still explosive.

You know, this was intended to do a lot of damage to innocent people that they knew were trying to get out and leave this area.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Do -- in your experience, you're involved, not in the medical evacuation, you're involved in feeding people, you and Jose Andres --

MOOK: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Who founded the organization have been feeding I'm told for people, just thousands, thousands -- literally thousands of people as they fled to safety.

Does Ukraine in a state of war have the ability to take care of these people? I mean you have -- Zelenskyy is now saying perhaps as many as 300 wounded here.

MOOK: You know, we sat down with the mayor of Kramatorsk yesterday morning to speak with him about getting food supplies stockpiled into the city. He did say they had been making a lot of preparations. They were trying to learn some lessons from Mariupol. They were putting hospital operational units underground. They were moving hospital staff underground. They were trying to do what they could do. He was trying to get all of the children out of the city as well.

But as you said, I mean, this is -- this is a massive, massive attack. We saw dozens of casualties ourselves. Many people injured.

I will say, the fire department and ambulance services showed up instantaneously. They were able to put out the fires in cars that were burning out front. There were people still in those vehicles. You know, we saw a very quick reaction, but we are hearing from the mayor that the hospitals are overloaded and, like you said, this was a major attack in a city where a lot of people have already left, but still, you know, the mayor estimated about 80,000 to 90,000 still remain.

And so, you know, there's still a lot of people here. And they were moving about 8,000 to 9,000 out of that train station every day. So there were thousands of people there when these missiles hit.

And so, you know, I worry about this as well because this is -- this, you know, this is a huge attack, and it is not clear whether they have the capacity to support, especially if these rockets keep coming into these areas.

SCIUTTO: Yes, to your point, the folks, by and large, fleeing are women, children, the elderly, because men of military age are not allowed to leave the country. And that's -- that's who ends up suffering in these attacks.

Nate Mook, I'm glad you and your team are safe given how close you were to this. Thank you for bringing us an eyewitness account.

GOLODRYGA: And, Jim, as we listen to the eyewitness account there in that earlier piece, in Ed's reporting, you heard a woman, I'm still haunted by it, say that there are children here.



GOLODRYGA: She said that in Russian. So as we're going to be getting more information in details as to who these victims, these civilians are, I would expect, unfortunately, that the children will be among them. Perhaps this is a new shift in tactics on the part of the Russians.

Joining us now to discuss is retired General Wesley Clark, CNN military analyst and former supreme allied commander of NATO.

General Clark, thank you so much for joining us.

Obviously devastating news this morning.

Is this, in your opinion, the sign of more to come from the Russians as they've shifted to focusing on the east and really doubling down there?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, it is a sign of more to come. And we're only seeing these horrific scenes because they're in areas where there are reporters and cameras and other things. What we're not seeing is the fighting that's going on elsewhere as the Russians try to encircle these forces that are defending in the Donbas, including forces that are defending Kramatorsk. And so I'm getting the reports from friends in Ukraine, 200 Russian air sorties a day, flown against the Ukrainian defenders there, lots of troop movement, Ukrainians firing a lot of artillery, trying to stop crossing sites as the enemy comes out of (INAUDIBLE) and into the south. It's a very dynamic battlefield. And it's a race now for reinforcements to get those reinforcements resupplied and replenishments to the Ukrainians, especially the things that the U.S. can't supply, like the tanks, the mobile artillery and the guns. And it's important to get the civilians out of Kramatorsk, yes, but the Ukrainian military has to hold the shoulders and protect their forces in Donbas.

SCIUTTO: General Clark, you have the U.S. president, leaders of other U.S. allies accusing Putin and Russia of war crimes now. And beyond journalists chronicling this, you have groups in there now gathering evident for the Ukrainian government.

Does a war crimes investigation scare Vladimir Putin at all? And if not him, does it scare his senior military commanders, or field commanders?

CLARK: It probably doesn't scare him. He probably is still overconfident. He probably believes that, look, he's going to finish this thing in Ukraine, these Europeans won't remember it, they want my oil and gas and, anyway, who's going to come and arrest me?

But, the war crimes investigations are really important. The charges are important because they will leave a lasting mark. They will prevent people from doing business with Putin in the future, and Russia in the future. They will act in conjunction with the sanctions to put greater pressure on Russia. And, more importantly, they pull the west together. This is a regime, as President Biden said, that cannot be allowed to succeed.

GOLODRYGA: On the issue of how the west and NATO, the United States allies, can continue to supply Ukraine with more weaponry, I was struck by something that a U.K. member of parliament, who also happens to be the defense committee chairman, said today. And he said, quote, we have been too easily spooked by Kremlin rhetoric. The gutsy move would be to send an international maritime NATO task force to patrol waters off Odessa. That would tell Russia to say that we are now taking this seriously.

Do you agree with his assessment, and would that, in fact, be helpful to the Ukrainians there along the coast? CLARK: I would love to -- I would love to see a NATO -- absolutely,

I'd love to see NATO move in there with a task force. I don't think it's going to happen in the near term because of NATO's reluctance to come into direct conflict with Russian forces. And because of Turkish restrictions on the Straits of Montreux, the Montreux Convention of the Dardanelles.

But, I do think it's important. I do think it's important also to do all the things we're talking about, about strengthening in eastern Europe, moving forces there. What General Milley said the other day is exactly right.

But here's the key point. We could, if we provide the right supplies, soon enough to Ukraine, they could push Russia out of Donbas. This battle is hanging in the balance. And this is the only condition that would help us get a successful peace agreement. Can't make an agreement with Putin after he's conquered and killed all these people. You've got to get them out. And that means reinforcements. And that means these east European allies better get the tanks and artillery and the ammunition in there today.


CLARK: No more bargaining -- no more bargaining. Get it in there.

Final question, if I can. CNN has obtained video that appears to show Ukrainian forces executing a Russian prisoner, this after fighting in the Kyiv region. As a military leader, how do you keep your forces on the up and up, right, maintain the moral high ground, don't violate the rules of war.


How do you do that? How do you manage that? Even as they witness what Russia is doing?

CLARK: You've got to have training in advance. You've got to have people understanding the rules. You've got to have command visibility over their actions.

But I will tell you, Jim, that this fighting in Ukraine is so brutal. It's so personal. It's so painful for these people that I'm not excusing it, but it's not unexpected. People -- the Russians are executing Ukrainian soldiers. They're executing civilians. They're doing horrible things. And the passions are running very high.

So, I would urge the Ukrainian chain of command to do everything they can to restrain their own soldiers. Those captured Russian soldiers need to be interrogated, brought back (ph). They're an important intelligence source. Don't do anything else to them.

GOLODRYGA: Once again, a reminder, just the horrors of war.


GOLODRYGA: General Wesley Clark, thank you, as always. CLARK: Yes. Thank you.

GOLODRYGA: And still ahead, CNN talks to child refugees of this war. How are they coping mentally with the horrors that they have seen?

SCIUTTO: Plus, the Manhattan D.A. details where the criminal investigation stands into the Trump Organization. The new evidence he says that they are getting every day, still.

And, in about two hours, SpaceX is set to launch. I'm going to speak to the administrator of NASA about what this all means. Also the future of the U.S./Russia space relationship.



GOLODRYGA: Congress has passed two bipartisan bills leveling more punishment against Russia. One suspends normal trade relations with the country and the other bans Russian oil, coal and natural gas imports to the United States. The European Union has also approved a fifth round of sanctions that bans coal imports, but still does not target Russian oil and gas.

I want to bring in Alina Polyakova. She is the president and CEO for the Center of European Policy Analysis and an adjunct professor of European studies at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

Alina, always great to have you on.

So let's start with these sanctions because Vladimir Putin has sort of built expectations up, right, that the Russian public should expect these sanctions and that they were not in response to Russian aggression, but an attempt by the west to punish Russia. And so far it seemed like Russians are buying that and rallying around the flag as opposed to being angry at their leadership for putting them in this position.

Does that surprise you?

ALINA POLYAKOVA, PRESIDENT AND CEO, CENTER FOR EUROPEAN POLICY ANALYSIS: Well, unfortunately, that is very much the case. You know, we have seen a poll recently by an independent pollster that's still operating in Russia that just a little over 80 percent of Russians support what the government calls a special operation, aka the war in Ukraine. That's quite a shocking number given the kinds of atrocities many of us have been seeing in Ukraine being carried out by Russian military forces.

Sadly, it doesn't surprise me, however. For many decades the Russian people have been subjected to increasing repression, information control, and now we've seen that kind of repression really pick up and what that means is that most Russians get all their information from state-controlled television outlets, media outlets, and, of course, those outlets tell a completely different story that's completely disconnected from reality. And, unfortunately, the majority of Russians do seem to believe at least some part of that narrative that is a complete lie and is false. But that is what we're seeing today in Russia and it's quite sad.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, on the one hand, of course, you have to take even independent pollsters, right, with a grain of salt given the oppression and the totalitarian regime that really Russia has turned into. Many people fearful of responding in any way that would be critical of the government.

But that having been said, I know you and I have discussed this anecdotally, people that we've known firsthand in Russia who maybe in the past have been critical of Vladimir Putin, are also sort of using this what about-ism or suggesting while war is bad there's a reason why this is all happening.

I'd like to get you to respond, though, to a Kremlin critic and political scientist, Andre Kolisnikov (ph), and what he wrote. He wrote a piece in which he said, the nation follows Putin like the blind leading the blind. When a nation becomes blind, deaf and dumb, Mariupol and Bucha become possible.

I think if we're honest with each other, many people would have expected to see more outrage out of the Russian public than we have seen so far. Is this a sign of what's to come?

POLYAKOVA: Well, unfortunately, and Andre is very much correct, Mr. Putin has taken Russia to the past. He's taken Russia to a very dark time in its history, the Stalinist era, when people were afraid to speak out, when they preferred to look away and not acknowledge what's happening in the world. They were too afraid to ask questions because the kind of repression they would face, being either thrown in the gulag back in those days or being just forced to flee and become dissidents. That is the reality that Russians live in today.

And it is easier to look away and to just turn on the television than it is to ask the kinds of questions that would bring up really existential questions about Russia as a country, Russia as a people, and the nature of Mr. Putin's regime. And I think Mr. Kolisnikov wrote it exactly right, it is the blind leading the blind because Russians are not asking those questions because they don't want to face the reality.

Of course, it's likely not everyone, but those who are asking those questions are being thrown in jail or they're leaving the country.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, I mean we're seeing -- talk about leaving the country. We're seeing the largest mass wave, exodus, out of Russia. Obviously forced exodus because of Russia's war in Ukraine of professionals that are leaving in droves.


Hundreds of thousands of intellectuals and executives and IT experts, you name it, have left Russia and Ukraine, again, forced to do so. Your institution, CEPA, has launched an initiative to help fund some

of these refugees now as a way of bringing them to the United States, specifically those in the arts area, journalists, what have you. I mean you and I are both refugees to this country as well. Talk about why this is so important to the United States and to you personally.

POLYAKOVA: Well, we have seen over and over again how dissidents, activists, political leaders, over time have delivered such great impact to the United States. And you look at Silicon Valley, for example. You know, you can't walk a block without hitting someone that has a Russian or a Slovak name. There's a reason for that. For many years Russia has produced some of the best of the best when it comes to professionals, artists, writers, everyone can name probably this one Russian author who's listening in, or ballerinas, artists, all of these people. And it's very, very sadly these are the exact people that are being forced to leave Russia because they can no longer live in the repression and the kind of dictatorship that Mr. Putin has instituted there.

It is up to us in the United States to take advantage of these people and provide them a lifeline so they can still contribute. And I think more importantly than that, at some point things will change in Russia. Mr. Putin is not immortal. And when that moment comes, there has to be Russians that go back to that country and try to change it for the better. And that's exactly we're trying to do at CEPA, is make sure the Russian civil society doesn't die with Mr. Putin in power. We have to help them survive so that in the long-term Russians can take up the reins of changing Russia and that's why CEPA has started this new fellowship fund to support independent voices, independent journalists, all of those hundreds of thousands of people, the need is huge, who are no longer able to live in Russia.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, it is an important mission. We should just note that the CEO of Yandex (ph), which is Russia's version of Google, just fled the country to Israel. So, it's very important, morally and I would just say for national security and economic reasons to bring these people to the United States as well.

Alina Polyakova, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

POLYAKOVA: Thank you, Bianna.

SCIUTTO: Still ahead, dozens of lawmakers and administration officials here in D.C. are coming down with Covid. Is the president also at risk? We're going to hear from the White House, next.