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Russia Bombs School with 90 Civilians Inside; Russia Blowing Up Bridges to Slow Counter Attacks; Russia Prepares for Celebrations; Beijing-Backed John Lee Set to Become Next Hong Kong Leader; Afghan Women Ordered to Cover Head to Toe. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired May 08, 2022 - 00:00   ET




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

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hello and welcome, everyone. I'm Michael Holmes at CNN's world headquarters in Atlanta. Appreciate your company.


HOLMES (voice-over): And we begin with growing fears that dozens of people could be dead, after Russian forces reportedly bombed a school in the Luhansk region of Eastern Ukraine. According to the regional governor, around 90 people were sheltering inside, when this bomb hit. You can see the destruction there.

Just 30 have so far been rescued from the rubble, we are told.

Now to the south, Ukrainian officials say all women, children and the elderly have been evacuated now from the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol. Many spent weeks sheltering inside the sprawling industrial complex, under relentless shelling and with food, water and medicine in dangerously short supply.

Ukraine's president says they are now focused on evacuating the wounded and medics who are still trapped in that plant, as well as civilians who are stuck in other areas around Mariupol.


HOLMES: For more, let's get the very latest from our Isa Soares, standing in Lviv for us. Isa.


The school that was bombed as it sheltered dozens of Ukrainian villagers, it was just 10 kilometers from the front lines in Eastern Ukraine. Scott McLean filed this report a short time ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There are fears of a high casualty count after Ukrainians accused the Russians of dropping a bomb on a school in a small village in eastern Ukraine.

The head of the Luhansk Regional Military Administration said the Russians were fighting with unarmed civilians when they dropped that bomb on the school in the village about seven miles west of the front lines.

And 90 people were thought to have been taking shelter there at the time. The official says that 30 people have been pulled out of the rubble. Though judging by the pictures, it is incredible that anyone could have possibly survived.

Now that official said that almost the entire village had been taking shelter there because it was one of the few places that were even left to shelter in.

This village is not too far from Donetsk, with heavy fighting has been taking place, recently, as the Russians try to push through the front lines.

That strike will try to bring back memories of a bombing of a theater in Mariupol, where hundreds of women and children were taking shelter. Some 300 people or more were thought to have been killed there.

They even spelled out the Russian word for children, in hopes of being spared by the Russian bombs.

This village, it has been taking Russian shelling for weeks now. Officials managed a successful evacuation operation in late April, where they got out 49 people, including eight children, by train to western Ukraine. But clearly, not everyone had left -- Scott McLean, CNN, Lviv, Ukraine.


SOARES: Well, joining me now from Los Angeles, retired U.S. Army Major General Mark MacCarley.

General, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. Let me start where Scott McLean just left off. Looking at these images of that school, it is hard to imagine that anyone would have survived this.

From your viewpoint, I mean, is this an act of desperation from the Russian forces here?

MAJ. GEN. MARK MACCARLEY, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Absolutely, an act of desperation but more significant, a reflection of this horrific invasion, I'm going to use the word invasion, by Russia into Ukraine.

There is no justification whatsoever for bombing a clearly marked civilian facility, except to spread terror amongst inhabitants of those communities. Absolutely wrong.

SOARES: And it has been done, as Scott was saying, we've seen it before. We saw it in Mariupol, where the letters were clearly written. There were civilians. This is something that we've seen time and time again.

MACCARLEY: Yes, the best way, at least, to describe what we have seen is that this is a continued example of the way that the Russians have fought.


MACCARLEY: They fought this war. And if you look back to Syria, about a decade ago and you look at Chechnya, maybe 20, 25 years ago, it is the exact same way of terrorizing the civilian population, in order to gain military advantage, just bomb indiscriminately.

Again, no justification for it; again, violation of the laws of war. But presumptively, the Russians, at least Putin, has come to some sort of conclusion or opinion, that this is the way to gain substantially in Eastern Ukraine.

SOARES: And let's talk about terrorizing, because that's what we have seen for days on and, weeks on end, in the besieged city of Mariupol, in particular. Of course, in the last four days, the Azovstal steel plant, we know elderly women and children are now out. The 600 or so children.

Where does it leave them?

What is their fate?

MACCARLEY: As I think you and I discussed a couple of days ago, I am not an optimist, when we speak about the fate of those true heroes for Ukraine, those 600 or so soldiers, a good number of which are wounded.

And unless there is a miracle -- and that miracle would be some sort of intervention by Ukrainian forces, that would somehow push the Russians away from the steel mill -- right now, it's either a fight to the death or a decision, a very difficult decision that Zelenskyy, President Zelenskyy would have to make about allowing his soldiers to surrender.

SOARES: Yes, what, we do know of course, official about a week ago spoke, is that they're not part on these evacuation plans, in terms of the agreement between Russia and the U.N. and the Red Cross.

But we have heard President Zelenskyy in the last 24 hours, try to push for a diplomatic solution, to see if they can be rescued.

But you know, let's have a bigger picture here, General. Because for weeks now, we've been hearing that Russia is desperate for some, quote, "grand victory," as, of course, we look ahead to May 9th, victory day. They have failed, Russian forces, to make any major gains.

Where would that win be?

Mariupol, what's left of it, Kherson? MACCARLEY: Certainly. It's almost as if we are asking ourselves to look into Putin's mind, if that's even possible, or look at his speech writer. There is a speech writer that comes forward with whatever address is going to make about 10 hours from now.

And my speculation is that he's going to stand before the Russian people and basically say, we have had significant success. Look what we've done. We pushed beyond the boundaries of the Donetsk, Luhansk, the oblasts and the provinces in Eastern Ukraine. And we have successfully seized Mariupol.

Now understandably, the steel mill and the Ukrainian soldiers, who are standing tall and continuing to defend that small sector of Mariupol. But a speech could be written for Putin that he delivers to the Russian people. And he will say he has moved forward.

He has successfully liberated a substantial part of Eastern Ukraine because of the discrimination that has occurred years and years and years against Russian speaking Ukrainians. I'm not saying that this is right but it's my speculation.

SOARES: Just briefly, before you go, Major General, we heard in the last 24 hours or so, from the Ukrainian side, for the first time, in fact, that the Russians are hitting bridges in the northeast. I'm guessing that's to try and slow the advance.

But what does that tell you about how the battle is being played out in the front lines?

MACCARLEY: Again, it's characteristic of a war of attrition. As I've suggested a couple of times, Russia is now engaged in this new, what we call, refined strategy, from Putin, a couple of weeks ago, a month ago, where he'll focus on the Donbas region.

And one of the ways that the Russians can offset the straw morale and the adept fighting capabilities of the Ukranians is to destroy those transit corridors and roads and as well bridges. For instance, that's across the Donetsk River.

And without those bridges, it makes it doubly difficult for Ukrainian forces to respond to attacks further east in the Donbas area. And as well, I want to add that we also saw that attack by the Russians against supply depots.


MACCARLEY: Which again, it is that sort of vulnerability of the Ukrainians.

SOARES: Major General Mark MacCarley, it's great to get your insights, sir. Thank you very much.

MACCARLEY: Thank you.

SOARES: Michael, that does it here for me of course. We'll keep an eye on all the developments coming out of Ukraine. In the meantime, back to you.

HOLMES: Yes, we'll take it now. Thanks so much, Isa.

As the fighting in Ukraine rages on, Russia is preparing to celebrate its traditional victory day on Monday. That's when Moscow holds a massive military parade to mark the Soviets' victory in World War II.

What are you seeing there is video of a rehearsal on Saturday. Officials say warplanes will form a flyover, in a formation that looks like the letter Z, which has become a pro-war symbol of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Western officials believe President Putin could use the occasion to make a major announcement about his unprovoked war.

David Satter is a former Moscow correspondent for the "Financial Times," and a former "Wall Street Journal" special correspondent on Soviet affairs.

Always good to get your expertise, David. Victory day, always important for Vladimir Putin; given the war in Ukraine, presumably, more so this year. There's been a lot of speculation about what he might do to mark it.

What do you expect to see on that day?

DAVID SATTER, JOURNALIST: Well, Putin is not 100 percent predictable, as he has demonstrated in the last couple of months. But I am not expecting to see something all that traumatic, because I think he's got enough common sense not to let a show like this dictate his war strategy.

They've been saying that there is not going to be any declaration of war. There's not going to be any mass mobilization. And the situation on the ground suggests to me, that's probably the case.

But this is a very important symbolic holiday for Russians. And they'll find some way to stoke patriotic fervor and to rally people around this disastrous war that is costing so many lives.


HOLMES: And to that point, I was going to say, you raise a good point.

How much victory day, in terms of that fervor, is aimed at the Russian people, firing them up?

And do you think this year the effort is to tie this conflict with the battle against the Nazis, what, nearly eight decades ago?

SATTER: Absolutely. They've been using the victory in the Second World War to militarize the society. They have young children posing in military uniforms. There are even cases, where couples pushing buggies have put cartoon illustrations on cardboard backing, to make them look like tanks. The -- they want to squeeze every bit of legitimacy out of that

victory that they possibly can. And they want to use it to mobilize people. How long that's going to work is anyone's guess, in light of what's happening, because their ally the Second World War, it was the Russians and the Ukrainians and the other people, who were part of the Soviet Union.

HOLMES: Yes. Given that this is in many ways, an ideological battle for Putin, the fight for a greater Russia, rather than a traditional conflict, if there's such a thing, does that make fighting more difficult, that ideology motivation?

Or does it weaken him as a combatant?

SATTER: Well, I have a somewhat different view of all this. I lived in Russia. I followed Putin's career. I followed the terrorist acts that he used in order to gain power. I don't think he has an ideological motivation.

I think that this is the motivation of a small group of people, who are determined to use the ideology of the population to keep themselves in power. They use that as a mobilizing device, in a country where the political culture conduces to that.

But they themselves are totally cynical. We've seen this time and again in their behavior. And they're absolutely not averse to using that violence against their own people. That's how Putin came into power. There would be no Putin without the terrorist acts of 1999.

HOLMES: Yes, yes. The optics of victory day are one thing.

But you think that in the bigger picture, the propaganda drive that has been fed to the Russian people is ultimately sustainable?

It surely can't hold up forever as the war drags on, the costs in lives and the economy pile up.


SATTER: People are going to begin to think. There's no question about it. The problem is that they identify the regime with the Russian nation and with the Russian people. They do not understand that the regime may act against the interests of the Russian people.

Or at least, it may act in a way that uses the Russian people for its own purposes, regardless of their own welfare. But that's going to crack, that impression. They can't use this kind of propaganda forever.

And the sheer absurdity of waging war against the Ukrainians, who were their most important ally in the Second World War, that's going to penetrate, sooner or later, especially when people suffer the consequences.

HOLMES: I wish we had more time. We do not. David Satter, always a pleasure. Thanks so much. SATTER: Thank you, good to be with you.

HOLMES: Beijing backed candidate John Lee is expected to be selected as Hong Kong's next leader any minute now. In fact, that's not surprising; he's the only candidate. We will have a live report from Hong Kong, coming up.




HOLMES: Sinn Fein is celebrating a historic win, in Northern Ireland, the Irish nationalists, once considered the political wing of the Irish Republican Army have emerged as the largest party after Thursday's regional elections.

Sinn Fein supports Northern Ireland leaving the U.K. and joining the Republic of Ireland. Its vice president, Michelle O'Neill, looks set to be Northern Ireland's first Republican first minister.


MICHELLE O'NEILL, NORTHERN IRELAND DEPUTY FIRST MINISTER: Today ushers in a new era, which, I believe, presents us all with an opportunity to reimagine relationships in this society on the basis of fairness, of equality and of social justice. Irrespective of religious, political or social backgrounds, my commitment is to make politics work.


HOLMES: Sinn Fein's victory is a loss for the rival Democratic Unionist Party, which wants Northern Ireland to stay in the U.K. Sinn Fein, winning at least 27 of 90 seats, compared to the DUP's 25.

The Hong Kong security chief, who oversaw the pro-democracy crackdown in 2019, is set to become the city's next leader. Beijing backed John Lee is the only candidate, in a tightly controlled, small circle vote, to replace Carrie Lam as chief executive. CNN's Kristie Lu Stout, joining us from Hong Kong.

As we said, there's only one choice, so it's not much of a contest from a voter perspective. Tell us, where are you and more about this process.


KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Sure. I am inside the Hong Kong exhibition and convention center, where the ballot counting has been underway. This process is being billed as the 2022 chief executive election.

But this is not election in the Western democratic sense of the word. The 7.4 million residents who call Hong Kong home have no say in who their leader is but rather, under a revamped electoral system.

What is happening here is less than 1,500 members of this largely pro Beijing election committee, largely pro Beijing industry leaders, representatives and lawmakers, they can select who the next leader is.

There is only one contender in this race, if we can even call it that, the former security chief of Hong Kong, John Lee, who has the backing and blessing, of Beijing. He is the outgoing deputy leader, who has been serving under the outgoing chief executive, Carrie Lam.

He is a career police officer and, formerly, was the security chief in Hong Kong, during the 2019 long and often violent, Hong Kong protests. He was also the security chief during the imposition of the controversial national security law, imposed on Hong Kong, by Beijing.

He enforce that the following year, in 2020. So this is a man who symbolizes law and order, security and stability. And analysts say, that is why he is Beijing's choice. Back to you.

HOLMES: Kristie, thank you so much. We will check in with you as this continues in the hours ahead. Kristie Lu Stout, in Hong Kong.

Former Brazilian president, Lula de Silva, throwing his hat back in the ring for president. He launched his campaign with a rally on Saturday, in Sao Paulo. Lula is the front-runner against the incumbent, Jair Bolsonaro, who has faced blistering criticism over his handling of the COVID pandemic, among other things.

Lula has been convicted on corruption and money laundering charges, which barred him from running against Bolsonaro in 2018. But a supreme court judge annulled those charges last year. The first round of the election, scheduled to take place October 2nd.

The death toll has risen to 32 in Friday's explosion at a popular hotel in Cuba, with 19 people, still, missing. A gas leak, thought to be the cause of the blast at Havana's historic Hotel Saratoga. Early reports indicate, a child and a pregnant woman, were among the fatalities. Many victims were hotel employees. Rescue teams, still searching the rubble for any survivors.

Yet another setback for women's rights in Afghanistan. Coming up, what the Taliban are threatening to do if women are not covered from head to toe. We will be right back.




HOLMES: Welcome back.

In Afghanistan, the Taliban are cracking down even more on freedoms for women. A decree, issued on Saturday, requires women to cover themselves from head to toe, including their faces, whenever they appear in public. It is the latest blow to women's rights, such as they were, under Afghanistan's new, hard line, Islamist rulers.


HOLMES (voice-over): When the Taliban were in power in Afghanistan, more than 25 years ago, women were required to cover their faces in public, an order, that was reinstated on Saturday.


AKIF MUHAJIR, TALIBAN MINISTRY FOR PROMOTION OF VIRTUE AND VICE: Those women, who are not too old or young, must cover their face up and their eyes, as per sharia directives, in order to avoid provocation.


HOLMES (voice-over): The Taliban says, there will be punishments for not following the rules. A woman's father or male guardian could be visited by authorities and, perhaps, jailed. Women working in government jobs, who don't comply, could be fired.

Most women in Afghanistan wear a head scarf but many in urban areas, such as Kabul, don't cover their faces. The decree is yet another setback for women's rights and freedoms, in Afghanistan, which have been rolled back since the Taliban took control of the country, last summer.

The Taliban say, they have changed, since their previous rule, in which women and girls, were barred from education and leaving the house, without a male relative. But its series of restrictions, in recent months, seem to contradict that claim.

In March, the Taliban backtracked on a promise to reopen high schools for girls and said, instead, they would remain closed, until a plan could be made to run them in accordance with Islamic law.

That same month, the Taliban said, women can no longer fly on planes, domestic or international, without a male chaperone.

In Herat, one of Afghanistan's more progressive cities, there are reports that the Taliban has given orders to driving instructors not to issue driver's licenses to women anymore. Local authorities deny it is an official policy but some in the city say it's happening anyway.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I have not seen any official letter banning women from driving. But unfortunately, licenses are not being issued to women. At checkpoints, some Taliban might stop us, because of their personal opinions.

HOLMES (voice-over): There have been sporadic protests by women in Afghanistan in recent months, demanding the right to education and work. But the Taliban have cracked down on them, leaving little hope that women's voices will be heard in this version of Taliban rule, anymore than they were in the last one.

(END VIDEOTAPE) HOLMES: What were already precarious progressions and progress, already, unraveling before our eyes in Afghanistan.

Tunisian tennis star Ons Jabeur has made history by winning this year's Madrid Open. She is the first woman from an Arab or African country to win a WTA 1000 tournament. That's the highest tier, below the four grand slams.

She beat American Jessica Pegula to claim the Madrid title. Currently, she's ranked 10th in the world but she is projected to rise to number seven, following that win.

Good for her.

Thank you for spending part of your day with me, I am Michael Holmes. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram, at Holmes CNN. I'll be back at the top of the hour and stay tuned. "HIDDEN TREASURES" coming up next.