Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

Russia Bombs School with 90 Civilians Inside; Russia Prepares for Celebrations; Beijing-Backed John Lee Set to Become Next Hong Kong Leader; Ukrainians Find Refuge in Italian Villa. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired May 08, 2022 - 02:00   ET




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

ISA SOARES, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hello and a warm welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Isa Soares, live, in Ukraine with updates on Russia's war in this nation. The latest brutality here, turning a school shelter into a pile of rubble.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): I am Michael Holmes at CNN World Headquarters in, Atlanta. Following the day's top stories, including the unopposed election of Hong Kong's next leader. You are watching CNN NEWSROOM.


SOARES: Thank you for your company, it's 9 am in Ukraine. Already battered by weeks of war, Ukrainians are now bracing for a possibility that Russia could unleash even more devastation, starting on Monday. That is when Russia celebrates victory day, commemorating the defeat of Nazis in the Second World War.

But analysts have warned, Russian president, Vladimir Putin, could use this year's event to make a major announcement about the war, in Ukraine. We have more details, on that, in just a moment.

In Eastern Ukraine, 60 people are feared dead, after Russian forces, reportedly, bombed a school in the Luhansk region. The regional governor says, around 90 people were sheltering inside when the bomb hit; 30 were rescued from the rubble, so far.

Two bodies have been recovered and the governor says, they are unlikely to find more survivors.

There were some hopeful developments in the besieged city of Mariupol. Ukrainian officials saying all women, children and the elderly have now been evacuated, from the Azovstal steel plant. Many were trapped inside of the plant for weeks, under relentless shelling and with food, water and medicine in dangerously short supply.

To the west, Russia has fired six cruise missiles at the port city of Odessa. So far, no casualty reported. Strikes on historic cities, like Odessa, almost inevitably lead to other collateral damage. Saturday, Ukraine's president expressed outrage over how many cultural and world historical treasures have been destroyed by this war.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Every day of this war, the Russian army does something that is beyond words. But every next day, it does something that makes you feel it in a new way.

Today, the invaders launched a missile strike at Odessa, a city where almost every street has something memorable, something historical. But for the Russian army, it does not matter. They would only kill and destroy. Odessa, Kharkiv region, Donbas, they do not care.


SOARES: Mr. Zelenskyy also said hundreds of Ukrainian cultural sites have been damaged or destroyed by the Russian military since the war began. One was a small literary museum in a village outside of Kharkiv dedicated to an important 18th century philosopher and poet.

Everything was destroyed when a Russian shell set the building on fire overnight. The museum director said it's proof Russia is trying to wipe out Ukrainian identity.


NATALIA MITSAY, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL LITERARY MEMORIAL MUSEUM HRYHORIY SKOVORODA (through translator): Their aim is to destroy us Ukrainians, to destroy our culture and traditions, our people, to take our children to Russia and destroy their memory about Ukraine.


SOARES: Meanwhile, the Russian ministry of defense is claiming its planes shot down as many as seven Ukrainian aircraft in the Snake Island area, in the Black Sea. For its part, the Ukrainian military, reported, fights around Snake Island, but did not acknowledge any losses.

They did release this drone footage you are seeing, showing Ukrainian forces, destroying a Russian landing craft. The Ukrainian military, also claiming to hit two anti-craft missile systems.

CIA director Bill Burns offering a public assessment of Russian president, Vladimir Putin's mindset while speaking at an event in Washington. The former U.S. ambassador to Moscow, noted that Mr. Putin has staked a lot on the second phase of the war in Ukraine. Take a listen.


BILL BURNS, CIA DIRECTOR: He is in a frame of mind in which he doesn't believe he can afford to lose. I think he is convinced, right now, that doubling down, still, will enable him to make progress.



SOARES: Matthew Schmidt is an associate professor of national security and political science at the University of New Haven. He was also the former instructor at the Army War College.

Matthew, a very good morning to you and I'm sorry you have to wake up to talk to us. I really appreciate it.

Let me get to what we just heard from the CIA director, that Putin believes that doubling, down is the best path forward.

Your thoughts?

MATTHEW SCHMIDT, UNIVERSITY OF NEW HAVEN: I think the CIA director is correct. Putin has no way out except to double down and go through. I'm not too worried that tomorrow will see some sort of massive force movement. Russian forces are incapable of moving on the offensive right now.

That's why you've seen missile shots, airstrikes and things like that. They can do some of that but they're not going to be able to engage in a massive offensive for some time.

SOARES: If he is indeed, doubling down when he speaks, what do you think he will tout?

Because Putin needs to show that they are winning. He has failed, clearly, to make any major gains.

SCHMIDT: Right. He's banking on the conscription drive replacing his stocks of lost generals and lost junior officers. We're talking 60 or 90 days this is going to go take but he's wrong because what is happening on the battlefield has been flipped.

To start, you had Russia on the offensive, with overwhelming firepower and Ukraine on the defense. What happens now is that has changed. Ukraine is on the offense, especially with Western weapons now that they have been asking for. And Russia has been racing to set up a defensive line.

And why go to defense?

It is the second best option and you don't need top tier officers to do it. The command of the operation is always the same: hold the line. So he's lost an extraordinary amount of officers that make it capable for him to be combat effective. Right now, he has 20-25 percent of his forces, simply, that cannot fight.

SOARES: So really, it is a message, a propaganda, perhaps we may see tomorrow, to try and, really, for him to expand this war and conscript more soldiers, is, of course, what you are saying? SCHMIDT: Yes. I think what he will say is, essentially, this thing that I've been calling a special military operation, is now a war. He will invoke the idea that the U.S. government has, flat out said, its new strategic aim is to degrade the Russian military power beyond the war itself.

He will say, that is an indication that the United States has, essentially, joined the war as a combatant. He will threaten to do things and he will fire some missiles, as he can although even there, he has lower stocks than he would like, in terms of the long range ordnance.

SOARES: Let's talk about what we've seen on the ground. We have obviously seen Mariupol being bombarded for weeks on end now, relentless shelling the last four or five days.

Where do you see the moves in Odessa, meanwhile, that is also with intensity there, with some of that shelling?

SCHMIDT: Odessa is key to controlling the Black Sea. It's the sister city of Mariupol, which is key to controlling the Azov Sea. Odessa has incredible symbolic value for Vladimir Putin.

In 2014, when the Maidan revolution was beginning, there were a group of pro Russian protesters, who were burned to death in a building. This is the one part of Putin's propaganda that has some truth to it.

We don't know how they were burned or who did it. But they were killed. So it Odessa is important to him -- it was an important justification for the war in the first place. And I think that we will see more of his fury, his rage aimed there. I think you will see it called out specifically in the speech as well.

SOARES: Everyone's keeping an eye on that in the next 24 and 48 hours, to see how the battle shapes us. We have definitely seen an intensity, in terms of the attacks that we are seeing from Russia. Matthew Schmidt, appreciate you taking time with us. Thank you.

SCHMIDT: My pleasure.

SOARES: Michael Holmes is joining me from Atlanta.

Michael, I know you've had these discussions with many of your military guests as well. But everyone watching closely what the announcement from Putin on Monday will mean in terms of the battle.


SOARES: It is clear from what we've seen with the intensity, there's been an uptick in the strikes coming from Russia.

HOLMES: Yes, indeed, it's a big day from him. Victory day was not that big, historically for Russia until Yeltsin but mainly under Putin, it has taken on this major, major status as a day. So it will be interesting to see how he marks it.

Great to see you, my friend. We will talk again, in the next hour. Appreciate it.

Now 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 rehearsals on Saturday. Officials say warplanes will perform 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.



SATTER: 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: We'll be right back, after the break.




HOLMES: The Hong Kong security chief, who oversaw the 2019 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, will become the city's next leader.

John Lee was backed by Beijing and he was, in fact, the only candidate, in what was a tightly controlled, small circle vote, to replace Carrie Lam as chief executive. CNN's Kristie Lu Stout is following all of this, joining me from Hong Kong.

So no surprise in this result, the only candidate.

What kind of leadership does he bring?

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: He represents law and order, security and stability. He is the former deputy leader in Hong Kong, serving number two, to the outgoing chief executive, Carrie Lam. He was a former career police officer and an ex security chief of Hong Kong.

He was a security chief here during the 2019, very destabilizing Hong Kong protests and during the imposition of the controversial national security law, the following year.

When you talk to analysts about John Lee and the fact that he was selected, they say it's very significant. He represents what Beijing wants and Beijing wants an emphasis on national security. Listen to this.


JOSEPH CHENG, RETIRED HONG KONG POLITICAL SCIENTIST: His selection is, generally, believed to reflect Beijing's emphasis on national security, in its policy, toward Hong Kong and this emphasis on loyalty in personal arrangements.


CHENG: It is expected that there will be no major change in policy. There is an emphasis on authoritarianism and a heavy hand in dealing with the opposition and the civil society.


STOUT: Now he may be the law and order national security leader but his biggest challenges are all economic ones. He needs to address the housing affordability issue in one of the world's most expensive markets. He needs to revive business confidence in Hong Kong. He needs to restore the international standing of Hong Kong, as a once thriving international aviation hub, logistics hub and financial center.

But perhaps the biggest of all is trying to end the two entities. To the people of Hong Kong and to bosses up north in China. Analysts talk to me and they increasingly point out, the accountability here in Hong Kong increasingly, flows north to the Chinese capital. Back to you.

HOLMES: Kristie, thank you. Kristie Lu Stout, in Hong Kong.

We are going to take a court break on the program, we will be right back.




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

Sinn Fein supports Northern Ireland leaving the U.K. and joining the Republic of Ireland. And, its vice president, Michelle O'Neill, looks set to be Northern Ireland's first Republican first minister. Sinn Fein's victories, a loss for their rival, Democratic Unionist Party, which wants Northern Ireland to stay in the U.K.

Sinn Fein, winning 27, out of 90 seats. The DUP, 25.

Imagine fleeing the horrors of the war in Ukraine and then finding refuge in a multimillion dollar Italian villa. That did happen to one Ukrainian family. CNN's Barbie Nadeau, speaking with them and the woman opening up her historic home. She joins me now live.

What an extraordinary story.

BARBIE NADEAU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's interesting how they ended up in this incredible villa. Italy had the largest Ukrainian population before the war, so many people have connections here. So the people who come here from Ukraine, right now, are landing in families, ready to accept them. But not everyone landed quite as well as this family did.


NADEAU (voice-over): Ukrainian Olga Kolkovska (ph) never imagined her daughter and grandchildren would be living with her, where she works as a housekeeper, in one of the most expensive villas in the world, here, in the heart of Rome.

Olga (ph) tells us her family was doing well in her home country. They had a house, cars, money to live. They were doing so well, she tells us. Now everything is broken. Now they live in the Villa Aurora, complete with an original ceiling

mural painted by Caravaggio. It is, currently, inhabited by Texas born Rita Carpenter, who became Princess Rita Carpenter Boncompagni Ludovisi after marrying an Italian aristocrat.

This villa, with its masterpieces, is scheduled to be auctioned off in June though, twice before, no one had deep enough pockets --


NADEAU (voice-over): -- to hit the nearly half a billion dollar minimum opening bid. Olga has worked here for the last 14 years and when bombs started dropping near Kyiv where her daughter and family lived, there was only one option.

RITA BONCOMPAGNI LUDOVISI, OWNER, VILLA AURORA: Olga (ph) and I discussed it. And as things were becoming more and more dangerous, she said -- I said, you'd better get them out of there now. They're bombing there.

NADEAU (voice-over): The trip out of Ukraine was harrowing, Olga's (ph) daughter, Mariia Brateshevska says. They left with only the clothes on their back and the raw fear for their father, who stayed behind.

They joined more than 107,000 Ukrainians, who have come to Italy since the beginning of the war. Maria has kept the worst details from her youngest children, who are just 6 and 7.

But Oleksandr (ph), who celebrated his 16th birthday last week in Rome, is old enough to hear the truth. Alexander shows us what's left of his high school, which was bombed, on a photo the director sent him.

NADEAU: Is this your school?

OLEKSANDR (PH): Yes, this is the door. We go inside there, through this door. My classroom inside.

NADEAU (voice-over): Since arriving in Rome on March 8, the children have started school, where they're learning Italian, as they settle into Olga's (ph) apartment inside the villa.

LUDOVISI: Imagine what they have gone through, having their lives disrupted and turned upside down. And their father, still being there and their grandfather being there. It is just -- it's heartbreaking. I mean, it really is.

NADEAU (voice-over): Mariia doesn't know when or if she and her family will be able to go back.

MARIIA BRATESHEVSKA, UKRAINIAN REFUGEE: We cannot have plans. Of course, all of our plans crushed.

NADEAU (voice-over): But they found relative peace with the princess in this breathtaking villa -- at least, for now. (END VIDEOTAPE)

NADEAU: When you look at this, a beautiful place to be that offers them peace and tranquility. But talking to this family, all they're thanking about is their father and grandfather, their home, friends and school and their old lives back in Ukraine.

HOLMES: Yes, there's a bigger picture out there. But I'm glad they're safe for now. Barbie, great story, thank you.

Barbie Nadeau, in Rome.

Now the Mexican artist, Roberto Marquez is bringing some life back to a destroyed bridge in Irpin, in Ukraine, and making a statement about war, at the same time. He is reworking the famous 1937 painting, "Guernica," Pablo Picasso's reflection on the bombing of the Spanish town by Nazi troops.

He says he wants the work to send a message that, quote, "War is not quite right."

Thank you so much for spending part of your day with me. You can find me on Twitter and Instagram, at Holmes CNN. Do stay with us.