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Finland's Leaders Announce Support for NATO; Russians killed Unarmed Ukrainians; Maria Mezentseva is Interviewed about Ukraine; U.S. Marks 1 Million Covid Deaths. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired May 12, 2022 - 09:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: More blowback for Vladimir Putin and Russia and it's ongoing invasion of Ukraine. This morning, the leaders, the prime minister and president of Finland, officially announce their support for seeking membership in NATO without delay. It's a remarkable development. A step they've resisted taking for years.

Good morning. I'm Jim Sciutto.


After a decades long history of neutrality, Finland's leaders blaming the Russian president for the country's seismic shift, saying to Putin, you caused this, look in the mirror.

Sweden also expected to announce its intention to join the alliance. The Kremlin reacting this morning by calling Finland's joining NATO a threat to Russia.

SCIUTTO: On the battlefield in Ukraine, Ukrainian armed forces have acknowledged Russian advances in some areas of the east. Potentially significant. Their scale, however, difficult to measure.

Plus, Ukraine is now offering an exchange of Russian prisoners of war for the safe evacuation of injured Ukrainian soldiers from the surrounded Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol that's become really their last holdout.

And, for the first time, Russian civilian -- a Russian civilian has reportedly been killed on Russian soil by cross border shelling from Ukraine. Of course, many Ukrainian civilians -- many thousands killed by Russian shelling so far in this war.

CNN international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson, he is in Helsinki, Finland, and senior correspondent Sara Sidner in Kyiv.

Nic, let's begin with the impending expansion of NATO, particularly Finland's joining and it's expected that Sweden will follow. But Finland, a neighbor of Russia, it's resisted this step for decades. Why now and what's the significance?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Two reasons. The invasion of Ukraine by Russia as seen in Finland as meaning that Putin is ready to take more risks. That unnerves them and unsettles them. They have a history of tensions with Russia going back decades, hence they've been in this unaligned (ph) neutral status for years. And the other thing was, just before the end of last year, the Kremlin made statements, making it very clear that they didn't want any further expansion of NATO. That would include Finland and Sweden. And to the Finnish government, that red light, a change in the Russian government's position, and, therefore, they realized they were put on notice.

Take the two things together and really it's propelled this country really fast. Seventy-five percent of the population, and as many as 180 out of 200 the parliamentarians already in the yes camp for joining NATO. The statement for the government today very, very clear coming from the president and the prime minister, saying that they need NATO for security, and also NATO will be stronger with them. They needed time to make -- come to this decision, but now they want to move without delay.

And for Russia's reaction, the president has quite literally said that if President Putin wants to understand why, then he needs to look at his own actions. These were his words.


PRESIDENT SAULI NIINISTO, FINLAND: Well, if that would be the case that we join, what my response would be that, you caused this. Look at the mirror.


ROBERTSON: The next big step is going to be early next week. The Finnish parliament will vote. As I say, all indications are it will be a massive, massive yes vote. So, this was the biggest day today -- statement by the president and the prime minister, sets the tone, sets the course, this is going to happen.


HILL: It certainly does set a tone.

Nic Robertson in Helsinki for us this morning, thank you.

We also want to show you this morning surveillance video obtained by CNN which shows Russian soldiers shooting two unarmed civilians as they walked away from an encounter. This happened on the outskirts of Kyiv. Ukrainian prosecutors are investigating the incident as a war crime. A sentiment which the European commission is echoing.


URSULA VON DER LEYEN, EUROPEAN COMMISSION PRESIDENT: It is today the most direct threat to the world order with a barbaric war against Ukraine, and it's war impact (ph) with China and their call for new and very much arbitrary international relations.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SCIUTTO: They shot them in the back as they were walking away.

CNN's Sara Sidner is in Kyiv.

Tell us what more we know, Sara, about the incident here, what led up to it and what's going to follow.


SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, we should mention that it is very rare that you're getting surveillance video that shows this much because often Russian troops, when they were rolling into Kyiv, would shoot out the surveillance cameras or the power outages would keep them out. But what you are seeing on this video is a callous disregard for human life. Two Russian soldiers, shooting two men, as they walk away hitting them in the back.


SIDNER (voice over): The soldiers show up and begin breaking in. Inside of a guard shack, two Ukrainian men prepare to meet them. We track down the men's identities. One is the owner of the business, whose family did not want him named, the other was hired to guard it.

YULI PLYATS, FATHER KILLED BY RUSSIANS (through translator): My father's name is Leonid Alexi Plyats (ph).

SIDNER: His daughter Yuli wanted the world to know his name and what the Russians did to him.

Both civilians. Both unarmed. We know this because the video shows them greeting and getting frisked by the Russian soldiers. And then casually walking away. Neither seem to suspect what was about to happen. That is when a member of the civilian fighting force who talked to the men a couple of days before the attack told CNN. He did not want to be identified for security reasons.

LAMABA, VOLUNTEER CIVILIAN FIGHTER (through translator): We came there earlier. We warned people to leave that place. We also hoped for the humanity of Russian soldiers. But, unfortunately, they have no humanity.

SIDNER: You see the two men walking in the shadows toward the camera. Behind them, the soldiers they were just talking to emerge. A few more steps, and their bodies drop to the ground, dust shoots up from the bullets hitting the pavement. The soldiers have opened fire. Minutes later, the guard, Leonid, gets up, limping, but alive. He manages to get inside the guard booth to make a call to the local guys for help.


SIDNER: And he does make that call. And you see the local guys who do show up. But, unfortunately, they are suddenly engaged in a fire fight with the Russian soldiers. They simply do not have the kind of firepower because they're a civilian force that just came together for this war. And they have to leave him there. He ends up bleeding out there on the pavement. The other man also dead.

It really just shows an incredible -- incredibly callous response to two men who were walking away and thought everything was OK, that they had talked their way out of any trouble.

We also see some remarkable video that show just how unprofessional these soldiers were. They go into the business. There is video of them giving each other a toast, drinking, looting, and sort of yucking it up inside of the building after they had just killed these two men.

Jim. Erica.


HILL: When you add that to so many of these stories that we've heard, but to see that there, as you point out, Sara, is really something.

I also wanted to ask you about the new Russian installed leadership in Kherson planning to make a formal request to become part of the Russian Federation. What more do we know about those efforts?

SIDNER: Yes, there is a man by the name of Kirill Stremousov (ph) who was purportedly on this -- on this telegram channel who was saying that he is going to make a formal request to become part of the Russian Federation, basically saying that the Russians have taken over this place. I have been installed as the new local leader here and people can now, once I do this, apply for Russian citizenship.

Of course, Ukraine is saying, look, we plan on fighting to get that territory back, but it does give you some idea of some of the ground that has been lost by the Ukrainian forces there in the east. And it also tells you a little something about how Russia operates once they go into a place. They start trying to change it into Russia, even though it is Ukraine's sovereign territory. And by doing that, they install someone that is -- that is their political puppet, for example, to start doing that. The citizens there are, obviously, afraid, upset, and wondering which side of this is going to win in the end.


SIDNER: Erica. Jim.

SCIUTTO: I asked the mayor of Mykolaiv yesterday whether he believes that when he hears from, for instance, officials in Kherson. He says he knew the actual administrator there prior and he said, they don't want to join Russia. This is a pressure tactic.

Sara Sidner, great story, thanks so much.

Ukraine is offering a prisoner exchange to Russia as a last-ditch attempt to get its injured soldiers out of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol. The Ukrainian deputy prime minister says there is no agreement yet, but they are still negotiating. It's hard to know exactly how many are still inside the plant. Latest estimates this week around 100. Many of the civilians have managed to get out. As you can see from these images, many of those wounded, suffering severe injuries.

HILL: We are also learning about the heartbreaking story of a couple who was fighting side by side in Azovstal. Valaria (ph) and Andrew (ph) were married on May 5th inside the plant.


Three days later she says Andrew was killed in a Facebook post. Valaria writing to him, quote, you were and are the best. All I have left is your last name, your loving families and memories of a happy time together. She goes on to promise him that she will survive the siege and live for the two of them.

SCIUTTO: So many stories like this.

The U.N. high commissioner for human rights says the civilian death toll in the larger city of Mariupol is now in the thousands. Just one city, civilian death toll in the thousands.

In the Kyiv region, more than a thousand bodies have been recovered already.

Joining me now to discuss the state of the war, the cost of this war, Maria Mezentseva. She's a member of the Ukrainian parliament.

Maria, it's good to have you on this morning. Thank you.


SCIUTTO: I want to begin, if I can, with what you know about the fight in the east, because it does seem Ukrainian forces have made some progress in pushing Russian forces back from Kharkiv. That's progress. But that Russian forces, and they've been focusing their attention and pressure there lately, have apparently made some gains in the east. And I wonder, are you concerned that Russia is making progress in the east?

MEZENTSEVA: You know, we're not concerned about Russia. We're only concerned about us as Ukraine and our (INAUDIBLE) supporting us every day. So, with that to say, you mentioned my home city, Kharkiv, which became also a safe shield for the whole region, in the east, including Donbas. The plan was to conquer it also within several days, which failed.

Now we have so many towns (INAUDIBLE) that were liberated and have been next to them. And, you know, it's -- the stories that you reporter has just been telling, we have so many of them over there. And, as I said months ago in -- on CNN already, we also have some sort of Bucha towns over there, was devastated, absolutely devastated, housing, the destroyed buildings, the destroyed infrastructure, the destroyed churches. And -- and many, many things which are unbelievable for a normal human being.

But the -- this was failed. And now we see a que -- a line of cars to enter Kharkiv back, which I would like to remind was -- had 2 million of population before the 24th of February and now it's regaining back its population.

What the Russians are planning to defer there, and that -- that -- this assessment coincides with something we hear from the soldiers whom we speak directly and also from our high command ship in the country. So, linking possibly Donbas with the south, Mariupol, and Melitopol (ph) going to Odessa and coming to the Transnistria where the troops are already concentrated.


MEZENTSEVA: So, we are trying to oppose that. And with land lease, that would be possible.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this, because Russia pulled back from Kyiv. They seem to be pulling back from Kharkiv for now, focusing their forces on the east, and some gains, although the U.S. military does not believe they can make it all the way to Odessa, for instance.

Are you concerned that Russia will take, solidify control of that territory and then therefore still slice off another large piece of Ukraine, even with their setbacks, to still have taken more Ukrainian territory away, successfully?

MEZENTSEVA: We are definitely concerned about the fact that we have to mobilize all our efforts for the east and the south currently. But let's not forget about our neighbor Belarus, which was also misused in the second world war by the USSR and it's today the same murderer as Russia. Therefore, the regrouping takes time as well for us, training for specific weapons, and items that is being conducted in our neighboring states, and we, you know, we are talking about it openly. But due to the fact that our soldiers are really progressing in this exercises, we are gaining more support of the people as well.

And I would like to refer to the previous comment of your reporter, people are not afraid of Russians. People are even in the besieged cities they are supporting Ukrainian power, Ukrainian president. And those tactics being used in Donbas back in 2014 for overthrowing local powers, even if they succeed for the time being, they will not work for long.

SCIUTTO: We'll continue to watch. Maria Mezentseva, thanks so much for joining us.

MEZENTSEVA: Thank you very much.

SCIUTTO: Well, President Biden spoke just moments ago marking 1 million deaths from Covid in this country. It's a sad figure. Dr. Sanjay Gupta will join us live with his take on where we stand more than two years into the pandemic and what happens next.


HILL: Plus, a Grammy winning rapper indicted along with more than two dozen other alleged gang members on racketeering charges. How prosecutors are now trying to use Young Thug's lyrics as evidence against him. And a bit later, at least 20 homes in one of California's most

affluent neighborhoods damaged or destroyed in a rapidly spreading brush fire. We'll take you there with more of the details on efforts to contain it.


SCIUTTO: Just moments ago, President Joe Biden marked a sad pandemic milestone, 1 million Americans died from Covid.


The president issued a presidential proclamation ordering flags to be flown at half-staff to mark the moment.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One million empty chairs around the family dinner table, each irreplaceable, irreplaceable losses, each leaving behind a family, a community forever changed because of this pandemic. My heart goes out to all of those who are struggling, asking themselves, how do I go on without him, how do I go on without her? What will we do without him? It's grief shared by people across all of our nations.


HILL: Biden also urged Congress to pass additional Covid funding today during the virtual global Covid-19 summit.

As CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta reports, the pandemic has killed people from -- of all ages from every walk of life.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Few of us imagined the overwhelming scope of this tragedy. More than one million lives lost. Far surpassing the 1918 flu pandemic or even America's deadliest conflict, the Civil War.

Across the nation, the time of remembrance. In Los Angeles, Maria Santos Peterson devoted her life to caring for others as an ICU nurse at the VA hospital. Just last year she travelled to Central America on her last medical mission. She leaves behind her husband and teenage son.

In Virginia, Teresa Sperry's parents remember their daughter as an avid reader, smart, beautiful, loving and always open to taking care of others. At Hillpoint Elementary, the 10-year-old was known to bandage her classmates cuts and scrapes.

Similar heartaches reverberating all across the country in communities of all creed and color.

In New York, a Hispanic community hit hard. Two congregations united in grief after losing more than 100 members. UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): There are moments we can't

explain with reason. We have to walk in faith, feel our own vulnerability, to care for ourselves and care for others.

GUPTA: In the border county of Hidalgo, Texas, more than 3,500 deaths in the county of less than a million.

DR. MICHAEL DOBBS, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER, UT HEALTH RGV: I'm not sure that everyone has slowed down enough to really understand who's missing and what's missing. What gaps that they've left.

GUPTA: Gaps that may never fully heal.

In Maryland, the first black U.S. secretary of state, General Colin Powell, passed away. Powell's leadership in several administrations helped shape American foreign policy at the turn of the century.

COLIN POWELL, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We understood that even among allies disagreements arise. And what's important is to come back together.

GUPTA: In Nashville, the music world lost prolific session drummer Kenny Malone.

DOLLY PARTON, MUSICIAN (singing): Jolene, Jolene.

GUPTA: In the '70s, Malone's percussion provided the backbone for Dolly Parton's number one hit "Jolene."

Also gone, legendary deejay Paul Johnson, a key figure in the Chicago house music scene of the '90s. Johnson's single "Get Get Down" was a global sensation.

In New Hampshire, William and Carol Stewart died holding hands. Married for 44 years, they had known each other since they were just four years old. Daughter Melissa Nok (ph) believes her parents were soul mates.

MELISSA NOK (ph): I love you. And I will see you again some day.

GUPTA: In Yucaipa, California, a mother and father leave behind five children. Nurse Davy Macias died about a week after giving birth to her fifth child, a baby girl. Her husband, Daniel, died two week later. They never met their newborn. The children now live with grandparents.

In Belle Glade, Florida, a family torn apart. Lisa Wilson (ph) Wiggins had gone door to door trying to get people vaccinated as part of her work with the county. Despite her best effort to save lives, she lost six relatives in the span of three weeks, burying her own 89-year-old grandmother and uncle and four cousins.

In communities everywhere, families, friends and loved ones find symbols of remembrance with flags at the National Mall, a burning candle at Chicago's navy pier, Monarch butterflies during Dia De Las Martos (ph) in El Paso. In Belle Mar, New Jersey, a makeshift beach memorial. Rima Salmon (ph)

wrote her brother Romey's (ph) name on a single stone. Soon, there were 3,000 more.

And in Los Angeles, teen Madeline Fuja (ph) commemorates her city's fallen through a patchwork quilt that's now a global project of healing.


MADELINE FUJA (ph): Behind every single one of these squares is a person. And not just a person who died, but a person who lived. They still are in people's hearts and memories.

GUPTA: One of the quilt squares offers a simple message of hope for the future, please don't live in fear. There will be a better day.


GUPTA: You know, there is this concept known as compassion fade or empathy fatigue, which means that if I tell you a story like that once, you really care deeply about it. But if it's repeated a million times, oftentimes people cannot sort of process those numbers and their compassion starts to fade and their empathy starts to fatigue. And I think that's part of what has happened here and part of the reason we wanted to share those stories.

And also, you know, at a time like this, it's easy to say, look, we're reflecting. It's in the rear view mirror. But, you know, we're still in this at the same time. And some people may think, hey, look, I'm good, I'm fine, I'm safe, while people around them may still be very vulnerable because of age or pre-existing conditions or young children. And I think it's really important to keep that in mind.

We'll see what happens over the next several weeks. But, you know, the numbers are going up in most of the country right now, and that's something we have to be mindful of.

SCIUTTO: Yes, it's a compassion fade and you might even say some fear fade as well over time. People just exhausted with it.


SCIUTTO: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thanks so much for telling those stories.

Economic news. The weekly jobs report has just been released. It shows more Americans are now filing for unemployment. How that fits into the greater economic picture, that's coming up.