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Russia Steps Up Attacks On Donbas; Israeli Police Beat Mourners Carrying Shereen Abu Aqleh's Casket; North Korea Announces First COVID Death; Elon Musk Says His $44B Deal To Buy Twitter Is On Hold; UAE President Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Dies At Age 73; China To Strictly Limit "Non-Essential" Travel Abroad. Aired 2-3p ET

Aired May 13, 2022 - 14:00   ET



LYNDA KINKADE, CNN HOST: Hello everyone, I'm Lynda Kinkade, you're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from our world headquarters here in Atlanta, good to have you with us. Tonight, fierce fighting in the east as Ukraine pushes back Russian troops around Kharkiv. We'll have all the developments on the ground. Then, violence in Jerusalem as Israeli police beat and shove mourners ahead of the funeral of "Al Jazeera" journalist Shereen Abu Aqleh.

And later, North Korea announces its first COVID death just a day after reporting its first official case. Ukraine's defense minister says his troops are achieving strategic breakthroughs that will make Russia's defeat inevitable. Even so, he warns that the war is entering a new protracted face. Fierce fighting is underway in the east as Russia battles for control of the Donbas region. It is making some gains, pushing Ukrainian forces back from the city of Rubizhne.

But elsewhere in Luhansk, Ukrainian forces are managing to hold off a Russian advance after they blew up two Russian pontoon bridges. Russia appears to be using the same tactics to try to stop Ukrainian advance in the Kharkiv region. Forced to retreat, Russian forces apparently blew up three bridges vital to Ukraine's counter offensive. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says victory for Ukraine is only a matter of time.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, PRESIDENT, UKRAINE (through translator): Russia's strategic defeat is already obvious to everyone in the world, and even to those who still continue to communicate with them. Russia simply lacks courage to admit it so far. They are cowards, and they are trying to hide the truth behind missile, air and artillery strikes. Therefore, our task is to fight until we achieve our goals in this war. Free our land, our people and reliably ensure our security.


KINKADE: Right, I want to bring in CNN's Melissa Bell, she joins us live from Kyiv. Good to see you Melissa. So, we have been keeping a close eye on Russia's attacks in eastern Ukraine. Russia trying to make territorial gains, but Ukraine pressing ahead with a major counter-offensive. Bring us up to speed with the latest.

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, what we've seen earlier in the week, Lynda, where these gains to the north of Kharkiv as a result of that Ukrainian counter-offensive. That appears to have continued at a steady pace and with further successes, this time to the east of Kharkiv. And you mentioned a moment ago that evidence that CNN saw that several bridges had been blown up.

We understand, we believe that, that is the result of Russian forces trying to prevent that counter-offensive from taking back any more of its Ukrainian territory. Now, this is important, this counter- offensive was important, not only as far as Kharkiv is finally getting a bit of respite after more than two months of shelling and a siege that has seen several hundred civilians, mainly women and children, Lynda, killed at the sheer numbers, of course, yet, to be confirmed because it's only been a few days of real quiet.

But it is also a counter offensive, it is essential in cutting the supply lines from Russia, the Russian border down further to its efforts to expand its foothold from beyond the parts of Luhansk and Donetsk were strongholds already. Now, because of that counter- offensive or rather that counter-offensive was able to take place, because over the course of the last few days and weeks. Russia has concentrated its forces further to the east.

You mentioned Rubizhne a moment ago, that is a town that Ukrainian forces further to the east in Luhansk province had been fighting for relentlessly for several days. We understand although, Ukrainian forces haven't admitted as much yet that it has now fallen entirely to Russia. The next fear is for the town of Severodonetsk. Now, that is very close to the town that I just mentioned, it has now fallen. And it was a town, Lynda, of some 100,000 inhabitants.

What we understand is that, there are now 15,000 Ukrainian civilians again. They will tend to be mainly women and children, that will be hiding in basements waiting to see if that town falls. The fear is that if the Russian advances continue, it might. So far, as you mentioned a moment ago, Ukrainian forces by blowing up those pontoon bridges have managed to hold off that Russian advance around that Luhansk industrial base.

For the time being, the balance of power seems to be more on the Russian side.


And it is to be feared that there could be more Russian advances there.

KINKADE: And Melissa, of course, the trial begins for the first Russian charged with a war crime. Give us some context? What do we know about this case, and any other cases in this 11--week old war.

BELL: There are more than 11,000 documented cases of alleged war crimes so far. We heard that today from Ukraine's chief prosecutor who was explaining to us the context of this. The first case to be tried by the Ukrainian judicial system. And what was so extraordinary today is that, even as that fighting that I mentioned went on, in the east of Ukraine, there was ongoing fighting as well. In the south of Ukraine, here we were in Kyiv watching the first trial of a war that has yet to be brought to a close.

And that was quite an extraordinary moment. A 21-year-old Russian who is alleged to have killed a Ukrainian civilian within the first few days of the war, he's alleged to have shot him after he and his men escaped when their convoy came under attack from Ukrainian forces in a stolen vehicle. The order came we are told for him to shoot, says the prosecutor because they were worried that a civilian might report them.

Today, he was in the dock, and what the Ukrainian prosecutor explained to us is that, whiles all those international forensic teams continue to investigate on the ground here in Ukraine, those crimes, and international justice is due to run its course since the ICC we know has began its investigation, that can take a long time. Here's what she had to say about the importance of bringing some of these cases to trial now, even while the war is being fought.


IRYNA VENEDIKTOVA, PROSECUTOR GENERAL, UKRAINE: These proceedings now can save lives of our Ukrainian civilians on the south and eastern part of Ukraine. Because these perpetrators who are now fighting will see that we will find all of them. We will identify all of them, and we will start to prosecute all of them.


BELL: Now, there is of course, the question of whether the 21-year- old soldier will get a fair trial. The prosecutor explained that the evidence collected against him, again, has been collected in the context of the war that has been covered by international journalists that have been here from the start.

With extraordinary technology that has been put at the disposal of those teams that are trying to collect the evidence, those foreign forensic teams as well that have been making their way here over the course of the last few weeks, to try and sift through some of that evidence in order that, that international justice can be brought.

She said that had been crucial to bringing her case. She said also that, Ukraine's system would remain transparent, and that these trials would be carried out according to Ukrainian law, and then the utmost transparency. Also, we spoke to the Ukrainian -- the Russian soldiers -- Ukrainian lawyer who said that he had full faith in Ukrainian system, and that a fair trial would take place. But there is so much emotion around this case.

As you can understand, this is a country still at war where emotions are running extremely high, and understandably so. We spoke at the end of the trial to the court translator who have been doing the translation for the Russian soldier. We said to her, you know, do you have hatred for him? Do you feel? What do you feel when you speak to him? She said, you know, I don't

have any hatred, because in the end, you have to remember that this is a 21-year-old who is facing life in jail potentially, and that the -- it is the tears of Russian mothers as well that taste just as salty as the tears of Ukrainian ones, Lynda.

KINKADE: Wow, yes, so true. These young men are forced to fight this war. All right, we'll leave it there for now, Melissa Bell, good to have you with us, thanks very much. Well, the world has watched in horror as Russian artillery has devastated Ukrainian cities and Ukrainian lives seemingly with impunity. The U.S. and the international community have accused Russia of war crimes in Ukraine. But what has been difficult is trying specific generals to specific crimes.

The key to actually carrying out war-crime prosecutions, and in Kharkiv, CNN has seen the aftermath of attacks targeting civilians using indiscriminate cluster ammunitions, which is of course a war crime. Now, in a two-month investigation, CNN can reveal that the commander responsible for these attacks and a string of atrocities he has committed, not just in Russia's latest war in Ukraine, but also in the 2014 war in Donbas and in Syria.

Chief international investigative correspondent Nima Elbagir has this exclusive report. And we need to warn you, some of the images in her report are disturbing.


NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A devastation of civilian homes and lives. Throughout the last two months, we have witnessed atrocities in Ukraine. More and more of the strikes very close, they want us to start moving.


While we know these are Russian actions, it has been difficult to draw a direct line from individual atrocities to a specific Russian commander until now. CNN can exclusively reveal that this man, Colonel General Alexander Zhuravlyov, commander of the western military district is the commander responsible for this. Ammunitions targeting civilians in the city of Kharkiv, east Ukraine. A war crime under international law.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You can see more artillery rockets apparently being firing from Russian territory towards the territory, I would say around Kharkiv -- I don't know if you could hear this right now.

ELBAGIR: This is the start of the war. CNN senior international correspondent, Fred Pleitgen witnessed artillery being fired from inside Russia within Zhuravlyov district towards the city of Kharkiv. Sam Kiley was in Kharkiv and could hear the shelling moments later

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Could feel the concussion against the glass. ELBAGIR: We soon learned from experts these were Smerch rockets built

in the early '80s at the end of the Soviet era, this multiple rocket- launch system scorching the earth as it fires, is a pride and joy of Russia's armaments. As seen here in this propaganda documentary, this is what they're capable of delivering, cluster bombs.

One Smerch rocket releasing many smaller explosives, scattering bombs, amplifying the devastation. These attacks captured on social media, both in Kharkiv and both from the same day, are a clear example of their indiscriminate nature. When used in this fashion against civilians, it's considered a war crime. The use of Smerch rockets are key and our findings of who is responsible, because they are unique to one unit here. One commander.

After months of forensic work, we can reveal the trail of evidence leading to Zhuravlyov. Using social media videos to guide us, we returned to some of the scenes of the attacks, focusing on February 27th, when three civilian targets were hit and eight more on February 28th. We start in the Pavlopil neighborhood of Kharkiv. "This is shrapnel from those missiles that fell on our neighborhood", Lilia(ph) tells us. "This shrapnel was found in one of the rooms."

Lilia(ph) takes us to see a Smerch rocket that fell 200 yards from her apartment block in this one's affluent area. "I remember the whistling sound of the missiles. I know that the missiles were flying, and that they were accompanied by fighter planes or drones."

(on camera): You can see the hole that it came through, you can see the way that the rocket buckled when it hit the car. You can also very clearly see that this is a Smerch.

(voice-over): It's not the only rocket coming from this direction on this day. Less than a half mile down the road, another hit.

(on camera): Helping to situate us, this kiosk, that water-cooler, they're key landmarks. The bodies landed here, down this road. Those blue doors you see, that's where the cluster ammunitions shrapnel embedded.

(voice-over): This video filmed moments after the attack, where four people including a child were killed, another Smerch launching cluster bombs. We know this because one of the unexploded bombs was found only 280 yards away. Notice the date, 2019. Russia stopped selling arms to Ukraine in 2014. This confirms this is a Russian cluster bomb. One and a half miles away, another strike, more suffering, and no sign of any legitimate military targets.

"People were queuing for food and then something just hit. People started running here", she says. This is the exact moment of impact. Look at it again, frame by frame, you can see the scale of the rocket and proximity to innocent civilians. We are here in Kharkiv. Notice the five hits along this line from the 28th. They're pretty much in a line apart from three here which lineup with the hits from February 27th.

We can trace these lines 24 miles to a point of convergence here, across the border in Russia, well within the range of a Smerch rocket. Where we have a satellite image from the 27th, showing the launching position. Notice the plume of smoke and the tell-tale burn marks of a Smerch launch, here, here and here. In collaboration with the Center for Information Resilience, we can also tell you who is firing from this position.


The 79th Russian Artillery Brigade. Part of the western military district, which borders Ukraine and is under the command of Zhuravlyov. According to open source information reviewed by CNN, military experts and Intelligence sources, they are the only unit in this district equipped to launch Smerch rockets. And only the commander has the authority to order the 79th Artillery Brigade to launch the rockets.

And this was just in the two days that we analyzed. These stills shared exclusively with CNN by Kharkiv prosecutors show the Russian armaments reigning death, among them many Smerch remnants. Experts say this is among the heaviest bombardments in recent history. Zhuravlyov is no stranger to these brutal tactics, atrocities targeting civilians. They're very similar to what we saw in Syria in 2016.

So, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Zhuravlyov also led Russian troops during the seize of Aleppo. He is the architect of the devastation you see here. For leveling Aleppo, he was awarded the highest honor granted to Russian officers. Hero of the Russian federation. Yet, Syrians have documented his war crimes.

(on camera): Russian?


ELBAGIR (voice-over): Despite the direct line from the impunity the world afforded Russia in Syria to the atrocities suffered by civilians here today, the question remains, what will the world do to stop this cycle?


KINKADE: And our thanks to Nima Elbagir for that report. We have asked the Russian Ministry of Defense for comment as well as the Kremlin, but we are yet to receive a response. And CNN shared with the U.S. State Department our findings, noting the lack of action taken against Colonel General and the other Russian Generals. They would not comment on these specific acts or any other information reviewed, but they did say, they would continue to track and assess war crimes and reports of ongoing violence and human rights abuses.

Well, Ukraine is defending Snake Island, and while no one lives there, this is a strategic piece of land in the Black Sea. Ukrainian military officials released this video which shows a missile destroying a Russian helicopter on the island. And the satellite image appears to show Russian landing ship making a sharp u-turn and narrowly avoiding a Ukrainian missile. Well, Russia has targeted Snake Island since day one of its invasion. Ukrainian Intelligence officials say whoever controls the island has significant power over southern Ukraine. And that's why they refuse to let it go. Russia's Vladimir Putin was hoping that a full scale invasion of Ukraine would weaken NATO. But it seems his strategy is backfiring. Finland is all but certain to join the alliance after decades of non-alignment. And neighbor, Sweden, is also expected to follow suit.

The government there published an assessment, Friday, saying -- it says joining NATO would increase deterrence in the region. Well, Russia is threatening, quote, "serious consequences" if Finland and Sweden were to join NATO. CNN's Nic Robertson is standing by for us in Helsinki.

Good to see you, Nic. So, Finland announced yesterday that it was planning to join NATO, and now Sweden's foreign minister has outlined the benefits of a NATO membership. But we are hearing from the President of Turkey, Turkey of course, being a NATO member, voicing opposition to these moves

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, he's saying he's not looking at what's happening positively. He's not looking at the moves by Finland and Sweden positively. And he goes on to criticize Sweden for what he says giving home to terror leaders. And here, he's talking about Kurdish separatist groups, who of course, Turkey has long been at war with in Turkey and in bordering countries.

So, it's hard to know quite what President Erdogan is meaning when he links these two things. Is he meaning that he wants the Swedish government to take action against these groups before he'll say yes? Certainly, President Erdogan is something of a wild card inside Turkey -- inside NATO. NATO member states do not buy their military equipment from Russia, but President Erdogan did. He bought Russia's S-400 surface-to-air missile system a few years ago.

And that essentially stopped him being able to buy F-35 fighter jets from the United States. So, it's not unusual for Erdogan to create wrinkles within NATO circles. However, what we've heard from the Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde saying, look, she hasn't heard any of this directly from Turkish officials.


And this weekend, she will be, along with the Finnish foreign minister, will be in Berlin where the NATO foreign ministers are meeting for an informal meeting. And she said there, they'll be able to have conversations on the sidelines with the Turkish foreign minister if that's required. I think at this stage, it's a wrinkle and it's not a block, it's not a -- it's not a deal breaker. But certainly, it seems that President Erdogan is probably looking for some sort of concession from NATO or NATO member on something else.

KINKADE: And of course, in other diplomatic efforts, the G7 allies are meeting in Germany, and are signaling more offers of aid for Ukraine. ROBERTSON: European Union committing $521 million in terms of

military aid for Ukraine. There have -- this has been a meeting where the focus has been about some of the knock-on effects, not just about supporting Ukraine, but the knock-on effects, and that is the fact that Port of Odessa is blockaded. Ukraine cannot export its wheat to the world, to developing nations, particularly in Africa, particularly some of the poorer nations in the Middle East, who desperately need that wheat.

And this is driving up oil -- driving up food prices, and that is a point of concern. The energy cost, food costs going up. But I think it was Liz Truss; the British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs who was sort of keeping the focus on aiding Ukraine. And she gave a very strong statement before she went into the meeting today.


LIZ TRUSS, SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN, COMMONWEALTH & DEVELOPMENT AFFAIRS OF THE UNITED KINGDOM: I'm here at the G7 in Germany. It's very important at this time that we keep up the pressure on Vladimir Putin by supplying more weapons to Ukraine, by increasing the sanctions. G7 unity has been vital during this crisis, to protect freedom and democracy, and we'll continue to work together to do just that.


ROBERTSON: And I think that was the overriding theme. But there was one bit of symbolism here, perhaps not intended. But nevertheless, symbolism. The location of this meeting in northern Germany, on the sort of further reaches of the Baltic sea. So very much within that sphere that Russia is threatening in its dealings with Finland and Sweden at the moment, threatening to potentially escalate tensions, of course, that on the foreign ministers minds as well.

KINKADE: Yes, interesting location. OK, we'll leave it there for now, Nic Robertson for us in Helsinki. Good to have you with us as always. Thanks. Well, the Pentagon has announced U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has spoken with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. It marks the first time they've communicated since Russia invaded Ukraine. And during the call, Austin urged Shoigu to enact any immediate ceasefire.

Russia's top military leaders had repeatedly refused to speak with their American counterparts for an extended time prior to that call. Well, still to come tonight, a solemn procession in Jerusalem takes a violent turn as Israeli police beat mourners at a funeral. How the chaos unfolded and what police are saying about it. And coronavirus hits North Korea. Why the country is reporting hundreds of thousands of so-called fever cases, but only confirming one COVID death. We're going to have that story ahead.


[14:25:00] KINKADE: Welcome back. Israeli police in Jerusalem beat and shoved

mourners ahead of the funeral of "Al Jazeera" journalist Shereen Abu Aqleh. This video from the scene shows officers using batons to hit the crowd as it carried the coffin of the Palestinian-American journalist. Israeli police say they were forced to act because some people threw stones. The pallbearers were pushed back, and at one point, the coffin slipped out of their hands, almost falling to the ground.

Well, I want to bring in our Atika Shubert who joins us now from Jerusalem. Good to have you with us, Atika. It was pretty awful to watch those images of a casket of a fellow journalist carried through the city like that. You were there covering this recession. Just describe what you witnessed.

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it started in the morning. We were at St. Joseph's hospital. And the family and mourners there wanted very much to have a walking funeral procession with the coffin to the church. But Israeli police would not allow it. And what's clear, from the video, you can see is that they used force to try and contain this funeral procession. When they tried to bring the coffin out on foot, Israeli police blocked it from leaving the hospital grounds, and then charged forward, using their batons to hit at some of the pallbearers there.

And that's when the coffin nearly slipped to the ground. You can also see what a chaotic scene it was. There were several stun grenades that were used, and there were -- the police were pelted with plastic bottles and flags, though, we didn't see any stones being thrown at them which is what Israeli police have claimed. What's clear is that this use of force was meant to try and keep the funeral procession from leaving on foot.

Because the family was later allowed to bring the coffin to the church by car. And from the church, they were able to have a walking procession. In fact, Israeli police allowed thousands of people to be on the streets swelling with grief, with anger and frustration, singing songs and waving the Palestinian flag, until they got to the Mount Zion Cemetery where Shereen Abu Aqleh was buried next to her parents.

It was a very emotional and very tensed day. And I think, really, this speaks to just how important Shereen was for so many Palestinians. She was almost like a member of the extended family because she chronicled the daily life of Palestinians, their frustrations, and she did it on almost daily basis in -- you know, turning up on their TV screens in their living rooms. And this is why her death has hit so close to home for so many Palestinians.

KINKADE: Yes, just extraordinary scenes there. Atika Shubert, good to have you with us to explain what you saw. We will speak to you again soon. Well, still to come tonight, the UAE's longtime ruler has died. We're going to look at the legacy of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan and what he leaves behind. And Elon Musk puts his deal to buy Twitter on hold. We'll explain why?



KINKADE: Elon Musk has put the brakes on his epic $44 billion deal to buy Twitter. The billionaire announced the news this morning with a tweet saying the deal is temporarily on hold. Musk cites the need for more data on the platform's amount of spam and fake accounts.

CNN Business reporter Paul La Monica is following the story and joins me now from New York. Good to have you with us, Paul.


KINKADE: So deal or no deal, the billionaire's bid to buy Twitter suddenly hit a snag.

LA MONICA: Yes, he says that the deal is still going to happen. It's just on hold. But investors are clearly very worried. Twitter stock is plunging today while the broader market is higher, shares down around 10 percent At last check, but Tesla's stock is moving higher. And I think in some respects, it's a reflection of the fact that investors in Tesla would love to have Elon Musk and not be distracted by this Twitter deal. He's already a pretty busy guy running SpaceX, the boring company. He has enough on his plate. Adding this to the mix just might be one too many things for Musk to be, you know, kind of juggling in the air.

KINKADE: And, of course, this deal has been watched very closely, Paul, so closely he's impacting stock markets with a tweet.

LA MONICA: Yes, I mean, his tweet obviously has moved Tesla's stock higher and Twitter's stock lower, the broader market is higher today. I think that's not so much about musk and this deal per se as much as it is that investors are once again rushing back in to tech stocks that have gotten beaten up.

But Twitter is clearly the laggard today. And I think that investors are starting to have even more doubts about whether or not Musk has the willingness and the financing to do this deal because it really does depend on having a stronger Tesla stock price to pull this deal off.

KINKADE: All right. We'll leave it there for now. We will continue to follow this deal and see whether it does go forward. Paula La Monica in New York. Thanks so much.

The United Arab Emirates has announced a 40-day mourning period. Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan has died. He was this country's second ever President succeeding his father, the UAE founder Sheikh Zayed, in 2004.


Now his policies helped transform the United Arab Emirates into a powerhouse. Becky Anderson takes a closer look at his legacy. BECKY ANDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: When Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al

Nahyan was born in 1948, United Arab Emirates didn't even exist as a nation. This was a land where many earn their living by fishing or purling. But his family was instrumental in transforming this into one of the world's largest oil producers.

By the time the UAE, a federation of seven states, was created in 1971, Sheikh Khalifa was the Crown Prince of the wealthiest state and country's capital, Abu Dhabi. He took over the presidency in 2004. After the death of his father, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan, the nation's founder. Like his father, he wished to modernize his country, shaping it into a haven of stability in a volatile neighborhood.

At home, he invested in the country's armed forces and developed its lucrative energy sector. His success spelled out on Dubai's skyline were one of the tallest buildings in the world, the Burj Khalifa, took on its leader's name, after the government bailed Dubai out of its debt woes in 2009.

Overseas, he solidified traditional alliances with countries like the U.K., while boosting trade ties with new partners. Under his leadership, the UAE invested its enormous wealth in globally recognized airlines, prized assets, sporting powerhouses, and major global events that have collectively put the country on the map, turning it into a global tourist destination.

By the early 2010's, deteriorating health increasingly kept Sheikh Khalifa out of the public limelight. He underwent surgery after suffering a stroke in 2014. But his modernizing vision for the country has carried on under the leadership of his half-brother and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Zayed.

It's taken bold diplomatic steps, such as establishing relations with Israel through the Abraham Accords, and hosting the first ever people visit to the Arabian Peninsula, positioning itself as a tolerant Middle Eastern society, all the while delicately balancing relations with Western and non-western powers alike.

It's used its military might to project power, sometimes controversially in places like Yemen, and it's been diversifying its economy to cut its reliance on oil revenues, investing in renewable and nuclear energy, while taking steps such as allowing for complete foreign ownership of companies and introducing a golden visa program to maintain its position as an attractive destination for foreign investment and talent.

It's even entered the space race, becoming the first ever Arab country to send a mission to Mars, aptly named Hope. It is, by all accounts, a country transformed. And that is how Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan leaves it to his successor.

KINKADE: Becky Anderson reporting there. Still to come, a COVID outbreak in North Korea, how the country went two years without reporting a single case but is now locked down. We'll have that story next. Plus, how David Culver describes what it was like to leave Shanghai after 50 days in lockdown. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


KINKADE: Welcome back. North Korea has announced its first COVID death just a day after reporting its first official case. Now there are 18,000 new so-called fever cases and the country is in lockdown.

North Korea state media says more than 350,000 cases of unexplained fevers have been identified since late April. We know of course that fever is a key symptom of COVID-19. And in a country that has little to no vaccination against the virus, it is a worrying sign of an outbreak.

Joining us now to discuss more is CNN's Will Ripley who joins us live from Taipei, Taiwan. Good to see you, Will. So it's quite incredible that until now, North Korea hasn't announced any COVID deaths or they've just announced one, especially given the low vaccination rates. How is North Korea responding to this surge in cases?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The fact that they're publicly putting out in state media, Lynda, confirming the presence of COVID-19 and essentially the failure of the North Korean hermetically sealed border for the last two years the North Koreans have suffered in order to maintain this state of isolation that led them to hold a massive military parade last month with tens of thousands of people not wearing masks and feel confident that they would be safe.

Even though just across the border in China, the Omicron variant is raging across that that country, which is also sealed off, it shows that really the North Koreans were, you know, really pretty much taken by surprise here and are now desperate, because to confirm COVID-19 to the outside world and then talk about hundreds of thousands of people say with this fever, you know, they don't have the testing equipment, Lynda, to necessarily verify that it's Omicron, but they also don't have ventilators.

They don't have the kind of medical training and facilities to treat the huge number of people who'd be at high risk for a severe case, especially in a country where 40 percent or so of the population doesn't even have a nutritious diet, not to mention access to modern medical care. So it's -- it's could potentially just be horrific.

KINKADE: Yes, it certainly could. And it's interesting to note that South Korea has offered testing equipment and vaccinate -- vaccines. Any indication of whether North Korea will accept that? Because I understand they have rejected vaccines in the past.

RIPLEY: Amnesty International claims that they were offered millions of doses under the World Health Organization's COVAX program. You know, North Korea and Eritrea are the only two countries in the world that have not vaccinated their general public. Now is that to say that Kim Jong-un and his top aides didn't get the vaccine, you know, somewhere along the line? We have no way to know.

But certainly officially no vaccines went into North Korea. They rejected the offer. There were some Chinese made vaccines. There were other brands. It wasn't Pfizer that was offered up. But it's not entirely clear why they said no, why they turned away millions of doses that potentially could have saved lives.

I think the fact that they're now publicizing this urgent need and this national emergency, this explosive outbreak as they call it, might be a silent and if they are ready to receive international help and it's needed pretty badly. The question is, is it going to come in time?

There's a Chinese state media reporter based in Pyongyang who basically put out, you know, an update on his own status. This is an expat with a lot of privilege, who barely has a weeks left of food in his apartment and wonders what's going to happen because the government hasn't said anything. If that's the situation he's in, what are these families who don't have that much food in their homes facing right now?

KINKADE: Yes. Extraordinary. You make a really good point. We will stay on that story. Will Ripley for us in Taipei. Thanks very much.

Well, China recorded nearly 2,500 new COVID 19 cases Thursday. Authorities there, continuing to tighten COVID restrictions today announcing that China will strictly limit non-essential travel abroad.


CNN's David Culver managed to leave the country this week. He tells us what it was like to escape Shanghai after 50 days in lockdown.


DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Leaving Shanghai today is a one-time, one-way journey. I've not had this much freedom in 50 days.


CULVER: And here we go, off to the airport.


CULVER: Heading out for the first time since mid March, it all feels so strange.


CULVER: The few people you see out and about, most of them are head to toe in hazmat suits. As you look on the streets, the ropes are still blocking off a lot of the sidewalks, stores basically all closed.


CULVER: With a government permitted driver, we passed through checkpoints. Our documents thoroughly inspected, including a letter from the American Embassy. Many expats like me needing diplomatic letters just to leave our apartments. Once vibrant and rich with energy, Shanghai was forced into an induced

coma. The rolling lockdowns began in mid March. But by April, this city of more than 25 million people was under strict harsh lockdown, most of us sealed inside our homes. Community COVID tests after test after test and in between, at home COVID tests.


CULVER: I've done quite a few of these.


CULVER: Early into the lockdown, I'd packed a go-bag for me and for my dog. If I tested positive, I'd likely end up at a government isolation center like this, or worse, like this. Most of us would prefer just to recover in the privacy of our home. But in China's zero COVID world, that is not an option.

Shocking scenes of people shouting, "We are starving. We are starving." Heartbreaking stories of people being rejected medical care, some of them later dying, all because hospital workers feared breaking unforgiving zero COVID protocols.

Witnessing Shanghai's handling or mishandling reminded me of Wuhan. On January 21st, 2020, we traveled into the then epicenter of what was a mystery illness.


CULVER: It's the wildlife and seafood market.


CULVER: Still fresh in our minds the perseverance of those in Wuhan who lived through the original lockdown, some losing loved ones to COVID early on.


CULVER: Just give him a second.


CULVER: They risked their freedom to share with us their pain-filled stories, furious with their government for not doing more to stop the initial spread.

Chinese officials maintain they were transparent from the start. And in recent days, President Xi Jinping has reaffirmed and praised his country's zero COVID efforts, vowing to fight any doubters and critics.

Over the past two years, we've lived through China's military-like mobilization, rapidly building hospitals, mastering mass testing of tens of millions at one time, designing a sophisticated contact tracing system, essentially sealing off their borders to the outside world.


CULVER: Sure, mic check one, two, three.


CULVER: Wanting to keep on the story? I've have not left China since 2019, making this departure a long overdue homecoming visit. Shanghai's Pudong International Airport, once among the busiest in the world, is now a lonely experience. On the departures board, only two international flights slated to leave on this day.

On the floor, sleeping bags and trash where stranded travelers have camped out. They wait here for days or weeks for flight out. Outside on the tarmac, strict COVID protocols and sanitation in place. Ground crews spraying each other with disinfectant. Boarding the near empty plane, it finally starts to feel real.


CULVER: About to take off.


CULVER: The disorder, despair, the chaos, the anger, the exhaustion. All of it feels so distant now. With a sigh of relief and a bit of survivor's guilt, leaving behind a country amidst almost unprecedented changes, I wonder if China's tightening zero COVID restrictions, coupled with rising tensions with the West, will keep its shuttered doors from ever reopening. David Culver CNN, back home.


KINKADE: Still to come tonight. The Eurovision song for Ukraine. We're going to speak to the group tip to win Europe's biggest song contest.



KINKADE: Welcome back. Well, from the frontline to Eurovision stage, Ukraine's Kalush Orchestra are this year's favorites to win Europe's most flamboyant singing competition. Take a listen to their entry performed in Lviv.

Well, it's an anthem for Ukraine, born amid the drumbeat of war. As their country and culture is threatened back home, they're using their passion for folk rap as an act of defiance and patriotism. Bianca Nobilo spoke to the group's founder ahead of Saturday's grand finale in Italy.


OLEH PSIUK, UKRAINE EUROVISION LEAD SINGER (through translator): The Ukraine, Eurovision has always been very important, and especially now in this period of a war it has become even more important.


NOBILO: While his countrymen fight on the frontlines, Oleh, age 26, the lead singer of the Kalush Orchestra was given special permission to leave the Ukrainian battlefield for the Eurovision stage.


PSIUK (through translator): Of course, this is a huge responsibility and stress, especially now with the missiles flying around. A lot of my relatives are in danger and this causes a lot of pressure.


NOBILO: One of the core members of the group chose to stay behind and fight. While the country is commentating, the Eurovision set up a studio in a bomb shelter. The song Stefania, written before the war began about his mother, has now taken on greater significance.


PSIUK (through translator): It is true that this song has become very popular and has been perceived as an actual anthem of the war. But I would rather it is called the anthem of our victory.


NOBILO: Fusing Ukrainian folk elements with rap, the group's performance combines past with present at a time when the country's future is unknown.


NOBILO: And what would a victory for Ukraine in the Eurovision Song Contest mean for your country?

PSIUK (through translator): Now for Ukraine, it is important to our victory in all different aspects and a victory in this Eurovision contest would raise the spirits of the Ukrainian people a lot. So I hope to bring good news for Ukraine because there hasn't been any good news for a long time.


NOBILO: Eurovision, known for its zany costumes and choreography, was born from a desire to promote cooperation between European countries in the years following the Second World War.


Viewed by almost 200 million people, it's an exercise in soft power. Votes usually align with the country's alliances and sympathies with neighboring countries and blocks often giving points to each other.

Historically, Belarus and Russia have voted for one another, but this year, they've been banned from competing.


PSIUK (through translator): Russia has been disqualified from lots of events. The world shows that it is on our side, that they are condemning the invasion of one country into another country in the center of Europe.


NOBILO: From a little girl belting out Let It Go in a bunker, to trapped soldiers singing inside the besieged Azovstal Steel Plant as the Russian shelled it, defiance dressed in song has rung out through the chaos of this war, a fight to which Oleh and his band will soon return.


PSIUK (through translator): As soon as Eurovision ends, we'll go back to Ukraine. If it comes to that, all of us will go and defend our country until the very end.


NOBILO: Bianca Nobilo, CNN, London.


KINKADE: And we wish them all the best. So thanks so much for watching tonight. I'm Lynda Kincade. Have a great weekend. QUEST MEANS BUSINESS is up next.