Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

Zelenskyy: Over 1,000 Ukrainian Villages Liberated; Russian Troops Retreat near Kharkiv; U.S. Could See 100 Million COVID-19 Cases in Fall and Winter; Some California Homes Still under Evac Order; Brittney Griner's Detention Extended Another Month; Eurovision Provides Ukraine with Chance to Raise Spirits. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired May 14, 2022 - 02:00   ET




MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): And welcome to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. I'm Michael Holmes. I appreciate your company.

Coming up here on the program, new video: one of the devastating strikes forcing Russia to retreat in southern Ukraine, as Volodymyr Zelenskyy reveals the regions his troops have retaken.

Also, changing up the fight: U.S. and NATO forces using what they've learned from the Russians to alter the way they train.

And a chaotic scene at a funeral, Israeli police beating mourners with batons, attacking a procession for a slain Palestinian American journalist.


ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN Center, this is CNN NEWSROOM with Michael Holmes.

HOLMES: Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy says more than 1,000 towns and villages have been retaken so far from Russian forces, including six more over just the past 24 hours. He says the Russian military is paying a heavy price for its aggression.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, PRESIDENT OF UKRAINE (through translator): Today, we can report on 200 downed Russian military aircraft. Russia has not lost so many aircraft in any war in decades and Russia has lost almost 27,000 soldiers.


HOLMES: Ukraine also says Russian troops continue to retreat from around the city of Kharkiv in the north.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) HOLMES (voice-over): Farther south, Ukraine claims it successfully blocked a Russian advance at a key river. You're looking at drone video there showing pontoon bridges destroyed. Also tanks and other heavy equipment destroyed as well.


HOLMES: Meanwhile, Russia's top general and the U.S. Defense Secretary spoke by phone for an hour on Friday, their first chat since the war began. The Pentagon says Secretary Lloyd Austin again appealed for a ceasefire and to keep the lines of communication open.

All right. Let's look closer now at the bloody retreat of Russian forces from Kharkiv. CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is there and reports on the shocking devastation the Russians are leaving behind.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR (voice-over): Charred, chewed, mauled, northern Kharkiv's scars seem infinite. Putin's troops breathing artillery fire breathing down the neck of this city of 1 million for two months.

But even still, it's a shock to see just how close the Russians got, on the other side of this road. We are told this is from demining, a controlled blast. Yet here, everything is fluid. Ukraine stopped Russia's advance here on the first day of the war, killing two soldiers by this armor.

Three civilians shot dead in this car then and their bodies recovered only two days ago. You can see the colossal force used here. A tank turret literally that full distance thrown off the tank body.

The village of Tsyrkuny lies ahead, liberated days earlier. People are starting to go back, he said but they are still shelling it.

Two women died two days ago when they walked onto a tripwire trap set in the village and even around these factories, special forces here warn that a soldier was wounded by a booby-trap three days ago.

The zed markings of Russia's invasion still a deranged sign of their collective insanity, even two months on.

Why do they do this?

They say they reclaimed this area about a week ago but they're now in the difficult task of demining what they can but look around here. There's really not much left to make safe. These civilians evacuated from the next village, just 2 kilometers away.

"It's a nightmare," she says.

"The shooting is heavy," the driver adds and we let them race on.

Desperation takes different forms here and caught by another kind of survival is Dmitri, whose wife moved away a while ago, wheeling back food he's got for his six dogs.

"I haven't really left my home for two months," he said.

"I crossed the fields, passed the bomb fragments to get the food."


WALSH (voice-over): His gentle stroll in the open, a sign of how long the violence has swirled here, not that it is slowing -- Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, Ukraine.



HOLMES: General Wesley Clark is a CNN military analyst and a former NATO Supreme Allied Commander.

Good to have you back, General. Let's start with this: Ukrainian defense minister said on Facebook on Friday that the Russians are scaling back their movements in order to settle into a new, longer phase of the war.

Do you believe that this is going to go on, not just months but perhaps even years?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I think there is continuous calculation on the Russian side, on Putin's side, on what the most advantageous approach is. I think he clearly believes that, at this point, he's not going to make a breakthrough.

However, it will be a different battle position for Russia, when the ground fully dries out in Eastern Ukraine. It may be possible at that point for Russia, if it makes a breakthrough, to exploit with armed forces and the conventional way that you see in the war films about the Germans and the Russians in the late part of the World War II, with wide open maneuvers, dust trails, following the tanks and so forth.

He also may believe that he's got a better chance to be mobilizing his forces, retrains a little bit, wait for China to sell its leadership issue and to count on stronger Chinese support.

This pushes back a decision period to, let's say, late October, early November or even, into the early part of 2023, after the ground freezes.

HOLMES: Yes, at the moment, it's simply too muddy for them to go into those fields, as you say. There has been this more fierce fighting at the Azovstal steel plant.

I'm curious, why is it taking so long to capture that place?

And how embarrassing for the Russian military is its failure to do so, given its overwhelming numerical superiority? CLARK: This is a very, very tough piece of terrain. It's underground.

It's bombed. It's convoluted. There are a million corners, pockets, places to hide, ways to get elevation and snipe. It's enormous.

And if you don't know it like the back of your hand, you're going to blunder it and you're going to get ambushed and get shot. And the Ukrainians that are defending this, they know it. They've been there. They've studied it. They've worked it. And so, when fresh Russian soldiers are put into it, it is a meat grinder.

HOLMES: Going back to the broader battlefield, I mean, it seems Russian forces are pulling back from the Kharkiv area, which, of course, is very close to the Russian border. Some analysts are saying that situation is starting to look like Kyiv, in terms of the Ukrainian forces having success with counteroffensives.

Do you expect more counteroffensives, given the arrival of this new, more powerful Western weaponry?

CLARK: I think it's all about the balance of power. I think if the Ukrainians believe they can spare forces from holding the line in Donbas -- and that's a long line, all the way from the Kherson area in Zaporizhzhya, all the way up toward Kramatorsk and beyond.

If they can spare their forces from that area, still maintaining the mobile reserve, still maintain the artillery to return fire, then, they could put push to outflank the Russians, by continuing northward, northeastward from Kyiv. And, certainly, that's what the Russians fear. That's why they're bombing the bridges.

HOLMES: Yes, exactly. In the longer or medium term, do you think Putin is likely, or intends to annex those areas it does occupy in the south and the east of the country?

Then say, as he did in Crimea, that those places are part of Russia.

CLARK: I think he certainly has the capacity to do that. He's certainly considering doing it. He hasn't done it yet for a couple of reasons.

Number one, they're not pacified. They still have a lot of resistance in there from irregular Ukrainian forces, that have infiltrated back in and are continuing sabotage, sniping and occasion artillery raids in there.

Number two is, I think he still believes he can swing some part of world opinion his way. And once he announces the annexation of these areas, that's over. Now the advantage for him would be, that then when the Ukrainians attack, he could say they're attacking Russian soil. This gives me the right to use nuclear weapons to defend myself.


CLARK: So it's a trade-off for him.

HOLMES: Yes, that is the big fear, if he does declare those areas part of Russia --


HOLMES: -- then the Russia nuclear doctrine of self-defense could come into play again, which is very worrying. Got to leave it there, unfortunately. General Wesley Clark, always appreciate your expertise.

CLARK: Thank you.


HOLMES: Ukraine is starting its first war crimes trial since the conflict began. The suspect is a 21-year-old Russian soldier, Vadim Shyshimarin, who appeared in court in Kyiv on Friday.

Prosecutors say he carried out orders to shoot and kill an unarmed civilian in the early days of the war out of concern the victim could reveal the Russians' position to the Ukrainians. If convicted, he could face between 10 and life in prison.

Ukraine says it's investigating more than 11,000 war crimes cases. Now last hour, I spoke about the trial with a Ukrainian human rights lawyer and asked her why it's important to hold the proceedings now instead of waiting for the International Criminal Court.


OLEKSANDRA MATVIICHUK, KYIV-BASED HUMAN RIGHTS LAWYER: The problem with International Criminal Court is that ICC will focus only on several episodes. ICC will never cover all war crimes which have been committed in the frame of this war.

And this means that the other crimes which will not be selected by ICC will remain the responsibility of national system.

HOLMES: There are, as we said, reportedly 11,000 potential crimes under investigation.

How many could there end up being?

The war has only been going for a few months.

MATVIICHUK: It's already an unprecedented number of war crimes. And we are not sure that Ukrainian national investigative body and Ukrainian national justice will be able to cope with such a huge amount of crimes.

Right now, we are thinking of how to ingrain international element into the national system. Maybe it will be more of international hybrid tribunal or something like this to strengthen the capacity of Ukrainian national system to deliver justice.

HOLMES: How vital is it, not just for Ukraine but in a way for the world, global order, that there is accountability for what has been happening to civilians in Ukraine? MATVIICHUK: It's very important because, in other parts of the world, Russia were -- and their representatives were not punished for the crimes which Russian soldiers committed in Chechnya, which Russian soldiers admitted in (INAUDIBLE) Transnistria, Crimea, Donbas.

And we have to stop this circle of impunity. We have to bring to justice not only Russian soldiers but also the top military and political leadership of Russia.


HOLMES: Europe will soon be sending more desperately needed support to Ukraine. The E.U.'s foreign policy chief says the bloc will provide military aid worth $521 million. He made the announcement Friday while attending the G7 foreign ministers' meeting in Germany.

Meanwhile, Finland says Russia is cutting off electricity exports to the country. Russia claims it's due to late payments but it does come a day after Finland's leaders announce their support for joining NATO. Moscow only provides about 10 percent of Finland's total power usage.

Now to Latvia, where U.S. and NATO Special Forces are using lessons learned from Russia's ruthless war on Ukraine to change how they train. CNN's Fred Pleitgen reports.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): A lonely road, somewhere in Latvia.

Then, suddenly, an unmarked U.S. Special Forces plane touches down, practicing medical evacuation of a casualty under the toughest circumstances.

PLEITGEN: What these special operations forces are doing require a huge amount of skill. They're operating a pretty big plane on an extremely narrow runway, that's normally a road. And all of that in the middle of the night. However, this could be a very real scenario when trying to extract a patient from a dangerous environment.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): NATO's Special Operations Command granted us rare access to these medevac drills with elite NATO units on the condition that we don't disclose the identities of those taking part and even modulate their voices.

The Special Forces medics tell us the war in Ukraine is fundamentally changing the way they train.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look at the battlefield now. Look at Ukraine.

What's flying?

Not a lot reliably. So that assumption is, if the air is denied, where is that patient going to go?

How are we going to transport them to the surgeon? PLEITGEN (voice-over): During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. built a system of medical evacuations by helicopter --


PLEITGEN (voice-over): -- that military officials say gave casualties a more than 90 percent chance of survival even from catastrophic wounds.

That's because they often got to an operating room within an hour of being wounded, the concept of "the golden hour."

PLEITGEN: The fact that you guys had air superiority really was the bedrock of what you, got you in that golden hour. And that's something that's now a matter -- a well evaporated (ph) unit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think we can all agree. Just watching the last seven to eight weeks of conflict, that assumption seems to be pretty valid.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): And that means it could take longer to get wounded comrades to hospitals and that operations may need to be performed on or near the front line.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not ideal but, if it has to happen here, then we're able to do it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The spirit of what we're doing is what's called prolonged casualty care, prolonged field care. And that concept is identifying those strategies that will help us prolong life in order to bridge that and get that patient to the surgeon.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): The Special Forces medics say that they're learning a lot from Ukrainian medics, who are providing care for their wounded, while often under fire from the Russian army.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Ukrainians are doing a phenomenal job of claiming the battlefield and of implementing some of these strategies, taking care of the patients en route, so you're not just throwing a person in the back of the van and leaving them unattended.

You're putting somebody with medical capability in there with that patient to deliver care while they are being transferred.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go ahead and ventilating the patient.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): And so that's exactly how U.S. and NATO Special Forces are now training, turning a regular cargo van into a makeshift ambulance and constantly caring for their patients until they arrive at the makeshift airfield.

They've got the patient alive for three days before a medical evacuation flight was possible. It's all an exercise but a scenario they fear could become a reality.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The rate at which we are collaborating now is more than I have seen in my 20 years in the military and in previous conflicts. There's a sense of urgency and I think, watching Ukraine right now, that is very prescient.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Latvia.


HOLMES: More to come on CNN NEWSROOM. Israeli police violently attack mourners at the funeral of a journalist killed while reporting in the West Bank. We'll have more news from Jerusalem when we come back.





HOLMES: An emotional day and a chaotic one in Jerusalem as the slain Al Jazeera journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh, was laid to rest. Israeli police, as you can see there, rushing and attacking mourners trying to carry her casket through the crowd.

They also ripped Palestinian flags from a hearse carrying her coffin. Israeli law ban carrying Palestinian flags in some situations. Atika Shubert has this report.


ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Muslim prayers at a Catholic hospital, a display of Palestinian solidarity for Shireen Abu Akleh, from strangers and family alike. Her niece, Lareen Abu Akleh.

LAREEN ABU AKLEH, SHIREEN'S NIECE: She meant everything to me and clearly to everyone we can see. She made a huge impact on Palestine, on all the people. She left her fingerprint on everyone's heart.

SHUBERT: But as the funeral procession began, Israeli riot police first blocked the coffin from moving forward, then charged, hitting several pallbearers with batons. The coffin nearly falling to the ground.

Things are very tense here. The funeral procession tried to walk out of the hospital gates. Israeli police did not allow it. They threw in tear gas, had flash bombs here, tried to disperse the crowds. And now, it appears the hearse is being brought here to try to bring the coffin out.

Israeli police insist they acted against stone throwing by mourners, providing this video as evidence but CNN did not see any stones but did witness dozens of plastic bottles being thrown at police. What is clear is that Israeli police ultimately used force to try and contain this outpouring of grief and anger. Shireen Abu Akleh was beloved by Palestinian viewers for giving them a voice and chronicling their struggle. Born and raised here, Jerusalem was her home. Israeli authorities did finally permit the family to bring her coffin to the church by car.

Thousands of mourners were also ultimately allowed to swell the streets, carrying her atop a river of grief, anger and defiance to her final resting place at the Mt. Zion cemetery.

Even at her own funeral, it seems, Shireen Abu Akleh gave voice to the struggles and frustrations of so many Palestinians -- Atika Shubert, for CNN, in Jerusalem.


HOLMES: In the U.S., a new study suggests the Pfizer vaccine rapidly loses its effectiveness in children who get the Omicron variant. The vaccine was more than 90 percent effective against the original virus for kids between aged 5 and 15.

But once Omicron dropped in, the efficacy dropped to less than 29 percent for kids between 5 and 11. The effectiveness was measured two months after receiving the second dose. But the study shows boosters did restore much of the vaccine's protection.

The White House COVID response coordinator has a pretty grim forecast for COVID-19 in the U.S. Dr. Ashish Jha says the country could potentially see 100 million coronavirus infections this fall and winter if Congress doesn't approve more funding for vaccines and treatments. Have a listen.


DR. ASHISH JHA, DEAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: We're looking across a range of different models, preliminary models mostly, because, again, we're projecting out into the fall and winter.

And we are looking at these models as a way to plan, to try to figure out what might we see. And, indeed, the model suggests ,that if we have no vaccines for Americans this fall, winter, we don't have testing, we don't have treatments, we could end up seeing a pretty sizable surge of infections in the fall and winter.


JHA: So there are a lot of different models out there, a lot of different scenario planning that we are doing. And we're trying to plan for these kinds of situations.


HOLMES: A senior White House official tells CNN that 100 million is a moderate number that falls somewhere in the middle of more conservative and more extreme predictions.

I'm Michael Holmes at the CNN Center in Atlanta. For our international viewers, "INSIDE AFRICA" up next. For our viewers here in North America, I'll be back with more news after a break.





HOLMES: The Biden administration is on the defensive over the nationwide shortage of baby formula, as increasingly desperate parents plead for answers.

On Friday, the president pushed back on criticism his administration was caught flat-footed on the shortfall, a crisis that has been building for weeks now. CNN's MJ Lee with more from the capital.


MJ LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A nationwide shortage of baby formula sending the Biden White House scrambling.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We're going to do everything we can.

KATE BEDINGFIELD, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: The president is extremely focused on this.

BRIAN DEESE, BIDEN SENIOR ADVISOR: We're looking at every possible angle.

LEE: Stories of depleted or empty store shelves and panicked parents across the country ratcheting up the pressure on the federal government.

PSAKI: So we're working on every lever to expedite addressing this and to insure that when people go, when mothers go to the grocery stores in coming weeks, that they will see the shelves stocked.

LEE: The president convening a call with manufacturers and retailers this week to discuss ways to boost production.

BIDEN: I spent a couple hours on the phone.

LEE: The administration also announcing other initiatives like cracking down on price gouging and importing more baby formula from abroad.

CNN also learning the White House is strongly considering invoking the Defense Production Act to try to ease the pressure, though it's seen as a longer term, not an immediate solution.

PSAKI: The production of baby formula is so specialized and so specific that you can't just use the Defense Production Act to say to a company that produces something else, produce baby formula. It just doesn't work that way. LEE: And one major problem is getting in the way of faster progress, according to the White House -- hoarding.

PSAKI: What we are seeing which is enormous problem is hoarding -- people hoarding because they're fearful. That is one element of it and people hoarding because they're trying to profit off fearful parents.

LEE: Even as it confronts questions and criticism about whether it waited too long to act and hasn't been aggressive enough, the White House declining to call the nationwide formula shortage a crisis.

BEDINGFIELD: Well, I don't think it's about a label. I think it's about addressing directly the need that families all across the country have.

LEE: And also reticent to publicly predict when the shortage will end.

BEDINGFIELD: We're working to move as quickly as possible. That is the candid, honest answer.

LEE: Now when CNN had asked the White House earlier in the week whether there is federal guidance for parents who can't find formula in stores, they didn't have a good answer.

But on Friday, the White House announcing now that there is a new website, that has some basic information for what parents might try to do if they can't find baby formula.

Now important to emphasize that one of the reasons there is such panic and concern among parents across the country is because there is not a good substitute for formula or breast milk.

Some parents are now asking questions like whether it is safe to dilute formula, whether it is safe to make formula at home and the answer to both of those questions is no -- MJ Lee, CNN, the White House.


HOLMES: Now earlier, CNN spoke with food and agricultural reporter Helena Bottemiller Evich at "Politico." We asked whether the Biden administration really could have done more and sooner.

HELENA BOTTEMILLER EVICH, "POLITICO": Well, I think it's important to note that this has really been brewing for months, if not years. So infant formula supplies were actually pretty tight last summer. They got worse over the holidays.

I was already hearing from parents complaining about supply. And then we have a massive recall of some of the biggest brands in the country in February. So this has been -- I'm calling it a slow-moving train wreck. It has been building for a long time.

But part of it, you know, was in response to a safety concern. So it's hard to say whether or not, you know, Biden himself acted -- didn't act here. Certainly Republicans are seizing on that. And you are hearing just relentless attacks from Republican lawmakers,

trying to pin as much blame as possible on the president directly. Clearly, they see some political points to be gained here.


HOLMES: Dozens of homes in Orange County, California, still under evacuation orders as the Coastal fire continues to burn. County officials say the blaze destroyed at least 20 homes and damaged about a dozen others.

The state's prolonged drought is driving the brush fire. It has burned roughly 200 acres in about three days and is only about 25 percent contained.


HOLMES: Southern California expected to see rising temperatures over the weekend, making firefighting even more difficult, could even lead to new outbreaks.


HOLMES: Scientists say climate change is behind South Africa's worsening flood season. A new report says the heavy rains behind last month were twice as likely as they would have been if greenhouse gas emissions had never heated the planet. CNN's David McKenzie has more from Johannesburg.


DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The intense flooding in South Africa in April caused widespread destruction. Just look at these images. Tens of thousands of people pushed from their homes. More than 400 people killed in that flooding.

Still people are missing. And a huge amount of money was lost in infrastructure especially.

Now group of scientists from the World Weather Attribution project have done a rapid analysis, both based on observations on the ground and computer modeling, which they say shows, even with the current level of global warming, that kind of rainfall, that kind of destruction, was made worse because of climate change.

MCKENZIE: And it could happen more frequently in this part of the world. We also know, based on our reporting and scientific exposes and discovery, that the southern part of this continent will be affected very badly by climate change.

And more frequent droughts in Namibia, Botswana and Zambia as well as other countries in that band as well.

Scientists say that this proves yet again that more needs to be done quickly, both to prevent the worst effects of climate change that we are living with right now and to stop it from being much worse -- David McKenzie, CNN, Johannesburg.


HOLMES: Coming up here on the program, U.S. Women's basketball star Brittney Griner made her first appearance in a Russian courtroom on Friday. We'll have the latest development in her case after having spent nearly three months in detention.

And if loose lips sink ships, then what do loose tweets do to a publicly traded company's shares while in the middle of a multi- billion dollar takeover?

Elon Musk found out on Friday.





HOLMES: A Russian court has extended U.S. Olympian and women's basketball star Brittney Griner's detention until at least June 18. Brian Todd has the story of what might be going on behind closed doors as the U.S. government tries to negotiate her release.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Seen for the first time since her arrest, Brittney Griner is shown handcuffed with her head down and she learns her time in detention in Russia has been extended.

According to Tass, a Russian court has ruled the American basketball star will be detained at least until June 18th, drawing a swift response from the White House.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I will just reiterate that the Russian system wrongfully obtained Ms. Griner.

TODD: That's an accusation the State Department leveled at that Russians last week but the latest tensions don't end there.

The Russian foreign ministry, issuing a statement to CNN, saying Griner's detention is based on objective facts and evidence, that Griner was, quote, "caught red-handed while trying to smuggle hash oil. In Russia, this is a crime" --


TODD (voice-over): -- and that Griner faces a prison term of up to 10 years.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: This is an escalation of what we've seen. We can presume that she's going to be given a fair trial. You can presume that the process isn't waited. TODD: Griner was jailed in mid-February. Russian authorities said they found cannabis oil in her luggage, when she arrived at a Moscow airport.

Despite the ramping up of heated rhetoric between Vladimir Putin's regime and the U.S. over Griner's case, we asked a former White House hostage advisor, what could be going on behind the scenes?

DANE EGLI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE HOSTAGE ADVISER: At the National Security Council and within the highest levels, we're going to continue to insist on a proof of life confirmation of her health condition and thirdly, specific location. And those are things we want to have as a backdrop to then move into a diplomatic process.

TODD: An America diplomat was able to meet with Griner on the sidelines of her hearing today and says Griner is doing as well as can be expected under exceedingly difficult circumstances. Analysts worry about her and fellow American Paul Whelan, also detained in Russia.

TOM FIRESTONE, FORMER RESIDENT LEGAL ADVISER, U.S. EMBASSY IN MOSCOW: It's not a pretty picture so I think that we have to be concerned about their health, obviously, on the day-to-day basis and the conditions in which they're being held.

TODD: Whelan has been detained since 2018 on espionage charges, which he has denied. One analyst says that charge doesn't bode well for him.

ALINA POLYAKOVA, CENTER FOR EUROPEAN POLICY ANALYSIS: Espionage charges, that's basically for life in Russia. So I think the United States, if they're involved in negotiation together with the government, that's going to take a very, very long time, just because of the complexity of the case.

TODD: The analysts we spoke to are all worried about the health and living conditions of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan.

But they say, as Americans, they're probably being treated better than the Russians that Putin has in prison, because they say one thing the Putin regime will try hard to avoid is having an American die in their custody -- Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


HOLMES: Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk, caused a bit of a stir when he said his $44 billion bid for Twitter was temporarily on hold. Twitter shares went down almost 10 percent.

Musk says the hold was conduct due to due diligence about the actual number of users on the platform. He tried to clean up the comment a little later, saying he was still committed to the deal.

Meanwhile, SpaceX is off to what could be a record-setting year. They have launched 19 rockets so far in 2022.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Three, two, one, zero, ignition and lift off.

HOLMES (voice-over): That's the latest launch. It came Friday evening at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. The rocket was carrying 53 of the company's Starlink internet satellites. It was the 12th Starlink mission this year and number 13 could happen in Florida over the weekend.

At its current pace, SpaceX could launch more than 52 rockets in 2022, shattering its record of 31 set last year.


HOLMES: Now the Eurovision final is almost here and we've been seeing Ukrainians using the international song contest as a chance to raise their spirits during the war. CNN talks to one rapper chosen to represent the country, when we come back.





HOLMES: Now with war raging in Ukraine, a rapper is hosting to raise the spirits of his people back home. On Saturday night, he will represent the country at the Eurovision song contest, a famous international affair. CNN's Bianca Nobilo with the story.


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

BIANCA NOBILO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): While his countryman fight on the front lines, 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. Lots of our relatives are in danger and this causes a lot of pressure.

NOBILO (voice-over): One of the core members of the group chose to stay behind and fight, while the country's commentator of Eurovision set up a studio in a bombshell shelter.


NOBILO (voice-over): 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 a natural anthem of the war but I would rather it would be called the anthem of our victory.

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

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 the victory in this Eurovision contest would raise the spirits of the Ukrainian people a lot, so I hope to bring good news back to Ukraine, because there hasn't been any good news for a long time.

NOBILO (voice-over): Eurovision, known for its costumes and choreography's 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. They usually align with countries in sympathies, with neighboring countries and blocs 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 in our side, they are condemning the invasion of one country into another country in the center of Europe.

NOBILO (voice-over): 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 rang 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 will 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.


HOLMES: Thanks for spending part of your day with me. I'm Michael Holmes. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram. Do stick around. Kim Brunhuber picks it up with more news in just a moment.