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Ukrainians Evacuate Azovstal Steel Plant; Pennsylvania's GOP Primary Close Tight; Former Russian Colonel Says War Will Get Worse for Moscow. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired May 18, 2022 - 04:00   ET




MAX FOSTER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello, a warm welcome to our viewers joining us from along the world. I'm Max Foster in London. Just ahead on CNN NEWSROOM:


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): To the people of Ukraine, we will not give up.

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A real disaster for the Russians. But something that the Ukrainians are now saying here that means that the pressure is off this particular front for now and that they believe that the Russians are focusing more of their efforts elsewhere.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Election Day could become election week, in the hard-fought battle between Mehmet Oz and David McCormick.

MEHMET OZ (R-PA), SENATE CANDIDATE: When all the votes are tallied, I am confident we will win.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In America, evil will not win. Hate will not prevail and white supremacy will not have the last word.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Everyone we met is hurting. Almost half the population of Afghanistan lives on less than one meal a day.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Live from London, this is CNN NEWSROOM with Max Foster.

FOSTER: It's Wednesday, May the 18th, 9 am here in London. And 11 am in Ukraine. Ukrainian officials say evacuations are still underway for the soldiers at the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol. Newly-released videos shows wounded forces leaving the Azovstal steel

plant. Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy says he's working with other leaders to bring them home.


ZELENSKYY (through translator): The evacuation mission continues. It is led by our military and intelligence, involving the most influential international mediators.

We also spoke separately with the president of France about her European integration steps, considering Ukraine's application for E.U. candidate status.

I continue to gather the largest possible international audience for Ukraine, support our state at all levels and put pressure on Russia. Information pressure, diplomatic as well as cultural, is what we need.


FOSTER: On Tuesday, more than 200 evacuees were put on buses headed to a town controlled by Russia in Donetsk. The Russians say they will interrogate the Ukrainian soldiers. What the interrogation involves isn't clear. But Russia is again trying to link Ukrainian forces to Nazis. Here's the chairman of the Russian parliament.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Nazi criminals should not be eligible for exchange. They are war criminals. And we should do everything we can so they are put before a court.


FOSTER: Meanwhile Ukrainian military officials says that the Russians are sending more helicopters into Eastern Ukraine. And more Russian missile strikes were reported in the area on Tuesday. Ukrainian officials say the town of Bakhmut came under attack and a five story building was hit. At least one person was killed, a nine year old child is amongst the wounded.

This was the scene as emergency crews raced to save his life. This comes as the prosecutor for the International Criminal Court says that the largest ever single field deployment of an ICC forensics and investigative team has been sent to Ukraine.

Covering the story in Ukraine and here in the U.K., Sam Kiley is in Bilohorivka. Suzanne Malveaux is in Lviv. And Clare Sebastian is in London.

But first we're going to get to Mariupol, where Ukraine's decision to end its combat mission has effectively ceded control of the city to Russian troops. It's a strategic win for Russia but one that came at a staggeringly high cost to Ukrainian civilians. CNN's Ivan Watson reports.


IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A patriotic Ukrainian hymn echoes from beneath Mariupol. Here we go into the battle of life they sing. Hard and durable, unbreakable as granite.

These were the final few Ukrainian defenders left battling the Russian war machine in a sprawling steelworks. Rock hard resolve was needed, because above their heads has been described as Hell on Earth.

Some 2.5 months ago, President Putin announced a so-called special military operation. Russia had loomed over Mariupol since 2014. The constant fear of a Russian invasion was part of everyday life.


WATSON (voice-over): CNN was in the city the day the war began.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: We spoke with one woman who has been trying banks all across town, she said her kids are waiting in the car. She wants to leave with her family.

WATSON: At ATMs, residents lined up for hours for cash. Meanwhile, Ukraine mobilized for the coming onslaught. As Russia lead siege images were slow to trickle out. But gradually, the world learned of horrors, crude burials for fallen bystanders. Satellite images showed destroyed residential areas, the ferocious aerial assault.

And then this. A huge bombing at the maternity unit. People carrying pregnant women from the building. This image beamed around the world a mother and unborn baby who would later die. President Zelenskyy called it genocide.

Russia on the other hand, denied it bombed the building at all and called it a staged provocation.

This theater was a cultural symbol of Mariupol located right in the heart of the city. Serving as a safe haven for women and children trapped by the bombardment. In an effort to keep themselves safe from above, they wrote the Russian word for children. Deti on the ground.

WATSON: But the indiscriminate nature of Russia's war unleashed another unspeakable try tragedy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We run in but Russians bombed it. So we run in from the theater and bombs was like these, these, these.

WATSON: Ukrainian officials later said that at least 300 people died in the airstrike. But it has been at this imposing steel plant Azovstal, 11 square kilometers of pipes, tunnels and chimney stacks where Mariupol's final resolve was forged.

Soldiers and hundreds of civilians including at least 30 children crammed together deep underground as Russian forces hounded the facility. President Putin urged his defense minister to seal off the site.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (through translator): Close off the industrial site so that not even a fly can escape.

WATSON: These recorded messages provided updates from beneath the surface and the vow that surrender is not an option.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And surrender for us is unacceptable because we cannot grant such a big gift to the enemy.

WATSON: Multiple failed humanitarian corridors meant that only around 100 civilians were able to escape. Those that did found comfort in the arms of relatives. Anna was reunited with her brother. Her Azovstal ordeal may be over. But emotional scars remain.

ANNA, AZOVSTAL EVACUEE: Now when there are lots of noise I have like a reflex to hide myself, you know.

WATSON: During the final days of resistance in Mariupol, Russian bombardment of Azovstal intensified from the skies, the sea and the land. Two fighters in the plant married but she was widowed three days later.

At last the bombing stuck. The hundreds of defenders still clinging on walked or were carried out into Russian custody. The fall of Mariupol, a watershed moment in this war. The fury rot on the city is textbook Putin.

And the list of cities he has flattened continues to grow. Grozny, Aleppo and now Mariupol -- Ivan Watson, CNN.


FOSTER: Let's get the latest from Suzanne Malveaux.

We heard the president talking about high-level negotiations still continuing.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN U.S. CORRESPONDENT: Well, Max, there's a great deal of concern, as you can imagine, from the family members of those approximately 600 soldiers, Ukrainian soldiers, who are really, essentially, now in the custody of the Russians.

Not only family members but fellow Ukrainians who know of the kinds of experiences that they've had over the last couple of weeks: no food, no water, lost limbs and at least more than 50 or so severe injuries.

Those who are intended, at least, we're told, to be swapped for Russian prisoners of war. But President Zelenskyy is saying that there is a process here, a process that Ukrainian officials will be overseeing, using their own security and intelligence officials.

There will be international monitors as well that will try to see that these prisoners are well taken care of.

Now as for the Russian side, there is also a process. And we have heard from the Russian investigative committee that say what they are going to be doing is interrogating these prisoners inside of a Russian prison. [04:10:00]

MALVEAUX: And that they are going to go through a process where they are trying to determine whether or not they believe there were crimes committed against the civilians in that Russian friendly area. And, so, there is a great deal of questions, concerns about the fate of the soldiers. And it is still very much unknown.

FOSTER: And it seems like attention from the Russian side is now focusing on Donetsk.

MALVEAUX: That's right. As we've seen and the Donetsk region, 90 percent of it is in Russian control. And they are trying to push as far as they can to get through that final Ukrainian defense line and. That is why we have seen, most recently in the days just an amazing escalation in that region.

When you talk about the kind of air artillery, particularly in Sievierodonetsk, 15 artillery attacks that have been reported. Ukrainian officials saying that they have seen the addition of 15 Russian helicopters that have been added to their arsenal, as they try to break through that defense line.

If in fact the Russians are successful in doing this, it really makes the Ukrainian military quite vulnerable because, three different directions they would be facing these Russian offensive units. And that is the goal that Russia is going after.

Now to really try to break through. In the meantime, what you also are seeing, Max, we've seen this for weeks now, north of Kharkiv, that is where you've got these skirmishes along the border in these small village towns.

The Russians are trying to preoccupy the Ukrainian military to distract them. But what they're really trying to do in the east, which is to move forward.

FOSTER: All, right Suzanne, in Lviv, thank you.

Finland and Sweden have officially handed in their applications to join the NATO alliance, handing them over to secretary general Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels this morning.

The decision was spurred by Russia's war in Ukraine and amounts to a major shift of the two countries that have remained neutral for decades. NATO leaders have said the process could move fairly quickly from. Here on Thursday, Finland's president and Sweden's prime minister will travel to the White House to meet with the U.S. President, Joe Biden.

The U.S. has expressed its support for their membership bid as have most of NATO's other members. The only holdout is Turkey. The Turkish president said, this, week he would not approve their bid. He accused both countries of housing terrorist groups. CNN's Nina dos Santos spoke to Sweden's prime minister about how her country plans to address that issue. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NINA DOS SANTOS, CNNMONEY EUROPE EDITOR: How easy do you think it's going to be to overcome Turkey's objections?

And what would it take to expedite the process?

MAGDALENA ANDERSSON, SWEDISH PRIME MINISTER: We are looking forward to having a closed dialogue with Turkey on different levels. And also, we are ready to go to Turkey to discuss the issues that Turkey might have with Sweden as a member of NATO.

So we are also looking forward to be able to have a closer bilateral relation with Turkey when will become members of NATO.

DOS SANTOS: Are you confident that you will achieve that?

You have also phone calls with President Erdogan.

Has he returned calls?

ANDERSSON: We have stated very clearly that we are ready to talk. We are ready to go to Turkey and to have bilateral discussions on the way forward, as we are ready to do our part.


FOSTER: Sweden and Finland's NATO bids are also drawing backlash from the Kremlin, which has threatened retaliation if there is NATO military expansion into this territory. But Finnish and Swedish leaders have repeatedly said that the decision is about protecting their own security. It's not about provoking Moscow.


FOSTER: Now to the biggest Election Night in the U.S. So far this, year these five states held primaries. Some of them filled with twists and turns. The results will determine which candidates are on state ballots in the November midterm elections.

In North Carolina, Republican Madison Cawthorn has lost his reelection bid despite being endorsed by former president, Donald Trump. The freshman congressman known for scandals conceded to Chuck Edwards.

In Pennsylvania, Senate candidate, John Fetterman will get the Democratic nod despite being hospitalized since last week. He had a stroke and underwent surgery on Tuesday to install a pacemaker.

Despite that drama, it was the Republican Senate showdown in Pennsylvania that brought the most suspense. Trump's pick, TV doctor Emmet Oz is currently neck-and-neck with pro businessmen Republican David McCormick. Now the two leading candidates addressed their supporters earlier.



DAVID MCCORMICK (R-PA), SENATE CANDIDATE: Unfortunately, we are not going to have a resolution tonight. But we can see the path ahead. We can see victory ahead. And, it's all because of you.

OZ: We are making a ferocious charge. But when is this close, what else can you expect?

Everything about this campaign has been tight.


FOSTER: CNN's Kristen Holmes picks up the story from Pittsburgh.


KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN U.S. NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Now while the McCormick campaign watch that margin between he and Mehmet Oz grow smaller and smaller tonight, they tell me that they are still cautiously optimistic.

They liked the way the map is trending. They told me that in areas that they thought that Oz would do better, they're actually overperforming in areas they thought they would do well, they were doing just about as well as they thought.

And in areas where Oz is doing well, it was things that they had anticipated, given the fact that that area is Trump country. They're looking at these mail-in ballots and they still feel like they are going to take this race.

But again, it is a razor thin margin and it looks like it could be anyone's game -- Kristen Holmes at McCormick headquarters in Pittsburgh.


FOSTER: Meanwhile, an emotional day in Buffalo, New York, where U.S. President Joe Biden met with grief stricken families days after 10 people were killed in a hate fueled racist shooting.

Mr. Biden and the first lady paid their respects and left flowers for the victims of Saturday's shooting at a supermarket targeted, police say, because it was a predominantly Black neighborhood. The president called the mass shooting an act of domestic terrorism. They condemned the racist ideology of the suspected shooter.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Jill and I bring you this message from deep in our nation's soul. In America, evil will not win. I promise you. Hate will not prevail. And white supremacy will not have the last word. White supremacy is a poison. It's a poison.

(END VIDEO CLIP) FOSTER: Those comments coming as we learn troubling new details about the 18-year-old suspected shooter. He legally obtained an AR-15 rifle, believed to be the same weapon he described modifying in a racist statement posted online before the attack.

Law enforcement officials say there appear to be no red flags that would've prevented him from obtaining the guns in his possession. Last, year he had a mental health evaluation but did not rise to the level of legal concern.

And, in a statement to CNN, the communication service Discord said the suspect made his online chat logs visible to some people about 30 minutes before the shooting began.

Now one of Russia's worst defeats in Ukraine has turned into an tank graveyard. Coming up, CNN visits the aftermath of a failed bridge crossing. What the Ukrainians say was crucial to their victory, just ahead.

Plus, rare public criticism from a former senior Russian military officer. Why he says things in Ukraine are likely going to get worse for Moscow.





FOSTER: With Russia set to achieve complete control of Mariupol, CNN has visited the aftermath, what could be the most crushing defeat for Russia so far in this war. Sam Kiley reports from the Luhansk region after a failed river crossing. And a warning, some of his report is graphic.


KILEY (voice-over): The first signs of a Russian disaster, a Z mount Russian tank being salvaged by Ukrainian troops. A few days ago, this was the scene on the edge of these woods. Russian pontoon bridges and the ferocious Ukrainian artillery attack.

The Ukrainian commander with us cast an eye to the sky, looking for Russian drones. This is no place for complacency. Ukraine and NATO have claimed that Russia suffered badly here. They estimate 70 to 80 vehicles destroyed and a whole Russian battle group of a thousand men mold.

So we are at the edge now of the area where the Russian armor was caught after it across the pontoon river. You can see down here there is a destroyed tank, next to it an armored personnel carrier and if you look down the road here, you've got another armored personnel carrier and another and another. The Ukrainians were able, they say due to their superior reconnaissance and intelligence to work out where the Russians were going to cross and then bring in devastating levels of artillery. And this is the result. This is only the edge of it. Russia has now shifted its attacks elsewhere, at least for now.

When you see this, how do you feel?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Super. Great, I understand that our artillery is working and our troops are working too because there is both artillery and ground fighting. The units in cooperation with other troops were pushing the enemy across the river on foot.

KILEY: Shattered Russian armor scattered along this path throughout the woodland. On the ground, we can't move forward. The track is mined, a real disaster for the Russians.

But something that the Ukrainians are now seeing here that means that the pressure is up this particular front for now and that they believe that the Russians are focusing more of their efforts elsewhere.

Ukrainian soldiers pick over the debris of this victory. But the chilling truth is that many of their comrades have ended up like this. And while this is a success in the grinding war for Ukraine, Russia remains an immediate threat.

And they've asked us to get out of here with the military commander because they are worried that our cars are going to attract attention. And therefore, attracting coming -- this is still clearly an extremely active area.

And one, as it was for the Russians, that's a considerable relief to leave -- Sam Kiley, CNN, Bilohorivka.


FOSTER: Talk of Russian missteps on the conflict have made their way onto Russian state television, where criticism of the war is extremely rare. A retired senior Russian military officer gave his candid analysis that things are only going to get worse for Moscow. CNN's Clare Sebastian joins me now for more on.

Just the fact there is criticism on state TV is extraordinary, let alone from such a revered figure.

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this was very striking, Max. These talk shows are fairly common usually contain a panel of people who all frankly agree with each other. So this is unusual. This is a retired colonel who not only criticized Russia's handling of the war. But he criticized its perception of it. Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I must say, let us not drink information tranquilizers because sometimes information is spread about hearing some more psychological breakdown of Ukraine's armed forces. And this day, nearly the crisis of morale or a fracture. None of this is close to reality.


SEBASTIAN: An information tranquilizer, as he is referring to, probably the control of the information within the country. He went on to say that the situation on the ground will likely get, worse for Russia and that the whole world is against them. One of the biggest problems is the geopolitical isolation.

But the big issue here, I think one of the big questions that's arising is there hasn't been much reaction from Russia, certainly not an official reaction. That along with the fact that this is not the first time this particular colonel has expressed this kind of ultimate view of the war.

In the weeks before the conflict, he wrote an op-ed saying that he didn't think it would go as easily as Russia was calculating at that moment. It raises the question, I want to break up a tweet from Garry Kasparov, who is a longtime Putin critic and former chess champion.

He said, "This is relevant, likely as part of a broader Kremlin campaign to manage expectations at home and encourage its international appeasement brigades to push for cease-fires and offramps to salvage Russia's remaining gains."


SEBASTIAN: So is this a dissenting view?

Or is this an effort by Russia to sort of read public opinions, to manage expectations for the next phase of this, which might include some kind of withdrawal, consolidating?

We just don't, know but it's certainly worth asking.


FOSTER: -- shows are produced and people don't just come up with random comments --


FOSTER: -- from experience.

SEBASTIAN: Right, this is very different from that incident, that you saw on the Russian news channel with that banner.

FOSTER: Yes, she got arrested.


SEBASTIAN: Nothing like that. Here

FOSTER: All right, Clare, thank. You

Millions of people face extreme hunger and desperate choices in Afghanistan meanwhile.


KHALID AHMADZAI, WORLD FOOD PROGRAMME: And she told me that, "I want to give you my son for 16,000 afghani. Just give me the afghani." And that was the worst feeling that I had in my life.

FOSTER (voice-over): Coming, up Christiane Amanpour reports.





FOSTER: A U.S. watchdog says both the Biden and Trump White Houses are at least partially to blame for the collapse of the Afghan military and police before the Taliban takeover. That's according to the interim report from a specialist (INAUDIBLE) for Afghanistan reconstruction.

It says that the decision for the U.S. troops to leave Afghanistan factored into the collapse of the military.

The report also finds that the Doha agreement between the Trump administration and the Taliban shattered Afghan morale. And, it says the withdrawal of U.S. contractors, some of whom helped keep Afghan aircraft and other gear in working order, was a factor.

The reduction of airstrikes played a role as well and so did the departure of former Afghan president Ashraf Ghani as the Taliban advanced on the major cities.

It's been nine months since America's withdrawal from Afghanistan and our chief international anchor Christiane Amanpour recently traveled to Kabul. She reports now from a country reeling from economic collapse.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): Under a scorching sun, standing patiently for hours in organized lines, hundreds of newly poor Afghans wait for their monthly handout, men on one side, women on the other.

Here, the U.N.'s World Food Programme is delivering cash assistance, the equivalent of $43 per family. Khalid Ahmadzai is the coordinator. He says he's seen the need explode. And right from the start, the stories are dire.