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One Dead After Explosions Near Russian Air Base In Crimea; CNN Visits People Living On Front Lines Of Donbas Fight; Source: FBI Suspected Donald Trump, Aides Were Withholding Documents That Had An National Security Implications; Gaza Ceasefire Holds But Palestinians Fear Further Tensions; Tourists Start To Leave Chinese Resort Amid Lockdown; Kremlin Recruiting Russian Prisoners to Fight; Wildlife Returning to Bolivia's Infamous 'Death Road'. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired August 10, 2022 - 00:00   ET





Coming up this hour, deep strike, a Russian airbase far from the frontlines in occupied Crimea, rocked by at least a dozen explosions. Officially Ukraine has not claimed responsibility.

Political firestorm after FBI agents searched Donald Trump's Florida home, Republicans erupt in one voice, slamming Democrats for weaponizing the justice system.

And growing anger in the West Bank after the Israeli military kills a commander of the Palestinian militant group, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade.

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN Center, this is CNN NEWSROOM with John Vause.

VAUSE: We begin with the war in Ukraine in a series of explosions that rocked a Russian airbase in western Crimea. Video from machines -- from the scene rather shows a fiery mushroom cloud rising from the direction of the base. Local officials say at least one person was killed, several others were wounded.

Ukraine is not claiming responsibility and Russia says the blast was caused by detonated ammunition, not an attack. The explosions near Crimea's coast came just hours after Ukraine carried out a strike in southern Kherson, targeting a railway that connects Russian held areas in the south and east with the Crimean peninsula.

Crimea has been a Russian stronghold since Moscow annexed it in 2014. Having sparked a conflict that simmered (PH) to eight years until Russia launched its full scale invasion in February.

In his nightly address, the Ukrainian president vowed to retake Crimea, but stopped short of addressing the explosions.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): This Russian war against Ukraine and against all of free Europe began with Crimea and must end with Crimea, its liberation. Today, it is impossible to say when this will happen. But we are constantly adding the necessary components to the formula for the liberation of Crimea.


VAUSE: Joining me now from Washington, retired U.S. Air Force Colonel and CNN Military Analyst, Cedric Leighton. Colonel, good to see it.


VAUSE: OK, so if Ukraine did carry out this attack, hypothetically, what sort of weapon would be capable of a strike like this? Would be some kind of what Ukrainian develop long range missile, which seems entirely possible?

Because you know, before the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014, the Kviv Post reported that Ukraine was the world's fourth largest arms exporter. So they have, you know, technological advantages here, they had the ability.

Is it far more significant, though, the fact that Ukraine was willing to do it? Despite warnings from Moscow that this attack would trigger some kind of massive retaliation?

LEIGHTON: Yes, I think that it's very interesting, because none of the weapon systems that the West has brought to bear with its U.S. or other NATO countries, has the range that would be required from Ukrainian controlled territory to hit the airbase that we're talking about in western Crimea.

So, the one possibility is that a Neptune missile or something similar to that, which is a Ukrainian manufactured missile, using technologies that they've developed indigenously, with a little bit of additions from other countries. That kind of a weapon system could potentially have hit this airbase, and that could be somewhat of a game changer that the Ukrainians are willing to do that.

So, the main factor is that they did it -- if they did it, that it would be perhaps the showcasing of this kind of weapons capability. But also the fact that they allowed the political decision to be made is, I think, extremely significant in this case.

VAUSE: Which is why officially Ukraine is not taking responsibility for the strike. Instead the issuing denials with a wink and a nod. Like this -- I mean, with a wink and a nod I should say like this one, the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine cannot determine the cause of the fire. This was the fire on the scene. But once again reminds me of the rules of fire safety and the prohibition of smoking in unspecified places.

This is kind of a snarky reference to Russia's discredited reason for why the Moscow sank, that was the flagship of the Black Sea fleet that they said a discarded cigarettes set of ammunition which have been, you know, part of the deck (PH).

But back then, it was one of those harpoon missiles which sank the boat. It seems odd though to officially deny this while at the same time, kind of removing any doubt that it was you.


LEIGHTON: Yes, it's very interesting because the denials that were used when the flagship of the Russian Black Sea fleet was hit and sank, they are very similar to what we're hearing today. And that very fact John makes one very suspicious about the Russian denial. And I think there's a very high possibility that in fact, the Ukrainians did conduct this attack and that they were successful in at least hitting the ammunition storage area, it's also possible that they may have destroyed at least one aircraft on the ground. But of course that remains to be seen and confirmed.

VAUSE: But why the (INAUDIBLE) snarky reference actually carrying it out and denying it at the same time?

LEIGHTON: I think they want to protect the Ukrainians, want to protect their ability to conduct these operations. If they reveal what kind of weapon they used, the Russians might be able to determine the launch site of the weapon, they might be able to target that launch site. And the Ukrainians not only want to but they have to avoid that kind of detection if they can possibly do so.

So, that might be one reason that they're doing it too. In the other sense, they're playing a psychological warfare aspect with them. It's a psychological battle of wits. And the Ukrainians are engaging the Russians in that way on their territory, and both in the mind and on land. And that's, I think, a very significant aspect of this as well.

VAUSE: There's also new evidence of how Russia is sort of skirting around export import controls to buy high tech components, in particular microchips badly needed by its military.

An independent think tank in the U.K. called RUSI, inspected 27 Russian weapons systems and pieces of military equipment lost or expended since the beginning of Russia's full scale invasion. And identified at least 450 unique microelectronic components inside these systems that were produced by companies based in the United States, Europe, and East Asia.

The bottom line in this report is essentially, if every country which made microchips was compliant with bans on exports to Moscow, the Russian military would be next to useless within months, it seems just incredibly simple to you know, put a ban on in place, but at the same time, incredibly unlikely that it would happen.

LEIGHTON: Well, you're right, it's unlikely that it would happen. And there's one major reason that it would be very difficult to implement. And that is this fact that microchips that are used in everything from modern washing machines, to cars, to microwaves and to all the everyday equipment that we use, can be repurposed, and they can be repurposed for military purposes, they can be integrated into weapons, such as drones, such as rockets, GPS guided munitions of other types.

So, that makes it very, very difficult to actually control these exports of these chips and of these types of devices that are used and integrated into computer circuitry.

There is one element basically called the FPGA, which is designed to actually change and can be changed depending on the purpose that the system is used for.

So, you can have one used, let's say, in a washing machine, but it can also be used in a drone. And that's the kind of thing that not only becomes difficult to control, but these things can be as old as from the 1980s and they can still be used today to great effect. And that's one of the problems that you run into. You can't control what they've already got. And they can repurpose some of what they already have.

VAUSE: Good point to finish on. Colonel, thank you. Thanks for being with us. Colonel Leighton, appreciate it.

LEIGHTON: You bet John.

VAUSE: Some of the worst of the fighting is in eastern Ukraine where Russian forces have unleashed a relentless barrage of artillery for months. Part of Moscow's push to capture the entire Donbas region.

But despite the constant fighting, the front lines have barely moved in weeks. And for residents living nearby, the threat of death is never far away.

CNN's Nic Robertson has more.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voice over): In Siversk, civilians are buried where they fall. No time, no safety for a cemetery sendoff. No bomb too big, no building in this eastern Ukrainian town seemingly off Russia's target list in their slow but relentless push westwards.

This town is on the fringes of what the Ukrainian government controls. They're surrounded on two sides by Russian forces to the east and to the north. About five miles eight or 10 kilometers away.

Shelling here an ever present danger. Among the ruins, people are surviving. 2,000 have a pre-war, 11,000 clinging on.

Valeria (PH) barely seems to notice another shell exploding.

How hard is it to live here now?

I don't realize it. But she's about to teach me how hard. She's not kidding. She comes back with a sore and a floorboard scavenge from a blown building.


VALERIA: Every day.

ROBERTSON: Every day (INAUDIBLE). OK, so this is hard. Well, why do you -- yes, good muscles. Why do you stay here? If it's so hard, why do you stay?

Valeria's lesson for me: Yes, life here is very hard. But this is home and leaving would be harder.

VALERIA: My house -- my house

ROBERTSON: But it's so dangerous. There's bombs and explosions and --

Someone has to stay, she says. We go in the basement when they're shelling.

OK, I'm coming.

She leads us to the basement.

So, you're sleeping in here? You're living down here?

I've been sleeping down here for more than three months, she says. Down here, her cheerful sparkle is gone. We have no gas, electricity, water or communication, she says. I have nowhere to go.

There's more she wants to show us.

Yes, look at this. Smashed. Valeria's neighbors like her cooking outside.


She's brought me to what's left of her friend's house.

It's all destroyed. The people who were here, did they survive?

God saved them, she says, but now they've left.

By local standards, the shelling this day less than usual.

This elderly lady venturing out for food. She tells us the food handout she needs hasn't arrived. The shelling getting closer. We go. Not so lucky those who leave behind.

Nic Robertson, CNN, Siversk, Ukraine.


VAUSE: More details now on why FBI agents conducted an unprecedented search of Donald Trump's sprawling Mar-a-Lago estate on Monday. A source tells CNN, investigators suspected the former president was withholding documents which had national security implications, that Trump was being less than honest.

CNN's Jessica Schneider has details.


JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): New details about the FBI's search of Mar-a-Lago are emerging as Republican congressional leaders cry foul about the target and the timing.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I know doing this 90 days before an election reeks of politics.

SCHNEIDER: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy tweeting: The Department of Justice has reached an intolerable state of weaponized politicization, warning about investigations if Republicans take the House in November writing: Attorney General Garland, preserve your documents and clear your calendar.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): Merrick Garland, Chris Wray, come to the House Judiciary Committee this Friday and answer our questions about this action today, which has never happened in American history. What was on the warrant? What were you really doing? What were you looking for? Why not talk to President Trump and have him give the information you're after?

SCHNEIDER: Trump was in New York at Trump Tower when the search began Monday morning. His son Eric said he alerted Trump about what was unfolding in Florida.

ERIC TRUMP, DONALD TRUMP'S SON: The purpose of the raid from what they said was because the National Archives wanted to, you know, corroborate, whether or not Donald Trump had any documents in his possession. And my father has worked so collaboratively with them for months.

In fact, the lawyer that's been working on this was totally shocked because I have such an amazing relationship with these people. And all of a sudden, no notice they sent, you know 20 cars and 30 agents.

SCHNEIDER: The National Archives asked the Justice Department earlier this year to investigate Trump's handling of White House records. After the Archives recovered 15 boxes of documents from Mar-a-Lago and discovered some of the presidential records had been torn up or contained classified information.

Sources tell CNN Monday search was focused on Trump's office and personal quarters at Mar-a-Lago, and it included examining where records had been kept to make sure everything had previously been handed over to the Archives.

CNN has learned four federal investigators visited Mar-a-Lago in early June. Sources say Trump's attorneys met with the investigators and took them to the basement room where boxes of material were stored with the investigators later leaving.

However, source says some of the documents had top secret markings. And Trump's attorneys later received a letter asking them to further secure the room where the documents were stored. ANDREW MCCABE, FORMER FBI DEPUTY DIRECTOR: I really don't believe that the department would have taken such a significant step as getting pursuing a search warrant for the president's residence about information that they already had back.

There had to be a suspicion, a concern and indeed specific information that led them to believe that there were additional materials that were not turned over.

SCHNEIDER: Trump releasing a lengthy statement. These are dark times for our nation as my beautiful home Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida is currently under siege, raided and occupied by a large group of FBI agents. Nothing like this has ever happened to a President of the United States before. Also noting: They even broke into my safe.


Trump later called into a virtual rally for Sarah Palin, where he referenced the raid again.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That's right, another day in paradise. This was a strange day.

SCHNEIDER (on camera): And our team has learned Trump was aware of federal investigators probing the potentially classified documents that he took to Mar-a-Lago.

In fact, Trump interacted with investigators when they visited his Florida home earlier this year. And in April and May, aides to Trump at Mar-a-Lago were actually interviewed by the FBI as part of this probe into the handling of presidential records.

Meanwhile, so far there has been no comment from Attorney General Merrick Garland, or FBI Director Chris Wray.

Jessica Schneider, CNN, Washington.


VAUSE: Joining me now from Chicago, Renato Mariotti is a former U.S. Federal Prosecutor. Now host of the On Topic podcast. Thanks for being with us.


VAUSE: OK. So, when it comes to the question of timing, you know, why now, is the answer to be found in how the FBI got the warrant in the first place by convincing a judge of probable cause that a crime had been committed evidence of that crime was in Trump's Florida home. And with that, I want to listen to the former president's lawyer, here she is.


CHRISTINA BOBB, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: The supporting documentation of what the probable cause was to obtain the warrant has been sealed. So, we're not allowed to see that, we'd have to go to court to request the judge to release that which, you know, may or may not happen.

So, we don't know what the probable causes why they were allowed to search. But they did.


VAUSE: OK, so what does this all say to you? And when would you expect to see the Department of Justice bring in an actual case?

MARIOTTI: So, regarding to your first question about timing, I think the timing had to do with potentially the evidence that the Justice Department had.

In other words, they likely had obtained evidence that suggested, for example, that, based upon the reporting, we just heard, perhaps there's dishonesty regarding the records that had been held by the former president, and they had evidence that certain records were contained within Mar-a-Lago.

And one thing that they don't want to do is let that evidence go stale. And so, they need to act quickly while that evidence is fresh if they want to obtain a search warrant.

You know, regarding what that lawyer said, everything that she said is consistent with how every criminal case works pretty much.

In other words, you know, when my clients have their home or office searched, I get a copy of the warrant, but I don't get the underlying affidavit that usually is not released until after charges are filed.

VAUSE: OK, so let me get to the why part. The question here is why and you touched on this, CNN is reporting the search of Mar-a-Lago came after the authorities believed the former president or his team had not returned all the documents and other materials that were property of the government.

That's pretty bland. So, if all this ends up being about preservation of presidential records, rather than something, you know, more serious, with January 6 perhaps, could that jeopardize future investigations while giving Trump a much needed political boost?

MARIOTTI: One thing I would suggest that all the viewers take into account is that the information we're receiving now is almost certainly from Trump's team. They've seen the warrant, they're characterizing what's in the warrant and what they know, which is very limited, potentially, but they're giving us their side of the story. I doubt we're hearing from the Justice Department, the evidence that they have, and I suspect that the allegations here are more serious than purely the fact that he had records.

We know that there were discussions between Trump's team and the Justice Department. We know for example, there was reporting that the attorneys from the Justice Department actually went to Mar-a-Lago and met with his counsel. So, they -- and obtained boxes of documents. So, there were additional boxes of documents that were seized the

other day, I suspect that there was something that led the Justice Department to seek a search warrant and seize those records and something that compelled that judge to sign that search warrant. And I suspect that we will find more about that in the weeks and months to come.

VAUSE: At this point, would it be a good idea for someone from the Justice Department to step up and clarify the reasons for executing the search warrant?

MARIOTTI: You know, Justice Department usually does not comment regarding ongoing investigations. And the last time a leader in the Justice Department thought it was a great idea to comment about an ongoing investigation was James Comey during the Clinton investigation, and that really did not turn out very well for the Justice Department.

If I were counseling Attorney General Garland, I would suggest that he just play this by the book. And, you know, do what they usually do is just say as little as possible.

VAUSE: Good point. Very quickly, as to the accusation that, you know, this is all being politicized by the White House. I want you to listen to the White House press secretary on what the White House knew and the president knew. Here we go.


KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: No, the president was not briefed, did not -- was not aware of it. No, no one at the White House was given a heads up. No, that did not happen.



VAUSE: So, assuming she's telling the truth, that removes the administration from being involved in this from the get go in many ways.

But isn't the entire process of getting a search warrant lengthy and difficult and actually designed to be immune from politics in the first place?

MARIOTTI: Yes, I mean, I will just say in my experience, I was a federal prosecutor for almost a decade. I do not know anything about politics being involved in a search warrant process. There's generally a supervisory process within the Justice Department. And in this case, I'm sure that that went up all the way to the top levels of the Justice Department.

In other words, many prosecutors, career prosecutors and appointed prosecutors were involved in that decision. And then, it went to a federal judge who made his own determination regarding probable cause. You know, frankly, there's a lot of outrage and hyperbole about this investigation. But we know very little other than the fact that a lot of prosecutors and a federal judge thought that there was evidence of a crime inside that residence.

VAUSE: To say nothing of the Trump appointed head of the FBI. Renato Mariotti, thanks for being with us. We appreciate it.

And still to come here on CNN, tensions flare in the West Bank after an Israeli raid kills a senior militant leader, details next.

And free, free at last, kind of. Tourists finally allowed to leave a Chinese resort city after a surprise lockdown, but it comes with conditions. Live report in a moment.


VAUSE: Clashes and anger in parts of the West Bank after an Israeli military operation killed the senior commander of the militant group the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade.

Gunfire erupted in the old city of Nablus Tuesday after Israeli forces surrounded one building, then targeted with a shoulder fired missile.

Israeli police released this helmet cam footage showing the operation. Three Palestinians were killed, including the regional Commander for the militant group who's accused of being involved in shooting attacks on Israelis in the West Bank.

And that raid in Nablus triggered clashes across the West Bank. In Hebron, the Israeli army said it responded with live fire while the Palestinians threw rocks and burned explosives.

The Palestinian health ministry says a 17-year-old was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers.

This latest unrest in the West Bank follows an escalation of hostilities in Gaza. And while a truce between Israel and the Islamic Jihad militant group is still holding, it could be just a matter of time before tensions flare again.

From Gaza City, here's CNN's Ben Wedeman.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): It's over for now. The airstrikes, the rocket barrages have come to an end, but in Gaza it never ends.

16-year -old Mahmud (PH) (INAUDIBLE) until Saturday was his home in Gaza's Shehajili (PH) Neighborhood.

You feel like you don't have a life here he says.


For more than 20 years this small strip of land home to two million people has reeled from one round of death and destruction to another.

In Gaza City, Shifa Hospital, 10-year-old Miyar Shikyan (PH) is recovering from shrapnel wounds to her shoulder, chest and abdomen. She was wounded on her way to the corner store.

Her 11-year-old cousin Hasam (PH) was also wounded. Miyar's mother Mona (PH) despairs for the children's future.

It seems when I die, she says, the generations after me will inherit bigger and bigger wars.

In the next room, 2-year-old Bashir (PH) lies sleeping, shrapnel lodged in his head.

Outside the hospital, life goes on. The markets are bustling.

Gaza seems to have an incredible ability to bounce back war after war. But each one of these wars leaves yet another layer of scars.

Psychologist Aya Samor (PH) has been treating people here for decades. He lists the woes awaiting the young. No work, no life, the feeling there's no tomorrow, he says, it's as if they're on death row, no hope, no optimism.

10-year-old Apela (PH) tries to find buyers for his mint, no luck. Surviving war, surviving peace, it's all a struggle that never ends.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, Gaza City.


VAUSE: After a sudden COVID lockdown last week, tourists are now being allowed to leave the Chinese resort city of Sanya. Official say up to 80,000 tourists were left stranded by the sudden imposition of the COVID restrictions.

Live to Hong Kong now CNN's Kristie Lu Stout standing by. So, a number of Chinese tourist destinations, they've been struck by these sort of zero COVID measures. What's the latest now in Hainan were what, 80,000 Tourists are being stranded, that seems to be a common number here.

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Yes, 80,000 stranded there since Saturday and what we've learned is chartered flights are starting to get the stranded tourists out of Hainan, this is according to state run media reporting that tourists who had been stuck in this sudden lockdown, this tropical southern Chinese island are now being sent back to their hometowns in batches.

The first batch they were able to return home to Xian (PH) on Tuesday, but for some 80,000 tourists, they have witnessed their island getaway turned into this vacation nightmare when over the weekend, you had officials in Sanya Resort City in Hainan suddenly imposed this lockdown order to curb rising COVID-19 cases.

As a result, public or people's movements were restricted. Public transportation was suspended, people were told to stay put for seven days and that they had to clear five COVID-19 tests before they were allowed to leave.

Now, officials they have promised to help. They have been saying that they want to streamline the booking cancellation process to help offer hotel discounts for example, for people who have been stranded but if you look on social media, there have been a lot of angry reports and videos of residents and of tourists there in particular saying they are not getting enough assistance.

I want to share just one account that was shared with us by a foreign resident of Shanghai who has been stranded in Sanya, who tells CNN this: "The situation going forward is unsustainable. It's a little bit like Russian roulette on where do you go and whether or not that area is going to get lockdown." He also adds that over five days he had to wait in long lines for six COVID tests. And he also requested not to be named because he feared nationalistic blowback.

And it's not just Hainan. And it's not just Sanya and other sites in Hainan Island. A number of other cities across China have been struck with these, you know, sudden zero COVID lockdowns.

Just last month, the popular southern resorts city of Beihai, also some 2,000 tourists were stranded there and happening right now, COVID-19 cases are rising in other popular domestic tourism destinations like Xinjiang, like Xiamen, as well as Tibet. Back to you, John.

VAUSE: That's quite a spread of territory when you think about it. From one end of the country to the other. Kristie, thanks for being with us. Appreciate it. Kristie Lu Stout there live in Hong Kong.

Just ahead, with Russia losing thousands of troops on the battlefield in Ukraine, the Kremlin is now turning to Russian prisoners as their new recruits. Welcome to the army, boys.


VAUSE: Welcome back, everyone. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm John Vause.


As Russian troop losses mount in Ukraine, Moscow is now turning to new recruits. Prisoners, from drug offenders to murderers, they're being promised freedom and riches to join the fight. It seems many are taking up the Kremlin on this offer.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh has our report.



NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR (voice-over): The camera is in the unsteady hands of a prisoner, but the apparent scene is still startling. Convicts in a southern Russian penitentiary being recruited to fight

the Kremlin's war in Ukraine, according to a witness. It's an offer being made in cramped prisons across Russia. One prisoner, like many in this murky underworld it's rare to glimpse inside, wanted his identity hidden, as he explained the deal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Rapists, pedophiles, extremists, terrorists are not taken. Murderers are accepted.

WALSH: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE) What are the terms of the contract?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Amnesty in six months.

WALSH: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE) What kind of money are they promising?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Somebody talks about 100,000 rubles. Somebody about 200,000.

WALSH (voice-over): Russia's small victories in this war come with huge losses, and after about six months, regular soldiers have been hit hard with up to 60,000 Russian dead or wounded troops, say western officials. So now Russia is making ugly choices in its ugly war, sending conflicts to fight.

But for this prisoner, with years left on a drug sentence, joining up, swap certain incarceration for a slim chance of freedom.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): If it's real, then I'm all for it. It's either be in prison for nine years or get out in six months, if you are lucky. But that's if you are lucky. They can promise one thing, but, in fact, everything will be different. This is Russia.

WALSH (voice-over): Since the start of July, from multiple crowded prisons inside Russia, like this one, whose dank cells are shown in an activist's video, inmates have told relatives of an almost identical offer made by apparent private military contractors.

Military experience is not essential, and monthly pay can be up to $3,500, a six-month tour leads to an amnesty or pardon. But first, there's usually two weeks' training in Southern Russia. And then often, there is silence, as the prisoners disappear in Russia's gray zone of expendable contractors.

VLADIMIR OSECHKIN, FOUNDER, GULAGU.NET: Now we have information that they want to recruit about two or 3,000 of prisoners. And for example, if they will die in this war, they'd be -- they will pay 5 million rubles to the family of this prisoner.

There is no, really, contract. There is no, really, guarantee to protect the rights or the health, or their lives.

WALSH (voice-over): Sometimes, the offer comes with fanfare. This helicopter flying recruiters to one prison activist said. These are convicts, yes, but they still face agonizing choices, weighing a shot at freedom against a violent death. One prisoner explained his decision to his brother in these texts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I'm going. Don't tell mother either way. It's better that way. Or else she'll worry a lot, and react to every piece of news.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): That's it. We will react to every news. If you tell us where you are and what you're doing, we will be calmer, as at least we will know where to look.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Even I don't know that. Everything will be decided on the spot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I do know we're going to the 12th prison. And once gathered there, to Rostov for two weeks, where there's a center, and then to the territory.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I'm willing to go. Lots of options, but there is only one. That's why I agreed.

WALSH (voice-over): Another prisoner's sister describes how he almost vanished after receiving the offer.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): There's no definitive proof he is in Ukraine. He rang his mother on the tenth and said he was in Rostov. And to all of her questions, he replied, "Mother, I can't talk."

Before, she was glad he should go, as he would get money, but now, when I talk to her, she's afraid. All have the same scenario. Their men ask them to send their passport details, so they can get their salaries. And then there is silence.

WALSH: What contact there has been has been darker still. Two wives of prisoners sent to the front from one St. Petersburg prison say they've been contacted and told that their husbands lie injured in a hospital in separatist-controlled Luhansk. And that a total of ten prisoners from that one prison alone are now dead or injured.

Another, a mother, has said that she's been contacted by an anonymous individual and told that she can soon collect her son's wages in cash.

WALSH (voice-over): Russia's regard for the norms of war, or even prison, long gone.

Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, London.


VAUSE: In the U.K., soaring power bills are forcing many to choose to either heat or eat. And the average household power bill expected to more than double by January to around $5,000 a year. That's about $430 a month, which means a third of all U.K. households will face poverty in the coming months, according to the End Fuel Poverty Coalition.

The global national gas crisis has driven up energy prices to record levels, all this made worse by Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Research firm Cornwell Insight did offer a glimmer of hope, predicting

utility bills could drop in the back half of next year.

Still to come here on CNN, South America's highway of death. Life returns to an infamous route through the mountains of Bolivia. Those details in a moment.



VAUSE: Police in Albuquerque, New Mexico, say they have arrested a primary suspect in the killings of four Muslim men. Muhammad Syed was caught almost 200 kilometers from Albuquerque. He's now facing two homicide charges for now.

Police say there's evidence he knew his victims and some sort of conflict may have led to the shootings, but the motive is still unclear.

Now, to being responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Bolivians, the country's infamous Death Road has now become a source of new life. A study from the Wildlife Conservation Society says animals of all types flocked into the area since the road is no longer in use.

Journalist Stefano Pozzebon has our report.


STEFANO POZZEBON, JOURNALIST (voice-over): Sharp turns, dust and fog, waterfalls and sharp drops of 200,000 feet, a deadly combination for drivers on the north Yungas Road in Bolivia.

But the historic dirt path is better known as Death Road, properly nicknamed, since hundreds of drivers have dried trying to navigate the serpentine route since it opened in 1930.

The road connects the capital city of La Paz through the Amazon rain forest in the northern part of the country. It was open to anyone who dared to drive it, often local merchants who packed into trucks and buses to sell their goods in town. The road was not only dangerous for drivers and passengers, but they disrupted local wildlife, too.

MARIA VISCARRA, BIOLOGIST, WILDLIFE CONSERVATION SOCIETY (through translator): When the Death Road was open, the fauna was heavily affected by pollution from cars, noise and dust, as the road was used 24 hours a day, with heavy vehicles circulated on it.

POZZEBON (voice-over): In 2007, Bolivia's government opened a new, much safer route nearby, and it not only saved human lives, but led to a surge in wildlife activity in the area.

The Wildlife Conservation Society, or WCS, set up 35 cameras along the old road, and found over a dozen species of mammals and nearly 100 species of birds. And that number is estimated to be even higher, based on visitor sightings. Some examples include these wide-nose coatis, this black-and-chestnut eagle, and this ancilla (ph) tiger.

GUIDO AYALA, BIOLOGIST, WILDLIFE CONSERVATION SOCIETY (through translator): Today, thanks to work done on the new road, heavy vehicles don't use this road. Biodiversity has come back to this zone. You can see birds, such as hummingbirds, toucans, parents, blue macaws and many more. You can notice biodiversity return, and it's very nice to see a place so near La Paz, around 50 minutes away. And you can come here and enjoy this beautiful nature.

POZZEBON: It's an increasingly greater example of good news for the moment, as the demise of Death Road brings a rebirth of biodiversity.

Stefano Pozzebon, CNN, Bogota.


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