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Erin Burnett Outfront
Russians Forces Attack Homes, Civilians; Casualties Mount; Russian Forces Strike Evacuation Route Near Kyiv, Killing Family; NYT Photographer Witnesses Family Killed On Evacuation Route; IAEA: "Can't Afford To Wait" To Protect Nuclear Plants Amid War; Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) Discusses About Dire Situation Across Ukraine; U.S. Amb: Ukrainian Cities "Under Relentless Russian Shelling;" Pentagon: Putin Has Nearly All Amassed Combat Power In Ukraine; U.S. Lawmakers: WNBA Star Detained In Russia On Biden's "Agenda;" Mayor: 200K People Sheltering In Lviv From Other Parts Of Ukraine. Aired 7-8p ET
Aired March 07, 2022 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: So beautiful indeed. Thank you, Amelia. And thanks very much for watching.
Erin Burnett OUTFRONT starts right now.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next breaking news, Putin's war taking a horrific new toll on civilians. Apartment buildings and schools blasted. I'm going to speak to a New York Times photographer who was just feet away as a mother and her children were gunned down as they attempted to flee to safety in a civilian area.
Plus, what's happening inside Russia. Putin clamping down on any free press, any free information. A Russian journalist force off the air is our guest tonight.
And the American basketball player detained in Russia, U.S. officials warning it will not be easy to get her out.
And good evening, I'm Erin Burnett, OUTFRONT tonight the breaking news. The President of Ukraine daring Putin tonight. Zelenskyy showing up in his office, not his nightly inspiring speech from his bunker from his office, okay, for the first time in two weeks delivering a message to Putin.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, PRESIDENT OF UKRAINE (through interpreter): Now I'm going to say here I am. I'm staying here on Bankova. I'm not hiding and I'm not afraid of anyone.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: That defiant message coming as Putin steps up his assault on civilian targets in Ukraine. Tonight the horrific images of these strikes, one hitting an evacuation route in a suburb of Kyiv. I'm going to warn you that the video that you are about to see is horrific.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Foreign language).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Foreign language).
LYNSEY ADDARIO, PHOTOJOURNALIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: In a moment, I'm going to speak to the New York Times photographer who you heard and you saw in that video when you saw her taking with her still camera pictures. When she emerged what she and those around her saw was a horrific sight. A family, seconds before, had been walking, seconds before walking, right, barely heard anything before you heard those shot, then dead.
The photographer saw bodies; a mother and her two children lying on the street. All three of them killed. A small blue backpack still strapped to the small body of one of those children. A man helping them escaped was also killed. This is the reality of what is happening in town after town across eastern Ukraine.
This is the video of a small village to the east of Kyiv. The man who found the attack of this church can be heard saying, "They've attacked our church. Guys don't go in there, expletive. That's it. They've gone to hit our church."
And in the northern city of Chernihiv, this is all that's left of what weeks ago was a school, which, of course, at that time had been full of children. Artwork still lining halls that are now covered in debris. An advisor to Ukraine's President tells the Kyiv Independent that 202 schools have been destroyed as well as 34 hospitals, more than 1,500 residential buildings.
And, of course, no one actually knows the real count because the devastating toll is continuing minute after minute and hours after hour. It comes to the Pentagon says all of the forces that Putin had amassed at the border of Ukraine are now there, all of them are now in the country and the Ukrainians are continuing to fight despite being outnumbered.
And here you can see what appeared to be hundreds of Ukrainian spacing off with Russian troops. At one point the sound of what appears to be gunshots can be heard. Any of these people, as you can see, civilians still unafraid standing up for their country.
Another village to the east inside of Ukraine, video of Ukrainian police taking out Russian tanks, because of the stiff resistance. The Pentagon says they believe Putin is now trying to recruit seasoned fighters from Syria. Okay. We're going to have more on that. We're live tonight across Ukraine.
I want to begin though with Matthew Chance in the capitol of Kyiv. And Matthew, what is the latest on the ground where you are tonight where, of course, Zelenskyy actually went to his office and put that statement out from the office, not from the bunker to Putin directly.
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he did. And it just shows you how defiant the Ukrainian President continues to be in the face of this ongoing Russian pressure and that pressure has been ratcheted up a great deal with more military maneuvers, military advances rather on the part of the Russians around the Ukrainian capital, but that's not leading to him backing down.
Look, I mean, there's been some hopeful, I suppose, signs as well within the past hour or so with the Russians saying that they're going to announce a ceasefire 10 o'clock in the morning, local time in a number of cities, including Kyiv, but also the second biggest city, Kharkiv, Sumy, Mariupol all of these places where there has been fierce fighting over the past couple of days and not just fierce fighting between the armies, but fierce attacks on the residential and the civilian areas as well.
I went to an area earlier on today to the south of the Ukrainian capital, which is also - had suffered a heavy toll as a result of attacks on its residential quarters. Take a look.
CHANCE (voice over): Clearing up the broken debris of a shattered home. This is the devastation caused by a Russian attack on a residential neighborhood in a small Ukrainian town. Bila Tserkva, 50 miles south of the Ukrainian Capitol is nowhere near the frontlines, but it has felt the rage and the pain of this war.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHANCE (on camera): All right. Well, we've come inside one of the houses who was affected by what was apparently random artillery or rocket fire into this residential neighborhood and you can see just how shattered the lives of the family here were. Look, I mean, the windows have all been blown out, obviously, all their belongings have been left behind as they've gone into hiding.
There's a picture up there of what seem to be the - some of the people who lived in here. It was a family with some children. Apparently, they've survived this, which is good. But, of course, when you look at the situation and the way that Russians have been shelling residential areas across the country, so many people haven't survived.
This is interesting, come on have a look. It's the children's bedroom. You see over here, look, the bunk beds, the roof that's fallen down onto the top of them when that shell hit. And, of course, in the panic, in the evacuation, the kids have left all their toys up here. But it just shows you that no matter where you are in this country with Russia attacking towns and cities across it, lives are being shattered.
(END VIDEOTAPE) CHANCE (voice over): Stetis Slav (ph) is a close friend of the family
who were nearly killed in their beds here, godfather to the three children that escaped with their lives. Now he has one request, he tells me, for the United States.
"Please, close the skies over Ukraine," he begs. "If we can just contact NATO and ask them this," everything will be fine. "Otherwise," he warns, "Putin will cross Ukraine and threaten the whole of Europe."
In a bunker under the town, it's terrified children, they're singing Ukraine's national anthem that keeps them calm. And as Russia invades, a whole generation of Ukrainians is being united by this war together as they shelter from the horrors above.
CHANCE (on camera): Well, Erin, it's also been confirmed tonight that the Ukrainian and the Russian foreign ministers will meet face to face in the Turkish City of Antalya, which is interesting and hopeful because it's the highest level meeting there has been between these two sides since the war began, Erin.
BURNETT: Yes. Of course, we can all hold out hope. Thank you very much, Matthew Chance.
OUTFRONT now New York Times photo journalist Lynsey Addario. She took that photo that I showed you a moment ago. I warn everybody as we talk about it that it is graphic and incredibly hard to look at. Four civilians, a mother, two children and a family friend killed as they tried to evacuate from Irpin in Ukraine. It's a suburb of Kyiv.
There's been heavy shelling for days. So there they are on the road trying to flee to safely and they're killed. Ukrainian officials say more than 2,000 civilians were evacuated from Irpin today. These people walk through the rubble to try to get to a - what they hope will be a safer location.
Obviously, it is still far from safety even when you are able to come out of that broken bridge area. Lynsey is with me now. And Lynsey, I want to just start with where we are now, 2,000 people were able to get out of Irpin today, 2,000 people for whom I hope is still alive.
What is the latest that you're able to tell me of what you saw on the ground today?
ADDARIO: Today, I was working mostly in the hospitals. I think we were pretty rattled after yesterday. We had a, obviously, a very close call. I went to the bridge yesterday, assuming it would be the scenes that we've been seeing with civilians crossing that broken bridge trying to make it to safety.
So I wasn't really, I thought, what I was doing yesterday would be relatively safe and never intended on having mortars landing all around me on a known evacuation route. BURNETT: So it is a known evacuation route. I think, that's really
crucial to say, because you're there taking pictures of people fleeing and it's heartbreaking and it's sad. But as you're pointing out, you weren't expecting to see people killed by mortar fire, children just trying to walk to safety suddenly killed in front of you. That's what you saw.
BURNETT: And is there any question in your mind it was purposeful in the sense of targeting civilians? I mean, this is an unknown civilian evacuation path.
ADDARIO: There's no question in my mind. I mean, the mortars when they first started coming in were about 200 meters off and the distance still pretty close given that this was a pedestrian evacuation route. There was sort of no place for incoming mortars, but it was still often a distance.
And so at one point, my security adviser said we should think about pulling out and I said, well, they're actually firing mortars toward where our vehicle was parked and in order to get there we have to run through that line of fire and I thought they're not going to start targeting the civilian, so let's just stay here until it dies down.
Well, in fact within minutes, the rounds were coming closer and closer and closer to where that civilian path was until one landed 30 feet from me and next to this poor family.
BURNETT: I want to play again the moment of the video when you witnessed this horrific event, this family and their friend killed by a Russian mortar as they're desperately trying to evacuate. And just to be clear here, when you're talking about you were there, you had a, obviously, a security adviser. You also had a freelance videographer who was with you.
And I want to warn our viewers, I'm sorry, Lynsey, to play this again because - honestly it sort of breaks me to have to play this for you to hear it, but I do want our viewers to see it, because this is why you're there so they can see what's really happening. Here it is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Foreign language).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Foreign language).
ADDARIO: Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Foreign language).
ADDARIO: We're ready.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stay down.
ADDARIO: All right. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. No. No.
ADDARIO: Should we go around the corner? Should we go around the corner.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on, medic.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Foreign language) ...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: So Lynsey, what happened to the other civilians in the area at that time? I mean, when something like this happens, what's their reaction? Do they keep trying to move towards safety? What happens?
ADDARIO: Well, first of all, the initial moments after something like that or chaos, obviously, we're trying to get our bearings. What I was - and excuse my language in that video, it was obviously very intense moment. But there was a man who was shown in the video that Andriy, the videographer, was speaking to and then suddenly he disappears after the blast and we realized that he was likely killed in that moment. We don't know, we've gone looking for him today.
And that's why we - because we thought he was killed in that moment, we didn't realize in that moment that a family was - that a mother and two children were killed. So we still were trying to figure out what was going on and get our bearings. And so once we were able to run across the street, then I realized that there was a family just there laying down and I saw the shoes of a child and the bodies of children and I - and immediately as a mother, of course, I was sort of like - I can't think about this too much.
I have to just document this because this is a war crime. We have watched this unfold in front of us and so I first took a picture from sort of the back without showing their faces and then I went around. Meanwhile, civilians are still running because mortars, they did not stop. I mean, they continue to shell the area.
So people were still running and we were terrified, obviously. So I took a few more frames and then we said we have to run and we started going with the civilians away from that area. And we were shelled all the way back to the car, which was about 200 meters.
BURNETT: Wow. So Lynsey, you talk about wanting to document that and seeing it as - trying to document it professionally, right? Obviously, you're a human being, you bring to this that, your humanity.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ADDARIO: Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: And that's the most important thing. And, of course, you talk about being a mother. But you've been in horrific situations before. You've been in Iraq, you've been in Afghanistan, you have seen wars and you have seen crimes. You were kidnapped. You were held captive in Iraq and in Libya. You had your life threatened before and yet you're talking about how terrified you felt in this moment. Was this different?
ADDARIO: Look, no, I mean, I've had my life threatened many times at this point and there have been several different occasions where I thought, okay, this is really the end. I have been in a mortar attack in Kurdistan sort of right before the fall of Saddam Hussein and it was also a very close call.
So I'm familiar with that feeling of, am I alive, am I bleeding. I had to ask my colleague because my whole neck was sprayed with gravel. Thank God, it wasn't shrapnel. And so I'm just trying to figure out, am I okay, is everyone around me okay. And then I have to become a journalist, then I have to get back to work because it's important. We're there. We're bearing witness and we also have to make sure we tell that story in the moment.
BURNETT: Lynsey, thank you, from all of us, for what you did and what you're doing. Thank you.
ADDARIO: Thanks, Erin.
BURNETT: And next breaking news, the Head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the IAEA, warning the world must act now to prevent a nuclear accident in Ukraine. We're live tonight just outside Europe's largest nuclear plant. It is now under Russian control.
Plus, what do Russians really think of Putin's invasion? I'm going to talk to a Russian journalist who just fled the country after he was forced off the air.
And a star basketball player detained in Russia, why Putin wants to keep her in Russia?
BURNETT: Breaking news, "We can't afford to wait," that's a quote. It's a dire warning from the Head of the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency. He says the world must act now to prevent a nuclear accident in Ukraine. Just days after Russia seized control, the largest nuclear power plant in all of Europe following an attack in a fight there prompted a mass exodus of civilians from that city.
Sam Kiley is OUTFRONT in Dnipro, Ukraine. And Sam, two Ukrainians killed in that nuclear power plant attack, Sunday, were just buried. People who had gone to work at their shift that they had gone to for years were killed in this attack. Tell me what you know.
SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Erin. Those were actually Ukrainian troops who were defending the nuclear power station after several days of an extraordinary standoff in which ordinary civilians packed the road and stood against and faced off against invading Russian troops until eventually the Russian troops cleared the civilians with a hand grenade, injuring or killing at least one. We're not exactly sure. We've seen video - I've seen video of that attack.
And then there was this armed assault. The first in the history of mankind on a nuclear power station and not just any nuclear power station, nuclear power station with six reactors in it. Two Ukrainian soldiers were buried on Sunday. In the local town in a very large demonstration, a funeral turned into a demonstration against a Russian occupation of that town just about 30 miles as the crow flies from Zaporizhzhia, where we were that day as well. Watching huge numbers of people getting on two trains, a couple of trains that day were able to be put on for people to flee out west because the energy behind that flight is twofold.
One was the very real fear that there could be some kind of legal catastrophe in that nuclear power station after it had been hit with at least one missile by the Russians. And secondly, the wider fear that as Russians are getting closer to civilian areas and cities, they are now bombarding those cities with profligate disregard for human life and people in Ukraine have seen that happening in Kharkiv. They've seen it happening in Kyiv. They've seen it happening in nearby Mariupol and they don't want to see - they don't want to be there when it happens in Zaporizhzhia, Erin.
BURNETT: All right. Sam, thank you very much. And I want to go now to Republican Senator Mike Rounds, because he was just briefed moments ago here, I know just stepping out, obviously, in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Armed Services Committee.
So Senator, I know you did just literally stepped out of a briefing, what was the big take away from that briefing that you could share?
SEN. MIKE ROUNDS (R-SD): Let me just say that there are no surprises what you're reporting and what others are reporting is accurate. And in terms of the loss of life in Ukraine, the movement on the part of millions of people over the borders, the challenges that we have in making sure that Ukrainian forces are being appropriately resupplied with Javelin missiles, Stinger missiles and so forth. That is all going on right now. We know that those resupplies are getting into the right hands.
But Mr. Putin has made a couple of serious mistakes. First of all, he's clearly underestimated Ukrainians' will to fight. He's underestimated the conditions on the ground.
ROUNDS: It's getting a little bit closer till spring. It's making it more difficult for his equipment to move off of the roads themselves. The old style tactics with which they're using right now have not been working as well as he would have hoped they would have. I don't think he's very happy with the operation of the Russian army itself.
Clearly, his aircraft are not flying the way that we would have expected them to be flying. We're not sure if it's because the anti- aircraft equipment that we've got there is doing the job or if he's simply waiting or if he's having a tough time getting his own people to fight with him. We're not sure yet. All we do know is that there's a huge loss of life and the off ramps for Mr. Putin are becoming fewer and fewer.
BURNETT: And, of course, that's a bad situation for everyone. There's got to be an off ramp, because if there isn't, there's only an escalation ramp. So let me ask you about the nuclear power plant situation. I don't know if you just heard our Sam Kiley, but he's talking about the mass exodus from the town nearby. Russian forces now control, we understand, the largest nuclear power plant in Ukraine and all of Europe. The IAEA is extremely concerned.
They say that the risk of an accident is incredibly high. They don't have full access to crucial readings and plan operations. Outside communication's been limited. With the internet, they haven't been able to fully communicate to the Ukrainian workers who are still there. They've said staff doesn't have enough food. These are the trinkets of information that we're getting out. What is your understanding of the situation there?
ROUNDS: We haven't had a specific brief on what's going on in the power plants directly. But the scenario which you're laying out fits what Mr. Putin would be trying to do. He's chasing the population. He's creating refugees. He's making life miserable for these individuals.
He doesn't care about any loss of life if it's Ukrainian. And right now, it appears with the conscripts that he has on the frontlines in many cases, he simply sees as fodder. And so it doesn't surprise us a bit that he appears to be irresponsible. And yet at the same time, he's using it as a weapon. He's making people afraid of the possibility of a nuclear disaster or accident and at the same time for him that works in his favor in terms of pushing people away and getting them out of the way.
BURNETT: Senator, one other question for you here and I know that the U.S. - you've been saying the U.S. needs to stop buying all Russian oil, which obviously is clearly the case. But the reality of it is, is that Brent Crude prices, which is what Russia sells are up 33 percent since the day before the invasion. Just in two weeks, he's seen a 33 percent increase in prices. So as long as his exports haven't fallen by more than that, he's still making more money.
ROUNDS: You're absolutely correct. And, in fact, I think it was at $127 a barrel today.
ROUNDS: And our message has got to be, look, we could be producing more crude in this country today. But the administration has got to decide which direction they want to go, are they going to continue to try to push (inaudible) only.
BURNETT: I understand what you're saying. My question actually was slightly different, which is just that as long as China is there to buy that oil, how can you stop Putin from getting all that money?
ROUNDS: You can't stop him from getting it, but you can force it at a discounted rate. And that means as long as we put pressure on China, and as we find other people not wanting to buy it as well, the one thing we do know is we should not be buying it and we should be producing more of our own and we should be sharing it with our allies. That should be done now.
Look, the coordination is going to be years before we quit using crude oil. And right now I know the administration wants to move towards a carbon-free approach in terms of energy. This is not the time to be trying it. Long-term, perhaps, we can move more and more to nuclear and renewables. But right now, Mr. Putin is the enemy and that's where this has got to be focused.
We have to do everything in our power to produce more natural gas, to produce more petroleum and we can do it more efficiently than either China or Russia can do it. And we should be focused on that now.
ROUNDS: That would bring the price of crude down immediately just on the futures market alone.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Senator. I appreciate your time.
ROUNDS: Thank you.
BURNETT: And next, Putin intensifying his crackdown on the truth, on reporters. Threatening to jail anyone who deviates from his narrative for well could be 15 years. So next, I'm going to talk to a journalist who just had to flee Russia after he was forced off the air.
And a WNBA all star has been detained in Russia. Well, it might be pretty darn hard to get her out.
BURNETT: Breaking news. All the combat power that Putin amassed for his invasion of Ukraine is now inside the country. This is according to the Pentagon spokesman, John Kirby.
Kirby also says that the harsh truth is that Russian troops may have been misled about their mission to begin with.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: It is not clear to us that all of the soldiers that Russia has put into Ukraine realized that that's what they were doing, that they were actually going to invade Ukraine.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BURNETT: This is war coverage remains blacked out in Russia after Putin signed a law that criminalizes news reporting on his invasion. Not even allowed to call it a war.
TV Rain, Russia's last independent network, among the networks having to shut down. It's last words, quote, no to war.
OUTFRONT now, Tykhon Dzyadko, TV Rain's editor in chief. He had to flee Russia with his family after the crackdown.
Tykhon, I'm glad to see you, I'm glad that you're safe and your family is safe.
TYKHON DZYADKO, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, TV RAIN IN RUSSIA, SAYS HE WAS FORCED OFF AIR: Hi. Thanks for having me.
BURNETT: So I guess the first question I have for you now that we hear about TV networks going to black and basically a blackout in terms of information from Russia in so many ways. Are you still able to get real information from sources inside Russia?
DZYADKO: Well, I think yes because we still have social media. We still have some news outlets which are working from abroad and they are gathering information and they are spreading information. So, yes, it is still -- it is still possible.
BURNETT: So I want to ask you about that in a moment, but first of all, because you are -- you had to flee, you're obviously coming to us tonight from Tbilisi.
BURNETT: What was it like for you personally to have to leave?
DZYADKO: Well, it was humiliating because I'm not a criminal. I did nothing wrong. Me and my colleagues have been doing our job and been doing it good, I think. But for the reason of our security, we decided, me and some of my colleagues, we decided to leave the country.
It's pretty terrible. I have everything there -- my apartment, my car, my friends, my life. So it's not the best days of my life.
BURNETT: My heart goes out to you.
So, you know, one thing in Ukraine that stood out to me was obviously so many people have relatives and friends in Russia. But when you talk to those relatives and friends, they often had no idea about what had happened. There was one woman, she had family in the far east of Russia, and I asked her, you know, had she talked to them? And she said in fact she had talked to them and they did not even know that there was a war, that this had even happened.
Here's what she said. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The family said what? Ukraine? But nobody know about news. The Russia news, absolutely -- not only control, absolutely different and liar.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: I heard it again and again. Ukrainians with family in Russia say their families have no idea what is going on.
I mean, Tykhon, there's 140 million people in Russia. Do people really believe what they're hearing from state media and the Kremlin?
DZYADKO: I would like to add that there was an interesting story also, there was a guy who was in Ukraine and the town where he was bombed by Russian army and he called his dad in Russia and he said they are bombing us. And dad responded, no, that's not true. This is not happening.
Well, it's -- unfortunately, it's the result of years and years of state propaganda, especially since 2014, the annexation of Crimea and the revolution of Ukraine when the Russian state propaganda started to spread information about neo-Nazis in the Kremlin -- in Ukraine, I'm sorry, about bad fascists in Kyiv, et cetera, et cetera.
DZYADKO: Of course, a lot of people in Russia believed this kind of information. That's why there is a huge percentage of people who trust what now Russian government is saying. But not the majority, I would say. Not the whole country. There is a different part of Russia society which is eager to get independent information and which does not believe this all propaganda stuff.
But unfortunately, that's correct, propaganda works, and works good.
BURNETT: It works, but I will say one thing you just said there, you do not think it's the majority of Russians who believe it?
DZYADKO: Yes. Well, there is this poll made by Toom (ph), it's one of Russian sociology organizations and these polls show that 62 percent of Russian population support the war. And if Toom (ph), this is a program institution -- if it says 62, I think you should think that in reality it's 30 or 35.
And very important thing for me is the number of our audience the last days of our broadcasting. It was 25 million views per day, only on YouTube. I don't even mention our other platforms.
If people don't believe that -- if they watch and wanted to hear the truth, that means they did not support the war, so it is really important.
BURNETT: Tykhon, I really appreciate you taking the time to speak with me. I really am grateful and I'm so sorry for what you're going through and your family to be so unmoored and at a loss. Thank you.
BURNETT: And next, Russia detaining one of the WNBA's top players. Biden says he's working to get her home, but we can all imagine that might be really hard.
And we're live in Romania tonight where tens of thousands of Ukrainians, probably more if we knew the real numbers have fled. What they're telling us about the war tonight.
BURNETT: President Biden today says he's working on getting the detained American WNBA player, Brittney Griner, out of Russia. This is according to the lawmaker who say met with him on the star basketball player's case.
Griner is a member of the Phoenix Mercury. She plays professionally for a Russian team in the off-season. That's why she was there. She wasn't there just to hang out, she was there earning money.
She was arrested at the Moscow airport on alleged drug charges. Details surrounding her arrest are murky and her whereabouts right now are actually unknown.
Lucy Kafanov is OUFRONT in Phoenix.
BRITTNEY GRINER, WNBA PLAYER: What am I going to do the rest of the day. It's freezing cold outside.
LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): WNBA star Brittney Griner in her own words, telling ESPN about the isolation of playing basketball off season in Russia.
GRNER: It made me open up to my family more on telling them how much I love them.
KAFANOV: Those lessons now more grim, as Griner seen here at the airport entering Russia is detained at a security checkpoint for allegedly having cannabis oil in a vape pen. The video and details just emerging, but Russian customs officials say the arrest happened in February.
A criminal case has been opened with a possible punishment up to ten years in prison if convicted. All of this against the backdrop of war.
DEBBIE JACKSON, GRINER'S HIGH SCHOOL COACH: They're really like your second family.
KAFANOV: Debbie Jackson coached Griner at a Houston high school, calling her disciplined and humble.
Jackson isn't surprised Griner went on to become a seven-time WNBA all-star in Phoenix and two-time Olympic gold medalist. Her message now for her student.
JACKSON: You've always had a true resolve and grit to get to the finish line. And know that you will get to the finish line.
KAFANOV: Griner's wife on Instagram telling her my heart, our hearts are all skipping beats every day that goes by. I miss your voice, I miss your presence. Those familiar with Russian policies say Griner's sexual orientation may also be a complicating factor.
REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D-CA): Russia has some very, very strict LGBT rules and laws. That may be part of this also.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're worried that's part of this?
GARAMENDI: I wouldn't be surprised.
KAFANOV: California Congressman John Garamendi says the lack of a diplomatic channel with Russia is a huge roadblock. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. is working this and other cases, like that of Trevor Reed, holding Russia for more than two years, telling the U.S. embassy he has no medical attention behind bars.
ANTONY BLINKEN, US.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We're doing everything we can to see to it that their rights are upheld and respected.
KAFANOV: Like others, Griner plays in Russia during the off-season where the pay is better. Now her toughest challenge moves to a different kind of court.
JACKSON: You're always hoping for the best and cheering for them to stay on top.
KAFANOV: And, Erin, so many unanswered questions about this case. We don't know the exact date of Griner's arrest, we don't know where she's being held or under what conditions. CNN has reached out to Russia's foreign ministry for comment and other Russian officials. No response yet. The basketball star's fate for now hanging in the balance -- Erin.
BURNETT: Lucy, thank you very much.
I want to bring in Evelyn Farkas now, former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia in the Obama administration.
So, Evelyn, you referred to Griner as a, quote, perfect hostage for Putin. What do you mean by that?
EVELYN FARKAS, FORMER U.S. DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY DEFENSE FOR RUSSIA, UKRAINE & EURASIA: Well, Erin, because she's high profile, she's a sports star. She will be obviously people in America who might not otherwise pay attention to what's happening in Russia and Ukraine might pay attention to who she is. I guess I would add I wouldn't disagree with the element of her being LGBTQ because, of course, Vladimir Putin is part of his big agenda in Russia and frankly to appeal outside of Russia, he has a big anti-LGBTQ platform.
But I think first and foremost it's because she's a superstar athlete and maybe he thinks that it will put pressure on President Biden to change something that he's doing or to make a concession to Russia.
BURNETT: I would doubt that would happen but of course it is an upsetting situation.
Thank you, Evelyn. I appreciate your time.
And next, we're live along Ukraine's border where so many people are now having to rely on the humanity and kindness of strangers.
Plus, one couple's wedding in the war zone. The mayor of Ukraine's capital was even there in his bulletproof vest.
BURNETT: The mayor of Lviv, Ukraine, says there are 200,000 displaced people taking shelter there. The city no longer has the capacity to handle the surge of people. It comes as more than 1.7 million refugees have left Ukraine since the invasion, according to the U.N. 1.7 million. Again, keep in mind this is a population of 44 million and they had not started to leave before the invasion. It's going to get a lot bigger.
Miguel Marquez is OUTFRONT in Bucharest, Romania.
And, Miguel, you were at the train station all day. I know you saw that steady stream of refugees, of people coming by train, arriving. What are you hearing on the ground there?
MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That what is a flood of refugees right now, Erin, will soon become a tidal wave and the clock is ticking. Train stations like here in Bucharest, trains have been coming and going all day bringing refugees in some cases, taking them away in others. It is going to get more and more serious as those Russian forces move across -- toward the west in Ukraine.
This is sort of the situation now. It's about 3:00 in the morning, but they have set up several refugee centers here in the train station itself. These orange tents that you see down the way here, these are all for families, for nursing mothers, for women who are traveling with children. It's a place where they can rest, get a little bit of quiet. There are several other rooms. They have even turned a fast food restaurant into a makeshift refugee center as well.
The guy who runs the entire refugee effort for the country says they have never seen anything like this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. RAED ARAFAT, HEAD OF EMERGENCY SITUATIONS DEPARTMENT, ROMANIA: Children, a lot of children. We see children coming only with their mothers, because their fathers are staying there to fight. And this is a real humanitarian crisis. No one in Europe expected to see this happening again after what happened in World War II.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: All right. I'm sorry we lost Miguel's shot, his picture there from the train station. We have you -- Miguel, we still have you, sorry, go ahead.
MARQUEZ: You got us?
So you've got about 12 border crossings across Romania that either cross into Ukraine or into Moldova. The problem right now, Erin, is there are thousands, about 10,000 Ukrainians in Moldova trying to get here. There's no train station there, they need buses.
So they're trying to organize masses of buses and do the paperwork while they're in Moldova so they can get all the way to Romania and then move out. But 270,000 so far in Romania. Most of them getting out, and they expect a lot more -- Erin.
BURNETT: All right. Miguel, thank you very much from Bucharest tonight.
And next, a couple in Ukraine celebrating their wedding. Territorial defense forces, bulletproof vests did not stop their wedding.
BURNETT: Tonight, a moment of celebration in a country being torn apart. Two Ukrainian soldiers in military fatigues getting married, surrounded by their colleagues, armed soldiers. Even the mayor of Kyiv was there in a bulletproof vest. The first time they had seen each other in a month thanks to training.
It's so wonderful that there could still be a moment for love and joy, humanity amidst all of this.
Thanks so much for joining us.
"AC360" starts now.