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Erin Burnett Outfront

Multiple Ukrainian Cities Under Heavy Bombardment; U.S.: Russian Forces Gaining Ground Toward Kyiv: "Shelling Going On Quite Violently As We Speak"; Pundit On Russian State TV Breaks With Putin Narrative; Heavy Shelling Erupts in Southern Ukrainian City of Mykolaiv; U.S. Concerned By Lack Of Data From Seized Ukrainian Nuclear Plants; Russia's Invasion Unnerves Market, Driving Up Gas Prices. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired March 11, 2022 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Courtney, John and Emme, all of us here at CNN wish you nothing but the best.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." I'll be back once again tomorrow for a special Saturday edition of "THE SITUATION ROOM" from 5 pm to 7 pm Eastern.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next breaking news, multiple cities in Ukraine under bombardment tonight as Putin takes his war to a dangerous new level. This as Ukraine says a city's mayor was abducted by Russians with a plastic bag over his head.

Plus, Russia claimed this woman who was at a bomb maternity ward in Mariupol was an actor, questioning whether she was even pregnant. Tonight, a proof they were lying.

And a remarkable and touching story of dedication as Ukrainian teachers and students go to incredible lengths to continue learning in the face of war. Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, the breaking news, Russian shelling bombarding multiple Ukrainian cities. This as the Ukrainian foreign ministry says the mayor of the southern city of Melitopol, Ukraine was abducted by Russians. Mayor Ivan Fedorov detained by approximately 10 people while in the city center. This is according to Ukraine's parliament on its official Twitter account.

They say that they put a plastic bag on his head, that's what the tweet says. And we're going to have much more on that breaking and disturbing story in a moment. First, though, Putin's brutal campaign is widening this hour. New video shows heavy shelling in southern Ukraine. We're also getting new satellite images of Russians firing artillery, just 18 miles north of the capital.

You see the flash and the smoke. It's not clear what they were firing at, at this point. But obviously, this is all escalating. Four miles to the east, more images show what appear to be multiple fires, homes damaged, residential homes, again, civilians and impact craters.

And near the capital, forces are also now moving vehicles from that 40-mile convoy, pulling them off the road and into a nearby woods. It comes as Russian forces are inching closer and closer to Kyiv. One convoy now only nine miles away.


JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: We do assess that the Russians are beginning to make more momentum on the ground towards Kyiv, particularly from the east. There's Russian bombardment and shelling going on quite violently as we speak.


BURNETT: Violently as he is speaking and it is, of course, also in the besieged region of Kharkiv. I spoke to the governor of Kharkiv earlier today. The city there, of course, has been hammered by Russian bombardment, artillery, airstrikes and he told me about one neighborhood that has been completely decimated.


OLEG SINEGUBOV, GOVERNOR, KHARKIV REGION (through interpreter): There's nothing left here. People can no longer live in this building. Some people have left and yet some refused to leave for various reasons. And they don't have electricity, water, they don't have heating, gas.

We see how the enemy targets the civilian infrastructure, near the residential blocks. Here in Kharkiv, there's not a single residential block that has not been damaged as a result of the Russian aggression.


BURNETT: He says not one single residential block in the city of Kharkiv, the second biggest city in all of Ukraine has escaped Putin's bombs. That is an incredible thing. And also in the Kharkiv region, these images show an attack on a boarding school for children with disabilities along with a psychiatric hospital.

And the governor asked why would Putin view these facilities as a threat? He literally told me they have 310 patients who were under care in that psychiatric hospital and school. As he asked rhetorically, what kind of military would talk about an asylum as a threat?

And tonight, there are also questions as to why a Soviet era drone crashed near the Croatian capital of Zagreb, Croatia. Okay. According to Reuters, the drone fell out of the sky leaving a giant crater in the ground. Thankfully no one was injured, no one was killed. Hungary's defense minister said the drone was originally detected in Ukraine.

Keep in mind Croatia is a NATO country. What if this bizarre accident killed somebody? Would NATO and the U.S. have to respond? It comes as Putin hit a Ukrainian airbase in the western city of Lutsk, Ukraine overnight. That was only 70 miles from Poland's border.

Remember, of course, Poland is a NATO country. Tonight, we have reporters across Ukraine, as well as in Moldova for a special report tonight.

I want to begin with Matthew Chance OUTFRONT live in Kyiv. And Matthew, we showed some of these images. We talked about this approach now, nine miles from the city center. What is the latest that you're seeing?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, Erin, there's been a upsurge in the amount of attacks that we've been listening to here in Kyiv.


There have been explosions that we've been listening to on the outskirts of the city pretty much throughout the course of this evening. And we're seeing a lot of fire going up, outgoing fire from inside the city into the air, surface to air missiles, and things like that. So, it really reinforces this idea that the battle for Kyiv is still very much underway.

And, of course, there's been an upsurge in fighting as well and in Russian bombardment of places across the country. Various cities have come under attack, some of them that have never been attacked before. This as the Kremlin calls for foreign fighters to be invited to take part in this conflict.


CHANCE (voice over): This is a new front in Russia's Ukrainian war. Emergency workers battling flames caused by airstrikes on the central city of the Dnipro. Ukrainian officials say an apartment building, a kindergarten and a two storey shoe factory were targeted and destroyed causing casualties.

To the west in the Ukrainian city of Lutsk, just 70 miles from NATO ally Poland, a strategic airfield also came under attack. With the invasion now in its third week, Russia appears to be widening its assault.

There are concerns of escalation too. Russian state television has been broadcasting these images, the fighters from Syria said to be volunteering to join the fight on Russia's side. The Kremlin backs the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad. And the scenes appeared shortly after Putin told the Security Council that foreign fighters should be invited to join in.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (through interpreter): So, if you see people who want voluntarily without payment to come and help people living in Donbas, well, we need to meet their efforts and help them to reach the combat zone.


"These are thugs from Syria," said President Zelenskyy of Ukraine. "From the country destroyed in the same way the occupiers are destroying us," he said.

Later at a Kremlin meeting with his Belarusian ally, President Putin struck a different upbeat tone saying he'd been informed of certain positive shifts in recent negotiations with Ukraine, though it remains unclear what those positive shifts could be.

But they don't seem to be diverting Russia from its invasion course. New satellite images suggest a massive Russian military column north of the capital, Kyiv, has now dispersed with some elements repositioned in the forests and countryside around the Capitol.

And these are the latest images from the besieged Ukrainian town of Volnovakha in the country's southeast. Russian troops moving through the streets, which are now reported to be under their full control. Bit by bit Ukraine, it seems, is being overrun.


BURNETT: Matthew, are Ukrainian officials changing their strategy at all as Russia shells multiple cities now?

CHANCE (on camera): Well, I mean, look, I mean, there's not much they can do about the fact that Russia is shelling these cities, these multiple cities. But what they are doing is continuing this strategy, these tactics that they've employed on the ground, which have been pretty successful. They've won some significant sort of tactical victories, hitting Russian armored columns as they approach the main city areas. We've seen multiple examples of that.

But also, they've been stepping up the diplomatic effort not just to engage with the Russians has been the highest-level talks in the past few days, between Ukrainian and Russian officials. It took place in Turkey with the foreign ministers since the conflict began. And, of course, they're continuing to press these calls on the western allies, including the United States to give them more weapons and to enforce a no-fly zone. That is all that the Ukrainians have at the moment in their arsenal. Erin.

BURNETT: Matthew, thank you very much. And I want to go now to retired Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton, former member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Steve Hall, former CIA chief of Russia Operations.

So, Colonel, let me just start with you. You hear Matthew Chance talking about Russian state TV, claiming that Syrian fighters are going to Ukraine to help Russia and the implication has been that there could be, what, 15,000, 16,000 of them. They're putting out these incredibly high numbers. What does this tell you?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, Erin, it tells me that they're going to brutalize this war effort. They're going to do what they can to make this look like Aleppo or any of the other Syrian cities that we've heard about in the horrible Syrian civil war. And the effort to bring these Syrian forces in also means that Putin may not trust his conscripts to do the job, because these conscripts and his professional military, the more professional elements, may not have the brutality that Putin may want in order to subjugate Ukraine.


And I think that's unfortunately what we're going to be seeing here.

BURNETT: So, Steve, President Biden made it clear today that the United States will not send ground troops into Ukraine, all right, and he's been very clear as to why. The quote is: "We will not fight the third world war in Ukraine." But Steve, he also made clear that the United States will continue to send weapons to Ukraine. So do you think there's a clear line in Putin's head on when U.S. aid, lethal aid that is killing Russian soldiers to Ukraine is the equivalent of war?

STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I'm not sure that there is in Putin's mind and it's not because, Erin, that he's not clear about what he's doing or that he's indecisive. But I think he wants to leave himself maximum flexibility.

We've already seen him state one thing, which is that, okay, these economic sanctions that are being imposed by the West on Russia constitute an act of war. So, he's trying to play that because he understands that in the West, we are very concerned, especially the President has said, look, I'm worried about World War III, I think many Americans are, despite the atrocities and brutalities that are going on.

But nevertheless, Putin wants to leave himself enough room to be able to say, okay, well, that was something that you guys did that really, really upset me and I'm going to call that an act of war or whatever it is that he chooses. So, it's not that he doesn't know, he just has not decided where he's going to play it yet.

BURNETT: And Col. Leighton, on this, obviously, central question of where this escalates, how it escalates, the drone that I mentioned a moment ago likely flying from Ukraine crashed overnight in Croatia. Okay, not close to Ukraine. The Croatian defense minister says today, it is unclear whether it's a Russian or Ukrainian drone, but Croatia, of course, is a NATO country.

Colonel, when you think about this, it left a big hole in the ground. It didn't kill anybody, but I mean, it could have killed somebody and it just shows that this very easily could go someplace nobody wants it to go.

LEIGHTON: Yes, that's for sure, Erin. And it reminds me of the time a few years ago when the U.S. lost a drone that was flying over Afghanistan and it happened to end up in Iran. Now, of course, I think the situation that seems to be a bit different there, that was an RQ- 170 from us, a highly secret, highly sensitive drone from the U.S. arsenal. This one is, according to reports that you've shown, an older Soviet era type of instrument. But regardless, it could have been packed with explosives, it could have been packed with some kind of a chemical agent. There are all kinds of things that could have happened that could have gone wrong here. So, the risk of escalation is extremely high. This drone probably lost radio contact with its operators, by all accounts. But regardless, it could escalate things very quickly if we're not careful and we have to measure our responses carefully in a case like this.

BURNETT: Yeah. And, of course, the Russians are not being careful.

Steve, President Zelenskyy moments ago in his - what has become basically his nightly address said Ukraine has captured 'thousands of Russian soldiers'. Ukraine also claims that it has killed or captured around 12,000 Russian soldiers. So, you've got 12,000 killed and thousands captured, according to the Ukrainians. Steve, do you think any of those numbers could possibly be true?

HALL: Yes. I think it is possible that they're true. Now, are they likely to be inflated wishful thinking or the difficulty getting information from the battlefield, possibly. But it's clear that the Russians have lost a lot more personnel and troops on the ground than I think that they anticipated and that's going to have an impact in Putin's calculations as well, in the end of the day, I think.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you both so very much.

And next, she was one of the faces of those injured after an attack in a maternity ward. And Russia claimed the whole photo was staged, that she was an actress, that the whole thing didn't happen. Well, that's not true. And that woman has now given birth to a baby girl. So, will the facts be enough to counter the lies that Russia put out?

Plus, Ukraine now warning Russia may be planning a terror attack at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

And Doctors Without Borders calling the humanitarian crisis in Mariupol extremely dire. I'm going to speak to a Ukrainian student in California waiting for word on her family there tonight.



BURNETT: A remarkable show of dissent against the invasion of Ukraine happening in the unlikeliest of places, Russian state TV. On Wednesday night, a Russian filmmaker said this to a pro-Putin anchor.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through interpreter): The war in Ukraine paints a frightening picture and we should be aware that he has a very oppressive influence on our society, emotionally. This is Ukraine. Whatever your attitude may be, it is something to each we're bound by dozens and hundreds who have died. It is where the suffering of some innocents. There's no compensation for the suffering of other innocents. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: OUTFRONT now, Ekaterina Kotrikadze, News Director and Anchor at TV Rain. An independent Russian outlet that says it was shut down by the government. And Ekaterina, I really appreciate your time.

As TV Rain staff signed off--


BURNETT: --I know your network play Swan Lake in a nod to the 1991 coup attempt of Mikhail Gorbachev because as that coup attempt unfolded, state TV played Swan Lake and that's how people knew that something was amiss, that something was wrong. And obviously, that was the statement that you all made when you were forced off the air in light of these new laws that could put someone in prison for 15 years for even calling this a war.

In that context, when you heard that very pro-Putin anchor interviewing somebody who had been for the Crimea invasion as I understand it, who says the suffering of innocents are no compensation for the suffering of other innocents. The war - calling it a war - is a frightening picture. We should be aware it has an oppressive influence on our society. Did it surprise you to hear that?

KOTRIKADZE: Well, first of all, thank you so much for inviting me and answering your question, well, yes, I was surprised because you can hear such things and such thoughts on Russian state television, but this is an exception. You can find a lot of people, a lot of guests on this tell television channels who could say something like that, who could say even couple of words about the victims of this so called special operation.


Mainly, they go on with this terrible propaganda claiming that there are Nazis sitting in Kyiv, that Zelenskyy and other people who are now on the front line that they are fascists trying to kill Russians in Donbas. And they are going on with this myth, terrible fake that NATO is a threat to Russia and Ukraine together with NATO are trying to destroy Russian Federation with a nuclear weapon or biological weapon are such terrible fakes that they're trying to spread and people really believe it.

Not everyone in Russia, definitely not, but there are a lot of millions, I suppose, who still watch television who come back home from work, and they - automatically they just switch on this - the channels and they really trust these guys.

BURNETT: And you talk about this absolutely untrue propaganda that they put out there. After Russian airstrikes damage that maternity ward in Mariupol this week, the AP published pictures, and I know you saw these, Ekaterina, of course, of a pregnant woman injured by the attack. So, then the Russian Embassy in London, puts out her picture and Twitter eventually deleted these tweets, but says these photos are staged, that she was an actress, that she was, I guess, pretending to be pregnant, pretending to be there, basically that this was all staged, that they didn't hurt anybody. That's a lie. She was pregnant. She has actually since given birth to a baby girl named Veronica. I'm going to show you.

There she is. Images captured by the AP again, showing her with a new baby there in Mariupol, debunking what the Russians were claiming. Is that kind of propaganda, putting that out and saying that that pregnant woman who gave birth to a child who was in that hospital, that she was some kind of an actress, do people believe that in Russia?

KOTRIKADZE: Well, because they don't check information that they get. A lot of people doesn't just - they don't do that. They don't have a habit of checking information. There is another problem that the reliable media sources, information sources are banned and blocked in Russia just as TV Rain is.

People are searching right now. I'm personally getting thousands of messages from people who are asking, begging for rebuilding of TV Rain, for example, or radio station Echo of Moscow, which was very influential as well, just to get some information because people are exhausted, people are devastated and confused, they just cannot understand what's going on.

And some of Russians just don't read in English. They don't understand where to go and they don't watch CNN or other reliable sources, so it's a real problem. And it's getting me crazy when I just - every time I hear or see these kinds of fakes or propaganda, I remember that years ago, when everything has started in 2014 in Ukraine, Russian state television, the first channel has actually told the story about a little boy that was killed by a fascist in Ukraine.

And this story became the symbol of fakes. There was no boy. I mean, it was all manufactured. And after that, I can't believe that people still switch television and they still trust these guys telling them these lies. But yes, I mean, this is - unfortunately after the years of this aggressive propaganda, 24/7 lying on screens, some people I think that they are not defended against this.

BURNETT: That's just unbelievable and frightening. All right. Ekaterina, thank you very much. I appreciate your time.

KOTRIKADZE: Thank you.

BURNETT: Thanks so much to you for speaking to me.

And next, new explosions lighting up the sky in southern Ukraine tonight as we learn more about the mayor who Ukraine says was abducted by Russian forces, literally a plastic bag put over his head. We got a live report on that next with what we know.

Plus, a senior U.S. defense official says the port city of Mariupol is now seeing heavy bombardment by Russian forces. I'm going to speak to a family in California desperate for word from their loved ones there.



BURNETT: Breaking news, heavy shelling reported tonight in the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv. Videos posted to social media showing multiple fires across that city, including the ones that you're seeing here. These are the large apartment complex. Nick Paton Walsh is OUTFRONT in Odessa.

And of course, Nick, you've been in Mykolaiv most of the week, so you know exactly these locations that we are now seeing explode. Tell me what you do know about the attacks.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'll say that video is some of the worst shelling we've seen hitting Mykolaiv over the past weeks or so. We've watched from our own positions how shells seem to randomly hit vast swathes of residential areas. We've seen ourselves now through remnants of cluster munitions, visible in ordinary civilian cars, vegetable patches.

What we're seeing tonight from the regional head, a statement suggesting a cafe, a car, workshop had been hit during this intense bombardment that he called indiscriminate. And what's difficult to tell about this particular episode is whether or not it relates to a Russian military move against the city.

There's been a suggestion in the same post by the regional head that there is some sort of active hostilities in the northern part of the city. That is exactly where we've seen Russia troops tried to move around the city down towards its western side, the fear being that they're essentially moving to try and encircle it, to recreate what we're seeing in Mariupol far to the east of Mykolaiv on the Sea of Azov, which is essentially the besieging of that particular city and it's grinding down to ruins.


Mykolaiv, though, a place the civilian toll has been startling so far as has the Russian inability to move into the city center. The latest post talks about a boring night and how he will get some rest. That may be trying to keep people's morale up.

But certainly, what has been true over the past days, Erin, we have not seen the Russian military successfully gain control over that city or move past it on their way to here. But most think it's the strategic goal of the main port of Odessa -- Erin.

BURNETT: It is amazing, of course, incredible fortitude we continue to see.

Nick, thank you so very much, live from Odessa tonight.

And more breaking news, the U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm has just tweeted, we remain concerned a lack of data from safeguards at Chernobyl or Zaporizhzhia, which hinders the world's ability to track material from those sites. Those obviously are two nuclear sites. Zaporizhzhia is largest nuclear power plant in Europe. Chernobyl is a massive file of nuclear waste.

This as Ukraine warns Russia may be planning a terror attack at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, which Russia has seized control of. That place is currently without power. It's off the grid. Ukraine also says it lost all communication with the plant.

Now, it has 20,000 nuclear fuel rods there they have to be cooled. Within it's off the grid, that is something to be concerned about. They are currently on diesel backups that last 48 hours. Right at the end of that window today, they got a diesel window for generators hours within running out. That was within hours of running.

As I said, 20,000 nuclear spent fuel assemblies that will overheat if they don't get cooled running off a generator. That's not intended to be a permanent solution. The head of the company that oversees Ukraine's nuclear plant is urging the world to act now before it's too late.

Here's what he shared with us.


PETRO KOTIN, CEO OF ENERGOATOM, STATE-OWNED UKRAINIAN NUCLEAR ENERGY GENERATION COMPANY: The ongoing Russian shelling makes it impossible to carry out repairs and restore power supply. We are calling on the global community to apply all their efforts to prevent a new worldwide catastrophe.


BURNETT: To plan a worldwide catastrophe.

OUTFRONT now is Edwin Lyman. He's the director of power safety at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

And, Edwin, I really appreciate your time.

So, Chernobyl is without power, right? It's a massive 20,000 rods that need to be cooled, right, that are nuclear waste. Needed repairs are not being made, Ukraine says it's lost all communication with it.

The regulator says that the staff and the guards, you just heard, talk there, he also told me that they have been living there for more than two weeks. Limited amounts of food, same shift. Right, that's been there two weeks. Not allowed to go anywhere. This psychological pressure is incredibly severe and bad.

How serious is all of this?

EDWIN LYMAN, DIRECTOR OF NUCLEAR POWER SAFETY: Well, these are all troubling factors because any nuclear facility needs to have multiple levels of safety in case something does go wrong. So the fact that there is no offsite power right now, the fact that the staff are undoubtedly fatigued, under stress, and the fact that there are these 20,000 spent fuel rods that do require cooling electrically powered pumps are all troubling.

However, the good news is even if power is lost to that facility, there will be time, probably many weeks to intervene before there was significant damage to the fuel in the pool.

BURNETT: So, okay, so I guess we'll take the positive of that. I know obviously you are saying seven days from the power. I hope that it would be weeks.

But all of this, of course, is very concerning with the staff. He also said something about this Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant that I wanted to ask you about. Edwin, that obviously is the largest plant in all of you're. Russia has control of it.

The first of the plant fixed units home to the nuclear reactor was damaged by the shelling. Again, this is the man you saw who oversees all of it. He says there was significant damage to the elevated walkway by unit two. The transformer unit six taken out of service. The cooling system there you say was damaged. A fire destroyed the training building.

Here is what Mr. Kotin had to say about that.


KOTIN: At the moment, there are 50 units of heavy equipment, about 400 Russian soldiers and a lot of explosives and weapons on site. Also, the Ukrainian staff and workers plan all six power units, the management is forced by occupiers to coordinate all technical issues.


The staff is under heavy psychological pressure from occupiers, but our people are resistant. An accident can happen at any moment.


BURNETT: How aware are you about Zaporizhzhia?

LYMAN: Yes, so, Zaporizhzhia, because it has been operating power plants as well nuclear fuel, which is hotter than the fuel at Chernobyl poses a greater concern. Although all of the situation remains stable for now, it is a cause for concern because if there is a mistake or something goes wrong, that staff under pressure may not be able to function well enough to prevent a disaster.

So, no nuclear power plant should be the target of the war, the staff should be allowed to do what they need to do, without undue pressure. There need to be supplies. There need to be -- the infrastructure of the plant needs to be maintained.

Because we are not sure that many of those factors I think there was cause for concern. Again, there would be time to intervene, if something did happen, but probably less time, a lot less time in Chernobyl.

So, there needs to be an agreement that these plants be off the target list and outside of any tuned of military campaigns.

BURNETT: All right. Obviously, not at all what we have seen. Thank you so much. I appreciate the context. Edwin, thank you.

And next an official in Mariupol says it's impossible to count the dead bodies in the street because fighting is so intense. I will talk to a Ukrainian student worried about her loved ones there.

And the children of Ukraine going to school online, thinking about their classmates, that connection that they are getting still online, online e-learning going on, it is an incredible story in this time of war.



BURNETT: Ukrainian officials tonight saying the death toll in the besieged city of Mariupol now stands at nearly 1,600 people, civilians. An advisor to the city's mayor telling "The New York Times" it's almost impossible to know the real number, they say is much higher because Russian forces won't stop shelling the city. So, they can't actually even go and find who has perished.

It comes as Doctors Without Borders is detailing an extremely dire catastrophe unfolding as I speak right now in Mariupol, families lack food, water, medicine. They're not able to bring those things in now. Children seeing a high risk of dehydration. Cholera is a concern.

OUTFRONT now, Melania Nikolaienko. Her grandparents are currently in Mariupol.

And, Melania, I am sorry I know the stress and worry for your family is hard for any of us to truly comprehend. When was the last time that you and your family spoke with your grandparents?

MELANIA NIKOLAIENKO, UKRAINIAN STUDENT IN CALIFORNIA, HAS FAMILY IN MARIUPOL: It was last Wednesday, yeah. Since then, they don't have like any internet or cell or anything.

BURNETT: So at that time I know things have changed so much, you are saying last Wednesday over a week ago, not two days ago, right?

NIKOLAIENKO: Yeah, yeah, no.

BURNETT: So, so much has changed and I know it has gotten so much worse. So I know you don't know what they are going through right now. At that time what did they tell you?

NIKOLAIENKO: At that time they were already out of medicine because my granddaddy has diabetes. He has insulin. Nothing is coming there. So, even like Red Cross can't get to Mariupol more than a week ago. So, my grandmother, she is in the center of the city, she was in

danger. She was trying to leave the city but she couldn't. And right now, we think she is on an adventure.

BURNETT: Oh, my gosh. I'm sorry. And I know that not being able to have the diabetes medicine, you are talking over a week. I know, obviously, but cell phones down, you know, it's been impossible for anyone in your family to reach them.

Have you been able get any updates in anyway? Or has it been a complete void?

NIKOLAIENKO: Yeah, so, with my friends, grandparents, we were ten minutes away from the city Mariupol. We connected with one friend that entered the city. They talked to my aunt for five minutes. They said they're okay. They're all sitting together in the house. They're like hiding in a basement.

But just -- they don't have like the medicines and food supplies coming like any time. So, they're out of it.

BURNETT: And that is what is so terrifying. I know with those medical conditions, it must be hard for them to consider leaving. It's obviously their home.

Did you try to get them to leave as those forces were on the border and the invasion seemed more and more imminent, or were they just, they were just too afraid to leave at that time?

NIKOLAIENKO: We did try first we did actually really hard trying to get them out of the city. And the first days, Russian army already encircled the city from all the ways. So you couldn't like enter the city or leave the city.

Those people who left it, they were a small amount of people and are considered lucky, because you cannot be safe when you're leaving, because they are literally shooting the cars and whatever they want. So if like my granddad, he's a disability and stuff, so it would be really hard to leave the city Zaporizhzhia is like one hour away.

BURNETT: Yes. Oh my gosh. Melania, I really appreciate you sharing this. I know it's got to be so stressful. It is important for people to understand these dire situations. People you know vulnerable people, older people, don't have their medicines. Don't having access to the Food and Humanitarian aid. I hope people get out of there. Thank you so much.


BURNETT: And next, an incredible story of commitment. Children from Ukraine despite fleeing the war, some are still finding a way to continue going to school. This is a stunning story.

Plus the war in Ukraine obviously affecting gas prices around the world.


Here is what one truck driver is experiencing.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's an extra $800 a month. I mean, I don't care who you are, that's going to hurt you.



BURNETT: Tonight, the number of refugees leaving Ukraine due to Russia's invasion now topping 2.5 million. Many of these, of course, as we have all seen, we saw there, you see on your screens every single night are children, whose lives will never be the same. For some, though, what they are thinking about is missing their friends, seeing their fellow classmates again, online, who knows if they will ever see them in person, to know they're okay, they're alive, to find out where in the world they are right now.

Ivan Watson is OUTFRONT in Moldova.


IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): An all too familiar scene of parents that lived through the COVID pandemic.


Children fidgeting through a Zoom class about the solar system. The difference here, most of these Ukrainian school kids are refugees, reconnecting with their classmates and teacher online.

In the last two weeks, the students and their teacher fled to different countries to escape Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

How old are your students?


WATSON: From Poland, Nadia Pavlenko teaches her students online classes even though her school stopped paying her salary.

None of us know what happened next, she says, but these classes with my children are like a bridge to my past life in Ukraine. They help us feel connected.

Wartime distance learning, there's a lot of this going on right now.

Do you think the online classes are helping these kids?

ALEXANDER PARCALAB, TEACHER WHO FLED UKRAINE: Very much. It's helping them and helping to feel their routine that life is still going on, that it's not the end of the world. WATSON: Alexander Parcalab is a schoolteacher that fled the Ukrainian

city of Odessa to neighboring Moldova. In the morning, he teaches students from his Ukrainian school online.

PARCALAB: Children asked me if I'm safe, where I am, with who I am. They were asking me before me was asking them.

WATSON: In the morning he comes here, a makeshift school for Ukrainian children in the Moldovan capital.

PARCALAB: Parents ask me to make a space to feel emotionally or maybe two, three hours to escape from this.

WATSON: Half of his online students fled across borders, the other half are still in Ukraine.

PARCALAB: The first lesson in Zoom, I said, that you should be that this spurs (ph) domino, to help somebody maybe you mother need help, maybe mother's friends need help. I cannot change the world but I can change me and change like the mood of my mother and it will be like a domino.

WATSON: These girls say they're looking forward to starting online classes with their Ukrainian classmates on Monday.

Leana (ph) says she wants to find out where her classmates traveled to and to make sure that they're healthy right now.

Eight-year-old Timor Zhdanov (ph) and his father Artem (ph) stayed behind in Ukraine.

Were you surprised when Timor's teachers said, hey, we're going to continue online learning?

ARTEM ZHDANOV, SON CONTINUES REMOTE LEARNING IN UKRAINE: Honestly, yeah. I think they're feeling this strong connection with Ukraine and then want to support us as much as they can and also a new generation of Ukrainian people.

WATSON: A new generation that may grow up in exile relying on technology to stay connected to their homeland.


WATSON: And, Erin, as inspiring as the commitment of these teachers is, there are limits. That young woman Nadia who fled to Poland, she is now a refugee living in the homes of a Polish family, and she recognizes that she's going to have to get a job now to try to make ends meet. So there may come a time where she won't be able to teach these kids.

And that gets to the tragedy of 2.5 million people and growing who fled Ukraine. They've lost their homes. They've lost jobs and livelihoods. And that may mean an end to education as well -- Erin.

BURNETT: It's unbelievable too, and the language barriers, too. Ivan, thank you so much.

And as Ivan said, you know, 2.5 million, I've got to emphasize every single night. That is just the beginning, everybody. There are 44 million people who live in Ukraine.

And next, the war in Ukraine is pushing gas prices higher around the world. That has families cutting back on food and even pulling kids from day care.



BURNETT: The war in Ukraine driving gas prices up everywhere.

In the U.S., Kyung Lah has this special report.


RUBEN PONCE, INDEPENDENT TRUCK DRIVER: I'm an owner, operator, which means I own my own truck. There's no cutting back when it comes to diesel.

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): On the road with independent driver Ruben Ponce who has no options around the skyrocketing price of fuel.

PONCE: Every week, it was getting higher and higher and higher, $100 more today, and it was also $100 more two days ago, and if you think about it it's an extra $800 more a month. I don't care who you are, that's going to hurt you.

LAH: The pain is worse in California, where gas prices are higher than any other state in the U.S., and financial fear is already impacting families.

Here in the Los Angeles area, people are waiting up to 30 minutes to fill their tanks. This isn't a supply issue. It is all about the price. This gas station is selling it for about $1 gallon less than other stations nearby. So the people who are waiting in line it is worth their time just to save some cash.

And no one is immune from the doctor to the new mom.

ALICIA BROWN, WORKING MOTHER: Then I got to go back to work, then get off work to drive and then go back home.

LAH: All that back and forth already means Alicia Brown can't make her day care for eight-month-old Josaih (ph) work.

BROWN: I'm about to get him out of his daycare, because I can't afford the gas.

LAH: Kevin Corbin works a second job for Uber Eats to support his family. $20 at the pump starts his evening. How much gas was that?


LAH: Three and a half gallons?

CORBIN: Yeah, that's it. Minus the 30, I made $13.

LAH: Last night, you made $13 last night?

CORBIN: If you factor in I put $30 in the tank, $13.

LAH: But economists say accounting for wages and inflation, the consumer can handle the rise in prices.

LEO FELER, SENIOR ECONOMIST, UCLA ANDERSON FORECAST: As a fraction of everything we consume gas is smaller today even at $6 a gallon than it was ten years ago, than it was 40 years ago.

LAH: What's different now is how Americans feel in 2022.

FELER: We're hitting up on, you know, exhaustion on human beings.

LAH: So you're exhausted and pull into the gas station and you see that.

FELER: And you're more exhausted.

LAH: Right.

Ruben Ponce fears that uncertainty won't stop at his truck and will trickle down to the average consumer.

Is that coming to their house? Is that going to come to their bank account?

PONCE: I don't see how it's not. Food, clothes, whatever it is, it's going to go up. So, we're all going to feel it.

LAH: Kyung Lah, CNN, Long Beach, California.


BURNETT: "AC360" starts now.