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Erin Burnett Outfront
Arnold Schwarzenegger's Message To Russian Troops; Civilian Death Toll Grows In Ukraine; Sister Of American Killed In Ukraine Speaks Out; Ukraine Ambassador: Do The Eyes Of Children Flash Before You?; Putin Allegedly Has A 190,000-Square-Foot Palace With A Church. Aired 7-8p ET
Aired March 17, 2022 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next: a rising civilian death toll in Ukraine tonight, among the dead, an American gunned down by Russian snipers as he waited in a breadline. I will speak with his sister.
Plus, we will go inside Vladimir Putin's inner circle tonight. The ex of an oligarch once dubbed Putin's banker tells me what she witnessed firsthand, like "The Godfather," she says.
And the most innocent victims. We're going to take you to a hospital stretched to the limits caring for the very, very youngest Ukrainians.
Let's go OUTFRONT.
And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.
OUTFRONT tonight, the breaking news, intensifying, indiscriminate attacks by Russia and Ukraine. This is according to the mayor of the northern Ukrainian city of Chernihiv here tonight. Police there say more civilians were killed by Russian artillery fire today.
And officials tonight say more than 50 people were brought to the city morgue Wednesday.
Among the dead, an American, James Whitney Hill. He lived in Ukraine with his partner, who was suffering from M.S.
And Hill's sister, whom I will speak with in just a moment, says her brother stayed in Ukraine because he refused to leave his sick partner's bedside.
Chernihiv has seen some of the worst devastation so far in this year -- in this war. This new satellite image shows multiple fires burning in the city. You can see that. It's just -- I mean, look at that. It's leveled. It's a landscape of total destruction.
The extent of the damage in other -- there and other cities of Ukraine just now becoming clearer with these new satellite images.
I'm going to show you in the south, in the Donetsk region. Look at those homes and buildings and Volnovakha before the invasion. See that? That's before. Let me show you after. Yes, gone.
Ruslan Osypenko is the chief of police for the Donetsk region. And, tonight, he told us -- he gave us this report for you on what he is seeing there on the ground. Here he is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUSLAN OSYPENKO, DONETSK, UKRAINE, CHIEF OF POLICE (through translator): We have documented the large number of war crimes by the Russian army. The artillery shelling of civilian areas is occurring everywhere across the Donetsk region.
BURNETT: And, tonight, another member of the Biden administration calling the killing war crimes, after President Biden called Putin a war criminal yesterday.
Today, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said this:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Personally, I agree. Intentionally targeting civilians is a war crime. After all the destruction of the past three weeks, I find it difficult to conclude that the Russians are doing otherwise.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: And, tonight, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy invoking the Holocaust in his speech, pleading for help from Germany's Parliament.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Every year, politicians say, never again. Now I see that these words are worthless. In Europe, a people is being destroyed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Fred Pleitgen is OUTFRONT in Ukraine tonight, in Lviv.
And, Fred, civilians are continuing to suffer so terribly under the Russian assault. I know you spoke with the mayor of Chernihiv earlier today, where we are seeing all this debt, a morgue overwhelmed today with those bodies. And he talked to you about these indiscriminate attacks. What else did you learn?
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, it's in Chernihiv, and it's in so many other regions here in this country as well.
If you look at, for instance, Mariupol, Kharkiv, Kyiv also, where so much of the civilian infrastructure is now being -- taking under fire. And the mayor of Chernihiv, he said, look, these areas that are getting hit, those are not military areas. They're civilian areas. It's not only buildings. It's also a lot of infrastructure that civilians need that are simply being ground down.
And it's really something that's continuing and getting worse as times go on. Here's what we're learning.
PLEITGEN (voice-over): As Vladimir Putin's military rains bombs, rockets and artillery on Ukraine, civilians are paying the highest price, scores killed and maimed.
In Chernihiv, north of Kyiv, rescue workers dig out the bodies of an entire family killed when a residential building was hit. Dozens more civilians lost their lives in attacks.
The Ukrainian government now confirming that U.S. citizen James Whitney Hill was among those killed.
I asked Chernihiv's mayor to tell me about the situation in his city.
VLADYSLAV ATROSHENKO, MAYOR OF CHERNIHIV, UKRAINE (through translator): The intensity of the shelling has increased. It's been indiscriminate, apparently random.
We're not talking about certain military infrastructure buildings being bombed. In reality, houses are being destroyed. Schools and kindergartens are being destroyed.
PLEITGEN: This graphic video shows the gruesome aftermath of an attack on people waiting in a breadline in the same town. Witnesses say at least 10 civilians were killed, Russia's military cynically claiming it wasn't them.
MAJ. GEN. IGOR KONASHENKOV, RUSSIAN MINISTRY OF DEFENSE (through translator): All units of the Russian armed forces are outside Chernihiv blocking the roads, and no offensive actions are being taken against the city.
PLEITGEN: Other cities are getting shelled as well, one of the hardest-hit, Mariupol in the southeast. Several were killed and wounded, mostly women and children, when a maternity ward and children's hospital were hit last week.
And then the main theater, where the U.S. believes hundreds of people had taken shelter, was bombed. A small miracle the bomb shelter under the building held up, helping some of those inside survive, though it's still unclear how many. Authorities say efforts to pull people from the rubble are being hindered by the total breakdown of public services and the threat of further Russian attacks.
Aerial images show the building was clearly marked as having children inside, leaving Ukraine's defense minister irate. OLEKSIY REZNIKOV, UKRAINIAN DEFENSE MINISTER (through translator):
You can see from the maps from the drones that are around this there's big letters of "Children" were written, so that the pilot of the plane which was throwing the bombs could see.
And still, in spite of that, this monster has bombed the theater.
PLEITGEN: Russia has denied it was responsible for the attack. And the Russians claim they only target military installations, sending out this video of them allegedly destroying Ukrainian howitzers.
But the U.K.'s Defense Ministry says the Russians are increasingly hitting cities with heavy and less accurate weapons because they're simply running out of precise munitions as the war drags on. Experts believe it will only get worse.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're very intentionally targeting water stations and power supplies and Internet towers and cell phone towers and that sort of a thing, in a very deliberate attempt to make it more difficult for the defenders to hold out and try and force them to capitulate.
PLEITGEN: But, despite bringing massive firepower on civilian areas, the U.S. and its allies say Russia's offensive in Ukraine has stalled and recent territorial gains have been minimal.
PLEITGEN: And, Erin, experts call this a page out of the Syria playbook.
Of course, in Syria, also, what the Russians did in a lot of places is, they besieged cities. They tried to bomb the populations there into submission. But the experts also say so far, for Russia, it doesn't seem to be working. There's a lot of death, there's a lot of destruction, but, so far, for the Russians, very little in the way of military gains -- Erin.
BURNETT: All right, Fred, thank you very much.
And, as I mentioned, an American, James Hill, now one of Putin's victims as well in those assaults that Fred is reporting on.
Camila Bernal has more.
CAMILA BERNAL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): "Bombing has intensified. No way out." That was the last post from American James Hill before confirmation of his death.
His Facebook detailing a chilling account of his last days in Ukraine.
"Intense bombing. Still alive. Limited food. Room very cold."
According to his family, Hill was waiting in a breadline with several other people when they were gunned down by Russian military snipers. His body was found in the street by the local police. Hill was in Chernihiv with his partner, Ira, who's Ukrainian and battling M.S.
"We're hanging in there," he wrote on Monday. "Very cold inside. Food portions are reduced. Bombing and explosions most of the night. Hard to sleep. People getting depressed."
In his post, he describes feeling helpless, hungry and cold, while narrating a war.
"Intense bombing last night for two hours. It was close to hospital." Machine gunfire could be heard. It stopped just after midnight."
Hill even encouraging political action, posting this on March 7: "For my American friends and relatives, please pressure your local representatives to expedite American visas for Ukrainians, especially for families with children and skilled workers."
BERNAL: And, Erin, while he wanted to help others, wanted to get out, it was too late. His friends are now describing Jimmy as someone who was wonderful, who was caring, who really cared for others, and who liked the outdoors, liked fly-fishing.
He kept in touch with some of these friends via Facebook, some of them saying they were able to essentially say goodbye, now that Facebook is filled with condolences, people honoring and remembering a father, a brother, and just a brave man -- Erin.
BURNETT: All right, Camila, thank you very much.
And OUTFRONT now is James Hill's sister, Katya Hill.
And, Katya, thank you.
I'm so sorry. Let me start just by saying how sorry I am for your loss, as horrible and unexpected and unwarranted as it is.
In those last Facebook posts from your brother, he said it was cold and food was limited. And, obviously he had gone out, it appears, to try to get food, to be in that line.
What do you know about what happened to your brother?
KATYA HILL, SISTER OF JAMES WHITNEY HILL, AMERICAN KILLED IN CHERNIHIV, UKRAINE: Well, we don't have confirmation from the embassy or the State Department specific to his death.
But I do know, in -- as it -- things were deteriorating in the city, that -- and the food at the hospital -- my brother was the one that was going out to the store to bring back what food he could find.
And his sharing with me on messenger was how patient the Ukrainian people were waiting in line of maybe 100 people, and just taking what they need, and leaving food and other supplies in the store for the rest in the line. And, at one point, a missile went by him and landed at a distance that did not hurt the people in the line.
HILL: So, my brother was the helper that people find in a crisis.
HILL: At one point, he said he was in the store. He bought some cookies, so that he could bring cookies back to the nurses that were helping and couldn't get out to the store.
And he had a stash of chocolate that he was keeping, so that he could hand out chocolates when somebody was being depressed or just needed a little encouragement.
BURNETT: What a kind -- what a kind -- what a kind, incredible person.
Now, you talk about nurses. And I know that Jimmy had talked about his partner, at least on Facebook, we saw. And I know, of course, you know her, but that she was in intensive care.
BURNETT: She was sick with M.S.
BURNETT: And I understand, Katya, that he had stayed in Ukraine because he wanted to take care of her, that moving for her, obviously, was not possible.
Was it a hard decision for him?
HILL: Well, in a sense, no, because he was not going to leave Ira's aside in her condition.
And Jim was in Ukraine this time because he had gotten medicine from the United States and had found the doctor in Chernihiv that would treat her. And so he arranged for an ambulance to transport Ira and her mother, along with him, to the hospital, so she could get that treatment. And that was the Monday before the invasion started.
And when she was admitted to the hospital, the doctor thought she had a mild case of pneumonia and said, well, let's treat the pneumonia first and then start the M.S. treatments.
And, of course, in two days, the invasion started.
BURNETT: Have you been...
HILL: But he was not going to leave.
BURNETT: And he wanted to take care of her.
BURNETT: Have you been able to connect with her? I mean, obviously, I understand that there...
BURNETT: No, not at all?
HILL: I don't speak Ukrainian.
Ira's mother had two phone numbers. And so we had a group that helped with Ira's care and respite for her mother. We're trying to reach her, but the last time that I spoke with my brother, the electricity was out. There was no heat.
Ira was transported to the -- well, taken to the ICU...
HILL: ... a few days ago because it had been so cold in the hospital for so many days.
BURNETT: Oh, my gosh.
HILL: And -- but the phones -- my brother said he was reserving battery on his phone, because they couldn't charge them.
And I can only assume that Ira's mother's phone is unable to be charged at this point.
BURNETT: So, we hear these -- you tell these stories about your brother, and that he would just take enough food as was needed, and take some to share with the nurses, and to help others.
We see that on his Facebook page, where friends are posting, "You will never be forgotten" and "You're a hero, a true humanitarian," capturing that part of him that you are sharing with us, one saying he was a wonderful man with a big heart.
So, clearly, this is who he was.
Katya, it's got to be so hard, as your brother. Do you -- are you going to be able -- do you have any sense as to where he is? Are you going to be able to bury him? Are you going to be able to handle the goodbye at all, or no?
HILL: Well, actually, that's the one thing that we're still trying to reach out to Senator Klobuchar. And then I'm in Pittsburgh, so Senator Casey's office.
We don't know where my brother's body is. So, that kind of closure, the family won't have right now. So, any help that somebody can let us know on that would be greatly appreciated.
BURNETT: Well, I hope someone -- I hope someone...
HILL: And, I mean...
BURNETT: Yes, go ahead.
Prayer services -- I mean, my son is an Orthodox priest, so he will do what's called a panikhida, or a prayer service, for my brother at his parish in New Jersey. And my parish here will do a prayer service.
But for finalizing, that will be probably our hardest...
HILL: What can I say?
The hardest thing that we're going to have to go through is not having that kind of closure.
BURNETT: Katya, I'm truly so very sorry for your loss of your beloved brother.
HILL: Thank you, Erin.
BURNETT: I hope that someone watching may know where he is.
HILL: He was little my brother. And I remember -- yes.
I remember growing up. And he pestered me a lot. And my mother would say: "Now, I didn't see him do it, so it doesn't count."
HILL: But I would go back for those -- those moments any time.
BURNETT: May those memories be the blessing that you have, as you move forward in life without him.
Katya, I'm so sorry. And thank you.
HILL: Thank you, Erin, very much.
BURNETT: And next: Arnold Schwarzenegger has a message for those Russian troops.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FMR. GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R-CA): Those in power in the Kremlin started this war. This is not the Russian people's war.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: It was a powerful statement and story. Plus: She was the girlfriend of an oligarch once dubbed Putin's
banker. She had three children with him. She was in the room with Putin. And she's OUTFRONT tonight.
And the youngest victims physically injured by the savage cruelty in this war, witnesses to things that no human, no child should ever see.
BURNETT: Thousands of Russian troops have been killed in Ukraine.
Russia is struggling to replace them. This is according to the latest analysis from U.S. and NATO officials, who report sagging morale among Russian troops. The NSA tonight saying that the death toll is much higher than anything that has been reported.
And it comes as Secretary of State Antony Blinken issued a grim warning that Russia could escalate its war in Ukraine, partially as a result of those unexpected losses, in a devastating way.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLINKEN: We believe that Moscow may be setting the stage to use a chemical weapon, and then falsely blame Ukraine, to justify escalating its attacks on the Ukrainian people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: OUTFRONT now, retired U.S. Army Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt and Rob Lee, senior fellow in the Foreign Policy Research Institute's Eurasia Program and an expert on the Russian military who tracks what they are doing on the ground.
So, Rob, in light of this headline about the sagging morale, because the losses are higher than Putin had expected, and they're struggling to replace them, you have been tracking, day in and day out, losses among Russian troops.
What stands out to you now?
ROB LEE, FOREIGN POLICY RESEARCH INSTITUTE: So, the figures, it's hard to know exactly how much they have lost, because, obviously, any estimate is going to be very inexact right now.
But we know that, after the first week of this war, Russia lost more soldiers than it did during the war in Georgia, then it did in Ukraine in 2014 and 2015, and that it has in Syria over the last seven years, all of that combined.
So it was a really significant loss. And, in particular, we're seeing really heavy losses in Russia's elite units, so the VDV, their airborne forces, Spetsnaz, other kind of elite formations, that these casualties are very difficult to reconstitute or sustain.
BURNETT: Because these are the elite units. These are -- these are highly trained people and hard to replace.
So, General Kimmitt, it comes in the context of Antony Blinken saying that, because of this, there could be an escalation. Whether that escalation is chemical or some sort of tactical nuclear is where the conversation then occurs.
And, to that front, Putin's closest ally, the Belarusian president, Alexander Lukashenko, made a nuclear threat while doing an interview with a Japanese television channel today, which is highly relevant. Let me play it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALEXANDER LUKASHENKO, PRESIDENT OF BELARUS (through translator): Russia will not lose in this war. You are 100 percent convinced of this too. How the war ends, if one of the parties wins, Japan knows better than I do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: I mean, to a Japanese television station, General, obviously a threat, referencing Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMITT (RET.), FORMER U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND DEPUTY DIRECTOR FOR PLANS AND STRATEGY: Yes.
BURNETT: Do you take this seriously?
KIMMITT: I think that anybody that doesn't take it seriously should relook at what we have seen over the past couple of weeks.
Every assumption about what Putin wouldn't do, he's done. So, I think we need to take it seriously. But, personally, I think he will ramp up at the conventional level before he moves on to chemical and nuclear.
Yes, he's lost a lot of troops. But, historically, that's not a big number. They used to lose 12,000 in a day during World War II. But I think what he's just going to do is replace those soldiers with more soldiers and double down on the artillery and rocket strikes to keep the mission going.
BURNETT: So, on that front, Rob, of doubling down on artillery strikes, rocket strikes, Human Rights Watch says Russian forces attacked residential areas in Mykolaiv with cluster munition rockets in three separate attacks in the last week.
Those are widely condemned weapons. Now, you also have been tracking what weapons the Russians are using where and what weapons are being destroyed.
What are you seeing now there?
So, earlier in the conflict, we saw plenty of evidence of cluster munitions being used in Kharkiv, where the really heaviest bombardment has been occurring. It includes Smerch, Uragan, multiple-launch rocket systems, aviation bombs that can also dispense cluster munitions.
So it's pretty clear. It's a theme that we have already seen before, what's happening in Mykolaiv. We already saw that in Kharkiv. The issue is that Mykolaiv is a really important city, in that, if Russia wants to get to Odessa, they really need to take that city. Otherwise, it's going to be very difficult to make it to Odessa.
So, it's become this kind of strategic problem for Russia and, in part, is limiting their advance.
BURNETT: So, General Kimmitt, Arnold Schwarzenegger put out a video today.
And I think it captured a lot of people's attention. It was very well done. It talked about how his father was broken both physically and mentally by the Siege of Leningrad. And he talks about how angry his father was, when Arnold was a teenager, heroized a Russian weightlifter.
And the context of this story was for Arnold Schwarzenegger to share his admiration for Russians and try to break through to them with the truth about the war and Putin.
So, here's part of it, when he actually addressed the Russian soldiers that we're talking about in this conversation. Here he is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCHWARZENEGGER: I don't want you to be broken like my father.
This is not the war to defend Russia that your grandfathers or your great-grandfathers fought. This is an illegal war.
Your lives, your limbs, your futures are being sacrificed for a senseless war condemned the entire world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: General, will something like that break through to any of its intended audience?
KIMMITT: If it gets through, is the first question.
We used to talk about the great Chinese firewall, but if you take a look what's happening in Russia right now, we're starting to see the great Russian firewall. If that can get through that firewall, and talking to troops, I think it would have an effect.
As important, it might have an effect on public reaction to what's happening. I'm just afraid that, while it's well-intended, it'll never get through Putin's firewall.
BURNETT: Yes. That of course, is the big -- the big question.
General and Rob, thank you both very much for your expertise and thoughts tonight.
And OUTFRONT next: The ex of an oligarch who was called Putin's banker, now she is speaking out about what Putin's inner circle is like.
Countess Alexandra Tolstoy is my guest next.
And children of war, some dead, others maimed and scarred for life. We're going to take you inside a children's hospital treating the very youngest victims of this war.
BURNETT: Ukraine's ambassador to the United Nations tonight, calling out his Russian counterpart for the bloodshed caused by Putin's invasion. Here it is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SERGIY KYSLYTSYA, UKRAINE AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: Ambassador, do the eyes of Ukrainian children, women, and elderly killed by the Russians, flashed before you. If they, do you may consider how to sponsor a decision to help you deal with perpetuation inducted traumatic strange.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: When the camera cut away from him to the bald man, that's the Russian ambassador, you saw him listening, he did not respond. This as we get an inside look at the oligarchs who have emboldened and empowered Putin, frankly, for the past two decades.
Drew Griffin is OUTFRONT.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the shore of the Black Sea, it can only be described as a palace, 190,000 square feet. From the air, you can see the church, tea house, and amphitheater, and reportedly, an underground hockey rink, with a no-fly zone, and no boat zone.
This, according to an investigation last year by the jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny's group, they claim that gilded luxurious palace, fit for a king, was built for Vladimir Putin.
MARIA PEVCHIKH, HEAD OF INVESTIGATIONS, ANTI-CORRUPTION FOUNDATION: The palace is very much a symbol, and miniature of Putin's Russia. He no longer sees himself as a government employee, as an elected figure. He sees himself as a czar, as king of some sort. The Russians, of course, deserves a palace.
GRIFFIN: CNN can't independently verify Putin's connection to the palace, and Putin spokesman denies the Russian leader owns it or any palace.
Maria Pevchikh, from Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation, says they have proof. But their sources and documents all point to the palace as an example of how the oligarchs corruptly enrich Russia's president.
PEVCHIKH: It has been paid for by Russian oligarchs, by Russian state-owned companies, money from Russian people, from regular people. It's stolen, and diverted into building this horrendous thing on the Black Sea.
GRIFFIN: According to the investigation, and a whistleblower who came forward, the money for the palace came from a Russian investment fund company that solicited charity donations from the Russian oligarchs.
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: There are these rumors about Putin being the richest man in the world. And he may be. It is very, very hard to try and understand what his wealth is, and where it is held.
GRIFFIN: Rumored to be worth more than $100 billion, officially, Putin claims an 800-square-foot apartment, a few cars and a modest salary in 2020, valued at about $140,000.
But his official income is irrelevant. Russia watchers say Putin controls Russia by determining who gets money, and who doesn't, who gets around business, who skims profit, and how the wealth is passed.
He doesn't need any assets listed in his name, says journalist Tom Burgis. It's all his when he asks.
TOM BURGIS, AUTHOR, KLEPTOPIA: He is closer to something like the Godfather. But, ultimately, they owe everything they have to the boss. With a click of the fingers, as he is shown in the past, Putin can take everything from an oligarch. However rich and however influential they may seem, they are ultimately dependent on him.
GRIFFIN: Fight the system, interfere in politics, and face his wrath.
Exiled Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was convicted of tax evasion and fraud, spent ten years in a Russian prison, he says, for not playing Putin's game.
He claims Putin is paranoid, dangerous, and must be stopped.
MIKHAIL KHODORKOVSKY, FORMER RUSSIAN OLIGARCH & OIL TYCOON (through translator): All the accounts of all of the oligarchs who function as Putin's wallet must be stopped. They must all feel the pain right now, and it must continue until the war ends.
GRIFFIN: Newly-imposed sanctions from the West have now made it hard for many of the Russian billionaires to do business outside of Russia -- yachts, bank accounts, frozen. Inside Russia, the economy shows signs of crumbling.
But chipping away at Putin's brutal hold on power through economics will take time. From his actions, observers believe Putin's strategy is far beyond personal riches.
DOUGHERTY: He wants to rebuild Russia as a great power. You always have to go back to the czarist days to understand that.
GRIFFIN: Just look at the gates of Putin's purported palace. A golden two-headed crowned eagle, a symbol of Russia, similar to the two- headed crowned eagle that is atop the gates of the winter palace that belonged to Russia's last czar.
GRIFFIN: Erin, the fact is, financially, getting to Putin may be impossible, and even getting to his oligarchs through the seizures and sanctions, tremendously difficult. As you, know they have gone to great lengths to hide their assets behind multiple levels of shell companies, safely in Western countries, including in the United States. One expert telling CNN there is literally no paper trail on some of this money -- Erin.
BURNETT: Yeah, absolutely. It's incredible.
Drew, thank you very much.
All right. After that fantastic report, giving all of those details. I want to go to Countess Alexandra Tolstoy, and yes, Tolstoy of the Tolstoy family. She was a partner of the oligarch once called Putin's banker, Sergei Pugachev and they shared three children together.
Alexandra, I really appreciate your time and being willing to speak to me. I know these are very trying times.
You just heard Drew, and he said there's literally no paper trails. So, I know you lived in this world for eight years after you met Sergei. What was it like?
COUNTESS ALEXANDRA TOLSTOY, FORMER PARTNER OF EXILED RUSSIAN OLIGARCH SERGEI PUGACHEV: Well, it was sort of like everything you probably imagine, as someone earlier said, like the godfather. It is crazy, insane well, and also a complete lack of sort of normal human morals. And no empathy, there is a huge -- I mean, Putin like any dictator, he rules through divided rules, so that they all hate each other, they're very competitive, they don't trust each other and it's ruthless.
BURNETT: So, your relationship with Sergei is the focus of a BBC documentary. It's now a Netflix in the U.K. called "The Countess and the Russian Billionaire". And it also lays out how close Sergei, you know, was to Putin, as Putin rose in power. Here's a clip from the Netflix documentary.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a meteoric ascent, and Sergei Pugachev was someone who helped push Putin up the stairs.
SERGEI PUGACHEV, EXILED RUSSIAN BILLIONAIRE: Of course, he was my friend. We got together every day for a long time, and we were, of course, very, very close.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You went on holiday together?
PUGACHEV: All the time. Putin wasn't really relaxed. He was ready to do whatever he wanted.
REPORTER: Sergei cemented his power by becoming a senator in the upper house of the Russian parliament. Before, long he had become one of Putin's most trusted advisers.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: So, you have talked about being in the room with Putin, you have been there. What was it like? What was Putin like in those times?
TOLSTOY: So I was in the room with him in 2008, and he then was a different person from what I see on the news. You know, he was a very confident person. He had this great, enormous phalanx of bodyguards. He was -- you could probably say he was insecure, but he was extremely confident.
Whereas, now, I think he likes angry and out of control. So, there is definitely a difference.
BURNETT: There has been a lot of talk about whether he has changed, right? People are saying this from the outside, not people like you who know him, and were with him. People saying, was it COVID isolation, was there some sort of illness?
But, you know, like I said, you know him, and you say Sergei used to talk to you about Putin as well. So, what would you say in terms of changes, whether physical or otherwise now?
TOLSTOY: I would say actually, on the contrary, there isn't such a huge change. I think he's got a personality disorder. I think he's probably got a narcissistic personality disorder.
So, it's all about control, and he felt more in control then. He feels -- actually, over the last few years, he's felt more and more -- you constantly hear this phrase, the West have humiliated us. The West didn't respect us.
And he takes it extremely personally. And I would say, contrary to what the earlier commentator said, there isn't some great strategy of restoring the USSR. I don't care he cares less.
It's just more about himself, the recognition that he is feeling.
BURNETT: Wow, that's pretty incredible.
Well, thank you very much I appreciate your sharing of your thoughts. I know it's not easy to come out and talk about this. So, thank you so much.
TOLSTOY: Thank you for having me.
BURNETT: And next, a ten-week baby girl, Anna, left at a hospital with only a note. Her mother, making the choice, the decision that it was better to leave her behind with her heart condition, to get her other children out to safety. That heartbreaking story is next.
And a city not far from Dracula's purported castle in Romania, becoming essential for Ukrainians who escaped the war.
BURNETT: Tonight, more than 320,000 citizens returning to Ukraine to help fight against Russia, as Putin's war continues to destroy homes, and displaced families.
That number is a testament to the patriotism and fortitude of Ukrainians, but it comes as many of the most vulnerable in the country, including children, can't leave.
And OUTFRONT now, UNICEF spokesman Joe English. He spent the last several days at a hospital in Lviv that is caring for children injured by the war.
And, Joe, I appreciate your time tonight, I know you've been at the hospital. You spent time today with a 15-year-old boy named Andre (ph), and you are showing him here. He got that terrible injury in a land mine accident.
Tell me about him, and how he is doing.
JOE ENGLISH, UNICEF SPOKESMAN: Yeah, thanks so much, Erin. I mean, as you, say I've spent the last couple of days at the hospital there, and today, I spent time with Andre, 15 years old. You know, he walks into the room, and he said he's a normal teenage boy.
You know, he was there. One of his friends was there. You know, they were showing each other pictures on the phone, and obviously, he was laid up and in a lot of pain. But, you know, his story is just heartbreaking.
You know, he lives in a town in the north of Ukraine, and the fighting came pretty close, you know, and they decided they needed to move, move out into -- further into the suburbs. They have been there for a few days, and then they went out one day in a car, and it was Andre and his mother, and his cousin. And they hit a land mine.
Andre's mother, very sadly, passed away there at the scene in front of Andre. You know, he pulled himself to safety, get to the side of the road, and screamed for help until he couldn't scream any longer. Luckily, he was found by some neighbors, and they managed him to get him to safety.
BURNETT: I want you also tell us all about Anna (ph), I know she is ten weeks old. She is there in the hospital, I mean, that's tiny little child, that baby, a congenital heart issue, that's going to require surgery.
And this story, Joe, is incredible. Her mother made the unimaginable decision to leave her daughter, leave Anna at a maternity hospital, with a note. Saying that she could not provide the care needed, because he had to get her other children there to safety.
So, she, you know, left her there, hoping that someone would help, praying. And, of course, they have, and she is as safe as he can be, but alone, without her mother.
What happens to Anna now?
ENGLISH: Yeah. You know, I mean, this is -- it really shows the impact this conflict is having on children, you know? Andre had his mother taken from him, which is a direct impact of violence, you know, of attacks. And then Anna lost her mother through the psychological trauma, this huge burden especially on parents.
ENGLISH: You know? So, I mean -- Anna now, as you say, she is being cared for by the staff, of the hospital. There is a dedicated woman, a local woman who is there who says that she will provide her with all the care that she needs. But these hospital staffers, you know, they're running on fumes, and UNICEF is there and we're able to provide supplies to the hospital, we're able to get stuff in, in Lviv, and in Kharkiv. We're delivering toys to the children who are living, effectively, in the metro system. It is not safe to be above ground.
BURNETT: Joe, thank you very much, for sharing the stories with us. Thank you.
ENGLISH: Thank you, Erin.
BURNETT: And I just want to say, you know, in that conversation, just so you know, they don't know where the mother is or who the mother is. They're desperately trying to find that out, but she didn't leave that information. So, they are very much hoping who it is and reunite her with her baby.
OUTFRONT next, they wanted peace and prosperity in their old age. Ukraine's senior citizens do not count on being war refugees.
And American basketball star Brittney Griner, there's an update from Russia, she's going to be staying there a lot longer. Where is she?
BURNETT: Fast track path, the Biden administration considering making it easier for Ukrainian refugees with relatives in the U.S. to come to America. This is a town close to what's referred to as Dracula's castle in Romania has become open arms, welcoming, a center for Ukrainian refugees.
Miguel Marquez is OUTFRONT.
MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Who are all these people?
(voice-over): Friends, fellow citizens and colleagues, she says. Family too. All from Donbas, in Eastern Ukraine, refugees after the war there in 2014, refugees again.
Some people cross the border on foot, she says, two borders. Not everyone is as lucky as 86-year-old Antonina Mikhailova, who had arrived. She survived World War II, now she is in an apartment in central Romania, with her daughter and lots of friends, and her cat, named Mugia (ph).
My childhood was spent during the war, she, says now in my old age, there is war again. And for what? In the name of all people, please stop the war.
The medieval city of Brasov, not far from Dracula's castle, is preparing 1,000 beds for Ukrainian refugees. Those beds, in a hotel, and it's historic center, a business development center, and a brand new apartment building in a new part of town.
ALLEN COLIBAN, MAYOR OF BRASOV, ROMANIA: The main challenge is how to scale it up, because this is only the first wave of refugees.
MARQUEZ: Olga Keeper from Odessa is here with her two daughters.
How do you feel being here?
Other than perfect, she says, they gave us medicine, new beds, they fed us. Then, added, it's very, very, very good.
The city of Brasov preparing for even more refugees, who the mayor believes will need even more support, and possibly stay for a long time.
COLIBAN: If you are a mother with a child, you could come to Brasov. We can offer you a job. We can offer and we are discussing about solutions for daycare for children, how to integrate them in the educational system.
MARQUEZ: The city planning the future, but needing basic needs too, coordinating with local restaurants, providing thousands of meals.
Today, on St. Patrick's Day, prepared by Deane's Irish pub, luck of the Irish.
ALINA COLCERU, DIANE'S IRISH PUB & GRILL: It is more than just providing meals. We are kind of providing hope to them. And they do need that, we can see it on their faces, and I think that is really important.
MARQUEZ: Tatiana Kerohina (ph), and Natalya Zhivilka, mother and daughter from Mykolaiv, got here only three days ago.
If not for the help, here, she says I don't think our nerves could have taken it. There were air raids day and night, we couldn't eat, we couldn't sleep.
In Mykolaiv, she says, the planes were flying right over our head. Flying, flying, flying. I can't find words to explain. It's very scary.
Antonina Mikhailova has a simple wish.
In my old age, I only wanted peace and prosperity, she says. Then added, I like everything to be okay. For now, it's not.
MARQUEZ: Cities like Brasov are preparing for many more refugees in the weeks to come, and now starting to prepare to integrate them into their economies, for months, if not years to come -- Erin.
BURNETT: Miguel, thank you very much, from Brasov tonight.
Next, an American basketball star detained in Russia, now going to be there a lot longer.
BURNETT: The WNBA star Brittney Griner will be held in Russia for at least two more months, that's according to the Russian news agency, TASS. Griner has been in detention since her arrest last month, and Russian authorities say she had cannabis oil in her luggage.
The U.S. State Department tells CNN, she's in contact with her legal team but has been totally denied access to her, and nobody actually knows exactly where she is, or has been in contact with her, right? So, this now continues for months on end.
Thanks so much for joining.
"AC360" starts now.