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Erin Burnett Outfront

Zelenskyy: Negotiations With Russia Are "Only Words"; U.S. Intel: Putin Has Been "Misinformed" By His Advisers About The Russian Military's Poor Performance In Ukraine; U.K.: Russian Soldiers "Refusing To Carry Out Orders ... Even Accidentally Shooting Down Their Own Aircraft"; Southern Ukraine Braces As Russia Shifts Focus; U.S. Plans To Lift COVID Border Rule, Braces For Migrant Surge. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired March 30, 2022 - 19:00   ET


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Erin Burnett OUTFRONT starts right now.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next breaking news, Ukraine's President says negotiations with Russia are only words as Putin keeps up the attacks and tensions grow between Putin and the man leading his invasion.

Plus, he was a filmmaker. He went to the frontline to defend Ukraine and now he's telling me what it's like to be a soldier. Ukrainian soldier coming face-to-face with Russian soldiers in a gun battle. We'll speak with him live tonight.

And why Putin's popularity in Russia is higher than it's been in years, some stunning numbers tonight. Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett. OUTFRONT tonight, the breaking news, "They're only words." That's the quote from the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy. He is calling promises of de-escalation made by Russia after weeks of negotiations just talk.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, PRESIDENT OF UKRAINE (through interpreter): Yes, we have negotiations process, but they're only words without anything concrete. We will not give anything away and we will fight for every meter of our land.


BURNETT: This comes as we are beginning to see the full scope of the misery and suffering inside Ukraine. The Pentagon tonight warning tonight that the Capitol is still very much under threat. And just outside Kyiv, you can hear the sound of explosions, the terrifying explosions that rocked the suburb of Irpin again today.

I'll warn you that the video that we're about to show you is graphic, because you see rescue crews collecting and then lining up the bodies of people killed in the spate of airstrikes, not far away families, including young children trying to seek refuge under that bridge. The mayor there now saying 50 percent of the town, 50 percent of what a bustling, prosperous suburb has been destroyed. And this dire assessment from one of the worst-hit places of the war tonight, Mariupol.


JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: It's devastating what we're seeing there and the place is just being decimated from a structural perspective by the onslaught of Russian airstrikes.


BURNETT: And tonight new satellite images reveal the sheer destruction that Putin's forces are bringing down upon Mariupol. We'll show you an image of a residential neighborhood, the streets lined with trees, now I'll show you that same area.

I mean, look at that. That's the same place. Homes completely gone. I mean, the entire place has been torched as you can just see like the soot across it, roofs caved in, structures completely demolished. Let me show you images of another neighborhood. Just over a month ago, 444,000 Ukrainians called Mariupol home and now look at their homes. They don't have anything left resembling what the word home meant to them.

And we're also getting a new image tonight of the Mariupol theater. Let me show you what it looked like when we were told more a thousand people sought refuge in it. There it is, a giant beautiful building and now the city council says 300 people, maybe more died in that attack. Look, there's the building, it's gone and they were underneath it buried alive.

And in northern Ukraine tonight near Sumy, Ukrainian forces are returning to a town that Russian forces had tried to seize and they're finding the same thing, wall scorched, windows blown out, complete and utter devastation. All of this as CNN is learning that there is tension in Vladimir Putin's inner circle.

A source telling CNN that Putin's advisors have been misleading him about how bad his military is performing and about the effect that sanctions are having on the Russian people. The relationship between Putin and his ministry of defense led by Sergei Shoigu who, you may remember, went for more than a week without even being seen publicly. That relationship we understand is particularly estranged tonight.

We have reporters across Ukraine and in Hungary this evening. I want to begin with Fred Pleitgen OUTFRONT live in Kyiv. And Fred, what is the latest you're seeing and hearing in the capital tonight because you're actually there where Putin says he is withdrawing troops to Belarus and the question is what is the reality on the ground.

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the reality on the ground, Erin, is that there certainly isn't any de- escalation that we can see here from our vantage point in Kyiv. In fact, I would say throughout this evening, there's been even more shelling than what we've seen over the past couple of weeks as we've been here.

We've seen multiple or heard multiple rocket launchers and also what seemed like full on artillery battles as well. And one of the places that you were showing there here in the introduction to all this was Irpin. And that certainly is really one of the main areas where things are still focusing.


The Russians had it. They tried to push into Kyiv from there. The Ukrainians held them up and continue to hold them up and the Russians are unleashing that awful shelling that's hitting especially the northwestern outskirts of Kyiv.

So today we got as close as one can to Irpin. And in that area, we can say there are still a lot of battles going on, a lot of very heavy shelling going on. And we do have to warn our viewers that some of the video you're about to see is very graphic and very disturbing.


PLEITGEN (voice over): Through heavily fortified checkpoints, we reached the edge of Kyiv at the suburb Irpin. Suddenly, on top of the artillery barrages, we hear gunfire.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Again, it's gunfire.


PLEITGEN (voice over): Much closer and we have to take cover. This is what it sounds like after Russia said it has scaled down its military operations around Kyiv. Even in the calmer moments, the big guns are never silent.


PLEITGEN (on camera): This is the final checkpoint before you would reach the district of Irpin, but it's impossible for us to go there right now simply because it's much too dangerous. It's also impossible for the people who live there to come back to their homes because there's still so much shelling going on and so much unexploded ordnance still on the ground.


PLEITGEN (voice over): Irpin was heavily contested between Russian and Ukrainian forces as Vladimir Putin's troops attempted to push through to Kyiv. Now, the Ukrainian say they've pushed the Russians back, taken control and released this graphic video of the aftermath.

Buildings and cars destroyed dead bodies still lying in the streets. Ukraine's security emergency service has now also released this video showing rescuers taking out at least some of the dead while under fire from Russian artillery.

Some of the remaining residents were also brought to safety including many children, Irpin's mayor tells me.


MAYOR OLEKSANDR MARKUSHYN, IRPIN (through interpreter): Now, Irpin is a hundred percent Ukrainian. We are taking out the wounded and dead bodies. Today and yesterday, we evacuated approximately 500 people. Today I myself evacuated about 50 children and a hundred adults.


PLEITGEN (voice over): The evacuees are brought to this base outside of Irpin. It's not only people, aid groups are now also evacuating the animals left behind when their owners had to flee, including these puppies.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have volunteers who are going under the fire and picking the animals on the streets.

PLEITGEN (on camera): You're going under fire going into Irpin and picking animals.



PLEITGEN (voice over): The Ukrainian army says it's in the process of pushing Russian troops further out of this area, hoping to silence Putin's guns and restore calm to this one's quaint suburb.


PLEITGEN (on camera): And so, Erin, none of what we're seeing on the ground here in Kyiv in any way shape or form looks like de escalation. That thunder of artillery that you were hearing in that report is really something that's been a mainstay of life here, especially in the northwestern parts of Kyiv throughout the past couple of days.

One thing I did manage to do, though, today, I've managed to speak to the Defense Ministry of this country and they said they did have some indication that some Russian forces might be pulling away from Kyiv, possibly towards Belarus, but they certainly don't believe that that's any sort of goodwill gesture from the Russians. They simply believe they held the Russians up, the Russians are taking massive losses and actually have to rotate some of their troops out, Erin. BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Fred.

So retired Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton is a former member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and he joins me along with Paul Kolbe, who is the former chief of the CIA's Central Eurasia Division.

So Colonel let me start with you, President Zelenskyy says the negotiations are all talk. The U.S. Defense Department though does say about 20 percent of Russia's forces that had been moving against Kyiv are repositioning, some heading to Belarus. The Washington Post reports Russia is retreating to Belarus from the Chernobyl power plant.

Now obviously there's all kinds of motives for that. It could be that they're just simply being pushed back as opposed to choosing to some combination of all of it. I mean, it's unclear. How do you interpret all of this?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, Erin, I think one of the key things here is that this repositioning of forces, even if it's a withdrawal is perhaps only a temporary measure until those forces go back across the border into Belarus or into Russia itself, we really can't think of them as being out of the fight for Kyiv.

And the other thing to look at is where do these forces end up eventually, are they going back to their home stations, their home bases, which they haven't been at for months now. That would also be a key indicator that this would be over for them, but at the moment, I don't see this as being a major change in the Russian strategy at all.

BURNETT: So Paul, U.S. official in that context - it may not be a major shift to strategy at all. U.S. official says today that the U.S. believes Putin has been misinformed by his visors about how badly his military is performing.


So how does he avoid looking weak or losing face due to his military's performance thus far?

PAUL KOLBE, FORMER CHIEF, CIA'S CENTRAL EURASIA DIVISION: Look, it's not just his military performance. He's been misleading himself for decades. He assiduously and systematically built the case of lies and edifice upon which he launched this war. And he pulled his advisors in with it. He surrounded himself with yes men who tell him what he wants to hear and who share the same dark worldview that he has, the same sense of resentment and bitter disappointment at where Russia is in the world.

So he may have been misled. There's not a lot of people who want to tell this particular emperor he has no clothes, even though this particular emperor is often seen stripping to the waist and posing for calendar boy photo shoots. Nonetheless, those who bring truth to this particular power don't stay around for very long.

BURNETT: No, they certainly don't. I mean, Col. Leighton, the Russians now say that they're trying to act as if any pullback from Kyiv is part of the plan, they've accomplished what they want, which obviously makes no sense, but that's what they're saying. And so they're going to focus on the Donbas, which that's what they intended to do all the way along, that's what they're saying.

Now, even if that's what they do and we'll see, they do continue to share Mariupol, which is not part of the Donbas. It simply connects the Donbas to Russian annex, Crimea. And according to The Washington Post, Colonel, they are communicating many of their plans militarily on open channels, how significant is this technical failure for them right now?

LEIGHTON: It's huge, Erin. It's an intelligence bonanza for the Ukrainians and it kind of goes back to, I think, the Russians have done in their military, actually, for over 100 years. They had this problem in World War I, they had this problem in World War II and they're having it now.

They don't understand communication security at the lower level and their encrypted communication system actually is supposed to work on 3G and 4G cell towers. Well, they blew up a lot of those towers and that forces them to communicate in the clear. And the fact that they're doing that makes it really easy for the Ukrainians to pick it up and even private citizens in Ukraine to help their forces intercept these communications and then target the Russian entities that are talking in the (inaudible) ...

BURNETT: It's pretty stunning when you think about it.

So Paul, in the context of all of this, former President Trump spoke out and he was talking about Hunter Biden and he said, "I would think Putin would know the answer to that," referring to his allegations about Hunter Biden and he continued to say, "I think he should release it. I think we should know that answer," talking about that Putin should release everything that he knows about the Bidens. You believe these words matter, tell me why.

KOLBE: Look, we're in the gravest foreign policy crisis, the most dangerous situation since the Cuban Missile Crisis. We've got a commander in chief who's trying to rally our allies, who's trying to bolster Ukrainian forces, who's trying to stare down Putin and by the way, keep us out of World War III while still supporting the brave and courageous Ukrainian defenders and the civilians. And to have a former president, undermine commander of chief in this situation for me is gravely disappointing and frankly shocking.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you both very much. I appreciate your time.

LEIGHTON: You bet, Erin.

BURNETT: And next, "Just give us command. We will kill them all." Those are the words of the Ukrainian soldier on the front lines tonight. You're not hearing from very many of them, but tonight you will hear from this young man, my interview with him next.

Plus, it could be one of the biggest prizes for Putin. Is Russia eyeing the port city of Odessa? We are live in Odessa tonight.

And the Academy apologizing to Chris Rock tonight and revealing Will Smith was asked to leave the Oscar ceremony by the police.



BURNETT: Tonight, the British Intelligence Chief saying morale among Russian soldiers is so low that some are refusing to carry out orders, sabotaging their own equipment and even accidentally shooting down their own aircraft. Those are incredibly enormous things to say.

It come as Ukraine's president says Russia's plans to pull back troops from Kyiv is 'the result of the work of our defenders who pushed them back'. And tonight in a very rare interview with the Ukrainian soldier, we are hearing from one of those defenders who's on the frontlines right now fighting for his country.

Well, OUTFRONT now is a Volodymyr Demchenko, he's a Ukrainian filmmaker and he is now fighting on the front lines with the Ukrainian military. And Volod, I know, you and your unit have been fighting in Irpin, outside Kyiv and also in Kyiv and you have filmed some of what you've seen. What is it like? What have you been seeing, Volod?

VOLODYMYR DEMCHENKO, UKRAINIAN FILMMAKER AND SOLDIER: Those little battles that we have on the third day, it was just the beginning of Irpin operation, so Russian was on the north of the city and we were on the south. And we come there actually with not a military operation, but to take civilians out with like a lot of cars. And at some moment I hear an explosion and a second explosion really, really fast and close. And people was like, "Oh, it's a shelling." And I was like, "No, it's not," because I have some experience, before I understood it's tank working in the city and like right next - the next corner.

It was scary because when you hear the sound of tanks working in your direction, like all your stomach - like inside of you just jumping. And I saw a tank which is like firing at the houses. And in the end, our guys won those local battle and it was first time when I actually saw Russian soldiers like dead and take part in gunfire.


And from what happens with Irpin the next week, oh my god, this is terrifying. To be honest, to see like how absolutely beautiful and modern and huge city became ruins, it's very traumatic experience to be honest like for real. When you see like people leaving their houses and like they're - it's bad to say, but they're like animals. They're just in the group and freezing there, standing and do not know what to do, they need somebody to come and say like, hey guys, you need to walk and they start walking.

BURNETT: You're obviously right now, Volod, on the frontlines of what's happening.


BURNETT: Are you advancing, pushing Russians out? I mean, what is the situation right now?

DEMCHENKO: The situation here is very weird. I'm on the north east of Kyiv and yesterday in the news, we hear that Russian will go back. And what happens in reality in the middle of the night, we just had a command to jump in the car and went for - so our job was to fly with night plane and just to - thermo plane and see a group of enemy because there was information that they collect 200 vehicles and 40 tanks in the next town after our town.

But unfortunately, we were spotted by a Russian drone, so we were escaping because like they just like spotted us (inaudible) and then at some moment, we understand that Russians find us with their drone. So we just escaped because it's really, really dangerous to be in the middle of the night (inaudible) alone.

And after that, the whole night there was a heavy fight here and it was over only around 1 pm today, but battles are heavy here. It's like not - like they just keep - leave us alone and go home. No, no, no, it's not like that.

BURNETT: No, you're saying it's intense fighting.


BURNETT: And I know you're fighting with other young men that you know, you're a veteran, you've fought before many of the guys that you're with in the room with you now and that are fighting with you now have also fought before.


BURNETT: So what's, I guess for lack of a better term, Volod, how would you say your morale is? Do you guys feel that you are winning?

DEMCHENKO: Again, like I never saw this kind of spirit in Ukrainian Army in '14, in '15, in '16. It was different now. I don't saw even one soldier who is like, "I don't know." No, no, no, actually, here people are disappointed that Russians are leaving for real. Like they're like, "What? We came to shoot you guys."

BURNETT: Because they want to fight.

DEMCHENKO: It's a lot of - yes, yes, yes, it's a lot of jokes here like I never saw people with so high level of like spirit for real, like for real. And this is what makes me calm, because when you see civilians are suffering with just that kind of feelings, I just try to leave them back and just think about what's going on here. And what I see here, like, wow, our Army, our volunteers, our like territorial defense, everybody, like - just give us a command, we will kill them all. This is how they feel for real.

Only one concern, we don't have enough like heavy weapons for real and it's true. We haven't enough people, who have enough spirit, but not enough weapons, just too much Russian. There's a lot of them.

BURNETT: So you've been documenting this, your experience as a filmmaker, obviously, you're a veteran soldier and a filmmaker and you've been documenting video diaries while you're on patrol. One of the things I saw, Volod, that you posted was women who have been - you ran into who were cooking food, cooking food and helping to support your team.

And you found this odd moment but it was so powerful, they are dancing, because they were happy to help. Tell me about that and about why it's so important for you to document this experience that you're going through.

DEMCHENKO: The media that's working here, it's a lot, I think there was never (inaudible) before that was covered so well as the war in Ukraine. But still I see that picture of the war, it's something different with actual war. Like Ukrainian is the heroes, Russians are bastards and like emotions like that. But the things that - the war is awful thing to be involved in at all.


You need to kill people like it's unbelievable. You need to go in the forest and kill somebody. Just think about that, you're a regular person, there is a gun, go to this forest, there is 20 people, they want to kill you, you need to kill them first. And you know like everybody is telling you like you're a hero, but I don't feel like that at the moment because it's weird. You need to ruin like people's houses to kill your enemy and I'm trying to document it like in honest way, because now I look at the war as it is without like, hey, we're Ukrainian, yes, we're Ukrainian, we're defending our country. But war in general, it's not the best thing to take part in it. At some moment you will be not a white knight in shining clothes, but like the dark knight who is killing people.

BURNETT: All right. Well, Volodymyr, I really appreciate your time. Thank you so much for joining me.

DEMCHENKO: Thank you for your attention.

BURNETT: And, of course, to all of your colleagues, the other soldiers who are in the room with you, who I know it's tight quarters and they sat as you did this, so thanks to them as well.

DEMCHENKO: Thank you.

BURNETT: And next, dangerous cracks appear to be forming within Putin's inner circle. Tensions incredibly high between Putin and his Defense Chief whose recent so-called public appearances raised questions about his standing and whereabouts.

Plus, a frantic search and rescue effort underway in the city of Mykolaiv after this missile strike caught on camera killed 15 people.



BURNETT: One thousand people associated with the Wagner Group, a brutal paramilitary group nicknamed Putin's army, are now in the Donbas region of Ukraine. That is according to the latest numbers from the Pentagon. The Wagner Group is accused of being in Ukraine with one core goal of trying to assassinate President Zelenskyy.

And it comes as Putin's focus turned to the southern region. There are growing fears tonight that Donbas could be a stepping stone to an all- out assault on the entire Ukrainian south. The biggest crown jewel there could be the Black Sea port of Odessa.

Ed Lavandera is OUTFRONT in Odessa tonight.

And, Ed, obviously the city is strategically crucial, Putin sees it that way, Ukraine sees it that way. Is there a sense from the people that you are speaking with on the ground that Odessa could be next?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they are watching very closely, what is happening with the Russian forces surround Kyiv and they are really trying to figure out what is going to come next, what is going to be that next step. Right now, Russian forces have been stalled out for some time, about halfway between here and Mariupol. And so, there is concern, because there was some talk early on in this evasion, that Odessa was one of the main targets.

So, there is a clear sense that that could still change, although it's been a relatively quiet the last few days in the eight here in Odessa. But military official here in this region says that they are aware that Russian aircraft is carrying out surveillance and reconnaissance missions over this area. They are on high alert.

Erin, when we drove in earlier today, the road coming from north of Odessa down to this city was lined with checkpoints, all of the billboards along the road has turned into this pro-Ukrainian, or anti- Russian force messages, kind of directly directed at the soldiers that were coming down this way, if there was an invasion. It would take place in this city.

There have been relative calm, and perhaps a false sense of security, we drove around, there are many parts of it that looked like ordinary, average day here in Odessa. In fact, just north of the city, we saw farmers plowing farm fields, this is considered one of the bread baskets of the world.

So, it's kind of surreal to see all of that real life kind of playing out in the midst of this war here in the Odessa region.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Ed Lavandera.

And as the war is now on its second month, thousands of Russian troops have been killed, an independent pollster in Russia finds that Putin's approval rating, this might surprise some watching, is now at 83 percent, up 12 points from just last month.

OUTFRONT now, Stanislav Kucher. He's a well-known veteran television host from Russia, who left the country because he could no longer do his job as a journalist there.

So, Stanislav, I really appreciate your time and your perspective.

Now, the polls -- this approval rating at 83, percent only 15 percent disapprove. Now, obviously, some people may be afraid to speak, out you take the numbers with a grain of salt. But directionally, these numbers are significant and the moves are significant.

Why do Russians support Putin in the face of everything that has been happening? There seems to be strengthening in that support in many quarters.

STANISLAV KUCHERR, FORMER LONGTIME RUSSIAN TV HOST: Two points, Erin. Well, first, the clothes you're wearing for example, did you make it with your own hands? Question, did you make it with your own hands?


KUCHER: Of course, because you trust the manufacture.


KUCHER: Right?

So, the same with ideas.


KUCHER: A lot of Russians are literally wearing the ideas, because they trust the manufacturer. The manufacturer of their ideas and their hats is Putin and his propaganda machine. So, for 22 years, they have been fed that information, through basically one and the same channel.

So, once you do not just have other sources of information, you can, say, well, but you do have the internet, you do have telegram sandals, social media, et cetera, et cetera.


KUCHER: But, again if you just go to work every day, go about your routine business, right, you trust that that manufacturer of information, and that's television. Again, that's still television for the majority of Russians. Then you just trusted, and that is reason number one.


And -- well, as for a reason number two, look, let's say Italy of 1930, with Mussolini.


KUCHER: And they have a public poll there, trust Mussolini, what would you expect them to say? If you have something like Germany in 1939, or 1940 or anytime during the Soviet era in the Soviet Union, no matter the Stalinist times or the Brezhnev era. I mean -- I still remember, I was a young guy, but I still remember

the Soviet Union. And yes, there is no way that anybody would answer on the phone, or in any other form, that I do not trust the communist party, or the president.

So, of course, on one hand, I did not trust those polls, we cannot trust their exact numbers, no matter what they say.


KUCHER: On the other hand, yes, a lot of Russians, the so-called aggressively silent majority are now in a situation --

BURNETT: Interesting --

KUCHER: -- where they, yes, they approve of Putin.

BURNETT: Yeah, That's interesting, the way you describe it, the aggressively silent.

But I think it's important for the world to understand that, right? Because there is a lot of hopeful analysis. There is the reality is and you got to deal in reality.

KUCHER: Education and information are the only keys to changing the mindset of Russians.

BURNETT: So, a U.S. official tells that Putin has been misinformed by his advisers. There's persistent tension between him and his ministry of defense, which should come as no surprise given the performance of the Russian military about Shoigu.

So, you saw a video that stood out to you where you saw tension. So, this is a former Russian military leader on Russian television, criticizing the Russian defense minister, Sergey Shoigu, right? So, this is really important. Let me just play it.


IGOR GIRKIN, FORMER RUSSIAN MILITARY LEADER (through translator): That is why our troops have to seriously think because our paper commander can't come up with more troops out of thin air. And he can't admit that he fell short. I want to admit that Ukraine's leadership act in a much more adequate way from a military standpoint, than Russia. And you can call me a traitor, if you want.


BURNETT: I mean -- so this stood out to you. A paper commander can't admit he fell short. I mean, these are really aggressive things to say. What does it say to you?

KUCHER: Well, it says to me that there is confusion in Russian elites. The guy, Strelkov, also, known as Girkin, was defense minister of Donbas, the Ukrainian separatist regions, right? He was actually one of the guys who originally instigated and unleashed the war in Ukraine in 2014.


KUCHER: So, he has always been very critical of -- well, not always, but in the past few years, he has been really critical of the Russian government, saying that they're not persistent enough. They should go and go into action in Ukraine.

Right now, he is criticizing Shoigu hard, calling him a cupboard or paper minister, meaning that he has no experience, whatsoever, and that the operation is a disaster, saying that the Ukrainian leadership is a lot more professional than the Russian leadership. So, yes.

And he's not -- I mean, the guy is not acting alone. He has a lot of military veterans behind him. And moreover, I'm pretty sure he is controlled by the president's -- by certain people in the president's administration, the president's office.

So, he represents the party of war, who is very strictly against Shoigu and who does want Putin to go into action.

BURNETT: Right. Well, it's fascinating and so significant that you saw it.

All right. Thank you so much, Stanislav. I appreciate it. Good to see you again.

KUCHER: Thank you.

BURNETT: And OUTFRONT next, one family's terrified story of being forced to leave their home after Russians took control of their village.




RIVERS: And she asked if the tank would shoot at us?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, because she saw a tank every day.


BURNETT: Plus, breaking news. The Academy calling Will Smith's slap at the Oscars deeply shocking and traumatic, as we're learning that they asked Smith to leave the ceremony, he refused.



BURNETT: Frantic search and rescue efforts continue tonight at the southeastern city of Mykolaiv. At least 15 people are now confirmed killed after a missile strike hit a government administrative building. Dozens more injured and an unknown number of people remain buried in the rubble. So, we don't know the formal death toll, we only know it we know right now, which is 15.

The moment of that missile launch caught in this horrifying video, coming in, and then it blasted a hole in the side of the building. It has resulted in so much death.

Matt Rivers is OUTFRONT tonight, in Zahony, Hungary, that is where refugees fleeing attacks like that are seeking safety.


RIVERS (voice-over): Zahony train station, just across the border from Ukraine, is here where refugees fleeing the war touch Hungarian soil for the first time. People have been arriving here since the first days of the war, but these are the people that chose to stay longer. Up until they couldn't anymore.

People like Elena, who left with their husband, and three daughters.

How old is she?


RIVERS: And she asked if the tank would shoot at us.

ELENA: Yes, because she saw a tank every day. Because they --

RIVERS: She saw Russian tanks?

ELENA: Russian tanks, a lot of Russian tanks.

RIVERS: Elena says Russian soldiers had occupied her village, and set up artillery positions, and that Ukrainian forces started to target them. Just a few days ago, she says there was an explosion about 100 meters from her house. Right after it hit, she knew it was time to go.

ELENA: She says, I thought to myself, I'm 34. I have three children. It can't end like this.

So, we walked right into the forest for two hours.


A Ukrainian soldier than stopped us and told us that there were snipers everywhere. They put us underneath shields, and walked us to safety, because there were firefights everywhere.

They never wanted to leave, she said, but eventually she had no choice. It is a common sentiment for those here who waited for weeks after the invasion to make a brutal decision to flee the only home they had ever known.

Olesya Lahuta was one of them.

We stay to look really long time after the war started, she says, about a month. But every day, the sound of the bombing got closer and closer, and our children are small. Our building didn't have a basement, there is no cover available.

So, she joined the hundreds of thousands of other Ukrainians that have arrived here in Hungary. As her kids sit and play in her lap, she gets emotional about the threat to their lives, and others.

RIVERS: I can't understand why, she says, choking up. There are lots of small children who died, and I can't understand the purpose of this war. It's not only my children that are in danger.

The Ukrainian prosecutor's office says that at least 145 children have died in the war, a number that is almost certainly an undercount. Olesya fled because she did not want her kids added to the list.

And now, she gets back on the train, headed towards Budapest, with an uncertain future amidst a horrible war.


RIVERS: And, Erin, even right now, a number of refugees continue to trickle in here in Zahony. We spent the day at the train station. And somewhat amazingly, you know, the story that we told you about Elena who walked through the forest with her family, she is not alone in that story. We spoke to two other families who went through that same experience, they just didn't want to go on camera, walking through the forest, avoiding roads, trying to avoid the firefights between the Russians and the Ukrainian armies.

Just staggering, the lengths that families are having to go through right now, to try and get somewhere safe.

BURNETT: Thank you very much.

And next, officials on the U.S. border bracing for a migrant surge, as the Biden administration plans to lift a key pandemic rule. We're live on the ground.

Plus, the Academy just released new details about what is taking place behind the scenes, after Will Smith slapped Chris Rock.



BURNETT: Border officials warning the United States is weeks away from a massive surge of migrants entering the United States. The reason, the Biden administration's plan to end strict Trump era pandemic border restrictions, which turned away 1.7 million migrants looking to enter the United States.

Rosa Flores is OUTFRONT.


ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Five-year-old Allison Rocero (ph) is from Colombia.

What's your dream?

She wants to be a doctor. She is one of more than 140 migrants who in the span of 30 minutes were dropped off by border patrol at this Del Rio respite center.

This month, Border Patrol has dropped off more than 4,400 migrants, since Tiffany Burrow, the director here, more than twice the number in January.

TIFFANY BURROW, DIRECTOR, VAL VERDE BORDER HUMANITARIAN COALITION: I would say that 4,400 is a drop in the bucket.

FLORES: These are migrants that were processed and allowed into the U.S., despite Title 42, the pandemic public health rule which allows Border Patrol to swiftly return some migrants, mostly to Mexico, without the opportunity to seek asylum.

Burrow is bracing for an even bigger surge when the Biden administration lifts Title 42.

DHS officials, preparing for up to 18,000 migrants in an attempt to enter the U.S. a day.

Are you prepared for Title 42 to lift?

BURROW: I don't think anyone can truly be prepared.

FLORES: In the past two, years 1.7 million migrants have been expelled under the Trump era rule.

This week, the CDC is set to decide if the order is necessary.

If you asked the Val Verde County sheriff. --

SHERIFF JOE FRANK MARTINEZ, VAL VERDE COUNTY, TEXAS: I mean, I wish it would've extended.

FLORES: He points to the more than 15,000 migrants who he says camped under a bridge here at September of last year, waiting for immigration authorities to process them.

MARTINEZ: Last year we called it a crisis. This year, we see the same thing here in Del Rio. You know, it's going to be a disaster.

FLORES: Here in the Del Rio sector, Border Patrol has encountered more than 150,000 migrants this fiscal year, a 215 percent increase compared to the same time last year.

Allison shows us the Rio Grande was waist deep when she crashed with her mom and her baby brother.

Were you scared?

She said she was a little scared. The Biden administration was facing pressure from all sides,

immigration advocates and Democrats, who say there is no health basis for keeping the Trump era rule. And for Republicans, who had been pushing for Biden's plan to secure the border when Title 42 expires.

The sheriff says that migrants are waiting just across the Rio Grande in Acuna, Mexico, for Title 42 to end.

How big are those groups that are in Acuna?

MARTINEZ: They weren't able to give you a number. I know that there's people walking up and down the streets everywhere.

FLORES: The Del Rio border patrol chief taking to social media to show how large groups of migrants are trying to cross into the U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Del Rio saying that some migrant processing facilities have reached capacity.

Your message to the Biden administration?

MARTINEZ: You know, it's time to execute a plan. You know, if they've got a plan, let's start executing.

FLORES: You're doing okay?


FLORES: As for Allison, and migrants like her to make a stop at this rest center, it is back on buses, this time taking their dreams to destinations across America.



FLORES (on camera): What you see behind me is Mexico. According to a federal law enforcement official, between 30,000 and 60,000 people are waiting on the northern part of Mexico across the river for Title 42 to lift.

Now, we know that the Biden administration is planning to do that on May 23rd. Meanwhile, DHS working on three scenarios, Erin. The most extreme of those scenarios, for agents to face up to 16,000 migrants a day, and for holding capacity to be at 30,000 -- Erin.

BURNETT: Incredible.

All right. Rosa, thank you very much.

And next, more breaking news. The Academy revealing for the first time that will smith was asked to leave the Oscars ceremony, and well, he refused. Now, the Academy says it's taking action against Smith.


BURNETT: And finally, tonight, a stunning statement from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, revealing for the first time that Will Smith was asked to leave the Oscars after he slapped Chris Rock. They say Smith refused.

The new details come as the Academy acknowledged what it calls a deeply shocking situation differently. They had a message for Chris Rock, here's what it is. They say: Mr. Rock, we apologize to you for what you experienced on our stage and thank you for resilience in that moment.

As for Will Smith, the Academy has begun disciplinary proceedings.

Thanks so much for joining us.

"AC360" starts now.