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Erin Burnett Outfront

Zelenskyy Won't Say Whether Ukraine Attacked Russian Fuel Depot: "I Do Not Discuss Any Of My Orders As Commander-In-Chief"; WH Won't Say Whether U.S. Would Discourage Ukraine If It Executed Attacks On Russian Soil In Future; Chernobyl Chief: Russian Troops May Have Been Exposed To Radiation; Russians Ignoring Pleas From Officials Not To Panic Buy; Images Appear To Show Anti-Theft Tags On Meat Cans In Russia; Former Russian Official: Putin's Days Are Numbered; Will Smith Resigns From The Academy; 250K Women Joined Labor Force In March After Being Hit By Pandemic. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired April 01, 2022 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Until then, once again, thanks very much for watching. Erin Burnett OUTFRONT starts right now.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next breaking news, Zelenskyy tonight speaking for the first time about the attack inside Russia as we're learning about the dire situation on the ground in Ukraine from a captain leaving the fight.

Plus, Ukrainian officials saying Russian soldiers may have been exposed to a significant amount of radiation after seizing the Chernobyl nuclear plant. The effects could range from skin damage to potentially fatal damage to internal organs and bone marrow.

And he once worked for Putin, now he's saying there are more officials on the Russian government who don't like what Putin is doing. He's my guest. Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight the breaking news Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy breaking his silence about the attack on a fuel depot in Russia.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, PRESIDENT OF UKRAINE (through interpreter): I do not discuss any of my orders as commander-in-chief, the leader of this state. You need to understand that on that territory that you mentioned, you have to know because they were placing their shooting systems and firing those missiles themselves.


BURNETT: Surveillance video capturing what appears to be the moment that several missiles hit the fuel tanks. It is pretty incredible to see, setting up a series of explosions. A Russian military installation burned fiercely through the night. Now, Russia says low flying Ukrainian helicopters crossed into Russia and fired on the City of Belgorod. It is a city that sits just 20 miles from the Ukrainian border and it's been a crucial city for Russia in this entire attack, because it's not far from Kharkiv, which is the second largest city in Ukraine. It's not far from the Donbas region, which is where Russia is focusing a lot of its attacks right now. For the past month, Russia has used Belgorod as a staging ground for troops entering Ukraine for all sorts of logistics and fuel.

Our Fred Pleitgen was there just after the invasion started. You'll remember he was actually there that night, was talking to him when they put the airspace ban in and all of those tanks were moving. He witnessed them moving in. He witnessed the missiles being fired. He's going join me live in a moment with more on how crucial Belgorod is.

And tonight when asked about the strike, the White House would not say whether the U.S. would discourage Ukraine from future attacks on Russian soil.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Given we have not confirmed or commented specifically on the reports from here and neither has Ukraine, I'm not going to get into a future hypothetical.


BURNETT: The strike comes as Russia is intensifying its air assault across Ukraine. And meanwhile, in Mariupol, a crucial port city that connects Donbas to Russian-controlled Crimea, a captain leading the fight spoke to us. Now, I want to note that he is part of an ultra nationalist far-right battalion that Zelenskyy made clear tonight is part of the Ukrainian military.

The captain telling me that the city was once home to nearly half a million people and it is now filled with complete destruction and death.


BOGDAN KROTEVYCH, UKRAINIAN MILITARY CAPTAIN: There are mountains of corpses on the streets; men, women, children and no one who can bury them. We also see Russian masses (ph) who are continuously chaotically firing on the civilians on the city and the defenders. The city is collapsing. The city is on fire. It's terrible to see it like this because this is our home.


BURNETT: Mountains of corpses. Well, the captain also tells us that according to witnesses, rescue crews recovered 400 bodies, including children from the Mariupol theater that was the building being used as a shelter with children marked on each side. We'd heard of a death toll about 300. He is saying it is 400 and they still don't know the full number.

We're live across Ukraine tonight. I do want to start though, as I said, with Fred Pleitgen. He's OUTFRONT in Kyiv. And Fred that night, I was in Lviv, you were in Belgorod and you were watching those tanks. You were seeing it happen on the night this war began. You know how crucial Belgorod is to Russia, to its supply, to its logistics, to this entire war. Tell us what is unfolding there tonight.

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi there Erin. Well, you're absolutely right, first of all. Belgorod is absolutely crucial, especially to Russia's campaign there in Kharkiv, because as we saw on that map it is right across the border. And I think it's really difficult to ever overstate just how much military equipment the Russians have there in Belgorod, not just the bases that are usually there because it is very much a military city, but all the other equipment that they that they put together there.

And so therefore, it wouldn't come as a surprise that the Ukrainians might try to attack the area, but at the same time, certainly, it is an extremely difficult feat to try to attack a target that's so far away from the Ukrainian border with helicopters.


If indeed the Ukrainians managed to pull it off, it would be an amazing counter attack and really one that would have taken a lot of courage from those pilots flying, let's have a look.


PLEITGEN (voice over): Could be a brazen and bold counter attack by the Ukrainians. This social media video seeming to show two attack helicopters penetrating Russian territory and firing at an oil depot setting the facility ablaze. The Russian military publicly acknowledging the incident.

"On April 1st at around 5 am Moscow time, two Ukrainian Mi-24 helicopters entered the airspace of the Russian Federation at extremely low altitude," the spokesman says. "Ukrainian helicopters launched a missile attack on a civilian oil storage facility located on the outskirts of Belgorod as a result of the missile hit," individual tanks were damaged and caught fire.

Video from the aftermath shows the facility engulfed in massive flames, with firefighters struggling to put out the blaze. Belgorod is a highly militarized city right across the border from Kharkiv in Ukraine. It was from here that Russian forces crossed the border and attacked Kharkiv moving large amounts of tanks, armored vehicles and trucks towards Ukrainian territory.

But the Russians also have a massive military support facilities in this area. The Ukrainians so far have not acknowledged they've hit the depot.


DMYTRO KULEBA, UKRAINIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: I can neither confirm nor reject the claim that Ukraine was involved in this, simply because I do not possess all the military information.


PLEITGEN (voice over): The strike comes as Russian forces have been suffering setbacks in their invasion of Ukraine, withdrawing some forces from the area around the capital Kyiv after failing to storm the city. The Russians now saying they want to focus their offensive on the east of the country, which includes Kharkiv where authorities report a major uptick in shelling in recent days. All this as talks between Russia and Ukraine to try and end the fighting continue. But Moscow now saying Vladimir Putin has been briefed on the chopper attack and it could have a negative impact on the talks.

"Of course, this is not something that can be perceived as creating comfortable conditions for continuing negotiations," the Kremlin spokesman said.

The strike on the oil facility will probably do little to hold up Russia's invasion of Ukraine, but if the Ukrainians are behind it, it would show they are not afraid to strike back at the country that is attacking them.


PLEITGEN (on camera): And so, Erin, just to make clear to our viewers, what these helicopter pilots would have had to do to fly towards that oil facilities that they would have to obviously fly away from Ukrainian positions over Russian positions inside Ukraine, the Russian positions at the border on the Russian territory, all the air defense systems around Belgorod and then to reach that city and get back. Again, an extremely difficult tack, a task especially for helicopters that don't really fly that fast. But again, the Russians say that the Ukrainians did it. So far, we haven't really heard from the Ukrainians. It certainly would be a massive gut punch to the Russians if the Ukrainians managed to pull this off.

BURNETT: All right. Fred, thank you very much.

And now Evelyn Farkas, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia and Seth Jones, Director of the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He served as an adviser to the Commanding General of U.S. Special Operations Forces in Afghanistan.

So Evelyn, the target in Belgorod was carefully selected. Do you think this is part of a new and bigger strategy by Ukraine?

EVELYN FARKAS, FORMER U.S. DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE FOR RUSSIA/UKRAINE/EURASIA: I hope so Erin, for their sake. First of all, I think it's important to note, as Fred said, this is a militarized town or city. I don't actually know the exact number of residents, but this was a military site. This was a military attack on a military location. So it was limited and I do not consider this escalatory and it may be the beginning of the Ukrainians taking a more of an offensive, proactive approach towards the Russians. They obviously need to do something because as probably Seth is going to show us, the action in that region is about to heat up even more.

BURNETT: Right. And I mean, obviously, Belgorod's proximity to Donbas is crucial here.

So Seth, let me just show everyone the map, right where Belgorod is in relation to Ukraine, particularly Kharkiv. And also the Donbas region further south in terms of being a major Russian military installation nearby. The Ministry of Defense from the U.K. tweeted tonight, Seth, "The probable loss of fuel and ammunition supplies from these depots will likely add additional short-term strain to Russia's already stretched logistic chains.


Supplies to Russian forces encircling Kharkiv 60 kilometers from Belgorod may be particularly affected." How big of a problem could this be for Russia, Seth? SETH JONES, DIRECTOR, INTL. SECURITY PROGRAM AT CENTER FOR STRATEGIC & INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Well, I think we know, Erin, that the Russians' biggest problem or one of the biggest problems in Ukraine so far, including in and around Kyiv has been logistics. It's been the resupply of fuel. It's been the resupply of weapons and ammunition. And so what they've had to do is put some of those depots just across the border in Russia, where they can get them there, frankly, by rail, which is where they've been, in some cases by trucks.

So what the Ukrainians are now doing is if this is what indeed they did is hitting those logistic weaknesses that the Russians have already suffered in the country and I think what this shows is that this is a pretty savvy move if the Ukrainians did this to go after one of the most significant vulnerabilities we've seen with the Russian military so far.

BURNETT: So Evelyn, I want to play more of that exclusive message we had tonight from the Ukrainian commander of Mariupol. He talks about it - and this is that - get a look at it as a must-hold city for Ukraine and must win city for Russia when it comes to connecting the Donbas and Crimea. He describes it as mountains of corpses. He says there are active street fight street by street 'going hard'. And he says the death toll is going to shock the world. Here he is.


KROTEVYCH: The figures will shock the world. In a city with the more than half million people, which was and is under (inaudible) air bombs falling, artillery shelling, grid system working when 19 percent of the buildings are destroyed. We cannot hope for a miracle. We have lost too many Ukrainians and continue to lose them now.


BURNETT: Evelyn, do you see any chance that either side gives up Mariupol at this point?

FARKAS: No, I don't. And what's really alarming, Erin, is that the Russians continued to hamper any attempts to get civilians out of harm's way. I mean, if they're going to have block by block fighting going on here, you want to get all the civilians out of the basements and out of that city. And my understanding is based on the media reports today, some

civilians continued to be able to escape, of course, at great risk to themselves, but the organized attempt, I believe, by the Red Cross or perhaps the U.N. to take out refugees today and it's started actually even, I think, a couple days ago, has failed. And so this is really, frankly, at the feet of the international community, because it's not something that we can expect just the United States and the European allies to solve.

BURNETT: Right. And it's, I mean, obviously, his estimates are that there still could be a couple a hundred thousand people left, but the death toll unbelievable he's saying in that theater, 400 died. The numbers out there estimates were 300. He thinks it's 400 or more. I mean, it's just unbelievable the destruction and death that we are seeing.

And Seth, I want to play something else for you that President Zelenskyy just said in that interview with Bret Baier about his own life and his role in all of this. Here's what he said.


BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS CHANNEL CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Do you know how many assassination attempts you've survived?

ZELENSKYY (through interpreter): I don't know.

BAIER: But there have been so?

ZELENSKYY (through interpreter): There are things which is difficult for me to count on. My intelligence says there were such attempts and we saw information about some arrivals of planes. There were other details. But listen, I'm alive, I'm not wounded, I'm intact, so it's hard for me to talk about this. So many people have died in our country.


BURNETT: Seth, how much does Putin wants the Zelenskyy dead as part of this? How crucial is that aim?

JONES: Well, I think it's a bit of a double-edged sword, but I think Zelenskyy has been incredibly effective as a communicator for Ukraine to the rest of the world. He has been a major reason why the United States, the Germans, the British have continued to provide weapons to his country and so it's a big motor.

So in that sense, I think the Russians would kill him, if they could. The Russians have used units like the Main Intelligence Directorate's GRU to kill defectors in the United Kingdom. So I don't think they'd hesitate to do that. The downside and I think this is something Putin would have to think through as well is it would also be an additional rallying cry for the West to support Ukraine with Zelenskyy now the hero martyred if that's what were to happen. But I think in general, I suspect Putin would rather have him dead than alive.

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

FARKAS: Thanks, Erin.


And next, Russian troops were possibly exposed to significant doses of radiation at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. So we're going to tell you how it happened and what it could mean for these young soldiers.

Plus, a former Russian official who worked for Putin now says Putin's days are numbered.

Plus, the breaking news, Will Smith just releasing a statement about his future with the academy after he slapped Chris Rock.



BURNETT: Tonight, Russian troops who occupied a nuclear power plant in Chernobyl may have been exposed to significant doses of radiation, this is according to Ukraine's state energy company. The International Atomic Energy Agency also says tonight that when Russian troops first occupied the site, movement on the ground in released radiation.

Now, radiation exposure at high doses can cause horrific damage to internal organs and bone marrow according to the CDC in the Mayo Clinic. It could be absolutely horrific in terms of death.

David McKenzie is OUTFRONT. And David, what else do we know about this?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, we're putting the pieces together on the story and it could be very disturbing. You remember those disturbing images of tanks heading into Chernobyl in the early start of this conflict and you had the Russians taking over Chernobyl, effectively having those workers hostage now more details are coming in. Apparently according to that agency, you described, these Russian soldiers were digging in, putting fortifications and trenches right in what is known as the Red Forest.


Now, this is inside the exclusion zone, that area around Chernobyl after the worst nuclear accident of its kind in history, which saw some of the worst fallout from those reactors. And if they were in that area and digging trenches, experts believe they could have really been exposed to high levels of radiation.

That agency saying the last 24 hours or so that Russian soldiers were panicked. They have been leaving over the last 24 hours and that area is now under Ukrainian control, we believe. But unclear just how sick, if at all, those soldiers, those young soldiers are. You'll remember also that the Russians have come under great criticism on the actions around nuclear reactors using heavy artillery around Zaporizhzhia. They are still in control of that nuclear site. The head of the Atomic Energy Agency today telling CNN that there

might have been some rise in radiation levels, because of the heavy armor in that area of Chernobyl. He says that might have come down and they urgently seeking answers from the Russians of whether there is any kind of sickness from those soldiers in the aftermath of them departing Chernobyl. He also says he's looking to head to that zone as soon as possible to investigate, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. David, thank you very much. It is incredibly disturbing.

I want to go now to James Clapper, the former Director of National Intelligence under President Obama and retired Lieutenant General in the US Air Force. And General, this has been something from - I remember talking to you from Ukraine when they first came to Chernobyl and you had such serious concerns about it.

So the mainstream line we heard that day was, well, the Russians of all people know the danger of Ukraine. They certainly wouldn't put soldiers who don't know what they're doing on that attack field. They're putting in people who know what they're doing, it's Chernobyl for God's sake. But now we're hearing young soldiers are driving through a no-go Red Forest kicking up radiation, building trenches in it possibly, what's your reaction when you hear this general?

LT. GEN. JAMES CLAPPER (RET.), CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Erin, first, just incredible recklessness or incompetence or stupidity or all the above on the part of the Russians that they could be so cavalier about a sensitive area like Chernobyl to allow their troops to dig trenches. It's just ridiculous. Words fail me.

And the other thing this shows, though, is how vulnerable these places are, notably Chernobyl, where the shield such as it is, the Earth is pretty thin. So I've been concerned about this from the outset for all 15 of the Ukrainian nuclear reactors. And if something, an attack, errant bomb, errant missile, we could have real disaster on our hands.

BURNETT: And what's also amazing to me, General, that Russia sent these young kids into nuclear power zones without proper training or education. And in some cases they didn't even know where they went. I mean, there are some reports that some of these kids didn't even really literally understand what Chernobyl is, the meaning of that word. I mean, what do you think this could mean for Russian troop morale if some of these soldiers are indeed very sick as some reports indicate they are. When we already have clearly so many issues within the Russian military on morale?

CLAPPER: Well, first it shows the almost total disregard for the Russian troops. They just apparently consider them as cannon fodder, as expendable. Now, this sort of thing, undoubtedly, has already gotten around among the troops, because morale not very good to start with and you add this and the Russian leadership total disregard for the safety and welfare of their troops, that does not bode well for their morale.

BURNETT: Gen. Clapper, thank you very much. CLAPPER: Thanks, Erin.

BURNETT: And next, anti-theft tags on canned beef and pork. That is apparently what it has come to in Russia, which is facing such crippling sanctions. We have a special report on what's happening inside Russia tonight.

Plus, Russia striking a key port city in Ukraine. Tonight, fears growing that this may be the start of another major assault.



BURNETT: A stunning image coming out of a Russian grocery store, anti-theft tags seen on the lids of canned beef and pork. And we can't independently verify exactly when and where the photos were taken, but they seem to be yet another example of how the West sanctions are impacting ordinary Russians. And it comes as the Biden administration says Russia's economy is plunging into recession and getting crushed by crippling inflation. Matthew Chance is OUTFRONT.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): In Russia, they're calling it the sugar panic. As Western sanctions on the country bite, ordinary people have been snapping up essential, they're jostling with each other in the Russian city of Saratov to buy sugar off the back of a truck.

"God bless you," the voice says as a supermarket worker pushes a trolley of sugar towards anxious shoppers. Scramble to grab as much as they can before supplies run out. Pleas from Russian officials for the public not to panic buy are going unheard. But now a prominent Russian economist tells CNN, this economic pain is set to these.


CHANCE (on camera): We're seeing the shortages now and that's bad enough for some people in Russia, but what you're saying is that, that soon we could see a much bigger, much more serious economic impact because of these sanctions.


RUBEN ENIKOLOPOV, PROF. OF ECONOMICS, NEW ECONOMIC SCHOOL: Yes. Most of the shortages are a temporary problem, so that will be solved and these goods will appear. There will be a very acute phase and everything is fine. With the quality of life, actual real income, that is not that apparent yet, but that will be -- this problem will be accumulating and becoming more and more apparent in the coming months.

CHANCE: In fact, that impact on quality of life is already being felt. These are the crowds that flocked to an IKEA superstore in Moscow the day before it closed down last month.

Across Russia, Western brands have suspended production or simply pulled out over the invasion of Ukraine. Jobs may soon go permanently.

Even more seriously, there are concerns a shortage of Western medicines is starting to have a real impact on people's health. People like Anastasia in Moscow and her father, who she says has been diagnosed with a brain aneurysm.

We asked, everywhere, but no one had his medicine, she says, now he feels sick.

Russian officials say they are aware of the shortages and are trying to address them. But if sanctions persist, Russia faces being cut off from medical advances and other technologies that may send it back, even cause harm.

Many Russians accustomed to hardship remain unshaken by the economic doom threatening their nation.

I was born in Soviet times, says Liresa (ph) in the Russian town of Pokrov. She then speaks of the challenges since then like economic restructuring and food stamps. We got over it all, she says.

Valentina, also in Pokrov, says she doesn't mind that prices have gone up at all. In a month, it will straighten out, she hopes. After years of navigating Western sanctions, there is a belief, perhaps misplaced, things will work out this time too.

ENIKOLOPOV: When Russians are seeing this, I mean, yeas, psychologically, they are used to sanctions. But in terms of the effect on the economy, it is much more damaging than the sanctions that were previously implemented.

CHANCE: Well, previously as well, the sanctions have not really worked in terms of changing Russian policy, changing the Kremlin's policy, do you think there is a chance that these sanctions in that case will work and they will force the Kremlin to change course?

ENIKOLOPOV: Honestly, I doubt it. Just with the logic of the current regime in Russia. They -- it's a thing about Putin, that he doesn't give up under pressure. It makes him even more persistent, at the expense of the country.

CHANCE: Economic pain it seems is a price the Kremlin is willing to let's own people pay.


CHANCE (on camera): Well, Erin, the Kremlin is trying to strike back to prevent its economy from imploding. For instance, by forcing what it calls unfriendly countries to pay for its Russian gas deliveries in Russian rubles instead of dollars or euros. That's something that's been rejected by Western countries. With the war continuing to rage in Ukraine, the scene is set to yet more sanctions and more economic pain -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Matthew. OUTFRONT now, Vladimir Milov, former deputy minister of energy in

Russia and an advisor now to the Russian opposition leader, Alexei Navalny.

Vladimir, I really appreciate your time.

You work in most senior levels of the Russian government. And you write in a new op-ed that many Russian officials, you know, currently in power now are, quote, devastated by the consequences of Putin's aggression. What are they telling you?

VLADIMIR MILOV, RUSSIAN OPPOSITION POLITICIAN, ADVISOR TO NAVALNY: Well, that's true. They won't tell it openly, but basically everybody understands that that's a unique situation. For the first time ever, we are moving in a backwards direction.

We have a lot of difficulties in the '70s, in the '80s and '90s, but we were still some opening to the world. And the direction was very different.

Right now, Russia is being disconnected from global markets, global financial architecture, technology, logistics and so on. This is to the extent that has never happened before. And these people in power, they fully realize that. So, when I say devastated, I mean it.

BURNETT: And so, President Biden was asked this week specifically about reports that Putin is being misinformed by some of his advisers, people in his upper echelon of power.

I wanted to play this with you, what President Biden said.



JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm not saying this with certainty. He seems to be self isolated, and there is some indication that that he has fired or put under house arrest some of his advisors.


BURNETT: Vladimir, do you think that's happening? That Putin has put advisers under house arrest?

MILOV: Well, I hear some rumors. It's really hard to verify. I strongly advise against believing anything you hear because we don't know what a credible situation there is. But yes, to some extent, he is really misinformed.

There is another side of the coin, that he was deliberately cutting himself off from undesired information. So, Putin lives right now in a self inflicted bubble. It is a two-way street. It is not that there are bad advisers to are not informing him, he deliberately built a system where he vanish people for bad news and he really heard what he wanted to hear. So, this is the reality that we're facing right now. BURNETT: So, these advisers that you talk about that are devastated

by the consequences, that know the reality, are they, Vladimir, communicating with each other? Are they -- do they pose a threat to Putin? I mean, is there any conversation or organization to this, or no?

MILOV: This is very important to understand because communications between government officials are intercepted by security services. So, they are surveyed somewhat to a bigger extent than the opposition is.

Anything, I mean, it's like two people, three people or more will start to discuss that Putin has taken the country in a wrong direction, this is to -- you know, with large certainty, will be recorded and reported to Putin, which is why they are afraid of talking about the failures of Putin's policy. Even inside the system, they are afraid to talk one-on-one about that. That's an important factor, which constrains all the moves that can potentially counter Putin's policies.

BURNETT: So, in your op-ed, you wrote that Putin's days are numbered. Specifically you say, the events since February 24th have made real the prospect of an end to Putin's regime as we know it. Of course, if you truly believe his days in power are over, that raises a very serious question about what he might do, right, in those final days or hours or what he could do.

How do you see this, Vladimir, and how much longer do you think he'll remain in power?

MILOV: He still maintains strong grip on power. He can hang on for sometime. But a few weeks, months down the road of many more people inside the system beginning to question what he's doing, ordinary Russians will express discontent with deteriorating economic situation, huge losses in the war and so on. This is something that Putin has never experience. He was pretty much lucky all along, not this time around.

And the Russian society, the Russian elites, they will finally begin questioning where are we going and is Putin the right man to lead the situation? Actually, this is why I meant when I was talking about his days being numbered.

BURNETT: All right. Vladimir, thank you so much. I really appreciate your time.

MILOV: Thank you.

BURNETT: And next, Russia turning its firepower on another key port city tonight, raising fears that it could face the same fate as other cities that have been leveled by Russia.

Plus, the breaking news, Will Smith just resigning from the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences. And he has more to say about his assault on Chris Rock.


BURNETT: Russia tonight launching an assault on the key port city of Odessa. At least three missiles were launched from Crimea, heightening fears that this could be the beginning of a bigger assault on the Ukrainian south.

Ed Lavandera is OUTFRONT in Odessa tonight.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Kanishka (ph) market is where you come to trade gossip and rumors, dollars for Ukrainian cash, or hunt down underground rare books. It is also where college friends come for coffee and a sense of peace.

I want to ask you, with everything going on in Ukraine, everything here seems so normal.

TAIMUR KRAVCHENKO, LAW STUDENT: It's home. And we can like live a normal life. But that's for now. We don't know what will be tomorrow or in a week.

LAVANDERA: It looks normal, but is it really normal?

KRAVECHENKO: Everyone is afraid. If something will happen in Odessa, of course, we will protect our city. But, right now, we can just sit and live a normal life.

LAVANDERA: As you navigate the streets of Odessa, you see the remaining residents trying to go about their daily lives. But a large part of the city's historic center is transform into a fortified zone with anti-tank barricades, bracing for an amphibious attack from Russian troops from the Black Sea. It is a ghost town.

The residents of Odessa would normally be preparing for holding what is known as the April Fools parade on street, in the heart of the city.

It's a parade that started years ago in response to Soviet censorship. But now, this area of Odessa is completely fortified. And this year, there will be no parade.

Instead, civilian volunteers and activists are mobilizing to support the war effort.

So we are in a bomb shelter in Odessa, and this is where they are making bulletproof s.

We meet this man, sealing the steel plates of homemade armored vests for frontline soldiers. He asked that we call him Martin.

We've heard that Russian forces are leaving Kyiv. Are you concerned, do you think they will start coming back towards Odessa?

[19:45:03] We already beat their ass, we will do it again, he tells me.

Russian naval ships remain station off the coast of Odessa in the Black Sea. The concern here is that the war will intensify in the south.

Before the war, Martin worked as a professional scuba diver. He defiantly says he looks forward to exploring the underwater wreckage of those sunken Russian ships as a diver when the war is over.

On a street corner, we find dozens of displaced families who escape to Odessa. They are from the worst war zones hoping to find food and clothing. Olga Petkovich is waiting with five of her six children.

So, you come from a village that is surrounded by Russian soldiers, you are in the crossfire, how frightened was that?

I was scared for the children most of all, she tells me.

Olga says her family had to walk through a forest to escape shelling. Tears well up in her eyes as her husband tells her Russian soldiers broke into their homes taken everything they could from the families in their village.

OLGA PETKOVICH, DISPLACED WAR VICTIM (through translator): When we came here, the volunteers told us to take what we need. But I'm ashamed. I've worked all my life, and I never asked anyone for anything. Now I have to ask.

LAVANDERA: Her little girl wipes away her mother's tears.

Mother, why are you crying, the girl asked. Because they were telling us a lot, Olga tells her.

Not far from where we met Olga's family, we noticed a father teaching his daughter how to ride a bike, a poignant moment in the midst of a surreal world.


LAVANDERA: And, Erin, for about a minute, a few hours ago, we heard a barrage of air defense systems firing into the sky, three missiles according to the Ukrainian military officials fired at the Odessa area here. One military official says that Russia missed its target, but another military official say that there are some wounded on the ground -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Ed, thank you very much.

And next, breaking news: Will Smith just announcing he's quitting the Academy after he slapped Chris Rock at the Oscars. The Academy now responding.

But one number that really stood out to us in this month's job report.


BURNETT: The breaking news, Will Smith tonight has resigned from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences after slapping Chris Rock during Sunday's Oscars.

So, in his statement, Smith said his actions were, quote, shocking, painful and inexcusable.

Chloe Melas joins me now.

And I know you have been covering this and breaking so much as the story, this bizarre story has developed. So, what else is Smith saying?

CHLOE MELAS, CNN ENTERTAINMENT REPORTER: Yes. So I'm going to read you a little bit more of what Will Smith has just said.

He said: The list of those I have hurt is long and includes Chris, his family, many of my dear friends and loved ones. All of those in attendance and global audiences at home. I betrayed the trust of the Academy. I deprived their nominees and winners of their opportunity to celebrate and be celebrated for their extraordinary work. I'm heartbroken.

Here's a little more behind the scenes of what was happening on Oscar's night.


MELAS (voice-over): It's become one of the most famous and controversial moments in Oscar's history.

CHRIS ROCK, COMEDIAN: Will Smith just smacked the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) out of me.

MELAS: It wasn't just Oscars viewers who initially thought the moment Will Smith slap Chris Rock might have been stage. The men running the entire show, first time Oscar's producer, Will Packer, says in a new interview with ABC's "Good Morning America", that he thought so too.

WILL PACKER, PRODUCER, OSCARS TELECAST: I thought it was a bit. I thought it was a bit like everybody else. Once I saw Will yelling at the stage with such vitriol, my heart dropped.

MELAS: Packers says he rushed over to Rock as he exited the stage.

PACKER: I said, did you really hit you? And he looked at me and he goes, yeah, he goes, I just took a punch from Muhammad Ali, as only Chris can. He was immediately, you know, in joke mode, but you can tell that he was very much still in shock.

MELAS: Smith played the boxer in the 2001 film, "Ali".

CNN has obtained new video from a seat-filler inside the Oscars, showing a new angle of the incident. This time filmed from behind Smith's wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Packer says that Los Angeles Police were prepared to arrest Smith that night.

PACKER: And they were saying, this is battery. We will go get him. You can press charges. We can arrest him. As they were talking, Chris was -- he was being very dismissive of those options. He was like, no, I'm fine.

MELAS: The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences released a statement earlier this week. Stating that they asked Smith to leave and he refused. A source telling CNN that Academy leaders had told Smith's publicist to deliver the message to the actor. Now, Packer is saying Chris Rock did not want Smith removed from the show.

PACKER: They were about to physically remove Will Smith. I said, Rock has made it clear that he does not want to make a bad situation worse.

MELAS: Packer praised Rock for how he handled the situation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did he save the show that night?

PACKER: I think he did. I think he did. He certainly saved what was left of it at that point. Chris handled the moment with such grace and aplomb.

MELAS: Rock told fans during his standup show in Boston this week, that he is still processing what happened.

ROCK: So, at some point, I'll talk about that (EXPLETIVE DELETED), and it'll be serious, I'll be funny.


MELAS: Thursday, he faced a heckler who yelled "F Will Smith". According to people, Rock repeatedly told the audience member, no.


BURNETT: It's just, you know, this whole story developing has just been bizarre, Chloe. So, what does this resignation mean?

MELAS: Right. Okay. This is what everybody wants to know. The resignation means that Will Smith can no longer vote as an Academy remember. That means during award season, he can't vote for upcoming winners. Now, this does not mean, though, that he cannot be nominated in the future. So, we could see him potentially nominated for an Academy Award in the future.

But also, they could ban him. We might find out on April 18th that he's banned from attending the Oscars indefinitely. We're going to find out soon.

BURNETT: Right. And that obviously would be pretty significant if that will occur.

All right. Thank you so much, Chloe.

And next, a blockbuster jobs report, but we're going to tell you the one number that really stood out to us.


BURNETT: And finally, tonight, President Biden declaring that quote, Americans are back to work, after the U.S. economy added another 431,000 jobs in March. Now, that brings the unemployment rate to 3.6 percent, which is a pandemic era low. But there was not one number that actually really stood out to us today, and that is 250,000. It's the number of women who were hired in March. It happens to be the majority of the new hires, were women.

And as we've said again and again in OUTFRONT, women took the brunt of the economic pain caused by the pandemic. Those are simply the facts in terms of the layoffs and being out of work. Diane Swonk, a labor market expert, the chief economist at Grant Thornton, told us today, the rise in participation among women underscore the outsize role women play in caregiving. They came back as schools hired, and were able to stay open, and the ranks that those out sick due to illness plummeted.

Now, I want to say that while today's report is important, it is just one step. There's still nearly 1 million fewer women working now that in February of 2020, right before the pandemic hit. That's according to the National Women's Law Center. There's a long way to go.

Thanks for joining us.

"AC360" starts now.