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Erin Burnett Outfront

Zelenskyy: Train Station Attack A "War Crime"; Vows Accountability; "For The Children" Painted On Missile That Hit Train Station; Intention Unclear, Can Also Mean "Revenge For The Children"; CNN On Ground Near Contaminated Chernobyl Zone Russians Dug Trenches In, Finds Radiation Levels 50 Times Above Natural Levels; Ukraine: Multiple Deaths After Russia Launches Strike On Odessa; Jackson Marks Historic Confirmation: "We've Made It All. All Of Us". Aired 7-8p ET

Aired April 08, 2022 - 19:00   ET


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Will Smith in a statement says, "I accept and respect the Academy's decision." Wolf?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Brian Todd, thank you very much. I'll be back in a half an hour on CNN Plus with my new show The Newscast.

Erin Burnett OUTFRONT starts right now.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next breaking news, exclusive new video into OUTFRONT of a Ukraine train station as the deadly attack unfolded. The journalist who filmed that video and survived the attack is my guest.

Plus, a CNN exclusive, tonight for the first time we'll take you to Chernobyl's highly contaminated Red Forest where Russian troops were digging trenches and could have been exposed to significant radiation.

And the Ukrainian fighter who has been giving us regular updates from the frontlines is my guest. He is just about to leave to fight in the Donbas region. Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight the breaking news, a dark day. The President of Ukraine vowing to hold accountable those behind the deadly missile strike that tore through a train station. The video is graphic as thousands of people who are trying to escape the area, civilians leaving in a panic here when the blast hit.

The Governor of Donetsk, Pavlo Kyrylenko spoke to us today. He told us 52 people were killed in the attack, five of them children. He says the Russians are attacking these civilians because they're losing the war.


PAVLO KYRYLENKO, HEAD OF DONETSK OBLAST MILITARY ADMINISTRATION (through interpreter): It is obvious that the Russians are carefully tracking movements of the people. And, as mentioned earlier, to accomplish their own goals, they've realized that they're not able to act successfully on the battlefield and that is why they're using the other tactic that's working well for them, that's disseminating panic.


BURNETT: And tonight, we have exclusive video of that attack, the panic aftermath. It's from Ukrainian journalist, Oleksiy Merkulov, who was there. And I'm going to speak to Oleksiy in just a moment. He captured the moments before, the moment of and the moments after the strike.

In this video, which was taken at 10:07 am, which he took. You can see the line of people; young, old all at the train station. Now, as you're looking at this, I want you to please notice and remember the green tent where they are serving coffee, okay? Now, 10:26 am, Oleksiy Merkulov, the journalist, is outside the station. He's filming Ukrainians waiting for their train to try to escape the Donetsk region. At that moment, the sound of the explosion is heard.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Foreign language).


BURNETT: 10:34 am, Merkulov films this, along with hundreds of Ukrainians making their way inside the train station crammed shoulder to shoulder. You see those dead bodies and then they're inside. The fear on everyone's faces, they cram inside that train station, the people outside trying to come in, inside trying to go out. Bodies are scattered across the ground next to luggage and burning vehicles outside the station.

Now, remember the green tent that I showed you just a moment ago. Let me show it to you again, there it is, right before the attack where people are waiting for the train, it's a coffee tent. Now, let me show you what it looked like after, it's gone, collapsed, there are bodies everywhere.

Some of the people you saw at that coffee tent earlier, all waiting, waiting for the train, having coffee, are dead, including children. And the remains of the racket that killed so many, you can see the words for the children scrawled on the side in Russian. Now, that is why - that is how it literally translates, for the children.

To the Russians who see those images though, it doesn't mean that it was aiming for children. Many observers tell CNN as a Russian slogan, it can also mean in revenge for the children. And Russian expert, Sergej Sumlenny points out that Russians have used those exact same words and Russian characters repeatedly over the past eight years to accuse Ukrainians of killing Russian children in the Donbas region. So I asked the Governor of Donetsk, why he believes those words were written on the rocket.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) KYRYLENKO (through interpreter): There could be different

interpretation and especially, obviously, it could have been used and interpreted differently by the enemy themselves, especially since the inscription is in Russian. All we can say is that the Ukrainian government surely takes care of their children and just for you to know that as of now we have 52 people who died and five of them are children.



BURNETT: Killed By a Russian rocket. We have teams across Ukraine tonight as well as in Georgia and we begin with Phil Black who is OUTFRONT live in Lviv. And Phil, what is the latest in Ukraine tonight?

PHIL BLACK, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, Ukrainian officials are still working to help vast numbers of people flee the east of the country, because that is where Russian forces are expected to launch an imminent major offensive.

Today's attack proves the urgency of helping people get out while they still can, because it also shows the potential risk is already very great. This report contains very graphic images, but we think it's important to show you. Take a look.


BLACK (voice over): For many who fear what is coming in eastern Ukraine, Kramatorsk Station has been a gateway to safety. Crowds of people have packed its platforms in recent days desperate to increase their distance from a region Russia says it will soon conquer with overwhelming force.

Witnesses say thousands came again on Friday morning. They sought safety, they couldn't escape the war.

These are the moments after a ballistic missile exploded at the station after debris and shrapnel tore through the crown.

"So many dead bodies," a person cries. "Only children, just children."

When the screaming eventually stopped, the broken bodies of the innocent remain. We have to hide much of this seen, most of those lying bleeding and still are women and children. Survivors fled. We managed to contact some by phone while they sheltered together in a public building, still scared and shaken.

This woman says she looked up when she thought she heard a plane then it exploded and everyone went down.

This man says he heard the blast and threw his body over his daughter. The remains of the missile that terrified and hurt so many crashed down near the station. Hand-painted Russian words mark its side, declaring the weapons avenging purpose. It says, "For the children." The author and their intent are unknown. The result is yet another

moment of horror in a war with endless capacity for taking and destroying innocent lives.


BLACK (on camera): So once again, world leaders are accusing Russia of committing an atrocity in Ukraine and once again, Russia is denying all responsibility. The U.S. assessment is this was a short range ballistic missile fired from a Russian position inside Ukraine. The Ukrainian military says that missile was packed with cluster munitions, small bomblets which spread and explode over a wide area in which are banned by more than a hundred countries, Erin.

BURNETT: Phil Black, thank you.

OUTFRONT now Oleksiy Merkulov, he was at the train station during the attack and he is a journalist for Donetchina TV. Oleksiy, I have some of the video that you were filming during the attack moments afterwards. I'm going to show everyone to understand what you experienced, what happened there. It is very graphic so people understand, but here are some of what you saw.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Foreign language).


BURNETT: Oleksiy, you also filmed people pushing to get back inside the train station. You hear a woman yelling, "I am wounded, helped me, anyone." You also saw footsteps of blood inside the train station. This is impossible to comprehend watching, but you saw it, you were there, tell me more about what you saw after that explosion?

MERKULOV, JOURNALIST, DONETCHINA TV; WAS AT KRAMATORSK STATION DURING ATTACK (through interpreter): First of all, I would like to say that it's important to understand the kind of a couple of different sites, different spots of that horrific morning. One was on the street where people were queuing up to board the train and to be evacuated after that. And the other one was that waiting area in the train station itself where people were divided and organized into several groups.

And because all of these people they come from the area that has been in the combat actions for eight years already, they know what to do as soon as there is an explosion.


So the moment the explosion went bang and everybody was on the floor.

BURNETT: I know you're about 70 to 80 feet away from where the rocket hit. And at the time, you were talking to an older woman filming her. She was asking for information before the blast. Here is the moment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MERKULOV: (Foreign language).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Foreign language).


BURNETT: You heard that bang, you stopped filming. When did you realize the horror of what had happened?

MERKULOV (through interpreter): When that horrible thing happened, what I could feel right away was this just airblast, this really powerful wave, something - although the explosion itself didn't seem to be that hard. The wave was unbelievable. It's as if something just hit you on your head and your legs couldn't keep you any longer, you couldn't stand on them. And you understand that something terrible happened, but you're not aware of what it is and you're afraid to look up but you know you have to do something.

BURNETT: Before the blast, Oleksiy, you were there talking to people trying to evacuate. It was just a day at the train station. Everyone, obviously, under stress and duress but going there peacefully, civilians, going to board a train and to leave. You captured so many images of that, people crowded inside people waiting, it's very calm. People are waiting for the train. People are lined up outside. People are talking. People are having coffee. People are leaving. And then moments later, after that explosion, this horrific scene of dead bodies strewn around, fires, how do you process this, can you believe what you saw?

MERKULOV (through interpreter): Well, frankly, when something like this happens, you kind of just start to disregard all this horrific details around, something kind of turns on inside of you and you start acting. And in general, I would like to note that our people are kind and what I've noticed and even with myself, I was holding in one hand, my phone with another one I was trying to guide and direct people where to go because the panic was created and people were in shock.

They were afraid that they couldn't understand what was going on, those who were on the streets. They thought it would be safer to go into the building, those who were in the building felt like they needed to leave the building and go onto the streets because they were afraid of it.

Second strike, and but at the same time they - everybody still tried to remain helpful and friendly towards each other. And again, like you've noticed that there was this just great dissonance between the son (ph) and so many young people who came there for recreation with their pets and like you said they were having coffee and everything was so peaceful and then all of a sudden, there is this just shock and horror. Frankly, there is no way to process it at least not right away.

BURNETT: Oleksiy, thank you very much for sharing it and sharing this horror with us so the world can see and understand.

MERKULOV: (Foreign language). BURNETT: And OUTFRONT now, retired U.S. Army Brigadier General Peter

Zwack. General, the Russians had a crowded train station full of civilians with a rocket that they marked with the words 'For the Children'. You heard the Governor of Donetsk say Russia did that because they failed on the battlefield so far, so they're trying now to create mass panic. Does that sound right to you?

BRIG. GEN. PETER ZWACK, U.S. ARMY (RET.): I think that's part of it. I think there is a terror campaign now that is making this is even more punitive, especially I feel sorrow for the citizens of Kramatorsk who were caught in a major battle in the battles 2014 during the first invasion when the Ukrainian forces actually took back and bitter fighting Kramatorsk, so they've seen it.

I don't know exactly, but you fired a ballistic missile with some accuracy. Has been fired into a mass of Ukrainian citizens, a number of them probably ethnic Russians as well by the way, they're just trying to leave. Timing was sadly perfect. And whatever the munition, high explosive cluster, it created devastation and they'll be able to measure the crater and figure out that.


Plus, satellite imagery will ultimately find where it came from. If it was a Russian local commander, it was horrific judgment and malice. And if it were a governmental regime thing, an order coming down to do these types of things, then it just added to the list of growing list of war crimes.

And when I was in Moscow in my day and you're reading it, hearing it now, the Russians would talk all the media would be about the suffering of the ethnic Russians in Donbas, in eastern Ukraine. So that jives, if you will, with the discussion about for the children, because that's all the Russian population are hearing about in their own media, about the poor Russians up there.

BURNETT: So the U.S. General says that Russia will not be able to reinforce their forces in the eastern part of Ukraine with any great speed, because of these massive logistical problems. You mentioned your time in Moscow. You were the U.S. Defense Attache there when Putin annexed Crimea, so during the Crimea and the Donbas when that began. You've spent plenty of time in Belgorod, which now has been the staging operation for so much of the Russian entry, obviously, from the eastern part of Ukraine. You know the Russian troops. You know the supply routes. Will Russia be able to resupply and launch a successful massive attack at this point?

ZWACK: It's going to be hard, but those in the summer of - in the spring and summer of 2014, bivouacs and encampment started to be built along the Ukrainian border and Belgorod, and we thought was a major marshalling area for Russian troops and equipment both in the cities and around and in the region, both ground troops and mostly helicopters.

So that's there. It's a major railhead, a major rail hub and roads go into that. So it's much easier from the heartland and this is western Russia. Now, to bring more forces up, artillery shells and all that heavy lift on trains, it's much harder, Erin, to do it through Belarus and down towards Kyiv.

So they're - I believe they are massing, they need some type of success, major success before the 9 May victory day celebration event in Russia, which is just five weeks. And I worry about a bloodshed - the logistics, they've used a lot, they've expended a lot, but that's going to be the area they bring it down and we could see a World War I, World War II-type bludgeon type offensive to try to overwhelm the Ukrainian defenders in that region.

BURNETT: Yes, as you say, World War I, World War II-type and we're going to be taken to a Ukrainian soldier who's going right into that in just a few moments and thank you very much, General, I appreciate your time.

ZWACK: Always.

BURNETT: And next, a CNN exclusive, we're going to take you to Chernobyl's highly radioactive Red Forest where the Russian troops spent weeks digging trenches and releasing radiation into their bodies and the atmosphere.

Plus, I'll speak to a Ukrainian defender. He has been giving us regular updates from the front lines. I've been speaking to him. And tonight he is about to deploy to the Donbas region where Putin is zeroing in.

And a growing number of Russians now fleeing themselves, why they are now leaving their homes in Russia behind.



BURNETT: Tonight, a CNN exclusive, an inside look at Ukraine's Red Forest, so-called because it's one of the most radioactive contaminated places on earth. Russian troops went in there. They plowed through and they seize control of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, despite it being completely off limits, dangerous in the exclusion zone, potentially exposing themselves to significantly high levels of radiation. Fred Pleitgen is OUTFRONT.


FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Simply getting to the Chernobyl exclusion zone is a treacherous journey. Many streets and bridges destroyed, we had to go off road crossing rivers on pontoon bridges. Finally, we reached the confinement dome of the power plant that blew up in 1986, the worst nuclear accident ever.

Russian troops invaded this area on the very first day of their war against Ukraine and took Chernobyl without much of a fight. Now that the Russians have left, Ukraine's Interior Minister Denys Monastyrsky took us to Chernobyl and what we found was troubling. The Russians imprisoned the security staff inside the plants owned

bomb shelter, the interior minister told us, no natural light, no fresh air, no communications.


PLEITGEN (on camera): So the Russians kept 169 Ukrainians prisoner here the entire time they held this place and then when the Russians left, they looted and ransack the place.


PLEITGEN (voice over): Among the prisoners, police officers, National Guard members and soldiers. Ukraine's interior minister tells me the Russians have now taken them to Russia and they don't know how they're doing.




"When I arrived here, I was shocked," he says but only once again realize that there are no good Russians and nothing good comes of Russians. It is always a story associated with victims, with blood and with violence. What we see here is a vivid example of outrageous behavior at a nuclear facility.

While the plant's technical staff was allowed to keep working, the Ukrainians say Russian troops were lax with nuclear safety. And as we enter the area Russian troops stayed and worked in suddenly the dosimeters alarm goes off, increased radiation levels.

"They went to the Red Forest and brought the radiation here on their shoes," this National Guardsman says, "everywhere else is normal, only this floor is radioactive." I asked, "Everywhere is okay, but here is not normal?" "Yes," he says, "the radiation is increased here because they lived here and they went everywhere." "On their shoes and clothes," I asked. "Yes. And now they took the radiation with them." "Let's get out of here," I say.

The so called Red Forest is one of the most contaminated areas in the world, especially the soil.


The Ukrainian government released this drone footage apparently showing that the Russians dug combat positions there. The operator of Ukraine's nuclear plants says, "Those Russian soldiers could have been exposed to significant amounts of radiation."

We went to the edge of the Red Forest zone and found a Russian military food ration on the ground. When we hold the dosimeter close, the radiation skyrockets to around 50 times above natural levels.


PLEITGEN (on camera): Ukraine says Russia's conduct in this war is a threat to nuclear safety in Europe. The Chernobyl nuclear power plant hasn't been in operation for years. But, of course, this confinement needs to be monitored 24/7 and also their spent nuclear fuel in this compound as well.


PLEITGEN (voice over): And it's not only in Chernobyl. Russian troops also fired rockets at Europe's largest nuclear power plant near Zaporizhzhia in southern Ukraine and are now occupying it. Ukraine's Energy Minister tells me the international community must step in.


GERMAN GALUSHCHENKO, UKRAINE ENERGY MINISTER: I think it's dramatically impacting. That is the really the act of nuclear terrorism what they are doing.


PLEITGEN (voice over): Chernobyl is close to the Belarusian border. The Russian army used this road as one of its main routes to attack Ukraine's capital. The interior minister says his country needs more weapons to defend this border.


MONASTYRSKY: (Foreign language).


PLEITGEN (voice over): "Today, the border between totalitarianism and democracy passes behind our backs," he says. The border between freedom and oppression, we are ready to fight for it.

And the Ukrainians fear they may have to fight here again soon as Russian President Vladimir Putin replenishes his forces, continuing to put this nation and nuclear safety in Europe at risk.


PLEITGEN (on camera): And Erin, the Energy Minister he told me he thinks that it's just absolutely crazy that they would have dug trenches and fighting positions inside the Red Forest. And he said if there were forces out there were camped out there for a week or maybe two weeks or even longer, those troops might not have very long to live.

And, of course, what has the Ukrainians extremely concerned is that the Russians are still in control of the largest power plant in Europe because they say that the Russians seem to have absolutely no concept of nuclear safety, Erin.

BURNETT: (Inaudible), all right, thank you very much, Fred Pleitgen, and absolutely incredible report. Incredibly brave of you to do that.

And next, he's with his family for just another few hours before he heads back to the front lines to fight the Russians. A Ukrainian soldier who has been giving us regular updates is back tonight.

Plus, Russians fleeing their homes.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why are people leaving?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why they're leaving? Because they're scared.




BURNETT: Breaking news. Several Russian strikes reported in the southern Ukrainian city of Odessa. People who live there are on high alert as Russian forces ramp up attacks in the east. They fear they could be part of the targets for a full Russian assault on the east.

Ed Lavandera is OUTFRONT in Odessa where as anyone who watches the show knows he has been reporting for many days.

Ed, what are you learning about the latest attack?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's been one of the most active days we have seen since we have been here in Odessa in southern Ukraine. It started early Friday morning with three missile strikes on the edge of the northeast edge of Odessa. And then about midday, we heard another round of attacks as well.

Ukrainian military officials say that several people were killed in the early morning strike in the northeast edge. They're short on specifics, just simply saying what was hit is an infrastructure facility, but the Russian military is claiming that it fired and struck a military training facility for foreign fighters. We made our way as close as we could possibly get to that area earlier today.

We were blocked by several military checkpoints, but resident in the area say they were very skeptical of the claims Russia is making about foreign fighters being trained there, that this is a military facility that has been there dating back to the 1970s and the Soviet era. The strike later in the day, there were no injuries reported, and then just a few hours ago, we heard another round of explosions as well.

And all of this, Erin, is leading to an extended curfew that will go into place Saturday night all day Sunday into Monday morning. This is a significant move. We have just really seen overnight curfews until now, but Odessa officials are saying because of the air strike on the train station in Eastern Ukraine, they feel that for that particular day, that there need to be a region-wide curfew for almost 36 hours or so -- Erin. BURNETT: All right, thank you so much, Ed Lavandera.

Ed is talking about what's happening on the ground, I want to bring in Volodymyr Demchenko. He is the Ukrainian filmmaker, also now a soldier that we spoke to last week. And he's been giving me regular updates from the front line.

Tonight, he's with his family in a town near Kyiv. And just a few hours, he and his unit will be sent to fight in the Donbas region.

And, Vlad, I'm glad to see you. But you are going to be heading to an area where the fighting is intensifying. Obviously, that missile strike today on the train station. The Ukrainian foreign minister said what may be about to happen in the Donbas could be like World War II. And you're going there, in hours, with your band, the people you have been fighting alongside since the war broke out.

What kinds of emotions are you feeling tonight?

VOLODYMYR DEMCHENKO, UKRAINIAN SOLDIER: Hello. It's nice to hear you again, and we talk about emotions. It's complicated. But we have less update and it's not very pleasant because we have lost our battalion, and one of our commanders was killed on this new position just today. And it's made us on one hand much more angry. On the other hand, it's a big loss to us.


He was a great man.

But anyway, you know like I think waiting is the most complicated part of the war. When you're waiting, it's the scariest part, and it's more tough part. And that's why war consists of waiting mostly.

But when you're there, there is no place for thoughts. Now, I feel a little worried. A little bit -- a little tension, but I know tomorrow, it will be different when I will be together with my group.

BURNETT: So you did just mention the commander of your battalion was killed today. Already there on the front line where you're going, and I want to show a picture of him. He's on the right in the picture I'm going to show there, boss you shared that picture with me just a few days ago.

There you all were just a few days ago liberating towns. There he is, and today he died fighting.

Vlad, what goes through your mind when you hear that? And you know, you're going there.

DEMCHENKO: It's not the first time. You know, every day now for the last month almost every day, I know about somebody who is killed and who I met just like a couple weeks ago, and sometimes it's people like a photographer, a great guy and father of four kids who was just killed by Russians. Like why? What is the purpose? And it's just like, I'm in this state of mind when you try to just

like to put these thoughts somewhere back and you just don't think about it, like just don't think about it. By watching this video of those massacres they made in Kramatorsk, I just choose to not think about it. That's all. That's all.

It's too hard if I will spend time on going through these feelings.

BURNETT: So your parents, Vlad, I mean, you have been out fighting, and you and I have spoken when you were going from place to place or staying in a farmhouse or as you and your unit were moving. Now you have this brief moment before you're going back to the front, and I know you were able to see some of your family. Your parents had initially gone to their summer home, to hide from Russians.

But then they got cut off by Russian troops until the area was liberated by troops like yours. Now you're able to see them again. How does it feel to be reunited with them, to know they're okay? I know it's just a day, but it's a precious day.

DEMCHENKO: Yeah, yeah. It's really nice, especially because my brother also came, because he's also taking part in the war. And we have a chance to meet in one day and just visit the parents in the same moment, which is really, really nice.

And you know, the best part of it is like I know that my parents will come back to a regular life, going to a job, make their garden. This is the best part of it. You know, because we're fighting like you can say we're fighting for freedom. Yeah, that's true, but mostly, people here are fighting just for the possibility to go to work at 7:00 p.m., you know, 7:00 a.m. in the morning, and just have our regular exercise in the park and start losing weight from next Monday. Very simple things.

I'm glad that my parents will have a possibility to have their garden done. Like this year, and they also have, as they just started gardening. This is the most, the best part. Also, it's nice because also my grandparents live here, and like, I'm glad they saw us and they feel easier. For them, it's really important.

BURNETT: You recently showed a photo of a bombed out building, and an entire section of the building had collapsed. You have seen building after building like this as you were fighting and then liberating those towns. What remained on one exposed wall of this building was a kitchen shelf and all the dishes were still in it.

You wrote about this. I quote you, Vlad. Feel a little like that shelf. And then you said that's a symbol of my mental health.

Here you are, not even two months into this war. Your life is completely turned upside down. I know you said when you look at the Kramatorsk attack, you can't think about it. But how do you handle this mentally?

DEMCHENKO: You know, I have experience from first campaign in '14, and I remember, I was thinking about this dramatic experience and never accepted I had it until 2017, I was out of war already a year and a half traveling around the world and some moment there were kids outside and they're throwing this, I don't know the word in English, little things that explode.



DEMCHENKO: Like on the New Year they have fireworks, and some moment as they throw it next to me, and I became like I felt like -- for a second, I feel that I wanted to take this kid and just smash him into the road. And I was stopped there. And come home and bring this candle to my girlfriend for no reason, and this is when I realize I have a trouble.

And I went to psychiatrist and spend like almost 18 hours working on that, and now I see how all this things come back, like I mean, like emotions. These emotions you can't control. Just became angry with no reason.

But now, I just am trying to -- I believe I can handle them, so I give them some space because I need them right now. I really need them. Now it's to survive, to be honest.

And I just believe that I will be able to take them under my control as soon as it will be over is how I feel. But yeah, I look around and I see a lot of men who are -- it will be a lot of work for Ukrainian psychiatrists and the Ukrainian society in the future. That's really true.

BURNETT: It's an entire multiple generations now, all going through what you're going through.

Vlad, I appreciate your taking the time out of this very precious time that you have with your family. We will be speaking soon.

DEMCHENKO: Thank you for your attention and your work as well. Thank you.

BURNETT: All right.

And next, Russians now fleeing their country. Not knowing if they'll ever return.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I love my life there. But I'm not returning there anytime soon.


BURNETT: Plus, the beloved mayor of a village near Kyiv brutally killed with her husband and son. Her friend telling us the family didn't evacuate because they wanted to stay behind and help others.


BURNETT: Do not fly Russian airlines. That is the warning from the UK's transport secretary who says, quote, they can no longer be relied upon to fly safely. This as a growing number of Russian citizens are fleeing Russia to neighboring Georgia as a protest to Putin's invasion of Ukraine.

Matt Rivers is OUTFRONT tonight in Tbilisi, Georgia, with more.


MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Down in a Tbilisi side street, across from a church lies a bar called Grail, a holy place of sorts for a cold lagger and a conversation. And the bar owner who is Russian Vicenty Alexeev says he's had one particular conversation a lot more lately.

VICENTY ALEXEEV, RUSSIAN OWNER OF "GRAIL" BAR IN TBILISI, GEORGIA: Hello, what are you doing here? I just moved two days ago. I just moved three days ago.

RIVERS: So, there's a lot more Russians coming in.


RIVERS: And why are people leaving?

ALEXEEV: Why are people leaving? Because they're scared.

RIVERS: We met about a half dozen such people here, but one stood out. Alisa Kuznetsova left Russia with her husband just a few days after the war began.

You couldn't take it anymore after this invasion.

ALISA KUZNETSOVA, LEFT RUSSIA FOR GEORGIA AFTER INVASION: Yes, it was like an additional trigger. I just had to leave.

RIVERS: The 33-year-old has long been a member of Russia's opposition in favor of democracy. She says not Putin.

This is her being arrested in 2016 while she was working as an independent poll watching in her hometown in Russia. She says pro- Putin authorities accused her of vague elections violations and held her in detention until voting ended.

But the invasion was the final straw. Alisa could no longer live in Russia. Now in Georgia, she wants everyone to know what side she's on.

KUZNETSOVA: I'm just trying to take it in stride. Signal as much as I can.

RIVERS: The Ukraine flag there.

KUZNETSOVA: It's a public show of support matched across Tbilisi, Ukraine flags fly all over in Georgia, a former Soviet republic also invaded by Putin's armies in 2008. Many here have deep sympathy for what Ukrainians are going through.

But it's not just about pro-Ukraine sentiment. It's also anti-Putin. Look at this coffee shop door. It says: You're more than welcome here if you agree that Putin is a war criminal and respect the sovereignty of peaceful nations.

Pretty clear how the owners of this store feel.

Another sign at a shop not far away says in part, Putin is evil. If you do not agree with these statements, please do not come in.

Many Russians in Georgia feel the same way. Some even taking part in recent protests where an effigy of Putin was burned. But they're sometimes grouped in with Putin and his supporters nonetheless.

Over coffee the day after we met, drinking out of cups emblazoned with Ukraine's colors, Alisa said a cab driver told her recently she was one of the good ones because 90 percent of Russians should be hanged.

KUZNETSOVA: It's not nice knowing that you're the Nazis now.

RIVERS: Back at the bar, every single Russian told us that the vast majority of Georgians have been kind and welcoming and that they're grateful to live in a freer place. Because everyone we spoke to also said they'll be here for a while.

KUZNETSOVA: I love my life there. But I'm not returning there anytime soon.


RIVERS (on camera): And, Erin, Alisa told us that she's actually reluctant to speak Russian here in Georgia even though many Georgians do speak Russian. She says she usually starts communicating with people in English and then will actually ask permission to speak some Russian, sometimes people say yes. Sometimes people say no.

According to the latest information from Georgia's government, as of mid-march, more than 30,000 Russians had crossed over from Russia here to Georgia, but those numbers, Erin, have almost certainly gone up.

BURNETT: Yeah, absolutely.


Well, Matt Rivers, thank you very much.

And next, Ukrainian officials tell OUTFRONT that 11 mayors have been abducted and another was brutally murdered along with her family. The mayor's friend speaks out next.

Plus, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson celebrates her historic moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BURNETT: Tonight, hundreds of Ukrainians attending a funeral for their mayor, Olga Sukhenko, in a village near Kyiv. Ukraine's deputy prime minister tells us the mayor was brutally murdered along with her husband and son while being held captive by Russian forces. She told me they were shot in the head with their hands tied behind their backs.

The gruesome nature of their death is shown in a photo that I want to warn you is very graphic. It's horrible to see. Family shown in a shallow pit, half buried.

Earlier, I spoke to Olena Sukhenko. She is a friend of the mayor. She and her town mourn the loss of a brave leader.


BURNETT: And, Olena, I am so sorry for your unimaginable loss. I know you were close with the mayor's family. You even taught her daughter English. What do you want the world to know about the mayor and that family?

OLENA SUKHENKO, FLED MOTYZHYN, KNEW MAYOR SUKHENKO AND HER FAMILY: Hello. First of all, I think that it's important to know that all those terrible pictures that the world can see, and all that dead bodies, they have their names. And one popular photo on the Internet is the photo of my neighbors.

They were -- they are Sukhenko (ph) family. This lady was the mayor of our village because all the time, people voted for her. And just she was responsible for many good things which happened to our village.

And actually, when the war started, a lot of villagers left the city in order to escape from war. But her family decided to stay because they really wanted to help others. I mean, I think that they're really heroes of Ukraine because they stayed in order to help others and support others. And they are great representatives of our nation.

BURNETT: The mayor's surviving daughter, whose name is also Elena, she sent you a message.


BURNETT: After -- after she suffered this horrible loss. Had -- had to see those just horrific pictures. And part of her message to you was -- and -- and I am quoting from what you shared with us.

What has happened to my family, you saw for yourselves.


This cursed Russia, these beasts took everything away from me. My reason, my happy life, my parents and brother gave their lives for our village, for our country. They didn't surrender, didn't break down, didn't let down the honor in the name of our family. They are heroes.

What else did Elena tell you? SUKHENKO: She told me some terrible details that on the 23rd of

March, soldiers, Russian soldiers, came to their home and wanted to take only the mayor. Obviously, her husband decided to go with her. Actually, firstly, they promised to Elena's daughter that they would bring them back, and he was staying there and waiting.

And Elena thought that it wasn't good idea. She wanted him to escape but, again, he said my parents there. What could I do?

So, he was at home. He was waiting for his parents, and in couple days, soldiers went back and took him. And actually, we didn't know what happened next. But then, the world was able to see this terrible picture of -- of this brotherhood grave.

BURNETT: Olena, thank you very much for sharing their story, and for -- for -- for sharing with us the real humans, the life behind those -- those horrible images and that tragic end. Thank you.

SUKHENKO: Thank you.


BURNETT: And OUTFRONT next, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson addresses the nation after her historic confirmation.



BURNETT: Emotions running high as Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson marks her historic confirmation to the Supreme Court.


KETANJI BROWN JACKSON, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE DESIGNATE: I am just a very lucky first inheritor of the dream of liberty and justice for all. I strongly believe that this is a moment in which all Americans can take great pride. We have come a long way toward perfecting our union. In my family, it took just one generation to go from segregation to the Supreme Court of the United States.



BURNETT: Incredible.

Well, Jackson will replace Justice Stephen Breyer when he retires this summer.

Thanks for joining us.

"AC360" begins now.