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Erin Burnett Outfront

Ukraine Says "Second Phase Of The War Has Begun" As Heavy Bombardment By Russian Forces Reported In The East; U.S. Official: Russia Added Battalion Tactical Groups To East, South For Total Of 76 Groups; As Many As 1,000 In Each Group; Ukraine Releases Video Of Putin Ally Asking For Prisoner Swap; U.K. Govt Source: 2 British Nationals Detained By Russian Troops; Ukraine: Russian Forces Firing On Steel Factory "Willingly" In Mariupol Where Hundreds Of People Are Taking Shelter; Judge Strikes Down Biden Admin's Mask Mandate For Travelers; Florida Officials Ban 41 Percent Of Math Textbooks, Claim "Indoctrination." Aired 7-8p ET

Aired April 18, 2022 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Special thanks to Dave Matthews. I'm Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." I'll be back in half an hour for our new streaming service, CNN Plus with my new show called The Newscast. It's also available on demand. Until then, thanks very much for watching.

Erin Burnett OUTFRONT starts right now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next breaking news, the assault on Eastern Ukraine has begun, Putin ramping up his attacks as the Pentagon warns tonight the fighting will be ugly and bloody.

Plus, Russian forces firing 'willingly' on a factory in Mariupol as civilians take shelter there tonight. I'm going to speak to a member of the city council who has said at least 10,000 have died in his town.

And mask on mask off again. A federal judge strikes down the CDC is mask mandate for travelers as airports now brace for mask confusion and chaos. Let's go OUTFRONT.

Good evening, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan in for Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight breaking news, the offensive is on. Russia's widespread attack in eastern Ukraine underway at this hour. Ukrainian officials are calling it the 'second phase of the war'. This as the Ukrainian President Zelenskyy warns the Russians are stopping at nothing.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, PRESIDENT OF UKRAINE (through interpreter): The Russian army is not slowing down the use of missiles against Ukraine. They are pressuring, looking for a weak spot in defense of our state to find and enter there with the main forces.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BOLDUAN: And as the violence continues, there is a fear the worst is

still to come.


JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: We do believe that they have reinforced the number of battalion tactical groups in the east and the south of Ukraine. They've added now more than 10 to what they already had there in that part of the country. We still assess that in general they have the vast majority of their assembled combat power available to them.


BOLDUAN: And that is a terrifying assessment especially given what the world has seen over just the past 24 hours. The State Department now calling it a campaign of terror, brutality and aggression against innocent Ukrainians that stretches hundreds of miles.

In the east, towns are under relentless shelling. You can see the buildings burning. Heavy smoke blanketing the skyline. It is a scene repeated across the Donbas region. In the key city of Mariupol, the picture is growing even more grim, Ukrainian fighters are cornered as they make what could be their last stand. Coming up, we're going to speak to a member of the city's council.

And to the west in Lviv, the first deaths recorded there since the beginning of this war. The first time lives were lost there due to Russian airstrikes.

Ukrainian officials say a number of military infrastructure facilities were hit as well as an auto body shop. We're told at least seven people were killed. This comes as we're getting a new images tonight of Putin's prized warship just before it sank. You can see it tilting to one side as black smoke is rising above the ship. There also appears to be some significant scarring to the left of the vessel.

We have reporters across Ukraine this evening as well as in Estonia, where Ukrainian refugees are making their way after having to travel through Russia no less.

But first I want to start with Jim Sciutto. He's OUTFRONT live in Lviv. Jim, I know you just heard air raid sirens, what's the latest on the ground right now?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Just in the last half hour new air raid sirens, it's actually the third time today and what you do, you listen for the air raid sirens then you listen for the booms, if missiles were to follow. So far we haven't heard new booms this morning though woken up by those sirens and then soon after the explosions and then soon after that we saw black smoke rising over the city. Four missiles striking here and breaking what had been a tentative sense of calm.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SCIUTTO (voice over): A missile streaks across the sky over Lviv in

western Ukraine. Russian forces launching cruise missiles on multiple targets here. An auto repair shop just as it was getting ready to open with several employees on site transformed into an inferno. Also hit what the regional military governor described as three military warehouses.


SCIUTTO (on camera): This is the scene of one of the missiles strikes this morning. You can see the emergency responders back here. But as we arrived, another air raid signal went off. The soldiers concerned that this will be a secondary strike on the same target.


SCIUTTO (voice over): Ukrainian soldiers ordered us behind the concrete barricade.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We do you understand, you can't film this?


SCIUTTO (voice over): Nervous about us filming any soldiers or military facilities, one member of the Territorial Defense Forces cocked his rifle.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Foreign language).


SCIUTTO (voice over): As he shouted at us to move back. As other sirens warned of more missiles on the way, we took shelter in a closed restaurant. After several hours, finally, the all clear signal and this is what was left behind, two ambulances outside one of the damaged military warehouses guarded by Ukrainian soldiers, damaged cars, fallen trees, a section of railroad tracks thrown dozens of yards by the force of the blast. The auto repair shop destroyed. The owner told CNN several were killed here.

In all the victims numbered at least seven dead, 11 wounded, including a child. One toll in one city among many suffering through war here.


SCIUTTO (on camera): Russia proving again today something it has shown throughout this war since the start of the invasion that it could strike, it could bomb with missiles with artillery from the air virtually across the country. That said, we are seeing the bulk of its forces now concentrated in the east and the south. For what U.S. military officials tell me will be an intensifying campaign over the coming days, a bigger one.

And one, Kate, that they say will resemble World War II battles in some senses large armor formations, artillery and sadly the expectation of greater loss of human life.

BOLDUAN: Jim, thank you so much, really appreciate it.

OUTFRONT for us now, Seth Jones, he's the director of the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and also with us is retired Army Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, former Commanding General of Europe and the 7th Army.

Seth, Russia now beginning its assault on eastern Ukraine, just as Jim is laying out for us tonight. I know you've been studying the latest satellite imagery, what are you seeing?

SETH JONES, DIRECTOR, INTL. SECURITY PROGRAM AT CENTER FOR STRATEGIC & INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Well, what we're seeing now, Kate, is the images we've been looking at over the last couple of days of Russian main battle tanks and towed artillery and now personnel carriers we're now seeing on the move, pushing along a 300-mile front in the Donbas. We're also seeing missile strikes moving in the direction of the areas where they're trying to push into.

I mean, I will also say in the strikes we've seen in Lviv, including the missile strikes there. I mean, there is no way that the Russians are going to be able to stop the interdiction of material coming in from Ukraine's border with Poland and other countries, so those are probably more than anything else symbolic, but we are seeing much more heavy fighting now in the East and it's that key corridor between Crimea and Russia proper that they're focusing on right now.

BOLDUAN: In General, I mean, you heard Jim saying they're making World War II parallels now. I mean, the U.S. says that Russia added 11 battalion tactical groups to their forces in the east and in the south, making the total 76 now. What does that mean? I mean, what does that mean now that Ukraine is up against? Are they equipped for it?

MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It means, first of all, that they're reducing the size of the massing of their attack, Kate. And what I mean by that is during the first phase of the war, you had Russian forces going in around the eastern part and the north and the south of Ukraine, about 1,400 miles. What you now have in the Donbas is anywhere from about 250 to 300 miles of a frontage.

Russia is going to be able to mask their forces along that frontage and they're going to be able to pick and choose where they try and force a breakthrough, that's a doctrinal term, where they will hit extensively with artillery strikes and then try and push armor and infantry through that to break through the Donbas lines, the front lines.

And Jim use the comments of World War II, I almost say it's more like World War I, trying to break through the western front, if you will. Ukraine is going to have to be very adaptable and flexible in terms of countering those attacks, as those breakthroughs occur. But they're also going to have to take an awful lot of artillery strikes in the next couple of days or weeks.

Russia is using artillery that's part of their doctrinal message to mass artillery to strike a lot, they have a lot of it to strike with and Ukraine has to find a way to stop those artillery strikes. That's going to be very challenging.

But we've already seen that Ukrainian forces have already done counter attacks and attempted to split Ukrainian or excuse me Russian supply lines, which is going to be very helpful in the long-term.

BOLDUAN: Yes. And Seth, I want to also show everyone, once again, the new images of what appears to be the Russian warship out the Black Sea damaged and on fire in the hours before it sank on Thursday. What do these photos tell you?

JONES: Well, I've been looking at these photos as well and comparing them to the photos of the Moskva that we know before the strike. If these are actual photos of the strike, what they certainly indicate is the fatality and casualty levels are likely much higher than what the Russians have provided.


I mean, up into the dozens, if not more, for fatalities and then we could add a factor of three or four to that to push us up into much higher casualty levels. The other thing is these - the images, as these images surface, I mean, the morale impact on Russian naval forces seeing their flagship on fire and then sunk has or already has had a significant and is likely to have a significant impact on just Russian morale of its naval form. This is a big deal.

BOLDUAN: Yes, especially when you take a look at those images, it's a big deal, that was a big fire.

General, on what Ukraine can do up against this new offensive and also what the U.S. is providing John Kirby at the Pentagon said today that the U.S. is going to start training Ukrainians on some of the equipment coming to them, including the Howitzers. Training them outside of Ukraine and then they go - then they train other Ukrainians on the equipment. How fast can this all happen, especially when we talk about the offensive is underway? How much of an impact will it have?

HERTLING: It's going to take a while Kate, and that's what I've been saying for a very long time. Everyone who wants to throw weapons at Ukraine doesn't understand the requirement to train on those weapons. And not just the weapons, but the supply and the logistics trail that go along with it.

These artillery pieces that are being provided by the United States along with the counter fire radars, the so-called Q36 and Q37s. When you - if I were to take you inside of one of those, Kate, it would be like walking inside of a computer. The fire direction systems are very challenging. It takes a long time to learn how to use them. It's linked to intelligence so you can fire around at a location that's been given to you by the counter fire radar, it takes a while and that's just for the training of the crew. Can Ukraine do that? Absolutely. But it takes time to learn this system. It's tough.

The more important part of this, though, is the resupply piece of this. These systems have advanced technologies. They require mechanics that can understand the system that can repair parts, track vehicles have a tendency to break down just because of the tracks that go up and down and break things, the artillery rearmament, the supplies.

When I was a division commander in combat for every one trigger puller I had, I had at least three logisticians that supported those, either the people that drove the trucks, repair the equipment or supplied the fuel. So an army's tail in a modern army has a three to one ratio on logisticians to trigger pullers.

Ukraine, I'm not sure they can sustain that. So you have to not only train the people that fire the guns, but you also have to try to train the ones that supply the logistics and the maintenance of these pieces of equipment.

BOLDUAN: Yes, that is fascinating. I think something that I think people are under appreciating that element of this - on this fight for sure. It's good to see you, General. Seth, thank you so much. I really appreciate it, gentlemen.

OUTFRONT for us next, we're going to take you inside a Russian military camp.


PHIL BLACK, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So from these firing positions, grad rockets flew through the sky towards Hostomel, which is only a relatively short distance away. And when they hit the earth, it was often civilians who felt their power.


BOLDUAN: We have more of that ahead.

Plus, refugees faced with the impossible choice, staying in a town that's being decimated or escaped to freedom, but only through Russia.

And Florida rejecting nearly half of all math textbooks for next year. The reason some claims of 'indoctrinating students'.



BOLDUAN: New video tonight of Putin ally, Viktor Medvedchuk, who's been detained by Ukrainian forces. This is the man who's so close to Putin that Putin is even acknowledged he's the godfather of Medvedchuk's daughter.

In the new video he's asking to be exchanged for Ukrainian troops and civilians in the besieged city of Mariupol. At the very same time, two British nationals captured by Russian forces also appeared in a video, this time on Russian state TV and they're also asking for a prisoner swap.

Just as more evidence is being uncovered of Russia's horrific treatment of civilians. Phil Black is OUTFRONT for us. And I want to warn you, some of the images you're about to see may be disturbing.


BLACK (voice over): The sign is a warning, beware, mines. The forest serves as protection too, a natural screen concealing a vast secret.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Foreign language).


BLACK (voice over): Here among the trees about an hour's drive north of Kyiv are the remains of a sprawling Russian military camp. We're showed around by Ukrainian Special Forces.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Foreign language).


BLACK (voice over): This soldier says the positions were held by Russian Marines. We see a sprawling network of underground fighting positions, command post, sleeping areas and ammunition storage. While everywhere there is evidence of how the Russians lived and that evidence suggests their existence here was neither disciplined nor comfortable.


BLACK (on camera): It is so quiet here, now just some bird noise and a light breeze. But recently, there were 6,000 Russian soldiers bedded down through these woods. In a camp that is so large, you can't see where it begins and where it ends. Living here would have been hard. It was through the coldest of the winter days, four weeks, stopped here, short of Kyiv after they failed to take the capital quickly.


BLACK (voice over): The silence is broken by efforts to deal with some unidentified ordnance. This camp is damning proof of Russia's failures on this front, poor preparation, desperately wrong assumptions about the numbers and resources needed to conquer Kyiv.


BLACK (on camera): What lessons do you take from all of this that will apply to the coming battle for Donbas in the east. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Foreign language).


BLACK (voice over): He says, "We see the volume of forces that invaded this area and we understand that will be two to three times greater in the Donbas."

This force wasn't confined to the forest. Its commanding officers lived a little more comfortably in the nearby village of Nigivka (ph). Here civilians tell disturbingly familiar stories. Vitaly (ph), a local mechanic says he was detained and interrogated for almost 24 hours.


He was beaten, blindfolded, tied up and subjected to mock executions. He says never known fear like it and constantly thought those were his last moments on earth.

Local priest, Visily Venso (ph) describes dealing with the aftermath of even greater cruelty.

He says he found five men tortured and killed in the garden, two more in the forests and the Russians brought him to dead women and told him to bury them.

Other Russians in this area, camped out in fields with their artillery pieces, and stole what comforts they could, a mattress, alcohol, the works of Shakespeare.


BLACK (on camera): So from these firing positions, grad rockets flew through the sky towards Hostomel, which is only a relatively short distance away. And when they hit the Earth, it was often civilians who felt their power.

DEMETRI NIKAZIKOV: You can see the result, so many people.

BLACK: They were hiding in there.



BLACK (voice over): In Hostomel, resident Demetri Nikazikov (ph) shows the aftermath of a Russian rocket strike.


DEMETRI NIKAZIKOV: This is the epicenter of the explosion.


BLACK (voice over): And where some of its victims were temporarily buried.


DEMETRI NIKAZIKOV: I feel only hate.

BLACK (off camera): Only hate?

DEMETRI NIKAZIKOV: Yes, big. Can't forgive it for long - maybe for a life.


BLACK (voice over): For now, the enemies in the forest, fields and villages have left this part of Ukraine. The fruits of their brief stay, the pain, trauma and loathing remained.


BLACK (on camera): Kate, what we saw show that Russia committed great numbers and firepower to the battle for Kyiv but ultimately both the numbers and the quality were insufficient to overwhelm the defending forces. The Ukrainian military knows Russia is working desperately to ensure it doesn't repeat those same mistakes in the next phase of its invasion, the battle for the east, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely, multiple times they're now preparing for. Phil, thank you for bringing that to us.

OUTFRONT for us next, U.S. officials are saying much of Mariupol has been reduced to rubble, yet Ukraine is refusing to surrender. What is the situation like there tonight. A member of the Mariupol city council is next.

Plus, chaos and confusion at America's airports after a judge strikes down the mask mandate for travelers.



BOLDUAN: Breaking news, Mariupol is on the brink of collapse as Russian forces bombard a steel plant where Ukrainian troops are located. The chief of Mariupol patrol police says that civilians including women, children and the elderly are also sheltering inside that very same plant compound. And officials say that Russian forces are now firing 'willingly' on the factory.

If Russian forces win this battle, it would be the first major Ukrainian city to fall and it would allow Russia to create a land bridge from the separatist controlled region in eastern Ukraine to Crimea in the South.

OUTFRONT now is Maxim Borodin. He's the Mariupol City Council Deputy. Thank you so much for being here tonight. What are you hearing about the situation this evening in Mariupol?


MAXIM BORODIN, MARIUPOL, UKRAINE CITY COUNCIL DEPUTY: The situation is terrible. It's a humanitarian crisis in Mariupol and the Russians do not let anyone to get into the Mariupol, to get the humanitarian aid. There are no food, there are no water, no medical supplies, they only get to Mariupol some pieces of supplies, but it's not enough because around hundreds of thousand people stay here. And I even don't say about the people who left in the bomb shelter in (inaudible), because there are a lot of civilian people who are sheltered here from the start of the bombing, and no one can get out from there.

And I can say in Mariupol, if we can get here, we see more atrocities (inaudible) in Bucha or in other regions. Russians tell us directly in their media that their goal is not - how they say - liberate our cities, they're goal to totally destroy Ukraine and Ukrainians. And all the world still look at this and think that Putin stops for some territory. He don't need our territory or our cities, he needs to eliminate the whole Ukraine nation, because we are on the fall of the democratic process and for Putin is death, democratic is death for him.

BOLDUAN: When we know and as you describe just how horrific it is already in Mariupol and then you hear tonight from President Zelenskyy that the fresh Russian offensive in the Donbas region is now getting underway, what does that mean for Mariupol? How can it get worse, can't it?

BORODIN: Ice think with each day it will be worser (ph) and all the world needs to act now. We need all that weapons we can get. All the modern weapons because without (inaudible) to Putin where he moves further and further and today it's Mariupol and Donbas region and tomorrow, it will be Poland or next countries. Because if he can't get in the phase (ph), he won't stop.

BOLDUAN: You've said - I've heard you say that at minimum you think 10,000 people have already died in the city of Mariupol. Where do you think that number stands now?


BORODIN: I don't know. No one knows the real numbers. Because there are a lot of rubbles and Russians continue bombings with (INAUDIBLE) and they're showing this on their TV and said they're bombing only military objects. But they totally destroyed all our city.

How much people under these rubbles, how much people are shelter and stay in the -- under it, we don't know. I think minimal count of citizens killed by Russians is about 12,000 people. It's terrible.

It's for people who are looking, this show this only numbers. But for us, it's our friends, relatives and it's totally crazy to look how they totally destroyed our city and saying that there are Ukrainian military is -- do this. Not them. They're liberators, like I said. It's terrible.

BOLDUAN: We know one thing, is that Russia lied throughout this and it's just terrifying to think what you're going to see when you can get eyes into Mariupol once again. But still tonight, they're not surrendering, and Ukrainian forces continue to fight for Ukraine against the Russian onslaught.

Thank you so much for coming on. I really appreciate it, Maksym.

OUTFRONT for us next, a judge overturning the federal mask mandate for travelers. What does this means for passengers tonight.

Plus, Governor Ron DeSantis is defending the state's decision to throw out dozens of children's math books.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: You do have things like social and emotional learning and some of the other things that are more political in there.




BOLDUAN: Tonight, confusion at airports across the country as a federal judge strikes down the CDC's mask requirement for airplanes and other public transportation. The Trump appointed judge ruling that the CDC overstepped its authority. This ruling coming just a week after the agency extended the mask mandate another time through May 3rd.

CNN's Stephanie Elam is at Burbank Airport and she joins us now.

Stephanie, so the reaction from the Biden administration tonight is that this mask mandate is not in effect while it's under review. But that does not seem to be clearing confusion up around all of this.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Not at all. Yes, I am at an airport, but what's happening right here is that people are finding out in real time that these changes are happening effective immediately. And the responses are all over the map, because you also have Delta Airlines saying they will keep their mask mandate in place until they hear from the TSA.

And then you have United and Alaska Airlines saying, effective immediately, you no longer have to wear a mask. As you might expect, as far as travelers are concerned, the responses on how they feel about this are all over the map.

Take a listen to what we heard here at Burbank.


DAVITA WRIGHT, AIR TRAVELER: I will always wear my mask. I lost my grandmother to COVID a year ago, and so I'm very particular about the masks. RICHARD RIPLEY, AIR TRAVELER: My personal opinion, they don't -- they

don't do much. So, yeah, I'm excited. If you want to wear them, wear them. If you don't, then don't.


ELAM: Now, it's also worth noting the association of flight attendants, Kate, is asking for people to stay calm. And they want to have a uniform response, quickly, especially since so many flight attendants have been on the front lines of dealing with people.

And we've seen violence over the pandemic from some of those passengers. They are hoping for calm and a uniform plan put in place, but right now people are still trying to figure it out for themselves and figure out if they really need to wear their masks on the airline they are flying, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely, good to see you. Thanks so much, Stephanie.

I want to bring in CNN senior legal analyst Elie Honig.

So, Elie, so what happens with this? The judge rules and now what's?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Kate, at this very moment, the judge's ruling stands and the mask mandate is struck down. That will be the case unless and until the Biden administration seeks what we call a state, which is essentially hitting pause on the order. But as of this moment, the Biden administration has not done that. And if they don't do that, then this ruling will prevail.

Now, separately, bigger picture, the Biden administration needs to decide whether they are going to appeal this ruling. Usually, you would appeal in a situation like this if you are the Biden administration because you have lost. What do you have to lose more?

However, there is a chance they may not hear. If they do appeal, it goes to what we called the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is one of the more conservative courts of appeals in the country. And this ruling, this mask mandate, was only supposed to be in effect for two more weeks, May 3rd. An appeal would take far longer than that. So, let's see if they file a notice of appeal.

BOLDUAN: Yeah, it was the shortest extension covered from the CDC, Pete Muntean has told us, when this happened last week.

So, the judge in this decision puts a lot of time on the definition of sanitation in the statute, we saw. Writing this in part, wearing a mask claims nothing. At most, it traps virus droplets, but it neither sanitizes the person wearing the mask, nor sanitizes the conveyance.

What is the judge getting out there?

HONIG: Yet, there's a whole section in the decision which is essentially, what is the meaning of the word sanitation? Because the law that the CDC issued the mask mandate under says the CDC has the powers to do certain things, including sanitation. The CDC said, well, that's the one we acted under here.

The judge goes into this deep dive into old dictionary definitions. What is sanitation? Reaches the conclusion, which may be linguistically, legally, maybe scientifically, questionable, that sanitation only means cleaning a human being or cleaning an object and masks don't meet that qualification. So the judge concluded, CDC, you went beyond what Congress said you were allowed to do.

BOLDUAN: Much more to come, or maybe not. Again, there's the confusion this evening.

It's good to see you, Elie. Thank you very much.

HONIG: Thanks, Kate. All right.

BOLDUAN: OUTFRONT next, Florida -- Florida banning dozens of children's math textbooks after accusing publishers to try, to, quote/unquote, indoctrinate students. We will explain.

Plus, Ukrainian refugees finally making to freedom, but not before having to travel to Russia first.



BOLDUAN: Tonight, throwing out the textbooks. Republican Governor Ron DeSantis doubling down on Florida's rejection of nearly half of all math textbooks that were submitted for use in schools. The reason? He said, among other things, the books violated new state standards like mentioning critical race theory.

The Florida education commissioner even accused textbook publishers of trying to, quote, indoctrinate students.


DESANTIS: You do have things like social and emotional learning, and some of the other things that are more political in there. We want kids to learn the things and get the right answer. It's not about how you feel about the problem.


BOLDUAN: Steve Contorno is OUTFRONT for us in St. Petersburg, Florida, tonight.

Steve, you've been pushing for more detail on what are the actual book titles that were rejected.


And what is in them? What have you found?

STEVE CONTORNO, CNN REPORTER: Yeah, Kate. We are getting some more details on this. This afternoon I received a list of those textbooks that were banned by the states. The names are pretty innocuous sounding like, they're like thinking mathematically, and pre calculus enhanced with graphic utilities.

But what we still don't know though is what exactly in these textbooks are so objectionable. How are they being used to indoctrinate students? Where does critical race theory fit into a math lesson? Is it in the algebra equations? Is it in the lesson plans?

Now, the governors this afternoon did address some of the holes in the information they have released so far. He said that there's still a review process for publishing companies, and that there are concerns about releasing proprietary information from these textbooks.

But here's what we do know, 41 percent of the textbooks that were submitted to the state were rejected, 28 of them were rejected because they included prohibited topics like critical race theory, or they included quote, unsolicited strategies for teaching like social and emotional learning. Others were rejected for including principles of common core, the Obama era education principles that ironically were once championed by Florida Republican governors.

But -- and, Kate, the other thing we know is that the vast majority of the rejected textbooks, the highest rate of rejection was in grades kindergarten through fifth grade.

BOLDUAN: And also, Steve, this looks like one of a series of moves by the governor that really hit on politically potent cultural issues. Last week, he signed into law a 15-week abortion ban. He has supported what many see as anti-LGBTQ restrictions in schools. He's also been pushing an election police force to find voter fraud, though none is really been suspected there. And that all adds up to what?

CONTORNO: It adds up to a very consequential legislative year for the governor, but also an incredibly contentious one. We've seen classrooms, election offices, even Disneyworld dragged to the front lines of the culture wars.

There have been protests, student walkouts, and even lawsuits over some of the legislation that has passed this year. But for Governor DeSantis, this has really boosted his profile. He was already considered a potential contender for his party's nomination for president in 2024. This, Kate, has really pushed him to the forefront of that list.

BOLDUAN: It's true. Steve, thanks so much.

Joining me now, Democratic Florida State Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith.

Thank you so much for being here. Appreciate your time.

You called the reasons offered by the governor and the department of education here for rejecting these books, you called them a lie. Why do you think that?

CARLOS GUILLERMO SMITH (D), FLORIDA STATE REPRESENTATIVE: Well, Kate, first and foremost it's because they have not provided any evidence or any examples as far as why they have rejected these math books for allegedly containing critical race theory. I think it's important for your viewers to understand what has happened to Florida under the DeSantis administration.

Yes, the Florida Department of Education has been politicized, but it's gone way past that. DeSantis has turned our classrooms into political battlefields, and he's put our kids in the crossfire in order to advance his presidential ambition. The banning of math books is just the most recent example. Last year, he used his office to punish and defund school districts that defied him on masking policies.

You just mentioned this past session with don't say gay. DeSantis made false claims that schools were sexualizing students so he could attack the LGBTQ community. Now, he's banning math textbooks saying they indoctrinate kids with CRT, but they won't give us any examples of where that is happening in the math books. They won't show us the reviewer score sheets because it's not there.

BOLDUAN: So, our correspondent Steve Contorno was saying he's received some of the names of these books, some of the titles were released late today. Without knowing what is in them, how are you sure there are ones that you want to have as far as the school curriculum?

SMITH: Well, here's what we know about some of the folks who have been appointed to the department of education and the state board of education. These are moms for liberty type individuals who scream CRT anywhere they see diversity. So, no, we don't trust that they are using the appropriate standards to evaluate this.

And, Kate, I think we have to take a closer look at the books that have been banned and look at what types of books have been rejected. I took a look at it today, and what we saw was that, over the 54 books that were rejected, 28 were rejected because they allegedly included one of those topics that were mentioned -- social, emotional, learning, critical race theory.


Social emotional learning is something the department champion and support just a couple of years ago. But you also see that they banned pre-calculus honors and statistics books with subject specific standards scorers that were higher than those that were approved. That means that the DeSantis administration is rejecting good books with good subject specific content that yield better potential for student achievement because of politics and that -- .


BOLDUAN: Well, here's the thing. One thing the governor said is that there is a review process. So there's that step. Not saying that that's going to change any of the outcomes here, but there's also something else we do know, is that -- you've touched on it a bit, it's since taking office, Governor DeSantis has not shied away from cultural issues, divisive cultural issues. I mean, you've been outspoken against some of his others as well, but it doesn't seem to be hurting him.

I mean, in a recent poll of Florida voters, he had a 58 percent job approval rating, only 37 percent disapproval. The highest job approval in that poll of all elected officials listed in that poll. What does that tell you?

SMITH: What did tells me is that the governor is manipulating the public opinion on these issues because of the way he's characterizing the issues in a misleading and false way.

And I think it's important to understand the target audience here. The target audience is not his base in the state of Florida. He has a very good standing with GOP voters in Florida. We already know that. His target audience is GOP voters outside of the state of Florida, because he wants to win a presidential primary. And that is what is motivating all of these culture wars that you are seeing.

We have to think about who wins and who loses as a result of this, Kate? Who wins is Governor DeSantis politically, possibly some of his big donors who themselves are school publishers who may benefit as a result of the rejection of these textbooks.

BOLDUAN: Good point.

SMITH: But at the end of the day, our kids lose.

BOLDUAN: We will see where this goes from here. Thanks for coming in.

SMITH: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: OUTFRONT for us next, new video just coming in of the astonishing devastation across Mariupol. One apartment building after the other just destroyed.



BOLDUAN: We have new video just in showing the scale of destruction in Mariupol tonight. Drone footage of just entire buildings charred and gutted. I mean, just look, you see it there.

And then imagine this difficult choice. Stay in Mariupol or gain safe passage, but only through Russia?

Scott McLean is OUTFRONT.


SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's been two weeks since these suitcases were first packed. Two weeks since Evgeny and Ludmila escaped the hell of Mariupol to Russia, and finally to safety in Estonia.

LUDMILA, FLED FROM UKRAINIE TO ESTONIA (through translator): For now it was just stress. EVGENY, FLED FROM UKRAINIE TO ESTONIA (through translator): Stress.

LUDMILA: Here, we are able to really relax. I feel like we aren't safe here.

MCLEAN: They lived across the hall from each other in an apartment building on the northern edge of Mariupol.

EVGENY: For 14 days, from the beginning of the war, somehow all the shelling was all past us.

MCLEAN: But their luck would soon run out. In the relentless bombardment of the city, their building was eventually hit. The damage though was limited enough for them to stay, even without power, water, heat, or a cellular signal.

LUDMILA: When you hear these explosions, you have an idea the direction they are coming from, and you know what you have to do. Late on the ground, run, or sit down. But silence is horrifying.

MCLEAN: On day 38, the building was hit again. It was time to leave.

EVGENY: It was impossible to go further into Ukraine. We lived in a different part of the city. There were two sir -- encirclement surround us. As I understand, if we went in that direction, well -- the only way to leave was through the Russian federation. And the only one thing we were concerned with at the time was leaving this ring of fire. We didn't have a choice.

MCLEAN: They made it to a school in Mariupol where Russian-backed soldiers were evacuating people east to the village of Sertana.

Then, a week later so-called filtration in Bezimenn, where at a site like this one, they were searched, fingerprinted, and questioned by Russian soldiers before crossing the border into Russia, the city of Taganrog, likely to this shelter shown here.

EVGENY: It was the first time we took a shower in over roughly 50 days, right?

LUDMILA: Forty-one or 40.

MCLEAN: With the help of ordinary Russians, they made it to St. Petersburg, then on to Estonia. Their story is part of a larger trend. Most of the 200, sometimes 300 Ukrainian refugees arriving in Estonia every day are entering the country through Russia.

MEELIS PILLE, SENIOR COMMISSIONER, NARVA BORDER CROSSING: Most of them are coming from Mariupol after having passed the humanitarian corridor. But there are also those who have said they have been deported to Russia and managed to come here. We accept them all.

MCLEAN: On this day, they are catching a train to the Estonian capital after staying at a hospital run by volunteers.

SERGEY TSVETKOV, VOLUNTEER HELPING REFUGEES: Some were taken by Russians by force from Mariupol to Russia. Later, they fly from camps on the territory of Russia, but others left voluntarily

MCLEAN: From Tallinn, they're not sure where they will go but they are optimistic.

LUDMILA: We will have some difficulties along the way, but if you compare what we went through, everything will be just fine. The future must be better. We don't have another option.


MCLEAN (on camera): Now, what was especially jarring for these two was the kindness and generosity they experienced in Russia, the country responsible for bombing their homes and uprooting their lives. Evgeny said that he was so struck by the kindness that he went to church to pray for the people who had helped him and he's not a religious man. Ludmila said that this is proof that there are good people in every country, including Russia -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Unbelievable. Scott, thank you.

"AC360" starts now.