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Erin Burnett Outfront

Russian Moving Thousands Of Troops Into Eastern Ukraine; Ukrainian Commander Says Situation In Mariupol "Critical," Warns "We Have Only A Few Days, Or Even Hours Left"; Putin Honors Russian Soldiers Accused Of War Crimes In Bucha; Ukrainian Grieve, Search For Lost Loved Ones As The Dead Are Exhumed From Graves For Autopsies And Prepared For Final Burial; DOJ Says It Could Appeal Ruling Striking Down Mask Mandate; DHS Secretary Amid Democratic Criticism On Border Policy: "We Have Plans." Aired 7-8p ET

Aired April 19, 2022 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: That's CNN's Ed Lavandera reporting for us. Ed, thank you. I'm Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." I'll be back in half an hour on our new streaming service, CNN+ with my new show called The Newscast. Thanks very much for watching.

ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT starts right now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, we have breaking news, thousands of new Russian troops are moving into Ukraine. Russia calling this the second phase of the invasion. This as a Ukrainian commander begs the world for help in the besieged city of Mariupol.

Plus, the mystery over Putin's prize warship, how many crew members were on board when it sank and how many survived. Tonight, parents of missing Russian sailors are calling Putin out for lies and demanding the truth.

And the great unmasking, now that they're off, will Americans ever go back to following mandates? Let's go OUTFRONT.

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

OUTFRONT tonight we're following breaking news, thousands of new Russian troops are on their way into eastern Ukraine. The Pentagon reporting to more battalion groups have entered the Donbas region. That's in addition to the thousands of Russian soldiers that have made their way to Ukraine in just the past few days.

Russia's Foreign Minister calling this the next phase of Putin's invasion. And tonight, this new mass of Russian forces is ramping up their assault, more strikes across the country including the southern region of Mykolaiv, a strategic city with access to the Black Sea. While in the capital, the mayor is now making the unsettling request for 200,000 gas masks to protect the innocent from potential chemical weapons attacks.

In Mariupol, control is truly hanging in the balance. Ukrainian officials are releasing what they claim are intercepted communications from a Russian ground unit commander who said Putin's forces were planning to "level everything to the ground" around the steel factory where Ukrainian defenders are holed up.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through interpreter): We are expecting surprises from Russia here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through interpreter): What kind of surprises?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through interpreter): Three-ton ones, from the sky.


BOLDUAN: The man went on to say that - so moving on, we do want to warn - there is a warning that there may have - there may be only days or hours left in Mariupol that they have control as the soldiers are in that steel factory there. But there is some - they are getting some help in Ukraine tonight.

The US is preparing another $800 million weapons package as the Pentagon sends seven flights with security assistance to Ukraine over the next 24 hours, listen.


JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: The need has changed because now the war has changed because now the Russians have prioritized the Donbas area and that's a whole different level of fighting, a whole different type of fighting.


BOLDUAN: Now we have reporters all across Ukraine this evening. I want to start with Jim Sciutto. He's OUTFRONT live in Lviv for us. Jim, I know you're getting some new information on the very latest on the ground tonight. What are you learning?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Kate. It's still the early stages of Russia's new focus, renewed focus, we should say, on the east and the south. I'm told that so far, no major Russian advances there, no ground gained so far really probing attacks, but that does not sort of foursquare what's going to happen next, why? Because they've taken so many the forces that were around Kyiv around the Capitol, moved them down to the south as well as moved in other forces from Russia.

This has become the new focus for now, getting more of the Donbas, parts of which they've occupied since 2014. And we need to be clear here, they have already gained ground there just in the last several weeks as a lot of our attention has been focused on the north, in terms of establishing this land bridge, that area you see there in the red connecting Crimea, which is already held by Russia going back to 2014 and smaller parts of Donbas also occupied by Russian forces from 2014. They've in effect connected those two areas.

Now, that doesn't mean they stop there in the east and the south. The intention is to move further west in that area, to grab really, that whole eastern region of the country. There's no guarantee they do that Ukrainian forces are formidable there. And by the way, as we mentioned, the U.S. and NATO already sent an enormous new tranche of weapons there in the last several days and it appears that new weapons are going because they're preparing, Kate, for something that's going to look to all of us like World War II.

You're talking trenches, you're talking major armor formations on both sides, artillery strikes, bombing campaigns, infantry moves and lots of casualties. And to the point you mentioned, Kate, about deliberate targeting of civilians from the air, that's going to continue.


And the concern is intensified because Russian military doctrine, it doesn't do this accidentally, leveling cities is part of the plan and that's something that we have to prepare ourselves are as we follow this war in the coming days and weeks.

BOLDUAN: Jim, thank you for that. So the situation in Mariupol it is growing even more desperate by the hour Matt Rivers is OUTFRONT.


MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: For the battered and desperate citizens of Mariupol, a chilling new threat has emerged. The Security Service of Ukraine or SBU released a purported communications intercept of a Russian ground unit commander who said Russian aircraft we're planning to 'level everything to the ground around Azovstal'.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Will there be some kind of explosion?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They said to level everything to the ground.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are being bombed and bombed. They are knocking them out.


RIVERS (voice over): CNN cannot vouch for the authenticity of the recording, but the SBU has previously released audio from intercepted radio traffic, revealing Russian soldiers discussing killing and raping civilians, bolstering allegations of war crimes by Russian troops. Military observers have also noted a tendency of Russian troops to use unsecured communications in Ukraine.

For now a Ukrainian commander says Russian forces are willingly bombing and shelling the plan, a sprawling complex in Mariupol southeast that once employed more than 10,000 people. It's unclear how many Ukrainian forces are at the site but one commander says the Russians are using freefall bombs, rockets, bunker buster bombs and other artillery at the facility. Video posted on government social media, which CNN cannot verify,

shows dozens of women and children who say they'd been staying under the facility for weeks holding out against Russian attacks. The surrender deadline Russian forces issued to Ukrainian troops has now expired, but the Russian military official in charge of the operation say they will allow the civilians safe passage out of the area.


COL. GEN. MIKHAIL MIZINTSEV, DIR., RUSSIAN NATIONAL AND DEFENSE CONTROL CENTER (through interpreter): Russian leadership will guarantee safe evacuation of each and every civilian as well as the safety of humanitarian convoy's movement in any direction they choose.


It's unclear if the Ukrainians will take the word of the Russian general who has himself been accused of excesses during the Mariupol campaign. Not all of money people civilians are in the steel factory, 10s of thousands are trying to survive in other parts of the city. CNN is not in Mariupol, but the Reuters news agency found these people cooking outside a residential building on Monday. They're chopping wood to make a fire to boil water, some soup and even cook some pancakes.

This woman cutting a boy's hair says, "They need to quickly fix the water supply problem. How can we live without water? It's horrible."

And this woman says of the bombardment ...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through interpreter): To be honest, we are not well, I have mental problems after airstrikes. That's for sure. I'm really scared. When I hear a plane I just run away.


RIVERS (on camera): And Kate, we spoke to the commander of the Ukrainian Marines currently holed up in the Azovstal steel plant and we spoke to him and he said, civilians there are not willing to surrender to the Russians. They don't believe that they will be kept safe. Maybe there'll be conscripted into the army, deported forcefully to Russia, this marine commander calling on a third party country someone like Turkey, for example, to conduct an evacuation, using human rights norms accepted across the world. And in speaking to us, Kate, this marine commander said, "It may be my last statement because we have only a few days or even hours left." Kate?

BOLDUAN: Wow. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it, Matt.

OUTFRONT now is Dmytro Gurin. He's a member of Ukraine's parliament. He's also from Mariupol. Dmytro, thank you for being here. You're hearing what Matt is hearing from the ground at that steel plant in Mariupol, what is the latest that you're hearing from there?

DMYTRO GURIN, UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT MEMBER: Your guy described the situation really pretty good. We have a really bad situation in Mariupol. Our troops are surrounded and what they're doing now it's far beyond heroic. And Russia don't want to - in reality, Russia don't want this city to exist, because we see they bomb intentionally civilians and city infrastructure and they destroyed the city to the ground.

Everything I have seen in the city I'm working, I lived in like my own neighborhood and in general the city is destroyed to the ground, my city, my university, my school, hospitals, everything and now our defenders are in the steel plant and the big territory in the seashore and Russia started to heavily bombed or bombards with their dumb bombs from planes the plant territory and we are waiting for more and more powerful dumb bombs.


BOLDUAN: I wanted to ask you about that, because I do want to play again some of this recording that we heard - that we played earlier. It was released by the Security Service of Ukraine and they say it's intercepted communication of a Russian ground unit commander talking about that steel plant, that factory in Mariupol. Let me play this again.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through interpreter): We are expecting surprises from Russia here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through interpreter): What kind of surprises?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through interpreter): Three-ton ones, from the sky.


BOLDUAN: And he also says that his command is said to level everything to the ground. If true, I mean, they're talking about the very places you're talking - as you just been laying out. This is the last stronghold for Ukrainian troops and hundreds of civilians are taking shelter there with them. What is your reaction hearing that?

GURIN: I think that it's not like my reaction or Ukraine reaction, it has to be a reaction from all the civilized world because Russian strategy is, if you don't do what we want from you, we will just kill you and we have seen it in the Kyiv region. We see it on Kherson, on occupied territories and we see it in Mariupol also.

So if you're not with us, you're a dead man and that's very simple strategy and Russia has decided that if Mariupol, if they don't want to be a Russian city, Mariupol have to be destroyed to the ground and they need this corridor, land corridor to Crimea and the half of million city, they are not interested.

BOLDUAN: Because in the end, if Ukraine's forces will not surrender, and there's no suggestion that they will, what do you think we'll get Russia to stop attacking Mariupol? GURIN: I think they will continue to attack in Mariupol because they

are - there was a - that Mariupol is a problem for them, because a lot of their troops have to attack in Mariupol, our troops, and they cannot attack on that northern direction to the north from Azov Sea in Donbas, so they're tied in Mariupol and it's very important territory for them. So until our heroes are there, Russians troops are tied in this region, so they will attack.

BOLDUAN: Dmytro, thank you so much for coming in. I really appreciate it.

OUTFRONT for with us now, Retired Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton who is a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It's good to see you again, Colonel. Thanks for coming in.

So Ukraine, yet again, rebuffing Russia's demands to render in Mariupol. The city's fate is - I mean, Dmytro was getting at it. I mean, it's really depending on this unknown number of troops and defenders that are hanging on in the city and they think that it could just be hours that they do have left, potentially. I mean, where do you see this going? At this point, what does Mariupol mean to the overall war effort?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, Kate. It's good to be with you as well. This is a symbolic situation now. It goes beyond to just the very fact of Mariupol being the center of utter devastation and utter destruction of which of course it is, but what you're dealing with now, I think, is a symbol for the Ukrainian nation.

And what the Ukrainian defenders have been able to accomplish is tie down a whole bunch of Russian troops, probably several thousand Russian troops are tied down in the effort to besiege the city and in essence to lay it waste as Dmytro mentioned. This is a tragic situation.

But it's also a situation where, from a military perspective, the Russians are not going to gain what they think they're going to gain. They're going to gain basically what amounts to a Pyrrhic victory. They'll have empty shells of buildings. They'll have an infrastructure that's completely destroyed. And yes, they might get that land bridge that they've been looking for, but it's not a land bridge that they can really solidly use between Crimea and the Donbas.

BOLDUAN: Colonel, I want to ask you when it comes to the weapons that the United States is sending in, sources are now acknowledging to CNN that the United States is not able to track all the weapons it's sending into Ukraine, in part because there aren't us boots on the ground to continue the line through, if you will.

And one person briefed on the Intelligence said it - said it's like this, "It drops into a black hole and you have almost no sense of it at all after a short period of time," once it kind of crosses into the border. They call it a risk that they're willing to take right now, but how big of a problem is this? LEIGHTON: Well, I think it's potentially a huge problem, Kate,

because what they really should be doing is having like a tagging and tracking system, like you get with a FedEx package or an Amazon package. And that would help us determine not only how things - how much is going there but where it's going and whether or not it's being used effectively, of course ...


BOLDUAN: It sounds dumb, can they do that with these weapons?

LEIGHTON: For some of them, yes, you can. I mean that would be something where you could just you put a tagging device on it or you put a barcode on it and you make sure that the recipient signs in, in essence, when they receive it. And then you can track exactly where it is.

They'd have to, of course, be in agreement with the Ukrainians to do that. But that's how we track a lot of our logistics supplies and there's no reason why that couldn't be done in this case. And it should be done, because we really don't want these weapons to fall into the wrong hands and we want them to be used effectively.

This is about not only the use of firepower, but the effective use of firepower and we need to find every efficient means possible to make sure it's doing the right thing and giving us the right, in essence, bang for the buck in this case.

BOLDUAN: Yes. It seems almost that they're not as concerned about the near term as them staying in the hands of Ukrainian forces, it's about the long-term, what hands they do fall into then, these very expensive, very powerful weapon systems that we're sending over. It's good to see you, colonel, thank you. You bet, Kate.

OUTFRONT for us next, Putin, honoring Russian forces accused of committing war crimes as CNN goes inside a morgue filled with evidence of atrocities at the hands of Russian soldiers.

Plus, Russia silent on just how many of its troops died on that prized warship that sank, while families of missing sailors are now demanding answers.

And the Biden administration says that it will appeal the ruling that dropped mask mandates for travelers if the CDC thinks it's necessary, but are Americans just done with wearing marks.



BOLDUAN: Tonight, Vladimir Putin is honoring a Russian brigade accused of committing war crimes in Bucha, claiming that they showed great heroism and courage. Bucha is the city, of course, were mass graves were found, that also showing evidence of torture, rape and horrendous crimes against civilians. This as CNN is getting an up close look at a morgue that is

overwhelmed by the level of carnage in the city. Phil Black is OUTFRONT and I must warn you. Some of these images are disturbing.


PHIL BLACK, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Morgues aren't supposed to be busy or so over capacity. They need a team of volunteers to move bodies around and large mobile refrigerators to accommodate them. This is one of seven sites in and around Kyiv working to cope with the tide of death left behind by Russia's retreating forces.


BLACK (on camera): Are there still more bodies coming?


BLACK (voice over): A lot.

BILYAKOV: A lot, lots every day at morning.


BLACK (voice over): Andrii Bilyakov normally teaches forensic medicine, now he's a full time volunteer performing endless autopsies.


BLACK (voice over): About how many murders are you seeing?

BILYAKOV: Murders, I think near 30 percent, it's exactly murder.


BLACK (voice over): By his definition, that means 30 percent of the people in these bags have deliberate gunshot wounds to the head. We witnessed a continuous, cycle shuffling bodies from vehicles to storage, to autopsy, to storage and ultimately, preparation for burial. Usually, it will be their second most have been exhumed from temporary graves.

Families buy new clothes for those they've lost as a gesture of love and respect. But they often go unworn. They can only be laid inside the coffin. The condition of the bodies means dressing them is impossible.

Among those lying here waiting to be collected is Roman Lipa (ph). His family says he was killed when munitions struck his home in a small remote village. Roman's wife, Viktoria (ph), survived only to endure a form of hell. Intense fighting meant she couldn't escape the house.


IHOR: (Foreign language).


BLACK (voice over): Viktoria's (ph) brother, Ihor (ph), says, "My sister had to step over her husband's body for two weeks. She had to go through it to get to food or water. The room is still covered in blood. She is she's very bad now, very bad. I don't know how she will live with this loss."

Others who grieve are living through a different form of hell. They can't find the body of the person they love.

Volodymyr is searching for his brother, Leonid (ph). He shows us where he was shot and killed, where he was buried in a shallow makeshift grave before officials exhumed the body and took it away.

So Volodymyr has taken leave from active duty to travel through devastated communities going from morgue to morgue, but no one can help. Eventually he's directed to a police office with a central list of the dead. He's told his brother probably hasn't been processed yet.

Volodymyr must return to the war. He doesn't know when he'll be able to come back even if Leonid's (ph) his body is found.

"It hurts a lot," he says. "It hurts a lot, but we don't give up." Russia has left so much death behind in areas near Kyiv, some people must wait their turn to grieve.


BOLDUAN: And Phil is with us now from Kyiv. I have to tell you, Phil, the stories one after another, they're just impossible to even fathom at this point. I mean, is there any hope for anything that could even come close to resembling justice for the victims of these crimes?

BLACK (on camera): Kate, there are investigators working on just that. You see them at the morgues, recording and investigating specific crimes. They say they are determined that someone should be held accountable. But at the same time, they know - they must know the reality, Russia is not going to hand people over.

President Putin has highlighted this by giving an award to a specific military unit, the 64th Separate Guards Motor Rifle Brigade.


This is a unit that according to the Ukrainian government was directly involved in the atrocities in Bucha. But according to this award, this is a unit that deserves to be commended for courage and bravery, for astute and bold action in Ukraine. These soldiers are considered war criminals in Ukraine. In Russia, they're being celebrated as heroes, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Yes. I mean, you can't even begin to believe it after seeing the stories of the families that you just brought us. Phil, thank you very much. OUTFRONT next, the Biden administration says that it is prepared to

appeal the judge's decision to strike down mask mandates for travelers, but the President seems to have a different message.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, should people continue to wear masks on planes?



BOLDUAN: Plus, Democrats breaking with Biden over a controversial border policy. The Homeland Security Secretary tonight telling them not to worry "we have plans".



BOLDUAN: We are following some breaking news. The Biden administration announcing tonight that it will appeal the judge's ruling that abruptly ended the nationwide mask mandate on planes and public transit, but only if the CDC determines it's necessary.

While the team -- while his team is working on that, President Biden had a slightly different take.


REPORTER: Mr. President, should people continue to wear masks on planes?



BOLDUAN: Adrienne Broaddus is OUTFRONT.


ADRIENNE BROADDUS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In what appears to be a large- scale unmasking. Masks are now flying off the faces of travelers across the country after a federal ruling struck down mask mandates for public transportation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Masks are optional for employees, customers --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- everyone had any issue with someone for wearing a mask or not wearing a mask, it's all up to you guys right now. So enjoy the fresh air.

BROADDUS: The ruling came Monday from Florida U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizell, a 2020 Trump nominee saying the CDC exceeded its authority. The announcement sparked some celebrations Monday on airplanes around the country, as the mask mandates were lifted for travelers midflight.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yeah, no more masks. Whoo!

BROADDUS: Bt beyond the initial cheers, the rule reversal prompted a wide variety of reactions from New York --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I took my mask off right away. Thank God!

BROADDUS: -- to Los Angeles.

DAVIDA WRIGHT, TRAVELER: I lost my grandmother to COVID a year ago and so I'm very particular about the masks. So, I'm going to continue to wear it no matter what the mandates are.

BROADDUS: In Chicago, one couple said that the timing of the announcement worked out perfectly for them.

SASHA JOVANOVIC, TRAVELER: I'm ready to go on my honeymoon, and I'm glad everyone can see the smile on our faces.

BROADDUS: But the changes also created some frustration and uncertainty for some travelers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We feel like it's a little too soon maybe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd rather be proactive instead of going back to where we just got out of.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right now, we're still in the middle of a pandemic. I think we should be wearing masks in public spaces.

BROADDUS: The lifting of the mandate prompted Delta Airlines to issue a statement expressing relieve that, quote, COVID-19 has transition to an ordinary seasonal virus. But the White House challenged that statement, leading Delta to change its language today, calling COVID- 19, quote, a more manageable respiratory virus with better treatment, vaccines, and other scientific measures to prevent serious illness.

The White House had hoped to keep the travel mandate for another two weeks.


BROADDUS (on camera): And in 2021, the Federal Aviation Administration reported nearly 4,200 unruly passengers on planes. So far this year, about 744. And late today, United Airlines announced it will allow passengers it banned for failing to follow those mask rules to fly once again on a case by case basis -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Adrienne, thanks for that.

OUTFRONT with us now, Dr. Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at John Hopkins University Center for Health Security. It's good to see you again, Dr. Adalja.

So, you've 'had the airlines, of course, and several companies like Uber and Lyft are also joining the major airlines now in making masks optional. Do you think it's the right time?

DR. AMESH ADALJA, SENIOR SCHOLAR, JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY CENTER FOR HEALTH SECURITY: I'm not so much concerned about the timing, this was set to expire in two weeks anyway. So, we're really arguing a small amount of time.

And when you look at transportation in general, people are doing many things without a mask mandate that's much higher risk than riding on an airplane with highly filtered air or the transient time they spend on public transportation, people are going to bars, restaurants, concerts, gathering with friends, that's more of a risk.

So, this always seemed a little paradoxical to me that this was one place where the mask mandate for the federal government stayed in place, where everything else was mask free.

BOLDUAN: It's really an interesting point. It's almost as if this mask mandate becomes kind of symbolic of the rules that began at the beginning of the pandemic. I know you've talked about the need for, the need to have off-ramps if you will for COVID mitigation. So how do you decide what that is, when you talk about kind of this paradox of masks off in some places, and mask on in others?

ADALJA: For me, the off-ramps are really tied to the metrics regarding hospital capacity. If we're worried about hospitals getting inundated like they did so many times earlier in the days of this pandemic, then I think there is a lot impetus for having these types of requirements in place.


But when you see decoupling of cases from hospitalization and that's already what's happened to the United States where cases are up our hospitalizations are falling, deaths are falling, that's where we want to be with this virus because it's not going to be eradicated, it's not going to be eliminated, we're not going to magically jumped 2019 to be the post-pandemic world.

We're always going to have some baseline number of cases but if we're able to manage this with vaccines, monoclonal antibodies, antivirals, rapid tests, then I think you don't need those kind of government mandates and you can have recommendations like the CDC issues recommendations for many different infectious disease that rather than government issued edicts which I think are often very politicized and often get people to not comply, because it's coming from the government.

BOLDUAN: So, I want to ask you because the White House seems to have a different take, I want to get your opinion on it because the Justice Department says that it will appeal this judge's ruling now if the CDC says that it's necessary. I think this is where the timing of just two weeks left before this thing would expire kind of comes into play.

But you also have Dr. Ashish Jha, who's the new White House lead on COVID and he called the judge's decision deeply disappointing, and also saying, writing this, CDC scientists have asked for 15 days to make a more data-driven bearable decision. We should have given it to them. Do you think he's wrong?

ADALJA: I don't necessarily think he's wrong but it's unclear what would've changed 15 days. We know that BA.2 is going to increase, cases will go up. But it's unlikely that to see our hospitals get into any kind of problems within 15 days because of that decoupling we talked about.

So, I'm not sure what they were trying to answer in those 15 days, maybe they were trying to buy some time, but I don't think it really makes that much of a difference whether the mask mandate was lifted yesterday or if it's lifted on May 3rd as it was scheduled. I don't think really things will agreeably change and that time.

So I'm curious to see what the CDC will say if they think that they're going to want to extend it further and triggered an appeal or not. That's something a little bit on the dark on what's going on behind the scenes there.

BOLDUAN: It's a good point. You know, I spoke to Sanjay Gupta earlier about, he cautioned that and reminded me that we were all blindsided when Delta first hit last summer, at that time the country had thought that it was sort of starting the off ramp if you will.

Do you think dropping masks in any way gives people a false sense of security against the threat of the next variant?

ADALJA: We're always going to have threats from the next variant. Most of those variants are not to be able to erase the protection that our medical countermeasures give us. And I think it's important to remember this is just one small aspect of life or mask mandates actually exist, everything else doesn't have a mask.

So, if we're going to be blindside or of another variant is going to take over, it's not going to be using the airplanes, and trains, and buses it's going to be in our bars, restaurants, and every day life where there hasn't been mask warrants for a very long time.

BOLDUAN: Dr. Adalja, it's good to see you. Thanks for coming in.

ADALJA: Thanks

BOLDUAN: OUTFRONT for us, towns along the southern border bracing for a surge of migrants now.


ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Would you be ready to serve that many more migrants?


BOLDUAN: Plus, what happened to the crew members on board the sunken Russian warship. Russia's not saying, but parents of those missing, they're speaking out.



BOLDUAN: The Biden administration tonight says they, quote, have plans for the southern border, as the president has faced fierce criticism from Democrats over his immigration policies. The growing blow back is coming after Biden lifted Title 42, which is a pandemic era policy that allowed for the quick deportation of hundreds of thousands of migrants.

Border officials are now bracing again for a surge at the southern border. It also comes as the number Americans who say that they're very worried about illegal immigration is the highest it's been in 10 years.

Rosa Flores is OUTFRONT in San Antonio, Texas.


ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This park in downtown San Antonio has turned into a waiting area. For migrants who are exempt from Title 42, the pandemic order who's allowing immigration agents to swiftly return migrants to Mexico, among those who are exempt, an electric engineer, a paramedic and a professional artist.

Can you live off that?

They say they earn between two and four U.S. dollars a month in their home countries of Venezuela and Cuba. The city mayor, a Democrat, recently sending a letter to the Biden administration sounding the alarm about the unsustainable increase of migrants. His administration warning of Title 42 lifts, the city's ability to meet the humanitarian need could be limited.

DHS estimates that thousands of more migrants could arrive at the border. Would you be ready to serve that many more migrants?


FLORES: Katie Myers from Interfaith Welcome Coalition says that on average, between 150 and 200 migrants arrived at this bus station every day. Many with cell phones, the migrants say, issued and geolocated by the U.S. government.

It said, take a picture of yourself.

Some migrants confused and how to use the device to check in with immigration officials using facial recognition technology, an alternative to detention rolled out by the Biden administration.

Another 300 to 500 migrants being dropped off at the airport every day says Myers. The latest spikes, she says, started mid March.

How many of you had money to buy a ticket to your destination?

And it came with a new challenge, migrants are arriving with no plan and no money. The results: sleeping at the park.

How many of you have slept in the park?

MYERS: There might be 10, 20, 25 men --

FLORES: Per night, says Myers.

That's why Pastor Gavin Rogers says he recently opened a shelter at Travis Park Church.


You see mostly men here because women with children are placed in hotels, he says.

PASTOR GAVIN ROGERS, TRAVIS PARK CHURCH: They can shower. They can eat. They can receive the proper food and they can wait safely until they get through San Antonio.

FLORES: On average, between 50 and 150 migrants sleep here every night, says Rogers, a nonprofit filling in the gaps for the federal government.

ROGERS: It falls on to nonprofits, the municipalities that are really indifferent to the local or national politics but have to find a local solution.

FLORES: U.S. Congressman Henry Cuellar represents this area and he's bucking his party on Title 42, saying that the Biden administration's intent to end the policy --

REP. HENRY CUELLAR (D-TX): Would be a mistake.

FLORES: So, when you asked the White House for a plan, what did they say?

CUELLAR: Well, they said they have a plan and I saw --

FLORES: Did they share the plan?

CUELLAR: They said we're going to notify the non-for-profits that more people are coming in. That's not a plan, that's just a notification. They said we're going to bring the agents from the northern border over here. That's only temporary.

FLORES: Most migrants stay in San Antonio a few nights. Jesse Amaya has been here 21 days. He says that he's awaiting for his wife who still in Mexico, waiting to cross.

What's your biggest worry?

Her physical safety.

He says he plans to weigh in San Antonio, the place they hope to call home.


FLORES (on camera): So, what is the city of San Antonio asking the federal government for? More resources and also a heads-up before they drop off an increasing numbers of migrants in their city. I just heard from DHS about this story moments ago and the agency says that they are in communication with the city of San Antonio.

Now, the city of Antonio mayor's office confirmed that since the mayor penned that letter to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, the city officials have been in constant communication with Customs and Border Protection and FEMA -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: They still need a solution, that's for sure. Thank you, Rosa.

OUTFRONT next, Putin under pressure as the families of those missing after a Russian warship sank, the families demand the truth now about the loved ones.

And incredible details tonight about the private discussions members of the Oath Keepers were having about protecting Republican Congressman Ronny Jackson on January 6.



BOLDUAN: Tonight, a warship mystery. Sharp questions over how many of the estimated 500 crew members on the Russian cruiser Moskva actually survive. The ship sank after Ukraine struck out with two missiles. That's according to the U.S.

Here's the Pentagon spokesperson today.


JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: We do not believe that every member of the crew survived, but how they perished, how many perished, we just don't know.


BOLDUAN: This is the father of one Russian sailor aboard that ship is demanding answers about his son.

Alex Marquardt is OUTFRONT.


ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Five days after Russia admitted one of its most famous naval ships had sank, questions remain about the fate of its hundreds of sailors. Thick smoke billowed from the ship, listing in the water before it sank to the bottom of the Black Sea. A successful Ukrainian strike with two missiles, Ukrainian officials said, and American officials believe that to be true.

Russia's ministry of defense released this video, of the commander of the Russian navy meeting and reviewing surviving crews from the ship, appearing to show only around 100 of them, far short from the estimated 500 who would have been on board.

SETH JONES, DIRECTOR, IONTERNATIONAL SECURITY PROGRAM AT CENTER FOR STRATEGIC & INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: The Russian government is hiding virtually everything about the Moskva, that it was attacked by the Ukrainians, that it was attacked by missiles, and the death and casualty totals right now. So, it's a real disservice to the Russian population.

MARQUARDT: The surviving sailors are brought to Crimea, where civilians laid flowers and wreathes and apparent admission that there were indeed losses despite Russia's initial assistance that everyone got off the ship.

There will be victories, this officer said, and there will be losses.

The official Russian line is that there was no Ukrainian attack on the flagship on the Black Sea fleet, but instead of fire on board which caused munitions to explode.

A loss of every ship, especially have flagship, is a tragedy. It's a humiliating loss for Russia but a devastating one for the parents of the sailors killed. And anger is growing over the lack of answers.

The father of a young conscript a cook, writing on social media, a tragedy occurred, the truth about which we have yet to find out. Dimity Shrkiebets called the story that they're getting a lie, a blatant and cynical lie.

The mother of another sailor wrote that her son is listed as missing. Parents are not told anything, all contacts are blocked, she writes. There is no information.

A second mother who says that she was told that her son's dad told the BBC she believes that dozens are still unaccounted for.


MARQUARDT (on camera): And, Kate, Western countries are hoping that Russian families understand what's going on in Ukraine, that they will protest or put pressure on the Putin regime to end this war. I saw part of that direct effort when I was in Ukraine, Ukrainian set up a hotline for Russian families to call, to find out information about their Russian soldiers that they've been killed, wounded, or captured. And on all of those calls, the Ukrainian officials whether they're

offering information or not would tell those Russian relatives to speak up, to go out and protest against this war.

BOLDUAN: Because, Alex, there is past presidents, anger from Russian mothers especially in families has actually for some change and persuade public opinion in the Russia in the past.

MARQUARDT: That's right. Russian mothers have been very vocal in the past Russian military campaign. Take Chechnya in the '90s, for example, or Afghanistan in the '80s. I mean, there was impact.

We haven't seen that movement for me at right now.


This is relatively early days. It is very difficult for the average Russian to get information. It's very dangerous for them to go out and protest. Arrests are being made for the slightest protest against this war, but a real movement could form as Russians really understand how many of their sons are not coming home -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Alex, thank you very.

OUTFRONT next, newly released text messages show members of the Oath Keepers talked about protecting Republican Congressman Ronny Jackson on January 6. But why?


BOLDUAN: And finally, tonight, on the move. That's what member of the Oath Keepers actually wrote in text messages about Republican Congressman Ronny Jackson on January 6. The text messages are part of a discussion over providing security during the Capitol riots for Jackson whom they say had critical data to protect, although it's not clear what that critical data is or was.

The January 6 released the messages as they look for connections between rioters and lawmakers, though no direct connections have yet been established. Jackson's not only a member of Congress, you'll also remember he's the White House physician who gave then President Donald Trump a glowing bill of health that kind of became famous for it, even saying that he might live to be 200 years old.

I'm Kate Bolduan. Thanks so much for joining.

"AC360" starts now.