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Images Of War: Pictures From The Front Lines In Ukraine; 1.9 Million Refugees Have Fled Ukraine For Poland; Biden On Putin: "I Think He Is A War Criminal". Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired March 17, 2022 - 12:30   ET



HEIDI LEVINE, PHOTOJOURNALIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: We are very feeling very emotional and to help stopping, putting down our cameras, helping people crying with people, people are, you know, sometimes just reaching out and hugging me and it's really nothing that I've ever experienced before. And we're all afraid of what can happen in the near future here.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: You can hear your emotion, you know, the Ark of life is supposed to be a magical journey and it is a nightmare right now. You see right there a funeral in Kyiv, a funeral that's too soon for somebody whose life has been cut short, too soon by Putin's plan, not God's plan. And then you see here the other end, this is a basement maternity ward underground in Kyiv to protect the pregnant mothers, to try to protect them from what's happening up above you say when you put down your ear can't believe sometimes what's happening on the other side of the lens, so both the beginning and the end of life there in the middle of hell.

LEVINE: Right. And, and a lot of these women, pregnant women were frightened. I mean, I am mother, three children myself have gone through giving birth three times, and it's scary enough on its own so I cannot even imagine what the situation is like for them. They don't -- they're in shock that this is happening in their own country that they're in shock that they're about to give birth or have given birth under these circumstances. They don't know if they're even going to be even have a home to go home to with their newborn baby or what country they're going to have to plead to.

You have to also understand, you know, the men are not between the age of 17 and 65, are not allowed to leave Ukraine. And so I've also witnessed so many women of all ages with their families leaving on their own, saying goodbye to their husbands from the window of train station. It's just shocking.

KING: We're showing pictures you took at the end of February, a building, a residential building in a fire. There's a photograph here of the Kyiv Zoo. And in some ways, this is incredibly heartwarming amid all this pain, you see the one of the zookeepers there trying to comfort an Asian elephant to you say in your reporting, as you take these photographs, is having shock issues because of the drumbeat of war. LEVINE: Yes, I mean, even during our visit to the zoo, we could hear the sound of sirens. We could hear explosions in the background. I know that Horace the Elephant is being given sedatives, because he's absolutely frightened from this, from the noise, walking back and forth. I've heard that even one of the keepers is sleeping with him at night to try to keep him calm. I mean, it's, I mean, I even saw a cemetery that where the graves were destroyed from the shelling, so even the dead are not even allowed to rest in peace here.

KING: Heidi, I want to come back to one more photo of the firefighter outside of this apartment building. It's such a lonely photo, if I could ask the controller to bring it back. It's such a lonely photo, in some ways, a horrific photo when you see the smoke in the background and yet so heroic of these first responders in the middle of war, trying to do their job. When you see somebody like that, and then as you talk about the toll on yourself, just how do you get through the day?

LEVINE: Well, you know, talking about it, I have, I'm working for "The Washington Post." I have an incredible team here that I'm part of, and I'm most grateful. I have close colleagues here that I've known for decades. And I know that this is absolute, it's a nightmare also on my own family, and they're super scared. It's a nightmare for all of our families. But it's most important, it's a total nightmare for the people of Ukraine. But I have seen such incredible resilience and I have not met anyone of any age who isn't determined to fight for their country, whether it's literally picking up a gun or actually prepared helping to prepare food for the forces or for their neighbors or for to helping a family find insulin for their young child.

So, I think, you know, as you know, I'm very committed to the story. I mean, you know, what I do is not a job it feels like it's the mission. And of course, it's takes a toll and talking about it and being able to try to make my audience understand and connect to my photos helps me get through the day. And just yesterday, I did get a message from an agency in France that saw the story about a child who was in need of insulin offering the family help. So, you know, when you see these messages, you know that your work is doing something and it's make -- helping to make a change, even if it's a small change, or a little footstep in the right direction.


KING: Amen. Amen to that you're doing remarkable work, both recording this as a new story day to day but also recording history as it unfolds. Heidi Levine, grateful for your time, more importantly, grateful for your work, and please stay safe.

LEVINE: Thank you so much.

KING: Thank you, thank you.

LEVINE: And I just also offer my condolences to the people who have lost loved ones and including the families of the journalists who've been killed in the last few days. My heart goes out to you and to the people here. And everyone on both sides of the conflict that are losing people.

KING: Important perspective. Heidi, thank you so much. Thank you.

LEVINE: Thank you.

KING: Thank you.

Millions of Ukrainian refugees escaping the nightmare of war taking shelter in neighboring countries including Poland, we're live on the ground there, next.



KING: Almost 2 million refugees have fled Ukraine for Poland since the Russian invasion began a little more than three weeks ago. That's according to the United Nations Refugee Agency. More than 3.1 million refugees and all have left Ukraine. Let's get to CNN's Melissa Bell, she is in Poland with more. Melissa, what are you seeing?

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, we've just come in at this local school in the town of Przemysl. This is on the Ukrainian border where these extraordinary acts of solidarity have been happening. This is a school gymnasium, John, that has been transformed into a shelter for Ukrainian refugees arriving from the train station, is the closest school to that train station. Now, basically what happens is, as the refugees come off the train, they're brought to places like this where these cots really have been brought. Essentially this has been provided by volunteers that have brought what bedding they could, mattresses, pillows to try and help.

These signs mean that the cot is free. So as you arrive in the gymnasium, you just grab yourself a cot. The idea is that people stay a day, maybe two days before heading off then further into Europe, either towards Krakow or towards Warsaw, or even towards Germany and France. But that's been pretty slow. And essentially, Poland's borne the brunt of this. When you look at the neighboring countries that have taken in those Ukrainian refugees, so far, it is nearly 2 million here. The closest other country is Romania with 500,000. It gives you an idea of the sheer weight of the numbers, the scale of this humanitarian disaster that's hitting Poland, which for the time being is coping extraordinary acts of solidarity from ordinary locals that we witness at the train station earlier, people bringing what they could, saying that they had to fill up the trunk of their car with stuff just to try and help.

But this is also beginning to wear thin, the local principal here of the school said look, we just don't know how much longer we can cope providing what we're doing for these refugees, John.

KING: Melissa Bell critical reporting just to see the kindness amid the savageries. It's so important. Melissa, thank you so much. And for information on how you can help the people of Ukraine go to


Ahead, Vladimir Putin issues a chilling warning to Russians who support the West. Plus the Volodymyr Zelenskyy's plea, perhaps light a new fire under the Congress.


KING: You see the president of the United States there. He is on Capitol Hill with traditional St. Patrick's Day luncheon. We will take you there live if the President makes any news. In the meantime, though, a new an angry outbursts from Vladimir Putin, this time targeting Russians who oppose his invasion of Ukraine. In a nationally televised address, the Russian President calls those who disagree with him, quote, national traitors and more.


PRES. VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIA: They will try to bet on the so called fifth column on traitors on those who earn their money here, but live over there. Live not in the geographical sense, but in the way they think with the mindset of a slave. These people cannot live without oysters and agenda freedom.


KING: With me to share their reporting and their insights. CNN's Abby Phillip, Seung Min Kim of The Washington Post, and Jill Dougherty former CNN Moscow bureau chief. Jill let me start with you. You've covered Putin, studied Putin a long time when you see that, not just what he says but how he says it, the wave of the hand, the anger in his eyes, essentially beating up heaping scorn on the elites of his own country who might oppose him.

JILL DOUGHERTY, FORMER CNN MOSCOW BUREAU CHIEF: You know, when I saw this, I was really astounded. I mean, I've heard what he's been saying. But this internal repression that is looming right now, he's calling them vermin and traitors. These are the people who will not agree with his war. And what is he saying? We're going to have a necessary cleansing of society. I mean, this is almost going back to Stalin. It's very frightening. And I think it's an indication. And I've seen this type of Putin before where he gets fixated, like on the Chechens. I was in a meeting with him where he did the same thing, goes ballistic.

And I think right now he's very worried about the domestic situation. He talked a lot about sanctions and how they're hurting the country. He's going to take care of it. But I think he's very worried and absolutely furious.


KING: The furious, the fury of the Russian President matching up with the question of what can the American president and the NATO allies the Western nations do about it? President Biden today used the word inhumane to talk about the Russian tactics yesterday, he went even farther. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Did you ask me what would I call him?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is Putin a war criminal, sir? Are you ready to call him a war criminal?

BIDEN: Oh, I think he is a war criminal.


KING: He is a war criminal. Rhetorically Putin won't like that, the Kremlin already pushing back against President Biden and the Biden White House for that. The question is, factually, can the United States help Ukrainians make that case and bring it to the International Court of Justice?

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, and that's certainly, it was interesting to see him say that. I mean, obviously White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said this was him kind of speaking emotionally off the cuff because she had been asked in previous days, does the U.S. think this is a war crime, and she had declined to go that far. There are obvious legal implications that arise when a U.S. official makes that comment. But you also see him, you talked about, we talked about the fury of the Russian President, the responsibilities of the American President, the emotion of the Ukrainian President, I think is still something that we are going to be seeing. We obviously saw yesterday, we'll be seeing in the days to come.

I think members of Congress is still very much emotionally moved by President Zelenskyy's address to Congress yesterday, whether that moved anything on the policy front and helps nudge Joe Biden along in terms of more assistance to Ukraine, I think that's still yet to be seen and unlikely, particularly on other provisions.

And tomorrow, one of the most publicly dispassionate, but critical world leaders comes into the equation when the President gets on the phone with Xi Jinping. Amid these intelligence reports that Putin has reached out saying I need help. I need economic help. I need military supplies. The question is President Biden has done a pretty masterful job so far, I know there are people aren't happy, but keeping 38 NATO nations, the Western nations together in this unified stance against Putin, can he convince Xi at a minimum to at least just stay on the sidelines?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this will be very fascinating to watch, because at the same time that this call is happening, there are also reports of Chinese officials signaling to the Ukrainians, we're not going to get more involved, we're going to help you guys rebuild. These are things that, you know, China watchers are looking at very closely, because trying to determine how they balance, you know, keeping Putin, you know, sort of in their lane, but not assisting with the war crimes, the inhumane treatment, and killings in Ukraine is going to be the big question. Do they provide material supplies? Do they provide just food and other things for troops? Or do they provide weapons? These are some of the big questions. And also privately, will they put more pressure on Putin to back down to stop the killings?

I think this whole scenario is about to get a lot worse, both within Russia and in Ukraine, and the spotlight will be on the West. What do they do when things start to get really, truly gruesome, much more than they are already.

KING: And one of the things that Zelenskyy is passionate as he is frustrated about is this no-fly zone, he cannot get NATO to have some kind of a fly zone. The U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin today and Slovakia, again, getting some real time, in trying to get real time military assistance as 300 anti-aircraft batteries into Ukraine if NATO can back them up, making very clear on the issue of the no-fly zone, no.


LLOYD AUSTIN, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: There's no such thing as a no- fly zone light. A no-fly zone means that you're in a conflict with Russia. So from a U.S. perspective, where again, our position remains that we're not going to do that.


KING: And on that President Biden has been firm in part because A, it would crack the NATO alliance he has firm right now, the German Chancellor again saying today we can't do that. We can't just. So the question is, if you won't do that, what else can you do?

KIM: I think the next question, obviously, because the no-fly zone, at least in the U.S. has been ruled out is the question of jets. And we've seen several times how a bipartisan coalition has in Congress has moved the Biden administration, whether it's the Russian oil imports, the trade issue, where they have been able to nudge the administration into something of their own size. Now, I think the jets issue may be pretty different. The White House has made it clear that it does see this as a potential escalatory issue directly against Russia. But the chorus from Capitol Hill is not going away anytime soon. And I think how the Biden ministration manages that will be really important to watch.

KING: Our focus as it should be right now is down a little bit meaning on the day to day minute to minute, hour to hour suffering of the people of Ukraine. But when you lift up a little bit, Jill, when Putin came to power, you know, after Boris Yeltsin was the talk of the peace dividend, and Russia is going to come into the club and Russia is going to institute Democratic reforms. Well forget about it. What we're seeing right now tells us that was the wrong bet on Vladimir Putin.

When you see these NATO meetings, these NATO meetings and the West which said we can have fewer troops, we can stand down, this can become almost an Economic Alliance are now building up a new defensive alliance. How does Vladimir Putin react to that when he hears more American troops in places like Poland, like Slovakia?


DOUGHERTY: You know he says I told you so. I told you this was going to happen. If you look at the comments that he made today, they're very similar to what he made years ago. And he believes, he really believes that the West is out to get them. And he in fact, that was even a phrase where they take off their masks, and they show their true, you know, nature. And it's really, I think, he is revealing exactly who he is, except that we kind of looked at him in a different way. I looked at him in some way a different way but not now.

PHILLIP: I mean, his desire for conflict is exactly why the White House and NATO so, you know, assertive about saying we are not getting involved because they know that's what Putin has. He's wants to say I told you so.

KING: We'll take you straight up to Capitol Hill, the President of the United States now talking about the Ukraine crisis.


KING: Ireland and the United States are working together for the first time now to ran the United Nations Security Council, Ireland's a part of the Security Council now, and the European Union --


KING: You see the President right there working together. We'll continue to track the President's speech.

Thanks for your time today in Inside Politics. Stay with us. Stay with us for our breaking news coverage. You can also download our podcast if you'd like, get Inside Politics wherever you get your podcast. Ana Cabrera, Anderson Cooper, pick up our breaking news coverage after a quick break. I hope you enjoy your day.