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Ukraine-Russia Talks Set to Resume Despite Lack of Progress; Mayor of Chernihiv is Interviewed about Russian Attack on Hospital; U.S. & Allies Weigh Security Guarantees for Ukraine. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired April 01, 2022 - 06:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to viewers in the United States and all around the world. It is Friday, April 1. I'm John Berman in Lviv in Western Ukraine. Brianna Keilar is in Washington.

We do have breaking news. Reports of a Ukrainian strike inside Russia. We want to show you some new video. It shows a fire at a fuel depot near the Ukrainian border in Belgorod. Belgorod is just over the border in Russia. The governor there claims this was attacked by two Ukrainian helicopters who entered the territory, flying at low altitude.

Now, it's important. CNN cannot confirm this claim. We are told there were no victims. But this would be a very significant development and an extraordinary counterattack by the Ukrainians. Russians have been attacking Ukraine's fuel depos all over the country for weeks. Going to have much more on this, ahead.

Also this morning, new Russian attacks in the Donbas region. That is in Eastern Ukraine. Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, he says Russia continues to prioritize military operations in the separatist- controlled area.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): The situation in the southern direction and in the Donbas remains extremely difficult. Russian troops are accumulating the potential for strikes, powerful blows.


BERMAN: Zelenskyy is also sending a warning to what he calls traitors within the Ukrainian military. He fired two generals, saying, quote, "If you don't decide where your homeland is, you will be punished."

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: In the meantime, Russia is redeploying troops from Georgia to reinforce its invasion of Ukraine. The U.K.'s Ministry of Defense saying that up to 2,000 soldiers, Russian soldiers are being reorganized into battalion tactical groups. Ukrainian forces are still making gains, retaking the city of Irpin,

or what's left of it, you can see from these pictures, which is in the suburbs of Kyiv. And this is an area that is still extremely dangerous and remains off-limits to civilians.

Russian forces have handed the Chernobyl nuclear facility back to Ukraine, ending their five-week occupation.

Today, virtual peace talks between Russia and Ukraine are set to resume after limited progress was made earlier in the week.

BERMAN: All right. I want to begin with the situation perhaps over the border in Russia. This Ukrainian helicopter attack. Those reports. CNN's Phil Black joins me now.

Phil, what do we know?

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We know, if true, if the Russian claim is true, this is a bold attack by the Ukrainians. So we know that this facility has been destroyed. It is the Russians who are saying the Ukrainians did it, that they flew in low, two military helicopters, launching a strike, which has created this explosion, destroying the facility.

It is, as you say, very similar to attacks that the Russians have launched across Ukraine in recent weeks, targeting specific fuel depots in the hopes of impacting the Ukraine military and its ability to move around.

But so far, Ukraine's military has said, well, no comment on this particular attack. But attacking Russian Federation soil is not something we've seen so far that we're aware of in the war so far.

President Putin's spokesman says he has been -- President Putin has been informed of the destruction of this facility.

BERMAN: That's interesting. I'm told 3.5 million gallons of fuel on fire is what you are seeing in some of those pictures. And just geographically, so people have a sense of where Belgorod is, if you look at Kharkiv, it's just over the border from Kharkiv in the northeastern part of the country. Again, you can see the fires there. A lot of oil, a lot of fuel burning there.

Phil, Russian forces have left the Chernobyl region.

BLACK: Yes. So we know they've been pulling out from around Kyiv, around the northern city of Chernihiv.

Now, Chernobyl is something that they took the very earliest moments of the war. It's the site of an existing nuclear power plant but of course, the site of the world's worst nuclear disaster in 1986.

Now we are told by Ukrainian officials that they simply up and left, and there are simply none of them left there, either in the region or at the facility itself. Ukrainian officials also say -- and this is something we can't verify

-- that while the soldiers were there, they were digging in the ground, digging trenches, building fortifications. As a result of that activity, they say, they have experienced radiation sickness. And it's something that hit them very quickly, and it created some sense of panic among the soldiers who were stationed there.

BERMAN: Look, we don't know if it's true, but that's the one thing you don't want to do in a contaminated area is dig.

And Phil, about Zelenskyy firing two generals, interesting, because we've heard plenty of reports of dissents in the Russian ranks. But this would be the first time we heard anything like that on the Ukrainian side.

BLACK: Indeed. Russian officials have talked about collaborators in the country, people who do want the Russians to be here. But we've not heard of senior people being rooted out in this way.

President Zelenskyy has essentially implied that two senior members of the Ukrainian security services -- this is the intelligence and investigative body here -- were working for the other side. They hadn't decided who their homeland was.

One of them had a very senior role in the national organization. Another, the head of the regional branch in the Kherson region in the south of the country. These are two generals, two senior figures who the president has essentially outed as traitors.

BERMAN: All right. Phil Black, great to see you. Thank you so much for your reporting.

New this morning, Russian forces, we are told, just shelled a local regional hospital in Chernihiv. We spoke to the mayor there about the situation on the ground, which remains, according to him, dire. He says they could run out of food and medicine within five to seven days.


BERMAN: Mr. Mayor, thank you so much for being with us. Can you give us an update on what the last day has been like in your city?

MAYOR VLADYSLAV ATROSHENKO, CHERNIHIV, UKRAINE (through translator): At the moment, we are going through full humanitarian catastrophe. We have no electricity, no water. I'm actually being interviewed -- I'm talking to you with my torch as a means of electricity. And the Russian forces just shelled a local regional hospital. So this is the situation.

BERMAN: The Russians just attacked a hospital?

ATROSHENKO (through translator): Yes. Some shells hit the regional hospital direct. And one of the buildings of the hospital, in fact, the oncological unit, was completely destroyed. Three people sustained heavy injuries. BERMAN: Mr. Mayor, has any relief been able to get in?

ATROSHENKO (through translator): At the moment, logistics with the city of Chernihiv is only partial, being provided by the military and the volunteer. The steady logistics is totally absent.

BERMAN: Totally absent. Mr. Mayor, I understand you yourself are very ill. Tell us about your condition.

ATROSHENKO: No problem. (through translator) Well, I'm OK, to be honest. But I caught an acute case of pneumonia, and I have this bad cough. But it's nothing major. I'll be fine.

BERMAN: An acute case of pneumonia, but you'll be fine. I imagine you have to work through something like this, given the situation in your city.

ATROSHENKO (through translator): For me, it's very important to provide all the information on what's going on in Ukraine and in my city of Chernihiv to the whole entire world, in particular to the United States. And that presents a new task to do something with the security situation, which we have at the moment.

BERMAN: Mr. Mayor, do you have any hopes that the Ukrainian forces will be able to break the encirclement of your city?

ATROSHENKO (through translator): I'm convinced we're going to do it. We just need time. We actually need -- need to concentrate on this task, and everything will be fine. But, again, it will take time and probably think things through.

BERMAN: Finally, you told me you had 7 to 10 days of food, supplies and equipment. Do you still have a week left, a week left of supplies in the city?

ATROSHENKO (through translator): We're getting some small supplies of food and medicines to the city across the river Desna. But it's clearly less -- it's less than we need. And I can tell you that we've got a supply of food and medication for approximately five to seven days.

BERMAN: Mr. Mayor, be safe. Please be healthy. We appreciate you. Thank you for the window you've given us into your city.

ATROSHENKO (through translator): Thank you very much.


KEILAR: There are hundreds of children suffering in hospitals with injuries as a result of the war that Putin is waging on Ukraine.

Three-year-old Dima (ph) was wounded during shelling in Mariupol. And he now lies in a bed in the Zaporizhzhia hospital children's ward, crying out for his father, who is being treated in another part of the hospital. We do want to warn you, this video is distressing. It is heartbreaking. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)


GRAPHIC: Where is my dad? Is my dad coming? Where is my dad? Is my dad coming?


GRAPHIC: Yes, yes, he will come. Just don't cry, OK?


GRAPHIC: Will he come?


GRAPHIC: Yes, he will. He will be here soon, like your mom told you.


KEILAR: Now, officials say that at least 153 children have been killed in Ukraine since Russia's invasion began, and more than 245 have been injured.

It is heartbreaking. It's heartbreaking video. I'm glad just to know that his father is alive, Berman, to be honest. But I'm looking at his little hands restrained there, because obviously they don't want him pulling at tubes in his face. He's only 3. And they have him with little trucks there, something that he can hold onto. But just how distressing this must be for a little boy.


BERMAN: It was the trucks -- the truck in his hand that got me, Brianna. Because that could be anyone's kid. That could be any of our children.

Put yourself in the situation of these parents with young kids living in Ukraine right now. What's happening to them, what's happening to their families.

Imagine living in your community and then the very next day, missiles raining down on you and your kids. Imagine what it must be like for that father who is elsewhere in the father, to know that his son is lying there with tubes in his nose, crying out for him. It really -- it's just horrifying.

KEILAR: I just hope that -- I hope that they are reunited very soon.

BERMAN: All right. Just in, the United States and its allies exploring ways to guarantee Ukraine's security going forward. Will they give the deposit here everything it wants? We do have new CNN reporting on this.

Plus, Jared Kushner talking to the January 6th Committee for more than six hours. What on earth did he have to say for six hours? New reporting coming up.



KEILAR: We have some new CNN reporting this morning. The U.S. and American allies weighing how best to guarantee security for Ukraine in the event that they give up on a bid for NATO membership as a concession to Russia to end the war.

CNN's Natasha Bertrand is with us now, along with former U.S. ambassador to the Ukraine, William Taylor. Tell us about this.

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so essentially, what the Ukrainians are asking for is a form of security guarantees that they could have in the event that they give up this bid for NATO membership. Right?

So one of the major demands that Russia has had and one of the reasons it says they invaded Ukraine is because they don't want Ukraine to join NATO. They don't want NATO to expand further east.

And so the Ukrainians are saying now, Well, we might be willing to concede that we are willing to drop this NATO membership bid. But if that happens, then we want some kind of guarantee from the West that we're going to be protected if this war ends and if -- you know, if Russia ever invades again, essentially.

And so the U.S. and their allies -- the U.S. and its allies are considering this. They're talking to the Ukrainians about it. They say that it's a bit premature right now to make any kind of decisions.

And of course, it runs into the same kind of issues that NATO membership would bring. Not only would Russia probably not go for it if the U.S. were to sign some kind of binding guarantee with Ukraine saying, Hey, we will protect you in the event that Russia invades.

But it also runs into the same issue that the U.S. and its allies have had of not wanting to put U.S. and Western forces in direct confrontation with the Russians.

And so it's very preliminary at this point. Obviously, the Russians are in a very different position right now than they were before the war. And so there are some considerations about whether they might be more willing to accept something like this.

But ultimately. it runs into the same problem, which is the West does not want to get involved in a direct shooting war with the Russians.

KEILAR: That's my question. Is it is the same problem, the same obstacle, just with a different name, if they come to some security guarantee that they won?

WILLIAM TAYLOR, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: Well, it is the same security guarantee that they want. Let's be clear. The Ukrainians do want something like an Article 5, which says in the NATO treaty, if one person, one nation is attacked, all are attacked. They will respond in that way. So that's clearly what they want.

The discussion has just started. Natasha is exactly right. This is just the beginning of a conversation of this. But the -- but nations are taking it seriously. They are discussing it themselves, among themselves. And I think there is an argument that says we should think about this in a new way. That is Russia is in a different place than it was on February 23.

KEILAR: Explain that. What's the different place? How does that change the calculus?

TAYLOR: It changes the calculus, because Russia is now a pariah. It's by itself. It doesn't really even have China in this case.

China has abstained, as we know. China is in a different conversation. But Russia is isolated and damaged and might be willing to go into some kind of an agreement that says that the -- that the United States and Germany and Turkey can give a security guarantee to Ukraine. That would be OK with them.

KEILAR: If what? if they get some Ukrainian land?

TAYLOR: Ukrainian land --

KEILAR: What do you see the trade being?

TAYLOR: I think the trade is neutrality. I think the Ukrainians' willingness -- Ukraine thought that it was going to -- it was applying to NATO. It wanted to be in NATO, for all the reasons that we just said.

And it's concluded. It is not going to happen now. It's not going to happen in the -- and Ukraine needs security now. So it's looking for some other way to secure itself, to be sure it's not attacked. One way is neutrality. If it has, as Natasha says, if there's a guarantee. But the second thing it needs is the ability in this treaty, in this agreement, to protect itself. It needs to be able to have a strong military. We see a strong military right now. It needs to maintain that, with support from the outside.

KEILAR: Could it really be neutrality? And I ask because they have been invaded by Russia. It's not like let's let bygones be bygones at the end of this, right?

BERTRAND: Well, this is the big question, because NATO membership is actually a part of Ukraine's constitution. Right? They put it in their constitution after Russia invaded the first time and annexed Crimea. So this is going to be not a cut-and-dry issue. They have to have a referendum on this. They have to decide. It's not just that Zelenskyy can decide to give it up on his own.

And so there's a lot of opposition, still, within Ukraine, among Ukrainian members of Parliament, who are actually here in Washington, D.C., this week, who are saying that neutrality is not an option here.

[06:20:06] There are some in Europe who believe that, you know, certain European countries who believe that joining the E.U. could be a feasible option for Ukraine. It could be some kind of middle ground that could provide them with a level of security if Russia were to try to attack them again in the future, because it would offer them more support than they have right now, obviously being not a member of NATO or the E.U.

But, you know, Ukrainian M.P.'s who visited this week said it's just not the same. The E.U. does not provide the same kind of military security umbrella that NATO would.

KEILAR: I want to ask you about about some incredible video that we are seeing out of Belgorod, Russia, which is just over the border, with them launching a lot of attacks, a lot of military deployments, by the Russians.

And in this video, we see what appeared to be low-flying helicopters attacking -- this is an attack on a fuel depot there. I mean, just look at this. Unbelievable.

And these are reports of a Ukrainian strike inside Russia. What does that do to the situation?

TAYLOR: It tells the Russians that the Ukrainian military is very capable. It's got good intelligence. It knows exactly where those fuel tanks are. It is able to get there. It's got -- it's got its air force in terms of both the fixed wing but also these helicopters, armed and capable of doing damage.

KEILAR: Can you believe that, looking at this?


KEILAR: You can? This doesn't surprise you?

TAYLOR: The Ukrainian military is very competent. They're very capable. They are doing -- they're attacking -- they're pushing back the Russians in a lot of places.

KEILAR: That is bold. That is some bold moves that we're watching there on that video.

Ambassador, thank you so much.

Natasha, really appreciate the reporting.

After weeks of heavy shelling, the Ukrainian city of Irpin now lies in ruins. One woman who fled is now doing what she can to help others get out. Next.



BERMAN: A Ukrainian woman who escaped Irpin is now paying it forward by helping others escape to safety. These are pictures that Anastasia took just before she fled Irpin earlier this month. She saw a bomb explode in her neighbor's yard.

This is what Irpin looks like now. The area is so dangerous and still such a ravaged war zone.

Joining me is Anastasia. So nice to see you. Thank you so much for joining us. I'm so glad you did make it out. I'm sure you've seen the pictures of Irpin, what it looks like now. What's it like to see that?

ANASTASIA, UKRAINIAN REFUGEE: It's definitely very strange to see the town that's been so peaceful. It has been a very family town. This is -- it's the suburbs where people would come with their family to settle down and live. And right now, it's like over 50 percent destroyed. And this -- this has been awful for sure.

BERMAN: And when you were there, you saw a bomb land in your neighbor's yard?

ANASTASIA: Yes. So we were actually having lunch. And we went upstairs. Because honestly, we were in the further part of town where you don't hear air-raid sirens.

So basically, we only hid when we actually heard explosions closer to us. So we didn't hear anything close. They were still further away. And we decided to go upstairs and have lunch. And while we were literally eating soup, there was some kind of explosion in the neighbor's yard. And it was -- honestly, all the Marvel movies you can see, you can never get what it's like. Like, the entire building is shaking. Like, the glass is shaking. The sound just fills everything. So it's been very scary.

BERMAN: And at that moment, what did you decide?

ANASTASIA: We actually decided to still stay in Irpin, which you know, once again in retrospect, it probably wasn't the best idea. But we were home, and we were with our parents. And we had a basement and everything. So we really thought this would be over, I guess, sooner rather than later.

BERMAN: Ultimately, you did get out. You decided to come here to Lviv. But you're not going to leave the country. You want to stay. Why do you feel so strongly about staying?

ANASTASIA: I really believe in our army. I really believe that the more people stay here, the more help we can give to our army. And even, actually, though I have, like, U.S. visa, active one right now, and my boyfriend has it, too, and I guess we could leave. But I really want to stay here and help and celebrate our victory at home.

BERMAN: When do you think that will come?

ANASTASIA: Soon, I hope. I really hope soon.

BERMAN: If you don't mind me saying, you had told us you're here in Lviv. You're actually considering going back to the Kyiv area soon.

ANASTASIA: Yes. BERMAN: You think it's safe enough?

ANASTASIA: I don't think anyplace is entirely safe in Ukraine right now. Like, home is home. And I only -- even if not to stay but just to go back to see my apartment, maybe get some things, because I only had a backpack with me for the last month or so.

BERMAN: I was going to say. What did you leave with?

ANASTASIA: Gosh, that was -- that was -- Honestly, the day the war started, we had no idea what was happening. And I was like, OK, so I should probably pack. Because again, I was so sure nothing was going to happen.

So I only had, like, a couple of sweaters. I took, like, a dry breakfast for some reason. But I did not take, like, any kind of, like, medicine or, like, a hairbrush. Like, I had bananas with me. Just -- honestly, it is so weird. Like, on the day you pack, this is -- people put the strangest things in their backpacks.

A friend of mine took, like, an actual cooking pot with her.

BERMAN: A cooking pot, yes.

ANASTASIA: Why? You know? But still. And it just -- it really shows how much no one was prepared for war. No one was really ready for this.

BERMAN: The things you decide to do in that split second are so interesting when you look back on it.

The reason I was talking about Kyiv is because I doubt two weeks ago you would have thought about going back to the city. But now, things have changed enough where you feel like it's -- it's OK, the Ukrainian forces have performed.