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CNN At Site of Mass Graves in Bucha; Ukraine says, Russian Forces Kill 1 Mayor, Holding Others Captive. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired April 04, 2022 - 07:00   ET



FREDERIK PLEITGAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, essentially, what we're seeing here, what you have behind me here is a mass grave. This is the place that you were just showing on those satellite images. And that's where the people here tell us that around 150 bodies have been buried here. It's also a place that we visited yesterday. It's an awful site.

We're not going to come any closer to it because, obviously, we want to be respectful of it. But it's essentially two sand berms that you can see there, the actual mass grave is behind both of these sand berms. And there are literally dozens of bodies -- at the top of that.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Obviously, communications there are difficult there, but I want people to pause for a moment and let it sink what Fred said there at the very beginning of that conversation. Fred Pleitgen in Bucha says what you have behind me is a mass grave. Those are chilling words in and of themselves.

Fred suggesting or saying that 150, up to 150 bodies are in there, Bucha, this city, northwest of Kyiv, where the Russians were in control for a month, for five weeks, before being pushed out by this Ukrainian counter offensive, Ukrainians retreating north there. And now, the Ukrainian forces back in control discovering horror when they're back there, Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN NEW DAY: Yes. And we also had heard earlier from the mayor, he thought that maybe as many as 290 bodies were there, but he also told us that half of them had been identified, which certainly would be close to 150. So, we're going to try to get more information on those numbers, of course. But that is so many lives.

And this is what folks have -- actually, you know what, I think we have Fred Pleitgen. Let's try to get him in, in Bucha. Fred?

PLEITGEN: Hi there, Brianna. We're really sorry about this because, obviously, there are big problems with communications here. The satellite phone networks are still down. The regular networks are still down, so we are sort of on a satellite dish, a small one that we have set up here.

But let me set the scene again. Obviously, behind me, you have the mass grave here in Bucha. It's right behind the main church. And what people here have been telling us is they have been starting to fill this grave basically shortly after the Russians entered this place, because so many civilians were getting killed in the process.

And, you know, behind me, the authorities say that there's around 150 to maybe 200 bodies inside that mass grave already. The mayor of Bucha has obviously said that he believes in total here in this district, around 300 people might be buried in mass graves. But this is certainly one of the main ones. We just had some Ukrainian troops who come through here as well. Obviously, everybody who comes here is deeply saddened and angered by what they see.

And the bodies that are inside the mass grave, all of them have been placed into plastic bags. Some of them, however, still have sort of limbs coming out of the top layers of soil. And the sort of several layers of dead that are buried here.

And, unfortunately, the people that speak to on the ground, we spoke to some of the emergency services guys, and they told us this is not the end of it. They are still finding bodies not so much anymore in the streets, however, a lot of bodies inside houses, a lot inside cellars, people who took covered, some who were killed in other ways. So, this is certainly something that no one here really believes is not going to end any time soon, the fact that they are finding dead people in Bucha all over the place.

We -- on the way here, we stopped an ambulance, we stopped an emergency services worker, and he told us that him and his crew and the other crews that were picking up the dead bodies collected more than 480 in the last sort of hours, in the last overnight hours alone. So, certainly, you can see right now, as the Ukrainian forces have moved in here, as they have taken control here, that's where we are seeing the full picture or starting to see the full picture of how many civilians were actually killed.

And Bucha is one of those places where, of course, we know that there was that very heavy fighting going on. There are also still a lot of destroyed Russian armor. That's in the streets here. There's much more of Russian armor that was destroyed that many people would think.

And also then the Russians, of course, are letting on. They are, of course, saying that this was a retreat that they had said was going to happen any time. They said it was orderly. When you're on the ground here, it certainly does not look orderly at all. A lot of Russian stuff is destroyed and a lot of Russian uniforms are laying next to destroyed vehicles, because the Ukrainians say some of these Russian troops, they went out so fast, they ditched their uniforms and simply ran away.

So, it is an absolutely devastating picture here in this district of Bucha, just outside of Kyiv.


And as you can see behind me, that mass grave, there still are a lot of people who are coming here. There's also people looking for loved ones. We saw someone break down and cry because he believed that his brother was now buried here, who he had been looking for for a very long time. This is definitely something that is obviously hurting the people here of Ukraine as more and more focus is now coming here on this district of Bucha, Brianna.

BERMAN: It should hurt the soul of humanity, Fred. And it's very important to have you there at this exact moment. You are bearing witness to history, a tragic history. And if the signal is still up and if you can still hear me, Fred, what have you heard in terms of how or when these people were killed?

All right, Fred isn't hearing us there. But, again, I just want it to sink in what Fred was talking about there. Fred tells us they're finding bodies all over the place in Bucha. We have had different estimates of how many dead, anywhere from 150. Brianna, you heard from the mayor, over 200. Fred said he heard from someone who was searching for the bodies that over 400 at this point. We may never get an exact count.

But when you see the scenes behind Fred, when you see people searching for their loved ones in that ditch, one death is a tragedy, a horror, an atrocity.

We're going to try to establish contact with Fred again there because what he is seeing is so very important.

In the meantime, let's go to CNN's Christiane Amanpour, who is in Kharkiv, who is Northeastern Ukraine, a place we haven't had any visibility with our reporters in some time. Christiane, just tell us what you are seeing there.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Well, John, you can imagine that the people here in Ukraine's second largest city are really, really terrified of anything like what we've been seeing around Kyiv happening here as the Russian forces redirect to this part of the country.

We have heard in the last 24, 36 hours that we have been here constant and regular artillery. We can hear the bombardment. We saw this morning the result of just one mortar that fell in a residential complex. And in that neighborhood, we're told there were 34 casualties, including seven deaths, and that's just yesterday.

Why am I here right now? I'm here in the metro in Central Kharkiv, because even now, 40 days into this war, metro stations like this are absolutely packed with people.

BERMAN: Okay. Obviously, communication is an issue all over Ukraine there. Christiane Amanpour in a metro station in Kharkiv, where people are still sheltering, images like the London blitz from World War II, people hiding in the tube station there.

I think we have Fred Pleitgen back. We're going to ping pong as much as we can, because having the reporters here is so essential.

Fred, we were talking to you before, trying to get a sense of what you're hearing about how and when these civilians have been killed over the last five weeks in Bucha.

PLEITGEN: Yes. And, again, we have to apologize to our viewers. We are having real trouble keeping the communication upright. But keep trying to come back up every time you know that it goes down. And it's a really interesting question, one that we also asked as well.

And this grave here has been filled throughout the time that the Russians occupied this place. They said that they started opening it and sort of burying people here shortly after the Russians invaded this area because there were so many civilian casualties on the ground, people who were getting shot in the streets, people who were in the crossfire of fighting as well. But, generally, a lot of people who were getting killed as the Russian forces rolled in here and then occupied this place.

So, it was really at the beginning of March, in the earlier stages of March, first week of March. I'm going to get out of your way a little bit. You can see there's more Ukrainian soldiers who are obviously coming here as well. They fought for this place for such a very long time. And now, for them, it's also, of course, devastating to see what happened to their compatriots during the time that this place was under Russian occupation.

You have the two crosses back there. I think that's sort of where the mass grave started when it was -- when they opened it for the first time about a month ago. And they essentially told us that they simply didn't have the time and the place to be able to bury people properly. And so they opened it fairly shortly after the Russians came in here and it just kept filling up as more and more people were getting killed.

And, of course, one of the other things that you have to imagine is that this place was under Russian occupation, but there was fighting going on. So, it was extremely dangerous also for people to try and pick up some of the bodies and bring them here for a burial. At the same time, of course, there were the occupying forces who made it difficult for people to move around the streets.

And so, by and by, they say, this grave kept filling up. But now, of course, especially in the past couple of days, there were a lot more bodies that have come in here as the situation has become more safe on the streets because, obviously, the Russians are gone, but at the same time, they're finding a lot of these bodies now on the streets here and sort of bringing them away.


So, it's something that has been going on for a very long time. We saw those satellite images that, at various stages, showed this grave evolving, if you will, as this place was under control of the Russians. And now, obviously, people here are finding the full extent of how many bodies are actually buried here.

But I think one thing that we have to point out, John, is that everything that we hear about this place is that it's only estimations. People do not know how many folks are actually buried here, how many bodies are actually buried here. They think it's about 150, maybe a little more, maybe around 200, but they simply don't know because so many people were killed and it was such a difficult situation that pretty much people lost track of how many were actually being buried here.

And, again, this is something that is still going on in this district of Bucha because they are still finding so many bodies. It's an absolutely unclear situation how many civilians were actually killed here. But they can say it was many considering the fact that they just picked up more than 400 dead bodies off the streets, in cellars, in destroyed buildings just overnight, John.

KEILAR: Yes, no, it's incredibly horrific, and that is what so many people are dealing with, their loved ones who are left behind in Bucha, who tried to stay, and now they don't even know necessarily what happened to them. They are wondering if they are in that mass grave behind you. So much unclear, except what is very clear is just how terrible this is that has happened there in Bucha, Fred.

If you could stand by for us, I want to go back to Kharkiv, which is where we find Christiane Amanpour.

Christiane, we lost you momentarily there before, but could you set the scene for where you are for us?

All right, unfortunately, we have lost Christiane there again. I do, though, want to talk about a very important interview that we did, which is with the mayor of Bucha, where Fred just was reporting from where that mass grave has been discovered or bodies strewn across the central road there. And so many dead Ukrainians have been found in people's back yards, in their cellars, as he said. The mayor said we will not forgive the Russian people for the atrocities that happened. That is what he is saying after Russian troops left this trail of horror in the streets of his city. And he says that he got the impression that Vladimir Putin gave his troops the green light to go to a safari, as he put it, in Ukraine.


KEILAR: Mayor, can you please tell us what you are seeing in Bucha?

MAYOR ANATOLY FEDORUK, BUCHA, UKRAINE: Yes, I can tell you. At the moment, half the city is destroyed. There is a lot of destroyed buildings, a lot of dead bodies on the streets, and the services are working on clearing mines, transitioning from war footing to peace time living and within the confines of the martial law that we have.

We get the impression that Russian occupiers got the green light from Putin and Shoygu, the Russian defense minister, to have a safari in Ukraine. And they weren't able to take Kyiv so they vented their frustration on Bucha and the surrounding areas.

KEILAR: Mayor, have you been able to identify any of the bodies in the mass grave or on the street there where we have seen the pictures?

FEDORUK: We believe we are able to identify about 50 percent of the bodies that are collected in the streets. These are Ukrainian citizens, citizens of our city and the surrounding towns. Some of them are being taken to the Kyiv mortuaries and this work is ongoing.

KEILAR: Mayor, you mentioned that there were elderly among the victims. Are there children?

FEDORUK: Well, as I said, there are different kinds of people. And throughout, many children, many teenagers, these were children. They posed no threat to the Russian troops, Russia as a whole. They did pose absolutely no danger. And it was impossible not to see that they were children, not to see that a mother is carrying a child. And this cynical -- these cynical atrocities is what the Russian troops are all about. That is what Russia is all about. And we shall never forgive them. They will never be forgiven on this earth or in heaven.

KEILAR: Mayor, I can't imagine how people there are feeling. What are they telling you?

FEDORUK: Almost everybody who survives the occupation, who went through the occupation, will need specialist psychological help to get out of this state.


We Ukrainians have seen a lot through our historic -- throughout history. But what we have seen through the period of the Russian war, which is still ongoing, and it hasn't stopped yet, that we have experienced for the first time.

KEILAR: Mayor, how worried are you that Bucha is just the beginning, that we're going to be seeing this in other towns and cities?

FEDORUK: So, based on what we have seen, what the occupiers, what the Russian occupiers have done here, I think we can expect to see the same picture on the entire territory from Kyiv to Mariupol and Kherson. This will happen everywhere where the Russian occupier has stepped in.

And they cannot make progress militarily. The Ukrainian Armed Forces stopped them, so they are torturing civilians. And this is how they are performing. This is the so-called de-Nazification that the Russian president, Putin, mentioned, but it is actually dehumanization of Ukrainians.


KEILAR: I think that is something that is so important to keep in mind here as he is saying essentially Bucha is not special, that this is something he expects to see in many, many towns. And we have heard the horror stories coming out of Mariupol, for instance, Berman, but it is something entirely different to see it, for reporters to be able to go there and to look into the mass graves rather than just hearing descriptions of them to verify obviously that that is going on.

There is no reason to doubt those descriptions coming out of Mariupol, but the pictures tell such an important story, they tell such an important truth about just how horrific this is, what we are seeing here.

BERMAN: It is so important to bear witness to the horror, to see for ourselves what took place. So, when you had Frederik Pleitgen standing on the edge of a mass grave, that is important historically. It is important for the world to see it and to figure out what the world is going to do about it.

To that end, I want to bring in Oleksiy Arestovych. He's an adviser to President Zelenskyy's chief of staff. Oleksis, thank you so much for being with us.

Do you feel at this point that you have a sense of the scale of death, the scale of the atrocities committed here?

OLEKSIYI ARESTOVYCH, ADVISER TO PRESIDENT ZELENSKYY'S CHIEF OF STAFF: If we look to Syria, Aleppo, to Checnya's and Budapest and Hungary about 1956, we completely understand that this is normal for Russian troops to make this terrible thing in Afghanistan and like this. It's the line of the Russian military culture. It is very organically for them to do these things.

We can remember -- we could remember Afghanistan. It's about a million died in the same situation, same way, and same orders of command, high command or raid command officers.

BERMAN: What we are seeing in Bucha right now, are you seeing it in other towns that Ukrainians have reoccupied?

ARESTOVYCH: The main problem and we have to clearly understand is that is not an exception in Bucha or Irpin. But right now, we have reoccupied it, town of Makariv and Borodyanka, and the situation in there maybe even worse than in Bucha. And so it has taken time to understand this and to identify this. But witnesses say it is more terribly situation than in Bucha. We have to be clear, of course, but it could be.

If we look at Mariupol after all this will be ended, finished, I think 100 it's more worse situation than in Bucha, which is no exception in this war.

BERMAN: That's testifying. It really is. What do you want the world to do about it?

ARESTOVYCH: I think after that situation, after Bucha massacre, any countries can be neutralized. They have to choose the side. Is it Putin's regime side or it's the side of the open society decides what the (INAUDIBLE) organized world which have to decide on what they have to do with this Putin regime, because this regime is anti-humanity, essentially anti-humanity, which you understand. It is not an exception. It is not excessive execution.


It's essentially Putin regime.

The world have to understand, they tried to make today U.N. Security Council summit, and the Putin regime proclaims this is Ukrainian show. It is not real massacre. So, we have to understand that it is a lot of lie and a lot of massacre essentially by the Putin regime.

BERMAN: Which is why it is important to have reporters on the ground to see it for ourselves and show the world what is happening.

I do want to ask you. Russia says it is redirecting its assets to the east here and it's going to concentrate, it claims now, its attacks on the Eastern part of Ukraine. CNN has reporting and the British are saying that Putin wants to be able to declare victory by May 9th. What do you say to this?

ARESTOVYCH: They try to redirect main operative efforts from north of Ukraine to the east, as you say. They have eight operational directions in Ukraine and he started this campaign. But now it is left only to Mariupol and try to surround our forces.

BERMAN: All right, we appear to have lost Oleksiy. Oh, hang on.

ARESTOVYCH: Do you see me? Do you hear me?

BERMAN: Yes, please continue.

ARESTOVYCH: They can to start operation to surround our forces at the east because they have a lot of disorganization and losses of force. They try to take Russia, an army from the east -- the last army, ten field armies they have taken from here in Ukraine. And I think that Putin wants to meet President Zelenskyy with a little but victory, and this type of victory he thinks it could be more catching Mariupol or surrounding our forces at the east. But I think they can't do it at all.

BERMAN: Oleksiy Arestovych, please stay safe. Thank you so much for your time this morning.

ARESTOVYCH: Thank you so much. Thank you for the opportunity.

BERMAN: Ukraine says 11 of its mayors players are being held captive by Russian forces. One has been killed in captivity. This is CNN's special live coverage. Stay with us.



KEILAR: I'm Brianna Keilar live in Western Ukraine. The mayor Motyzhyn, Ukraine, Olga Sukhenko, allegedly shot and killed by Russian forces along with her husband and her son for refusing to comply to their demands, with their demands. Ukrainian officials say that the Russian forces right now also currently holding nearly a dozen other mayors captive.

CNN reporters are covering the latest.

NADA BASHIR, CNN PRODUCERS: I'm Nada Bashir in London. And according to Ukraine's deputy prime minister, 11 local Ukrainian mayors from the regions of Kyiv, Kherson, Mykolaiv and Donetsk have been held captive by Russian forces. In a statement on Sunday, Ukraine's deputy prime minister said that Olga Sukhenko, a local mayor from Kyiv region, had been killed in captivity.

CNN has been unable to independently verify these claims, although Russian forces have detained local government officials in a number of instances around the country. The Ukrainian government has repeatedly accused Russian forces of committing war crimes and has said that those responsible will be held accountable in line with international humanitarian law.

CHRISTOPHER WHITE, VATIAN CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL CATHOLIC REPORTER: Christopher White, Vatican Correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter coming to you from Rome. Pope Francis has confirmed that a potential papal visit to Kyiv is on the table. Since the outbreak of the war, the pope has promised to do anything he can to bring an end to it, and now that includes a possible papal visit into the war-torn country.

The pope has spoken with President Zelenskyy twice, who has made appeals to the pope saying his physical presence could be the only potential way that peace is brought to the country.

The pope has a number of limiting factors, includes his knee problems that he did confirm on Sunday that it is under consideration and very much a possibility.

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN REPORTER: Hundreds of Ukrainians fleeing the war in Ukraine are arriving to the Mexican border city of Tijuana to try to seek asylum in the United States. Volunteers on the ground tell CNN that in the last few days, the number of arrivals has quadrupled.

Now, this is happening against the backdrop of the U.S. committing to accept up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees. Now, that is going to include a full range of legal pathways, like the Refugee Admissions Program Parole or visas. But the administration has not yet released all details of those plans. And in the interim, some Ukrainians are seeing arriving to the U.S./Mexico border as the fastest way to get into the United States.

KEILAR: We do have some more on our breaking news. Ukrainian President Zelenskyy accusing the Russian government of genocide, accusing Russian forces of genocide.

CNN is on the ground at the site of some of these atrocities that he is pointing to as evidence of that genocide.

Plus, foreign fighters who joined the war in Ukraine, why some officials say they are treating it like a video game and that it could be causing even more harm.