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Russian Forces Continue Attacking in Eastern Ukraine; Atrocities by Russian Forces Uncovered in Bucha, Ukraine, and Other Cities; Russian Forces Reportedly Took Phones and SIM Cards from Ukrainian Residents When Occupying Their Cities. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired April 05, 2022 - 08:00   ET



JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: This is a live fire test of whether fear and brute force will determine the trajectory of the 21st century, or whether we will insist on the standard that Lincoln gave us, daring to live up to the faith that right makes might.

And that's your Reality Check.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: All right, John Avlon, thank you so much for that. And NEW DAY continues right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.

KEILAR: Good morning to viewers in the U.S. and around the world. It is Tuesday, April 5th. I'm Brianna Keilar in Lviv, Ukraine, with John Berman in New York. Street by street, town by town, Russia's atrocities in Ukraine are mounting. The savagery that we have seen in Bucha, which is a key suburb that Russian forces turned into a killing field, may only be the beginning of this war.

We do want to warn you that the images you're about to see are disturbing, but they're important to show. A CNN team witnessed the removal of five bodies from a basement in Bucha. They were in an advanced state of decomposition in an area that was held by the Russian military. A Ukrainian official says that they were tortured and executed. And the death toll in Bucha alone is believed to be well over 300. The deputy prime minister of Ukraine told me that casualties could be even worse in other areas.


IRYNA VERESHCHUK, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER OF UKRAINE (through translator): Borodyanka was also fully occupied for a while, and we had no access. We could not see what was happening there. Therefore, we are inviting journalists, criminal experts, and anybody with relevant experience to come and witness what we will discover in Borodyanka, because we know that the animals in military uniform -- there is no other way to call them -- were torturing women and children.

Yes, because there are -- there are witness accounts, we know that women were raped, and civilians were killed, just for walking in the street or hiding in the basement. Thousands of such people have been tortured and killed.


KEILAR: This morning, President Zelenskyy will speak to the United Nations Security Council. Of course, Russia is a permanent member of that council.

Breaking overnight, the Russians on the attack in eastern Ukraine, the Donbas region, over here. A Ukrainian military official calls the situation there difficult with heavy Russian bombardment, ambulances, rescue teams unable to reach some districts where civilians are being buried in their yards.

And this just in to CNN -- the governor of Luhansk, which is part of the Donbas region, tells residents to stay inside and close the windows and doors after a Russian strike hit a nitric acid tank in the area. That happened moments ago. Nitric acid is toxic, it can cause chemical burns, and lead to serious injuries if inhaled.

I want to talk about the overall situation we're seeing in some different regions. CNN's reporters spanned out across the entire country. I want to begin with CNN's Ed Lavandera who is in port city of Odessa. Ed, give us a sense of what you're seeing.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. Just before daybreak here in Odessa, there was a round of air raid sirens blasting throughout the city for a long time, perhaps one of the longest stretches of air raid sirens here in the city that I've heard since we arrived. And then there was a barrage of gunfire of some sort. We haven't been able to pinpoint exactly the details of what exactly is going on. Military officials here have not released any information.

But remember, it was that time of day just two days ago when Russian forces unleashed a missile strike on an oil refinery and fuel storage facilities here in this city. And one of the things that stood out in our reporting from that scene were various residents who told us that in the days leading up to the attack on that oil refinery and storage facility, that they had been hearing reconnaissance drones flying around the area. And so that is something to be on the lookout for. That is something that residents here are aware of. Whether or not the gunfire we heard this morning is related to anything like that, we just don't know at this point.

But this comes as this southern region of Ukraine, John, comes into focus as Russian forces regroup, refocus on the east of Ukraine. There has always been a great deal of concern that reaching down here to Odessa and along the coast of the northern Black Sea is the ultimate prize here for Russian forces and could still very well be the case. John?

KEILAR: Ed, what is the mood there among residents and among members of the Ukrainian military? Are they fearful? Are they optimistic that they could hold off a Russian advance?


LAVANDERA: Well, in various activist and volunteers that are helping military forces here in the overall kind of demeanor of Ukrainian forces, incredibly defiant. I think they're emboldened by what they have seen their countrymen do in the north of Ukraine around Kyiv in pushing back the forces there. So there is definitely a great deal of -- and feeling emboldened and confident about what the forces here can do.

But it's still a question of what exactly is going to happen, how is this attack going to unfold. And in the streets, when you talk to people, even though this is a city that has enjoyed relative quiet for several -- in the week leading up to Sunday morning's attack here, the overwhelming sense here is that everyone knows that all of this could change in a moment's notice and could change drastically.

BERMAN: All right, our Ed Lavandera who is in Odessa, Ed, thank you very much.

And just so everyone knows, we're trying to establish contact with our Frederik Pleitgen who is in Makariv, right here, you can see not far from Kyiv. One of these towns that was under Russian occupation that Ukrainian forces now control, an area where they are expecting to find more evidence of atrocities, our Fred Pleitgen hopefully will be on the ground for us there very shortly. Brianna?

KEILAR: Yes, that's the case, right. We have been seeing areas where the most important stories are to be told, these stories that we don't know what had been happening for the last month. They're in areas where communications have been severely affected. So we're working through that. But we're going to bring that up as soon as we can.

In Mykolaiv in southern Ukraine, one person was killed and five others were injured in early morning missile strikes yesterday. CNN's Ben Wedeman and his team narrowly escaped the artillery fire.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Down here. Down here. Keep on rolling. You see it over there?


KEILAR: And joining me now from Mykolaiv is Isabelle Khurshudyan, the foreign correspondent for "The Washington Post." She has been documenting the atrocities taking place in Mykolaiv. Isabelle, you've been telling incredible stories, including this one in particular of some of the villages around Mykolaiv. You talk about when the Russian forces couldn't get through Mykolaiv, they went to these small villages outside. And I was hoping you could first share with us the story of Serhii, who is the husband of Tatiana Bozhiko there in one town. Tell us what happened to him.

ISABELLE KHURSHUDYAN, FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes, so he kind of had the most pro Ukrainian views in town, and everybody knew it. Everybody knew he was kind of the most ardent pro Ukrainian. But Serhii was just a math teacher. He's never served, never fought in the military, anything like that. But when the Russians occupied this town of Lotskyna, about an hour northeast of Mykolaiv, they came for him. He was 59-years-old. They took him, detained him. His wife looked for him everywhere. Eventually she found him at one of the soldiers' headquarters. And at that point he was already badly beaten. He had been shot through the arm, through the elbow.

And they told her, oh, he'll be home by this evening. He'll be home this evening. And then a couple hours passed, she went to kind of get some ointment, things of that sort, things to treat his wounds so that it wouldn't be infected. And when she tried to find him again, she couldn't, people were just -- the soldiers were telling her, oh, he's not here, or oh, come back later. That night, Ukrainian forces were approaching and the Russians ended up just leaving in the middle of the night. There was still kind of no sign of where Serhii was, and the next morning some neighbors found his body buried. He had been shot multiple times. The body was so badly mangled that his wife wasn't even allowed to see him.

So just there is a belief that he was obviously tortured before he was killed. He had broken limbs. And it shows that this isn't just happening in Bucha. This is happening in other areas, and we just don't know about it yet. The atrocities, we don't know how many Buchas there are at this point.


KEILAR: And it seems like you found a couple in a way in the story you were telling. You were also in Mykolaivka, where it sounds like they turned a school into a torture center.

KHURSHUDYAN: Yes, the way the school was described to me was more of a prison, right. They took every single man in town -- this was a town of 700 people, and all of a sudden there's thousands of Russians there. So they were way outnumbered. They took every man in town, made them line up facing the wall, eyes down, hands behind their backs, interrogated people over and over, who has guns. Whoever had unregistered guns was beaten. They kept asking where are the Nazis, or where are the Banderites, which is a term for a Ukrainian nationalist group formed in World War II.

So just kind of shows the level of Kremlin false propaganda that was drilled into these soldiers that they really thought they would come to Ukraine and find Nazis and every single neighborhood. And the people in these towns kept telling them, there are no Nazis here. We have no people like that. All we want is peace. People told us about how their chickens were killed for food, their

cars were stolen, they were repeatedly threatened at gunpoint, that the Russians would try to use these villagers as human shields. Every time, Ukrainian forces might kind of launch an attack or get close, they would move all their vehicles, they would position themselves between the houses in the driveways because they knew the Ukrainians wouldn't be able to attack them, because they could potentially hurt civilians. So some of the stories were just absolutely crazy and really scary.

KEILAR: And look, Isabelle, as you put in your story, they were afraid they wouldn't be believed, but there you are telling these important stories. Isabelle Khurshudyan, we do appreciate you sharing them with us.


KEILAR: And Berman, I think one of the things we're getting a sense of as Isabelle reports that -- as Isabelle reports, that the troops, the Russian troops will go door to door, take the cell phones, the SIM cards, there was no way for people to communicate with the outside.

BERMAN: It's something we're hearing town to town.

That breaking news you just saw, we now have established contact with our Frederik Pleitgen who is on the ground in Makariv right here, one of these towns that was under Russian occupation, now the Ukrainians under control. Fred, you've moved locations. Why don't you give us a sense of what you're seeing now.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, John. Yes, sorry, it's difficult to establish communication in some of these places that we're going, because obviously in a lot of places communications were knocked out, so we have to move to where we get some sort of signal.

We're not actually in central Makariv. You can see there is still a destroyed armored vehicle back there. That's actually a Ukrainian armored vehicle. We saw that by the camouflage that you can still see on the side, and it also has some flowers that were put on the back of it, obviously by local folks here, after the Ukrainians won this town back.

But we were speaking in the last hour, and I was at that car that was picking up the bodies, and just in the time since the last time since that we spoke, which is a little less than an hour ago, I think about 55 minutes ago, we with them actually picked up another two dead bodies on their route. There was one person that was badly burned, seemed to be hit by some sort of artillery strike, and another person who had severe gunshot wounds, where they said they believed that it was someone gunned down by the Russian military when they were here.

And I spoke a little more to the people who were collecting those bodies, and they said that all of the ones that they are collecting now are civilians. And it really obviously hurts them as they do this, because they say they really don't understand why these people were shot, why these people were killed in other ways. It really is a tragic sight that we're witnessing here.

And I just think one of the things that is so remarkable is that just in less than an hour, as they did their tour, they picked up three bodies just that we saw, while we were doing live shots with you guys. So definitely devastating scenes that we have been seeing as we move along in a lot of these towns that were taken back by the Ukrainian military right now in Makariv.

And again, this is one of those places where the Russians were confronted by the Ukrainian military, you see it from that destroyed armored personnel carrier, the fighting vehicle, really, it all has a cannon on top, confronted by the Russians here, big battle that took place here. They say one of the biggest battles in the region around Kyiv, and certainly one that was devastating. But they also said the occupation when the Russians were here was absolutely awful, John.

KEILAR: Yes, and we're just hearing that is Russian troops were going through the towns, they would take away phones or SIM cards of people, they were going door to door, which is part of the reason, Fred, that we're just having these stories revealed now as you are physically moving through these towns. Tell us about where you're headed next.

PLEITGEN: Yes, so the next place we're going to head after this is a town called Borodyanka, one that the Ukrainian president was speaking about yesterday, when he said Bucha, which is obviously the place we were yesterday, is absolutely awful and there were a lot of civilians who were killed in Bucha.

But he fears there is other places that could be just as bad or even worse and Borodyanka, was one he was talking about. I've actually been in Borodyanka already this weekend, and, you know, we're going to be there, I think in 45 minutes or so. The scene there is absolutely awful -- absolute massive destruction, whole buildings that have collapsed.

And when we were there, the authorities there were telling us they believe a lot of people are -- dead people are still buried under the buildings there because they had no chance to escape. A lot of them tried to take shelter inside bigger structures. But then even these larger buildings were completely destroyed and the fighting that took place. And one of the other things we saw there as well is that the Russian occupation there was much more prominent. You have the letter V painted on almost all the buildings there, which is what the Russian military used in this -- in the invasion of this part of Ukraine. That's what they painted on their vehicles.

It is everywhere there. It looks like that place was taken over by some sort of cult or something like that, that's how much of these letters they painted there. It is really grim sight, and we're going to go back there now and see what the situation is like. But I can tell you from having been there for a very short time this weekend, almost everything in that town is completely destroyed.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: What a chilling sight that must be, Fred. I know I asked you this last hour, but I do think it bears repeating, where you are is in a town that was under Russian occupation like days ago, days ago. People can see on this map, the area in yellow is the area that Ukrainian counter-offenses have regained this territory.

The Russians are fully gone at this point. You know, you're not getting shelled by artillery, air strikes, the like, not happening at this point where you are?

PLEITGEN: No, you're absolutely right. And sort of the most dangerous thing for us is when we go around these military vehicles, go around destroyed buildings, there could be munitions that might still be left over. That's something that could be a danger for us. But other than that, you're right. The Russians are completely gone.

What they leave behind, though, is all of the destroyed vehicles that the Ukrainians managed to destroy while the Russians were trying to move on to Kyiv. I think it is one of the big things we'll find out in the next couple of days and we are already finding out, that the Russians claiming that this was some sort of orderly withdrawal and this was always the plan for them to then to march on to Kyiv to bind down the Ukrainian army, to be able to advance in the east -- that is definitely a lie. If it is not a lie, if that was really had they tried to do, they have absolutely no regard for the lives of their own soldiers, because many Russian soldiers died here, and some of them were literally incinerated in their vehicles.

If you see some of the vehicles, having been in that must also have been awful. And also, one of the things we saw is that the Russians really a lot of their troops, they lived in a really bad way here. There were certain houses we saw where they ransacked the inside. Some of them also just slept under their tanks because they had no other place to be. And they were in the elements for about a month as they were here inside Ukraine, guys.

BERMAN: And as you said, they believe behind the shells of these vehicles that are destroyed, but leaving behind more than that, too. They're leaving behind the horror, the atrocities committed against the civilian population, which is why you are there to document it.

Frederik Pleitgen, our thank you to you and your team, stay safe. We look forward to more reports from you as you move your way through this territory.

Moments from now, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will address the United Nations security council as he casts doubt on the possibility of meeting with the Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

Plus, the Pentagon very candid about Vladimir Putin's next move. Where they think he is looking to target next.




JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He is a war criminal. We have to gather all the details so this can be an actual -- have a war crimes trial. This guy is brutal, and what's happening in Bucha is outrageous.


KEILAR: Heightened remarks from President Biden calling Russia President Vladimir Putin a war criminal after reports of hundreds of civilians being killed in the Ukrainian city of Bucha.

With us now is special adviser for communications at the White House National Security Council, Matthew Miller.

Matt, thank you so much for being with us.

It seems like our reporters who are just moving through the towns, they are just witnessing atrocity after atrocity. What is the U.S. hearing about more towns besides Bucha?

MATTHEW MILLER, SPECIAL ADVISER FOR COMMUNICATIONS, WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: Well, one of the things I think we should be clear about, since before this invasion, we have released information predicting the Russians would behave in this manner. We released information before the invasion, showing that in our assessment, the Russians would engage in systematic targeted killings, torture, kidnappings, and other acts of repression against dissidents or anyone who is a threat to their occupation.

So, sadly, that is in fact what we're seeing with the images in Bucha and we expect we will see that as the Russians withdraw from areas in the north, and we think it will be another facet of their military campaign as they seek to redeploy and conquer the east.

Unfortunately, this is the way that the Russian military has decided to conduct its invasion of Ukraine, its occupation of parts of Ukraine and it is why we're so committed, number one, to holding the Russians accountable for their actions. And number two, continuing to flow military assistance into the Ukrainians so they can defend their country.

KEILAR: So, the president stopped short of calling this genocide. I wonder what about what we're seeing does not constitute genocide?

MILLER: Well, with respect to genocide in particular, there is a specific legal definition for crimes that rise to that level. And it's something that the United States assesses after a full review that is conducted by the State Department. We are just beginning to collect evidence of what is happening in Bucha and analyze that evidence. It's not the kind of assessment we can make overnight.

We did -- the president did make very clear that these were horrific, ghastly war crimes, and I think the point is no matter what name you apply to these atrocities, it is clear that's exactly what they are, they are atrocities, and the Russians deserve to be held accountable to them and that's what we're -- accountable for them, and that's what we're committed to do.


KEILAR: The president's calling for a war crimes tribunal, would that go through the ICC?

MILLER: The ICC is one venue through which you can hold a war crimes tribunal. There are other venues used in conflicts in the past. We're going to consult with our allies and partners about what the appropriate venue for any trials or tribunals would be. That's something that we'll do in private with them.

But I would say, those are the kinds of things that would take place down the road. It's not something that's going to start today or tomorrow or this week. I think for -- as we continue to assess this evidence and analyze it, and collect it, and talk to our allies and partners about what the appropriate mechanisms of accountability are.

We can't lose focus on the moment, when the most important thing we can do in the moment is to respond to these atrocities. And that's to continue to flow weapons capabilities into the Ukrainian so they can defend themselves, so that they can repel the Russians from the north, and they can defend against the Russian offensives in the south and in the east.

KEILAR: With the consideration of more sanctions coming forward, what else is -- what else is left? I mean, at this point, it seems Vladimir Putin has been pretty impervious at least personally to the impacts of the sanctions. What else is left to throw at him?

MILLER: We have additional sanctions that we can apply and that we will apply. We're consulting with our allies on that question now. And I think you'll see new measures rolled out this week.

I will say the sanctions so far have had enormous impact on the Russian economy. The Russian economy is expected to contract by 15 percent this year. Inflation is expected to come in around 15 percent.

And we have targeted key sectors of the economy to try to, number one, limit President Putin's ability to finance this war. And number two, to limit his ability to project power abroad.

But I should say, the sanctions were never a strategy by themselves. The sanctions were always one part of our strategy, where we have a strategy to, number one, put pressure on the Russian economy, put pressure on the Russian leadership through targeted sanctions that have a broad impact. And, number two, to flow military assistance and economic assistance and humanitarian assistance into Ukraine.

And we think it's those two things together that will have the most dramatic impact and will strengthen the Ukrainian hands on the battlefield and strengthen their hands ultimately at the negotiating table.

KEILAR: You mentioned that military assistance. Lawmakers and, of course, Ukrainian officials feel that it is not getting to Ukraine fast enough. How much of it have you been able to get here?

MILLER: You know, we delivered over $350 billion of military assistance just in the past few weeks. We committed over $1.6 billion just since the invasion, $2.3 billion since President Biden came into office. We are always looking to flow the assistance in quicker. We have deliveries going in every day.

And I would add, Bri, we're always identifying new capabilities. So, of course, we have been delivering the Javelins and the Stingers, we can all see on social media, the Ukrainian army using to such great impact.

But we're continuing to identify new systems that the Ukrainians can use. Either that we have in our stocks or that we can identify in our ally stocks. So things like coastal defense systems, things like air defense systems, that they can use to target Russian aircraft, and get those into the Ukraine -- into Ukraine so the Ukrainian military can use them as quickly as possible.

KEILAR: All right. Matthew Miller with the NSC, do appreciate you being with us this morning. Thank you.

MILLER: Thank you.

KEILAR: And this just in, the Kremlin issuing a warning that expulsion of Russian diplomats will inevitably lead to retaliatory steps. So, what are those?

And more on the breaking news, a nitric acid tank hit by Russian forces in Eastern Ukraine, unleashing a cloud of toxic chemicals covering the area. We'll have more of our live coverage on the ground in Ukraine, next.