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Pregnant Spouse Of Ukrainian Soldier Speaks Out On His Battle; Ukraine: Major Fighting Underway In East As Russians Shift; Twitter Says It Will Crack Down On Prisoners Of War Content. Aired 7:30-8a ET
Aired April 06, 2022 - 07:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LIUBA, HUSBAND IS FIGHTING FOR UKRAINE ON THE FRONTLINES (through translator): -- will sometimes run to me and cry, and say that she's afraid her dad will be killed. But I always explain to her that our dad is big and strong.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Uliana (ph), Liuba's sister, isn't just hosting her niece and nephew, she's running supplies to the front line -- to their father's military unit, just like she did for him back in 2014.
ULIANA, LIUBA'S SISTER (through translator): It was a really funny story. I had to bring washing machines to the military unit because they didn't have a way to wash their clothes.
KEILAR (voice-over): This time, Uliana trekked 1,000 kilometers to deliver night vision goggles, long underwear -- even a car and a drone to Mikhail's (ph) unit. She only saw him for a few minutes -- long enough to snap these pictures. The front line was too dangerous to stay any longer.
LIUBA (through translator): I was very worried when she went there the first time, a couple of weeks ago. Because the front line, right now, is not a clear line because the airstrikes can happen anywhere. So the front line is very blurred.
KEILAR (voice-over): Even Poofa (ph), the family dog, is a veteran of war. In 2014, Uliana took Poofa, then a puppy, to serve with Mikhail's reconnaissance unit. She's seen here sleeping with him on a personnel carrier. Now, Poofa comforts his children while he is away fighting.
LIUBA'S SON (through translator): I think our dad is protecting all of us very much. And they know -- I think that he didn't want to do this but that's what he had to do.
LIUBA'S DAUGHTER (through translator): When he comes back, I want to buy a big cotton candy, and I don't want him to go to the war. And I want all of us to stay together.
KEILAR (voice-over): It's all they hope for. It's what they fear this war may take from them. KEILAR (on camera): What do you worry about?
LIUBA (through translator): That he will not come back.
KEILAR (on camera): Liuba, what are your hopes for the future?
LIUBA (through translator): First of all, I hope that when it's time for the third child to see this world that my husband will be back from the war. That the war will end right at that time, and that the war will end with our victory. Because if we don't win this war then probably, in 15 to 20 years, my son will have to go to the next war and defend our country.
KEILAR: And that is the fear of so many mothers here, Berman.
I was asking her how many women do you know who are in this situation and she said she was trying to count among her friends -- there were so many. But they are in touch. They are trying to help each other out. They are trying to cheer each other up.
But as you saw, she is actually pregnant and expecting their third child, due in the end of August, which is close to Ukrainian Independence Day. All of her kids between this baby due and obviously, her son and her daughter -- around Independence Day. All Independence Day babies.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Well look -- and obviously, that creates all kinds of anxiety.
But one thing that is clear from your story and was clear when I was there, is how fully mobilized this country is in the war against Russia. The dog -- I mean, for God's sake, the dog is a war dog in this story. And none of this is unusual. Everyone is involved at every level in trying to drive the Russians out. It is truly extraordinary.
KEILAR: Yes, it was. It was amazing. I went to interview the family and then we ended up talking to the sister and realizing just how involved she was. And many people doing what she's doing as well. It really is extraordinary, as you say.
There is major fighting underway in eastern Ukraine. The next city experts say the Russians may be planning to capture -- we'll talk about that next.
Plus, humiliating videos of Russian prisoners of war in Ukraine are going viral on Twitter. What the site says it's going to do about it, ahead.
BERMAN: A new report this morning points to the city of Sloviansk in eastern Ukraine as the next possible scene of heavy fighting and the next target in Russia's offensive.
We want to bring in retired Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, former director of European Affairs for the National Security Council, and author of "Here, Right Matters: An American Story." Colonel, thanks so much for being with us.
I want to talk a little bit about the battle we understand may soon take place in Sloviansk -- in this city. This is in eastern Ukraine. This is in a region -- we understand this morning there is a new round of fierce fighting going on, Colonel. Why this city?
LT COL. ALEXANDER VINDMAN (RET), FORMER DIRECTOR OF EUROPEAN AFFAIRS, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL, AUTHOR, "HERE, RIGHT MATTERS: AN AMERICAN STORY": Well, there's a couple of medium-sized cities that are on the eastern flank of Ukraine that are going to be central to Russia's operation to envelope the joint operations forces for Ukraine to secure the remainder of the Donbas -- these larger portions of Luhansk and Donetsk regions.
And that would be this next phase of the operation. That's what -- that's this operation that's likely to unfold over the next four to six weeks and potentially grant Putin some sort of victory that he could claim in preparation for Victory Day on May 9.
That's the -- this is the first phase of this next part of this war. It doesn't end this war. It's likely a victory here that will spell further aggression, probably returning back to some of the cities up in the north, as well as pressing further in the south.
But this is the next part of the war and this is supposed to isolate that kind of area that's been the hub of fighting for --
VINDMAN: -- about eight years now. And those are the most hardened, most experienced troops based in that region, too.
KEILAR: Alex, I want to ask you about sort of a shift I think in the emotion here -- not surprising considering the atrocities we've seen this week.
But increasingly, we heard this from President Zelenskyy yesterday, we heard it from the Ukrainian deputy prime minister as well, and we just spoke with Wladimir Klitschko, the brother of the mayor of Kyiv. So much anger and saying to the West if you don't do something there's blood on your hands.
I wonder if you think those calls are going to go answered?
VINDMAN: You know, it's really difficult to watch the inhumanity of what's unfolding there. And unfortunately, a few -- quite a few people understood that this is the way that Russia was going to fight this war and we should have been doing more to prevent it. We should be doing more to help Ukraine. I think the fact is that the American public is ready there with a
desire -- a pressure and urgency to do more. And to a certain extent, our political elites that are kind of overthinking the dangers of escalation are the ones arresting greater support to Ukraine. I think that is going to start to crumble under the pressure of the populations in the U.S. and Europe, and we are going to start to do more. I see some hints of that already unfolding with regards to the aperture (ph) opening up on weapons. It's just happening too slow and needs to be much better coordinated.
And the bottom line is that if the Ukrainians ask for something, the answer is how do you get to yes. And that's the kind of shift that's starting to unfold too slowly with too much cost on the ground for Ukrainian lives for a war that Ukraine must win because it's the major battle for the direction of the 21st century.
BERMAN: Well, our Jim Sciutto is reporting that the Ukrainians are getting tanks -- tanks that they wanted there.
And this is interesting because we were speaking to Gen. Wesley Clark yesterday. And when he talks about the intensifying conflict in this part of the country -- in the eastern part of the country -- he says, Colonel, this will be a more conventional war. Not the type of insurgent activity we saw maybe around Kyiv here. It will be Ukrainian forces against Russian forces with those tanks.
Can Ukrainians hold up in that scenario?
VINDMAN: They can. Actually, I wouldn't necessarily describe the earlier phases of this war as insurgency. I would describe it as a really masterful use of small unit tactics.
VINDMAN: These platoon-sized raids that the Ukrainians were using to punish supply lines, to ambush armored vehicle convoys, and things of that nature. This is going to be a drawn-out battle much like what we've seen unfolding, at least in the urban centers -- like we've seen unfolding in Mariupol, and it will be a tough slog.
Some of the footage of the Ukrainians putting up valiant fights against the Russian formations -- what seemed like overwhelming numbers. That's what's going to play out in this particular region. And Russia's going to -- it's trying to build an asymmetry there. They're trying to concentrate forces -- so, ground combat power, artillery, airpower to oppress and destroy Ukrainian forces. But at the same time, Ukraine has some breathing room because the offensives to the north have gone away. So they could reposition forces there.
I think this is going to be kind of a slog between larger formations than we've seen thus far. And I would imagine that the Ukrainians still have some sort of -- some sort of advantage with regards to their high morale, their fierce fighting to defend their homes, and the low morale of the Russian troops. That's why this is going to be a particularly bloody battle. And if the Ukrainians stop Russia here, Russia is all but a spent force. KEILAR: Alex, I want to ask you about Mariupol. Not many pictures coming out of there. They don't have power. They don't have coms. They're running out of food. They have ran out of food and I'm sure, in many places, water.
And our Ivan Watson just reported that about 500 people were able to make it to Zaporizhzhia -- at least from the Mariupol area, if not Mariupol proper.
Why won't Russia allow more people out?
VINDMAN: You know, it's an interesting question. I think part of the idea is that these are aid convoys that are coming in -- that there might be a provision of material (ph) to the fighters there. The other component there is if you crush the will of the population and there is an outcry of the population in Mariupol to surrender, that makes it impossible for the military units there to continue to fight.
So I think it's a combination of the two -- isolating it, besieging it. It's kind of more of a standard siege warfare. You crush the morale and the will of the population, you also undermine the ability of the military to conduct its activities there. And then, plus, I think the Russians are prepared to bear significant losses in the Ukrainian side.
But cities require people so they want those people to stay there, to a certain extent, and be part of what will become, in their mind, a new Russian territory -- a new Russian city.
BERMAN: Retired Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, we appreciate your time. Thanks so much for being with us this morning.
VINDMAN: Thank you.
BERMAN: So, as we hear the Russian lies about events on the ground in Ukraine, see what the Russian people are being told on television.
And human shields. A teacher in Hostomel recounting the Russian occupation of her town. She joins us live. Stay with us.
BERMAN: Twitter with some new measures against Russian disinformation. It says it will no longer "amplify or recommend government accounts belonging to states that limit access to free information and are engaged in armed interstate conflict." Adding that the policy will first apply to tweets from Russian government accounts.
Separately from this, Twitter also says it will move tweets if they contain content of prisoners of war being abused, regardless who posts them.
Joining me now is CNN senior political analyst John Avlon, and CNN correspondent Donie O'Sullivan.
First, Donie, just very quickly talk to me about what's happening here with Twitter.
DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So, on the prisoner of war side of things, it's pretty interesting. I think a lot of people who have been online the past few weeks will have seen these videos that purport to show Russian soldiers tied up, sometimes blindfolded, crying, making a call home confessing to their mom or dad that they've been captured by the Ukrainians.
That's -- they've been kind of shared in the context of saying Ukraine is doing good here. They're winning this war.
Twitter is now saying that those videos are no longer going to be allowed on their platform because they are citing the Geneva Conventions, saying there is protection afforded to prisoners of war under those conventions and they don't want their platform used in this way.
JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: All right. Look, that's just a fascinating example of how laws and technology aren't often in tandem. And so, Twitter's trying to protect the privacy and presumably, dignity of these prisoners of war, and amid a sea of disinformation.
And I think that's what I think I'm even more interested in is not only how the platforms are trying to keep up and knock down official accounts, but the fact that you see this continued full-court press of Russian disinformation. They're losing the information war abroad but they seem to be winning it at home.
BERMAN: Yes. I don't think they're necessarily losing it at home, as you said, at all. Here's a little bit of a clip from Russian news and you can read along with what they're saying here. How they're describing the mass graves that have been discovered in Bucha.
Oh, it's just a tweet? OK.
TEXT: Here is what Russian people see on state T.V. War correspondent Yevgeny Poddubny is embedded with the Russian troops and may have witnessed their atrocities firsthand. He claims that Ukrainians killed their own people and also used actors to stage a fake production and blame Russia.
BERMAN: Well, there was video of it that we saw before of a Russian newscast here that was played. But the bottom line is they described this as something that is staged, is fake, is acting accounts.
AVLON: Yes, just a reality check. Pull back for a second here.
The Russian government's official position is that these mass graves that we are seeing and documenting in real time is a false-flag operation. That it's staged and it's fabricated. This is the position being articulated by the Russian ambassador at the United Nations.
And if there was ever a time to realize just how dangerous and sinister the reflex to project your alternate facts and own reality on the world is, we're confronting it in real time right now.
BERMAN: We are, and I get it. I mean, they're lies because we can all see --
AVLON: They're lies.
BERMAN: -- with our own eyes and our correspondents on the ground there. And it is propaganda and propaganda can be effective, Donie, but it may be landing to an audience that's receptive to it. We just don't know.
I mean, I think that the rest of the world was hoping the Russian people would be outraged at the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and we did see protests in those first days that were large. But, you know, we don't know that the Russians are as outraged as we were all hoping they would be.
O'SULLIVAN: And, of course, it's an extremely difficult thing to measure the perception --
O'SULLIVAN: -- of the Russian people.
But the woman who sent that tweet there, Julia Davis -- the tweet we showed on the screen -- she watches Russian T.V. -- T.V. that's broadcast in Russia all day long, basically. And she tells the world about what Russians are being told. What lies they are being told by their own media.
Actually, we have a CNN+ story coming today where we sat down with her for a day and watched Russian T.V. I will tell you that they make this very flashy. They make -- they put these lies into a convincing- looking package and it seems to be authoritative when it's coming from these folks.
What I will say -- what was also interesting when we were watching this Russian T.V. just how much they are relying on some propagandists in the U.S. to bolster their case -- saying see, this person is saying it on a certain primetime network in the U.S.
AVLON: That is key. I mean, they identify their useful idiots on the extremes of the political spectrum and they amplify them further. And that should really pull -- cause everyone to realize the larger game that's being played when these people articulate, sort of, propaganda on domestic airwaves.
But I think it's important on the Russian front. First of all, I think we've learned how brittle authoritarian regimes are. How, very often, people self-censor out of fear. So you don't know the real gauge of the Russian people. And I will say if the war is so broadly popular, it's striking that Russia's trying to conscript foreign fighters --
AVLON: -- to join. So, you know, it will be time. You know, this is -- this is -- whatever's being passed around in the digital version of samizdat is harder to measure. But it is tougher to control the message through absolute lies now than it was during the Soviet Union.
BERMAN: John, Donie, thank you both very much.
All right. Just coming in, a military official from Kharkiv says that Russian occupiers -- no, that the Russian invaders carried out as many as 27 strikes on residential areas overnight. Plus, new details about the horrors that women prisoners of war faced while in Russian captivity.
KEILAR: The horrors of war experienced by more than a dozen female Ukrainian soldiers captured by Russian forces. Ukraine says that they were tortured while in captivity. Many of them just released in a prisoner exchange.
CNN's Christiane Amanpour has more.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR (voice-over): Back home and free. These former Ukrainian prisoners of war once held by Russian forces are greeted by friends and colleagues in Kyiv. Freedom, for now, is the drag of a cigarette, walking on home turf even if that means using crutches.
Bags of food are handed out to the more than 80 former Ukrainian POWs released in a prisoner exchange with Russia. It's a welcomed meal and a moment to decompress and reflect on what many here say was the physical and mental abuse they endured in Russian custody.
One POW named Gleb (ph) says he was captured nearly a month ago while evacuating civilians. He was beaten by Russian soldiers.
GLEB, FORMER POW (through translator): They hit me in the face with machine-gun bullets and kicked me. My front teeth were also chipped.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): Anya and Dasha were in the same unit. It was shelled by Russian troops who they say tried to break them, making them shout "Glory to Russia." And they shaved their heads, telling them that it was for hygiene purposes.