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Teacher Held Hostage by Russians Speaks Out about Ordeal; Major Fighting Underway in East as Russians Shift Focus; Ukraine Claims Female Soldiers Released by Russian were Tortured. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired April 06, 2022 - 08:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Then they shaved their heads, telling them that it was for hygiene purposes.

ANYA AND DASHA, FORMER POWS, (through translator): Maybe they were trying to break our spirit in some way.

It was a shock, but then we're strong girls, you know?

AMANPOUR: Dmytro says he was taken by Russian soldiers in Mariupol and suffered daily beatings during his captivity.

DMYTRO, FORMER POW: They would beat us five to six times a day for nothing. They would just take us into the hallway and beat us up.

AMANPOUR: It's an ordeal, and it will take time to heal, both mentally and physically. Though many say they want to go back to their units and continue fighting. But before that, Gleb shows us a slip of paper with what he says are the phone numbers of loved ones of prisoners still held captive by the Russians. He says he will tell the families they're still alive and not to give up hope.

Christiane Amanpour, CNN, Kyiv.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to viewers in the United States and around the world. It is Wednesday, April 6th. I'm Brianna Keilar in Lviv, Ukraine, with John Berman in New York. And we're beginning with breaking news. Vladimir Putin's shifting his war strategy, major fighting underway right now in eastern Ukraine. A local military official in Luhansk is warning civilians to leave some towns before it is too late. NATO leaders have been expecting Putin to start targeting the Donbas region where Luhansk is located. Military analysts caution that this new chapter in the war, if it materializes, could last years.

Also breaking, explosions overnight in western Lviv, about 45 miles from where I am right now, not far from the polish border. That, of course, is NATO territory. Ukrainian air force officials say that two suspected Russian cruise missiles were downed last night before they could do any damage.

In the meantime, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, is turning up the pressure on the west. He is demanding the United Nations do more to protect Ukraine, even questioning why the council exists if it allows the slaughter to continue.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: Civilians were crushed by tanks while sitting in their cars in the middle of the road, just for their pleasure. They cut off limbs, slashed their throats. Women were raped and killed in front of their children. Their tongues were pulled out only because the aggressor did not hear that they wanted to hear from them. This is not different from other terrorists, such as ISIS.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: This morning, we're also seeing this new video from the southern city of Mykolaiv. You can see it right there. This is a children's hospital. That ambulance, that yellow ambulance destroyed. A Ukrainian official says that one child was killed in this attack on the hospital along with dozens injured.

In Borodyanka, which is northwest of Kyiv, civilians found lying in the streets there, apparently executed. Police in the town say there could be hundreds of people buried under the rubble of apartment buildings that were leveled there.

And breaking overnight, a fuel depot was destroyed in a Russian strike. That happened in central Ukraine not far from here in Dnipro. Ukrainian officials there is a there were no casualties. This morning, Ukraine's commissioner for human rights says that female Ukrainian soldiers in Russian captivity, you just heard Christiane Amanpour's report on this, subjected to torture. This as the Biden administration prepares to announce new sanctions against Russia.

I want you to look at this. Pope Francis with an emotional statement about the killings in Ukraine. That flag you're looking at from right there is from Bucha, where CNN teams found those mass graves over the last few days, officials say 300 people killed there, civilians. The Pope holding up the flag there as he addressed people at the Vatican.

We're going to begin this hour with CNN's Ivan Watson, on the ground in Zaporizhzhia, in southeastern Ukraine. Ivan?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John and Brianna, I got a chance to visit a hospital here in eastern Ukraine to get a look at just a glimpse of the physical toll that this war is taking on Ukrainian armed forces, members of them, and on civilians. And I have to warn viewers that the images they're going to see are graphic and disturbing.


WATSON: Shattered bodies in the intensive care unit of a Ukrainian hospital. Men and women from the Ukrainian military whose war wounds are so catastrophic they need machines to breathe. These deeply uncomfortable images, a glimpse of the physical toll this conflict is taking on both soldiers and civilians.


The general director of the hospital says that after the first couple of days of this new war, at least 30 medical personnel resigned because of just the trauma of seeing these kinds of injuries up close.

A soldier named Uri (ph) wants to communicate. He can't speak because he's still on a ventilator. He has regained consciousness after 11 days in a coma. We won't identify him because doctors say his family does not yet know of his injuries. He has one child. A daughter, he signals, 13 years old. Writing in my notebook, Uri (ph) tells me he's been in the military for two years. The doctors say that he has a very good chance of surviving very serious shrapnel injuries to his body.

We were given permission to film here provided we not name the hospital, nor the city that we're in. And that's because the Ukrainian authorities fear that that information could lead to the Russian military directly targeting this hospital.

In every room here, there is a patient whose bones and tissues have been ripped apart by flying metal. Volodymyr (ph) is a volunteer. He signed up on the second day of this war in 2022. This electrician turned volunteer soldier comes from the Russian-speaking city of Kharkiv. Three days ago a battle left him with two broken arms and wounds to the stomach.

Volodymyr (ph) says his sister lives in Russia, and he no longer communicates with her. I asked why. He said that she believes that the Ukrainians are enemies. This is a family that is split apart by this war and different narratives of who started it.

Volodymyr (ph) and the soldier with the fresh amputation lying next to him both insist that only force can stop Russia's war on this country. Down the hall, I meet a young civilian, also horrifically wounded. Dima (ph) is 21 years old. Where are you from?


WATSON: Dima (ph) is a recent university graduate, photographed with his mother Natasha. "My mother died when this happened to me," he says. Adding, "I've cried it off already, I'm calmer now."

He says on the night of March 9th, he and his mother were hiding in the bathroom of a two-story house in the center of Mariupol when they heard warplanes overhead bombing the neighborhood. Mother and son were hiding in the bathroom, shortly before 1:00 a.m., he says, when the bomb hit the house.

When he woke up, his legs were gone, he never saw his mother again. During my visit, a friend gives Dima (ph) a phone. This is the first time he's seeing the building where he and his mother were sheltering when they were hit. The red car here that is destroyed in front of the ruined building was his mother's car.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Of course, I get angry. I get sad. I get depressed at times. But I can't lose my cool, because those who did this to me, they probably want me to sit here crying and weeping.

WATSON: Don't let the silence in these halls fool you. There is deep, seething anger in this hospital at the country that launched this unprovoked war on Ukraine.


WATSON (on camera): And John and Brianna, there is a good reason why the authorities here in Ukraine do not want to identify the hospital, nor the location where it is -- 85 good reasons. According to the United Nations, there have been no less than 85 strikes on health facilities in this country since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24th. That's more than one attack a day on hospitals and clinics that the U.N. says has killed at least 72 people. We know just in the last couple of days, for example, the aid organization Doctors Without Borders says that three hospitals in the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv have been attacked, in just two days. And the Doctors Without Borders team witnessed attacks on two of those hospitals. There even appears to be footage of the attack with explosions hitting parked ambulances there.

So there's a reason here that people are so worried, and that is because the evidence suggests the Russian armed forces are deliberately targeting hospitals, the doctors, nurses, and patients who are taking shelter and being treated inside. Back to you.


KEILAR: Unbelievable. Ivan Watson, powerful reporting on the ground, thank you so much for that.

A Ukrainian woman survived the Russian occupation of her hometown of Hostomel, which is a city on the outskirts of Kyiv. She says Russian forces there made her street the command center and that she and her neighbors were held hostage.

Inna Nestoiter is with us now to talk about this. Inna, I am so sorry for what you have been through and I appreciate your willingness to tell us what you experienced and what you witnessed. Can you tell us what it was like when the Russians came to Hostomel?

INNA NESTOITER, ENGLISH TEACHER WHO WAS HELD HOSTAGE BY RUSSIAN FORCES IN UKRAINE: It was scary. It was scary, and everybody, me and my neighbors, we understood that we are alive just because the soldiers needed us to be alive. And we're alive because they chose our residential complex for their headquarters.

KEILAR: Tell us how much time you spent in the shelter and what it was like in the shelter and who you were there with.

NESTOITER: We spent 14 days in the shelter, well, so-called shelter. It was the basement under one of our houses. Absolutely unfit for people, but we survived there. There were three shelters in our complex, and I was in one of them. There were 50 people and the youngest was only four months old. And the oldest neighbor in my shelter was around 70.

KEILAR: You said 70?

NESTOITER: And we had no -- yes. We had no electricity.

KEILAR: No electricity. Did you say no heat, Inna?

NESTOITER: No heating, no electricity, no internet, very poor mobile connection. And since they chose our complex for their headquarters, we had no mobile connection at all.

KEILAR: What did you see -- I know that on occasion you would try to sneak out to get some provisions. What did you see Russian forces do to your neighbors?

NESTOITER: One day when we were outside between the -- between the fire, which was almost constant our place, I saw that one of my neighbors was shot by a person who looked like the Russian soldier. I mean --

KEILAR: And what happened to that neighbor? Were they able to get help?

NESTOITER: Well, he got help from us neighbors, men, somehow they brought him to our shelter and they gave him the first aid. And we all understood that he needed medical care, professional medical care, but there was no way to get it. And --

KEILAR: You, I know, would sneak out to your --


KEILAR: I'm sorry.

NESTOITER: Now on the 6th of April he's OK because he also managed to escape, one of the neighbors took him to his car.

KEILAR: So, Inna, I know you would sneak out of your house to boil water. Can you tell us what that was like, and what you saw the Russians had done to your house?

NESTOITER: Yes, it's true. On day one of the occupation when I asked and I was allowed to get to my place, all the doors of my neighbors were out, and the Russian soldiers, they were coming to the floor where my apartment is, and I asked them not to break my door, I will unlock it. They looked around and didn't allow me to lock it when I was leaving.

And the next morning, when I came to my apartment to heat some water for my neighbors, I saw that the food supplies, which still were left in my apartment, they were gone. The water supplies also were gone, and all my clothes were out of the wardrobes, and they were mixed and they were on the floor. And my makeup, cosmetics, and other women's stuff, it was my half on the floor and half in the place where I stored my lingerie and underwear and things.

Also, I saw when I was going up to my apartment, I saw and recognized pieces of my furniture which was -- which was out of my apartment. I have no reason and no explanation why they did it. And also my laptop was broken on purpose, and it was obvious. My tablet was broken. And my e-book was broken.

This is what I saw. And also I saw that they took a bottle of champagne and they were drinking it in my kitchen and left it in the kitchen.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: You know, I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry. I know that must have felt like such a violation. I'm so happy to be able to speak to you and to hear that your neighbor is all right. I'm so sorry for what you went through.

Inna Nestoiter, we appreciate you being with us.

NESTOITER: Thank you.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, new this morning, we're told that major fighting is under way right now in the eastern region of Ukraine here. Officials in the Luhansk region are now urging civilians to evacuate they say before it's too late. And officials in Donetsk and Kharkiv are also warning of intensified fighting today.

Joining us now is Sergii Leshchenko, a senior adviser to President Zelenskyy's chief of staff and a former member of Ukraine's parliament.

Always great to have you on with us, Sergii. Thank you for being with us. We do understand there is a new round of fierce fighting going on in the east. What can you tell us about that?

SERGII LESHCHENKO, SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT ZELENSKYY'S CHIEF OF STAFF: So, I am now in Chernihiv. So you can see on the background how it looks like after the attack of Russian army on Hotel Ukraine. (INAUDIBLE). Attack on Ukraine and the attack this peaceful city, this very historical site, just because they try to occupy our country.

Now they concentrated on eastern region of Ukraine to take control of the whole Donbas region. Now Ukraine controls two-thirds of Donbas. And separatist military army controls one-third. And as for today, they try to take control of the whole Donbas region and that is why they are trying to attack Mariupol so brutally because Mariupol is one of the crucial points for them to occupy the whole Donbas, because after Mariupol, they're going to go on the north to surround Donbas with military going down from Izyum City, another eastern Ukrainian city, now is battlefield with Russian army.

BERMAN: Sergii, can you give us a sense, have the Ukrainian forces -- have you had any success in pushing the Russians away in the Donbas regions? Are you forcing them back anywhere there?

LESHCHENKO: This is nonstop one-month long battle on Mariupol. And (INAUDIBLE) our army that we did not let them take control of Mariupol more than four weeks. And as for today, we continue our fight on this city. As for today, they are trying to take control of another town and cities on Donbas but with very limited success. As for today, the main battle I believe going to happen next few weeks to take control over this region. Because the initial idea of Putin was to declare independence of this people's republic, but not in the existing territory, but the whole Donbas region. That is why they are trying to take control over this region, totally.

BERMAN: Sergii, I didn't realize you're going to be in Chernihiv this morning, and I see the Hotel Ukraine behind you there, which is destroyed by the Russian shelling. I guess my question is, up until very recently, Chernihiv was cut off. It was a city that was isolated, surrounded by Russian forces.


BERMAN: Is that no longer the case? Can people freely get in and out of Chernihiv?

LESHCHENKO: Now the life in Chernihiv is coming back slowly. There is few cars on the road and only few stores open. But now this city is liberated.


This is hero city. And we survived under this occupation in Chernihiv. And I believe very soon normal life will come back. Ukrainian army protect the Chernihiv because the goal of Putin army was to attack Chernihiv from the north, to go through Chernihiv by March on Kyiv. And we achieved Chernihiv by road, the road is destroyed. And the small villages around Chernihiv are destroyed as well because idea was to surround Chernihiv, to take control of Chernihiv and then to march from Chernihiv to Kyiv.

So Ukrainian army protect the Chernihiv and after successful counterattack around Kyiv, Chernihiv is also liberated. If you understand the map, you go in from Kyiv to the north, then to Chernihiv and there at Belarusian border.

BERMAN: Well, that is good news.

LESHCHENKO: The Russian, Russia borders.

BERMAN: If Chernihiv is no longer surrounded, if food and supplies can get in, I know that would be welcome to the people.

LESHCHENKO: Very slowly, very slow, but (INAUDIBLE). There is a lot of military people on the street, but life is coming back. BERMAN: All right. Significant. A significant development.

Sergii Leshchenko, thank you for being with us. Stay safe.

LESHCHENKO: Thank you very much.

BERMAN: There is new evidence of atrocities emerging in towns abandoned by Russian forces. Drone video capturing the moment a cyclist in Bucha gunned down by Russian tanks. Plus, new details of 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 who were captured by the Russians. Ukraine's commissioner for Human Rights says that they were tortured while in captivity. More than 80 Ukrainian soldiers including those women were just released in a prisoner exchange.

And with us now to talk about this is CNN's Phil Black.

Phil, what can you tell us about this?

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, this was the biggest prisoner exchange so far, we understand. 86 in all. Of them, 15 of those coming back to Ukraine were women. And according to the Parliamentary Commission for Human Rights in this country, she says those women were illtreated, more than that at times she describes the treatment as torture.

She says they were stripped in front of men, stripped naked, made to adopt degrading, sort of uncomfortable positions. Their hair was shaved. They were interrogated roughly, made to take part in propaganda videos and so forth. Those are the details that we understand. But it points to these female soldiers certainly at the very least being significantly mistreated.

KEILAR: Can you speak more broadly about POW mistreatment that we're seeing in this conflict?

BLACK: So there have been allegations from both sides in this. It is not the first time we've heard about Ukrainian soldiers returning with stories of being beaten and threatened and harassed quite physically by Russian soldiers. But equally so Ukraine has been accused of mistreating Russian POWs. It has shot lots of propaganda video involving Russian soldiers and disseminated those, which breaches the rules of war as they stand.

More seriously video emerged of Ukrainian soldiers shooting in the legs Russian POWs. This is after they had been detained. Hands bound behind their back and so forth. It was disturbing video which the Ukrainian government says it treats seriously and will investigate, but there are also claims on both sides that both sides manufacture these sorts of videos as part of their propaganda effort.

So it's a murky, ugly side of this conflict that doesn't often come to the surface. But on occasions, it does, and the allegations are very serious.

KEILAR: Certainly is. Well, we appreciate you shedding light on it. Thank you, Phil Black.

We have some more on our breaking news, Russian troops carried out 27 strikes on residential areas of Kharkiv overnight, according to officials there. As a new stage of the conflict emerges in the east. Plus, the West may soon target Vladimir Putin's adult children with sanctions.