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Train Filled with Ukrainian Refugees Heads West Away from Invading Russian Forces; Witnesses Report Atrocities Committed by Russian Forces in Ukraine; American Fighting in Ukraine Interviewed on Destruction of Ukrainian Cities by Russia. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired April 07, 2022 - 08:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Ukraine claims that Russia is using mobile crematoriums to dispose of corpses. This is in Mariupol which has been so badly destroyed by the Russian forces there. In Bucha, where CNN teams witnessed the presence of mass graves, the U.S. says that the killings appear deliberate and premeditated. The Pentagon says it can identify the Russian units that are responsible.

We also have new disturbing drone video this morning. It shows the moment that a couple was killed in a highway. You see the man there had his hands raised as if to surrender. His name Maxime (ph) Ivhenko (ph), a civilian, gunned down with his hands in the air, his wife also killed. The family has confirmed their identities.

We want to go now to CNN's Ivan Watson. He's on a train traveling from eastern Ukraine towards safety in Lviv. Ivan?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, John. I'm having a little bit of difficulty hearing you, so I don't know how good our connection is. We are in a moving train right now, so the signal can kind of come in and out.

This is an evacuation train. It's heading from eastern Ukraine to the western city of Lviv. It has at least 1,100 passengers on it. We just stopped somewhere and it took on more passengers. I've been speaking with this family here, they just fled from -- so they just came from the town of Tekmak (ph).


WATSON: OK. And they said that they left their homes behind, that it is a Russian occupied town. And they went through checkpoints, many Russian checkpoints, that the men in their group were searched, their phones were all checked, and it was terribly frightening. And there were moments of shooting, where the Russian forces were shooting, and it was a terrifying situation. So you have a whole group of relatives here that are gathered. I don't know if you can still hear me, John, can you just check in?


WATSON: Because I lost my connection for a second.

BERMAN: Yes, Ivan. I hear you, keep going.

WATSON: Great. So, OK --


WATSON: So this woman is saying that they are putting pressure, psychological pressure on the people there. This woman was just saying that they go house to house searching. These are families -- and she is accusing Russian troops of raping Ukrainian women.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Killed them after.

WATSON: And killed them after. Did you see or hear about --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I hear about this from my friends, from those who I know, and it was just terrible stories. And they left some marks on their bodies. And I saw these pictures, and it was terrible pictures in my life.

WATSON: What is your name?


WATSON: And how old are you?


WATSON: And you finally decided to leave with your family? What was it that finally pushed you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because I'm just worried. Just worried -- I have very old -- my mother, don't want to leave her alone. And I decided to go along because I very afraid to stay there.

WATSON: How many weeks were you living under Russian occupation?


WATSON: A month?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, yes. They occupy our city from the 27th of February, and from this day we all feel this pressure.

WATSON: Are you -- do you feel better now that you are out of Russia occupied territory? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel better after we leave our city already,

because I understand everything already will be much better for me, but I am very worried about my family there.

WATSON: You left family behind?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. And family, my home, my apartment, my pets.

WATSON: What would you like to tell people right now about the conditions when the Russian military occupies your town in Ukraine?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want them, all these people just trying to leave these places, if they have this opportunity because there is really terrible, and I'm sure they will remember this forever, and their kids will remember this forever. And I am not sure our nation deserve all of this. And I want -- we all come back here, we all want this, we all want come back just because we love Ukraine, we love our people, we all love our streets and buildings and the area. Yes, we just lost everything.


WATSON: I'm so sorry Katya (ph). I'm glad you're safe. It is Katya (ph), right?


WATSON: So this is Katya (ph) from Tekmak (ph), 28 years old, who has lived for -- who has lived for a month under Russian military occupation until fleeing yesterday. Thank you very much. I'll come back.

And this woman says -- this woman says that their town, Tekmak (ph), is Russian speaking, there are no Nazis there.

So, John, this is just one family in a very crowded train car, in a train with at least 1,100 passengers, evacuees. This is happening daily from different points in eastern Ukraine, civilians leaving to head towards western -- safer places in the west of the country. And it is part of just this massive humanity that has been on the move.

BERMAN: All right, Ivan's shot is frozen there. Bear with us. Ivan is on a moving train right now. He's leaving this part of Ukraine, eastern Ukraine, where the Russians appear to be intensifying their attacks. And what you just saw was remarkable, remarkable reporting. Ivan speaking to people live on this evacuation train, fleeing the town which has been under occupation. This family, all women, telling him they heard stories of women being raped, and then killed, and then disfigured by the Russian troops, telling stories about the Russians going door to door inside those towns, and now finally feeling this group of people that they have to go, the situation has become so unsafe that they have to go.

And to hear Ivan speaking with them live as they are fleeing, in both English and Russian, I might say, was something to behold, a window, I think, into the terror, Brianna, the live, living, real terror that these people are going through.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: And don't you think, Berman, just how important it is to hear their words, because I actually think the epicenter of so much of what is going on in Ukraine right now is Mariupol, and yet we cannot know what is going on there because its communications are out, but that family is there telling us, Berman.

BERMAN: It took my breath away. I have to be honest, it took my breath away to think of this exact moment for them as they are leaving a home they may never get back to, telling the story of their life being devastated, it is just such a tragedy unfolding now.

KEILAR: Yes. And, Berman, we, I understand, have Ivan back on that train. We're able to connect with him again. Ivan, please tell us what else you're seeing.

WATSON: Well, the train has made a stop now and we've picked up other passengers along the way. I'm not sure whether we're picking them up here. A little bit more about the rail system in Ukraine. Before the war, 50 percent of all passengers, of all transports of passengers in this country, was on the railroad system. It is one of the biggest in Europe, so it has been essential to evacuating people from these areas.

Now, the crew on board this train, they were on the last train to leave the currently besieged southeastern city of Mariupol on the 25th of February. So all of these workers, about 20 of them, they all had homes and cars and lives and pets and family in Mariupol that they left on the 25th. They've never have been able to go back. They worked for a month straight on trains evacuating huge numbers of people. The director of the train estimates about 100,000 plus people in the course of a month, working nonstop. And that's just one crew of rail workers.

There is another detail I would like to share. According to the Ukrainian government, there were, when the Russians invaded, about 15,000 Russian railway cars on Ukrainian territory, presumably moving cargo back and forth, perhaps to Ukraine, perhaps to Europe. And they're all stuck on Ukrainian territory. The Ukrainian government is planning to nationalize those train cars, and the government says there were less than 500 Ukrainian cars in Russia when the war started. That kind of indicates the lack of preparation in some -- and thought about Russian property that would be in the country that it invaded.


It's crowded here, but people are being very polite and letting us film here, despite their uncomfortable situation. And everybody that is on here, they come in with one, maybe two bags, and that's all they've got. Back to you.

KEILAR: Ivan, thank you so much. It is -- this is essential what we're watching you report on, talking to these folks on this train as they are escaping hell, quite frankly, a hell that they are describing to you. Ivan, we'll be checking back in with you. Thank you so much for that.

I want to check in now with Miro Popovich, who has been on our program many, many times. He is a dual American-Ukrainian citizen. He's also a veteran of the U.S. Army, and he is now here in his homeland of Ukraine fighting. He is an officer in -- he's now a deputized police officer. Miro, since we spoke last time, and I will tell you it is so wonderful to see you, tell us where you've been. I know you've been to Bucha. But tell us where you've been and what you've seen.

MIRO POPOVICH, U.S. CITIZEN FIGHTING IN UKRAINE: Well, since Russians left, our main mission here, first of all, to make sure they don't come back, so we're preparing for that. But another mission is to help those people in Bucha, Hostomel, Borodyanka, we bring them humanitarian help. We are evacuating some elder people back to the city so we can give them medical treatment, stuff like that.

Yesterday I've been to Bucha, Hostomel, Borodyanka for the first time. And let me tell you, I thought I was ready. I've seen pictures, and my partners, they have been there already, and I thought I'm ready. But, you know, when I spend there the whole day, and let me tell you, I'm not sure anyone ready to see this live with your own eyes. I've seen so many apartment buildings collapsed, collapsed like 9/11 collapse. It is legit, I know there are people under that rubble, and we don't know if they're alive or not. And we can't help them.

And we see dead bodies, we see dismembered bodies of civilians on the streets. It's -- pictures, of course, they're horrifying to look at. But when you go there, and you see that with your own eyes, it traumatizes you. It's really -- I'm going to -- I think I'm going to see this for the rest of my life. I'm going to remember that date. And I have to go there again, not today, but tomorrow. And, yes, it is horrible what they were doing to civilian people.

I understand, I understand war. When soldiers fighting soldiers, soldiers die, it is war, it is horrible, but it makes sense. But what I don't understand is it is how can you carry an order to just kill civilian people, just shoot them, just execute them, torture them. Why? What is the reason behind? There is no legit reason behind this, but to satisfy -- I don't know what -- satisfy your need to be an animal, to be a monster? It's horrible. Those people on the streets, they were executed, they were tortured, women were raped and tortured. They were burned alive, burned to death. It is horrible.

And me and my team, we are -- our main mission now is to make sure, it gives you this motivation, horrible, but motivation to keep fighting and make sure that they are -- they are vanished, we have to wipe them away. That's the only way.

KEILAR: Miro, can you speak -- you are a Ukrainian American. You served in the U.S. army in Afghanistan. You have seen war before. And --


KEILAR: And you have a place in both of these countries. And I wonder what your message is to Americans. POPOVICH: My main message here, I was thinking about this, because I

know doing interviews, and what should I say, what I believe in? And I think the main message here is to be grateful for what you have now. Be always grateful, try to cherish every single little thing, every day, because it can be all taken away easily, like this. Your favorite Starbucks you go every day, your family member that you are able to see and hug, you know, cherish that every single moment, because right now, what I see is destroyed cities, is destroyed families, is killed, murdered people. And they will not have this opportunity anymore.

And a month ago, it was all, life was different. It was all taken away like this. So just, you know, try to cherish every single little thing you have because life is beautiful, until it is not.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Miro, thank you so much for checking in with us again.


I'm so sorry -- yes, go on.

POPOVICH: I'm sorry, I don't want to sound depressing, because, you know, what I see now, it is -- I don't want to be, like, sounding depressed or -- just, you know, what we see right now here in oblast in Kyiv, around Kyiv, is so horrible. Just I can't find any other words.

KEILAR: Miro, I know. Look, we talked in tough situations and you always come on the show with a smile and you're making the best of an awful situation. I don't know how anyone could go to Bucha and not drive that message home of just how awful it is, what is going on there.

Miro, thank you so much for being with us. We will see you again soon, I promise.

Former President Obama says Ukraine, the war here is a reminder of the U.S.' complacency and taking democracy for granted. We'll talk about that.

Plus, CNN's Jake Tapper attended a military funeral here in Ukraine, where families are mourning those who paid the ultimate price for their country.



KEILAR: Many Ukrainian soldiers called to the front lines of this fight against Russia are returning home in coffins. But with rising military deaths and limited space, cemeteries need to find more land to give them a final resting place.

CNN's Jake Tapper is joining us now here in Lviv.

I think that's the thing, you know, these are folks from all over the country, and I know you went to a military funeral.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, and one of the things that say little bit different from what we see in military funerals in the U.S. is, you know, we have this mighty professional army and most of the KIAs are generally speaking in their 20s. Younger, but what we're seeing today here in Ukraine, to distinguish it a bit, is a lot of volunteers, a lot of people who as soon as Putin invaded signed up.

So people in their 30s, 40s, 50s, and they go off to war, to defend their country, and keep in mind, they're not allowed to leave also. Of all the millions of refugees fleeing this country, men of fighting age have to stay back. They're not allowed to leave.

So in any case, they go off to war, these men, young, middle aged, and older, and sometimes sadly they come back in body bags. And yesterday, we went to a military funeral.


TAPPER (voice-over): Grave diggers at Lychakiv cemetery in Lviv, western Ukraine, had to break ground in a fresh field to make room for the new war dead, repurposing the cemetery's adjacent World War II Memorial, to find space for the influx.

Ukrainian Army Sergeant Ovikiv Cheslov(ph), 43, killed March 28th, and Private Hodsilak Lubamer (ph), 33, killed on April 1st. Both killed in Luhansk, in the Donbas region, both men called to service after the Russians invaded.

The soldiers' families started this grim day at the Saints Peters and Paul garrison church in Lviv. As their caskets passed the crowds on the way into the church, their loved ones wept for those whom they lost, to Putin's invading army.

The sounds of grief, combined with that of prayer. Inside the formerly Jesuit church, built in the 1600s, locals have wrapped historic statues to protect them from debris in case of expected Russian shelling.

After the service, a military tribute as mourners paid respects and gave flowers to the families, flowers always in even numbers. Ruslan Stefanchuk, the presiding officer of the Ukrainian parliament, basically the speaker of the house, stopped by to honor the fallen.

RUSLAN STEFANCHUK, PRESIDENT OFFICER, UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT: I come here and to all my honor and all my heart I put there. Russia is guilty for everything, crimes, for everything, genocide, which they do in my land. I want the whole world knows that we never forget for nobody.

TAPPER: The church is right next to this monument, to famous and beloved Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko who was exiled by Russia's czar in the 1800s, for advocating for Ukrainian independence from Russia and for human rights. One of Shevchenko's most famous poem, "Zapovit" or "Testament" reads: When I am dead, bury me in my beloved Ukraine. My tomb upon a grave mount high amid the spreading plain.

Cars, vans and buses full of mourners travel the short distance to the cemetery. Caskets were unloaded, prayers offered.

YEVHEN BOIKO, REPRESENTATIVE FOR LVIV MAYOR'S OFFICE: Atrocity, the ceremony, a burial has been simplified and made shorter in order not to decrease the morale and the spirit of our other military. Every day we have two, three burials here. That is the price for our victory.

TAPPER: And the military pay tribute with instruments of both art and instruments of war.

BOIKO: We say heroes never die. We bury the body of the glory of these people will live forever in our hearts and in our history.

TAPPER: A spokesman for the city would only say, dozens when asked how many locals have been killed fighting to defend their homeland from the latest Russian threat. The spreading plain here next to Lychakiv cemetery, spreading now in order to make room for the dead.



TAPPER: One question I get when that piece airs is, because it aired on our show yesterday, is why is it that the flowers are only given in even numbers? And it is Ukrainian tradition, Ukrainian superstition, whatever you want to call it, to give odd numbers of flowers to people who are living and even number to honor the dead.

KEILAR: So, it is amazing to see and it is also Ukrainians have made such a point of this is how we honor our dead, contracting how Russian soldiers' bodies have been left to lie about, not recovered, which certainly is very different than I think Americans are used to in concept.

TAPPER: And that goes with Putin's entirely a nihilistic view of the world, this is a man targeting civilian apartments, why would he care about the bodies of Russian soldiers.

KEILAR: Speaks to the value of life. I do want to ask you about something former President Obama just said.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT: I think it is also fair to say that it is a brazen reminder for democracies that have gotten -- that had gotten flabby and confused, and feckless around the stakes of things that we tended to take for granted. Yes, rule of law, of freedom of press and conscience, independent judiciaries, making elections work in ways that are fair and free.


KEILAR: What did you think? TAPPER: I mean, he's right. I could do a whole thing about how did he

handle the crisis in Crimea in 2014, but beyond that, I mean, there is no guarantee for the American people that democracy and the freedoms we enjoy are there for us in perpetuity. What was it that Faulkner said, the past is never dead, it is not even past?

I mean, my dad was born, you know, the holocaust was going on, and when my grandmother was born, women didn't have the right to vote, this is all recent. You know, African Americans were just guaranteed the right to vote in many parts of the country right before I was born. I mean, it is very fragile.

Look at what happened on January 6th, 2021? I mean -- and before that, you had a majorly -- the incumbent president, the outgoing president, trying to overturn the rule of law.

And Alyssa Farah, his former communications director, has said many times to you and to me and others on air that she feared what would happen if he took power, even if he is legitimately elected in 2024, what will he do in terms of clamping down on our freedoms? The fight for democracy is a fight and it is an ongoing fight. So, yes, 100 percent what President Obama said.

KEILAR: Look, you ask anyone in Ukraine, they see this as a continuation of Crimea, of Donbas, something that is just barreling forward yet again from Russia.

TAPPER: And if I could just jump in one other thing, when we hear about the power of Putin's propaganda machine and all those people in Russia, that just refuse to believe the facts that we are bringing with, you know, evidence of these massacres and the dead bodies, Putin's not the only one that has an effective propaganda apparatus.

KEILAR: Jake Tapper, thank you so much for that report, for sharing it with us. You can catch "THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" at 4:00 p.m. Eastern today for much more reporting from the ground here in Ukraine.

This morning, new evidence of atrocities emerging from the area around Kyiv, from which Russian forces have withdrawn.

Plus, a new round of Russian sanctions about to be unleashed. But is the West running out of ways to punish Vladimir Putin? We'll talk to a top Treasury official.