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Woman Spends Weeks in Bomb Cellar Amid Russia Occupation of Bucha; Russian Missile Strikes Crowded Train Station in Ukraine Where Thousands were Trying to Evacuate, Killing Dozens; Brother of Mayor of Kyiv Wladimir Klitschko Interviewed on Russian Atrocities against Ukrainians; Russian Forces May Be Concentrating for Breakthrough in Eastern Ukraine. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired April 08, 2022 - 08:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to viewers here in the U.S. and all around the world. It is Friday, April 8th. I am Brianna Keilar in Lviv, Ukraine, with John Berman in New York. And we're beginning with breaking news, horrible news out of eastern Ukraine. We have to warn you here, these images are disturbing to see. This is the scene in Kramatorsk this morning, another heinous act of brutality against innocent civilians. New images showing a Russian missile strike on a crowded train station where thousands of people were trying to evacuate. First responders say at least 30 people were killed, including at least two children, 300 more are injured. The estimates here vary and so we're trying to look into that as well. But that 300 number of injured according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Bodies lying on the ground, the suitcases of these people next to them covered in tarps. You can see blood everywhere. Innocent civilians trying just to escape, trying to escape from hell. Ukraine's foreign minister calls this a deliberate slaughter. Just take a look at these images from four days ago, where you see families on crowded platforms waiting, waiting for trains to take them some place safer.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Ukrainian officials say the Russian forces are planning for what they call a massive breakthrough attempt in eastern Ukraine. You can see Kramatorsk here, it's right in the center of this. That's where the train station is. Civilians there have been told to evacuate. So these people at the train station, thousands and thousands of people there, were doing exactly what they were told to do, to get out of that region because it is quickly becoming a battlefield.

I want to bring in CNN's senior international correspondent Frederik Pleitgen. Fred is in Kyiv for us this morning. Fred, we're getting new details about this strike even as we see these just horrifying images from the scene. What have you learned? FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes,

they're absolutely horrifying images. And you're absolutely right, also, John, to say that the strike took place as people were trying to evacuate that area. And they have been told for days that the main route to get out of that area would be by rail. The roads there very difficult to navigate. A lot of people obviously don't have vehicles either.

And so a lot of them were trying to get out of there by rail, and apparently there were hundreds of people inside the waiting area. So this missile strike hit a waiting area inside that train station, and then obviously that killed a lot of people who were inside and injured a lot of people as well.

The death toll now appears to be increasing by the minute almost. At the beginning it said around 27. Then it went to 30, and it seems as though it is above that even now as this place was hit. And then obviously well over 100 people who have been wounded.

And, of course, the Ukrainian President Zelenskyy, he spoke to the Finnish parliament via video link earlier, and he absolutely condemned all this. He said why are the Russians killing civilians, why do they feel they need to do that? Obviously, the Ukrainians extremely angered by all of this. And the local authorities there on the ground speak of that horrible carnage that has happened as a result of all of this.

One of the things that we have to keep in mind, and I think you pointed it out very correctly, people believe -- most people, the Ukrainian military certainly believes this place is going to be a battlefield very soon. You have that Russian offensive that we have seen coming down from Izyum over the past couple of years toward Slavyansk and towards that place, Kramatorsk as well. And that's why people there have been told to evacuate.

And on a final note, another thing about this place, this is a Russian speaking, majority Russian speaking city. So the people who died in all of that would first and foremost have been Russian speakers that have been hit by this missile, which the Ukrainians say was launched by the Russians.

And finally, we did get now from the Russian government, they are calling this a provocation, but, of course, one of the things we have to point out is that almost every strike that has killed civilians that was blamed on the Russians, the Russians called it a provocation. Like for instance also the civilian deaths in Bucha, despite satellite images showing the contrary, guys.

KEILAR: Yes, and it just isn't believable what they're alleging there, that Ukrainians are killing their own citizens including children. It isn't believable, especially considering what we heard from the Russians, Fred. I also know you got to see Chernobyl firsthand. Can you tell us what you saw there?


PLEITGEN: Yes, that was remarkable. So the interior minister of Ukraine, he went on his first visit to Chernobyl and he took us along as the only media. What you are actually seeing on your screen right now, what you just saw there, is the final checkpoint that the Ukrainians now have toward Belarus. Of course, the Russian forces went to Ukraine and tried to invade Kyiv here via the Chernobyl area. And that was the main route they tried to take in. There you see the power plant right now, which is under Ukrainian control.

But there's two things that really stood out to us while we were on the ground there. On the one hand, the Ukrainians there were treated extremely badly by the Russians. The workers at the power plant had to stay there for a very long period of time. But all the security staff that were there were locked in the power plant's own bomb shelter for about a month, or for almost a month, while the Russians were there, without any light, without any fresh air, and without any sort of communication.

And all those prisoners that the Russians took, this is according to the interior ministry, 169 people, have since then been kidnapped and taken to Russia. The Ukrainians say they have absolutely no idea where they are in Russia or how they're doing, and certainly don't have any communications with them. They are obviously extremely angry.

And they also say that the Russians stole a bunch of computers inside the power plant, stole the phones of the prisoners that they had, and generally looted everything of value that they could find.

The second thing that we also found, and this is something you guys have been reporting about as well, we got those images of that place called the "Red Forest," which is one of the most nuclear contaminated areas in the world, and that Russians had apparently dug positions there. There was drone footage that was showing that. And we went to the corridors inside the nuclear power plant where the Russians had stayed, and the sort of dosimeter that measures the radiation there started showing increasing levels. And the Ukrainians say that's because the Russians went outside into the contaminated area and then brought the nuclear dust inside.

And so then we went to the edge of this place called the Red Forest, again, this very contaminated area, just outside where you're allowed to go, and we found a Russian meal ration there. And we held the dosimeter to that, and it just skyrocketed. So it certainly does seem as though the Russians may have radiated their own forces by basically placing them in a highly nuclear contaminated zone just outside the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, and then brought that nuclear contamination into the area of the power plant itself.

Again, the Ukrainians now under control. They're also saying something needs to be done about the way the Russians are conducting themselves with that nuclear facility and of course the one they still hold in the south of Ukraine called Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which they shelled with a rocket before taking that place over. Certainly, very interesting to be there, very interesting to see there, but also very troubling to see how lax the Russian forces acted with nuclear security while they were there on the ground.

BERMAN: You don't dig in a nuclear contaminated area because you stir it up, and that's what creates further contamination. Frederik Pleitgen, our thank to you for your reporting.

KEILAR: Joining us now is Wladimir Klitschko, obviously a well-known boxing champion, brother to the mayor of Kyiv and a member of the Kyiv territorial defense force. Sir, we are seeing just atrocious pictures coming out of this train station bombing. What is your reaction to this?

WLADIMIR KLITSCHKO, BROTHER OF KYIV'S MAYOR: It just repetition of the horrifying news. We were just recently talking about Bucha, now Kramatorsk with this killing, precisely killing of the people, refugees that were waiting for their trains to leave this dangerous area. And the news is going to be even more horrifying.

And what I see the repetition of those news, and getting worse and worse and worse. And I just want to call out the western world, partners of Ukraine, allies of Ukraine, let's stop this horrifying news. Deliver us weapons. We will defend ourselves. Isolate Russia, stop trading with Russia. We need to do it now. The longer we wait, the more horrifying the news are going to be, and this is not the end.

KEILAR: I know you were in touch with people from your area who are out on the east, getting ready for what appears to be a major onslaught coming from the Russians. Do they -- you're mentioning weapons, of course. Do they have what they need? Are they getting what they need?

KLITSCHKO: No. We need a lot. We need support. We need weapons. We need to defend ourselves. I'm not going to go through the list, and this list has been changed for weeks now. This is 47 days of the war. And we have been discussing about it a lot. And I just want to remind you one more time, before the Russian forces entered Ukraine, the consequences should be severe. That's what the leaders of the free world were promising to Russia. Those severe consequences are now taking the Ukrainians. We're losing our population.


This is genocide of our population, precisely killing and destroying the infrastructure. It just is something horrifying that could never continue in this way, and that's why it is very important to act now and not to wait. Act in the way of supporting us, supporting with weapons, humanitarian help, and isolation of Russia. Stop trading with Russia oil and gas, embargo gas and oil from Russia.

KEILAR: I know people know you very well in Russia. They pay attention to you when they can hear you. What is your message to the Russian people and also to Vladimir Putin after this train attack?

KLITSCHKO: We have been sending those messages a lot, in communicated in Russian, to Russians we need to communicate in Russian as well. All the people that have started this war will end up in the Hague, in the international court. There is no other way. There is no other escape. The obvious of the killing of the innocent and destroying life is as clear as it could be.

KEILAR: Wladimir Klitschko, I thank you for joining us as we are looking at this breaking news coming out of Kramatorsk where this train station has been attacked. Thank you for being with us.

KLITSCHKO: Keep supporting us.

BERMAN: You can see here on the map where Kramatorsk is eastern Ukraine. It is in this region, the Donbas region, where Ukrainian officials say that Russian forces have regrouped and are poised to begin what they're calling a massive assault, a massive military effort.

Joining me is retired Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt. He is the former assistant secretary of state for political military affairs under George W. Bush. General, thanks so much for being with us. What would a war in this part of the country, as it intensifies, what will it look like?

BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMITT, U.S. ARMY (RET): Well, I think you and Kim Dozier were talking about it earlier on. I think because of the geography that's being used there, the geography of this large steppe, flat area, you're probably will see more use of tanks and armored vehicles by the Russians. I would expect to see a lot of fighting if the Ukrainians tried to fight that same way. But I think the response in many ways will be attack helicopters, missiles, potentially the use of cluster munitions to slow those tank assaults down. They're looking to get territory, as you have shown a number of times today. They want to get out to a further area, push it out further, so that they not only have the Donbas, but they pushed out a little bit further because, my personal view is that their territorial ambitions go well beyond the Donbas.

BERMAN: Yes, I put up on the screen so people can see, my screen here, the plains you're talking about, this is the steppes that have played such a major role in history for thousands and thousands of years. Just think flat. You can see, you can imagine in your head the tank battles that would go on here. How can the Ukrainians defend themselves in this situation?

KIMMITT: Well, look, there is a lot of controversy over the use of cluster munitions. Those are munitions, submunitions that are put inside of artillery rounds, that are put inside missiles. But they're pretty effective at slowing down vehicles and in fact killing a lot of vehicles because they hit those tanks on the top, where it is much softer than on the sides. Both Russians have them, Ukrainians have them. Russians have already used them in places such as Syria, and we're starting to see some of the use in Ukraine. But those weapons were specifically designed to, from a large, far distance, attacking tank formations. We had them for years and years as we were facing down the Soviet Union across the gap inside of Germany.

BERMAN: We see this area in north central Ukraine where Russian troops have withdrawn to Belarus and this part of Russia here. Can Ukrainian forces that are here, can they simply redeploy to the eastern part of the country, or do they have to be careful and stay for potential defense in the future?

KIMMITT: I think they have got to do both. If there is an offensive by the Russians, they clearly have to have enough defensive forces up there to slow it down and perhaps reverse it. But they can't give up the gains that they have already made against the Russians in defending in the north and, candidly, in the south. I think we're taking our eyes off of what is happening in the south, and there is a real question whether forces will be coming up from Crimea to assist in this battle in the east or if they're going to continue to fight towards Odessa.

BERMAN: Retired Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, always great to have you on. Thank you so much for being with us.

KIMMITT: Sure, John.

BERMAN: The breaking news this morning, dozens dead here, a railway station in Kramatorsk hit by a Russian missile strike. It was packed. Thousands of people there at the time.


On your screen right now some of the first images we're getting of the aftermath. It is horrific. We're live on the ground. Our breaking news coverage continues next.


KEILAR: Breaking news, dozens of Ukrainians reportedly killed in a missile attack on a railway station in the eastern part of the country where evacuation of civilians was taking place. They're escaping or trying to escape what they rightfully worry is coming their way. Russian forces targeting civilians, like we saw revealed near Kyiv this week.

I spoke with a woman who endured the siege near the capital in Bucha, trapped in a cellar for 14 days with her elderly mother and several other families.


KEILAR (voice-over): At first Natalia Gaidei said she couldn't believe Russia would invade her adopted Ukraine. She was born in Russia, a native Russian speaker, and was busy running a language school in Bucha.

NATALIA GAIDEI, SURVIVED RUSSIAN OCCUPATION OF BUCHA: After Putin's speech on the 21st of February, I just burst into tears, feeling that something was going to happen.

KEILAR: On February 24th, Natalia's mother called to say the war had started.

GAIDEI: My balcony just has a view on to the highway, from Kyiv to Warsaw. And I saw a lot of cars leaving.

KEILAR: She headed for the grocery store with her 17-year-old son and 19-year-old daughter. A little over a mile from the town of Hostomel.

[08:20:02] GAIDEI: We heard some shots. I heard explosions. There appeared motorbiker, and he was shouting, the airport is being bombed. The airport is being bombed.

KEILAR: Natalia and her kids headed home and then to her mother's flat nearby where they surveyed the basement just in case they'd have to take shelter.

GAIDEI: I can see the sky over the airport, a lot of smoke over the airport.

KEILAR: They were waiting outside the building.

GAIDEI: Something exploded again and then it was the first time I ran into the cellar. There were many, 30 people at that moment.

KEILAR: The next morning, Natalia decided her kids would be safer if they left Ukraine and stayed with friends in Poland. Her car was old and difficult for her to drive. But another friend in Bucha knew of a reliable car with extra seats.

GAIDEI: The bridge between Kyiv and Bucha, it has been exploded. And it was the main reason I decided that the children should go.

KEILAR: She stayed in Bucha, tracking their progress, through Bordianka just down the road.

GAIDEI: We just got this information 30 minutes later that there were tanks.

KEILAR (on-camera): Your kids got through Makarov like minutes before there were tanks there?

GAIDEI: Thirty minutes, yes.

KEILAR (voice-over): At the time, Natalia still thought the Russians would never attack civilians. But this was Bordianka after the tanks came through. Back in the basement --

GAIDEI: We started getting to know each other, so there were families with children, with dogs, with cats. We heard shots. They were nonstop shots.

KEILAR: She and her mother slept on plastic chairs. At first, there was electricity and gas, though later she said both would be shut off. And there were lighter moments.

Natalia said she would sneak up to her mother's apartment only to use the bathroom.

GAIDEI: One of the biggest fears in my life at that moment was if I start doing my toilet procedures, if I just put down my trousers and they would kill me. I was afraid to die without my pants on.

KEILAR: Sometimes from the flat, she could see tanks coming down the street. She recalled the women and children mostly stayed below ground as the men ventured out for food. When they did, they would report back on the dead bodies they saw.

GAIDEI: One of our managers came and said that he had seen a dead body and he recognized him. This was his neighbor, his friend, 200 meters approximately there was the street that is shown in all the magazines, in all the news, about Bucha. It is called (INAUDIBLE) street. And we just heard that battle, just shot, shot, shot, shot, shot, shot. One day there was shooting, nonstop shooting for 15 hours.

KEILAR: On March 8th, after two weeks in the basement, Natalia was able to call a friend, whose husband convinced her to make a run for it.

GAIDEI: He just pushed me with his words and besides I just shouted to everyone, let's jump into the cars.

KEILAR: Bucha was covered in smoke from a burning building. She drove through snow and ash, joining a miles long line of other cars.

GAIDEI: It was very easy for me just to leave. It was a hell then. Around there was the hell. I didn't recognize the town I had been living for 17 years.

KEILAR: Natalia says she heard shooting behind her and passed bullet riddled cars displaying signs that red children, spelled out in Russian.

GAIDEI: It was shots, missiles, and probably there were just burned people, burned bodies.

KEILAR: She drove by the city of Irpin, through a number of Russian checkpoints. At one point Natalia says a line of tanks merged into the middle of the column of civilian cars.

GAIDEI: They were hiding behind us, they were using us like living shield.

KEILAR: After a few more miles, Natalia finally came to a Ukrainian checkpoint.

GAIDEI: All the time I have been calm, but at that point I couldn't -- I just burst into tears and it was kind of relief on the one hand and on the other hand, it was just -- yes, and we spent --

KEILAR (on-camera): Natalia, can you finish that thought? You said it was relief on one hand, but what else were you feeling?

GAIDEI: Sorrow. Sorrow. Yes, probably sorrow.

KEILAR (voice-over): Days later, Natalia reunited with her children in Poland and through connections with friends, they have been taken in by a German family in Dusseldorf, Mariana and Ulrich (INAUDIBLE).


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm happy now to give something back to Natalia and her family. (END VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR: Ulrich is actually the son of a Nazi soldier who died in World War II, and he says that it makes it a practice of supporting refugees in Germany. Right now from Ukraine, previously from Syria, which is a pretty astounding arc in the story of his family, especially considering how Natalia's so divided by this war. Her brother still lives in Russia, and Natalia says that he's adamant that it isn't Russia that destroyed his sister and mother's city. He said that it was actually Ukrainian Nazis. The day the war started Natalia says her mother wrote to him and said, do you understand everything now, and he wrote one word back, she says. No.

BERMAN: Wow. I mean, look, if one family can illustrate the complications of this conflict, it is really extraordinary. I have to say the images that Natalia took, the video that she had, her personal archive, throughout this whole ordeal as a perspective that I hadn't seen yet. To see the pictures that she had, to think that so many people have been through exactly that, it really is something.

KEILAR: Yes, it is something. I'll tell you something else, Berman, she actually had a class, a virtual language class on Wednesday with the kids that she teaches, they're about 11 and 12 years old, and there were nine of them, about half of them were in Ukraine and about half of them were in a handful of other countries. And she cried while she was talking about it, she said they were all over the place, you know, actually physically all over the place, and they were talking about how they say they are from Bucha, but right now, they are in whichever country they are in.

It was incredibly touching. And it was amazing to speak with Natalia and I thank you to her.

So we're getting some new video from the moment of the explosion at the train station that was attacked by a Russian strike. We're going to have that next.

Plus, some more news, some more breaking news from another part of the world, a shooting at a bar in Israel is escalating tensions there. CNN is live on the ground.