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Russia Appoints General with Brutal History to Take Over Ukraine War; CNN on Site of Deadly Train Station Attack; Satellite Images Show Russian Military Convoy East of Kharkiv; Ukraine: Russia's Onslaught in the East 'Has Already Started'; S&P: Russia Has Defaulted on Its Foreign Debt; White House Anxious about Expected Migrant Surge at Border. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired April 11, 2022 - 06:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to viewers in the U.S. and all around the world. It is Monday, April 11. I'm Brianna Keilar in Lviv, Ukraine with John Berman in New York.

Russia's onslaught on Eastern Ukraine has already begun. That from a senior Ukrainian official, as the Ukrainians face for a brutal and bloody assault there in the East.

And the Russian military shifts its strategy. The battle for Donbas is now expected to be the pivotal event in this war. And Vladimir Putin is bringing in a new commando with a cruel history to take over operations after Russian forces failed to take Kyiv.

Alexander Dvornikov, also known by some as "The Butcher of Syria," is notorious for inflicting brutality and atrocities on civilians. Russia has been plagued by flawed strategies, supply issues and low morale among its troops.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine says that his country is ready for the battle but desperately in need of more fire power.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, PRESIDENT OF UKRAINE (through translator): We think this will be a new wave of this war. We don't know how much Russian weaponry there will be. But we understand there will be many times more than there is now. It all depends on how fast we will be helped by the United States.

To be honest, whether we will be able to survive depends on this.


KEILAR: And new overnight, Russian forces have shelled another railway station in Eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian rail officials are not providing a specific location on this. We are told that no one was injured. But five locomotives, tracks, and power lines obviously needed for evacuations were damaged.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: So new satellite images from Maxar Technologies behind me. You can see this eight-mile-long Russian military convoy just East of Kharkiv.

Maxar says the convoy consists of armored vehicles and trucks with towed artillery and support equipment. Let me show you where that is on the map here. You can see Kharkiv right here. It's East of this. It's in this area right here, believed to be this convoy is heading South toward the Donbas region.

Russia also launched several missile strikes in Dnipro over the weekend. That's right here.

A visual confirmed the airport in the East Central Ukrainian city has been destroyed. There is no word about possible casualties -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Let's bring in CNN correspondent Tom Foreman, who is in Washington with the latest on this new Russian general in charge. Tom, what can you tell us?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What I can tell you is that, for all the losses that they have had among their leadership in the Russian military, this is an experienced general who's been around a while, who has been rising in the ranks for a long time. And if anyone might pull their forces together there, he might.

Let's take a look at his resume. He was appointed to direct the war in Ukraine. It's important to bear in mind that, up until this point there hasn't been a unified direction.

The original plan seemed to be sweep in from a lot of areas, take the ground fast, declare victory. That didn't happen. And the lack of coordination has been a big deal. Now, he has been the commander of the Russian southern military district. So he has an idea of the main ground they're fighting over here. What might be favorable about that ground to Russian troops beyond simply consolidating the battle there.

This area might be a little more suited for conventional warfare, a little more suited for the armor, all those armored -- those tanks and artillery pieces being moved in that John mentioned a minute ago.

He was the first commander of Russia's military operations in Syria. It's been a while since we talked about Syria. Bear in mind, that very brutal battle that went on for a long time with the Russians deeply involved. We're talking about that phase of it.

And during his command, Russian aircraft laid siege to Aleppo. Remember the dropping of barrel bombs. Remember the way it pounded away at civilian populations.

That's one of the big fears in all of this, is that when you get into the Donbas, as they move down and say, Let's consolidate the battle here, underneath General Dvornikov, do they just start raining even more damage in upon civilian populations to try to punish everyone and push them out of here. All indications, if you look at his resume, yes, that's what he does.

KEILAR: All right. Tom Foreman, thank you so much for that. Clearly, this is a significant move by Russian officials.

This morning we're also getting a look at the aftermath of that horrific Russian attack on a Ukrainian railway station Friday. We do need to warn that you some of these images that you are about to see are graphic and disturbing.

This strike left 57 people dead. That includes five children. There were 109 people who were injured in this. Now, as the station is out of service, more civilians are boarding buses and trains in a nearby city, trying to escape.

CNN's Ben Wedeman is live in Kramatorsk, Ukraine. Horrific scene there, Ben.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. In fact, we are in the railway station, Brianna, where they've cleared away much of the rubble, the sort of remains of the -- of the missile strike.

Here right here is one of the impact sites. And just imagine, this platform was full of people. Thousands of people waiting to get evacuated. This missile strike that took place at 10:30 in the morning Friday and can only be described as a massacre.


WEDEMAN (voice-over): The air raid siren rings out over a scene of carnage past. In Kramatorsk's railway station, a ripped tube, discarded hat, a cane left behind.

They came to this station with only what they could carry, hoping to reach safer ground, but nearly 60 never left. Lives cut short by a missile. On it, someone scrawled in Russian, "For the children."


Four thousand people were here, waiting for a train West when the strike happened. The massacre accelerating the exodus.

(on camera): Most of the residents of Kramatorsk have left the city, having been urged to do so by local authorities. As this part of the country, the entirety of Eastern Ukraine braces for what could be a massive Russian offensive.

At the city's bus station, Nikolay, a volunteer, has been helping with the evacuation. For him news of the pullback of Russian forces around the capital Kyiv was bittersweet.

NIKOLAY, VOLUNTEER (through translator): When I heard about Kyiv, that they were leaving Kyiv, I was happy. You know? But then I realized a couple seconds later that they are moving into Donbas, all the forces. I can't say that I'm scared, but I'm worrying about my people, about people, about mothers, about grandparents. WEDEMAN: Some are heading West. Others north to the town of Sloviansk

where trains still run. Oksana and a friend and their children are bound for Lviv in the far West.

"There's a lot of bombing here," says Oksana. "I'm afraid for the children." The children, thankfully, still children.

A handful of adult relatives stay behind, far more aware of the danger ahead.


WEDEMAN: And this station is not working at the moment. You see behind us some of the workers are repairing the roof, where it looks like a direct hit also happened there or something hit.

There were people inside this station, as well. So there are impact points all over the area. And the city itself, there's hardly anybody left here -- Brianna, John.

BERMAN: So Ben, as you say, so many people have left the city, hardly anyone left. We saw you walking on the deserted streets. That was haunting. How is the city preparing for the possibility of, really, this battle, this huge battle that could have -- ensue in Donbas.

WEDEMAN: That's a good question, John. And we're asking the same thing. Because you know, we've been around Ukraine over the last few weeks. And we've seen many cities. There are barricades all over the city.

On the outsides there are big checkpoints. They're manned by soldiers, police. They have Molotov cocktails ready in case. This city, almost nothing. There doesn't seem to be any preparation visible to us of anything in the event that Russian forces come here. Perhaps they're being a little more discreet.

But as I said, you drive around the city, there are no barricades, checkpoints. Just on the outskirts -- John.

KEILAR: All right. Ben Wedeman, thank you so much, live for us in Kramatorsk. We appreciate it.

BERMAN: All right. We were talking to you about the new satellite images that show this eight-mile-long military convoy. This is just across the border from Kharkiv, just across the border from Eastern Ukraine.

You can see armor there, transport vehicles. I want to bring in CNN military analyst, retired Lieutenant Colonel Cedric Leighton.

Cedric, let me show you on the map where this is, Kharkiv right here, this convoy, right about here. Where do you think it's headed? What's the purpose of this?

LT. COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: So John, good morning. I think the main thing is, when you look at Kharkiv, as you pointed out right here, and the convoy right about in this area, they could be doing one of two things. They could either be going in and around Kharkiv like this.

Or the other thing they could do is bypass Kharkiv and head down either this way to Dnipro or this way down through Izyum and Sloviansk. Those two areas right near where we had the train disaster, the train station disaster, Kramatorsk, those are areas in which each of these forces could divide or they could have an onslaught that is concentrated in that particular area.

So as you look at this, you can see the outlines of a battle beginning. But we're not sure yet which way the Russians are going to go.

BERMAN: Let me just put up the picture of the convoy here so people can see it from my end. How could Ukrainians strike this if they wanted to, and would they want to right now?

LEIGHTON: So John, they could strike this. But what they want to do is they want to make sure that this convoy is concentrated. You see how the trucks, for the most part, and the tanks are spacing themselves out across a fair amount of territory here. They have got, you know, maybe 50 feet or so between them in some areas.


So what they're trying to do is they're trying to disburse themselves for force protection. But if they concentrate somewhere or if they reach an area like a road junction or something like that, the Ukrainians have an opportunity to take them out.

They concentrate somewhere or reach a road junction or hey concentrate somewhere or reach a road junction or something like that, the Ukrainians have an opportunity to take them out.

BERMAN: All right. As we look at Donbas right now, the area where we're told by Ukrainian official s this battle has begun. What do you think this will look like there?

So John, I would say the fighting is going to look something like this. Each of these areas is a potential where something could happen. So whether you're talking Sloviansk, Kramatorsk, Bakhmut, or Kharkiv. Any of these areas is something where they could concentrate on this.

Notice that there's some Ukrainian efforts in place like Rubizhne. Also near Kharkiv, there's a lot more Ukrainian activity than we've seen in the past.

That is an indicator that the Ukrainians are moving forward in a very different way than they had in the not-too-distant past. But the other things you look at is over here, if the Russians move down this way, they could cut off the entire East.

This is something that the Ukrainians have to watch out for. Because if this happens, then the Ukrainian forces that are here risk being surrounded by not only the Russians but the separatists that are in the Donbas right now.

BERMAN: What's the fighting likely to appear like here? Are we talking about the small unit conflict we've seen at this point or you looking at just, like, giant lines here across these plains? This is the steps. This is a big, flat area.

LEIGHTON: That's right. So this is where a lot of us are looking at this and saying, because this is such a flat area, we think that there's going to be a lot of opportunity for there to be major tank battles like we haven't seen since the Second World War.

So I think there's going to be a mix of a major tank battle, potentially, in some of these areas, and some small unit actions. The Ukrainians know that they can do them small-unit actions and do them highly effectively, especially with things like the Bayraktar drone. That's what you're going to see in many of these areas.

And I think what will happen is, especially as you get to places like Donetsk and some of these other towns that we just talked about, you may see some urban combat. You may also see some efforts to stop the convoys as they move forward, especially the convoy that we talked about being here East of Kyiv.

BERMAN: It is. It does set up that as major tank battles, Colonel. Can the Ukrainians stand up to the Russians in that?

LEIGHTON: Well, they have an opportunity. They are supposed to be getting more T-72 tanks. The question is how quickly can those tanks arrive? And if those tanks arrive in time, then the answer is yes. If they don't, then that's going to be a problem.

And I think we're going to see some major issues where, at first, there may be a major tank battle. But if the Ukrainians have problems with that tank battle, if they're not prevailing, then you may see them reverting to small-unit action.

BERMAN: And these are the T-72s they're waiting for or have them already. We just simply don't know at this point. But this is certainly what they want. Colonel Cedric Leighton, thank you very much.

LEIGHTON: You bet, John.

BERMAN: All right. Heavy shelling by Russian forces in Ukraine's second largest city, Kharkiv. That is right here. We're going to speak with the mayor about how much more he thinks his city can endure.

And desperate situations. What one Ukrainian journalist says happening on the ground and how the invasion is affecting civilians.



KEILAR: Hello. I'm Brianna Keilar, live in Western Ukraine. A Ukrainian journalist is reporting on alleged Russian war crimes and the conditions that civilians in Ukraine are facing, calling the current circumstances a desperate situation. Even says that families are being forcibly deported through what are now known as filtration camps, which would be a violation of international humanitarian law.

Joining me now is the journalist for ZN.UA, Alexander Khrebet. And I hope I said your publication correctly.


KEILAR: Is that right? OK, Alex, talk to us a little bit about these filtration camps. What do you know about them?

KHREBET: So the first information we got about the girl from Mariupol, she -- se contacted her mother, who was first deported from Mariupol, firstly through the filtration camp, as she called it. And her grandmother died in this -- in this camp. But her mother was moved further to another place.

And the woman of Ukraine, she said that there is some information about those filtration camps. The people are searching there. They just checked all the phones, emails, private messages. They were sent somewhere else.

And she also reported about this filtration camp in a region of Russia. So according to, from yesterday, there were 400 Ukrainians living there, including 100 children. And it was about 150 people to come to the -- to this filtration camp in (UNINTELLIGIBLE) originally.

KEILAR: So you understand that they're in Eastern Ukraine and in Russia?


KEILAR: OK. So I know you've also been reporting, and we've been hearing about this fast-tracking of adoption of Ukrainian children, I believe Ukrainian orphans. What can you tell us about that?

KHREBET: So Russia deported already 500,000 people to Russia, forcibly. This -- this is the violation of international law. And among them is 100,000 children over there. So they are forcing people sometimes to take the children. And a lot of people who are just kind maybe, they took the children, they are adopting the children from those -- from those people who fled Ukraine forcibly.

KEILAR: Are these orphans? Are these children who have parents with them?


KHREBET: Also both. And they are the children who just are left behind somewhere just -- they just disappeared, and they didn't -- couldn't find their -- their parents and they could just took by the Russian soldiers and brought to Russia.

KEILAR: What is the situation right now in Mariupol? KHREBET: It's a horrible situation. But Russians -- Russians, they are

saying they control, like, 98 percent of the city, 85 percent of the city. All the time a different number.

But the Ukrainian defenders of the city, they are repelling those attacks. And they -- the town is completely encircled. And the Ukrainian army hasn't -- the Ukrainian authorities hasn't, like, bring them the food and something and the weapons for the last two weeks. And it's a horrible situation.

They are standing for the best (ph), actually, over there. And just horrible. The city is completely destroyed. And more than 1,000 people left over there and still hiding.

KEILAR: They're starving to death?

KHREBET: Some -- some of them, yes, sure.

KEILAR: I also wanted to touch, Alex, on a personal story of yours, which is you have some extended family that you haven't heard of for some time, and you've just gotten word that they are alive but in a difficult situation. What can you tell us?

KHREBET: Yes. They are living in a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) town, which was recently liberated from the Russian troops. It's the Sumy region, north of Ukraine. And we didn't have any information about them because there was no connection over there.

And two elderly couple. They are -- one, the woman, she has the cancer, in really bad condition. And she's on the chemotherapy. And the man, he has, like, big problems with his legs.

We didn't know their information about them. But recently, they just contacted through the volunteers and they got connection over there. And they called their daughter. So when I was talking to her, the volunteers, they gave chemotherapy pills. Also, they are bringing other stuff, and food, and also they brought a phone to them to call. Because they didn't have that, because somebody took it.

KEILAR: I'm so glad to hear that they're alive. That must have bene incredibly difficult for your family. Alex, it's great to see you again. Thanks so much for coming on. Appreciate it.

KHREBET: Thank you.

KEILAR: This just in, Russia has defaulted on its foreign debt. A significant development as the war intensifies.

Plus, some new CNN reporting back in the United States. Why the White House is bracing for a massive migrant surge at the border.



KEILAR: All right. Breaking news. Russia is in default on its foreign debt. Let me repeat that. Russia is in default on its foreign debt. This as a statement just a short time ago from the huge credit agency Standard & Poor's.

Joining me now, CNN chief business correspondent Christine Romans. There's some nuance here, but this is a pretty glaring headline.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: It really is. And look, S&&P Global calling this a selective default. It's paying its bills in rubles, because sanctions have locked up its dollars. And investors who are paid those rubles, who have having trouble converting those rubles into dollars.

It's more evidence of this historic economic isolation, the unplugging of Russia from the global system because of Vladimir Putin as the West tries to starve his war machine of the money that it needs.

S&P Global also said, quote, "We think sanctions on Russia are likely to be further increased in the coming weeks, hampering Russia's willingness and technical abilities to honor the terms and conditions of its obligations to foreign debt holders."

It's not -- not a default of Russia's entire debt. And the Kremlin last week downplaying Russia's trouble paying its creditors, blaming the West, of course, for blocking its payments and said Russia is fulfilling its obligations.

But no question, Russia is cut off from international borrowing markets. It's economy facing a potential depression. It's already in recession.

Standards of living for Russian citizens rapidly declining a Putin- imposed economic crash in Russia. The World Bank says for Ukraine, that economy will shrink by as much as 45 percent this year, depending on how long and how brutal the conflict remains. But this is what it looks like when Russia is unplugged from the rest of the world.

BERMAN: Huge deal for Russia. You just brought up the economic impact on Ukraine. Obviously, they're suffering, as well. And that could have a ripple effect beyond, especially in terms of food production.

ROMANS: Yes. I'm really concerned about planting season, which is now just weeks away. And you have ports that are closed, machinery that has been destroyed. You have Ukrainian farmers who feed much of the world. Right?

So I think for the inflation story and also the food security story around the world, this is just getting started.

BERMAN: All right. Christine Romans, thank you very much for that.

New this morning, White House officials concerned about an expected surge of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border next month and the political fallout from the decision to end Trump-era border policy, the policy known as Title 42.

CNN's Priscilla Alvarez joins us now with her new reporting -- Priscilla.

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the White House is now growing anxious about when Trump-era pandemic restrictions lift next month.

These are restrictions that had allowed border authorities to turn migrants away over the course of the pandemic. But last month, the CDC said that they no longer think this authority is necessary and announced that it's going to terminate on May 23.

So with that, in addition to pent-up demand and deteriorating conditions in Latin America, officials anticipate that they may see record-breaking numbers on the border come next month. And that is cause for concern in the White House. One source telling me, quote, "People are worried about where this is going and weathering the storm."

Now, we are already seeing that political fallout here in Washington, where some Republicans and some Democratic lawmakers have hammered the administration for this decision, saying that now is just not the time and that they want to see a more comprehensive plan.

The White House and the Department of Homeland Security in the meantime say that they're setting that up. They're putting preparations in place.

But there is a high level of apprehension, according to one source about the White House and where the next few weeks are heading -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Priscilla Alvarez on it.