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Heavy Shelling Reported in Kharkiv as Russians Begin Assault; Zelenskyy Hints at What Ukraine May Concede in Russia Talks; Anger, Desperation as Shanghai Lockdown Continues Over COVID. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired April 11, 2022 - 07:00   ET


CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Now, no one was killed in this, which is a mercy after the horrifying scenes we saw in Kramatorsk train station where the death toll has now gone up to 57, according to Ukrainian authorities.


In this case, it was just a locomotive, or five locomotives, and some tracks and some power lines that were affected by this targeted shelling.

But I think what this goes to show you, Brianna, is that the Russians are really trying to zero in on infrastructure, key infrastructure that the Ukrainians will be needing in order to resupply their troops in the east who will be participating in this major offensive.

But as you heard, as I said at the beginning, for some Ukrainian officials, they believe that it is already under way, this offensive. Maybe in the coming days, we will see a particular concerted effort to double down on one specific town. But they are saying that it is already happening, and Russian troops are already being redeployed.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. That last line, the idea that it is already happening, is so interesting as everyone watches this. The Russians say the battle is now for the east. The Ukrainians say the battle has already started. But there's something almost strange in the anticipation for what could be this decisive, huge conflict on the ground there, Clarissa.

Any sense, and I don't want to give away any Ukrainian positions or anything, on how the Ukrainians are preparing for this?

WARD: Well, the Ukrainians have now had some time to prepare because Russian forces started to pull out of the north following a sort of humiliating defeat about ten days ago. And they've always known and understand implicitly, particularly when you look at the horrors of the relentless bombardment of Mariupol, that Donbas, these so-called breakaway republics of Luhansk and Donetsk, would be the sort of foundation or the heart of any sort of Russian operation.

And I think it is worth reminding our viewers that when this war started, everyone initially expected the Donbas to be the focus of the entire operation. It really took people by surprise that there was such a heavy push for the capital, Kyiv, and also, although to a lesser extent in terms of the element of surprise, for Kharkiv.

So, now, it seems people feel we are on a slightly more familiar and anticipated footing here. Ukrainian authorities say that there a lot of soldiers, troops and weaponry in the east prepared for this moment. But there's no question as well that it will be more challenging to resupply them in terms of logistics, in terms of weaponry, just because of the geography of where these areas are compared to Kyiv, which is relatively closer to Lviv, to Poland and other places where weapons may be ferried in from.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, it is just a tougher front. Clarissa Ward, thank you so much, and we're going to be coming back to check in with you next hour as well. We appreciate that report.

BERMAN: So, according to an assessment from the United Kingdom, Ukrainian forces have me repulsed several Russian assaults resulting in the destruction of tanks, vehicles and artillery equipment. Maxar satellite images, as we showed you before, shows that Russia is bolstering its forces considerably in the east. There's that eight- mile-long convoy at east of Kharkiv over the weekend, armored vehicles, trucks with artillery and support equipment.

Officials have urged the evacuation of civilians from Eastern Ukraine in advance of what they say will be heavy fighting there.

KEILAR: I spoke with Kharkiv's mayor, Ihor Terekhov, just moments ago about the military convoy east of his city. Here's part of our conversation.


KEILAR: Mayor, thank you so much for being with us. Can you tell us what the shelling has been like in and around Kharkiv here over the weekend?

MAYOR IHOR TEREKHOV, KHARKIV, UKRAINE: The situation has been very difficult indeed. There was nonstop shelling over the weekend. By the end of the day, we also had cruise missile strikes, we have a lot of damage to the infrastructure and also we have casualties, we have people with injuries. The situation is quite difficult.

We also have new types of weapons being used against us. We have seen ammunition that has a time delay. So, it strikes and then it waits a while before it explodes. Also, we have quite lethal ammunition being used where we have specific civilian targets aimed at.

I can also say that the Russian aggressor is bombing residential districts in Kharkiv. And as of today, we have had 1,617 residential buildings destroyed.


KEILAR: Mayor, are you talking about those mines that actually scatter, this kind of bomb that lands and it throws out many, even up to a couple dozen mines that are on a time delay, and these are things that have been seen in civilian areas?

TEREKHOV: Yes. They land on the ground, and then they can explode at any moment.

KEILAR: We are seeing this eight-mile-long convoy of Russian military vehicles that is stretching outside Kharkiv. What are you expecting from this and what are you preparing for?

TEREKHOV: I can't talk in detail about this because this is really a military question, but I know that our military are preparing to defend the city. Thanks to the heroic efforts, the city is well- defended, and also thanks to Great Britain, which supplied us with weapons which enables us to effectively defend ourselves.

KEILAR: Mayor, what do you need from Ukraine's allies?

TEREKHOV: First of all, weapons, of course, because without weapons, no army can effectively conduct defense. Second, is political support. And third, is humanitarian aid, which we do receive and we're very grateful for him. But we constantly need food, medication and basic necessities. That's what Ukraine needs at the moment.

KEILAR: Are people able to evacuate from Kharkiv if they want to, Mayor?

TEREKHOV: Yes, indeed, people can evacuate. And everybody who wants to has this opportunity. But many people don't want to evacuate. They were born here. They have had their lives here. and they want to continue living here. So, a lot of people are not evacuating.

KEILAR: Are you worried, mayor, that Vladimir Putin may turn to weapons of mass destruction if Russian forces are not able to do well, in his view, in the east? And what do you need from Ukraine's allies to try to prevent this?

TEREKHOV: First of all, I think political pressure is necessary to -- political pressure needs to be put on Russia to prevent this. Of course, anybody, any person would be worried if there were risk of weapons of mass destruction being used. Therefore, it is absolutely necessary for the world community to do everything they can, for Great Britain and the international community, to do everything they can to prevent this from happening.

KEILAR: Mayor, we are keeping our eyes on Kharkiv and we appreciate -- we will continue to tell your story. We appreciate you being with us this morning. Mayor Ihor Terekhov, thank you.

TEREKHOV: Thank you.


KEILAR: In Russia, students are getting teachers that they consider traitors fired for speaking against the war in Ukraine. One woman who was forced to resign is now being criminally investigated after her students secretly recorded her and turned her in.

CNN's Matthew Chance is live in London with more.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Brianna, this is a very disturbing story because it's about the kind of society Russia has become since -- especially since this conflict with Ukraine and the invasion of Ukraine has been launched with the country passing laws basically outlawing people spreading what the Russian government says is false information or criticizing the authorities. This is a story about Irina Gen, a teacher, an English teacher from the western city of Penza, inside Russia.

And she was recorded by her students who were asking her why they were not allowed to compete in its elite athletic school, why they were not allowed to compete at the European Athletic Championships. They've been banned, of course, because of the sanctions against Russia. And she sort of tried to explain to them why that was, basically saying it's because as long as Russia is engaged in this kind of activity in Ukraine, as long as it continues to hit Western Ukraine with bombs and hit targets inside Mariupol and behave like North Korea, and I'm paraphrasing here a little bit. But this is what the sort of message that she gave to the class, basically saying that Russia is a pariah state, that's why the children, the trainee athletes there were not permitted to go to the European Championships.

So, one of the students actually recorded her saying that, and, apparently, at the behest of the parents of those students, she was reported to the authorities. We've spoken to the lawyer of Irina Gen this morning. He said that she has been charged with falsely spreading -- well, purposely spreading false information, carries a maximum sentence of ten years. She has released a statement, quote it right here, saying -- and she spoke to Radio Liberty about this, saying that she hopes she's not going to get that ten years.


I don't think, she says, that the repressive steamroller will work so hard to intimidate society that they will make an example out of me and give me ten years in prison. I hope for common sense and that the humanity of our judicial punitive authorities.

So, she's hoping that they won't issue that ten-year sentence. Nevertheless, that atmosphere of fear, that atmosphere of students reporting their teachers, that's something we haven't seen in Russia really since the days of the Soviet Union, Brianna.

KEILAR: She's in Russia saying, Matthew, that the Kremlin is a steamroller; is that right?

CHANCE: Yes, that's right. And that in itself is quite brave given what we know about how the Kremlin is cracking down not just on the truth, not just on narratives that veer away from the narrative that officials, but the crackdown they've had on independent journalism, the crackdown that's underway there on freedom of speech.

And so you do get these incredibly brave people in Russia that are willing to speak out. But, of course, the consequences for that in Russia could be very severe, very dire indeed. KEILAR: Wow, it is very brave what she said there. Matthew Chance, thank you so much for that report.

Ukraine's biggest rock star is going to be with us live as he calls out Russia's atrocities from the ground.

Plus, what Ukrainian President Zelenskyy may have just hinted when it comes to what Ukraine is willing to give up in negotiations.

And in another part of the world, anger and desperation as an entire city is being forced to remain inside their homes during a strict COVID lockdown. CNN will take you there.



BERMAN: With heavy shelling reported throughout the Donbas region, Eastern Ukraine, officials are warning that Russia could be preparing for a major offensive there. It really does seem as if it has begun. Ukraine's defense intelligence chief tells CNN that Russian troops are regrouping across the border and soon plan to advance toward Kharkiv.

President Zelenskyy was asked about the possibility of ceding territory in negotiations.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: Overall, we're not ready to give away our country. I think we've already given up a lot of lives. So, we need to stand firm for as long as we can. But this is life. Different things happen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's negotiable?

ZELENSKYY: Well, this issue would definitely be raised in the course of negotiations.


BERMAN: Joining us, independent journalist Jermaine Terrell Starr, he is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's Eurasia Center and has spent considerable time in Ukraine, back just last week.

To hear President Zelenskyy not rule out territory questions in negotiations, he's really talking about Crimea here and also Eastern Donbas right here. What do you hear when he says that?

JERMAINE TERRELL STARR, JOURNALIST WHO SPENT WEEKS COVERING RUSSIA'S WAR IN UKRAINE: Well, one of the things that he's been doing every day is he's been building trust and respect with the Ukrainian population every day via radio broadcast, or people getting (INAUDIBLE) in a way that he's looking at things, they way -- his outlook. But in regards to territory, he is talking about referendums. He's mentioned that a number of times. And so he's actually really smart because, in one way, he understands that, from a military standpoint, they are limited in their ability to outright push out the Russians. But on the other hand, he is saying, okay, I'm going to take this to the people and let the people decide and let that guide my judgment.

And so he is getting himself off the hook in many respects and putting some of the onus on the population and making it a shared conversation, tactically, is very smart.

BERMAN: What do you hear from the people or did you hear from the people when you were there? Because what we heard from people about the idea of giving back territory, they said openly, like what are we fighting for then, especially given the success the Ukrainians feel that they've had? They're not excited.

STARR: Yes. Because the thing about it is that neither is Zelenskyy, to be quite honest with you, because if you're the Ukrainian military and you've prevented this massive corridor from taking over Kyiv, because, in fact, they didn't even take over the vast majority, it was pretty much northwest, essentially, these areas right here. And so I know when I was traveling, people were asking me, Terrell, can you leave Kyiv? Yes, of course, there's no problem. You can go to the south and then go west and just in other routes as well.

But if you are Ukraine, why would you give up territory that you have a very legitimate possibility over time reclaiming?

BERMAN: Yes, which is what makes these negotiations so complicated.

I want to ask you about one major development this week. Last few days, it hasn't received a lot of attention here. This is a map of NATO. The blue countries are in NATO. You'll notice two countries not in NATO, Sweden and Finland. But both those countries, especially Finland, right now making motions to try to join NATO.

STARR: Okay. So, I think that we can just debunk this narrative that Putin is a master strategist, right? This is a colossal, tactical failure. And so you have two countries over the years that says we're going to exercise neutrality. But what happens is that if you're menacing your brothers and killing and butchering your Slavic family in arms, what are you going to do for us? And so Finland and Sweden are saying, you know what, in order to assure that you're not going to turn us into Ukraine, we are going to join.

And so, also, keep in mind that Finland has a colonial history with Russia as well, so it makes sense.

BERMAN: I mean, Finland has a colonial history as Russia-Finland. Also just right over the border from St. Petersburg, it's almost hard to wrap your head around the fact that Putin claims he's at war with Ukraine so Ukraine doesn't join NATO, and the result could be that Finland joins NATO?


STARR: Well, the thing about it is that, keep in mind, he says that this is a military exercise. And so, in Russia, you can't say war, you can't say invasion or any of these things.

And so in regards to Finland, I think Putin is just showing himself to be completely separated from the rest of the world and common sense. And so he's telling Finland, he's telling Sweden, he's telling the rest of Europe that we have no plans of invading, we are no threat to you. But what he is doing to Ukraine, which is essentially on E.U. borders is telling a different story.

And so in regards to Finland and Sweden, these were countries that -- I don't think people understand it probably because they stressed for neutrality for decades, and for them to make that shift shows how fearful they truly are.

BERMAN: And, Terrell, just so people know --

STARR: Okay, yes. So, this is -- before I had to go into Ukraine, this is one of the Ukrainian articles of clothing that I was investing in my resale business. So, this is made from Western Ukraine. And so this from Hutsul territory. Very few places where you can get these. It takes three to five weeks for some maker in Western Ukrainian to make this and very specific villages, but I wore this as a sign of solidarity, one of the things for my support of Ukraine. But this is just one of the many things that come from this beautiful region that people don't know about.

BERMAN: And it's very warm.

STARR: Yes, very much so. Yes.

BERMAN: Jermaine Terrell Starr, great to have you here. Thank you so much.

STARR: Thank you.

BERMAN: A group of bipartisan lawmakers visiting Poland. We're going to speak with one who is on the ground there. Could more U.S. officials, perhaps President Biden, be headed back to the region?

Plus, the new White House coronavirus czar joins us ahead with reaction to an uptick in cases in the northeast and mid-Atlantic.



BERMAN: Anger, frustration, outrage growing in Shanghai, in China, a city of 25 million people and locked up in their homes since the end of March as a surge in COVID cases led officials to impose these hard lockdowns under China's strict zero COVID policy. Residents there in need of food, medicine, other supplies, they're pushing back against the lockdown.

I want to bring in CNN's David Culver live in Shanghai. And there is some sign that China is responding to this pushback, David?

DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Let's hope, John, at least in words. You and I were talking more than two and a half years ago in the Wuhan lockdown at that time was really the most pressing issue. Well, if you think Wuhan 2020 was bad, welcome to Shanghai 2022. This has been like no other lockdown. And it's in the country's cosmopolitan and most affluent financial hub, of all places.

So, door behind me, this is my exit to the outside alleyway. And late last night, I heard them taping up my door, along with the doors of my neighbors, they're placing a paper seal so as to keep it closed. Some buildings with positive cases inside, well, they are locked shut from the outside. They're using bicycle locks and padlocks just to keep people in.

The biggest issue has been though food shortages. It's really difficult to source food with stores closed and delivery drives also locked down. So, neighbors are now coming to try and source directly super suppliers. They buy-in bulk. There have been some government handouts, not enough, and that's led to residents who were under lockdown demanding supplies. And we've seen all sorts of videos on social media as they are coming together, some in protest, because the food shortages here have worsened, some shouting, we are starving, we are starving.

A Shanghai city leader choked up at a news conference over the weekend apologizing to the city's more than 25 million residents for failing to meet expectations and promising improvements.

Now, one thing to keep in mind, Beijing is now in charge. China's zero COVID policy is a directive straight from the top. President Xi Jinping himself wants this virus stomped out. A military mobilization is underway to make more than 100 makeshift hospitals. They have got capacity for up to 160,000 people. It sounds impressive. State media portraying it as an orderly, sterile environment, but the reality from folks on the ground shows cramped and unsanitary conditions. So, how does this end when?

Well, officials, John, have announced today it plans to begin lifting lockdowns on certain neighborhoods, but the thing is not nearly enough neighborhoods are going to be lifted and folks freed to bring this city back to life really any time soon.

BERMAN: David, before I let you go, just to clarify, you are shut in? There is like a paper barrier keeping you from going to the food market, where you are right now?

CULVER: It's a piece of paper, yes. Well, for one, the food market is not even open. The folks who work in the food market are also locked down. But, yes, I can't go outside that door. There's a seal. If I do -- physically, I could do it but I would break the seal and there's repercussions for that. You have to have a community worker escort you to pick up food deliveries, if you're lucky enough to get them, and to get the distributions if they happen to come. It's bizarre.

BERMAN: What an odyssey, David, two years for you, remarkable reporting. Thank you for being with us this morning.

CULVER: Thanks, John. BERMAN: I want to bring Dr. Ashish Jha, the new White House COVID response coordinator. First of all, Dr. Jha, nice to see you and congratulations on your new post. I know this morning is the big media rollout for you. And it comes at a time when there is a rise in cases in the mid-Atlantic and Washington, D.C. and in the northeast. Will that mean any kind of a change in response?

DR. ASHISH JHA, WHITE HOUSE COVID-19 RESPONSE COORDINATOR: Yes. So, first of all, good morning. Thanks for having me back, really excited to be back.

You know, we are seeing case numbers rise in New England, here in the mid-Atlantic. We're going to see this, right, in the pandemic. We're going to see moments where cases go up, cases go down.

In terms of what to do about it, I think we really want to be guided by the CDC on this. As you know, the CDC came out with a new framework for how to think about this, incorporating hospitalizations and hospital capacity as part of its formula, along with cases.


And right now, that is showing an uptick but not showing substantial changes in what we should be doing.