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Zelenskyy Says, Russia's Unexploded Mines Leaves Ukraine Contaminated; Russian Forces Amass for Brutal Onslaught in Eastern Ukraine; Putin Calls Military Goals in Ukraine Noble as Atrocities Grow. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired April 12, 2022 - 07:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN NEW DAY: The Pentagon says it is monitoring this development and an urgent investigation by the U.K. is already under way.

And breaking moments ago, new video of fierce fighting in Mariupol, plumes of smoke from shelling can be seen in residential areas on the hills above a shipping yard near the city's port. And even though Russian forces have retreated from the Kyiv area, there is still much danger that is lurking there in Northern Ukraine. President zelenskyy describing the region as one of the most contaminated by mines in the world.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: The invaders left mines everywhere, in the houses they took over, just on the streets and the fields. They mined people's property, mined cars, doors, they deliberately did everything to ensure that the return to these areas after de-occupation was as dangerous as possible. Due to the actions of the Russian army, our territory today is one of the most contaminated by mines in the world.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN NEW DAY: Yet, to that end, this morning, you can see this huge effort by Ukrainians in and around Kyiv to uncover and clean up the unexploded ordnance and the mines that were left behind there.

Overnight, we are getting reports of heavy shelling by the Russians in the eastern part of this country. This, of course, is the area where the Russians are launching this new offensive, really, where we're expecting intense fighting in the days ahead. But, Ukrainian officials are hoping that heavy rain will slow plans for the Russians in that area. The rain is expected to last for several days. It could create acres and acres of mud here, which would keep the Russians on the road system and would make them an easier target.

As for Vladimir Putin, he says Russia's military goals in Ukraine are noble and will be achieved. The reason we're telling you this, this is the first time we heard of Vladimir Putin speaking in public. He has public events today. He has been talking about the war publicly for one of the first times in days. His claim is what he calls this special operation is going well. He also says that Russia had no other choice. Clearly, Russia did not need to invade its neighbor.

I want to go live to Odessa, and that's where we find CNN's Ed Lavandera. Ed, I want to start with you on these reports from mariupol, from the Ukrainians there, that the Russians may be using chemical weapons. What have you learned?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is something that the international community is beginning to investigate, but right now, details are very difficult to get a hold of. But this is coming from the commander of a Ukrainian unit there in Mariupol, who is reporting that the use of chemical weapons, some sort of chemical weapon, and that a handful of people in that unit had been affected by a, quote, poisonous substance of unknown origin.

The commander in that unit also go on to say that at this point, because of heavy shelling by Russian forces, it's impossible to continue investigating. The Ukrainian government is not confirming the use of chemical weapons at this point and CNN has not been able to independently confirm this as well, but the Ukrainian government says they will continue to investigate.

And there's also another kind of dreadful note coming from Mariupol as well. A marine unit, Ukrainian marine unit, is in a Facebook post this morning, said that they are completely encircled by Russian forces, that they are no longer able to get supplies of ammunition and food, but that they will continue fighting to the very end. And, you know, this has been a horrific situation for weeks where there are still tens of thousands of people, civilians, trapped in that city.

President Zelenskyy is also talking about, as you heard at the top of the show here, a major concern with mines and unexploded ordnances in the areas that have been evacuated by Russian forces in Northern Ukraine. President Zelenskyy saying that there could be tens of -- tens, if not, hundreds of thousands of unexploded ordnances in that area, and this really complicates and makes this situation so dangerous because there are so many people hoping to come back to their neighborhoods and their homes. And this makes the situation incredibly dangerous for all of those civilians. Zelenskyy also saying that deliberately doing this is tantamount to a war crime as well.

And, John, as you talk about the renewed offensive by Russian forces that Eastern Ukraine is bracing for, we spent the last couple of days traveling from some -- traveling through some areas near the frontlines. And these are areas where we are seeing a large number of people evacuating. As we were driving around the last couple of days, it was really striking just how many buses and shelters have been set up along the way for people trying to escape some of the edges of these war zones.


So, I expect to see more of that here in the coming days as this renewed offensive continues. John?

KEILAR: Ed, we were speaking to the military governor of Donetsk, which is the region where Mariupol is. And he said that, based on different sources, they think there are 20,000 to 22,000 people who have been killed in Mariupol really not many more in other parts of Donetsk, but that it's difficult to figure out the death toll. Do you have any sense? And do you think we ever will?

LAVANDERA: At this point, without being able to get into that city, because it is just so incredibly dangerous, we're unable to do that. President Zelenskyy is saying that there could be tens of thousands of people who have been killed in that city. So, that is an astronomical figure. It is hard to comprehend, especially without having been able to get independent confirmation there on the ground.

We are left to hear these dreadful and horrifying dispatches from soldiers and marines talking about being encircled, the efforts of humanitarian organizations who have spent weeks trying to get into this area and have been turned away, essentially civilians left on their own, to drive their own car, to some sort of safe haven, and in the hopes of getting through some sort of Russian checkpoints along the way without being taken into custody or killed all together.

And then on top of that, Brianna and John, what we hear also from refugees escaping these areas that are under Russian occupation is you do get a sense of their homes being pillaged, taken for food and supplies and dealing with the fear of all of that. It will take weeks, if not, months, for all of this to come to an end and for us to be able to get a strong grasp of just how horrific the situation in these communities has been. John and Brianna?

KEILAR: Yes. That is the word to describe it. Ed Lavandera live for us in Odessa, thank you for that report.

Villagers living in Northern Ukraine are relieved that Russian forces have finally retreated. But now, they are living with what has been left behind. For many, their lives will never be the same.

CNN's Clarissa Ward has this story.


CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Ukrainian soldiers returning from the front. Jubilant after a humiliating defeat for Russian forces in the north. In the neighboring villages of Stari and Novi Yarylovychi, exhausted residents are emerging from their homes after five weeks of Russian occupation and the horrors that came with it.

On day four of the war, this peaceful community became a frontline and nowhere was off limits. Russian forces transformed the local school into their base. Principal Natalya Vovik(ph) shows us the carnage that was left behind.

She's saying that they were using this as a toilet as well. The main entrance is now spattered with blood. A scene of heavy fighting, Russian soldiers took cover in classrooms and treated their wounded with whatever they could find.

So, you can see they were eating here. These are some Russian military rations, Armiya Rusi (ph), it says. Walking the ravaged hallways, Vovik (ph) says she is still in a state of shock. What wasn't destroyed was looted.

We are for education. Education is the future, our students, she says. It's such a shame that our occupiers didn't understand this. Why steal everything? This is a school.

In several classrooms, there were signs that some of the Russian soldiers felt ashamed of their actions, a message on a chalkboard.

So, it says, forgive us, we didn't want this war.

But forgiveness will be hard to come by here. At the local cemetery, Valentina takes us to the graves of six men who authorities say were executed by Russian forces on the day they arrived.

It's so hard to get over this, she says. They murdered them.

Valentina says the Russian held on to the bodies for nine days before dumping them at the end of the village with instructions to bury them quickly.

We dug very fast so they wouldn't shoot us, she says, but there was shooting over there and heavy shelling.

Among the dead, her neighbors, brothers, Igor and Oleg Yavon (ph).


Outside the family home, we meet their mother, Olga. For days, she thought her sons were in hiding until a neighbor called her with the devastating news.

The agony and the grief are still very raw. They were very good boys, she says. How I want to see them again.

Do you have any idea why the Russians would kill your sons?

Who knows? There was a bridge that was blown up and somebody shot at a Russian drone, she says. The Russians were searching the village and rounded them up on the street, six boys. I don't know anything else.

A few streets away, Katarina Andrusia (ph) is also looking for answers. Her daughter, Victoria, a school teacher, was taken by Russian soldiers on March 25th. They said they found information on her phone about their forces, she says. They told me she was in a warm house, that she was working with them and she would be home soon. But Victoria never came home.

We hope that she will get in touch, Katarina (ph) says, with somebody, somewhere.

In this small community of 2,000, it seems no street has been spared. The invaders marked their newly seized territory with crude graffiti and battle markings.

Another Z on their fridge.

But brave residents, like Tomara (ph), carried out quiet acts of resistance. We kept it. We kept it, she says, showing us a Ukrainian flag given to her husband for his military service. We hid it, a bold risk in anticipation of this moment, when Russian troops would be forced to retreat and the villages would finally be free.


BERMAN: So much destruction left behind. Our thanks to Clarissa for that report.

New this morning, multiple U.S. defense officials tell CNN that the U.S. and Ukraine are now in intensive discussions about a new round of security assistance to address Russia's changing priorities, the offensive in the east.

Joining me now is Democratic Congresswoman Sara Jacobs of California. She's on the Foreign Affairs and Armed Services Committee and has previously worked at the United Nations and State Department. Congresswoman, thank you so much for being with us this morning.

Before I get to the weapons, I do want to ask you about the reports we're hearing out of Mariupol, these investigations into whether the Russians are using chemical weapons there. Your reaction to these reports?

REP. SARA JACOBS (D-CA): You know, obviously the reports that we're hearing are terrible and very concerning. I know that we're still working on getting confirmation. But to be honest, it wouldn't surprise me if the Russians were to resort to using these chemical weapons. It's the same kind of tactics we saw them use in Syria. And we know the general that was leading the Russian efforts in Syria is now leading the Russian efforts in Ukraine. And it's why I think it's so important that the U.S. Works with the ICC to make sure that we are collecting evidence of war crimes and that the U.S. officially joins the ICC as a party so that we can make sure that Putin is held accountable for these atrocities that we're seeing.

BERMAN: If it is confirmed, and as you noted, it is not confirmed yet that the Russians are using chemical weapons there, but how would it change what the United States is doing vis-a-vis Ukraine? Would it increase or how would it increase the U.S. cooperation or aid?

JACOBS: President Biden has been very clear that we will respond proportionally to attack using chemical weapons. We will continue supporting the Ukrainians with the tools they need to protect themselves and their civilians.

It's why I actually think this S-300 system that Slovakia sent is so important because that's one of the delivery systems you could use to deliver chemical weapons. The S-300 will be able to protect against that. And I think we'll probably see additional sanctions and more accountability for Putin now, and as I said, making sure that we're working with the ICC so that there's true accountability down the road as well.

BERMAN: Additional sanctions, but the sanctions, frankly, if he's using chemical weapons, hasn't stopped him to this point. Certainly, in Syria he felt no compunction to stop there. What about the MiGs? I mean, if they're using chemical weapons, why not make sure that the Ukrainians are getting war planes that they've asked for to fight the Russians?


JACOBS: Well, I think the most important thing we can do right now is make sure that we're giving the Ukrainians the kinds of weapons that will be most effective. So, the reports I've seen, if they are true, in Mariupol is that these chemical weapons were delivered by drone, which means that a MiG, an airplane, would not actually be effective in stopping it. The things that are most effective are the Javelin anti-tank, the Stinger anti-aircraft, the arm drones we see they're using from turkey. We're working with our partners and allies to get more of those there. The S-300 system to be able to protect their skies, missile defense and what the U.K. is delivering on these anti- ship.

Those are the kinds of things that are most effective in protecting civilians. And that's why it's so important that we don't get focused on necessarily these big, shiny objects, which we've actually seen this war has shown has been less effective. That's what the Russians have. And we get the Ukrainians what they really need to protect their civilians.

You keep bring up the International Criminal Court, wanting the United States to change its posture toward this organization. Explain how and what difference do you think that would make to what's actually happening on the ground here.

JACOBS: So, right now, the U.S. signed the ICC treaty, the Rome statute, but has not ratified it. And, in fact, President Bush said that we unsigned it. And there are two laws on the books that right now prohibit the U.S. from really being able to engage with the ICC or spend any money to work with the ICC on their investigations.

And so I'm working on legislation right now to try and address those legislative issues. And I've been encouraging the Biden administration to forcefully support the ICC investigation here to make sure that the U.S. can help them with collecting evidence. We know that evidence collection is an incredibly important piece of the ICC being able to do their job and that we have specific tools, like our intelligence community, that will be helpful in that evidence collection, and then to make sure that we are working with the ICC on those tribunals and then working to hold accountable who they find guilty for these crimes. BERMAN: If the Russians or when the Russians, I should say, launch the full-scale assault in the east that everyone is expecting could be large tank battles there, do the Ukrainians have what they need to push that back?

JACOBS: We are working tirelessly with Ukrainians to make sure they have what they need. We have seen historic levels of security assistance go to the Ukrainians from both the U.S. and our partners and allies in Europe and around the world. I think that that show of unity and show of support has been incredibly meaningful and why we have seen that Putin has had to change course and has had to minimize what he's trying to do in Ukraine.

You know, he thought he was going to be able to take over the country very quickly and that hasn't happened because of the kinds of security assistance that we have been giving to the Ukrainians. And I think we will continue to see the incredible resilience and bravery of the Ukrainian military, as we have this whole time.

Congresswoman Sara Jacobs, I do appreciate you being with us this morning. Thank you very much.

JACOBS: Of course.

BERMAN: So, hours after an interview with CNN, Russia takes a Kremlin critic into custody.

Plus, just in, Vladimir Putin speaking publicly. We have not heard him in days talking like this. We will tell you what he said and why it's of concern.

New reporting on the condition of WNBA star Brittney Griner held in Russia since February.

Stay with us.



KEILAR: I'm Brianna Keilar live in Western Ukraine. And just in, President Vladimir Putin speaking publicly in rare remarks since this war started, saying that Russia's military goals in Ukraine are noble, as atrocities are growing on the ground here. That coming down from state media here in the last hour.

Joining me now is Nic Robertson. Noble and also saying that Russia didn't have a chance here, Nic. Obviously -- or didn't have a choice. Obviously, Russia had a big choice here.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: It did. But this is Putin's narrative, and it has been since the beginning, that Russia was forced into this war with Ukraine because of NATO, the U.S., Europe's aggression that Russia was on the back foot, being disadvantaged. So, it had no other option but to do this. And he really sort of focuses this down on the Donbas region, Putin saying that the goals will be achieved.

But I think when he uses this term, noble, you can certainly get a sense of, you know, his trying to convince Russians that all the suffering and the loss of soldiers that they're going through is worthwhile. This is sort of morale boosting, believe in me, I've got this, this is the right thing, we're doing it for the right reasons, we will get there. It's not clear that he's going to. It's not clear that he's going to with this next offensive that's coming is going to win against the Ukrainian forces.

The Austrian chancellor who met with Putin yesterday came away with very clear impression that Putin's attitude to the war has not been tempered by the defeats, that he intends to continue and intensify. And this is what the speech that he gave thousands of miles away from Russia, thousands of miles to the east of Moscow rather, the opposite direction from Ukraine, meeting with Belarusian President Lukashenko. This speech really seems aimed to sort of try to boost the morale of Russians and say that this is all doable, we've got it.

KEILAR: It will be very interesting to see if he can deliver on that. Nic Robertson, thank you so much, live for us from Brussels, Belgium.


BERMAN: So, this morning, a Russian opposition politician taken into custody by Moscow police just hours after a CNN interview aired in which he was critical of Vladimir Putin.


VLADIMIR KARA-MURZA, RUSSIAN OPPOSITION POLITICIAN: This regime that is in power in our country today, it's not just corrupt, it's not just klpetocratic, it's not just authoritarian, it's a regime of murderers. And it is important to say it out loud.

And it is really tragic, frankly, I have no other word for this, that it took a large scale war the middle of Europe, which Vladimir Putin is now conducting against Ukraine, for most western leaders to finally open their eyes to the true nature of this regime.


BERMAN: That was Vladimir Kara-Murza, who already survived two suspected poisonings in Russia. He spoke from Moscow to CNN Plus Anchor Sara Sidner.

And joining me now is Sara Sidner, Anchor of the Big Picture with Sara Sidner on CNN Plus. That was some interview, clearly taking a big risk and now detained by Moscow police.

SARA SIDNER, CNN PLUS ANCHOR: Yes. And I think a lot of people are very worried about what's going to happen next. This is someone who is a young man. He's in his 40s. He has been a very vocal critic of Vladimir Putin for many, many years and long before we saw the sanctions because of what has happened in Ukraine. He's been asking for these sanctions for a very long time, which he says is the reason that the Kremlin and, as he says, Putin and his cronies came after him and poisoned him not once but twice. Both times he says his doctors said he had a 5 percent chance of survival.

We should talk about what he has said about the west and their position in all this. Time and time again, John, he has said, look, if the west would stop coddling him over the years, after he has poisoned all of these different people, after -- this is an accusation the Kremlin always says that Putin had nothing to do with this and that the Kremlin had nothing to do with this, but he points to some evidence that the Kremlin and Putin did have something to do with poisonings and also murders of opposition leaders. And here is what he said about how he feels the west has coddled him and could have predicted what was going to happen.


KARA-MURZA: I have absolutely no doubt that the Putin regime will end over this war in Ukraine. It doesn't mean it's going to happen tomorrow. The two main questions are time and price. And by price, I do not monetary. I mean, the price in human blood and in human lives, and it has already been horrendous. But the Putin regime will end over this. And there will be a democratic Russia after Putin.

And I think one of the most important things that we all -- both here in Russia and you in the west should be thinking about right now is about how to rebuild those bridges, how to reintegrate that post-Putin democratic Russia into the international community. Because when that moment comes, it will be too late to think about it. We have to prepare for that future today.


SIDNER: So, here he is saying very forcefully, and you haven't heard this a lot from people because people don't like to make these kinds of predictions, but in his mind, there has been a history of Russia going into these conflicts and then the result of them later on, it sometimes takes years, is that whoever was in power at the time falls. So, he says we think this is going to happen again. It's just a matter of time.

BERMAN: And do you have any update on his condition or his whereabouts?

SIDNER: So, we have -- there are reports from his lawyer who says that they have figured out which jail he has been put into. They don't know how long he's going to be there. It could be a couple weeks, it could be longer, but that he is still with us, still alive and they are working to get him out.

BERMAN: Sara Sidner, a remarkable interview, taking a remarkable risk, that man, to speak with you. Thank you so much for being with us.

You can watch Sara every weekday at 9:00 A.M., beginning at 9:00 A.M. only on CNN Plus.

Just in, former President Obama speaking about Vladimir Putin and confronted about his actions as president when Russia invaded Crimea.

Plus, the breaking news shelling this morning in Ukraine, but the Russian advance could be slowed by the weather. We have a live report from the ground.