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Investigations Underway to Determine if Russian Forces Used Chemical Weapons in Attack on Ukrainian City of Mariupol; Vladimir Putin Makes Public Comments on Russian Invasion of Ukraine; Ukrainian President Zelenskyy Says Russian Forces Mined Areas They Once Controlled before Withdrawing. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired April 12, 2022 - 08:00   ET


JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: That's according to a study by "The Albany Times Union." But here's the real deal -- that still translates to more than 3,400 acts of violence by people who could have been behind bars. That's a whole lot of avoidable crime.

Now, it's cynical for some conservatives to decry rising gun violence and then systematically oppose any efforts to combat that gun violence. But it's also really bad politics and policy for some liberals to ignore how lowering penalties for crimes can erode the rule of law and reduce trust between fellow citizens. It's not a utopia. It's an invitation to anarchy and it's precisely what drives people to the other end of the spectrum with an election just a few months away.

And that's your Reality Check.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to viewers in the U.S. and around the world. It is Tuesday, April 12th. I'm Brianna Keilar in Lviv, Ukraine, with John Berman in New York.

Investigations are under way this morning to determine whether Russian forces might have used chemical weapons in the battered southern city of Mariupol. The head of the military there in the Donetsk region telling CNN that three people are being treated for a non-life- threatening illness, or symptoms, after a Russian drone dropped something from the air. CNN cannot independently verify that claim, but the Pentagon says it is monitoring this development, and the U.K. has launched an urgent investigation.

And then breaking moments ago, fierce new fighting there in Mariupol. We have a new video that shows plumes of smoke rising from a residential area on the hills above a shipping yard near the city's port. And even though Russian forces have retreated from the Kyiv area in the north, there is still danger lurking 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 ANCHOR: You can see the results of that right behind me right now. These are the Ukrainians doing their best around Kyiv to clean up the mines and the unexploded ordinance on the ground there. This will be a huge effort that will take some time.

Overnight, reports of heavy shelling in eastern Ukraine, in the Donbas region. This is where everyone expects the Russians to launch this new offensive that hasn't launched already. Now, Ukrainian officials are hoping that heavy rain forecasts could slow down the Russians' plan in the region. The rain is expected to last several days, creating acres of mud there which will keep the Russians heavy armor, the tanks, on the road system and could make them an easier target.

Just a short time ago, we heard from the Russian leader Vladimir Putin, this is the first time we've heard him speaking for a while in public, even after all the setbacks his military suffered around Kyiv, he is claiming this morning that the Russian military goals will be achieved weeks after the unprovoked invasion of a neighbor he made the ridiculous assertion that Russia, quote, "had no other choice." Brianna?

KEILAR: Let's bring in CNN's Phil Black who is here with me in Lviv. Phil, let's talk about this. It's unverified, to be clear, this report of a chemical weapon used, but I did speak with the military governor of the region who said, yes, they got some information from soldiers there in Mariupol that experienced something.

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it is coming from the soldiers on the ground. Some of the few remaining Ukrainian defenders have been surrounded and fighting there for weeks now. At this critical moment, in that battle, they say that a poisonous substance of some kind was released close by, and a handful of people were impacted. As you say, only three have required treatment. The soldiers said they can't get to the site to inspect it because of Russian fire. So it is not possible.

You're right, we can't confirm this. In fact, no one can, really. But Ukrainian, U.S., U.K. officials, all say they're very keen to understand what is taking place here because of the implication, the possibility that this could be one of those much-warned chemical weapons attacks. But at the moment, no one knows, and it seems the consequences are not serious.

KEILAR: They can't verify it but they're taking it seriously.

And we're hearing about a lot of Ukrainians who are coming home when it comes to the Kyiv region because Russian forces have withdrawn. But we just saw, it's not necessarily safe in many places.

BLACK: Indeed. When the Russians first withdrew, we heard from officials there who said there are booby traps, mines, explosives everywhere, including, they said, dead bodied had been mined to detonate when they explode. President Zelenskyy has said, or he has described a scale of this, I guess, which is quite extraordinary. He's talking about tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of mines or explosive devices that have been left behind through the north where Russia has pulled out.


And he says this was deliberate. This was a deliberate policy. It must have been authorized from above, a deliberate attempt to make that stretch of country essentially dangerous and unlivable. And as he says, it leaves Ukraine, he believes, the most mined country in the world right now.

KEILAR: Phil, thank you so much, do appreciate that very much. John?

BERMAN: Joining me now, Jim Sciutto, CNN anchor and chief national security correspondent. He's also the author of "The Shadow War." And Jim, if we can, I want to talk about this Russian offensive in the east. The Ukrainians say basically it has already begun. And we have these new images of Russian material, armor, tanks, men, moving toward the Donbas region. What your sources telling you about what this offensive from the Russians will look like?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: It's going to be a bit different from what we saw in the north, at least the nature of the combat we're going to see here. That's because up here where you saw those pitched battles around Kyiv, for instance, as Russian forces failed to encircle here, lots of forests up there. That allowed Ukrainian forces to ambush those Russian convoys from the forests, from protected areas.

Out here it's much more wide open land. This is the breadbasket of Ukraine. so picture open fields, that kind of combat. It means more armor on armor. It means trench warfare. There are trenches out here, World War II, World War I style. And that's why you're seeing U.S. officials and its partners focusing on sending a different kind of weaponry. Some of the same stuff we saw up here, anti-tank missiles, et cetera, but a greater emphasis on heavy stuff, like armor, like artillery pieces, that sort of thing. It's going to be a different kind of combat, and arguably even bloodier.

BERMAN: Look, we have a picture of what you're talking about there in terms of terrain here. You can see just wide open, nowhere to hide. Nowhere to hide here, which is why you're much more likely to see armor on armor. And these are the T-72 tanks, Jim, which you've done such great reporting on, that the Ukrainians want.

I was curious to hear John Kirby yesterday say that the time between when President Biden makes a commitment to new material to the time it arrives in Ukraine is four to six days. But Jim, does that mean, does that mean over here in the east, does that mean they can get it all the way from Poland or Romania to where it needs to be on what this new front will be?

SCIUTTO: By the way, John, that stood out to me as well from the briefing, because that's a remarkable timeframe from a phone call in Washington to getting weapons into the hands of fighters here. And it shows that the supply lines that the U.S.'s partners, and the Ukrainians, by the way, get it first to a place like Poland where the U.S. airfields are or NATO airfields with U.S. forces all the way across the country.

Listen, it is further away, right. You can't fly it in here. So it is going to be a challenge. But it has been a failure of Russian forces so far to be able to cut off those supply lines. They've tried. It's one reason they have been dropping more missiles on airfields out here in the western part of the country on roads, et cetera. But they haven't been able to cut it off. Keeping it going, it is going to be a challenge.

But I'll tell you, John, one thing stuck in my mind, too. Eight years ago, when I was covering the first Russian invasion of Ukraine, it of course started down here in Crimea, continued in the east, the U.S. ambassador at the time told me watch the movie "Fury." If you remember this, it's a World War II tank movie where you have tank on tank battles. He said that's what they were seeing out there in 2014 but in a much smaller scale. The size of the Russian force coming in much bigger, the capability of the Ukrainian force much bigger, more armor, et cetera. Look up that movie "Fury" again and that could give you a vision of the kind of fighting we're going to see out here in the coming weeks.

BERMAN: I'm going to put it in my queue immediately. But one thing it does indicate, Jim, is logistics are going to be a huge part of this. And the Russians so far have not proven adept, at least not in this conflict, on that front. Jim Sciutto, great to talk to you. Thank you very much. Brianna?

KEILAR: This morning I spoke with the military governor of the Donetsk region, Pavlo Kyrylenko, about these reports of a chemical attack in Mariupol, the Russian military convoy that is heading toward his region, and also the battle ahead. Here is part of our conversation.


KEILAR: Mr. Kirilenko, thank you for being with us this morning. I'm wondering if you can tell us about this report that a chemical attack of some sort has happened in Mariupol. Have you heard anything about this? Are you able to confirm this?

PAVLO KYRYLENKO, MILITARY GOVERNOR OF DONETSK REGION, UKRAINE (through translator): Yes, indeed, I have seen this report, and I have the latest information from the scene. I have just been interviewing incident reports on this. And we know that last night around midnight a drone dropped some, so far unknown, explosive device.


And the people that were in the area in and around the Mariupol metal plant, these were three people, they began to feel unwell. We know that the city is under siege, so it's very difficult to receive accurate information and to be in touch with the people, with the population, and so -- but what we have heard is that there were three people who were affected, and that they were taken to hospital -- they were taken to hospital. They were given medical assistance. And at the moment, their lives are not in danger.

Now, I must say that these are very literally recent reports from the scene. They're operator reports that I'm receiving, so I cannot 100 percent confirm or comment on them. I can personally confirm that there was this fact that this has happened, and that it is fortunate that the people that were around there, our defenders, did not receive life-threatening injuries.

KEILAR: So thank you so much for detailing that for us. Can you give us a sense of the casualties? Do you know how many people, even approximately, have died in Mariupol and Donetsk? And talk to us a little bit about the difficulty in being able to get an accurate count on that.

KYRYLENKO: Taking information from different sources, we can speak of tens of thousands of people who died, and to be more precise, but this figure has to be checked very carefully. We are currently discussing 20,000 to 22,000 people dead in Mariupol. And this -- and what I want to draw people's attention to is that since the sanctions pressure put on the Russian Federation by our western partners, the E.U. and the U.S., and these very stringent sanctions packages, the enemy has changed tactics. And they are currently -- they blocked the city in such a way that they're not letting people leave on their private vehicles. And they're stopping people leaving -- stopping civilians leaving the city.

And what they're doing now is they are using mobile crematoriums, mobile cremation machines, and also taking people out of the -- taking bodies of the dead in the streets and the dead from collapsing buildings, they're taking them out into the territory not controlled by Ukraine, and destroying the bodies there. So they're hiding -- since the emergence of the evidence of war crimes in Bucha and the evidence of genocide, they are now hiding the evidence and using these mobile cremation chambers. And they're taking bodies out of Mariupol into the territory controlled by Russia. Now, that's from Mariupol. Regarding elsewhere in Donetsk region, the information we have is 237 people dead, and 758 people wounded.

KEILAR: Mr. Kyrylenko, I thank you so much for speaking with us. Please talk to us any day. We would love to get updates from you there in Donetsk. We appreciate your time.

KYRYLENKO: Thank you very much. We'll hold on. Glory to Ukraine.


KEILAR: Russian troops leaving behind scores of unexploded bombs in northern Ukraine. CNN's Fred Pleitgen will be meeting with the people responsible for dismantling them.

And then moments ago, Vladimir Putin making rare remarks in public, telling lies, telling an alternate reality.

And in the United States, the White House is bracing for a brutal inflation report.



KEILAR: I'm Brianna Keilar here in western Ukraine. The U.S. stepping up its efforts to try to re-supply Ukrainian forces in the eastern part of the country. CNN reporters have all of the angles.

KYLIE ATWOOD, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, CNN: I'm Kylie Atwood at the State Department. A senior U.S. defense official said that the United States has not encountered any challenges with delivering defensive equipment to Ukraine.

Saying that today they are using the same overland routes that they have been using over the last few weeks. Saying that those are quite sophisticated. And this whole process begins according to this senior U.S. defense official with about eight to 10 flights into the region per day with this equipment.

And then these near-constant convoys overland into Ukraine. Now, the senior U.S. defense official wouldn't get into the details of how they are preserving these land routes to assure that the Ukrainians get this defensive weaponry that they need. But said that they are still working and that weaponry is still getting into the hands of the Ukrainians.

CLARE SEBASTIAN, INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: I'm Clare Sebastian in London. U.S. oil prices are rising slightly Tuesday after falling to their lowest point since the early days of the war in Ukraine on Monday.

Well, last month they hit a peak of just over $130 a barrel over fears of supply disruptions from Russia, the world's second-largest exporter. Now though the U.S. and its allies have eased those supply fears somewhat by promising to release millions of barrels of oil from emergency reserves.

And the fear now is around demand, that strict COVID lockdowns in Shanghai and other Chinese cities could impact one of the world's largest oil consumers.

MAX FOSTER, ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT, CNN: I'm Max Foster in London. The Ukrainian Embassy in Ireland is calling for a ban on the Russian pro-war symbol Z. That's after a video emerged on Sunday showing a convoy of vehicles displaying it whilst traveling down one of Dublin's busiest highways. Calling a symbol of killings and atrocities the Embassy said all democratic states must ban its use.


The character, which interestingly doesn't feature in Russia's alphabet has become a symbol of Putin's invasion since Russian military vehicles invaded Ukraine in February displaying the distinctive mark.

KEILAR: And now that Russian forces have pulled out of Kyiv we are getting a clearer picture of the destruction that they left behind. It is really a grim scene, devastation in every direction, and that is not the worst of it as CNN's Frederik Pleitgen reports.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN (voice- over): The tour is a sad routine for the body collectors in the outskirts of Kyiv. Finding corpses has become eerily normal here. A house destroyed by an artillery strike, a body burned beyond recognition.

A mangled car wreck, two bodies burned beyond recognition. A house that was occupied by Russian troops, an elderly lady dead in the bedroom. These bodies evidence of a rural Russian occupation and then a fierce fight by the underdog Ukrainians to drive them out.


PLEITGEN: A fight 81-year-old Kataryna Bareshvolets witnessed up close in her village.

BARESHVOLETS: (Speaking in Foreign Language).

BARESHVOLETS (through translator): There were explosions, explosions from all sides. It was scary she tells me. I am in my house, I cross myself, and lie down. And then I hear how it thundered and all the windows in the house were broken.

PLEITGEN: The Ukrainians tell us the Russian troops didn't even bother collecting most of their own dead. More than a week after Vladimir Putin's army was pushed out of here, they showed us the body of what they say was a Russian soldier still laying in the woods.

And that's not all they've left behind, this de-mining unit says they found hundreds of tons of unexploded ordinance in just a matter of days. Including cluster munitions like this bomblet, even though the Russians deny using them.


OPANASENKO (through translator): These weapons are extremely dangerous for civilians who might accidentally touch them, the commander says. There are about 50 such elements in one bomb he says. This is a high explosive fragmentation bomb to kill people, designed just to kill people.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): They blow up the cluster bomblet on the spot, and then move the heavier bombs to a different location for a massive controlled explosion. The body collecting, the minesweeping, and the clearing up of wreckage are just starting in this area. And yet this pile of demolished vehicles both military and civilian already towers in the Kyiv suburb of Irpin.

PLEITGEN (on-screen): If you had to picture Russia's attempt to try and take the Ukrainian capital Kyiv it would probably look a lot like this. Destruction on a massive scale, and absolutely nothing to show for it. Russia's' military was humiliated by the Ukrainians and caused a lot of harm in the process.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): And they've devastated sores of families. At Irpin's cemetery the newly widowed weep at funerals for the fallen. Allah Kratkey (ph), her husband Ehore (ph) fought alongside their 21- year-old son in Irpin and died in his arms on the battlefield.

Ulia Schutina (ph), wife of Dimitro Pasko (ph) killed by a Russian mortar shell. And Tetyana Lytkina, her husband Alexadra Litkin (ph) promised her he'd come back in a few hours but was killed defending his neighborhood.


LYTKINA (through translator): I'm very proud of him, Tetyana says, he's a hero, we have many people in Ukraine who have not fled and are defending their homes. Sasha died just 200 meters from our house where we lived.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Laying the dead to rest another sad task they've become all too efficient at performing in this area. Close by the next funeral is already underway. Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Irpin, Ukraine.


KEILAR: Just into CNN Vladimir Putin speaking publicly about the war in Ukraine telling lies in painting a reality that doesn't exist. What he said and what the world should be taking from this. Plus reports that Russians are offering to pay teenagers to spy on Ukrainian troops. We have new details ahead.



JOHN BERMAN, ANCHOR, CNN: So just a short time ago we heard from Vladimir Putin for the first time in a while. He's with the Belarusian leader there, Lukashenko, you can see them on this road trip together to the far east of Russia. And despite the military setbacks that Russia has suffered in around Kyiv, Putin claimed that Russia has achieved its military goals. And even weeks after the unprovoked invasion of a neighbor he made the absurd claim that he had no other choice.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA: (Speaking in Foreign Language).

PUTIN (through translator): The main objective is to help the people in the Donbas region and the People's Republics of Donbas, which we recognized. We were forced to do it because unfortunately the Kyiv authorities prompted by the west refused to stand by the Minsk Agreements that were aimed at a peaceful settlement in the Donbas.

And for the People's Republics. And what we're doing, we are helping people, we are saving them from Nazis and in the first place, and on the other hand, we're protecting Russia. Taking measures to protect Russia's security. And it is obvious that we had no choice. It was the right thing to do, and I have no doubt the objectives will be achieved.


BERMAN: All right, joining me now CNN's Senior Global Affairs Analyst Bianna Golodryga. First of all, the bizarre images of the dictator road trip aside, interesting to hear Vladimir Putin, you know, weeks and weeks into this invasion using this type of language, what's going on?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, SENIOR GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST; CNN: Yes, he and Lukashenko were visiting a space facility in eastern Russia. And yes, I found him to be very defensive. Now, clearly, I didn't hear the question that was posed at him but given that this was Russian State media I can't imagine that it was a hard-hitting question.

He chose this opportunity to layout in defense of what Russia has been doing in their special military operation.