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Fighting in Eastern Ukraine Leaves One Town in Donbas Region Devastated; Efforts Underway to Evacuate an Elderly Woman from Town being Shelled by Russian Forces; Russian Forces Likely Planning Large- Scale Offensive in Eastern Ukraine. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired April 15, 2022 - 08:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And a chilling warning from CIA Director William Burns. He says the potential for Russia to us tactical or low yield nuclear weapons in Ukraine cannot be taken lightly.

Also, "The Washington Post" reports that Russia has sent a formal diplomatic note to the United States warning that U.S. and NATO shipments of the most sensitive weapons systems to Ukraine are adding fuel to the conflict, and that there could be, quote, "unpredictable consequences." Brianna?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Let's begin in the eastern city of Dnipro with CNN's chief international correspondent, Clarissa Ward. Clarissa?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, Ukrainian military officials are saying that Russia is beefing up its forces along the border as they continue to soften the ground in preparation for this major offensive. According to the Ukrainian military, there are now command and control components as well as aviation assets along that border. And many of the troops who took part in the northern failed offensive above and around Kyiv have now taken positions in order to participate in this offensive.

It's a three-pronged attack, reportedly. It will be coming down from the north to the east, also up to the south. And as they soften the ground for it, we saw for ourselves these towns, these front lines in the Donbas region, are being shelled day in, day out. We visited one where many people are desperate to evacuate, but told us they simply don't have the means to do it.


CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The town of Avdiivka, is no stranger to war. Eight years this has been the front line of Ukraine's battle with Russian-backed separatists. People here are used to shelling. They have never experienced anything like this. A missile can be heard overhead as an emotional man approaches us. They smashed the old part of town, he says. As we talk, the artillery intensifies.

I told him it's better to go home now because there is a lot of shelling. And he said there is more shelling where he lives.

As Russia prepares a major offensive in the east, front line towns like Avdiivka are getting pummeled.

So you can hear constant bombardment. This is the bomb shelter down here. But you can see this building has already been hit.

More than 40 people are now living in what used to be a clothing store. Leeda (ph) and her two sons have been here for three weeks. She wants to leave, but says her boys are too scared to go outside. "We're afraid to stay and afraid to go," she tells us. "But it's fate whether you run or don't run."

On an apartment block, an icon of the Virgin Mary has been painted, a plea for protection, but there is no respite in the bombardment.

If you look over here, you see the remnants of some fresh strikes.

And 37-year-old government worker Ratislav (ph) looks at what remains of his family home. He takes us inside to see the full scale of the destruction.

It's completely destroyed.

Mercifully no one was at home at the time of the strike.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My children's photograph.

WARD: His family has already left, but he says he plans to stay. "I'm afraid, like anybody else. Only the dead aren't afraid," he tells us. "But a lot of people are still here in Avdiivka, living in bomb shelters, and we need to support them."

Authorities say roughly 2,000 people remain in this town. There is no water, no heat, electricity is spotty. The local school has become a hub, to gather aid and distribute it to the community.


Volunteer Igor (ph) Golotov (ph) spends his days visiting the elderly and disabled. Today he is checking in on 86-year-old Lydia (ph). Petrified and alone, he has yet to find an organization willing to come and evacuate her. "When there is no electricity and it is so dark and there is shelling," she says, "you can't imagine how scary it is." She tells us she recites prayers to get through the night. "I never imagined that my end would be like this," she says. "You can't even die here because there is no one to provide a burial ceremony."

For Igor (ph), it is agony not to be able to do more. "I promise you," he says, "I will help you to be evacuated." As we leave, Lydia (ph) is reluctant to say good-bye. It is terrifying to live through this time. To do it alone is torture. "It's so nice to see real people," she says. "Probably it's going to get worse." A prediction all but certain to come true as a second Russian offensive draws near.


WARD (on camera): The fear that so many people in the east have, John and Brianna, is that after the humiliating failed offensive in the north and now the humiliation of the sinking of the Moskva, and with this new general being placed at the helm of Russian operations, this Alexander Dvornikov, known as "The Butcher of Syria" for his role in that conflict, that you're going to see a doubling down on the most brutal of tactics. A lot of people looking at what's been happening in the southeastern city of Mariupol, where we have seen civilian structures targeted, where we have seen maternity hospitals and civilian shelters reduced to rubble, and fearing the worst, that we could see those scenes playing out across the Donbas region as this offensive gets under way.

BERMAN: Clarissa, I have to say, that piece is heart breaking, to see Lydia (ph), that older woman there, not wanting to let go of your hand, telling you, you can't even die here. Do you have any update on what is happening with her?

WARD: So, John, after our piece first aired, we have had this outpouring from people online, on Twitter, who desperately wanted to know what they could do to help Lydia (ph). We have been making a lot of phone calls, talking with Igor (ph), that volunteer who you saw in our story, and other organizations.

It's difficult because they can find a way to get her out, but they can't necessarily find her a facility to take her to, where she can get the treatment that she needs. She is in a wheelchair. She requires considerable amount of care. We are still working to help try to organize that, and we are hopeful. But one point I really want to underscore that Igor (ph) told us is that the case of Lydia (ph), which is so heartbreaking, and walking out of that apartment was agonizing, honestly, is -- it's not an isolated case. We are seeing so many like Lydia (ph) across this area, particularly with elderly people, particularly with those who have various disabilities, the effort that is needed to try to facilitate and orchestrate a massive evacuation and get them to places which can offer the level of care that they need is so difficult at any time, let alone against the backdrop of this ugly war, John.

KEILAR: Yes, it is so tough. She is just one of many. Clarissa Ward, thank you so much for that report from Dnipro.

Fifty-one days into Russia's invasion, the focus has shifted to eastern and southern Ukraine as Russian forces regroup in those areas. Officials are urging residents to leave before it is too late. Earlier today I spoke to Pavlo Kyrylenko, who is head of the Donetsk region military administration and military governor of the Donetsk region. Here is part of our conversation.


KEILAR: Governor, thank you so much for joining us this morning. Can you give us an update on Mariupol and if Ukrainian troops control any part of it still?

PAVLO KYRYLENKO, HEAD OF DONETSK REGION MILITARY ADMINISTRATION (through translator): The Ukrainian troops are in control of the city of Mariupol. The Ukrainian flag flies over the city of Mariupol, whatever anyone may say. And the Ukrainian troops are courageously defending Mariupol. The street fighting and tank fighting is continuing in the streets of the city and the territory of the city. But as I said, our defenders are very courageous, and they are holding Mariupol.


KEILAR: The goal for the Russian forces is to get Mariupol and create a land bridge to Crimea. How would that change the war that we are expecting to grow in the east?

KYRYLENKO: Well, I will start by saying that the enemy cannot seize Mariupol. The enemy may seize the land that Mariupol used to stand on, but the city of Mariupol is no more. The city of Mariupol has been wiped off the face of the earth by the Russian Federation, by those who will never be able to restore it.

And I will say this with full responsibility as a representative of the Ukrainian government, because to restore Mariupol, that's only something Ukraine can do, something that Ukraine can do with the leadership of the head of state, and the whole presidential and government hierarchy. Because I was involved in restoring Mariupol's infrastructure and building the European standard infrastructure there, and that is something the Russians will never be able to do.

So the city of Mariupol is no more. However, as for the land bridge, the so-called land bridge with Crimea that the Russian Federation is talking about, well, I will say there is still fighting in Zaporizhzhia region, there's still fighting going on around Kherson and the Kherson region, the Ukrainian troops are pushing the enemy, and the so-called land bridge to Crimea, that is something that is an illusion of the enemy, as is the blitzkrieg that they were planning to take over Ukraine. That is all an illusion.

KEILAR: Sir, we're hearing some different estimates on when -- we know there is fighting in Donbas, we know there is fighting in the east, but we're hearing different estimates on when the largescale battle is going to begin. The French have said maybe it is here in the next few days. Right now, America's projecting time in the next couple of weeks. Can you give us a better sense of the timeline?

KYRYLENKO: So the enemy has been able to regroup on all -- in all the main directions. And we have seen attempts to breakthrough from the north, on the border between Donetsk region and Kharkiv region. And we have been repelling these attacks, and we have -- the enemy has suffered some losses in armor and personnel. But we have not yet seen a full-scale offensive from all directions as we expected. Now, there are a number of factors that impede such an offensive at

the moment. One of them is the weather. The kind of weather we have been having impedes the passage of heavy armored vehicles. And -- but I believe it is a matter of several days, rather than weeks. And therefore, I have been calling on all the population in the area to evacuate as soon as possible because -- and we are taking practical measures to enable this evacuation because the enemy is not going to wait. They have a column of heavy armored vehicles waiting with personnel that is exposed to our efforts to destroy it, and they will continue heavy artillery strikes on civilian populations, so that is something that they're going to do.

KEILAR: Governor, we really appreciate your time this morning. Thank you so much for speaking with us. We'll be checking in with you here in the coming days.

KYRYLENKO: Thank you, and stay safe.


KEILAR: And we have more on the breaking news on the ground in Ukraine. Russian cruise missile strikes outside of Kyiv, one day after the crown jewel of Russia's naval fleet in the Black Sea sinks. And a new warning from the director of the CIA about the potential nuclear threat posed by Russia.

Plus, we're joined by a former economic adviser to Vladimir Putin who says there is one thing that the west could do that would end the war within a month.



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brianna Keilar live in Ukraine.

A former top economic aide to Vladimir Putin says he thinks that the key to ending the war in Ukraine is a full embargo on Russian oil, telling the BBC, quote, if Western countries would try to implement a real embargo on oil and gas exports from Russia, I would bet that probably within a month or two, Russian military operations in Ukraine probably will be ceased, will be stopped.

And joining me now is Andrei Illarionov. He is a former chief economic adviser to Vladimir Putin. Sir, thank you so much for joining us. Tell us why you think that this would work so quickly.

ANDREI ILLARIONOV, FORMER CHIEF ECONOMIC ADVISER TO PUTIN: Good morning, Brianna. I think it is a very important nonmilitary instrument to influence decision-making process in Kremlin. The reason is very simple.

Right now, the direct revenues from export of oil and gas from Russia considered around 40 percent of all budget revenues in Russia. It will take into account direct and indirect revenues, altogether it will be probably close to 60 percent of all revenue for the federal budget. Assuming that these revenues would be reduced substantially as a result of implementation of full embargo for energy export from Russia, we understand it cannot be absolutely full because we have China, maybe some other smaller consumers, nevertheless, it would affect the main bulk of importers of energy from Russia.


And assuming that Russia at this moment does not have access to credit market because of sanctions and assuming that foreign exchange reserve of the Central Bank of Russia are frozen, Russian government, Putin's government, does not have resources to spending and all the spendings would be forced to be reduced by 40 percent to 50 percent. That is shrunk (ph) that Russian government did not see even back in the '90s.

So, that is why the regime will be in the position that it would need to stop operations, to look for some armistice (ph) -- and to see some negotiations with Ukraine.

KEILAR: It is very interesting. I do want to ask you, Andrei, as someone with insight into Vladimir Putin's personality a bit, this warship that sunk in the Black Sea, how embarrassed do you think he by that, if at all?

ILLARIONOV: I think from the purely military point of view, it is even from the purely military point of view it is very important because it is a fragment of the Black Sea fleet. It is incomparably more important from the point of view of symbolic significance because it is number one ship in the Black Sea fleet, it is the largest one, it is a ship that has been used by Putin personally all the time when he visited Sevastopol and Black Sea fleet and participated in all these navy parades.

It was the same ship that sank several Georgian boats during the Russian/Georgian War back in 2008. It was the same ship that attacked Island Snake in the beginning of this particular war. And the reaction of the Ukrainian soldiers to this attack became viral in social media and around the world.

And it is also interesting that that particular ship has been built in Mykolaiv, in Ukraine, in the largest ship building plant in the former Soviet Union. It is interesting it has been hit by missile from same area, from Mykolaiv.

It is a lot of symbolism in this case, and certainly it has name Moskva, the capital of Russia. So this is a very, very painful blow to the morale, and the status of the Russian navy and the Russian army.

KEILAR: Really fascinating, Andrei, thank you so much for being with us. Andrei Illarionov, we appreciate it.

ILLARIONOV: Thank you.

KEILAR: The French military says Russian troops are preparing for an offensive to conquer the Donbas within days as Russia claims to have made advances in the region. And back in the United States, brand-new reporting on the January 6th investigation. CNN obtains new text messages from two of Trump's closest allies in Congress, how they really felt about the efforts to overturn the election.



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news this morning, never before seen text messages uncovered by the January 6th committee show how two Trump congressional allies, Congressman Chip Roy and Senator Mike Lee, went from encouraging the effort to at least block the certification of the 2020 election to warning against it.

I just want you to look at the evolution of texts from Chip Roy to Mark Meadows. On November 7th, he writes, dude, we need ammo, we need fraud examples, we need it this weekend. On November 19th, he writes, we need substance or people are going to break. On November 22nd, he writes, freaking Rudy needs to hush. And on December 31st, chip Roy writes, the president should call everyone off.

Joining me now to discuss CNN senior political correspondent Abby Phillip, anchor of "INSIDE POLITICS" on the weekend and CNN political analyst and Washington correspondent for "The New York Times", Maggie Haberman.

We should note, Abby, both Chip Roy and Mike Lee did not go along with the certification on January 6th itself. What does the evolution tell you here, Abby?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, and they questioned their colleagues who did go forward with it. I think the evolution tells you what we already knew, which was that there was no evidence and that people knew it at the time.

There was a long period of time from the days after the election in which many Republicans thought let's give it some time to see if evidence emerges, but clearly, based on these text messages, before the start of the New Year, many Republicans in Washington and elsewhere around the country knew there was no there there. There was no evidence, long before January 6th.

And yet, many of their colleagues continued forward. And it just tells you that all of this is a farce. There are a lot of people out here claiming that it is partisanship to say that these election claims are false, when in fact people on both sides of the aisles knew at the time then. They know now that there's no basis for these false claims that the election was stolen from Trump.

BERMAN: And, Maggie, Roy and Senator Lee basically saying at the beginning, help me help you, and they clearly never got the help they thought they needed.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No, that's right. I think Abby has it exactly right, John. You had a bunch of people right after election day who thought there is a window here, it's not unheard of shortly after an election to look at, you know, ballot counting, to look at various options in various states, never seen on this scale.

But, you know, it became clear overtime as you look at these texts that there are people who are aware that there was nothing materializing, not just in terms of the baseless claims of widespread fraud, but also that we're going to undo this, we've got this path and this path and this path.