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Luhansk Military: 'No Safe Places Left in the Region'; Ukraine: Russians Strike Lviv, Killing Six & Displacing Hotel Evacuees; Zelenskyy in Interview: Ukraine Won't Give Up Territory in East to End War. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired April 18, 2022 - 06:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

[05:59:20]

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to viewers here in the U.S. and around the world. It is Monday, April 18. I'm Brianna Keilar. John Berman is off, and John Avlon is with us.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST/ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome back.

KEILAR: Thank you very much.

And we are, of course, tracking breaking news as Russia's war is intensifying in Eastern Ukraine, Russian forces sparing no city, as attacks rock the entire country overnight.

In Lviv, five missile strikes were carried out. Three were directed at military infrastructure, but one hit a tire repair facility. Forty cars were destroyed. Air raid sirens were heard wailing across the city and the region.

And we're told that this blast also shattered windows in a hotel housing evacuees. At least six people were killed and 11 injured, including one child. This is significant, right? Just last week, the curfews were relaxed in that city.

In Eastern Ukraine, strikes in Dnipro and Luhansk. The military governor in Luhansk says there are no safe places left in the region. He's urging civilians to evacuate, saying that Russian shelling is everywhere.

AVLON: In Kreminna, control of the city is lost. That from Ukrainian officials, who say street fighting is underway right now. Russians have entered the town with a huge amount of equipment. As some residents tried escaping in their vehicles, Russians opened fire on their car, killing four and injuring another.

Ukraine's President Zelenskyy telling CNN they are not willing to give up territory in the Eastern part of the country to end the war. He says the battle in the Donbas region could influence the course of the entire world.

In Mariupol, the situation is dire. Russia gave Ukrainian fighters there an ultimatum: lay down your weapons or be eliminated. Ukraine rejected that demand and vowed to continue fighting.

The port city, a symbol of Ukraine's stiff resistance, now on the brink of falling to Russian forces.

Today Russian forces saying it will be closed for entry and exit; and the men remaining in that city will be, quote, "filtered out."

KEILAR: Let's go now to CNN's Matt Rivers, who is in Lviv.

Matt, I don't think we can overstate how significant this is and the message, clearly, that Putin is trying to send to places that are generally considered safe in Ukraine.

MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brianna. I mean, you were here just a few days ago. You know firsthand that this is not an area of the country that generally has seen the kind of fighting, the kind of violence that so many other plates have.

And yet this morning, we were met with multiple explosions across the city. At least four different missile strikes, according to the Ukrainians around 8 a.m., more or less here in local time.

We know that three -- we just got a briefing from Ukrainian officials here in charge of the Lviv region. And what we've been told is that at least three of those strikes were targeting warehouses.

And the fourth, which is a scene that we just came from, was a tire repair shop. So this is clearly just a civilian area. We're not broadcasting from that site, because Ukrainian military restrictions will not allow us to broadcast live from that site as of yet.

But we know that at least six people have been killed -- seven, rather, killed across these four different sites, according to Lviv regional officials. And at least 11 people injured, three of whom are critically injured.

This is the first time here in Lviv that we've seen strikes like this in multiple weeks now. Although it was just a few days ago that air raid sirens went off in Lviv, and we were told that air defense systems took down several cruise missiles that are headed to targets in this area.

Clearly, though, the Russians tried again with the Ukrainians saying at least four missile strikes are really rocking this region this morning. KEILAR: What do officials think that the thinking is by the Russian

forces here? Because even though there have been not many but there have been occasional missile strikes there. They've been on infrastructure that is -- either serves or contributes to the military.

And obviously, a tire repair shop, the fact that a child is a casualty, this is a different thing.

RIVERS: Right. One hundred percent. And earlier this morning, we did get word from Lviv regional officials that three of the targets did have something to do with military infrastructure. They walked that back, curiously, during this last press conference, saying that three of the four targets were just warehouses.

But still, this fourth one being a tire repair shop, that is very significant. It is clearly showing a message to people here that, even though Lviv is far away from the fighting, even though it has not seen the violence that we've seen in other parts of Ukraine, clearly, the message coming from the Russians is no part of Ukraine is safe. The air raid sirens mean that missiles could be coming.

And it is clear, I mean, we just got on the streets here. There was another air raid siren that went off about an hour ago. And normally, people in Lviv may not run into shelters even time there's an air raid siren.

This morning, after that second siren went off, after the missiles struck, there was a lot of people going to shelters. Only after the all clear sign did the people come out of the shelters.

But it's a clear change in the pattern of behavior here in Lviv, prompted by these very real missile strikes.

KEILAR: Yes. They sort off -- have acted like they're false alarms largely, in a way. And now that is not the case. They know that they could very much be real.

Matt, thank you so much for that report.

AVLON: We're joined by CNN military analyst, retired Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton. Tell us a little bit about the strategy behind the focus on Lviv, when the energy really has been towards the East.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: That's right, John. And, you know, the big deal with that is -- you know, as we've mentioned, the East is where everything has been happening so far. The central part. You know, obviously Kyiv has gotten away from most of the fighting right now.

[06:05:06]

But here's what's happening in Lviv, which is right here. This area right here is in the Southwestern part of the country and right close to the Polish border. The fact that it's being struck really indicates that what the Russians are doing is they're trying to maximize the war effort.

They're trying to move it into areas that have not seen the type of fighting you get in the East or the type of fighting that you even got around Kyiv.

So what they are doing here is they're moving it out to make sure that the rest of the population is affected by it. This is basically moving terror into the next level.

AVLON: Moving terror to the next level. Destabilizing the entire country.

Now, the other thing that's been happening the last 24 hours is the Russian assault on Kreminna. Now, this is going to street-to-street fighting right now.

Tell us what's going on and how that street-to-street fighting works in your eyes.

LEIGHTON: Yes, so in Kreminna, which is right here, this is -- this is right in the Northeastern part of the country, very close to the Donbas region, not too far from Kharkiv, which is -- which is Ukraine's second city.

The street-to-street fighting in Kreminna, of course, is a lot smaller than a lot of the other towns in this area. But it's a key point, because there's a road junction that goes through here.

The roads that go like this to Luhansk. If you capture Kreminna, then you have a way in, not only to the Donbas, but you also have a way in this way and possibly toward the West, as well.

So what the Russians are trying to do is they're trying to go from one place to the other, and they're trying to eliminate as much opposition from the Ukrainians as they possibly can. And whether opposition is military or civilian, they don't care. They're going after every single possible target that they can

AVLON: And looking for supply chains as the operational side of the war.

LEIGHTON: Right.

AVLON: So this is in counter to some of the dynamics we've seen in recent days. But President Zelenskyy telling CNN and other outlets that over 1,000 villages have been liberated from the Russians, particularly around the area of Kharkiv. So talk about that other dynamic.

LEIGHTON: Listen, when you're looking at the area around Kharkiv, this is -- this is Kharkiv's center right here. And you have villages like Kutuzivka, Lebiazhe and Bazaliivka right here, these villages are important in terms of access points to the city itself.

The other thing that, of course, is key here, when the Ukrainians move back into this, what they're also going to be able to discover is what the Russians have done.

So if the Russians have committed atrocities like they did in Bucha, for example, near Kyiv, this is going to be a big -- a big issue politically, as well as militarily. Because once these -- if atrocities happened, if they are discovered, they will then further the spirit of the Ukrainian forces which will then also serve to exacerbate the fighting in the East and in other parts of the country.

AVLON: And that does seem to be part of the Russian tactics to date.

Let's just pull back for a second. President Zelenskyy telling CNN's Jake Tapper over the weekend that he's not willing to concede the East. He's not willing to concede the Donbas in a road to peace.

So if that's the statement of principal, what does an off-ramp look like?

LEIGHTON: That's a really good question, John. This -- this area right here is already Russian occupied from 2014. This is separatist controlled. This area is currently Russian occupied, as is this right here.

If the Ukrainians want to keep these areas or push the Russians back, they're going to have a lot of tough going here, because it's very easy to cut off an army either going this way or this way if the army is coming this way.

So what they're trying to do is the Ukrainians are making a point that they want to preserve the territorial integrity of their country.

However, they've got some difficulties here if they're going to dislodge the Russians here, and here, and here, they will have to find a series of tactics and procedures to -- and a strategy to really move these Russians out. And that's going to be a really tall order.

I think the way the off-ramp looks is that there's going to be a status quo ante, where everything happens that occurred before. Everything stays, in essence, the same. And what that means is these areas here may stay Russian. At the very least, this one will stay Russian.

And that -- that, of course is -- you know, it's not a defeat. It's basically what it is is you go back to where you were before, and it's a stalemate. And that's what we're looking at here. I think we're going to see a stalemate if the Ukrainians continue to perform as well as they have.

AVLON: And just to -- that's a profound statement. The stalemate could be the off-ramp. That's counter to what Zelenskyy's aim is. But obviously, there's no trust between either party right now. What would those military actions look like that could dislodge the Russians from these areas around Donetsk and North of -- of the Donbas?

LEIGHTON: So if you're looking at dislodging the Russians from these areas, you're going to have to have a lot of offensive operations that go on here. This is going to look very different from what we've seen so far.

[06:10:02]

And what you're looking at is possibly tank warfare. Because these are -- This area right here -- this is a major plain. This is kind of like Kansas, as they say. You know, flat area that's open to terrain, different from up here where it's more woody, more hilly, and allowed for people to kind of hide in those -- in those areas.

This hiding is not as possible. So there's going to be a challenge here. You're going to have to go after tanks. You're going to go after different troop emplacements, and it's going to potentially look a bit like World War II, where there were major tank battles right in this very region.

So with all of that, you know, we can be looking at going back to the future, so to speak, because that kind of fighting hasn't been seen, you know, for 70, 80 years in these places.

However, it is the type of terrain that would allow for that fighting to take place. You'd also need air power. The Ukrainians don't have that to a great extent. And you'd have to have a strategy that allows you to pull the Russians back, potentially even in places like this, and moving around this way.

And remember, this is the Russian border. If you don't go and attack targets in Russia itself, you lose an opportunity to cut their supply lines at the source. And if you don't have that, it's going to look more like a stalemate than anything else.

AVLON: Col. Cedric Leighton, thank you for enlightening us, sir. Always good to see you.

LEIGHTON: Good to see you, too, John. Thank you.

KEILAR: We do have a lot of breaking news. The Eastern town of Kreminna has fallen to Russian forces. We're also live on the ground in Lviv, where Russian forces struck a civilian target for the first time since invading Ukraine.

And we'll have more from CNN's interview with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. This is CNN's special live coverage.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:15:56]

AVLON: President Zelenskyy says Ukraine refuses to give up territory in the East to end the war with Russia. In a CNN exclusive interview, Zelenskyy explains the battle over the Donbas region is extremely critical, because the outcome of that battle could set the course for the rest of the war.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: The new Russian offensive in the East, in the Donbas, could start any day. Your administration officials have warned that it could look as big as World War II.

You won the battle of Kyiv. Are you going to win the fight for the Donbas?

VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): For us, the battle for Donbas is very important. It is important for different reasons.

For the reason of safety. First of all, our grouping that is located in Donbas is one of the best military we have. It is a large grouping. And Russia wants to encircle them and destroy them. It is nearly 40,000 people. It is 44,000 professional military men who survived a great war from the beginning of 2014.

This is why it is very important for us to preserve that part of our army that is one of the most powerful. This is why it is very important for us not to allow them to stand our ground.

Because this battle, and it can happen so there will be several battles, and we don't know how long it is going to take, it can influence the course of the whole war.

Because I don't trust the Russian military and Russian leadership. That is why we understand that the fact that we fought them off and they left, and they were running away from Kyiv from the North, from Chernihiv, and from that direction, it doesn't mean if they are able to capture Donbas they won't come further towards Kyiv.

That is why for us, this battle is very important for many reasons. It is very important to win this battle.

TAPPER: What do you say to people, you know, in Ukraine or elsewhere in the world who say just give Putin the Donbas, just give Putin Eastern Ukraine. Stop the bloodshed. Let him have the territory. What would your message be about that?

ZELENSKYY (through translator): In the centuries-old history of Ukraine, there is the story that Ukraine has either taken some territory or needs to give up some territory.

Ukraine and the people of our state are absolutely clear. We don't want anyone else's territory, and we are not going to give up our own.

TAPPER: You've inspired a lot of people, including not just here in Ukraine but around the world. Who inspires you? Who are your heroes? Whose story do you look to for inspiration during dark days here?

ZELENSKYY (through translator): Only the people. I believe our people are genuine and unique. And I just can't afford to be worse than them.

When at certain moments I feel like all of this is dangerous, I understand that all the rest of us are going through this, as well. What people are feeling like who are in basements, who lost their children, what our soldiers feel like right now.

And I understand I have to be the strongest one in this situation. And this is all. And the most important is the way my children look at me. They have to be proud of me. This is the most important thing. I do everything for this.

TAPPER: Is Ukraine going to win this war?

ZELENSKYY: Yes, of course.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR: And joining me now is former spokesperson for President Zelenskyy and journalist Iuliia Mendel.

Iuliia, thank you so much for being with us this morning.

[06:20:04]

I first want to talk about this new approach that we see from Russia, where we've seen strikes on a civilian target in Lviv. What is Russia doing here, striking a civilian target in a city so close to the border with Poland where it had not struck a civilian target before? What do you think?

IULIIA MENDEL, JOURNALIST: Thank you for having me. Well, Russia uses power to blackmail and to try to intimidate Ukraine, trying to show that something must be given up for Russia that it starts.

But in fact, we know that Russia is unstoppable. Wonder why those talks these days that we need to give up Donbas and then Russia will stall. It doesn't make any sense.

Because we look back in 2014, there was no battle for Ukrainian Peninsula, Crimea, and Russia took it over. We know that European partners were telling Ukraine that nothing bad will happen. And they did not believe that Ukraine will lose the Crimean Peninsula.

So right now, we see that after Crimea, Russia went to Donbas. If Russia takes Donbas, Russia will just move forward. And we need to fight for our territory to show Russia that we are strong enough to be independent, to take our decisions, and that we are an independent, sovereign, European state.

KEILAR: To your point, that is what we heard President Zelenskyy saying there in that interview with Jake Tapper. He said Ukraine isn't going to give up control anywhere in negotiations. There are no guarantees that, after Donbas, the Russians don't come for Kyiv.

So where, then, do these talks go? I mean, what is the point, then? What is there to work out?

MENDEL: The world must understand that Russia understands only power. Russia understands only strength. If we do not show that we're powerful and strong country, that we will fight, then Russia will never negotiate.

When Russia and Kremlin and President Putin sees that Ukraine can stand for itself, then it's the motivation for the Russian side to talk over.

And actually, all the peace can be reached by the negotiations. Ukraine was ready for many compromises. But many of the demands from Russia do not make any sense. It that as unjust as it can be. They violated all the international laws, their morality and anything that could be violated.

They come to another foreign country. They grab the territories and demand us to become whatever they -- one has to become, their slaves or whatever they want. That's why we will fight, because this is our land and our home.

And there is no other way to stop Russia but to show our strength and power. That's why, actually, Ukraine is asking all the international community to help us stand.

If Putin takes Ukraine, Putin will definitely move forward as much as he can. And we need to stop him over here to show him democracy is the same strength as dictatorship that he has so successfully devoured in Russia, the country for 140 million people.

KEILAR: Iuliia, we've heard that evacuation corridors now are closed, and this is the second day in a row. So worrisome trend here. Do you worry that the window may have closed to leave some of the most dangerous parts of Eastern Ukraine?

MENDEL: The situation changes very dynamically. Of course, every one of us worries about those people who stay in occupied territories.

This is about Donbas. This is about Kherson, which is under occupation in the South of the country, and we see that Russia is being very, very aggressive.

We know that we open all the opportunities to be heard and, you know, to talk and to ask. But at the same time, we understand that Russia provides -- you know, tries to do everything to -- to make us toothless. You know, to -- to -- Russia uses Ukrainian people. Russia uses tortures. Russia uses, you know, infiltration camps to blackmail us and to show that it's such an aggressive animal that cannot be unstoppable.

That's why we understand that we must negotiate. You know, when negotiations took place, around 200,000 of Ukrainians go through those humanitarian corridors, though it was very difficult, because in many situations, Russia was opening fire.

But at the same time, we are talking right now about 200,000 of lives that go through these humanitarian corridors to the safer territory to save their lives.

So we keep negotiations. But at the same time, we show that at the same time that we are enough strong to negotiate with. And I am sure that all the government is standing right now, asking, begging and continuing to talk to Russia to explain them that this is about civilian lives. This is just about people who are living there. This is people who are

not having any arms. And they must leave. They must leave the occupied territories and stay safe so that we continue to fight in Donbas and for the Donbas.

KEILAR: Iuliia, we do appreciate you being with us this morning. Look, this is a war that is personal for so many Ukrainians, yourself included. I know your fiancee is on the front lines, and I appreciate you taking the time to talk with us. Thank you.

MENDEL: Thank you so much for having me.

Right now, the last fight is under way for the besieged city of Mariupol. The Ukrainians who are refusing to surrender.

AVLON: Plus, for some Ukrainians, there's only one way to escape the war. To go to Moscow. CNN speaks with one family who had no choice but to flee to Russia. That's next.

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