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Russian Forces Attacking Ukraine's Front Lines in East; Ukraine: Russia Firing on Mariupol Shelter 'Willingly'; U.S. Ditches Mask Mandate for Travelers after Judge's Ruling; Woman Living Under Russian Attacks in Mykolaiv as Water Runs Out. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired April 19, 2022 - 06:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT/ANCHOR: Good morning to our viewers here in the U.S. and around the world. It is Tuesday, April 19. I'm Kaitlan Collins in New York with Jim Sciutto in Lviv, Ukraine. John Berman and Brianna Keilar are off.

We start with breaking news in a critical moment for Russia's war. Now that a major battle for Donbas is underway, President Zelenskyy announcing that Russian forces have launched a new large-scale ground offensive in Eastern Ukraine, marking a potentially significant turning point in Russia's unprovoked war and creating the ultimate test for the Ukrainian military.

This battle will almost certainly be the bloodiest to date.

President Zelenskyy is vowing that his forces will fight on. And we are already seeing efforts to break through Ukraine's front lines in three different regions.

Take a look at this video. It shows these columns of a Russian military vehicle heading from the Russian border toward the city of Izium, where Russian troops have already been gathering.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT/ANCHOR: U.S. officials telling me here to expect a World-War-II-like battlefield. In Mariupol, the Azovstal steel plant now a holdout, the refuge for the city's still stiff resistance. The fate of that city now in the hands of an unknown number of defenders.

An hour ago, Russian forces issued a second deadline for them to surrender. No word on what Ukrainians there, who include civilians, by the way, are going to do.

This comes as video shows hundreds of people sheltering in the basement of that steel plant. We're told Russian forces are firing at the plant willingly. Look at the smoke rising there.

Alongside the Ukrainian military, these are the people who are hiding inside. Dozens of people visible there. They have been there for weeks.

These moms say conditions for kids are dire. There's not a lot of food. Their children's teeth are starting to spoil. Imagine watching that as a parent.

This morning, President Biden will hold a call with U.S. allies and partners to discuss how to hold Moscow further accountable. White House press secretary Jen Psaki indicates the U.S. is preparing to impose new sanctions, as well as expand current ones against the Kremlin.

COLLINS: Ed Lavandera begins our coverage in Kyiv. Ed, what are you seeing on the ground this morning?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, all focus really is in Eastern Ukraine, where this renewed offensive from Russian forces is underway. President Zelenskyy here in Kyiv saying that they believe that this renewed offensive has already begun -- begun.

And what we're seeing, really, is mostly intense shelling in various cities there in Eastern Ukraine. And we're also hearing calls from Ukrainian officials, urging civilians that have not yet evacuated to do so immediately.

But that will be hampered today with problems of creating humanitarian corridors. From what we understand as of this moment, there have been no agreed-upon humanitarian corridors anywhere in Ukraine. So that will make the flee to safety far more dangerous for the civilians left in various small cities.

They're mostly right now kind of focused in the area around the city where the train station was blown up last week, Kramatorsk. So if you can imagine a straight line East of there, that seems to be where a lot of the intense shelling is happening right now there in that Eastern area. And that is where people are being urged to evacuate.

If you move South from there, that's where you hit the Mariupol and the -- the horrific conditions that Jim is describing in that -- in that situation and the people trapped, essentially, blockaded around inside that steel plant.

And as we mentioned, the Russian forces there have offered a ceasefire, a surrendering time, a deadline for those forces and civilians there to surrender to Russian forces. This isn't new. This was also done on Sunday. Those pleas for surrender were also ignored.

It is not exactly clear what the answer is going to be this time around. But it would not be surprising if the calls for surrender are also ignored. The forces, the Ukrainian forces, inside that steel plant have said that they will continue fighting until the very end.

But as those videos emerging from inside that steel plant show that there are also civilians, perhaps as many as 1,000 people, inside of that steel plant.

And this is an area, as we have reported for weeks, that has just continued to deteriorate into unimaginable conditions as the fighting there continues to rage on week after week.

COLLINS: Yes. And Ed, that shows you why White House officials are worried this could only get worse from here.

Ed Lavandera, live in Kyiv, thank you so much.

SCIUTTO: Yes, all those poor civilians sheltering there.

Let's speak now with CNN military analyst, retired Army General "Spider" Marks.

General, always good to have you on. So I've been told to brace for visions of World War II in the East, large armor formations, artillery, you know, even worse bloodshed, if you can imagine it, than we've seen already here.

U.S. military sources also saying that the Russians learned some lessons up in north around Kyiv about supply lines, et cetera. Do you see that? And do you believe that they might have more success as a result in the East?


Clearly, the Russian forces are being adaptive. I mean, that's what you'd think military forces, after they engage and they get punched in the throat, they need to respond. This is what the Russians are doing.

It starts with a redefinition of what the priority is. As we watched over the course of the last couple of months, the Russians invaded in multiple locations, tried to win everywhere, got waxed in every one of those locations and said, OK, we got this wrong.


They redefined what their priority is, and now they're going to just completely cover down in the Donbas region. So that's the No. 1 thing. They've identified what they would call their center of gravity for this part of the campaign.

And the second thing, it's the continuing use -- continual use of long-range fires, deep strikes, going after civilian -- you know, civilian targets, residences, as you've described, to try to just annihilate -- it starts with attrition, which is really the grinding down of the will to resist.

But now you're in a fight of annihilation, where the Russians ultimately are going to have to put their own boots in the ground on Mariupol to say that they've claimed it. So it starts with the priority, the long-range fires, and then they're going to start to maneuver far more forces in that direction.

SCIUTTO: Yes. So what is the Ukrainian response? And what is the U.S./NATO response? Yes, they've been sending in heavier weapons. We've seen artillery piece, tanks, you know, weapons that initially there was great reluctance to supply to the Ukrainians. And that reluctance has now disappeared.

Can the U.S. and the West arm them sufficiently to push back or hold back the Russians? And can the Ukrainians learn their own lessons?

MARKS: Well, the Ukrainians are adapting, as well. You're exactly right. The Ukrainians have demonstrated incredible creativity that we've not seen on the Russian side.

It really starts with the definition of the commander's intent. You know, the commander has to say, this is what I'm trying to do. And the Ukrainians encouraged the creativity to go come up with the solutions.

Not on the Russian side, which are very hierarchical. You will do what I say kind of engagements. So that's really working to the Ukrainian advantage.

But to your point, the Ukrainians have done very well on these tactical engagements. I would imagine they will continue to do that.

But the unfortunate thing is, the reality is the Russians have the numbers. They've increased -- increased the number of battalion task forces that are in that area. The Ukrainians will really fight well and, you know, really do extremely well as they've demonstrated before. But the numbers are on the side of the Russians.

And this is just the nasty open terrain. A lot of maneuver. And again, a lot of conventional fighting, which means we're going to see a lot of casualties.

SCIUTTO: Is the Russian focus on the East and the South a short-term goal for Russia, or do you think that could be the end game?

MARKS: The latter. No, no, I apologize. It's not the end game. My apologies. What it is is the start. This is the first step in a much longer engagement.

And in fact, I would put it in the vernacular. OK, this is Putin saying we tried to get Kyiv. Forget that for now, but we're coming back after you. But we've got to get a foothold in the Donbas. We've got to create this land bridge, and we'll get this settled.

And then he's going to declare an immediate victory. And then he's going to say, we're going to come after the rest of you guys.

Putin is not going to do an about face. He's not leaving Ukraine. It's just not going to happen in the near term sadly. And what NATO and the United States have been doing is just phenomenal. And so you just have to maintain the pace of those procedures that have been put in place so the Ukrainians can continue these amazing efforts that they've put forward.

So the ball is clearly in the court of the Ukrainians, but NATO and partners have got to continue to engage.

SCIUTTO: Yes, and you wonder, do they have to step up, right? If the Russian force is bigger, more aggressive, what is the U.S./NATO response?

General "Spider" Marks, always good to have you on. Thanks so much.

MARKS: Thank you, Jim.

COLLINS: And new this morning, the State Department is considering labeling Russia is a state sponsor of terrorism.

Plus, we'll speak live with a woman who is right now under heavy bombardment in a city that has run out of water.

And back here in the United States, for the first time in two years, airlines are ditching mask mandates after a new ruling from a judge in Florida. How travelers and major airlines are responding.



COLLINS: This morning for the first time in more than a year, masks are no longer federally required on planes after a federal judge in Florida struck down the national mandate, less than a week after the CDC had extended it for another two weeks.

While the White House is reviewing this decision, TSA says it will not enforce the mandate, and most of the major carriers now say that masks will be optional.

CNN's Pete Muntean joins us live now. Pete, it's been a long time since we have seen no masks being worn in an airport. What has been the reaction to this so far?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, at first airlines were mandating it on their own during the Trump administration, and then the Biden administration put the transportation mask mandate in place. One of the last major mask mandates to remain in place as so many of them went away.

We are now hearing from airlines that they will keep in step with this new mandate from the federal government. This judge's decision was abrupt. It came by surprise. And now masks are no longer the law of the land on planes, trains, buses, boats and in terminals.


MUNTEAN (voice-over): A surprise court ruling has ended the transportation mask mandate for now. U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle said she does not need another hearing to decide that the rule exceeds the CDC's authority.

Mizelle's Monday ruling first threw the travel industry into disarray, but now a growing list of airlines confirm masks are no longer required on their flights.

The federal government began requiring masks on planes, trains, buses, boats and in terminals starting in February, 2021. Last week, the Biden administration once again extended the rule to expire on May 3, citing a rise in coronavirus cases.


But only hours prior, the airline industry's top lobby wrote the White House to say the mandate must end.

ED BASTIAN, CEO, DELTA AIRLINES: We've done it for two years. And it's time to move beyond that and now make that the responsibility of individuals.

MUNTEAN: Judge Mizelle was appointed to federal district court in 2020 by then-President Donald Trump. In her ruling, Mizelle said travelers have been, quote, "forcibly removed from their airplane seats, denied boarding at the bus steps and turned away at the train station doors," likening it to, quote, "detention and quarantine."

Immediately following her decision, passengers at airports across the country continued wearing masks, unaware of the ruling.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hopefully it ends.

DAVIDA WRIGHT, PASSENGER: I'll always wear my mask. I lost my grandmother to COVID a year ago. And so I'm very particular about the mask.


MUNTEAN: United Airlines has put out a new statement, saying it will no longer enforce mask rules on domestic flights, on applicable international flights, and in airport terminals. That means masks are now optional for United passengers and workers, Alaska, American, Delta and Southwest have all followed suit with similar announcements.

Remember, airline employees have been on the front lines of enforcing the transportation mask mandate. The latest FAA data, Kaitlan, says that 70 percent of all unruly passengers this year have been over masks.

COLLINS: Yes. I think pretty much everyone has seen that. I was on a plane last night, actually, when this came down, when the statement from the White House saying they weren't going to be enforcing this. And you could kind of see the confused looks from people, not sure really what to do, given it's been in place for so long.

Pete, thanks so much for bringing us the latest on that.

MUNTEAN: Any time.

SCIUTTO: Let's speak now to CNN senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen. I wonder, when you speak to doctors, epidemiologists, et cetera, do they believe it's time for the end of mask mandates?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: What they point to is that this is a legal ruling. It is not a scientific ruling. This judge is a judge. She was ruling on the basis of the definition of the word "hygiene." And you know, personally, and I think we all have to take this

personally, because it's a decision we all have to make, I'm going to be getting on a flight soon. I'm going to put on a mask, not because I'm worried about myself. I am, thank goodness, healthy. I've had two booster shots.

But God forbid I sit next to someone who just had a kidney transplant or a child is undergoing chemotherapy. If I had COVID and didn't know it, which actually there's not an unreasonably high chance of that, and got one of them sick, I'd feel terrible. So I'll be keeping my mask on on flights, and trains and buses.

SCIUTTO: Yes. That's always been part of this, right? Protect yourself, protect others.

One question -- and I'm curious about this, right -- is that there's a lot of testing going on now, but a lot of it just in the home, right? And that means, frankly, human nature, right? A lot of those test results are not reported.

Are the public numbers we're seeing of case counts accurate? Or not really?

COHEN: You know, according to IHME, which is a part of the University of Washington, a group that's done some really fantastic projection work over the course of the pandemic, they are not accurate.

As a matter of fact, the case numbers are being woefully underrepresented because, just as you said, people are doing home tests. And of course, if you get a positive home test, you're not -- you're not calling it into your county health department.

So, let's take a look at what the numbers look like if we go by reported cases. You can see those numbers down dramatically since the beginning of the year.

Now, part of it is that there's less COVID out there. But part of it is that there's more home tests out there than the beginning of the year.

According to IHME, the folks at the University of Washington, if we look at March 31, the date for which we have -- the latest date for which we have the most recent data, there's a reported number of about 27,000 cases a day. They estimate it's more like 398,000 cases per day. That is a 14 times difference.

And in some ways you can say, all right, who really cares? Does it really matter? I think the way that it matters is that when you're making decisions about what you want to do, like wear a mask or not wear a mask, especially if you're immune-compromised, especially if you're obese and high risk, you should know that first graph that we showed you is probably not realistic. There's way more COVID out there than any of us thinks.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Well, listen, also calls into the question the administration's focus, right, on getting those COVID tests out to people, spending all that money. That's a factor of 14, right, of reported cases. Elizabeth Cohen, thanks so much.

Well, she wakes up to the sound of whistling rockets. She saw a cluster bomb hit a bus stop. My next guest shares the harrowing details about the constant shelling in the city of Mykolaiv and why it's just too dangerous to leave.

Plus, a Ukrainian mother heartbroken over the death of her son. This is heartbreaking to watch. He was killed in Kharkiv.






COLLINS: While Russian forces ramp up their ground offensive in Donbas, in what Ukrainian officials say is the second phase of this war, Russian troops are also continuing to hammer away at other cities.

This video that was posted to Facebook by the mayor of Mykolaiv shows the aftermath of a missile attack on several homes on Monday. He reports that there were no serious injuries, and most people were evacuated, either managing to hide in hallways or bathrooms. But at least two of the homes were destroyed.

Joining me now is Anna Parkhomenko. She lives in Mykolaiv, which you can see right here. And of course, there's been so much action over there.

And Anna, we know it's been a really terrifying ordeal that you've been living through every single day. But you say that it's been the worst that it's been in the most recent days. What's been happening?

ANNA PARKHOMENKO, MYKOLAIV RESIDENT: Well, actually since the outbreak of the war, the city has been actively shot, but for the past three days, the shelling, the air strikes and the artillery strikes have significantly increased.

For example, on Saturday morning, I woke up because -- because of this whistling sound of a missile just over my apartment. I live on the top floor of the apartment block. And this sound just woke me up. And I was like paralyzed. And then in three seconds, this huge explosion.

And you understand that you have no time to run. You just have to live through this. And it was a horrible experience, actually. And then a few more missiles. It was on Saturday morning, this past weekend.

And then later we realized -- later that day I saw on the news that this was a Kaliber (ph) cruise missile, the same type that actually hit the administration building in the central square in Mykolaiv, which is a 15-minute walk from me. I also heard that explosion. So, the experience was actually not the best.

And the shelling has also increased during the past -- during Monday. For example, yesterday evening around, I believe 11 or or 11:30 p.m., there were about five explosions.

And later we learned that this were again missiles. And the shelling was like for -- for an hour or something. And actually, the number of these missile strikes is actually higher than I believe for the past -- compared to the past three weeks, for example. It was -- it was higher than during all this period it was before, yes.

COLLINS: Seeing it ramp up. And you said you live on the top floor of your apartment. So what do you do when you hear these sirens? Do you -- are you in and out of the hallway? Are you going downstairs repeatedly? Have you been upstairs in your apartment for most of the time? How are you spending your time, really?

PARKHOMENKO: Well, you either stay inside and -- or go to the first floor, because this is the ninth floor. And when the shelling starts, we go to the top -- to the first floor, to the ground floor. When it is really -- when we feel, when we hear that it is really, like, dangerous, because in Mykolaiv, you always feel this sense of a grave danger even when it is quiet outside.

So we go, yes, to the first floor usually. Or we stay inside when the sounds are far away because, as I understand, as I know, the most damaged areas in the city are the outskirts and some suburbs. And all those city areas which are closer to Kherson, Kherson is a city -- is a temporary occupied city in the South of Ukraine, as well.

So the Russian occupiers are shelling Mykolaiv from this city. That's why these regions are damaged, most of Mykolaiv. And they have a few shellings in the city center and to some other parts of the city. But, we usually -- yes, we usually stay inside or go to the first floor.

COLLINS: Yes. I can't even imagine the stress of living in that -- in that constant grave danger. Anna Parkhomenko, we are thinking of you, of your family. Thank you for joining us this morning, though, to tell us what it's like.

PARKHOMENKO: Thank you. Thank you, too.

COLLINS: The atrocities in Ukrainian could move the U.S. to label Russia a state sponsor of terrorism. What that could mean for Russia's already crumbling economy, next.

Plus, we have new images this morning showing that prized sunken cruiser, Moskva, leaning on its side in the Black Sea with a black plume of smoke above it. This morning, new questions are being raised about what happened to the crew that was on board.

And the unbelievable true story of the man who took on Putin and lived to expose the truth. We have the Sundance award-winning CNN film "Navalny" that airs Sunday night at 9 p.m. Eastern. We've got a preview for you coming up next. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)



GRAPHIC: Vladimir Alexandrovich. It's Alexei Navalny calling, and I was hoping you could tell me why you wanted to kill me?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Remarkably, Vladimir Putin faces a legitimate opponent, Alexei Navalny.