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Multiple Explosions At Schools In Kabul, At Least 6 Killed; Heavy Fighting Underway In Ukraine's East As Russian Assault Begins; Mariupol Neighbors Escape Through Russia Into Estonia. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired April 19, 2022 - 07:30   ET




KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking overnight in Afghanistan, multiple explosions have rocked a high school in western Kabul. According to the police, at least six people were killed.

Let's get the latest from CNN's Arwa Damon in Istanbul. Arwa, what are we hearing about what exactly has gone down?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Kaitlan, this is absolutely devastating for so many families in Afghanistan right now. What we do understand is that there were multiple explosions not just targeting a high school but also what is being described as an education center.

These were children who said goodbye to their parents thinking that they were just going to go and have another day at school when this struck once again.

This happened in a western Kabul neighborhood -- a neighborhood that is predominantly Hazaras Shia. That is Afghanistan's minority, often persecuted population and has been frequently targeted in the past. And by the past, I mean in the last years during all of the unrest that has rocked Afghanistan for so long. In fact, just back in May of 2021, a girls' school in that same neighborhood was targeted, leaving 85 people dead.

There are grave concerns that the death toll is only going to continue to rise.


And not a lot at this stage of imagery from the scene itself, and that is because according to a number of people on the ground that CNN has spoken to the Taliban has been preventing journalists and others access to the scene -- preventing them from trying to film.

But from what we have been able to gather and see for ourselves it's just images of heartbreak, of mothers wailing, of fathers trying to reassure their daughters, of school-aged boys hugging each other. And, of course, you can just imagine right now how many families out there are still trying to track down their children, hoping that they are still alive.

COLLINS: Yes, Arwa, it's just awful news for those parents who, like you said, they thought they were just sending their children to school.

Arwa Damon, thank you, and we'll check back in with you on the latest there.

But for now, let's go back to Jim who is in Lviv, Ukraine.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Here in Ukraine, as Russia intensifies its assault on the east, the rest of the country remains very much on edge, including here in Lviv, struck by missiles yesterday. They are all bracing for what attacks will come next. Ukrainian officials call it, quote, "the second phase of the war."

Joining us now, Wladimir Klitschko. He's a member of the Kyiv Territorial Defense, a former world boxing champion, the brother, you may remember, of the mayor of Kyiv. Thanks so much for taking the time this morning.

The worry that we're hearing from U.S. officials is that despite Russia's failure to take Kyiv that the Russian military learned lessons there that's it now applying to the east, including correcting issues with supplies and so on.

Do you worry that the success Ukrainian forces had in defending the capital may not be repeated in the east and the south?

WLADIMIR KLITSCHKO, MEMBER, KYIV TERRITORIAL DEFENSE, FORMER WORLD BOXING CHAMPION, BROTHER OF KYIV'S MAYOR (via Skype): Well, there are questions that we cannot answer right now in this active phase of all the military action that is happening in the east of the country and the southeast, especially with the city of Mariupol that has been bombarded and attack by Russian air forces and Russian military. So there's still some Ukrainians that are fighting back and standing strong.

And if the east is going to give in so to speak and the Russian army is going to have success there, of course, they're going to roll -- roll further to the west. And they have announced in propaganda that Ukraine is just beginning and we're going to roll further. So, how far are they going to go, we don't know. But we expect everything and anything, especially in regards to the capital.

Of course, we're waiting for them to come back. We're expecting that. We're expecting anything that can come on our -- on our side. SCIUTTO: Do you have enough help to fight back? Yes, the U.S. keeps and NATO keeps adding more weapons to the list of things it is sending to the Ukrainian military. But there are Americans, including some members of the president's own party, who are calling for more direct involvement here, particularly as we see civilians slaughtered.

Do you need more direct help? Do you worry you'll lose without it?

KLITSCHKO: We crucially need help now. We can only defend our country during the war with weapons. There is no other way. Otherwise, this senseless killing of the civilians and civilian populations and destruction of our infrastructure is going to continue. We need help and support of our allies and we need it now, as soon as possible.

SCIUTTO: Do you need direct military involvement from the U.S. and the West? Airstrikes, soldiers?

KLITSCHKO: I don't think we need any military. We just need weapons to defend ourselves.

SCIUTTO: Understood.

KLITSCHKO: And we're -- we are talking about closing the sky, so if our allies and partners cannot close the sky we will constantly get bombarded with rockets and air (ph) strikes everywhere in the country as it was happening yesterday that some of the Russian rockets landed in the west of the country in the city of Lviv --


KLITSCHKO: -- or Limburg (ph).

And civilians have been killed again. So if you don't close the sky, just give us the weapons. We're going to close the sky on our own. And we have enough of our will to defend our country. We just need the equipment to do it.


SCIUTTO: We went to the site of one of those missile strikes here in Lviv yesterday.

Your brother, Vitali Klitschko -- of course, the mayor of Kyiv -- he has warned it is still not safe to return to Kyiv. President Zelenskyy has warned that if Donbas falls Russia will come back and try Kyiv -- try for the capital again.

Do you share those worries?

KLITSCHKO: Absolutely. If you invade the country, obviously, you're aiming at the capital of the country, and that's actually what Russian forces have been doing in the past 55 days. They didn't have success of surrounding the capital but they very -- were very close in the satellite cities of Bucha, Gastone (ph), and Irpin, and Brianka (ph) where horrifying events happened and slaughtering of the civilians. And this is war crime and this war crime must be stopped. So, the free world cannot watch it anymore passively. Take an active

part and just supply us with all the help -- the humanitarian help, sanctions or isolation -- economic isolation of Russia, as well as weapons. That's needed now. Otherwise, this aggression is going to spread out further.

SCIUTTO: Yes. The sad fact is we seem to be seeing evidence of war crimes virtually every day.

Wladimir Klitschko, thank you and we wish you safety.

KLITSCHKO: Thank you, and keep supporting us.

SCIUTTO: Well, hell on earth. A Ukrainian fighter sending an open letter to Pope Francis, calling on him to help the people still trying to survive in the city of Mariupol.

And we hear from two Mariupol residents who did make it out. How they had to travel through Russia --that was their only option -- to safety.



COLLINS: Russia's heavy bombardment has left Mariupol in ruins but against all odds, Ukrainian forces have not surrendered the city. And the commander of the Marine unit in Mariupol has written an open letter to Pope Francis asking him to help save the people who are still holding out there.

In the letter that was published on a Ukrainian news site he writes, "You have probably seen a lot in your life. But I am sure that you have never seen what is happening in Mariupol. Because that's what hell on earth looks like. I have little time to describe all the horrors I see here every day.

At the plant, women with children and babies live in bunkers in hunger and cold. Every day being targeted by the enemy aviation. The wounded die every day because there is no medicine, no water, and no food.

I have not seen your appeals to the world," he writes, "and I have not read all your recent statements. I have been fighting for more than 50 days, completely surrounded, and all I have time for is a fierce battle for every meter of this city that is surrounded by the enemy."

He adds, "The time has come when praying is not enough."

Jim, those are pretty strong words, of course, given we've seen the Pope inch closer and closer --


COLLINS: -- to condemning Putin but not taking that step directly yet.

SCIUTTO: Yes, and there are folks calling for his leadership here -- begging for it, as you see in that letter there. People need his help.

Well, since Russia's invasion began here weeks ago, thousands of Ukrainian refugees, among them millions who have fled this country, have found a safe haven in Estonia, another country on Russia's border. But for many Ukrainians desperate to escape the violence in Mariupol, the only way out is through the same country, Russia, that is bombing theirs.

CNN's Scott McLean live in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia with more. Scott, it's a real difficult decision for these folks. They want to get to safety but they have to go through Russia to do it.

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. And virtually every day, Jim, officials are trying to arrange these areas of safe passage -- trying to arrange these humanitarian corridors. And it seems like a pretty simple concept but actually getting information to people on the ground in a city with virtually no means of communication is extremely difficult. So inevitably, people end up relying on rumors and they find the path of least resistance. And that path -- well, it often leads to Russia.


MCLEAN (voice-over): It's been two weeks since these suitcases were first packed. Two weeks since Evgeny and Ludmila escaped the hell of Mariupol to Russia, and then finally to safety in Estonia.

LUDMILA, FLED UKRAINE TO ESTONIA (through translator): Before now it was just --

EVGENY, FLED FROM UKRAINE TO ESTONIA (through translator): Stress.

LUDMILA (through translator): Stress. Here, we're able to really relax. I feel that we are safe here.

MCLEAN (voice-over): They lived across the hall from each other in an apartment building on the northern edge of Mariupol.

EVGENY (through translator): For 14 days from the beginning of the war, somehow all the shelling would all fly past us.

MCLEAN (voice-over): But their luck would soon run out. In the relentless bombardment of the city, their building was eventually hit. The damage, though, was limited enough for them to stay, even without power, water, heat, or a cell signal.

LUDMILA (through translator): When you hear these explosions you have an idea the direction they're coming from and you know what you have to do -- lay on the ground, run, or sit down. But silence is horrifying.

MCLEAN (voice-over): On day 38, the building was hit again. It was time to leave.

EVGENY (through translator): It was impossible to go further into Ukraine. We lived in a different part of the city. There were two encirclements around us. As I understand, if we went in that direction -- well, the only way to leave was through the Russian federation. And the only thing we were concerned with at the time was leaving this ring of fire. We didn't have a choice.


MCLEAN (voice-over): They made it to a school in Mariupol where Russian-backed soldiers were evacuating people east to the village of Sertana. Then, a week later, so-called filtration in Bezimenne where at a site like this one they were searched, fingerprinted, and questioned by Russian soldiers before crossing the border into Russia to the city of Taganrog, likely to the shelter shown here.

EVGENY (through translator): It was the first time we took a shower in over roughly 50 days, right?

LUDMILA (through translator): Forty-one or 40.

MCLEAN (voice-over): With the help of ordinary Russians, they made it to St. Petersburg, then on to Estonia.

Their story is part of a larger trend. Most of the 200, sometimes, 300 Ukrainian refugees arriving in Estonia every day are entering the country through Russia.

MEELIS PILLE, SENIOR COMMISSIONER, NARVA BORDER CROSSING (through translator): Most of them are coming from Mariupol after having passed the humanitarian corridor. But there are also those who say they have been deported to Russia who have managed to come here, and we accept them all.

MCLEAN (voice-over): On this day they're catching a train to the Estonian capital after staying at a hostel run by volunteers.

SERGEY TSVETKOV, VOLUNTEER HELPING REFUGEES (through translator): Some were taken by Russians by force from Mariupol to Russia. And later, they fled from camps on the territory of Russia, but others go voluntarily.

MCLEAN (voice-over): From Tallinn, they're not sure where they'll go but they're optimistic.

LUDMILA (through translator): We will have some difficulties along the way but if you compare what we went through everything will be just fine. The future must be better. We don't have another option.


MCLEAN: Now, what was really jarring for these two was the kindness and the generosity that they found from people in Russia -- the same country responsible for bombing their homes and completely uprooting their lives. Evgeny says he was so struck by it that he actually went to church to pray for the people who had helped him, and he is not a religious guy. Ludmila said that this experience is proof that there are good people in every country and that, of course, includes Russia -- Jim. SCIUTTO: Well, that is heartening to hear given all that we are witnessing on the ground here in Ukraine.

Scott McLean there in Tallinn. Thanks so much.

Well, Vladimir Putin has now honored -- rewarded the unit accused of atrocities against civilians in Bucha -- remarkable. Plus, what happened to the crew on board the Russian warship that has now sunk to the bottom of the Black Sea? New details and new images of Russia's prized cruiser. This is CNN's special live coverage.



COLLINS: The State Department says it's considering every tool that it has to punish Russia, including labeling them a state sponsor of terrorism, giving them a designation that only a handful of nations have so far.

CNN reporters are covering the war from all angles.


KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (on camera): I'm Kylie Atwood at the State Department.

The Biden administration is looking at every tool available to them to hold Russia accountable for the war in Ukraine, including the possibility of labeling Russia a state sponsor of terrorism. That is according to a senior administration official.

Now, there are only four countries that are on this list right now: Iran, North Korea, Cuba, and Syria. So, adding Russia to this list would be largely symbolic but it would also come with further economic costs for Russia, in addition to the sanctions that have already been applied.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): I'm Ed Lavandera in Kyiv, Ukraine.

While the rest of the world sees the Russian soldiers who inflicted deadly carnage on civilians in the city of Bucha as war criminals, Russian President Vladimir Putin is awarding them honorary titles and describing the soldiers as having shown great courage and heroism in that battle. These are the same soldiers suspected of committing war crimes in a city where hundreds of civilians were found buried in mass graves. Putin says those accusations are fake.


Two British nationals who are fighting with Ukrainian forces in the heavily contested city of Mariupol have been detained by Russian troops. That's according to a U.K. government source with knowledge of the situation. Russian TV has aired images of both men, Shaun Pinner and Aiden Aslin, both former British servicemen. The media says Aslin was captured last week but it's not clear when Pinner was detained. Their families say they have both lived in Ukraine for several years before the Russian invasion.


COLLINS: Good morning to our viewers here in the United States 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 begin this morning with breaking news. The battle for Ukraine's Donbas region erupting with heavy fighting. President Zelenskyy says Russian forces have initiated that long-anticipated, large-scale ground offensive in eastern Ukraine. It's a battle that officials fear could be the bloodiest to date. And we've already seen bombing and shelling underway this morning in Mariupol as, of course, we've seen that for several days now only intensifying as officials fear what could be the second phase and how long it could go on for.

And this comes as the Pentagon is estimating that Russia has already sent 11 more battalion tactical groups into Ukraine.

We're already seeing the efforts by these Russian forces to break through Ukraine's front three lines in three regions. And this video shows a long column of these Russian military vehicles that are headed toward the city of Izium where Russian troops have already been --