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Film Profiles Russian Lawyer and Activist Alexei Navalny and His Family; Russian Forces Surround Steel Plant in Mariupol Sheltering Ukrainian Soldiers and Civilians; Ukrainian Prosecutor General Interviewed on Mounting Evidence of War Crimes Committed by Russian Forces and Politicians during Invasion of Ukraine. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired April 20, 2022 - 08:00   ET



DANIEL ROHER, DIRECTOR, CNN FILM "NAVALNY": At the center of this film is a love story between Alexei Navalny's wife and, of course, their family. And what I still find remarkable is the unwavering, unflappable support that Alexei's family has for him. It's like the entire family has this iron spine, their character is extraordinary. And I think his strength, the foundation for his strength is the strength of his extraordinary wife Yulia and their children. Everyone believes in what he's doing, and everyone supports the sacrifice that he's making.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: And they have a young son, too, as well, as you note there. Navalny, as you know, has continued to be an outspoken critic of the Russian invasion as well as Putin on Twitter, messages from his supporters, even while he's suffering in confinement. Has his influence grown in the last seven weeks since this invasion? Does he still have a voice to some degree in Russia?

ROHER: It's an excellent question, Jim. I'm not sure it has grown since the invasion, but what I think is important to remember is that today, Alexei Navalny and his staff and his team are the loudest anti- war voices in the country. He has called for weekly protests against the invasion. And he is one of the only individuals who is speaking out. And I think that needs to be remembered. He's behind bars. He has conceivably only one thing to lose, which is his life. But still, he goes on Twitter and he gives ideas and suggestions about what the Russian people can do in their own regard, their own way, to fight back against this regime. And his bravery is remarkable.

SCIUTTO: Daniel Roher, director, great work here.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, so amazing to see there and to see him track down his own attempted assassins. Daniel Roher, thank you so much for joining us.

And be sure to tune into the all new CNN film "Navalny" that premieres Sunday night, 9:00 eastern, right here on CNN.

SCIUTTO: And NEW DAY continues right now.

Good morning to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. It's Wednesday, April 20th. I'm Kaitlan Collins in New York, with Jim Sciutto in Lviv, Ukraine. John Berman and Brianna are off today. And we start with breaking news and an ultimatum, with Russia telling the last remaining Ukrainians holed up in the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol to surrender or face a bitter end. The steel plant is sheltering thousands of soldiers and civilians who say they're being surrounded by Russian forces bombing them with everything that they can. The Russian defense ministry gave the Ukrainian military barricaded inside a deadline to surrender that passed about an hour ago. The commander of the Ukrainian forces there says that they will not surrender, but he is begging the world for help, warning that there may not be much time left for them.


MAJ. SERHII VOLYNA, COMMANDER, UKRAINE'S 36TH SEPARATE MARINE BRIGADE (through translator): This is our statement to the world. It may be our last statement. We might have only a few days or even hours left. The enemy's units are 10 times larger than ours. They have supremacy in the air, artillery, and units that are dislocated on the ground, equipment and tanks. We appeal to the world leaders to help us.


COLLINS: Those appeals are coming as they are here inside this steel plant that they say is being surrounded by Russian forces. Ukraine Security Service has released what it claims to be a communications intercept involving a Russian ground unit commander who can be heard talking about plans to level everything to the ground right at this very steel plant. We should note that CNN, of course, cannot vouch for the authenticity of this recording, but listen to how chilling it is.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We are expecting surprises from Russia here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): What kind of surprises?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Three ton ones from the sky.


SCIUTTO: Breaking overnight, Ukraine's deputy prime minister has announced an agreement with Russia on a possible humanitarian corridor for the evacuation of women, children, and elderly, at least, from Mariupol. We are closely monitoring this development. Last hour I spoke with an adviser to the president who is skeptical of whether this corridor will hold. In Donbas, Ukrainian forces have been able to repel numerous Russian advances, this according to the latest U.K. defense intelligence assessment. This even know Russian shelling in the region has intensified. British officials say Russia continues to be plagued by the environmental, logistical, and technical challenges that have beset them since the war started.


This as the White House is scrambling to get even more weapons to Ukraine as quickly as possible. The U.S. is set to announce another $800 million military aid package on the heels of $800 million last week.

Let's get latest now from CNN's Phil Black. He is in a town east of Kyiv. And Phil, you've been walking through the brutal wake, right, of the Russian advance and then withdraw, and we can see some of it behind you there. Tell us what you're seeing.

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, the damage here is quite extraordinary, these areas that were only occupied by the Russians for a matter of weeks. But people here tell stories of suffering and death, and there is clearly evidence everywhere just how intense the fight was that ultimately forced Russia to retreat or simply give up this territory.

This is a tiny fraction of what Ukrainian defenders are experiencing in Mariupol right now, have been experiencing really from the very earliest weeks of this war, cut off, surrounded, under bombardment. And as you've been describing, what remains of that defending force have now fallen back to this substantial steel works complex where they are holed up in a complex network of basements beneath the surface.

We don't know precisely how many Ukrainian soldiers are there, but what we've heard from the commanding officers is they are outnumbered many, many, many times, and indeed hundreds of them severely injured and in desperate need of medical attention. And then on top of that is the fact that, yes, there are civilians down there as well, women and children, hundreds of them, we are told.

Today, as you touched on, Russia has said that there is an offer to call a cease-fire, put down weapons, if those remaining Ukrainian soldiers are prepared to put away their weapons and walk out. And they have been told they will get out safely. As you say, this offer has been made before, and you have to think it is unlikely that it will be accepted this time. There is simply so little trust, perhaps for obvious reasons, and the overwhelming suspicion that Russia would not keep its word in safeguarding the safety of these Ukrainian soldiers, which Russia repeatedly refers to as nationalists and mercenaries, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Exactly. And they haven't even, in our experience in the weeks into this war, necessarily guaranteed the safety of civilians using humanitarian corridors, accounts of shelling these humanitarian corridors before. Phil Black, good to have you there.

COLLINS: One Ukrainian leader says that the weapons from the west are arriving too late, telling "The Financial Times," quote, "The weaponry is not coming as fast as we want it to arrive in Ukraine, and for this reason it takes time to liberate specific cities. And some cities, we're losing them simply because we are waiting for some arms and for some equipment to arrive that might have been instrumental in keeping those cities Ukrainian."

Joining us now is Bianna Golodryga, CNN's senior global affairs analyst. So, of course, we are seeing what's happening in Mariupol. You can see the damage here of what we're talking about right now. And what do you make of that statement that they think some of this is arriving too late?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN SECURITY GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Yes, I'll actually be interviewing that member of parliament later this morning. And what really stood out to me is, listen, we're nearly eight weeks into this war and we continue to hear from President Zelenskyy that we need more weapons, more weapons, more weapons. And that risks sort of becoming redundant, right? Clearly seeing that the Russians are taking a setback and hits throughout this war. What stood out to me when I heard that member of parliament is there is actual consequence for not getting those weapons, that they need it, and that is in those cities that they say have fallen. And in his view, they would have been able to hold on to those cities and retain them, maybe even take them back, had they been able to get the weapons sooner.

COLLINS: And Zelenskyy says he gets so frustrated with this because he has these conversations with world leaders where they say what do you need, and he said he feels like it's "Groundhog Day," like he's Bill Murray. He says he's repeating himself time and time again. And of course, today the concern right now is Mariupol, where there is this steel plant. You see the damage already. But they've got this steel plant where there has been this deadline to surrender, but the Ukrainians have said they're not going to do that.

GOLODRYGA: It really has become the Alamo there of this battle, right, holding on to this steel plant, because once this steel plant goes, then Russia really has been able to take the city as a whole, and obviously connect it to Crimea with that land bridge they have been wanting to do all along. What stands out is that what we heard from a commander yesterday was a direct appeal to President Biden. You're the only person in the world now that can help us get out, not only the troops that are here, but the hundreds of civilians that are trapped there in that steel plant as well.

Now, what he's hoping that President Biden do is find some sort of corridor, or maybe via a third party, a third country to help get these people to security, because at this point, they don't trust Russians, even if the Russians are saying if you get out before this deadline, we will guarantee your security. They've lied in the past, and why wouldn't they going forward?


COLLINS: They won't even say that they're conducting an invasion. We can see right here from the damage what they're doing. We'll be looking for that upcoming interview to see what the Ukrainians are saying now this morning. Bianna, thank you for joining us.

SCIUTTO: Our next guest is on a mission to make Vladimir Putin and his commanders pay legally for alleged war crimes that she says were committed during the course of this invasion and continue to be committed. Ukrainian Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova joins me now. Iryna, thanks so much for taking the time.

IRYNA VENEDIKTOVA, PROSECUTOR GENERAL OF UKRAINE: Thank you very much for having me. Good afternoon.

SCIUTTO: So far, your investigation has amassed more than 7,200 alleged war crimes, nearly 600 suspects, including Russian politicians as well as military personnel. I wonder, what evidence have you been able to collect, and what is the standard to prove war crimes?

VENEDIKTOVA: Actually, every day we shoot open again and again new criminal cases. You see that every day we have new deaths of civilians. That's why which evidence we have. If we see civilians who were killed who were, for example, shot in Bucha, and for this moment most of them were shot, which were found in mass graves, when we see and when we speak with the women who were raped by occupiers, so it's, again, we have victims and witnesses of these war crimes, when we speak about tortures, we can see the dead bodies with tied hands back of the bodies, and we understand they were tortured. That's why actually a lot.

For example, piece of missiles in the chest of the kids is great evidence of war crime. That's why it is a huge number of such evidences, because we have a huge number of war crimes.

SCIUTTO: As you know, President Putin gave military honors to the unit that was involved in those attacks in Bucha. Does that give you, as well as other evidence you've collected, a path towards charging Putin himself eventually?

VENEDIKTOVA: Absolutely. For us it is very good mark. Actually, now we all understand that all responsibilities possible not fall only on the soldiers, for commanders, but and for chief commanders too. That's why for all of us, it's good evidence that he knew, then he ordered, and now he honors these people.

SCIUTTO: As you know, oftentimes it is the victors of a conflict who get to dole out justice here. We don't know how this war is going to end or when it's going to end. Are you confident that you will be able to bring some of the perpetrators of this to justice, even if it's years down the line? And that goes from military commanders right up to Putin himself.

VENEDIKTOVA: You mentioned very good about the time, and about the chance. We should win. After our victory, we should punish these people. Before this I caught several minutes of you, and I've thought about Mariupol. Just imagine it, 52 days -- 52 days people in blockade without food, without water, without electricity. All support Ukrainians, but 52 days, people actually without everything.

And this is a question, if we, all want to punish these people, we should act immediately. We actually want this justice, not only international justice. We want international justice, but for this we should now free these people, stop the war, occupy this territory. And after that we start to take people to responsibility. Accountability and justice, I feel for us it's very important now.

SCIUTTO: We know you have such hard but important work to do. We wish you the best of luck, you and your team. Iryna Venediktova, thanks so much.

VENEDIKTOVA: Thank you very much. Thank you for the support. Thank you for good words.

SCIUTTO: One continuing phenomenon in this war is just senseless killing. And we have one more story of that today. This is hard to explain.

At the zoo in Kharkiv, two employees who had stayed behind to try to take care of the animals amidst this war and its heavy shelling of the zoo by Russian forces, they have been found dead. Why were they targeted? We have new details just coming in.

And TV pundit and analyst turned freedom fighter, we're joined by television analyst as well as U.S. navy veteran Malcolm Nance who has come to Ukraine himself to join the fight.

That's coming up.


SCIUTTO: The State Department issued a new warning to any Americans choosing to travel here to Ukraine saying the United States is not able to evacuate U.S. citizens from the country, including those U.S. citizens who travel to Ukraine to engage in the ongoing war. In addition to other risk to personal safety, the warning says U.S. citizens should be aware that Russia has stated it intends to treat foreign fighters in Ukraine as mercenaries rather than as lawful combatants. That's worrisome.

That one warning directed towards people like our next guest, who said he's done talking. He's now choosing to join the fight. He is former naval intelligence officer and former TV analyst, Malcolm Nance.

Malcolm, good to have you on this morning.



SCIUTTO: I had the pleasure to meet a few folks here like you, U.S. veterans, who have come over here to risk their lives to help defend Ukraine, and I always ask why? What is leading you to risk your life to come here?

NANCE: You know, I spent 20 years in the armed forces and 16 or so years in and out of U.S. intelligence. And, you know, my entire motivation was that I believed in defense of democracy. I believed in the values that I was raised on as a child of Philadelphia.

My family served in the armed forces nonstop since 1864. And when my great, great grandfather ran away from slavery, he fought for the same values. I see those values being threatened here in Ukraine on a strategic scale.

Ukraine is now involved with a nation that has sworn they would eliminate it as a culture, as a language, as a people. I had friends in the Ukrainian armed forces in the first days of this fight that were begging for their lives saying they were going to die as the Russian onslaught came. I decided I wasn't going to sit here, sit on television and do analysis anymore. I was going to come and help them. That's what I'm here to do.

SCIUTTO: Good for you. It is interesting Ukrainian officials often characterize it the same way, saying this is a war not just about Ukraine, as Ukraine fighting for Europe, for the West. Are you willing to die here for this fight?

NANCE: Yeah, I get this question all the time. I spent my entire life willing to die for all the democratic values that we espouse in the United States. Our Constitution is the bedrock of many other countries striving for democracy.

So, yes, if it -- I'm here to put my body between the innocent people of Ukraine and the Russian aggression that we're seeing here. This isn't a joke to the people here in the international region. There are thousands who have come to this country from 52 nations, men and women, U.S. Army veterans, Navy veterans, Japanese, Korean, we have many people here who understand just how existential a threat.

This is not just to the Ukrainian culture, but to Western democracy itself. That's why I call on anyone who has combat experience to come and help us because this battle, if they lose it here, they're not just losing Ukraine, you're allowing a dictator, a kleptocrat who has been stealing from his own people. You can see what he calls an army, which is really just a horde of people who are stealing, raping, murdering, drinking alcohol, and doing all of these things and being honored for it.

This country needs weapons systems that we have. The world is now mobilizing to assist them and, yes, every one of us who came here are here for the defense of Ukraine and if that means our lives -- well, that's what we have sworn our oath for.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this, our last visit here in Ukraine in the early stages of the war, we met with volunteers with a mix of backgrounds. Some of them did have previous combat experience and I know the folks vetting volunteers are looking for folks like you, right? They want folks who have been to war.

Are you seeing mostly experience volunteers there joining the fight or see some who may not belong in this war?

NANCE: Well, in the organization I belong to, the International Legion for the Defense of Ukraine, we are the foreign fighter force for the armed forces of Ukraine. We are members of the Ukrainian army. We are not -- there are a lot of freelancers out here, people who have come here who couldn't get accepted into the legion, who tried to get in or weren't accepted, who just have gone on and tried join territorial defense units and other militias, things like that.

They are unlawful combatants on the battlefield. The legion is a part of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. We have Geneva Convention rights, ID cards, despite what the Russians say. The Russians aren't going to give anyone any right to life in this country, Geneva conventions or otherwise. They mass murder civilians.


NANCE: So when we come here, we're coming here legally, lawfully, and working within the parameters of the army of Ukraine.

SCIUTTO: It is important point you make there that the legion does have those Geneva Conventions, it is official to your point, not clear the Russians ever consider following those conventions.

Malcolm Nance, I'm sure a lot of folks watching here agree. We salute the effort and the sacrifice you're making. Thanks for joining us.

NANCE: Well, it is my pleasure. Slava Ukraini.

SCIUTTO: Slava Ukraine.

More on our breaking news this morning, Mariupol refusing to surrender this morning as Russia's deadline passed. Just moments ago, there was a new plea from the commander inside that compound begging for their lives and safety.

Plus, the White House has set to announce a new $800 million aid package for Ukraine.


That means more weapons. Where exactly is that money going? The State Department joins us live next.


SCIUTTO: But first, the unbelievable true story of the man who took on Putin and lived to expose the truth. The Sundance Award winning CNN film "NAVALNY", it airs Sunday night at 9:00 Eastern on CNN. It is powerful.


ALEXEI NAVALNY, RUSSIAN OPPOSITION LEADER: 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.

NAVALNY: I don't want Putin being president.

I will end war.

If I want to be leader of country, I have to organize people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Kremlin hates Navalny so much that they refuse to say his name.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Passengers heard Navalny cry out in agony.

NAVALNY: Come on, poisoned? Seriously?

We are creating a coalition to fight this regime.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you are killed, what message do you leave behind to the Russian people?

NAVALNY: It's very simple -- never give up.

ANNOUNCER: "NAVALNY," Sunday at 9:00 on CNN, and streaming on CNN+.