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Mariupol on Brink of 'Catastrophe' as Russians Surround Compound; Intercepted Audio Purports Russian Troops Talking POW Executions; Mayor of Mariupol is Interviewed about Conditions in His City. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired April 22, 2022 - 06:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to viewers here in the United States and around the world. It is Friday, April 22. I'm Brianna Keilar in Washington with Jim Sciutto in Lviv, Ukraine, and we are beginning with breaking news.

Mariupol is close to a catastrophe. That is how the owner of the Azovstal steel plant is describing the situation on the ground right now. Food, water, ammunition growing even more scarce by the hour. Women and children, hundreds of them still hiding inside what has become a battered and burnt-out fortress.

There is still no agreement on evacuation corridors out of Mariupol, mostly because the Ukrainians fear those routes will be attacked by Russian forces. This morning disturbing satellite images, as well, revealing rows of mass graves near Mariupol. Russian soldiers accused of dumping the bodies of countless women and children and men into ditches to cover their crimes. There are more than 200 new graves in these pictures that you can see here. The mayor of Mariupol calling it evidence of war crimes.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: I spoke with the mayor just moments ago. He said these images are, of course, painful to see. A once blossoming city, he said, now reduced to rubble. He says more than 20,000 people, 20,000 people have been killed there. We will hear from him directly just ahead.

Meanwhile, President Biden says the war is now entering what he called a critical window. He announced a new $800 million Ukraine weapons package, the second one in just over a week. The new package focused on heavy artillery, Howitzers, ammunition and drones. President Zelenskyy tells the World Bank his country will need $7

billion a month -- a month -- to make up for the economic losses here. Those, of course, beyond the human losses in this country.

In Eastern Ukraine, the Russians are trying to advance overnight. Heavy fighting reported in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in the East. Evacuation attempts were disrupted by Russian shelling. They stopped a bus from safely leaving the town. It's something we've seen consistently in this war: deliberate targeting of humanitarian corridors.

And new intercepted audio released by the Ukrainian military. Russian soldiers can be heard referring to an alleged order, an order to kill Ukrainian prisoners of war. We will play that sound for you just ahead. Just following orders. What does that remind you of?

Let's bring in CNN's Isa Soares. She is here with me in Lviv. Isa, we see the evidence of what the Russian military is willing to do and has done in this country. You see the mass graves. You hear the eyewitness accounts. You see the conditions of bodies after Russian soldiers withdraw, gunshot wounds in the head. Now we have the sound of the soldiers speaking specifically about those orders to do it.

ISA SOARES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I mean, what we are seeing time and time again is, you know, the reality of what Russian forces are doing across the country. And this is their modus operandi. It doesn't matter where you are in the country. This is what we see.

And these new images, if you remember, just a second set of mass graves we're seeing in two and a half weeks or so. Remember Bucha. If we show you these images, they're just so hard to watch.

You know, we have four rows very clearly marked in the satellite images by Maxar Technologies that really shows the vast nature of it. And you're looking at the top part of your screen right there. Maxar Technologies has compiled and has really analyzed all these satellite images say there are about 200 new graves.

And just to bring into perspective for you, that long line, that is about 1,100 feet. And that's 20 times larger than what we saw in Bucha.

And I was doing some calculations before I came on air, and that is more than three times an American football field. It's just staggering to comprehend what we are seeing.

I spoke to an MP earlier who said very much what the mayor of Mariupol was saying: we expect about 20,000 people to have been killed in -- in Mariupol. And then he went further. Have a listen to what he had to say, Jim.


ANDRII OSDCHUK, MEMBER, UKRAINE'S PARLIAMENT: Legal terminology is very important, and legal definitions are very important. So we claim all the world. We claim the United States and all other civilized country to recognize everything what's happening here as a genocide. Because Russians are killing Ukrainians just because they're Ukrainian, without any other reason.


SORES: So genocide in the 21st Century. The importance, as you were pointing out, of really writing down the crimes, keeping on top of these crimes. It doesn't matter how small they are.

But you also hinted at the fact that expect more of this to come. Because what Russians are doing, mopping up their crimes.

SCIUTTO: An important point there, right, the mass graves. But also accounts of burning the bodies. So the crimes --


SCIUTTO: -- and then the effort to cover up the crimes on a grand scale. Isa Soares, thanks so much.

In just a moment, you're going to hear from the mayor of Mariupol. He says people who are getting out say there is hell, and its name is Mariupol. But he does have hope that Ukraine will get the besieged city back. How and when, we don't know. That interview, though, just ahead -- Brianna.


KEILAR: Well, Jim, new this morning, Ukraine's military intelligence has released purported communications of Russian forces referring to an alleged order to kill Ukrainian prisoners of war in the city of Popas (ph), which is located in the Eastern region of Luhansk. Here it is.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): What can I tell you, damn it. You keep the most senior among them and let the rest go forever. Let them go forever, damn it, so that no one will ever see them again, including relatives.


KEILAR: Now, CNN has not been able to independently confirm the authenticity of the recording. I do want to bring in Natasha Bertrand. She is our CNN White House reporter. And Kylie Atwood is with us, as well. CNN national security correspondent. Kylie, this is bad. This recording is terrible what it is showing.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Incredibly awful words to hear here. And we're still waiting to hear from the Biden administration, from the State Department, to see if they have received these intercepts.

We know that the Biden administration has been working with Ukrainians to determine the authenticity of some of these reports that have been coming in to verify if what they are seeing, and hearing and collecting is in actuality what it appears to be.

In this situation, if these intercepts were shared with the U.S. government, they would be given to the intelligence community for authenticity checks, for processing. And then that information would be shared with the State Department.

And rest assured that information like this where Russian soldiers are talking about killing Ukrainian prisoners of war. That would then contribute to the war crimes determination that the United States has already made about what the Ukrainians are doing in -- excuse me, about what Russians are doing in Ukraine.

But this is incredible to listen to. And we're still waiting to see exactly how the Biden administration is going to respond.

KEILAR: Yes. We are waiting. I wonder what questions this raises for you, Natasha.

NATASHA BERNARD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I think that the question about verifying them for the purposes of contributing to a war crimes investigation is going to be really key here.

And we've seen the Ukrainian military release intercepts like this in the past. And the Biden administration has not previously commented on them one way or another saying that we are not going to second-guess, of course, what the Ukrainians have released.

We are investigating everything as it comes in. But this is going to be analyzed by the intelligence community. It is not going to be extremely difficult, I imagine, for them to verify the authenticity of it.

And it's important to remember that it's -- it's very plausible that these are real because of how the Russian soldiers have been communicating largely on open lines here. They have not been communicating on secure channels. It has been simple for both the Ukrainians and the American intelligence community to intercept these conversations.

It's also important to remember, of course, that they're killing civilians point-blank, which is what the United States has accused them of and what the photos and the videos have shown. Then it is very unlikely that they would be reticent to kill prisoners of war, as well.

And so I think this is going to all be contributing to the war crimes probe that the U.S. and Europe are doing.

KEILAR: Can you tell us what we're learning about these Russian oligarchs. Because we now know of the death of a second Russian oligarch, and not only him but his family.

BERTRAND: It's very suspicious, obviously. The Russians have a track record, of course, of carrying out extrajudicial assassinations, for example. But there's no evidence at this point, of course, that they have -- that the Russian forces or the Russian security services are involved.

But two families that are connected to the Russian gas industry have been murdered in recent days. The entire families, the husband, wife, and the children.

There are, of course, really harsh sanctions right now on the Russian economy. And a lot of these gas industries, these gas executives, they have lost a lot of money.

And so one of the theories is that this could be kind of a murder- suicide situation. But it raises questions, of course, given the Russians' history here of carrying out these attacks on European soil and making it kind of look like an accident can't be ignored either.

KEILAR: I wonder, Kylie, how U.S. officials are assessing this and how relations between Vladimir Putin and oligarchs in Russia are going, if they have a sense of that?

ATWOOD: Yes, well, there are -- U.S. officials see striking similarities in these two instances. As Natasha was saying, two separate instances of former Russian gas executives, killed this week, just days apart from one another. But they weren't even in the same country. One was in Spain. One was in Moscow. These of course are being investigated.

But the fact that these happened in tandem, I think, is a very key note to point out.


And when you talk about President Putin's relationship with Russian oligarchs right now, it isn't altogether a steady relationship. We have seen some oligarchs who have defected from Russia. A lot of oligarchs have come under pressure from the Biden administration, from the international community as they have faced incredible sanctions.

They are not able to live the glamorous lives that they were able to live before the Ukraine war. And so that is creating some division, some tension between President Putin and those who have been very close to him, have propped him up throughout his entire presidency.

But we should also note that there are a tremendous number of oligarchs who haven't broken from Putin. And until those folks do, he has the support that he needs to maintain the piggy banks that he has all around the world through those oligarchs -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Certainly does. All right. Kylie and Natasha, thank you so much for the reporting. I do appreciate it.

Up next, Russia is trying to hide evidence of war crimes. That is from Mariupol's mayor as new images are revealing mass graves near the city. What he said about the soldiers in the steel plant and his message to Putin.

Plus, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy saying it's a lie that he planned to ask Donald Trump to resign. There is a problem, though. There's tape of him saying it.



SCIUTTO: One consistent feature of this war is that the evidence of alleged war crimes play out right before our eyes. There are satellite images now, for instance, showing what are purported to be more than 200 mass graves just outside of Mariupol.

Russian forces accused of trying to hide the evidence of their crimes through secret burials. A besieged city in the South on the verge of collapse. And the mayor says those 200 graves, just a fraction of those were killed.

Early this morning, we posed questions to the mayor of Mariupol. Here are his answers on the devastation plaguing his city.


SCIUTTO: Vladimir Putin is claiming victory in Mariupol. President Biden said there's no evidence yet that Mariupol has completely fallen. Which is it?

MAYOR VADYM BOICHENKO, MARIUPOL, UKRAINE (through translator): The truth is that the armed forces of Ukraine are defending Mariupol. Mariupol is the beating heart of Ukraine today. Our guys are outnumbered 10 to 15 times, but they are defending. They're holding up. And they are remaining there. And they are frustrating the enemy as much as possible.

SCIUTTO: Now, Putin also said that he scrapped plans to storm the Azovstal steel plant. What will happen to all those people trapped there now?

BOICHENKO (through translator): So, at the moment, we have people waiting for evacuation. We would like to evacuate the civilians that are sheltering in Azovstal. And we need one clear day of cease-fire to evacuate those people.

However, we have not been able to so far. The day before yesterday, we planned to open up an evacuation route that these people could join. And however, the Russian forces that continued bombarding the plant and shelling the plant, and we weren't able to get the people out of there.

SCIUTTO: Is there any current effort by Ukraine or other nations to get them out safely?

BOICHENKO (through translator): Everybody is uniting around this goal of helping the people trapped there. And yesterday, we heard an appeal from U.S. President Joe Biden, who asked for everybody to do whatever is possible to save the people trapped in Azovstal.

SCIUTTO: New satellite images seem to show mass graves just outside Mariupol. How many civilians do you believe have been killed in your city?

BOICHENKO (through translator): So, as of the 21st of March, our utility services and our municipal services registered officially 5,000 dead. That's as of 21st of March while we were still able to operate there.

These people died from the many days of enemy air bombardment and enemy shelling and 90 percent of the buildings in Mariupol were destroyed.

Then after that, there was a lot of street fighting. People were dying in the streets. And he still had -- we weren't able to register officially, but we still had some services working until the 24th of March.

So according to our estimates, we have around 20,000 dead, civilian deaths in Mariupol. And these were people who were buried by enemy shelling, by enemy bombardment, buried under the rubble. And at the moment we are witnessing the enemy trying to hide the evidence of their crimes, using the instrument of mass graves.

SCIUTTO: As the leader of this city, you knew many of these people. What is it like to see this happen?

BOICHENKO (through translator): It is very painful for me to see this. Very painful and sad. Because for eight years, we were trying to develop Mariupol as a showcase for Ukrainian Donbas, restored Donbas since the 2014 attempts to take it.


And it was blossoming. It was turning into a modern city. We were developing it as a modern state-of-the-art city to fulfill people's dreams as we imagined.

We have a strategy for the city development to make this a showcase. And I feel as if my heart has been torn out. My life, my family, we lived there. This was our life. And for me and tens of thousands of Mariupol residents, it is extremely painful to see so many dead and the city destroyed.

SCIUTTO: The U.S. is sending another big weapons shipment to Ukraine, $800 million, heavy artillery. Tell us how this will help the fight and what's missing at this point?

BOICHENKO (through translator): Well, the No. 1 priority now is to help save the lives of civilians. But I also want to thank Joe Biden for helping us with the military assistance and all -- thank all the partners.

This -- these weapons are very necessary. It will enable us to unblock the region, unlock Mariupol, and it will help us hold up the defense and then to counter-attack and eventually free the region and the entire Ukrainian territory of the enemy occupation.

We are -- we want to thank everybody who is getting involved in helping us militarily. And we will win, because truth is on our side and God is on our side; and we are on our own land.

SCIUTTO: Do you believe Ukrainian forces can ever take Mariupol back from Russian forces? If so, how do they do it and when?

BOICHENKO (through translator): Well, one thing that I would say that will help us get back to Mariupol is a full oil and gas embargo on Russia. Those who buy these products must realize that they are financing the enemy -- the enemy's war and the enemy's -- the damage that the enemy is doing to our cities such as Mariupol.

And they need to stop receiving this money. And once that happens, we believe that, in two to three weeks, we will stop the enemy, and the enemy will be forced to retreat. And we will get back. We will counterattack, and we will get our territory back.

The front line will move. And at the moment, I have full faith in our defenders, our heroic defenders that are in Mariupol today and are continuing to defend it.


SCIUTTO: I feel as if my heart has been torn out. Those are the words of the mayor of Mariupol there. It's just a harrowing eyewitness account from his city.

Coming up this hour.

CNN on the front line in a town Russia claims it has captured as hell rains down on Ukrainians. That's how they're describing it. We go inside the bombed-out theater where civilians are now too scared to flee.

Plus, back in the U.S. --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Depp, you said I will (EXPLETIVE DELETED) her burnt corpse afterwards to make sure she is dead.


SCIUTTO: Johnny Depp confronted in court with graphic texts, angry outbursts with his ex-wife, Amber Heard. What else we learned in the courtroom.



KEILAR: Actor Johnny Depp confronted with graphic and violent texts that he sent, under cross-examination in his defamation trial against ex-wife Amber Heard.

Depp was testifying for a third straight day, and he's going to be back on the stand when this case resumes on Monday. CNN's Jean Casarez is following the trial. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you would sometimes drink whiskey in the mornings, right, during this time period?

JOHNNY DEPP, ACTOR: I -- you know, I mean, isn't happy hour any time?

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Johnny Depp amusing the courtroom.

DEPP: Here's your crazy. All your crazy.

CASAREZ: Even as the defense drills down on his past drug and alcohol use.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One of your good friends that you've taken drugs with before is Marilyn Manson. Right?

DEPP: We've had cocaine together maybe a couple of times.

CASAREZ: The defense showing this photo of Depp in Boston while making the film "Black Mask." Depp claimed he was asleep. The defense claimed an email between Depp and a nurse proves otherwise.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: After she's telling you that she's watching "Black Mask" for the third time in a row, you write, "I was high as a mother- (EXPLETIVE DELETED) when I made that film."

CASAREZ: The defense played audio of Depp moaning on a plane, alleging it was the result of a bender before leaving Boston. Behavior they say Depp was well aware of in this email to Heard.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "I want to get better for you and for me. I must. My illness somehow crept up and grabbed me."

CASAREZ: But the defense cast Depp as a man full of anger. The testimony turning even more crude when the defense used Depp's messages to a friend to show his rage toward Heard.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: After you said, "Let's drown her before we burn her," Mr. Depp, you said, "I will (EXPLETIVE DELETED) her corpse afterwards to make sure she is dead."

CASAREZ: But in testimony earlier this week, Depp claimed Heard was the aggressor, even severing his finger, which she denies.

DEPP: She threw the large bottle, and it made contact and shattered everywhere.