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Mariupol Mayor On Ukraine's Discovery Of "Filtration Camps"; Reality Check: Overturning Roe -- Justices Set To Inflame Culture Wars; Soldier In Snake Island Standoff Breaks Silence On Russian Captivity. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired May 03, 2022 - 07:30   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Are Ukrainian forces still fighting for Mariupol?

MAYOR VADYM BOICHENKO, MARIUPOL, UKRAINE (through translator) (via Skype): Yes. Ukrainian forces are continuing to fight for Mariupol. They -- as soon as evacuation from Azovstal paused, fierce fighting resumed and Azovstal is currently under attack from tanks, from warships based in the Azov Sea, from planes. They started storming the plant.

And it is important to remember that there are still civilians inside the plant. There are still 200 local civilians -- local people of Mariupol inside the plant and they're being defended by our brave military. These are women and children. There are about 20 children. And they are waiting to be evacuated. They are waiting for a chance to get out.

We also have over 600 wounded Ukrainians inside the plant.

BERMAN: CNN found that Russian forces were sending Ukrainians to Russia against their will through so-called filtration centers. You say more than 40,000 local residents ended up in Russia that way -- some of them your neighbors and colleagues.

What can you tell us about what they sent through?

BOICHENKO (through translator): Yes. I can confirm that there are four filtration centers operating in Mariupol. They are treating with particular rigor people of male sex -- men -- and also officials -- Ukrainian officials -- municipal officials or state government -- national government officials.

And these people are sent in two directions. Officials are put in prison for two weeks or two months. There's no particular logic to this. And they are kept in small cells, two to three meters -- square meters. And they're not fed. They're given water only and they are allowed out to the toilet once a day. So they're kept in inhuman conditions. And as for other people -- people of working age are sent to the east of Russia or to Siberia. And we have -- we have analyzed population dynamic in Russia and we see that these -- the areas where Mariupol people are being sent to maritime territory or Krasnoyarsk.

These areas have lost population. They are -- in the last 10 years, they have lost about 20% or 10% -- 10% to 20% of population. So they are replenishing these areas with people from Mariupol. And they are making them do jobs that Russians are not prepared to do.

So we can see that Putin is using the Soviet playbook. That's what Stalin did with deportations and that's what Hitler did. So Putin is resorting to the Soviet-era or Nazi-era playbook.

We have concrete examples of these filtration camps. So, one of our directors -- he is a director of a state company. He, unfortunately, had to leave the area in Mariupol, controlled now by Russian armed forces, and he was put in a filtration camp.

He was interrogated for 32 hours. He was made to sit on a chair for 32 hours and he was questioned about what he knew. Any information about how the Ukrainian state operates.

And one final example I have is of a middle-aged couple from Mariupol and they were traveling with a little girl two years old. So, they got through this filtration.

And somehow, the Russians have these lists, which tell them who should be interrogated and so on. And they found somehow through these lists that the daughter of this middle-aged couple -- their eldest daughter worked in the Ukrainian law enforcement.

So they told them you have raised a Nazi so we're going to take your little girl away so that you don't raise another Nazi. Now, when the father heard this he grabbed the little girl and he was grabbed by the Russians. They beat him up and eventually, they let them keep the child.

But that is how they put pressure on Ukrainians. That is how they humiliate them. And that's what Ukrainians have to go through in these filtration camps.


BERMAN: Remarkable stories there.

A revelation from President Zelenskyy about the amount of direct times -- amount of times direct attempts were made on his life.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Plus, back in the U.S., more reaction this morning to the leak of a Supreme Court draft opinion that would strike down Roe versus Wade completely. We've learned this morning the White House will soon weigh in.



KEILAR: Reaction is pouring in this morning. The Supreme Court reportedly prepared to strike down Roe versus Wade completely. Politico has obtained a draft opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito, which completely renounces the court's decades-old precedent on abortion.

John Avlon has a reality check.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Now, a few hours before Politico published this draft Supreme Court opinion that indicates the court will completely overturn Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision -- the chief opinion written by liberal Justice Stephen Breyer -- that defended the rights of a Christian civic group to briefly fly a flag featuring the cross on the grounds of Boston's city hall. It seemed like a hopeful sign that just maybe the Supreme Court could help us find common sense and common ground in the culture wars. But, of course, that's not the way the day ended.

For almost 50 years, abortion has been legal in the United States. The original decision of Roe v. Wade was passed by a 7-2 margin, supported by five Republican-appointed justices. It was reaffirmed in the Casey decision a generation later.


Controversial to some, abortion rights remain broadly popular with the American people, with 69% opposing Roe being overturned, according to a recent CNN poll. That's 86% of Democrats, 72% of Independents, and even 44% of Republicans.

And not only that, according to Gallup last year, just 19% of Americans thought abortion should be illegal in all circumstances. Thirty-two percent thought it should be legal in all circumstances. And 48% said it should be legal only under certain circumstances, which all speaks to the complexity of this personal issue.

For what it's worth, I believe every abortion is a tragedy on some level. I also believe the decision should be between a woman, her doctor, her family, and her God -- not the state. Which is why many folks believe the loaded terms "pro-life" and "pro-choice" are not remotely equivalent.

But good people can disagree and social conservatives have been working to overturn Roe for decades. They seem to care much less about public opinion, personal privacy, or legal precedent because, for them, this is a moral issue.

And despite losing the popular vote seven out of the past eight elections, six justices on the bench have been appointed by the GOP. The problem is it seems that some of those Republican-appointed justices who are maybe currently supporting the decision to overturn Roe reassured senators during their confirmation hearings that they wouldn't dream of doing this.

Remember Brett Kavanaugh? (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA): What would you say your position today is on a woman's right to choose?


FEINSTEIN: As a judge.

KAVANAUGH: As a judge, it is an important precedent of the Supreme Court. But it, I mean Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood versus Casey -- been reaffirmed many times. Casey is precedent on precedent.


AVLON: Precedent on precedent.

And here's Neil Gorsuch.


NEIL GORSUCH, THEN-SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: The Supreme Court of the United States has held in Roe versus Wade that a fetus is not a person for purposes of the 14th Amendment, and the book explains that.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): Do you accept that?

GORSUCH: That's the law of the land. I accept the law of the land, Senator -- yes.


AVLON: Even Justice Samuel Alito, who reportedly authored the draft opinion, made similar noises in his 2005 hearing.


SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (D-PA): How would you weigh that consideration on the woman's right to choose?

SAMUEL ALITO, THEN-SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: It's the principle that courts, in general, should follow their past precedents.


AVLON: Yes, but what you say in a confirmation hearing isn't binding even though you're under oath. Because once you have the job, it's forever, no matter who you have to snow.

Now, if Roe v. Wade is overturned the question of abortion will go back to the states. And for years, conservatives have argued that this would be the federalist solution that could help calm passions in the culture wars. Twenty-two states already have laws in place to ban or severely restrict abortion if Roe falls, but four other states ready to act. These laws include bans on abortion after 15 weeks or even six weeks

when many women don't even know they're pregnant. And many of these new laws have no exceptions, even in the case of rape or incest, which means that if you live in heavily-gerrymandered states like Texas, Florida, and Ohio, women who are raped could be forced by the state to carry their rapist's baby to term.

This is the opposite of small government. This is the opposite of anything resembling libertarianism. It isn't conservative; it's radical. And not only that, the federalist fantasy seems to be next on the Republicans' to-do list with The Washington Post reporting that some GOP senators have been talking about a nationwide ban on abortion after six weeks if and when they retake control of Congress.

So watch out, because if this draft does indicate the end of Roe v. Wade it will not cool the culture wars in our country. It will not help us find common ground. It will not help elevate the court beyond partisan politics. Instead, it will undercut majoritarian democracy, undermine privacy protections, and pour gasoline on our already inflamed political divisions.

And that's your reality check.

KEILAR: John Avlon, thank you so much.

From captivity to tying the knot. A Ukrainian fighter who fought to defend Snake Island explains how he made it from Russian control to the altar.

BERMAN: And new video. The Russian military releasing these pictures showing the launch of a precision cruise missile. More on this as the battle intensifies.



KEILAR: A Ukrainian soldier who survived being held captive by Russian forces for five weeks married his girlfriend over the weekend. He was a fighter in the 35th Marine Brigade, part of the platoon involved in the now-famous exchange with Russian forces at Snake Island in February.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am Russian military ship. Propose to put down arms or you will be hit. Acknowledge.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (not through the radio): F*** it as well.

FEMALE VOICE (Whispering): Just in case.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Russian warship, go f*** yourself.


KEILAR: The soldier was sent back to Ukraine in a prisoner exchange, returning to Kharkiv where he proposed to his girlfriend.

I posed questions to Lt. Valery Zakabluk who is now part of the 229th Kharkiv Territorial Rifle Battalion.


KEILAR: Sir, you were the commander of the combined anti-aircraft missile and artillery platoon on Snake Island that was involved in that now infamous exchange in February. Can you tell us exactly what happened that day?


LT. VALERY ZAKABLUK, UKRAINE'S 35TH MARINE BRIGADE, 229TH KHARKIV TERRITORIAL RIFLE BATTALION (through translator): So, everything began at 3:00 a.m. We were woken up by a combat alert and we had to get up and get dressed and come out onto our firing positions. We saw the Moskva warship and also several patrol boats and they were approaching up the coastline. And at some point around 11:00 in the morning, the Moskva warship was very close -- about 200-500 meters away from the coastline.

And they commanded us to evacuate. They told us that there are three patrol boats that are provided for our evacuation. But there was a condition to the evacuation. We had to lay down arms. And so, our command decided that we're not going to evacuate unless we kept our arms.

But the Russians were providing a green corridor -- a safe passage for any civilians and also any servicemen who would lay down arms. So, some civilians left by these patrol boats. For example, we have a museum on the island, so the staff of this museum -- there are three people I think.

And so, we stayed and continued to fight but the Russians destroyed our air defenses. They had planes and they had also -- they were firing from the Moskva warship. And they were using their aviation to bombard our positions.

We sheltered. We didn't have many shelters but we had some shelters and we ran between them. And at some point, when all our air defenses were destroyed we had -- our command decided that we are going to give ourselves up, so we laid down arms.

And we were taken to a hut. First, we were commanded to lie down with our faces down and we were kept in that position for about seven hours. And then, for about two or three hours, they were interrogating us in the hut. They gave us food and tea. And then eventually, we had to board patrol boats and leave for the Russian federation.

And we had to surrender under these conditions because they were firing -- they -- we had no arms left. They were firing on all our positions from sea base, from the warships, and from air artillery. And so, I'm grateful to our commander to make this -- who made this decision because he saved our lives. KEILAR: That phrase "Russian warship, go F yourself," as you are well aware, has become a popular Ukrainian slogan during the invasion and has been used as this symbol of defiance.

What has it felt like to have been part of all that?

ZAKABLUK (through translator): Yes, indeed, this phrase has become very popular. And just the other day, my wife and I went into a store and there were some t-shirts with these slogans and the picture of a warship. And so, I felt proud. And a lot of people don't even realize this has to do with Snake Island and what happened.

But I felt proud but also it's a pride -- it's pride mixed with sadness because I know that most of my fellow soldiers are still in captivity. And it's -- so it's a mixed -- it's mixed feeling. I sort of feel -- I feel proud but with a tinge of sadness.

KEILAR: You were held captive by Russians for five weeks. Can you tell us how you were treated and what your conditions were like?

ZAKABLUK (through translator): At first, we were taken to Sevastopol and we were kept there. We were taken to barracks and we were kept in barracks, and we were given food. And there were lots of cameras. They were filming us and said -- and saying look how well we're treating you. And so, we stayed there in the barracks for about a day and half -- for about a week and a half or two weeks.

And then we were put on a bus and we were taken by bus to an airfield and put on a transport plane -- a Russian transport plane. We were taken in an unknown direction. But when we landed and we came out of the plane, we realized that this wasn't Ukraine anymore because it was very, very cold. It was snowing and -- well, it was a lot warmer in Crimea.


And we were put in a prison van and treated like criminal prisoners -- like inmates. And so, we were taken somewhere where it was very cold and for three-three and a half hours we were kept outside. And we were -- some of us were wearing t-shirts so it was really cold and some of us had frostbite.

And then we were taken into tents one-by-one and interrogated and then eventually put into prison. So we reckon this was somewhere in the north of Russia or in Siberia.

When we were brought there we were all lined up and told to bend the knee and stand on the knees for three hours. So, it was -- they treated us as common criminals. Some of us were hit with a gun.

So we kept -- we were kept like this for about days and then eventually, on day four we were told that they -- we were being taken to a place in Russia called Stary Oskol. And then, that was the rest of our captivity.

(END VIDEOTAPE) KEILAR: We continue to follow the stunning news out of the Supreme Court this morning. A draft majority opinion obtained by Politico suggests the high court will strike down Roe versus Wade. That they actually already voted on this though it is preliminary at this point. What this could mean for other landmark decisions as well.

BERMAN: And later this morning, President Biden will see some of the weaponry being sent to Ukraine. He'll see it firsthand.