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CNN TONIGHT: Pentagon: Putin's Defense Ministry Hasn't Fully Informed Him On Invasion "At Every Turn"; Zelenskyy: Negotiations With Russia Are "Only Words"; Chris Rock Makes First Public Remarks On Will Smith Slap. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired March 30, 2022 - 21:00   ET



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Quick reminder. I've got two new shows, on our new streaming service, CNN+ that we launched, this week.

"FULL CIRCLE," which lets me interview a wide variety of interesting people, and cover stories, you might not see, in the day's headlines. And a new show called "PARENTAL GUIDANCE," which is all about parenting, the highs and lows. It's full of useful advice.

You can watch them, and other shows, on CNN+, using a web browser, the CNN mobile app, or the CNN app, on Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV streaming devices.

That's it for us. You'll also find, by the way, "THE NEWSCAST WITH WOLF BLITZER," which is live weeknights, at 7:30 P.M. Eastern.

And Wolf is keeping busy. Time to hand it off to him, right now, for CNN TONIGHT.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We're all pretty busy. Anderson. Thank you very much.


BLITZER: I am Wolf Blitzer. This is CNN TONIGHT. Welcome to our viewers, here, in the United States, and around the world.

The Pentagon warned yesterday, not to be fooled. And there's further proof tonight that Russia is not to be taken, at its word. It's not drastically reducing military operations around Ukraine's capital, and in the city of Chernihiv, to the north, but increasing its assault.

The Mayor of Chernihiv says his city has been under colossal attack, over the last 24 hours. And Kyiv, the capital, has remained under constant bombardment, as well, despite Moscow's claims of a scale- back.

Here's the Ukrainian President Zelenskyy's take, on that, tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): This is not a retreat. This is the result of the work of our defenders, who pushed them back.


BLITZER: The Pentagon says only a small percentage of Russian forces are repositioning, from the capital. But the majority remain. And the airstrikes haven't stopped at all.

Meanwhile, not only are Russians being misled, on this invasion, by their own government. The U.S. now says Vladimir Putin himself isn't being told the truth, about it, by some of his own advisers. The new U.S. Intelligence reporting, confirmed by the Pentagon, today.


JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: We would concur with the conclusion that Mr. Putin, has not been fully informed, by his Ministry of Defense, at every turn, over the last month.


BLITZER: A U.S. official tells CNN that Putin's been misled, about his military's performance. But he's become aware, which apparently led to a rift, between Putin and his top defense officials.

Much more, on that, coming up, in a few moments, with the former U.S. Defense Secretary, the former CIA Director, Leon Panetta. There, you see him.

Meanwhile, there are new satellite images that show almost all of the port city of Mariupol, destroyed, entire city blocks obliterated. Nothing appears off limits, to Russian forces, nothing. Not maternity hospitals, or other buildings, filled with children.

They even bombed, get this, they even bombed a Red Cross warehouse, with its logo clearly displayed. And they even hit a Holocaust memorial in the shape of a menorah, in Kharkiv. So, the onslaught, very much continues, tonight.

Let's go live, to our Senior International Correspondent, Fred Pleitgen. He's joining us, from Kyiv, right now.

So Fred, tell our viewers what you're seeing, and what you're hearing, tonight.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we're seeing, and hearing, certainly doesn't look like any sort of de- escalation. In fact, to us, it seemed like an escalation.

Today, throughout the better part of the day, and into the hours of this night, there was a lot of shelling, coming from the Russian side, or seeming to come from the Russian side.

There were a lot of multiple rocket launching systems that we heard. Also, artillery as well. And Wolf, a lot of that really, centers around, the northwestern district, or the northwestern outskirts of Kyiv.

And there's that one area, in particular. It's called Irpin. We've been talking about it a lot. It was one of those places, where the Russians tried to break through, into the city of Kyiv. But they were confronted, by Ukrainian forces, and pushed back.

And so, what they're doing now, is they're really shelling that place. We, today, we got, as close as possible, to Irpin. And we do have to warn our viewers, some of what they're about to see, is very disturbing.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): Through heavily-fortified checkpoints, we reached the edge of Kyiv, at the suburb, Irpin.

Suddenly, on top of the artillery barrages, we hear gunfire.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, it's gunfire.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Much closer, and we have to take cover.

This is what it sounds like, after Russia said, it has scaled down its military operations, around Kyiv.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): Even in the calmer moments, the big guns are never silent.

(on camera): This is the final checkpoint, before you would reach the district of Irpin. But it's impossible, for us, to go there, right now, simply because it's much too dangerous.

It's also impossible, for the people, who lived there, to come back, to their homes, because there's still so much shelling going on, and so much unexploded ordnance, still, on the ground.

(voice-over): Irpin was heavily contested, between Russian and Ukrainian forces, as Vladimir Putin's troops attempted to push through, to Kyiv.


Now, the Ukrainians say, they've pushed the Russians back, taken control, and released this graphic video, of the aftermath. Buildings and cars destroyed, dead bodies, still lying in the streets.

Ukraine's security Emergency Service has now also released this video, showing rescuers taking out, at least some of the dead, while under fire, from Russian artillery.

Some of the remaining residents, were also brought to safety, including many children, Irpin's Mayor, tells me.

OLEKSANDR MARKUSHIN, MAYOR OF IRPIN (through translator): Now, Irpin is a 100 percent Ukrainian. We are taking out the wounded, and dead bodies. Today, and yesterday, we evacuated approximately 500 people. Today, I, myself, evacuated, about 50 children, and a 100 adults.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): The evacuees are brought to this base outside of Irpin.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): It's not only people. Aid groups are now also evacuating the animals, left behind, when their owners had to flee, including these puppies.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have volunteers, who are going, under the fire, and picking the animals, on the streets.

PLEITGEN (on camera): You're going under fire? You're going into Irpin, and picking animals?


PLEITGEN (voice-over): The Ukrainian army says it's in the process of pushing Russian troops, further out, of this area, hoping to silence Putin's guns, and restore calm, to this once-quaint suburb.


PLEITGEN: And Wolf, those noises, of shelling, unfortunately that's something that's all too common here, in the Ukrainian capital, really throughout all the daylight hours, and in the nighttime as well.

One thing I did manage to do, today, Wolf, as I managed to speak to the Defense Ministry, here, of this country. And they also said they did see some signs that some Russian units might be pulling away, to Kyiv, and possibly might be going in the direction, of Belarus.

But they certainly don't believe that that's some sort of goodwill gesture by the Russians. They believe that quite simply, the Russians can't push through, into Kyiv. They were confronted by the Ukrainians. They were beaten by the Ukrainians. And now, some of them have to pull back, possibly, for regrouping, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. You got to give the Ukrainian military, a lot, a lot of credit.

Fred Pleitgen, in Kyiv, for us. Stay safe, over there. We will be in touch.

Let's get some more perspective, right now. Joining us now, the former Defense Secretary, the former CIA Director, Leon Panetta.

Mr. Secretary, thanks so much, for joining us.

Let me begin with this new U.S. Intelligence that Putin's own advisers have actually misled him, on the state of the war, in Ukraine. And it comes, however, a day after a top U.S. General told Congress that the United States may have a gap, in its own Intelligence gathering.

What do you make of this new information that's emerging? First of all, do you accept, do you believe it?

LEON PANETTA, FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE UNDER PRESIDENT OBAMA, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR UNDER PRESIDENT OBAMA, FORMER WH CHIEF OF STAFF UNDER PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well, I think, it's pretty obvious that Intelligence, frankly, on both sides, kind of failed, in terms of really understanding, what the Russian army was about, in their capabilities, the failure of their leadership, the failure in logistics, and the failure, of these fighters, to be able to really achieve the goal that was set out, in terms of the invasion.

And, I think, we also, frankly, have received Intelligence that the Russians were a lot more capable, in terms of being able to conduct this invasion. I think, we expected, frankly, that they would capture Kyiv, and basically try to take control, within a few days, of Ukraine. And that wasn't accurate either. So, we're dealing with a little bit of bad Intelligence, on both sides.

BLITZER: Here's what the Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, said, about this Intelligence, today. Listen to this.


ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: One of the Achilles' heels of autocracies is that you don't have people in those systems who speak truth to power, or who have the ability, to speak truth to power. And I think that is something that we're seeing in Russia.


BLITZER: One U.S. official has told us, Mr. Secretary - was pretty specific. He said that he's now aware that he's been misled. And there's now a rift, a rift, we're talking about Putin, between him, and his defense officials.

What do you make of that?

PANETTA: Well, I'm sure that those around Putin have basically not presented the whole situation, the way it is, and have, in fact, misled him. I don't think there's any question about that.

But I also would be a little bit careful, about assuming, therefore, that Putin doesn't understand what's happening there. Because, he is KGB. He's an agent. And he hasn't survived, in office, for over 20 years, without developing his own sources of information.

So, I would not assume that just because he's been misled, that somehow Mr. Putin is not aware of how bad things are going, in Ukraine.

[21:10:00] BLITZER: So, what is he going to do? In terms of, it's getting really bad. He now sees, how bad this is. Does he pull back? Does he look for a way out? Or does he intensify this brutal slaughter that's been going on?

PANETTA: I think it's dangerous, the moment we're in. We've entered phase two of this war.

Phase one was the failed invasion, by the Russian army, to capture any major city, and was stalled, on every level. And also, obviously, the strength of the Ukrainians, in the way, they fought.

But we've entered a phase two, which is going to involve what I think is kind of siege warfare, plus stalemate. And the Russians are going to continue, I think, to use artillery, and missiles, and continue to attack areas, within the Ukraine. And the Ukrainians are going to push back.

So, we're going to see some back-and-forth, here. And it's a dangerous situation, because, I think, Putin is going to continue to try to achieve his goals. I don't trust the Russians.


PANETTA: I don't think anybody should trust the Russians, in terms of what they're saying, in terms of pulling back. I think this - I think this fight is now in a different phase. And it's going to continue for a long time.

BLITZER: Yes. I keep hearing that, from officials, here, in Washington. It's going to intensify, and it's about to get even worse.

Secretary Panetta, as usual, thank you so much, for joining us.

PANETTA: Good to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, there's a great deal of concern, tonight, about the port city of Odessa. And it's bracing for a potentially massive Russia assault. And they're bracing for it soon, because of its strategic location. We're going to take you there, live.

And we're also going to hear, from the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He attended a classified briefing, on the invasion, today. There you see him, Senator Menendez. We'll discuss with him, when we come back.



BLITZER: 35 days, into the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Kremlin claims to be shifting its focus, to the south and east. That possible shift, increasing fears, for people, in Odessa.

Odessa is normally a very thriving port city. The country's busiest, on the Black Sea. The city is known, for its resorts and its beaches, the tourism.

Now, anti-tank obstacles block the roads. Sandbags and Ukrainian troops stand, in defense of the city's historic Opera and Ballet Theatre. The size of Odessa's port, and its proximity, to a Russian base, in Moldova, make it particularly vulnerable.

CNN's Ed Lavandera, is in Odessa, for us, right now.

Ed, so what is the mood, in the city, tonight?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's a sense of defiance, in the city. As we drove in, earlier today, we saw, people filling up parks, the people, who are still here, kind of going about their business.

On the road in that was filled with multiple military checkpoints, we'd noticed that all of the billboards, on the road in, had been changed. And were now showing off this pro-Ukrainian anti-Russian force messages, to the Russian soldiers, if they were to come in, to Odessa, from its north side. So, there is that sense and that fortification that you talk about that really shows you what has been prepared.

And many people, here, anxiously watching, what is happening, with Russian forces, in the north, and all this talk, about what exactly Russia is up to? How are they going to redeploy these assets, and these forces, into other parts of the country? And they take a close look at what's happened in Mariupol.

And even though Russian forces have been stalled out, for the most part, just west of there, near Kherson, there is concern about, are they going to re-attempt, to take this part of Ukraine that would essentially be along the northern coast of the Black Sea, and really fortify, Russia's ability, to control this part of the country.

So, even though it's been a relatively quiet few days, here, in Odessa, many people here, Wolf, anxiously watching exactly, how things are going to begin to unfold, and what Russia is going to be up to next.

BLITZER: It's really a beautiful city. And people are bracing, sadly, for the worst.

Ed Lavandera, in Odessa, for us. Ed, be careful over there. We'll stay in touch.

Let's get some more now, on how the White House is responding to all of this. Today, President Biden announced $500 million, in direct aid, additional direct aid, to Ukraine. But some Republican senators say that's simply not enough, and the U.S. should be providing more military assistance.

The full Senate was briefed on the late breaking developments, on Ukraine, earlier today.

Let's get some specific details. We're joined now by the Democratic senator, the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Bob Menendez.

Mr. Chairman, thanks so much, for joining us.

After the briefing, you attended, today, one of your colleagues, Democratic senator Chris Murphy, said there will be - there will be new announcements, he said, from the Biden administration, soon, on transfers of weapons.

I wonder what you can share with us, on the details, of this upcoming announcement.

SEN. BOB MENENDEZ (D-NJ): Well, Wolf, I think the Administration is doing everything possible, to make sure that that which the Ukrainians can use, and can get speedily, and can put into action quickly, is going to either be supplied, by the United States, or transferred, from a neighboring country, to continue to help the Ukrainians, both deal with air defense questions, as well as with all the other elements, of Stinger, Javelin, and other lethal equipment.

And I think that that's - that will build upon the President's humanitarian announcement, today.


BLITZER: Because they really do need the anti-aircraft, the anti-tank, all those kinds of missiles. And they need tons of them. You think they're going to get what they want?

MENENDEZ: I think there is a overwhelming desire, by the Administration.

I think, they're working around the clock, from the Secretary of Defense, to the Secretary of State, to the National Security Advisor, reaching out to different countries, all within the region that can provide them, particularly the systems that they know, and can operate quickly. Because if we send them a system that they are totally unfamiliar with, the training time alone, is not something that they can afford.

So, there is a unique process here, about yes, providing them, the lethal assistance, yes, trying to be as forward-leaning as possible, including in air defense, but doing it in a way that the Ukrainians can actually use it, will know how to operate it, and can do it relatively quickly.

BLITZER: We heard from Senator Lindsey Graham. He doesn't think the U.S. is moving fast enough. He said he believes the U.S. should be sending, for example, MiG-29 fighter jets that the Ukrainians requested, weeks ago.

Listen to what he said.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): We cannot let Putin tell us how to help the Ukrainians defend themselves. So, I came out of there, very frustrated. We're five weeks into this thing. And it seems like nothing changes. Every briefing's the same. And the Ukrainians have taken this five weeks. The same people that told us, this will last four days, are giving us excuse after excuse. So, why can't we do more?


BLITZER: What's your reaction to that, Senator?

MENENDEZ: You know, Wolf, I think, if 10 angels came swearing from above that President Biden, who has sent, over the course of his year, and a quarter in office, nearly $2 billion, of assistance, to Ukraine, in defensive lethal weapons, and much more to come, if those angels would say, he's done it all, as much as you possibly can, and he's continuing to do it? Some of my colleagues, on the other side of the aisle, would say those angels lie.

The reality is, we will continuously hear, no matter what happens, that the President is not doing enough for Ukraine. I've now taken it almost as a political talking point, far less grounded in reality, than, in substance.

BLITZER: U.S. officials say they believe Putin is being misinformed, as to how poorly the Russian military, at least, so far, is performing, in Ukraine. How do you square that, with what we've seen, from Putin, thus far? What's your reaction to that?

MENENDEZ: Well, look, I have no doubt, when you have a dictatorship, for all intents and purposes, an authoritarian figure that is ruthless, that, saying to that person, "Things are not going well," is probably not going to have you keep your job.

Being truthful is probably may not keep your liberty intact. And if you're really honest, and maybe your life has gone that - I mean, that's the reality of dealing with Putin.

So, I'm not surprised that those around him are unwilling to fully tell him, what's happening on the battlefield. Having said that, if he's just watching your show, Wolf, then he'll have a pretty good sense that things are not working out, all that well.

But the fact that those around him, who really - you want to have leaders, who have people around them, who are smart, capable, and will tell them, what's really happening. But when you're an authoritarian, that's not necessarily the way the process works.

BLITZER: Yes. It's a very dangerous situation, right now. Everybody seems to think the next few weeks are going to be critical.

Senator Menendez, thank you so much, for joining us.

MENENDEZ: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: President Biden's called Vladimir Putin, a war criminal. Evidence is mounting of what appears to be crimes against humanity. But will there ever be real consequences?

We're going to get insight, from two former U.S. officials, who've led the nation's efforts, in the region. They're standing by.

We'll be right back.



BLITZER: Ukrainian Members of Parliament, calling Russian peace talks, a quote, "Smokescreen," a point, driven home, by President Zelenskyy. Listen.


ZELENSKYY (through translator): Yes, we have a negotiations process. But it's only words, without anything concrete.

For us, the support from the U.S. is essential. Now, it is particularly important, to lend a shoulder to Ukraine, and to show the whole might, of the democratic world.


BLITZER: My next guests have led U.S. efforts, in the region. I'm joined now by Bill Taylor. He was the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine. And Evelyn Farkas, she was Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, for Russia and Ukraine.

To both of you, thanks very much, for joining us.

Evelyn, what value is there, in these talks, given that it appears Putin isn't being told, the whole story, and is sort of making up stuff, as he goes along?

EVELYN FARKAS, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE FOR RUSSIA/UKRAINE/EURASIA: Well, Wolf, the value, I think, for Vladimir Putin, is he can stall, for time, while his military forces try to regroup.

We don't really know how much ability they have, to come back. But we know that they - you know, on land, in terms of attacking Kyiv, again, but we know that they have artillery, and that they are in a position to, as you said, in your earlier segment, frankly, decimate Odessa.

For the Ukrainians, it's important to show the international community, and their people, so from President Zelenskyy that he is willing to cooperate, he's willing to compromise. He's put some important and serious options on the table. He's moved the ball. But he's essentially negotiating, with himself, right now. So, he does need more leverage, from us, frankly.

BLITZER: Ambassador Taylor, you've sat at the table, with other nations, over your years, as a diplomat. How do you put stock, in what the other side is saying, when you know, there's only one man whose opinion really matters? And we're talking about Putin.



And what you know is the people you're, in this case, the people that the Ukrainians, are across the table from, those Russians, they're not connected to President Putin. So, they're kind of on their own. They're probably listening to these interesting proposals.

Evelyn's right. The Ukrainians have come seriously, to the table. They've put some ideas, on the table. They've had these conversations, with the Russians, in Istanbul and, earlier, up in, on the border, with Belarus. So, they are going through these emotions.

And the Ukrainians have made some progress, probably have some conversations, and maybe even made some adjustments, to their proposals, based on these conversations.

The problem is the one you refer to. That is, there's no real connection. There's no obvious connection, between those Russians, and the person that you say, Wolf, is making the decisions. It's not a good system, for them. And it doesn't help the Ukrainians.

BLITZER: You're absolutely right.

Evelyn, the Pentagon announced, today, and I think this was significant that the so-called switchblade drones are, quote, in the process of "Being delivered," to Ukraine. How does that change, the calculus, for Ukrainian forces, at least potentially?

FARKAS: Well, I think, look, anything that we provide the Ukrainians that provides them with the capability, to reach out, and attack the Russian forces, and take them out, one by one, is meaningful. So, this contributes in that fashion.

I don't know how high they go, and whether they provide a really good robust air defense. So, I suspect that they alone are not, as significant, as we would like. I'd like to see some more S-300s in there, something to give them higher air cover, from the cruise missiles, et cetera.

But, look, everything we're providing, every day, is really useful. And I commend the administration, for what they're doing. I just think we all need to do more and fast.

BLITZER: Yes. A lot of people agree with you.

Ambassador, how much pressure can economic sanctions, really put, on Russia, right now? Given that we've already seen, in this, I thought was surprising, the ruble has already rebounded, to where it was a month or so ago.

TAYLOR: So, that's one measure, Wolf, of the economy there. The other measure, though, is what's really going on, with the people, on the streets. And are they able to buy things? Are they - do they see this fluctuation in the ruble?

Do they see the sanctions on the banks that are affecting them? So, their banks, the Russian people's banks are not able to do international transactions, not able to borrow money, lend money. Their ability to do mortgages and pensions is affected.

So, the Russian people are feeling this. And they will notice other things as well. They are noticing that somewhere around 17,000 of their fathers, sons and brothers and sisters are - have been killed, in Ukraine. So, there's a range of things that the Russian people are feeling, and that's going to have an effect.

BLITZER: Yes. We shall see.

Evelyn, we're already seeing, and this is serious, and very disturbing, a growing hunger crisis, right now, emerge, in the Middle East, parts of Africa, as a result of this crisis, this war, in Ukraine.

Can the rest of the world afford to wait for the time that the sanctions may really - the time the sanctions may take?

FARKAS: Yes, I mean, Wolf, obviously, we already had a supply chain issue, regarding many commodities. Then, oil and gas came into the picture, with this war.

And then everyone woke up to the fact that Russia and Ukraine provide a tremendous - they're one of the top producers, of wheat, and other grains, globally. And, for countries, like Egypt, that rely on the government actually, to buy and subsidize, just the basic food, which is a bread, it could be devastating.

So, it's another argument, though, for getting, really providing robust support, fast to Ukraine. We want to end this war, fast, and obviously, in terms that are favorable to Ukraine, and the international order.

BLITZER: It's now week six, of this war.

Ambassador Taylor, the U.N. Human Rights Chief, is the latest to talk of war crimes, against Putin, for example, the Russians.

But given that neither Russia, nor the U.S., right now, actually recognize the authority, of the International Criminal Court, what are the options, for holding Putin, personally accountable, for the brutality, of the war crimes that we're seeing?

TAYLOR: Wolf, first of all, just identifying, his actions, and the actions of that whole chain of command, by the way, it's going to be Putin, on down, who are vulnerable, to these war criminals - investigations, by just naming them, and making them think about the consequences, of their actions, that is one effect, right there.


Then the question is the investigations. And the evidence is overwhelming. There are people out there, filming, right now, and gathering that evidence. All of your work, and your network's work, and others, are there. It's evidence that's going to be very clear.

And when the Ukrainians prevail? And they will, Wolf. The Ukrainians will prevail, sooner or later. I hope it's sooner. Then, there will be the steps that will go into the war criminal investigations.

BLITZER: Just take a look at all the pictures, of the residential areas, the apartment buildings, the schools, the hospitals, with kids, with men, women and children murdered. You just take a look at that. It certainly feels like war crimes are being committed.

Ambassador Taylor, Evelyn Farkas, to both of you, thank you so much, for joining us.

FARKAS: Thanks, Wolf.

TAYLOR: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll have more, on the Ukrainian refugee crisis, in just minutes.

But up next, the comedian, Chris Rock, making his first appearance, since Sunday night. That's when Will Smith slapped him, at the Oscars. What Rock is now telling his fans tonight, after days of silence? Plus, what the Motion Picture Academy now says happened, in the moments, after that confrontation.

We'll have details. Stay with us. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Much more coming up, on the war, in Ukraine.


But first, it's the slap seen, around the world.



WILL SMITH, ACTOR, RAPPER, FILM PRODUCER: Keep my wife's name out your (BLEEP) mouth.

ROCK: Wow, dude!



BLITZER: Just a little while ago, Chris Rock made his first public remarks, about that incident, at a stand-up comedy show, in Boston.

Our Chloe Melas is on the scene for us, in Boston.

Chloe, so what did you hear, from Chris Rock, tonight?

CHLOE MELAS, CNN ENTERTAINMENT REPORTER: It was the moment, everyone was waiting for, Wolf.

So, Chris Rock, he walks out, takes the stage, at The Wilbur Theater, just behind me, at 8 P.M. And the crowd erupted, into just cheers, a standing ovation. It went on for about a good minute, minute and a half. Then, everyone sat down. And then, they stood up and they gave a second standing ovation.

Chris Rock looked visibly moved, emotional. He seemed to be wiping tears, from his eyes.

I'll tell you a little bit about what he said. Because there were no recording devices allowed, so, I was scribbling, as fast as I could.

He says, "Let me get all misty and S-H-I-T." He says "I don't have a bunch of stuff to say, right now. I had written a whole show before this weekend. I'm still processing what happened." Then he says, Wolf, "I'll talk about it, at some point. It'll be serious. It'll be funny, but right now, I'm going to tell some jokes."

And that's what he did, for the next 75 minutes. And it was a bunch of material that he appears to be, he said, at one point, trying out for a potential upcoming Netflix special.

But he didn't miss a beat. He didn't make even any reference. And nobody in the audience heckled him, or screamed out anything, or even mentioned Will Smith's name.

BLITZER: Very interesting. As you know, the Academy also released a new statement, today, saying it had initiated disciplinary proceedings, against Will Smith.

What more can you tell us about that?

MELAS: Yes, well, we know that tonight, they held their - late this afternoon, in California, they held their Annual Board of Governors meeting that Wolf, they hold every single year, after the Oscars. It's their postmortem.

But priority number one was talking about Will Smith. They said, in a statement, which CNN obtained that they have given Will Smith, 15 days' notice that they are going to be taking some sort of action. They didn't say what.

But they did see something really interesting. There was a lot of speculation about why Will Smith was allowed to stay, in the Dolby Theatre, after what happened.

Well, the Academy now saying that "While we would like to clarify that Mr. Smith was asked to leave the ceremony," and he refused. And they add that they wish that they could have handled things differently.

Many people asking me "Well, what could happen?"

Well, potentially he could be suspended, or not allowed back, in the Academy. And he might not be allowed to present, at next year's Oscars, because usually, the winner of the category presents the next year's award, to the new winner. So, that would be a big blow.

So, it'll be interesting to see what more Chris Rock has to say. He has another show, at 10 P.M. And I'll be in there. And what Will Smith has to say.

I do want to point out though, that Chris Rock's brother, he responded to someone, on Twitter, earlier today, when someone asked him what they thought of Will's apology, and if they accepted it. And he wrote "No."

Then, he was also asked if it was true, because Diddy said to Page Six that Will and Chris had squashed things, after the show. He also said that's not true, either, Wolf.

BLITZER: Very interesting.

We did hear new reaction, from two of the Oscars' co-hosts, both backing up their fellow comedian. Amy Schumer said Rock handled it like a pro, and called the whole thing "Disturbing."

While Wanda Sykes, said this, on "Ellen." Listen.


WANDA SYKES, OSCARS CO-HOST: I'm still a little traumatized, by it.


SYKES: For them, to let him stay in that room, and enjoy the rest of the show, and accept his award, I was like, "How gross is this? This is just the wrong message," you know? Like, you assault somebody, you get escorted out the building, and that's it.


BLITZER: Seems really clear that the public support, has really garnered, around Chris Rock, right?

MELAS: Exactly. And I think that Chris Rock is really feeling it, right now, which is why he did get emotional, at the top of his stand- up show.

And it's very, very significant, for the hosts of the Oscars, Wanda Sykes, Amy Schumer, we haven't yet heard from Regina Hall, to speak out, in support of Chris. That's a big deal. That's a big moment.

And hopefully, we will hear, more from Chris, tonight.

BLITZER: We certainly will. And we'll stay in touch with you. Chloe Melas, thank you very much, for that report.

When we come back, we'll return to our major story, tonight. We're talking about the war, in Ukraine. I'll be joined by a mother, just out of Mariupol, along with her daughter. But other relatives remain behind.


She's going to tell us about the escape, as her home city fights, simply, to survive, amidst, amidst this Russian attack. That's next.


BLITZER: You are about to meet a woman, who was forced, to escape, her home, in Mariupol, after she says a missile landed in the apartment, next to hers.

In these images, she sent us, you can see the total destruction, surrounding the place she once called, her home. A home that once looked like this, but is now part of the warzone, with endless communities, full of flattened buildings.

When she left Mariupol, on March 15, the theater, where they painted the word, "Children," on the ground, just outside the giant Russian with - in giant Russian letters, I should say, it looked like this. But, just one day later, the theater was struck. You can see the damage, from this before and after.


And today, a satellite image confirmed the Mariupol Red Cross warehouse, the Red Cross warehouse, was also hit by at least two military strikes.

Kristina Fenina, who escaped with her husband, and 9-year-old daughter, is joining us now.

Kristina, thank you so much, for joining us. I know you're currently in Dnipro, which we saw earlier, was hit by a rocket. First, first of all, how are you, and your family, doing?

KRISTINA FENINA, UKRAINIAN REFUGEE WHO ESCAPED FROM MARIUPOL: Oh, thank you very much. Hello, everyone. We are doing well, in Dnipro (ph). And we feel here, at least safe, safer than we were in Mariupol.

And people are kind here. And we get help from people. And we appreciate it very much. People understand our tragedy. And that's why we get humanitarian aid, from any places, here.

BLITZER: How are the conditions? If you could just elaborate, a little bit, where you are now? I know you had to, for example, melt snow, for water, simply for water. What's it like?

FENINA: It was very cold, first of all. Before, we had snow, and we had raining. So, we had some water from the raining. And the next few days, we had snowing. So, it was minus 10 degrees. And we got the snow, in our bucket, and then melted, so that way, we could get some water, for any needs.

BLITZER: It's really amazing.

I know you've been trying to reach your parents. I know you've been trying to reach your brother, and your nephew. When's the last time, you spoke to them? Did they plan to stay, in Mariupol, or leave as well?

FENINA: Of course, they planned to leave. But, because of my father, he's missing, right now, my brother decided to stay, in Mariupol, and find out about any information, about him.

Of course, it hurts so much, because, I know, in what - in what place they are, and it's so dangerous. Last time, I spoke to him, it was about two weeks ago. And yes, two weeks ago. That's time, when my father was lost.

BLITZER: I hope--

FENINA: So, I wanted my brother to come (ph).

BLITZER: I hope they're--

FENINA: But my brother said, "No. I will not go, until I find our father." Since that time, I didn't hear anything from them.

BLITZER: You must be so nervous. I hope they're OK.

Take us back, Kristina, to the day you decided, to leave. What was happening? What was going through your mind?

FENINA: We wanted to leave, every single day. But we understood that our city's under the siege. I think, the whole world knew about this. And it was not possible, because we were waiting, for the green corridor, so we could move, escape from the city. But we didn't get any corridor.

And then, we heard people were talking about some routes. And people started to leave. And we heard that a few cars left, like on 14th of March. And then, we decided to do - to try these, on the 15th of March. And some people, in our yard, in our house, they also decided to leave.

It was a scary morning. And it was air attacks, all morning, and artillery battles, and all kinds of fights that you can imagine. We experienced it, while we were escaping our city. It was very scary.

BLITZER: I'm sure it was. How's your little 9-year-old daughter, handling all of this?

FENINA: She acts like everything is fine. But, every night, she has nightmares, and she's crying. But, during the day, she's smiling, like it's OK. But, of course, she misses her grandparents, too much, and her cousin.

BLITZER: Yes. FENINA: And uncle.

BLITZER: It's so heartbreaking.

I know you owned a small English language school, in Mariupol. So, what's next, for you, and your family, Kristina?

FENINA: Oh! Yes. I feel so bad knowing that my school is destroyed, right now. Well, of course, as I know English, I plan to give lessons, in English, as before. But, at first, I need to find my family. Right now, all my thoughts, I am going to look (ph) my family.


BLITZER: Kristina, good luck to you. Good luck to your family. We hope they're OK. And good luck to your sweet little daughter. We will stay in close touch, with you. If we could help, in any way, please don't hesitate to ask.

Good luck. Thank you so much, for joining us.

FENINA: Thank you so much. Thank you, too.

BLITZER: Thank you.

And we'll be right back.


BLITZER: Thanks very much, for watching. Please join me, in "THE SITUATION ROOM," tomorrow, 6 P.M. Eastern.

And also, log on to our new streaming network, CNN+, for "THE NEWSCAST WITH WOLF BLITZER," weeknights, 7:30 P.M. Eastern, or on-demand.

And I'll see you, right here, tomorrow night, as well.

"DON LEMON TONIGHT," live from Ukraine, starts, right now.

Don, as I always ask you, how are you doing?

DON LEMON, CNN HOST, DON LEMON TONIGHT: Yes. I'm doing well, Wolf.

I found one of your conversations, all of it interesting, but this one particularly interesting that Vladimir Putin may not be getting accurate information, from his people, on the battlefield, and his advisers. That is really interesting.

BLITZER: It certainly is. And the question is, how is he going to react, when he really knows, what's going on. I assume he's getting more information.