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CNN TONIGHT: Russia Says Its Warship "Moskva" Sank In Black Sea After Ukraine Claims It Was Hit By A Missile; Top International Prosecutor: We're In Favor Of Humanity; CIA Director: U.S. Does Not "Take Lightly" Threat Of Russia Using Tactical Nuclear Weapon. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired April 14, 2022 - 21:00   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: The news continues. So, let's hand it over to Jake Tapper, in Ukraine, and CNN TONIGHT.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: John, thanks so much.

I'm Jake Tapper. This is CNN TONIGHT.

We're live, tonight, from Ukraine's capital of Kyiv, on day 50 of this invasion. 50 days, of anguish, of death and destruction. But also, 50 days of great determination, perseverance and hope.

Ukraine still stands, tonight, seven weeks, into Putin's war. You know what isn't upright anymore, however? The crown jewel, of Russia's Navy, the flagship, Moskva. It has sunk. That's confirmed by Russia, tonight.

Moscow still refutes Ukraine's claim that Ukraine struck the more than 600-foot long vessel, with cruise missiles, off the coast of Odessa. Russian state media is still blaming an accidental fire that allegedly caused the warship to lose stability, in stormy seas.

The Pentagon has not confirmed either account. But two sources, familiar with U.S. Intelligence, say they believe Ukraine's claim is credible.

This is no doubt, a huge defeat, for Putin, and his Navy. And there is something poetic about it, because this ship is the very same one that attacked Snake Island, on day one, of this invasion, and was famously cursed out, by Ukrainian soldiers, with the-now iconic phrase, "Russian warship, go f*** yourself." And now, it's no more. It's F-ed. A lot more, on that, in a moment.

Ukraine is, tonight, racing the clock, to prepare, for the coming onslaught, in the east.

A senior Pentagon official says the Russians have started arriving, in the northern part of the Donbas region, after abandoning, their fight, here, in northern Ukraine. The Pentagon says today that they're working as quickly as possible to move that $800 million worth of additional military aid and equipment.

And amid that race comes, another, to collect the evidence of possible war crimes, being committed, by the Russians.

I spoke earlier, with the Chief Prosecutor, from The Hague, the International Criminal Court. He's in this country, right now, leading the war crimes investigation.

Karim Khan, is already labeling Ukraine, "A crime scene," after visiting the towns of Bucha, and Borodianka, on the outskirts of Kyiv, where some of the worst atrocities, of this war, have been committed. Stay tuned for our sit-down, on that one.

But first, to the breaking developments, on that sunken Russian battleship, CNN's Fred Pleitgen spoke with Ukraine's National Security Advisor, about the Moskva. He joins me now, live here, in Kyiv.

Fred, what can you tell us?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well it was a huge morale boost, for the Ukrainians.

And unequivocally, the senior - the National Security Advisor told me, "Yes, we shot that ship." He said, it was the Neptune cruise missile lands (ph) to see missiles that shot that ship. And he was quite nonchalant about it. He said, "Yes, the ship just sank."

And, I think, it's a really, really important victory, for the Ukrainians. Not just militarily, but also from a morale standpoint, from the people, here, in this country. And something that we saw here, in Kyiv, today, but also we heard from the National Security Advisor, as well.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): It seems like a massive blow, to Russia's war, against Ukraine. Ukraine's forces saying, they've struck the flagship, of Putin's Black Sea Fleet, the guided missile cruiser, Moskva.

I spoke exclusively with Ukraine's National Security Advisor.

PLEITGEN (on camera): Can you tell us what happened to the cruiser, Moskva?


PLEITGEN (voice-over): "It sank," he says, jokingly.

Russia admits the ship has indeed sunk, but has not yet acknowledged it was struck by Kyiv. Instead, it says it was badly damaged by a fire, and then sunk, while being towed, in stormy seas.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Or you will be hit. Acknowledge.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: F*** it as well.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): The Moskva was involved in a now-famous incident, in a place called Snake Island, when its crew told Ukrainian soldiers, to surrender.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): This was the answer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Russian warship, go f*** yourself.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): The event has become so legendary, in Ukraine, they've commemorated it, with a special stamp. People, at this post office, in Kyiv, standing in line, to get it.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): "An important event happened, yesterday. Our Armed Forces destroyed the aggressor's flagman ship. I think this event has to have a place, in everyone's memory," this man says.

The Ukrainians say, they managed to hit the ship, which has formidable defense systems, with Ukrainian Neptune anti-ship missiles.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): "The Moskva was still there, near the Snake Island, and was hit, yesterday, by two powerful Ukrainian-made missiles," he says.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): And then, a warning to Putin. "This is just the beginning," he says. "There will be more than one Moskva."


But the leadership, in Kyiv, understands, the next major battles, will be different, and possibly even more bloody, as Russian tanks and artillery pour into the Donbas region.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): "This horde has invaded our country, and they think we will watch them destroy us," he says. "But, of course, we will respond, by all means, we have. Thanks to our international partners, we have interesting tools."


PLEITGEN (voice-over): The U.S., and its allies, have already provided Ukraine, with billions of dollars' worth of weapons, and are now moving, to give Kyiv, heavier arms, to counter Vladimir Putin's tank battalions.

The National Security Advisor says Ukraine needs all the firepower, it can get.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): "I would never say that the Russian army is weak," he says. "Given the amount of weapons thrown there, the number of tanks, armored personnel carriers, planes and helicopters, I would not say this is a weak army. I would say, these are strong Ukrainian soldiers, who fight back such a powerful army."


PLEITGEN (voice-over): And these Territorial Defense soldiers, in Kyiv, are vowing, to keep up the fight, their elite troops gearing up, to head east.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): "We are absolutely prepared for this. We have both, fighting spirit and fighting mood. We are patriots of our country. And of course, we will fight back the enemy," the soldier, who goes by the name Vlad, "The Rifle," tells me.

And they vow, just like in Kyiv, they will confront the Russian army, once again.


PLEITGEN: And Jake, we've spoken to a lot of these national defense forces. And there's a lot of them, who are saying that they are moving, increasingly, towards the east. So, it's not just the Russians that are going there. The Ukrainians also moving a massive amount of their forces, down to the east, as well, for that huge battle.

TAPPER: And Fred, do we know how the Russians are preparing, for this offensive?

PLEITGEN: Yes. It seems as though the Ukrainians, today said, they believe that part of that big Russian force that's been accumulating, of course, part of it that came here, from Kyiv, that got beaten here, is apparently training, in the east of - in the west of Russia, to get ready for the fight that could happen here.

But they do also have reconnaissance units, apparently, on the ground, in the Kharkiv region, south of the Kharkiv region that are sort of scoping the area out, while some of their other forces, already conducting strikes.

But it really seems as though the Russians are trying to take a different approach, than they did here, where they really rushed in, and really trying to move maybe not as fast, but probably then with way more force, than they did here.

TAPPER: Yes. They thought they were going to be greeted with rose petals.


TAPPER: Didn't work out that way!


TAPPER: Fred Pleitgen, thank you so much.

Now, to our conversation, with the top prosecutor, for the International Criminal Court, of The Hague, Karim Khan.

Mr. Khan visited the towns, of Bucha and Borodianka, this week, as part of his investigation, into possible Russian war crimes. He spoke with survivors, and families, of murdered civilians, as he pledges to get to the truth.

I spoke with him, earlier today.


TAPPER: Prosecutor Khan, thanks so much for doing this. Appreciate it.

So, you have been going around the country. You've been to Bucha. You've been to Borodianka. What have you seen? Have you seen anything that surprised you?


I think we have all been seeing the pictures, and reading the reports, regarding the devastation, the human cost, both to property, but really, most importantly, to civilians, men, women and children.

And so, it was an opportunity to see firsthand, to verify, to try to start a process of collection.

TAPPER: Putin is out there, saying, it's all fake. It's all a hoax.

You're seeing it with your own eyes.

KHAN: What we have to do, I think, the job, is to separate truth from falsehood. Truth always is said to be the first casualty of war. There's competing narratives. There's allegations and counter- allegations.

And, I think, this is why there's a role, an important role, for an independent prosecutors office. We don't have a political agenda. We're not in favor of Ukraine, and against Russia, or in favor of Russia, against Ukraine. We're in favor of humanity.

TAPPER: And you're not in a position, right now, where you are asserting, the Russian military, is committing horrific acts, or the Russian military, is committing war crimes, or, as President Biden said, Putin is committing genocide. That's not your role, right now.

You are an investigator, getting facts. And you're not ready, right now, to assign blame, one way or the other.

KHAN: Yes. I mean, I don't have the luxury of a politician, to speaking, in generalities. We have to have evidence, for every proposition, we put forward. And it requires deliberation. It requires, of course, some urgency, to get to the truth. But we're committed to that.

But, the principle of Nuremberg, the United States and Russia, as well as the other victorious powers, established a principle in Nuremberg that was very eloquently put in. The crimes are not - committed by men, not abstract entities.

So, we're not looking at Russia or Ukraine. Look at individuals, individuals who have power, mostly men, whether it's rape, or whether it's a gun, or whether it's a mortar, or whether it's a shell, or whether it's a missile, from an airplane, there are obligations, people cannot, under the laws of war, do what they want, with impunity.


TAPPER: How is it possible to go from just holding a private or a sergeant responsible, versus, this is systemic, they were told to do this? And it goes up the ladder. And you hold colonels, generals, commanders, President Putin, responsible. How does that work?

KHAN: The important thing is, I think it's, nobody is above the law, nobody's beneath it. But whether you're a private, or a captain, or a colonel, or a general or a civilian superior, the basic principles apply to you.

Nobody gets a jail-out-of-free card. Nobody gets a free pass. Every individual must act with responsibility, in their contact. And there is personal accountability. It's not a defense. Nuremberg established it. Superior orders is not a defense, it's not enough, to attack a civilian object, and attack women and children.

TAPPER: So, the reason that the Nazis were able to be tried at Nuremberg is because they were defeated, right? They lost.

It is likely that however this conflict ends, Putin will still be in power. Russia is not a signatory to the International Criminal Court. Neither is the United States, for that matter.

So, how can we guarantee that there will be some sort of justice, given the fact that Russia is not on board, with the ICC, and it's likely that the Kremlin, and all its leaders, will still be standing, when this conflict's over?

KHAN: We can't be naive about things. We need to be realistic. But first things first, collect the evidence, preserve it, analyze it, make determinations, based on what it shows. And those determinations can be checked by judges.

Now, in terms of the surrender of individuals? This is an issue, we've seen, before. Yes, you're quite right about the Allied powers, after the Second World War. But many arrest warrants were executed in the former Yugoslavia, when hostilities were going on.

So, it requires collective will. It requires political will. It requires a sense of responsibility not to abdicate that responsibility, over the next period. It may not be easy. But I do believe with collection - collective effort, the law can be vindicated. But time will tell.

And I take a really pragmatic view. We have to - and I have to, as the Prosecutor of the ICC, do my job. Judges then will do their jobs, and check in, and verify, and make determinations that we will respect.

This growing realization that a common front needs to be built, based upon legality, because it affects Ukraine, but it affects all parts of the world, because of the rules-based system, and the principles of public international law, that have to be rendered much more meaningful, not to judges, in their gowns, or advocates, in the courtroom, but to the men and women and children that you see, on the streets, and refugee camps that are completely innocent, and that suffer horrendous crimes, time and time and time again. And we tend to have not only short memories, but also an absence of shame.

TAPPER: Every year, on International Holocaust Memorial Day, I read these statements, from world leaders, "Never again! Never again!" And there's always a genocide going on. Whether Myanmar, or any of the other places that you've mentioned.

What do you say to somebody out there, who says, "It's all nonsense. They say "Never again," and then tens of thousands of Ukrainians get massacred. And the Western powers just sit back and, they send some arms, but they don't really get involved."

KHAN: I think it's incredibly difficult. You're spot on. It's a matter of shame. That what you say is true. But it is.

At the same time, it can't be hopeless. We can't give up hope, because we have lost domestically, and people commit murders, and whole variety of crimes. The issue should be collective will, to impose these standards, in practice. And it's about progress.

Yes, the world is full of contradictions, and hypocrisies, and double standards. I accept that. But generally, if you look where we are, today, in terms of the relevance of international law, and international criminal law, for all its defects, and shortcomings, I think, objectively, we're in a better place than we were in the 1980s or the 1990s.

And, I think, if we keep working, if we don't give up hope, but be realistic, and try to improve the compliance, with the law, we'll make progress. And Utopia doesn't exist in practice. It's about trying to keep progressing in a way that is meaningful. And we don't stop.

TAPPER: Thank you so much for your time, today. I appreciate it.

KHAN: Thanks so much. Thanks, Jake.

(END VIDEOTAPE) TAPPER: The Russians have been attacking civilian areas, throughout this invasion. We've been showing you their horrific scenes, in Mariupol, for weeks. And the city remains under assault. So many still trapped there.

You're about to hear, from one woman, who managed to escape, as the bombs fell. That's next.



TAPPER: We're back now, live, from Kyiv.

Even as Russia intensifies efforts, to take over the southern city of Mariupol, Ukraine says that that port town has not yet fallen. Officials say the last two remaining Ukrainian military units there have recently joined forces, after risking a maneuver, to link up.

The port city is now a symbol of resistance, even as Russian forces reduced it to rubble. The Mayor of Mariupol says 180,000 people are believed to be trapped in the town. Those who escaped, offer a harrowing view, of what life is like there, and how dangerous it can be, to even just try to leave.

CNN's Ed Lavandera joins us now.

And Ed, you spoke with a survivor, who had a truly frightening experience, trying to escape.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake, and this was an escape that happened several weeks ago. So, you can imagine about how much worse things have gotten.

But this was also an escape that went horribly wrong.



LAVANDERA (voice-over): When the first bomb, struck Mariupol, Katya Erskaya thought, her most effective weapon, would be a gentle smile, and the ability to calm terrified families. She lived in an underground shelter, coordinating relief supplies, for the trapped civilians, of this besieged city.

LAVANDERA (on camera): So, you're watching your city, get bombed and destroyed. People are being killed. You decide not to leave, but to help?

KATYA ERSKAYA, ESCAPED MARIUPOL: It's horrible that animus (ph) didn't allow even children to go out from the city.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Day by day, the video Katya captured, showed life, in Mariupol, unraveling. She lost touch, with the outside world. None of her family, and friends, outside the city, knew if she was alive or dead. Life here was falling into an abyss.

ERSKAYA: It was like Middle Age.

LAVANDERA (on camera): Like the Middle Ages?


LAVANDERA (on camera): It's almost like you could feel yourself running out of time. There was only so much longer you could stay in Mariupol.

ERSKAYA: I thought I will never go from Mariupol until the end.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): On March 16, Katya evacuated. She recorded two short videos, on her way out, just before seeing a family, walking on the side of the road, a mother, grandmother, and two young girls.

ERSKAYA: We had two free places in our car, and we saw this family, and we decided to help them.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): At one of the Russian military checkpoints, they stopped in front of a soldier.

ERSKAYA: And his - show us, "Go out." And we began to turn on our car. And after that, he began to shoot.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): One of the bullets pierced the car, over her head.

LAVANDERA (on camera): But, in the backseat, was 11-year-old Milena Urolova (ph), shot in the face. The Russians, realizing their mistake, sent the girl, to a hospital.

Katya, now separated, traveled on, without knowing if the young girl survived. Until?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One, two, three, four, five, six, seven.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): CNN found Milena (ph), in the basement, of a children's hospital, in eastern Ukraine, after surviving life-saving surgery. For Katya, the relief is overwhelmed, by the horrors, of what she witnessed.

ERSKAYA: I saw a lot of dead people, a lot of common graves, on the street, for example, in my yard. And I started to believe that they're crazy, because they were like maniacs.

LAVANDERA (on camera): They were maniacs to you?

ERSKAYA: Yes. They're really - they're really crazy, like Nazis, in the Second World War.


LAVANDERA (voice-over): After escaping, Katya remembered the videos, she recorded, before the Russians ravaged Mariupol. Ukrainians protesting outside the now-famous theater that in a matter of weeks would be the site of one of the most grotesque bombings, in this war.

The theater still intact, the city's buildings unscathed.


LAVANDERA (voice-over): She sees the peaceful faces of families and children. The video is hard to watch. Are these people alive, or left in makeshift graves, around the city?


LAVANDERA (voice-over): Katya Erskaya doesn't know. And, for her, there's only one way, to deal with this haunting reality.

ERSKAYA: I decided that I will cry only when the Ukrainian gets victory.


LAVANDERA: And Jake, this is a reminder that the civilian crisis, in the Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine, still continues.

We've spent the last few days, reporting in rural areas. And a common sight is seeing convoys, of civilian vehicles, some buses, people driving away, from these Russian-occupied areas, many of them with white flags, hanging from the car, and signs that read, "Children," as they flee, to safer areas, in this country.


TAPPER: Ed, while U.S. officials agree that Mariupol is still contested, although the Russians certainly have the advantage, and they've been pounding the hell out of that port town, the Russians are also trying to win the narrative.

Russian state media airing this footage, Wednesday, which allegedly shows Ukrainian Marines, surrendering to Russian forces. We don't know if this is real or not.

What more can you tell us?

LAVANDERA: What we do know, is that there are - there were two units, or there are two Ukrainian military units, fighting off the Russians. They're left in that city.

Ukrainian military, reported yesterday, these units had converged. But in that joining Russian military, is saying in this video, and we should be clear that Russia has been engaged in a high-level propaganda game, for much of this war.


CNN is not in Mariupol. We're not embedded with Russian troops. But they claim to have taken more. The Russians have claimed of having taken more than 1,000 prisoners of war, in that city of Mariupol. The Ukrainian military that is in the ground there did acknowledge, in a statement, yesterday that some Ukrainian soldiers had deserted and essentially surrendered, in that fight. But we don't know if the extent is more than 1,000. That is a highly significant number. But that is as close as we can get to the reality, of what's going on there, in that city, right now.

TAPPER: Yes, the fog of war!

Ed Lavandera, thank you so much for that reporting. Appreciate it.

We want you to meet another remarkable Ukrainian, ahead. This one is a pastor, who is not only helping to lead others in prayer, here, in Kyiv. He also joined in on the fight for his beloved country, and is a volunteer battalion commander now.

Hear his incredible story. That's next.



TAPPER: Continuing now, live, from Kyiv.

The Ukrainian resolve, to fight back, against the Russian invasion, seems to only be growing stronger, with each day.

I want to introduce you to one of the remarkable faces, of this war, Oleg Magdych. He's a Ukrainian protestant pastor. He is a father of two, turned volunteer battalion commander.

While his wife, and youngest son, moved into western Ukraine, he chose to stay behind, to help train regular civilians, people, who had never even held a gun before, to, prepare for this fierce combat.

Oleg Magdych, thank you so much, for joining us. I really appreciate it. Let me just ask you, how you and your unit, had been doing, over the past few weeks.

OLEG MAGDYCH, UKRAINIAN PASTOR & VOLUNTEER BATTALION COMMANDER: Hi, thank you for having me, and giving me a chance to speak up, for my country, and for my people.

80 percent of my units are people that have never held a gun, in their hands, in their lives. They're ordinary a truck drivers, and lawyers, and you name it. And we've been through some intense training, for a couple of weeks.

And then, we spent some time, at the front lines, north of Kyiv. And that was a remarkable experience, for most of my guys. Thank God, everybody's alive, and no injured. At the moment, we're preparing to be deployed, to the south of Ukraine. And, in a few days, we're going to take off, and we're going to defend civilians, there.

TAPPER: I'm told, you have 120 people, under your command. And the volunteers range in age, from 18, to some folks, in their mid-70s? Is that right?

MAGDYCH: Yes, that's correct. Yes.

TAPPER: What do the people, in their mid-70s, are they capable - I mean, no, no offense to any seniors, out there. But I'm 53. And I don't know that I'd be capable of this. Are they able to keep up with you?

MAGDYCH: Yes. This one particular guy, he's been through four wars, with Russia, since 1991, in Georgia, and different former Soviet Republic countries. And actually, he's training my guys. He is sharing his experience. And he is doing a great job.

TAPPER: Sounds like a vital part of the team!

So, you posted video of the trenches that you and your unit had dug. What has it been like, training people, who have no combat experience, especially in such a short period of time?

MAGDYCH: Well, for the first few days, they are trying to argue with me, and trying to tell, why they shouldn't be doing what I'm telling them to do, like digging trenches. But I'm telling you, after the first shelling, everybody wants to dig trenches.

TAPPER: And while you're helping people, to physically prepare, for battle, for the kinetic war, you're also a pastor, and you're also helping them mentally, and psychologically, and spiritually, as well.

Tell me about how your faith, has helped you, help the people, around you, help, your battalion?

MAGDYCH: Honestly saying, I don't know what I would be doing, if not, if not my faith, and if not my relationship with Jesus, because I think that's what helps me, to hold on, and not to give up.

And this is my church, at the moment. I'm not only their commander. I'm their pastor. And they are asking me to pray for them, now. The first few days, I had to order them to pray. Now, they're asking me, to pray for them.

TAPPER: And your wife, we should mention, in the western part of the country, she's helping internally-displaced Ukrainians. And your youngest son has also joined the Territorial Defense Force, there. How are they doing? What's been the impact, of all of this, on them?

MAGDYCH: My wife is my hero. Excuse me.

TAPPER: Take your time.

MAGDYCH: So, at the moment, my wife is taking care of 300-plus refugees that are coming every single days, to the western Ukraine, from those occupied territories.


And she's not only helping them with food and lodging. She's working with women, and kids, specifically, trying to provide psychological help, to them. And recently, she took responsibility, for some elderly people that have been replaced, from the occupied territories.

So, she's my hero. She didn't want to go to Europe. She decided to stay in Ukraine, and wait for the victory, there.

TAPPER: She sounds like a remarkable woman!

How's your son doing?

MAGDYCH: My son badly wants to be with me. But I told him that he has more important task. He has to take care of his mom. So, that's what he is doing, at the moment.

TAPPER: Well, Oleg Magdych, it's just been an absolute honor, to talk to you, this evening. And I'm wishing the best, for you, and your beautiful family, and, of course, for the people of Ukraine. Thanks for your time tonight.

MAGDYCH: Thank you so much. Thank you for giving me a chance, to tell everyone, about what's going on. Thank you for being our voice.

TAPPER: Thank you, sir. Like I said, it's my honor.

Coming up, how much will this war change, if Ukraine is indeed responsible, for having taken out that Russian warship?

Plus, the CIA's concern about Russia, Putin specifically, potentially turning to a tactical nuclear weapon. We're going to talk to a retired U.S. Army General, about that, next.



TAPPER: A haunting scenario, from the CIA Director, today, about the possibility that Vladimir Putin could order the use of a tactical nuclear weapon, against Ukraine. Take a look.


BILL BURNS, CIA DIRECTOR: Given the potential desperation, of President Putin, and the Russian leadership, given the setbacks that they've faced, so far, militarily, none of us can take lightly the threat posed by a potential resort, to tactical nuclear weapons, or low-yield nuclear weapons.


TAPPER: With me, to discuss, is retired two-star Major General and CNN Military Analyst, Dana Pittard. He's also the Author of "Hunting the Caliphate."

General, thanks so much, for being with us.

The CIA Director also spoke of Putin's potential desperation. How likely, do you think it is that Putin could order the use of a tactical nuclear weapon, in Ukraine?


I would hope it's unlikely. But we already know that Putin has been isolated. There is a sense of desperation, because of the losses, the Russian forces in Ukraine.

But NATO and the U.S. must send an unequivocal message to Russia that any use of a nuclear weapon will start a nuclear war, even the use of a quote, "Tactical," unquote, nuclear weapon would be considered an act of nuclear war.

TAPPER: Russia's former President Dmitry Medvedev, who's currently on Russia's Security Council, he made threats over the potential expansion, of NATO.

As Sweden and Finland are interested, and maybe on the path to joining NATO, Medvedev said, today, if that happens, quote, it will no longer be possible to talk about non-nuclear status.

How worried should we be? Is there a real escalation threat, here?

PITTARD: I don't think so, in that area. I think, it's a lame attempt, to intimidate Finland and Sweden.

But just the opposite is occurring. Finland and Sweden, for the first time, in 70-some-odd years of neutrality, want to join NATO.

TAPPER: Yes. No - not exactly a strategic brilliance, by Putin, if he wanted to have Ukraine, to be allied with the Russians, if he wanted less of a NATO stronghold, in Europe.

You say that the U.S. and NATO need to take the strategic position, and force Russia, to react, rather than the U.S. and NATO reacting to Russia. Explain what you mean by that.

PITTARD: Yes. In fact, the United States and NATO must take much more active measures. Again, taking the strategic initiative, make Russia react to what we do, as opposed to vice versa. And there's a number of things we could be doing.

Whether it's declaring, along with the Government of Ukraine, western Ukraine, as a humanitarian assistance zone, and that would be from east of Kyiv, all the way south to Odessa, and that would be enforced on the ground, by NATO troops, and enforcing air and a no-fly zone? That is one thing.

Also, U.S. and NATO could also deploy Special Ops advisors, to assist the Ukrainians, in employing many of the weapons that NATO is giving them, so they can even be better-employed.

Of course, when you bring Special Ops, they'd bring other enablers, whether it's Intelligence, whether it's logistics, whether it's even airstrikes, which would be an escalation, but make Russia react to what we are doing. [21:45:00]

We can also push nations that are currently under Russia's thumb, whether it's Kazakhstan, in the east, Tajikistan, Georgia, even Belarus, to rebel against Russian rule. Again, that will bring dilemmas, for Putin and Russia. Their forces are dwindling. And they're trying to bring forces, from other areas, so, there's weakness in other areas.

TAPPER: Well, to play devil's advocate? I obviously don't have a position, one way or the other.

But to play devil's advocate, what you're proposing, in terms of the humanitarian corridors, in the western part of Ukraine, or special operators, advising and assisting, would almost certainly lead to a U.S. service member being wounded, or killed, by Russian troops, I mean, if history is any guide.

And then, all of a sudden, what Joe Biden - President Biden has said he doesn't want, World War III.

PITTARD: Again, I'm not sure that would cause World War III. But what it would, would reinforce something President Biden has said, is that it is a battle, between democracy, freedom-loving nations, and autocracy.

And, right now, what we're doing is helpful to Ukraine. But is that enough? What we want to see, ideally, is for Ukraine to win, and Russia, to go back, into Russia, and honor the borders of a sovereign, free, nation of Ukraine.

TAPPER: General Dana Pittard, thank you so much, for your thoughts, this evening. It's always good to have you on.

Coming up, train lines are lifelines, especially for those trying to escape the worst of this war, especially with those, who have been wounded, by the Russians.

We visit with Ukrainians making their escape, we see how doctors are turning some railcars, into makeshift ambulances, even hospital rooms. That's next.



TAPPER: We're back, in Kyiv, Ukraine's capital city, where thousands of Ukrainians have been traveling to, on their way out west, since the war started, trying to get to safety, fighting. And Russian checkpoints have made roads, virtually impassable, in places. Flying, of course, out of the question.

The safest way to get to safety, to get to the west, to get away from the Russians, is by train. Yet, as we know, from incidents, like last week's deadly attack, at the Kramatorsk train station, even that is not truly safe. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER (voice-over): Close to 6,000 war crimes, being investigated. Potentially tens of thousands massacred. And Russia repositioning for a new assault.

These Ukrainians are not waiting for what's next.

SVETLANA, TOOK EVACUATION TRAIN FROM KHARKIV REGION (through translator): A week ago, we were thinking and hoping that it would stop. It will be calmer. But it didn't change.

TAPPER (voice-over): Less than a week, after Russia bombed, a crowded railway platform, in Kramatorsk, those lucky enough, to evacuate, on these trains, believe the ride was worth the risk.

With air travel, now, non-existent, and unexploded bombs, and Russian checkpoints, on the roads, trains remain the safest way, to flee.

MARINA, MOTHER OF TWO FROM SOUTHEASTERN UKRAINE (through translator): It's not only the question of shelling, but the question of safety that some people may come, and just take you away. We can't stay.

TAPPER (voice-over): Baby Maxim (ph) and, his mother, Marina, are from Zaporizhzhia. But plan to wait out the war, in Germany.

Outside the main Lviv train station, volunteers, at this booth, answer questions, and help coordinate transportation, and safe housing, in Germany, Poland, Lviv, and more.

Where most want to go is back in time.

VIDA, EVACUATED FROM BUCHA (through translator): We want as soon as possible to continue living as before.

TAPPER (voice-over): Vida, and her husband, are just two of nearly 4 million Ukrainians, the Railway says, it has evacuated, since the Russian invasion began.

VIDA (through translator): People say, on the internet, that anything can happen, even here. So, we hope it will be easy. We left everything behind.

TAPPER (on camera): Thousands and thousands of Ukrainians, fleeing their hometowns, come here, to the Lviv train station. They try to get accommodations. They can get food, here, from the World Central Kitchen.

There's a fire over there, a wood burning stove, heating up water. People have just come with whatever belongings they can take, and their loved ones, just trying to get to someplace safe.

TAPPER (voice-over): Away from the crowds, at a smaller train station, nearby, the most fragile passengers, have their own carefully coordinated welcome. TAPPER (on camera): Doctors Without Borders, arranged this train. There were a few cars, with kids, from an orphanage. And now, in these remaining cars, there are 10 people, nine of them children, almost all of them wounded, in the attack, on Kramatorsk. They're getting off the train, and getting into these ambulances.

TAPPER (voice-over): This was not the arrival, they imagined, when they came to the Kramatorsk railway station, last Friday.

But after Russians targeted the crowd, on that platform, many of these passengers, these children, suffered shrapnel wounds, so deep, surgery is required. Their train to Lviv is outfitted with medical equipment, in each car, as well as a team of doctors and nurses.

Dr. Stig Walravens was the ER physician, on board, for the 24-hour journey, overseeing some complex injuries, along the way.

STIG WALRAVENS, ER PHYSICIAN, DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS: Somebody had actually a pneumothorax, which is air, in between the lung and the chest. Was due to actually a penetrating trauma of a blast.

TAPPER (on camera): These are the kinds of wounds that normally you see in - normally one expects to see in soldiers, not in children?

WALRAVENS: You expect to see that in war-struck areas, where civilians are also close to the firing line.

TAPPER (on camera): Pretty - pretty tough stuff, to see kids, hurt like that?

WALRAVENS: Always remains tough, yes.


TAPPER (voice-over): He says his team has been going back-and-forth, on these kinds of medical transports, for 10 days.

This group of some of Putin's youngest victims, safe, for now, and headed for more care.

Back at the main terminal, the trains, keep chugging, in and out, and across the country, bringing Ukrainians, from the besieged south, and the east, to Lviv, where they can have the small luxury, of a moment, to cry.


TAPPER: We were asked, by the authorities there, to not show you, the orphans, and to not show you the kids, who were so grievously injured, in the Kramatorsk attack. And we honored the wishes. But, I have to tell you, having been there that was - that was tough to see.

We'll be right back.


TAPPER: Thanks so much, for watching us, live, here, in Kyiv, Ukraine.

I'll see you, tomorrow afternoon, on "THE LEAD," live from Ukraine, beginning at 4 P.M. Eastern.

And please join me for "STATE OF THE UNION," live, from Ukraine, this Sunday. That will begin at 9 A.M. Eastern.

"DON LEMON TONIGHT" starts right now.

Hey, Don?