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CNN TONIGHT: Ukrainian Commander In Mariupol: "We Appeal To The World Leaders To Help Us"; Former Putin Adviser: Russian Energy Embargo Could End War Within One Month; Florida Rejects New Math Textbooks, Citing "Prohibited Topics". Aired 9-10p ET

Aired April 19, 2022 - 21:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CO-HOST: Thanks so much, Anderson.

This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Jim Sciutto, as Anderson said, live, from Lviv, Ukraine, along with my good friend, Laura Coates, back in the U.S.

And there is, tonight, very dire news. Out of the besieged city of Mariupol, in the south, of this country, hundreds of Ukrainian civilians, including women, and children, as well as soldiers, surrounded, by Russian forces, and fearing for their lives.

A Ukrainian marine commander, is now pleading, with the world, for help, calling, for an international evacuation effort, there. He says, and I'm quoting, it may be his very "Last statement," because Ukrainian forces have, in his words, "A few days, or even a few hours," left there. He said, "We are surrounded."

You're about to see that desperate plea, in just a moment.

We do know there is a, quote, unprecedented effort, by the U.S., as we speak, to raise yet more weapons, to Ukraine, in a critical new phase, of the Russian invasion.

And we're learning tonight that President Biden is likely to announce another $800 million, in security assistance, that means weapons, for Ukraine, soon, to add to some $800 million, he approved, just last week. This, as Russia intensifies, and expands, its assault, on the Donbas region, in the eastern part of this country.

LAURA COATES, CNN CO-HOST, CNN TONIGHT: Jim, I know Russia hasn't agreed to open any humanitarian corridors, for quite some time, which is of course, leaving so many civilians, still trapped, by this bombardment.

So, what's President Zelenskyy's take tonight? Quote, "Forever, the Russian army will be written in history as the most barbaric and inhumane army in the world."

And this hour, we're also going to address the major fallout, over a very different kind of fight, for freedom, the freedom to no longer mask up, on public transportation, after a federal judge has struck down the CDC's mandate, just yesterday. It's been very welcome news, for many. But a very worrisome news, for others, as this pandemic is clearly not over.

Hundreds are still dying, from COVID, every day. So, should Americans keep masking up, mandate or not? You're going to hear President Biden's answer to that, ahead.

But first, let's turn back to this last stand of sorts, for Mariupol.

Jim, what else do we know about how long Ukrainian forces can really hold up, and hold on to that steel plant?

SCIUTTO: The steel plant has become an unlikely lifeboat, for these people, here. And it is soldiers, the last defenders of this city. But it's civilians, perhaps a 1,000 civilians. And we've seen pictures of them, there, taking refuge, in the basement, of this steel plant, women and children. They're running out of food.

So, the Commander of Ukraine's 36th Separate Marine Brigade, who is hunkering down there, as well, he warned, today, Russian forces are advancing. They are bombing. And they don't have much time left.

Have a listen.


MAJ. SERHII VOLYNA, UKRAINE'S 36TH SEPARATE MARINE BRIGADE (through translator): This is our statement to the world. It may be our last statement. We might have only a few days, or even hours, left.

The enemy's units are 10 times larger than ours. They have supremacy in the air, artillery, and units that are dislocated on the ground, equipment, and tanks.

We are defending one site, at the plant where military units are located of the Mariupol garrison and civilians who were trapped in this war.

We appeal to the world leaders to help us. We appeal with the request to carry out the extraction procedure and transfer us to the territory of a third country.

The Mariupol military garrison has over 500 wounded soldiers and hundreds of civilians among whom there are children and women.

We ask to provide safety for us in a third country. Thank you.


SCIUTTO: You can see, in his eyes, Laura, that this is a plea, for his life, and the lives of the other people there, taking shelter. And I have to say, having covered this war, for weeks, now, this is not happening, in the dark, right?

COATES: Yes. SCIUTTO: I mean, we're seeing these assaults, often, on civilians, right before our eyes. And here is yet one more case of this. And frankly, tonight, the fate of those people, very much hangs in the balance.

COATES: I mean, the desperation, just thinking about that, and from a human element? We talk about the humanitarian crisis, of those, who are refugees, going to different borders. But the feeling of being surrounded, and actually saying, you don't know how much time you have left, talking about the wounded, a plea to get them to safety?

I mean, President Biden held another call, with U.S. allies, today.


COATES: Jim, how are those conversations having an impact, on the ground, where you are? I mean, obviously, the appeal that went out, is going to the Western Allies, to the U.S. and beyond.

SCIUTTO: Yes. It's having an effect, in terms of getting more weapons, to the Ukrainian military. And we see that, tonight. There was nearly a billion dollars in new U.S. aid, last week.


And here we are, just a few days later. And another nearly a billion dollar tranche of weapons. And those are weapons - these are real, hardcore weapons, going out, to the Ukrainians, fighting on those front lines here.

But the truth is, as that commander said, Russian forces greatly outnumber Ukrainian forces. So, they're still able to do a tremendous amount of damage. And, by the way, as they do it, they're deliberately targeting civilians.

Earlier today, I spoke to the U.N. - to the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. And I said, "Listen, I get the stance that you are trying to make there, and the weapons support that the U.S. is sending. But the fact is, civilians are still dying here, in numbers. What's the relevance, for instance of a body, like the U.N. today?"

Have a listen to what she had to say.


SCIUTTO: If the U.N. cannot stop a war, in the 21st Century, in which we're witnessing war crimes, perhaps every day, here, if it cannot do that, what was the U.S. - U.N.'s true influence, today?

LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: That's an extraordinarily important question. And it's one that we grapple with, every single day, at the United Nations.

But we do have the power. We have the power to blunt the Russian veto, we have the power to isolate Russia, which we have successfully done, over the course of this war. We have isolated them, in the Security Council, and as you know, in the General Assembly.


SCIUTTO: Isolate, but not yet stopped. That is the hard fact, of this war, as we continue to watch it play out.

I'm joined now by Arseniy Yatsenyuk. He's the former Prime Minister of Ukraine.

Sir, thanks so much, for joining us, tonight.


SCIUTTO: I wonder what your reaction is, to hear the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., there, saying, the U.S., its allies, have been successful, in isolating Russia. And that's true, largely, although Russia certainly has its allies.

But given the brutality, of what we're seeing here, is the world failing, is the U.S. failing, to stop this?

YATSENYUK: Well, here is the thing. Let's be frank. The post-Second World War order is outdated. Period. So, what is needed, right now? We need to upgrade, and actually to craft a new kind of humane freedom, like a global order.

I'm not sure that the U.N. is really effective, right now. Even more, let me avoid all these political correctiveness. The U.N. is a very good body, but which is not effective one. They can't stop massacre. They can't bring to justice, those who committed crimes against humanity. They can't bring to justice, Putin, who is a Nazi-style leader.

In terms of the U.S., this is the second part of your question, I want to be very clear. The U.S. is the flagship, who decided to fight, for freedom in the world, and support Ukrainian people.

And the U.S. administration managed to solidify and actually to make joint efforts, of the European Union, of the entire G7, and the Free World, to join our ranks, in order to help Ukraine. This is unprecedented, let me be very clear, unprecedented pace and unprecedented endeavors, made by the U.S. and the Free World.

But Russia is a very big country, with nukes, which actually outnumbers us. So, we always, we are very clear, asking you. Please, supply more. Ratchet up sanctions. Isolate Russia. Make Russia to pay. And elaborate and craft a new mechanism, how to bring to justice, those responsible, starting with Putin, and ending with every single crony, of President Putin.

SCIUTTO: As you watch, what's unfolding in Mariupol, right now, yes, you have U.S. aid coming in, aid from NATO allies. You have investigations, at least underway, to prosecute war crimes, at some point in the future. But the trouble is, we're seeing evidence of war crimes, every day, here, right? I mean, you have 1,000 people or more, who might die tonight, right, if the Russians advance on that steel plant, in Mariupol.

Do you need, to see something, to stop these acts, as they're happening, right, as opposed to punish, those who carry them out, if they're still able to carry them out?

YATSENYUK: Well, a big drama and tragedy is unfolding. Those who defend Mariupol, I mean, Azov Battalion, and Ukrainian Marines, they are very courageous people. This is a tenacious resistance. And they are fighting like hell.


So, what we have, on the table? We have on the table a few options.

The key option is to consolidate the Western world, and to consolidate the Free World, and to pressing Russia, to provide a humanitarian corridor, for Ukrainian defenders. Another option is to duplicate (ph) Mariupol, and actually to, in this way, to help Ukrainian fighters, to withstand.

I still believe that there is the chance to save every single Ukrainian soldier, men and women, in the uniform, fighting in Mariupol, and to save innocent people, who are sheltering in this, one of the biggest steel plants, in Ukraine. So, I hope, and I pray for this.

SCIUTTO: Joe Biden says, tonight, he does not know, if he himself will visit Ukraine. As you know, the leader of the U.K. has come here. Many NATO allies, in the east, their leaders have come. And many countries are returning their diplomats, to Ukraine, a step that the U.S. has not taken yet.

Would it mean something, to you, to Ukrainians, for a high-level U.S. official, perhaps up to the President, to visit, and particularly for the U.S., as well, to return its diplomats, to the country?

YATSENYUK: The time will come when the President of the United States will pay the visit to Ukraine. And the time will come when the U.S. embassy will be back in Kyiv. No doubt.

What counts, for me, right now, and what counts, for Ukraine, is a very speedy and fast-track delivery, of lethal defensive and offensive weapon, strong sanctions, isolation of Russia, unity in the European Union. So, it's not just about visits. Visits, it's very important. What I would focus on, on real deliverables, tangible results.

And we do feel that the West already realized that this Nazi-style ruler, Putin is a threat, to the Free World. We, as Ukraine, we are fighting for our homeland. We are fighting for our country. But we are fighting, for your freedom, for your security, and for actually for the entire Free World.

SCIUTTO: It's a consistent message, we hear, from Ukrainian officials.

I do want to ask you, as the war shifts its focus - and, by the way, I always remind people that the war, on eastern Ukraine, began some eight years ago. It's not new. But it's going to be bigger now.

There's a greater concentration, of Russian forces, weapons, et cetera. And now, Ukrainian forces, as well. Is that a fight, Ukraine can win?

YATSENYUK: I am confident that this fight will be win by Ukrainians. So, this is the fight, of the Free World, and of Ukraine. Ukrainian victory is feasible. Ukrainian victory is real one.

And there is a very clear-cut, I won't say it is a playbook, but a recipe, or an action plan, how to support Ukraine, to win this fight. Weapon, sanctions, Russian isolation, energy embargo, and development and reconstruction plan, for Ukraine. Actually five points, which are on the table.

SCIUTTO: We'll be watching those steps, closely, to see if they continue.

Arseniy Yatsenyuk, former Ukrainian Prime Minister, thanks so much, for joining us, tonight.

YATSENYUK: Thank you, sir.

SCIUTTO: Well, this country, still at war, every day, has no time, to properly mourn the dead. Each day, bodies are being found, particularly, in Bucha, the sight of those mass graves, we've reported on extensively. As a result, some morgues are now struggling, to handle, to identify, the dead.

Phil Black, live, from Kyiv, on the tragedy, within this nightmare, when we return.



SCIUTTO: As if Putin's denials, of the atrocities, we have witnessed, in Bucha, are not enough, he has been even more galling.

This week, he awarded honors, to the army brigade, accused of committing the massacres, there. In a signed letter, he bestowed the unit, the honorary title of "Guards," and praised what he called, quote, "Great heroism and courage." "Great heroism and courage."

But the troops, who did this, they're not heroes. They are not courageous. The disturbing images, speak for themselves. The mass graves, there, are full of murdered civilians, streets strewn with the bodies, of civilians, killed by Russian forces.

CNN's Phil Black joins me now, from the capital, Kyiv.

Phil, it's been just over two weeks now, since Russian forces retreated, from the area. But people there are still struggling to recover, even take the step of identifying bodies.

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Jim. The killing, of so many people, behind Russian lines, created so much pain, but also a massive logistical problem.

There are so many bodies. And each needs to be recovered, accounted for, identified, examined, a cause of death established, and then, ultimately returned to the right grieving family. There is a huge operation, underway, to ensure all of that happens as efficiently, and respectfully, as possible.

But even still, there are families, left, waiting, enduring, painful uncertainty. Take a look.


BLACK (voice-over): Morgues aren't supposed to be busy. For so over capacity, they need a team of volunteers, to move bodies around, and large mobile refrigerators, to accommodate them.

This is one of seven sites, in and around Kyiv, working to cope, with the tide of death, left behind, by Russia's retreating forces.

BLACK (on camera): Are there still more bodies coming?


BLACK (on camera): Lots?

BILYAKOV: A lots, lots, every day, at morning.


BLACK (voice-over): Andrii Bilyakov, normally teaches forensic medicine. Now, he's a full-time volunteer, performing endless autopsies.

BLACK (on camera): But how many murders are you seeing?

BILYAKOV: Murders, I think, near to 40 percent, it's exactly not OK (ph).

BLACK (voice-over): By his definition, that means, 30 percent, of the people, in these bags, have deliberate gunshot wounds, to the head.

We witness a continuous cycle, shuffling bodies, from vehicles, to storage, to autopsy, to storage, and ultimately, preparation for burial. Usually, it will be their second. Most have been exhumed, from temporary graves.

Families buy new clothes, for those, they've lost, as a gesture of love, and respect. But they often go unworn. They can only be laid, inside the coffin. The condition of the bodies means dressing them is impossible. Among those lying here, waiting to be collected, is Roman Lipa. His family says, he was killed, when munitions struck his home, in a small remote village. Roman's wife, Victoria (ph), survived, only to endure a form of hell. Intense fighting meant she couldn't escape the house.


BLACK (voice-over): Victoria's (ph) brother, Ihor says, "My sister had to step over her husband's body, for two weeks. She had to go through it, to get to food or water. The room is still covered in blood."


BLACK (voice-over): "She is very bad now. Very bad."


BLACK (voice-over): "I don't know how she will live with this loss."

Others, who grieve, are living through, a different form of hell. They can't find the body of the person, they loved.

Volodomyr is searching for his brother, Leonard (ph).


BLACK (voice-over): He shows us where he was shot and killed.


BLACK (voice-over): Where he was buried, in a shallow makeshift grave, before officials exhumed the body, and took it away.

So Volodomyr, has taken leave, from active duty, to travel through devastated communities, going from morgue to morgue. But no one can help.

Eventually, he's directed to a police office, with a central list of the dead. He's told his brother probably hasn't been processed yet.

Volodomyr must return to the war. He doesn't know when he'll be able to come back, even if Leonard's (ph) body is found.


BLACK (voice-over): "It hurts a lot," he says.


BLACK (voice-over): "It hurts a lot. But we don't give up."


BLACK (voice-over): Russia has left so much death behind, in areas, near Kyiv, some people, must wait their turn, to grieve.


BLACK: Jim, in these morgues, you also see prosecutors, working, investigating recording individual crimes, determined they say, to ensure that somebody is held accountable. But they also know the reality. Russia is just not going to hand people over.

Vladimir Putin has essentially shown that, highlighted that, by awarding a specific military unit. This is the 64th Separate Guards Motor Rifle Brigade. This is a unit that the Ukrainian government says is responsible, specifically, for atrocities, committed in Bucha.

But according to this award, this is a unit that is deserving of commendation for courage, and bravery, and astute, bold action, here in Ukraine. These are soldiers that, in Ukraine, are considered war crimes - war criminals, I should say. But in Russia, are being celebrated, as heroes, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Phil, it is heartbreaking, to watch that story. It's a fact of war. It had to be extremely difficult, for you, and your team, to report that story, given what you're witnessing up close. But it's important, to put it on the record. Thank you.

We will have more on the war, in Ukraine, in just a moment.

But first, to a new normal. Back in America, a new mask-optional country, with the CDC's mandate now struck down. But for how long? And has this mandate been lifted too soon? Laura takes that up next.



COATES: We're learning tonight, that the Biden administration was left, well, scrambling, after they were apparently caught off guard, yesterday, when a federal court ruled, against its mask mandate, for public travel. That's according to sources, familiar with the discussions, who spoke to CNN.

Now, today, the DOJ announced that it would appeal that ruling, if, and that's a big "If," if the CDC determines that a mandate is, in fact, still necessary.

But President Biden is already weighing in on whether Americans should still mask up, while flying.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, should people continue to wear masks on planes?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you like to appeal the ruling, or the ruling that the judge made, striking down the mandate?

BIDEN: I haven't spoken to the CDC, yet. (END VIDEO CLIP)

COATES: Quite a change! So, what could that mean, for the future of the mask mandate? Let's discuss now with Dr. Zeke Emanuel, former member of the Biden Transition's COVID Advisory Board.

Dr. Emanuel, I'm glad that you're here. I think a lot of people have the question, when the CDC first announced, they're going to extend this particular mandate, a few more weeks. What was your justification, at that point in time, to have that extension, in the first place?


DR. ZEKE EMANUEL, FORMER MEMBER, BIDEN TRANSITION TEAM COVID-19 ADVISORY BOARD, VICE PROVOST OF GLOBAL INITIATIVES, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA: While we're in the Omicron BA.2 upswing, where we see extensive numbers of cases, in New England, Colorado, and other parts of the country, and you want to be sure that we're not facing a real surge, all throughout the country, before you lift the mask mandate? That would seem counterproductive, to combating transmission, of the virus.

COATES: I do see this chart you're talking about. And, of course, there is that notion, and we know that we're still very much in it. And frankly, there's still a Greek alphabet, to go, in terms, of these variants, and we don't know what's going to happen.

But, at the same time, most people are looking, and saying, "Well, listen, the rest of the country, is really opened up." You've got restaurants and ballgames and the like. And so, there is this juxtaposition, Doctor, from what's happening outside to what's happening on planes, and public transportation.

So, I'm wondering, in terms of the idea of lifting the mandates, given that number, is it that it's just grossly premature to do so? Or is it that when it comes to flying, and the sustained contact, in particular, that's when there has to still be the mandate?

EMANUEL: Well, I think, both are true. I think we - and on record, are saying, we lifted the mandate, too early, when things were improving, but not improved enough.

And second, you're absolutely right. When you have a high occupancy area, even with good ventilation, but you're going to be exposed, to someone, for a prolonged period of time? That's when transmission happens.

If someone's not wearing a mask, even if you're wearing a very high- quality mask, like this, an N95 mask, they're infected? You have about an hour, hour and 15 minutes of protection, from them.

On the other hand, if both of you are wearing good N95 masks, that goes up to six hours and 15 minutes. That's good enough for a cross- country flight. And that's, I think, the important difference. If you're prolonged, weather on a train, or a plane, exposure to someone, who's not wearing a mask, and they're infected? That spells bad news, even if you're wearing a mask.

COATES: Well, interestingly enough, the President of the United States, you just heard him say, when asked, whether people should still wear masks, he said, it's "Up to them."

And, of course, that makes me think about a common conversation that was happening, throughout the pandemic, about on whose responsibility it is, who does the onus fall on, to have to wear that mask.

And many would say, "Well, look, at this point in time, it's those who are having a suppressed immune system, in some way, or compromised. And so, those that require additional protection should be the ones to wear it. But to have a blanket rule onboard aircrafts, and the like, that's a bridge too far, without a logical justification."

I know that the judge was talking about this very issue, saying, "Listen, I know there's a notice and comment period, under the APA, to be able to have a rule, promulgated, having to have the notice. But also, you have to link it to why the mandate is still in effect, right now."

Do you think that there is a disconnect, in terms of what the CDC has been able to convey, to the public, about why it's essential, at this point in time, for the onus to be shared, among those, who are both compromised, and those who have really a medical altruism that must be enforced?

EMANUEL: Well, first of all, as I noted, it's not - I can't just protect myself.

If both of us wearing masks, the chances that an infection passes, from a positive person, to someone, who isn't infected, and say immune-compromised, goes, is prolonged, it's six hours.

If only one person, the receiving person, the immunocompromised person, is wearing a mask, and the other person isn't, and they're infected? That drops down to about one hour. That's a huge difference. We're all in this together. And my being infected can affect someone else.

But I do think you're right, in the other point, which is that the CDC has not laid out clear guidelines that the American public understands, for when we should lift the mask mandate, and when it should go back on. And, I think, that's what we're struggling with.

We're also struggling with the fact that we're all damn exhausted, from this thing, and we want it to be behind us. What we want does not necessarily match with reality. And that's a problem we have.

COATES: Well, that's part of the contemplation about whether to appeal this decision as well. We'll stay - we'll keep tuned, in to that very point. Thank you Dr. Zeke Emanuel.

I want to get back to Jim.

EMANUEL: Thank you.

COATES: Thank you.

I want to get back to Jim, in Ukraine. Jim?

SCIUTTO: Thanks, Laura.

Britain, Canada, New Zealand, just some of the countries, taking new economic measures, today, to squeeze Russia.

But up next, I'm going to speak to a former adviser, to Vladimir Putin, himself. He has one step he believes that could stop the war, within a month. That's coming up.



SCIUTTO: Even as multiple sources tell CNN, tonight, that the U.S. is preparing another $800 million, in weapons, for the Ukrainian military, the number that may matter more, to Vladimir Putin, is $38 billion. The E.U. has spent at least that much, on Russian energy, just since the war began.

My next guest knows the impact, the money will have, on the mind of the Russian leader. Andrei Illarionov is Putin's former Chief Economic Adviser.

Andrei, good to have you on, tonight.


SCIUTTO: You worked with Vladimir Putin, at a time, back in the 2000s, when he seemed to be interested, in moving, closer to the West. What have you seen changed, in him, since then, that has led to where we are right now?

ILLARIONOV: The most serious evolution, or maybe, better to say, devolution, of his attitude, has happened between year 2003 and year 2007, when he has changed his mind, from pretty pro-Western political leader, especially for the Russian situation, to very open anti- Western leader. That happened in this period of time.


We can discuss what exactly - what exact factors did contribute to these change in minds. I would say probably one of this was Iraq War, revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine. And also, exposition to new ideas that he'd never heard before. But some, we need to say, some Americans told him, these wrong ideas that he took as a weapon, and started to use, from year 2007.

SCIUTTO: What ideas, exactly?

ILLARIONOV: The idea of against NATO, against membership, of Georgia and Ukraine, in NATO - in NATO. The ideas to bring NATO back to 1997 division line, in Europe. And idea of superpowers that are having spheres of privileged interests. In the beginning of year 2000, Putin did not have such ideas. But he has acquired those ideas--


ILLARIONOV: --around year 2005 to year 2007.

SCIUTTO: Well, we're seeing those ideas, in action, now, on the ground, in Ukraine, with ruthless effects.

What would make a difference, for him? What would actually stop him? He's been under sanction, for years. Is there one sanction that would make a difference?

ILLARIONOV: In this particular situation, I would propose something that I would call a smart embargo, on Russian energy.

What do we have right now, we have three serious problems, at the same time.

First of all, Putin does receive about $1 billion per day, as a result of export of Russian gas and oil.


ILLARIONOV: That is money that is financing Putin's war machine.

Second, these Putin's war machine is making a lot of damage. It made enormous damage, to Ukraine, which is measured by hundreds of billion dollars, on the Ukrainian territory. And those - Ukraine does need money, to restore and repair all these damages.

And third, we need to give some time, to Europe, to adjust to new situation, where Europe would be able to avoid import and consumption of Russian energy.

What would be the golden instruments to solve this puzzle? The idea is to introduce the so-called smart embargo. What does it mean? It means introduction of the escrow accounts, for which all proceeds, from Russian oil and gas, will be accumulated, but will not be given back to Putin.

These money can be used, until the end of the war, until withdrawal of Russian troops, from Ukraine, for financing, reparation, restoration, rehabilitation of Ukraine. And it gives time for Europe, to adjust, to new situation, without Russian energy.

We can think that if some portion of this money, let's say 50 percent will be going to Ukraine, it will be substantial support, for Ukrainian efforts, to resist aggression, and to normalize life, in Ukraine cities and villages.

SCIUTTO: There's been a lot of speculation, in the West, as to whether Putin can survive this, at home, set aside the Russian public, but just inside the Kremlin. You worked for Putin. Is there any potential, for someone, challenging his leadership? The military? Someone else? Is that realistic?

ILLARIONOV: I think we need to come to a very clear idea that with all problems with Putin personally, the most serious problem is with the Putin's political regime. And that is why we need to absolutely serious that with such a political regime, with Putin or without Putin, Russia, will remain threat to international peace and security.

So, that is why we need to think about, not only leave with Russia, without Putin, but without Putin's political regime. No matter how long and how difficult it will be, but that should be a goal for international community.

It - world cannot live in peace and security, if we have such an aggressor, who's attacking neighboring countries, and not only neighboring countries, killing--



ILLARIONOV: --hundreds of thousands people, in Chechnya, in Georgia--


ILLARIONOV: --in Ukraine, in Syria, in Africa, around the world.

SCIUTTO: Yes. We're witnessing it every day.

Andrei Illarionov, thanks so much, for giving us, your insight.

ILLARIONOV: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: And I'll be back, live, from Ukraine, in just a few minutes.

But up next, new controversy, about what exactly, to teach, American children. Florida has rejected an historic number of textbooks, over claims of Critical Race Theory, Common Core, and more.

Laura will speak to a teacher, who fears, what this means, for his students. That's coming up.



COATES: So, Florida Governor, Ron DeSantis, is now taking his culture war, to a new level. This time, targeting textbooks, because he is rejecting 41 percent of math textbooks, for next year's curriculum. And that's the highest percentage, in Florida's entire history. Officials are claiming that, here's a quote, that they are rejecting publishers' attempts, to indoctrinate students, with prohibited topics, like Common Core Standards, Critical Race Theory and Social Emotional Learning.

But here's the catch. Even as the Department touts its own transparency, it still hasn't told people, which textbooks, are actually being rejected, nor has it offered, any examples, of offending content, within Florida.

Joining me now is Octavio Hernandez, a middle school algebra teacher, in Polk County, Florida.

Octavio, thank you for being here.

As we know, there seems to be a profound lack of transparency, in identifying the particular books that have been withheld, from the curriculum. But, in addition to talking about Critical Race Theory, and conversations about Social Emotional Learning, SEL, it seems that's the crux of the issue that has them, pointing fingers.

I'm wondering in terms of SEL, first of all, what exactly is that, for people to understand? And what role has that played, in a math curriculum, to date?

OCTAVIO HERNANDEZ, MIDDLE SCHOOL ALGEBRA TEACHER IN POLK COUNTY, FL: OK. Well, the SEL is basically skills that are necessary, to manage emotions, for these students. I mean, as you and I know, middle- schoolers are going through a lot of hormonal changes. And matter of fact, almost any age school student is going to have through some emotional changes, and they don't know how to manage it.

And you and I, Laura, both can admit that these last two years have been perhaps the worst, we have ever experienced, in a 100 years. And these children are now going through a war. We're going through a pandemic.

And now, we have a governor that's using them as pawns, in his political ideology. I mean, he's being cruel to them. I mean, these students have gone through so much. And now, you're going to use a new law that you created, to manage, what is being taught, in the classrooms, in a subject like math? That's just unheard of.

COATES: Well, Octavio, of course, he would argue that it's cruel to try to, in addition to all you've just addressed, to try to essentially pile on, and use math, as a vehicle, to have conversations that are not simply about getting the answer.

In fact, one of the things he said, and here is how he framed it, there's - well there's a sound bite, from DeSantis. Let's play it.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): You do have things like Social and Emotional Learning, and some of the other things that are more political in there. Math is about getting the right answer. And we want kids to learn to think, so they get the right answer. It's not about how you feel about the problem.


COATES: What's your reaction to that?


COATES: Is it just about getting the answer?

HERNANDEZ: Math is about critical thinking.

The thing I love about math, especially algebra, is you'd have to teach students, how to think, how to use their knowledge, of the real world, to solve some of these real-world problems. And how do you eliminate real world from math? Math is everywhere.

And he's using it - he's using a tool that's - it's perfect example. Math is black and white. He said it himself. It's about getting the right answer, right?

So, what exactly is in these textbooks that they were perfect for years, before, and all of a sudden, based on this new law, they're no longer good enough, or they're inappropriate, to teach our students?

This is only hurting them in the long run. They've already missed two years of a good education. And here, we are, delaying books that are supposed to be going, books that have worked in the past. And here we are. He's playing - he's using our students, as pawns, in a political jest, to rile up his base. That's it.

COATES: And I want to put up a thing, on the screen here. This is a diagram that I found that actually showcases the frame of the SEL philosophy.

And part of this chart, I don't know if you can see it, talks about aspects of self-management, relationship skills, self-awareness, social awareness, responsible decision-making. All of these parameters, it gets people to critically think.

And so, if you're conflating the issues of say, Critical Race Theory, or SEL, and saying that, "Hey, this does not require you to have anything besides a binary discussion, about right and wrong?" You say that this is having a huge impact on how students are able to learn, in other areas, as well?

HERNANDEZ: Well, of course. I mean, if you can't have social lessons, about life, how can you talk about what's going on? I mean, are we supposed to just ignore it?

If you separate that human connection, from the teacher, and the student body, then what do they need us for? I mean, obviously it doesn't work, if you're just teaching the subject? No. We're more. We're human beings. We need social interaction. And we teach the students more - now more than ever, how to handle that anger. How to handle?


HERNANDEZ: I mean, you and I both know, we've all gone through things. How many people do we know that have died, these students? I have had--

COATES: It's true.

HERNANDEZ: --over a dozen kids, in my two years, corrected (ph). And here we have a governor, using them. It's - that's why it's cruelty. They've gone through enough. And here he is, using them, as a political pawn.


HERNANDEZ: Leave them out of this!

COATES: Octavio, I hear you. Thank you so much.

We'll be right back.





ALEXEI NAVALNY, RUSSIAN OPPOSITION LEADER, LAWYER, & ANTI-CORRUPTION ACTIVIST (through translator): Vladimir Alexandrovich. It's Alexei Navalny calling, and I was hoping you could tell me why you wanted to kill me?

Hung up!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Remarkably, Vladimir Putin faces a legitimate opponent, Alexei Navalny.

NAVALNY: I don't want Putin being president.

NAVALNY (through translator): I will end war.

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

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Passengers heard Navalny cry out in agony.

NAVALNY: Come on? Poisoned? Seriously? (MUSIC)

NAVALNY: We are creating the coalition to fight this regime.

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

NAVALNY: It's very simple. "Never give up."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "NAVALNY," Sunday, at 9, on CNN, and streaming on CNN+.


COATES: Wow! I can't wait to watch "NAVALNY." It's coming up, this Sunday, at 9 P.M.


SCIUTTO: It is frightening. But it's inspiring. I was able to meet his wife and daughter. That family is making a brave, brave stand.

Thanks so much, Laura.

I'll be here, in Ukraine, tomorrow, for CNN TONIGHT, again. Laura will be reporting from Washington.

Meanwhile, "DON LEMON TONIGHT," starts right now.