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Ukraine Accuses Russia Of Genocide In Bombing Of Kids' Hospital; White House Warns Russia May Use Chemical Or Biological Weapons In Ukraine; Zelenskyy Says Hospital Strike Is Proof Of A Genocide Of Ukrainians; New Photo Surfaces Of Detained WNBA Star Before She Left For Russia; U.S. Gas Prices Spike More Than 60 Cents In A Week. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired March 09, 2022 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer next door in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'll see you tomorrow.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, Ukraine accuses of Russia of genocide, blaming Kremlin forces for the bombing of maternity and children hospitals that blasted a crater two stories deep. President Zelenskyy says there are children under the wreckage of shattered walls and broken glass and burnt-out cars.
The attack takes into horror of this war to a new level as images emerge of wounded pregnant women and bloodstained beds and cribs where young patients once slept.
Also breaking, a chilling new warning about Vladimir Putin's plans, the White House now says Russian forces may be preparing to use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine.
Our correspondents are on the frontlines in Ukraine and in other key locations as Russia's brutal war heads into the third week.
We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I am Wolf Blitzer and you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Tonight, we are getting powerful, new reaction to the bombing of that children's hospital in Southern Ukraine. President Zelenskyy claiming just a little while ago that the attack is proof, his word, proof, that genocide is happening in Ukraine. And he's doubling down on his accusation that Russia is committing war crimes.
CNN's Senior International Correspondent Sam Kiley is in the region for us. Sam, even after everything we've seen so far in this brutal war, this bombing certainly stands out as especially ruthless. SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, a new low but not an unpredictable low, if we look at the profligate disregard for civilian life that the Russians have shown so far. And if we look at the record of Vladimir Putin's, of course, particularly in Syria, where there was deliberate targeting of hospitals by Russian aircraft throughout his support there of President Assad. So, he's got form for this sort of attack, but even by his standards, it is a new low. This is what it looked like.
KILEY (voice over): We are really stretched. Whatever cars you have send them here. He says airstrike, maternity hospital, this was Russia's response to a global appeal for a cease-fire to evacuate a city of a million people, a bomb dropped next to a maternity hospital in Mariupol.
It is hospital number three. Inside, a frantic search for survivors. Early reports say there were more than a dozen injured, a miraculous outcome to an attempt to a mass killing at a place where lives should begin. Many women and children had already fled to underground bankers after a week of Russian bombardment.
Ukraine's president renewed his pleas for NATO to drive Russia from his nation's skies after the hospital airstrike.
VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: Everything that the occupiers do with Mariupol is already beyond atrocity. Europeans, Ukrainians, citizens of Mariupol, today, we must be united in condemning this war crime of Russia.
KILEY: Evacuations from other towns have been more successful but still very limited. Around 700 people, mostly women and children, were bused out of (INAUDIBLE) the site of Europe's biggest nuclear reactor which was captured recently by Russia.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The shops are empty, there is nothing there, not enough medical supplies. We are tired. We need to eat and rest.
KILEY: It may seem extraordinary but these are the lucky ones. They've escaped from a shadow of a nuclear power station and the clutches of Russian troops. But in comparison to what people are enduring in Mariupol, this is good fortune.
Yulia Karaulan volunteers in refugee center in Zaporizhzhia set out to receive people fleeing her home town of Mariupol. It is empty. She's been waiting a weeks for news from home of her husband, Afghani (ph), and Yassya (ph). This morning, she got a brief call.
KILEY: How is your daughter doing?
YULIA KARAULAN, RESIDENT OF MARIUPOL: My daughter told me she loves me.
KILEY: Of course she does.
KARAULAN: Actually how she's alive.
She's doing like all of the children doing now in Mariupol, almost no food, no drinking water, no electricity. It was minus five this night. They have no heat and electricity and cold basement in some coats.
KILEY: Families living in a bomb shelters with hundreds of others, she says, they can only survive another few days, then they will have to surface, perhaps to face more of this.
KILEY (on camera): Now Wolf, of course, the term, genocide, is much overused. It's a sign really of the rhetorical passion that the Ukrainian president feels because he feels so abandoned by the international community over what he says is their failure to impose a no-fly zone to prevent these sorts of continued atrocities and war crimes being committed, Wolf.
But, of course, NATO's fears and very clearly stated is that if they get involved, that could lead into something far more catastrophic. Wolf?
BLITZER: Sam Kiley on the scene for us, Sam, thank you for that report. Stay safe over there, please.
Let's go to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv right now where air raid sirens sounded just a short while ago. Our Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward is there for us.
Clarissa, you have been reporting on the devastating toll facing Ukrainians after the strike on the hospital. Is there any doubt that Putin is actually targeting civilians?
CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I think it is always really difficult to differentiate between actively targeting civilians and having a complete disregard for the lives of civilians.
But, certainly, when you look at some of the places that had been hit in the bombardment over the last week, particularly evacuation routes, where civilians were trying to flee to safety, apartment buildings, residential buildings, where people were just living with their families.
And what's very interesting and very telling and crucially important about this Mariupol maternity hospital is that several hours before this attack took place, the Russian foreign ministry spokesperson, Maria Zakharova, warned that, in her words, Ukrainian forces were using the hospital complex as a sort of launch pad for military activity. And she claimed at that moment that all staff and patients had been evacuated from that hospital in order to facilitate that military activity.
When you look at these images, Wolf, you can see very clearly that there are staff members, that there are patients, that there are children, that are heavily pregnant women, women who have just given birth, who are bloodied and injured and cut up and having their wounds assisted.
So, it appears in this case that the Russians understood that this was a hospital and it becomes very difficult to believe that they actually really genuinely thought that there were no patients and no staff inside that complex being treated.
Ultimately, as the mayor of Mariupol said, these are crimes that will have to go to The Hague, potentially, to the International Criminal Court, to decide. But as Sam pointed out as well in his reporting, we have seen this before in Syria, particularly, where we know concretely that Russian forces were actively targeting hospitals, Wolf.
BLITZER: You know, Clarissa, Mariupol, the city where this attack took place, was supposed to be under a cease-fire so that civilians could actually escape. Are any of these five so-called humanitarian corridors actually really safe?
WARD: Really safe is a difficult term to sort of categorize exactly, Wolf. I will say that here in Kyiv today, in the suburbs, which have been so hard hit, roughly 3,000 people, according to Ukrainian authorities and local officials here in Kyiv, were able to get out of some of those hardest hit areas. And there were reports that the bombardment in those areas was a little bit less than it had been before.
We also heard that quite a few people were able to escape the northern city of Sumy. Again, that has been the site of just some truly horrific bombardment. But if you look at the sort of broader picture and you look at Mariupol, in particular, where, for three straight days now, they have tried desperately to get these people out, to get humanitarian aid in, the shelling continues, the bombing continues and I don't think anyone can call it a truce cease-fire, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. There is no end in sight at least right now. Clarissa Ward, be careful over there as well. Clarissa is in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital.
On the heels of this awful, horrendous hospital bombing, the United States fears Russia may be planning that this another kind of horrific attack with chemical or biological weapons.
Let's go to our Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins.
She's following this breaking story for us. Kaitlin, so what are you hearing from the White House?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, it's a blunt warning coming from the White House tonight, saying that people should be prepared for Russia to potentially use a chemical or biological weapons attack in Ukraine or create a false flag operation using them. Now, this warning is coming from Press Secretary Jen Psaki in a thread tonight on Twitter. And we should give some context here, because this comes after several Russian officials have accused the United States in recent days of creating biological weapons in Ukraine.
The White House says tonight, this is false, they say this is a conspiracy theory that is being echoed by Chinese officials as well. And we know that this comes after just yesterday, a top state official testified saying that this is the trick in Vladimir Putin's book. They often accuse these countries or people of doing the very attack that he himself is planning on doing.
And that is why you are seeing this response from Jen Psaki tonight, from the White House tonight, warning that this is something that Russia could be prepared to be doing. They note that this is something that Russia has done in the past. They talk about the poisoning of Alexi Navalny. They say Russia has long and well-documented track record of using chemical weapons in attempted assignations. And they do fear that they may be well preparing to do that tonight.
And, Wolf, you will remember just a few weeks ago before Russia had actually invaded, we heard from Secretary of State Blinken, warning that they could use a fake or real chemical weapon attack as a pretext for invasion but now, of course, that invasion is underway and it appears that the White House is concerned once again that this is something that Putin could be preparing to do.
One of the things we should note, Wolf, this comes on the heels of the request from Ukrainian President Zelenskyy to provide Ukraine with more airplanes, he says that they need more aircraft if the U.S. and NATO are not going to create that no-fly zone over Ukraine. Tonight, the Pentagon is flatly rejecting a proposal by the Polish officials, by the Polish ministry to provide Ukraine with those planes. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right, Kaitlan, thank you very much, Kaitlan Collins reporting from the White House.
Let's discuss what's going on. Joining us now, the mayor of the southern Ukrainian City of Mykolaiv, Alexander Senkevich. Mayor Senkevich, thank you so much for joining us.
Do you share the White House's concern that Putin could potentially, actually use chemical or biological weapons against the Ukrainian people?
MAYOR ALEXANDER SENKEVICH, MYKOLAIV, UKRAINE: I wouldn't be surprised in that case. Actually, our city was bomb for three last days with cluster bombs, which are actually illegal. And the aim of these bombs is humans -- I mean humanity, not the machine, so something like buildings, but all -- everything that it is alive. So, they used cluster bombs to kill our people. I won't be surprised if they use chemical and et cetera.
BLITZER: We are seeing some truly, truly horrific images, Mayor, of a children's at maternity hospital in Mariupol bombed today. What is the situation on the ground in your city of Mykolaiv? SENKEVICH: Our city is almost circled by troops of Russian invaders. So, they come from Crimea, so the Kherson or less from eastern-south direction. And they close in a ring from the north sea (ph).
So, they bombed us, they made heavy bombardments the last few days. For example, today they shoot -- they shot the shelter for elderly. And, lucky, no one died today. And they have ruined about 140 buildings, different buildings in rural area and in flat buildings. But they don't come too close to us so our artillery can get them. So, they keep staying on about 20 or 25 miles from the city and bombing from that site.
BLITZER: How are your people in Mykolaiv, in your city, holding up during this truly terrifying assault?
SENKEVICH: I would say people are very motivated and they don't fight with, you know, civilians. They fight with Russian invaders. And they are really ready to put their lives to defend their mother land, their children, their women, their parents. So, they are really motivated. We arm them. The only problem that we have a territorial defense, troops that we gathered from the civil people and that they don't too much personal defense, like helmets and bulletproof vests, which we are trying to find and delivered to Ukraine from Poland and other countries.
And, for sure, they are really ready to fight until the last (INAUDIBLE).
BLITZER: Mayor Senkevich, good luck to you. Good luck to everyone, all the people in Ukraine. We will stay in touch. Thank you so much for joining us.
Just ahead, we'll have more on the threat of Russian chemical or biological attack in Ukraine, stay with us.
BLITZER: The breaking news tonight, new video of airstrikes in Zhytomyr, in Ukraine, just west of the capital, Kyiv, the city's mayor says the civilian building and a thermal power plant were hit in this latest attack.
Joining us now, Retired General John Kelly, he served as White House Chief of Staff and Homeland Security Secretary in the Trump administration. General, thank you so much for joining us.
The White House now is saying we should be on the lookout, everyone should be on the lookout for Russia potentially using chemical or biological weapons under the cover maybe of a false flag. Wouldn't that cross a red line potentially warranting a direct U.S. military response? GEN. JOHN KELLY (RET.), FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, first of all, let me hit Putin and his team have crossed so many red lines thus far. We can expect probably almost anything. Certainly, the use of chemical weapons is as bad as it could get next to nuclear use, of course. But, again, these are questions that the president and NATO when people like that have got to answer.
The U.S. military, the NATO military is ready, I'm sure, to go. They are very capable. But these are all issues at the highest level of governments, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. It's so, so dangerous. As Putin becomes even more frustrated we are told with the stalled Russians war effort in Ukraine, do you worry he could dial up -- actually dial up his assault on Ukrainian civilians?
KELLY: Well, I mean, it seems like he's already done that from day one. You know, when you do this kind of war planning, a responsible military avoid civilian casualties. And when you're doing your fire support planning, things like that, you actually put red zones over hospitals and orphanages and churches and power plants, particularly nuclear power plants.
So, it seems to me that with all of these places being hit day in and day out, there is no, in my mind, that's being done intentionally. And, of course, the Russians have always fought and done their business without real regard for destructions and the loss of civilian life.
BLITZER: As you know, President Zelenskyy, understandably, continues to plead with NATO to established a no-fly zone over Ukraine. The allies say that is not on the table. But some actually it's believes a so called limited, limited no-fly-zone protecting only humanitarian corridors, for example, could be a solution. What do you think, General?
KELLY: Well, you know, Wolf. I'm not privy to the kind of intelligence that other people that are in the government are privy to. I just -- I sympathize to say the least with the Ukrainians, we should do everything we can to help support them. They are so brave and so exceptional in what they are doing in how they are defending themselves. But the last thing we want this thing to do is grow into a conflagration that involves chemical weapons, nuclear weapons in a war, a serious World War III.
Again, we should support them in every way we can. I would like to think that somehow we could do something in the air, but, again, that's a very, very high level decision. It's got to be made by the political types because the next step is all-out war with Russia on the European continent. It is horrible.
BLITZER: That's clearly what they fear right now.
As you know the Ukrainian president, Zelenskyy, just a little while ago said he thinks Putin's threats of using nuclear weapons, he says, he thinks those threats are a bluff. In a new interview, he says it's -- and I am quoting him now, it's one thing to be a murderer, it's another to commit suicide. Do you think Putin is bluffing?
KELLY: Well, if it is, if he is bluffing, obviously, responsible men and women, decent men and women in the world have got to take this kind of thing seriously. You never know what someone like Putin when you back him into the wall, he's a tyrant, he's a dictator, clearly doesn't care about human rights and humanitarian issues. You back a guy like that against the wall and leave him no out, I think he will go down swinging and that would include very possibly the use of tactical nuclear weapons. I pray that's not the case, Wolf, as the world does.
BLITZER: Yes, we all do. You are absolutely right. Retired General John Kelly, thank you so much for joining us. A horrible situation unfolding over there.
There is more breaking news we are following. Before Russia invaded their country, they were orphans and foster children, now they are refugees as well.
BLITZER: More now on tonight's breaking news, the number of Ukrainian refugees now topping 2.1 million people. CNN Senior National Correspondent Sara Sidner is in Poland near the border with Ukraine.
SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The normal beautiful chaos of children at play, but these children had been through hell and back more than once in your young lives. Some are orphans, others foster children in Ukraine. And, suddenly, overnight, they became war refugees fleeing over the Polish border from Kyiv.
The youngest one says, I want to go home. I am telling him that he can't. It is scary there. He does not understand. This is the only woman they know as mama.
This is their comfort, their constant. She helped them escape Ukraine. But doing that meant leaving her own family behind and becoming a refugee herself.
I have a daughter and mother in Ukraine, I am worrying so much but these children should be safe.
Her daughter is staying behind to fight Russia as a member of the Ukraine's territorial defense. These children have been fighting for their place in the world from an early age. We are not showing their faces to protect them. And they're abused as well, actual physical abuse?
Before the war our children have been abused physically, psychologically, economically and sexually. They suffered. They did not have a childhood. Now in Poland, they are safe at the SOS children's village. But the trauma of war and abuse never really goes away, their long time mental health counselor says.
She's holding together to reassure the children even while they all hid in the basement with bombs exploding outside. It was around 4:00 A.M., I woke my husband and told them, (INAUDIBLE) this is war. We started to seal the windows, the children started to scream. I was trying to calm them, look at me briefed. We are going to seal the windows, everything is under control. Now, we need you to stop the panic and help us.
So far, SOS Children's Village says it has brought 107 orphans and foster children out of Ukraine, some children escaped without seeing war up close, others witnessed horrific scenes.
There is a girl, which is coming to us, she broke free from the hell of Irpin, a city that's been leveled and she witnessed a family being shot before her eyes. When she thinks of the man responsible for raining down bombs and bullets on her beloved country, her tears turn to rage. Putin is the second Hitler. It is serious. If the world doesn't stop him, there will be World War III.
Putin has said that he is going into Ukraine to kill Nazi's. You are saying that Putin is, in your mind, the new Hitler.
Yes, it is obvious now that he's not fighting Nazis.
While they are all grateful to escape to Poland, the children and adults all say they want one thing, to be able to cross the border home to a safe Ukraine.
SIDNER (on camera): And we have now learned that those who are crossing border, all of the refugees crossing the border, including orphans and foster children, there have now been 1.3 million people from Ukraine coming over the Polish border. Wolf?
BLITZER: You've got to give the Polish people a lot of credit for accepting 1.3 million refugees. Sara Sidner, thank you very much for that report.
Let's discuss what's going on with the Polish ambassador to the United States, Marek Magierowski, Ambassador, thank you so much for joining us.
It's an awful situation but how much worse could this refugee crisis get in the coming days and weeks?
MAREK MAGIEROWSKI, POLISH AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: Unfortunately, the numbers are growing exponentially. So, I am afraid that we will -- at a certain stage we will reach a critical point. So, it is important now to offer more financial and material assistance to Poland because we have been doing really great, extraordinarily dealing with this humanitarian crisis so far that, of course, Poland is filling up right now. And we are ready to absorb even more waves of refugees from Ukraine because it is our moral obligation.
But as you said, it has been a million and 300,000 people. It's a lot. And the last time we talked, I said that it was probably the only refugee crisis in Europe's history in which the host country does not have to build refugee camp, but that can change.
And, of course, we are ready, as I said, to admit many more refugees from Ukraine. But we also have to coordinate and to deepen our cooperation among all E.U. countries and also with the United States. And that's why, for example, I have been talking for the last couple of days with American -- with mayors of American cities and governors about this possibility, for instance, of relocations of some refugees from Poland.
It is a huge challenge both politically and logistically and technically, but I think we can do much more to ease up this tension and to help all those who flee their country, who flee Ukraine ravaged by war.
BLITZER: Yes. I've heard from several U.S. mayors and governors myself, they would like to help and like to absorb more of these refugees here in the United States as well.
Earlier this afternoon, as you know, Ambassador, we heard directly from the Pentagon that the U.S. does, I repeat, does not support the Polish proposal to transfer fighter jets to Ukraine. Is this deal completely dead now?
MAGIEROWSKI: I would like to remind you that at the very beginning of this debate about the Soviet-made fighter jets, we made it abundantly clear that we could not deplete our arsenal of combat aircraft by one- third without any backup and compensation.
The Polish president as well as the Polish prime minister have been pretty adamant and have reiterated on multiple occasions that we would not transferring these aircraft to Ukraine directly and we'll certainly not make such a decision unilaterally. We need a common effort.
But, of course, we are under immense pressure on the part of our allies and the public opinion also here in the United States. And we were acutely aware of all technical, legal and diplomatic consequences of such a move, which was risky, of course.
And that's why we came up with a logical, conscionable solution. Our American partners rejected this proposal because they have come to the conclusion that it was too escalatory. Well, we understand this. And I believe that we can continue coordinating our joint efforts with our American partners and with other NATO member states in order to help the Ukrainians to defend themselves as effectively as possible in terms of our military assistance. And this is what we need now, to emphasize again the unity and the cohesion of NATO. So, let's move on.
BLITZER: Well, good luck and we will stay in touch Ambassador and thanks, once again, to you and thanks to all the people of Poland for what you are doing and accepting and welcoming all these Ukrainian refugees, thanks very, very much for joining us.
MAGIEROWSKI: Thank you very much.
BLITZER: And to our viewers, this is very important, for information about how you can help, how you can help humanitarian efforts in Ukraine, go to cnn.com/impact and help impact your world. It's so important indeed.
Just ahead, the cost of gas here in the United States soars to a new record high. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: We are following breaking news, the bombing of a maternity and children's hospital in southern Ukraine. It's among the latest horrifying images coming out of the increasingly brutal Russian invasion including this video of the strike near Kyiv that killed a family of four.
Photojournalist Lynsey Addario was there earlier this week and took this truly searing photo of the victims, which was at the front page of The New York Times. Lynsey Addario is joining us now live from Kyiv. Lynsey thank you so much for joining us. Thanks for all your amazing terrific work.
Based on what you saw, what all of us saw today, based on what you've also seen in photograph, is there any doubt in your mind, Lynsey, that the Russian military is deliberately targeting Ukrainian civilians?
LYNSEY ADDARIO, PHOTOJOURNALIST: There is no doubt at all after what I witnessed on Sunday. I have covered war for 20 years in Afghanistan and Iraq and Syria, all around the world, and I am familiar of the way mortaring work. I watch them walk mortars on to the civilian paths where people were fleeing for their lives.
BLITZER: The picture you took of those children fleeing the violence, one child clutching a teddy bear, it's all so, so heartbreaking. How desperate is the plight, based on everything you're seeing, Lynsey, of these kids.
ADDARIO: I mean, this is sheer desperation. One of the things that so infuriated me while I was photographing Sunday before the mortar strike was watching little children run for their lives, being dragged by their parents, and, you know, in what should be a time when they were at schools. And, instead, they're running for their lives under mortar attack. I mean these are -- you know, this is absolutely criminal watching children's life uprooted and devastated. BLITZER: As you mentioned, you have been a war zone photographer, what, for more than 15 years, how does what you are seeing on the ground in Ukraine right now compare to your experience -- I know you mentioned other areas, conflict zone, like Syria, I know you were in South Sudan, elsewhere, Iraq and Afghanistan, give us a little bit more on how this current war in Ukraine compares.
ADDARIO: I mean, you know we have a situation where a country was just invaded before our very eyes for no reason. Civilians are being targeted. We are witnessing that across the country. You have journalists on the ground doing unbelievable work across the board bearing witness. And then you have President Putin denying to every single one of us that he is targeting civilians.
It is we, journalists on the ground documenting what we see, so there is no argument about that. And so I think it is really important to know that we are watching this in real-time.
BLITZER: And we are grateful to you and the other correspondents and photojournalists out there who are doing truly amazing work. You're also courageous indeed. Lynsey Addario, thanks so much for joining us. We will stay in touch with you, for sure.
There's more breaking news we're following right now, a new image just surfacing of WNBA Superstar Brittney Griner now detained in Russia.
Up next, how the country's attack in Ukraine is complicating efforts to get her and other Americans back home.
BLITZER: There's more breaking news we're following tonight. A new photo just surfacing of WNBA superstar Brittney Griner who has been detained in Russia.
CNN's Brian Todd is working this part of the story for us.
Brian, the invasion of Ukraine by the Russians impacting efforts to secure her release and two other U.S. citizens being held in Russia.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It certainly is, Wolf. One analyst telling us tonight there could not be a worse time more difficult negotiating environment than right now to try to get these American detainees home.
TODD (voice-over): New concerns tonight about the condition of three Americans being detained inside an increasingly isolated Russia and pressuring mounting for Russian President Vladimir Putin to release them. Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee saying she's working with the
Biden administration on the case of American basketball star Brittney Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, who the congresswoman believes has been held in Russia for about a month on drug smuggling charges after cannabis oil was discovered in her luggage at a Moscow airport. This appears to be one of the last pictures posted before she left for Moscow from the TWA hotel at JKF airport in mid-February.
Four days later, she's not seen in photos of her team's game. Analysts telling CNN Griner was traveling to Russia to play in a Russian league during the WNBA's off season because she can make more money there.
Congresswoman Lee says, quote: It is clear that Putin chooses to hold American citizens as pawns.
REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D-TX): Their lives are in jeopardy. Their health is in jeopardy. We don't know whether they make it.
TODD: The parents of former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed are very worried about his health tonight. They told CNN their son just called them this morning, that he's been coughing up blood and --
JOEY REED, FATHER OF TREVOR REED, DETAINED IN RUSSIA: He called, he could barely talk. He has some sort of accident and he might have broken a rib. So, he's now he's coughing and shooting pains in his chest.
TODD: Reed's family spoke with President Biden by phone yesterday and they say the president vowed to do all he can to get their son out. Trevor Reed was detained in 2019, sentenced to prison for endangering the lives of Russian police officers after a night of drinking, Russian authorities say. Charges with Reed's family and U.S. officials deny.
And there's another former U.S. Marine, Paul Whelan, who's been jailed in Russia since 2018 on espionage charges, which he and U.S. officials refute.
While the Biden team says it's working for the release of Griner, Reed, and Whelan, one congressman says with the war in Ukraine raging, and tensions boiling between Washington and Moscow --
REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D-CA): It's going to be very difficult. Our diplomatic relationships with Russia are nonexistent at the moment.
TODD: Analyst Phil Mudd says one possible bargaining chip is if the U.S. has Russian prisoners who Putin wants back.
PHILIP MUDD, FORMER CIA COUNTERTERRORISM OFFICIAL: The question is whether we have enough to trade for three Americans. But a deal is a deal, and Putin is going to be ready to make a deal. If we do have Russians that he wants, I don't see why it's worst avoiding a negotiation just because we're at war.
(END VIDEOTAPE) TODD (on camera): Paul Whelan's family is asking for his release to be part of part of Russian concessions for the possible removal of sanctions leveled against Russia. CNN has reached out but not gotten comments from the White House on that -- Wolf.
BLITTZER: Brian Todd reporting for us. Brian, thank you very much.
The breaking news continues next. The fallout in the United States from Russia's invasion of Ukraine, gas prices surging to yet another record high.
BLITZER: Russia's invasion of Ukraine helping send U.S. gas prices surging to another record high.
CNN business and politics correspondent Vanessa Yurkevich is joining us right now.
Vanessa, the price of gas is up more than 60 cents in just one week.
VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN BUSINESS & POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf. That is an eye-popping increase. We have a new record today, $4.25 for a gallon of gas. That's an eight cent increase overnight.
Now, this is coming after high inflation pushing as prices higher. Some analysts suggesting in next month, we could see $5 a gallon gas nationwide. Now, Wolf, we did see oil prices drop a little bit today after they surged yesterday on President Biden's announcement that we would stop importing Russian energy. With prices cooling today after the UAE announced that it would encourage OPEC. That's the nation's largest producing oil nations to release more oil into the global marketplace.
President Biden has tried to encourage that in the past to no avail. But if -- it's a big if, Wolf -- OPEC decides to release more oil, that could bring down prices here at the pump. But we're seeing it all over the country, Wolf, $4 a gallon for gas, $5 a gallon of gas. Right behind me, this is very painful for Americans as they are trying to sort out what is happening with the economy -- Wolf.
BLITZER: They are absolutely right.
Vanessa Yurkevich, reporting for us. Vanessa, thank you, very, very much.
The terrifying sounds of artillery and gunfire being heard across large swaths of Ukraine, those sounds were replaced briefly in the capital today as the Kyiv classic symphony orchestra performed what it called a concert for peace.
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BLITZER: So beautiful indeed. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.