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Pentagon Says, Russia In Early Stages Of New Offensive In East; Zelenskyy Says Tens Of Thousands Dead In Mariupol; Russia's Butcher Of Syria Taking Over War Against Ukraine; Philadelphia Renews Mark Mandate Amid Rising Cases. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired April 11, 2022 - 18:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer. He is in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'll see you in a few hours.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, new indications tonight that Russia is planning a major offensive in Eastern Ukraine. The Pentagon now says early signs point to Russian reinforcements arriving in the Donbas region in the south.

President Zelenskyy says tens of thousands of Ukrainians are dead inside the devastated city of Mariupol. Zelenskyy warns Kremlin forces won't let up their assault as they seek to make an example of these Ukrainians.

Also tonight, President Putin taps a Russian general known as the Butcher of Syria to lead his invasion now, sparking new fears of a bloody new phase in the war.

Our correspondents are covering all of today's news from Ukraine in key European capitals and over at the White House.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The horrific scale of death and destruction in Mariupol coming into sharper focus tonight. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says, and I'm quoting him now, tens of thousands are dead inside the besieged city and accuses Russia of trying to make an example of the Ukrainians who held out for weeks against the Russian bombardment. This as American officials now warn Kremlin forces are in the early stages of a major new offensive in the east.

Our Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward is standing by for us in Kyiv. Clarissa, the situation in Eastern Ukraine is especially dire tonight. What's the latest?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we are now getting a glimpse of new satellite images from Maxar that appear to show an eight-mile long Russian convoy moving to the east of the city of Kharkiv. That is Ukraine's second city, and bearing down south potentially to try to connect with other Russian forces moving up as they launch this offensive in the east. There's been an intensification of shelling in Luhansk, also in Donetsk, in Kharkiv, 66 reports of shelling in Kharkiv alone. 11 civilians killed according to local authorities including one child of just seven-years-old. And we know from Ukrainian authorities that some of the Russian troops being used for this offensive have been redeployed from close to where I am here in Kyiv in the northern area, where Russian forces were occupying territory in Chernihiv region for five weeks.

We traveled to two small villages where Russian forces were holding that territory for more than a month and found endless accounts of horror, of executions, of arbitrary detentions and more.


WARD (voice over): Ukrainian soldiers returning from the front. Jubilant after a humiliating defeat for Russian forces in the north. In the neighboring villages of Stari and Novi Yarylovychi, exhausted residents are emerging from their homes after five weeks of Russian occupation and the horrors that came with it.

On day four of the war, this peaceful community became a frontline and nowhere was off limits. Russian forces transformed the local school into their base. Principal Natalya Vovik(ph) shows us the carnage that was left behind.

She's saying that they were using this as a toilet as well.

The main entrance is now spattered with blood. A scene of heavy fighting, Russian soldiers took cover in classrooms and treated their wounded with whatever they could find.

So, you can see they were eating here. These are some Russian military rations, Armiya Rusi (ph), it says. Walking the ravaged hallways, Vovik (ph) says she is still in a state of shock. What wasn't destroyed was looted.

We are for education. Education is the future, our students, she says. It's such a shame that our occupiers didn't understand this. Why steal everything? This is a school.

In several classrooms, there were signs that some of the Russian soldiers felt ashamed of their actions. A message on a chalk board.

So, it says, forgive us, we didn't want this war.

But forgiveness will be hard to come by here.


At the local cemetery, Valentina takes us to the graves of six men who authorities say were executed by Russian forces on the day they arrived.

It's so hard to get over this, she says. They murdered them. Valentina says the Russian held on to the bodies for nine days before dumping them at the end of the village with instructions to bury them quickly. We dug very fast so they wouldn't shoot us, she says, but there was shooting over there and heavy shelling.

Among the dead, her neighbors, brothers, Igor and Oleg Yavon (ph). Outside the family home, we meet their mother, Olga. For days, she thought her sons were in hiding until a neighbor called her with the devastating news.

The agony and the grief are still very raw. They were very good boys, she says. How I want to see them again.

Do you have any idea why the Russians would kill your sons?

Who knows? There was a bridge that was blown up and somebody shot at a Russian drone, she says. The Russians were searching the village and rounded them up on the street, six boys. I don't know anything else.

A few streets away, Katarina Andrusia (ph) is also looking for answers. Her daughter, Victoria, a school teacher, was taken by Russian soldiers on March 25th. They said they found information on her phone about their forces, she says. They told me she was in a warm house, that she was working with them and she would be home soon. But Victoria never came home.

We hope that she will get in touch, Katarina (ph) says, with somebody, somewhere.

In this small community of 2,000, it seems no street has been spared. The invaders marked their newly seized territory with crude graffiti and battle markings.

Another Z on their fridge.

But brave residents, like Tomara (ph), carried out quiet acts of resistance. We kept it. We kept it, she says, showing us a Ukrainian flag given to her husband for his military service. We hid it, a bold risk in anticipation of this moment, when Russian troops would be forced to retreat and the villages would finally be free.


WARD (on camera): Now, those horrors that you saw there in Novi and Stari Yarylovychi and in so many villages and suburbs around this part of town really provide a window on to what is probably taking place in many other parts of Ukraine, Wolf, but so few journalists can get to these areas because there's heavy fighting, because many of these parts are under the control of Russian forces and, particularly, I think, you mentioned President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his impassioned appeal to the South Korean government to provide weapons, to provide airplanes, to prevent the kinds of atrocities. And he singled out Mariupol, that town -- that city, I should say, that port city of half a million people with the relentless bombardment has, in his words, resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands. We don't have any way of confirming that number, but, certainly, we have seen so many civilian targets bombed. We hear horror stories every day of what is going on there and there are fears that we're going to see more scenes like this playing out across the eastern part of the country as this offensive now begins, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. That's so heartbreaking to hear these stories. Clarissa Ward, stay safe over there, we will be in touch. She's on the scene for us in Kyiv. Thank you.

For the first time since Russia's invasion, a European leader met face-to-face with Vladimir Putin in Moscow.

For more on that, let's go to Brussels right now. Our International Diplomatic Editor Nic Robertson is joining us. So, what message did the Austrian chancellor have for Putin?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: He wanted to tell him the truth. He wanted to be able to look President Putin in the eye and tell him exactly what's happening on the ground in Ukraine, remembering that the Austrian chancellor just on Saturday was in Bucha looking at what he called the war crimes there.


He wanted to be able to tell President Putin that people would be held accountable for those war crimes, and he described his meeting with Putin as not very friendly.


KARL NEHAMMER, AUSTRIAN CHANCELLOR: Those direct talks were very open and tough. It was not a friendly visit. I really confronted the Russian president with the facts arising from the Ukraine war.


ROBERTSON: Yes. He told me exactly, he said, I've seen with my own eyes, I've seen with my own eyes, the immeasurable suffering of the Ukrainians at the hands of Russia's military aggression. So, he was very, very direct, he said, with President Putin. And he said he also told President Putin that as long as Ukrainians continue to be killed in Ukraine by Russian forces, he said the international community would continue to tighten and tighten sanctions on President Putin.

Now, he also said that he didn't feel that he achieved too much, that he didn't change the course of President Putin's thinking, but he said it was so important to deliver a humanitarian message, to tell the Russian leader to stop the war, to have a cease-fire and, at the very least, to open up humanitarian corridors. The reality as we see on the ground, Putin is just pushing his forces further and further into Ukraine, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, he is. All right, Nic Robertson in Brussels, thank you for that report. Let's go to the White House right now. CNN's M.J. Lee is joining us. M.J., the president, President Biden, met with the Indian prime minister today. India has not been willing to call out or criticize Russia for its atrocities. How did the president address that issue during their meeting today with the prime minister?

M.J. LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. This was a virtual meeting that lasted about an hour between President Biden and Prime Minister Modi of India. And looming over the meeting, as you point out, was the reality that India really has not been on the same page as the U.S. when it comes to Russia.

Just a few examples, of course, India, as you noted, has not explicitly condemned Russia for the atrocities in Ukraine. Just recently, we saw it abstain from voting to suspend Russia from the U.N. Human Rights Council. It is also continuing to purchase Russian oil, which, of course, the United States is no longer doing.

But what officials told reporters after that meeting is that President Biden did not make specific demands of India including in terms of taking a side in the conflict and asking it to stop buying Russian oil. Administration officials used words like candid and warm to describe that conversation. And White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki also said that the U.S. recognizes that every country will basically need to do what is in their best interest.

Now, just one more note on the Ukraine front, Wolf, the White House is also saying tonight that President Biden currently has no plans to travel himself to Ukraine. This comes, of course, after we saw over the weekend British Prime Minister Boris Johnson heading over to Ukraine and touring the capital city of Kyiv with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

These images were extremely striking to see the two leaders walking around together. Of course, I should note, President Biden in the past has expressed the desire to go to Ukraine himself to see with his very own eyes what has happened to the country. Wolf?

BLITZER: M.J. Lee at the White House for us. Thank you for that report.

Just ahead, CNN is on the scene of the deadly Russian strike on a train station full of fleeing civilians. Does the U.S. need to revise its support for Ukraine? I'll ask Congressman Adam Kinzinger of the Foreign Affairs Committee. We will be right back.



BLITZER: The death toll from the Russian missile strike on an eastern Ukrainian train station filled with people trying to flee the invasion has risen to at least 57 people. CNN Senior International Correspondent Ben Wedeman got a firsthand look at the horrific aftermath.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Here inside the station, more blood on the floor. Many of the wounded were dragged inside for fear there might be yet another blast.

This is the luggage of those who were killed and wounded left behind. There's more blood here on the floor. Clean up crews are just almost 48 hours after the blast coming to clean up, but here we see more glass on the floor. What happened here can only be described as a massacre.


BLITZER: Joining us now, Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois. He's a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the January 6th select committee, and he is also a Lieutenant Colonel in the Air National Guard, served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Congressman, thank you so much for joining us.

As you know, Russia has named a new commander for Ukraine. It's sending a convoy to reinforce this push for the Donbas region right now. Does the U.S. need to revise its strategy of support for Ukraine as the fight changes, as it moves east right now?

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): Yes, we certainly do. And I think, you know, to an extent, some of that is being done. I know there's been changes and information sharing and intel sharing, that's good, conversations with the Ukrainians, asking what they need and doing our best to get it there.

I think any bureaucratic red tape that exists slow those backfilled weapons down to our allies who want to push forward, the more Soviet era weapons, that has to be cut.


But, yes, I think some of the changes that can happen.

I think we really need to look at the fact that there were no flights of NATO aircraft into Ukraine or direct convoys really into Ukraine when you have Russian presence in Kyiv. But that presence is now gone. And, really, with the fighting focused on the eastern part of Ukraine.

And I don't know all the tactical difficulties specifically on the ground there, so I'm saying that with that caveat, but I think this is a moment where maybe we can begin directly flying more things into Ukraine, directly driving more stuff into Ukraine to make sure we're getting that equipment quicker to the guys on the ground that need it because they're in for a real heck of a fight.

And as you guys have well covered, the fight in the east is going to be very different than what we saw in Kyiv and we cannot, Wolf, we cannot allow the Ukrainians to lose or the Russians to win.

BLITZER: Yes, it's going to be much more difficult to get the weapons to the eastern part of the country than it was to the western part of the country, which is closer to Poland, a key NATO ally.

The Pentagon says they're working to help get long range air defense systems into Ukraine, but that the Ukrainians, quote, still have a lot of their air defense capability available to them. First of all, do you agree with that assessment?

KINZINGER: Yes. I mean it seems like it. I'm astonished as an air guy myself that the Russians have been unable to get air supremacy over Ukraine. It goes to show both Ukrainian tactics, the fact that we also have significantly overestimated the Russian military's capability, but that doesn't mean, of course, there's no danger. There is plenty of danger from the air. We see it every day.

And so having their defense system in place in place is good, the long range, bringing the S-300 in is good. And, you know, bottom line though, we have to realize that every day, there's a moment we could wake up and realize that air defense system has been significantly hampered or taken down so we can't rest on that. And I think it is essential to continue to move things, like the Javelin, like the Stingers in and our ally's version of those, but ensuring they get that long range air defense system.

But, ultimately, this may be a tank on tank battle. This maybe very different in what we have seen and we have to be flexible and agile to supply the Ukrainians with the equipment that they need.

BLITZER: While I have you, Congressman, I quickly want to turn to your work on the January 6th select committee. Your colleague, Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney, says, it's absolutely clear that what former President Trump was doing was unlawful. Do you agree with her?

KINZINGER: Yes, certainly. I mean, I think, yes, all you have to do is look at Donald Trump's own statements when he says -- he put out a statement not that long ago where he said, I wanted Vice President Pence to overturn an election. I mean, that, to me, sounds like an admission to a coup attempt.

The question now though from the committee is we put the story out. The DOJ is going to be able to read whatever we do. There's no criminal component to what the House of Representatives can do, but, certainly, we can put that information out there and DOJ can take a look and do whatever they will with it. And we hope that they enforce the contempt charges that we've just brought forward or the contempt resolution to get these witnesses to testify in front of us.

BLITZER: So, you think there will be a criminal referral from the committee?

KINZINGER: Well -- so that's an interesting question, because we may be able to do that, we may not. Really, we have no ability to say anything to DOJ that they're not going to already see. But that's certainly something -- look, I think if that is a reasonable thing to do, and, again, even if we don't do any kind of official criminal referral, they have the report, they'll be able to see it. But I'm going to tell you too, Wolf, this is a very united committee. I've seen some weird reports out there about division on the committee and debate on this issue. They're completely false. They're utterly not true. We are a united committee focused on getting to the truth and getting to answers and people will see that.

BLITZER: Yes, that's what Liz Cheney said yesterday, the vice chair. She said something very similar on CNN's State of the Union.

Thank you very much, Congressman Adam Kinzinger. Thanks for all your important work. We appreciate it very much.

KINZINGER: Anytime, Wolf. Thanks.

BLITZER: Coming up, a Russian general known as the Butcher of Syria is now taking over Putin's invasion of Ukraine. We're going to have a closer look at the man infamous for his brutal tactics against civilians in Syria.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: Tonight, Vladimir Putin is turning to a notorious Russian general known as the Butcher of Syria to lead his invasion after stiff Ukrainian resistance humiliated Kremlin troops trying to take Kyiv, the capital.

CNN's Brian Todd is on the story for us. Brian, many fear that this Russian general could usher in a grizzly, even more brutal new phase in this assault on the Ukrainian people.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That is almost a certainty, Wolf, if you listen to what U.S. officials and respective analyst are saying tonight. We have new information on General Aleksandr Dvornikov, who's proclivity for killing civilians, expert say, does not bode well for the future course of this war.


TODD (voice over): The steel-eyed new commander of Russian forces in Ukraine has a reputation, U.S. officials and analysts say, for barbarity in war.

JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: We're probably turning another page in the same book of Russian brutality.

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND MILITARY ANALYST: This General Aleksandr Dvornikov, his nickname is the Butcher.

TODD: General Alexander Dvornikov, 60 years old, just appointed by Vladimir Putin to direct all Russian military operations in Ukraine.


As commander of Russia's southern military district, General Dvornikov had been overseeing Russian troops in Ukraine's southern and eastern regions. But it's his track record during Russia's campaign in Syria, analysts say, which earned him the nickname, the Butcher.

WILLIAM TAYLOR, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: They call him a general who was known to be tough, he's known to be disciplined and he didn't care what he hurt. He didn't care what he killed.

TODD: The Syrian army under President Bashar al-Assad was not doing well in its civil war against rebel forces when Putin first sent Russian troops there in 2015 to back them up. General Dvornikov was the first commander of Russia's military operations in Syria when the Russians and Syrians set their sights on the northern city of Aleppo.

The Russian and Syrian offensive against Aleppo was vicious. Barrel bombs and other ammunitions targeted densely populated neighborhoods, causing widespread civilian casualties, which analysts say Dvornikov played a major role in.

TAYLOR: This was an effort to intimidate whoever was on the receiving end of that.

TODD: But the Syrian campaign was not Dvornikov's first brush with savagery.

HERTLING: He fought in his early ranks when he was a young major lieutenant colonel in Chechnya war in Grozny.

TODD: Dvornikov was a Division Chief of Staff and then a Division Commander when Russian forces fought their second campaign in Chechnya and left the regional capital Grozny in ruins.

Analysts say Putin's appointment of Dvornikov to lead the new phase of the war in eastern Ukraine is a clear signal that the war hasn't gone Russia's way.

TAYLOR: He's known to be disciplined. He's known to be no sense of humor, known to be business-like. He's a professional soldier, there's no doubt about that, except professional soldiers don't kill civilians.

HERTLING: I would anticipate we're going to see a lot more attempts at trying to cower and kill civilians within Ukraine.


TODD (on camera): Military analysts and U.S. officials believe Russia's general's want to present Vladimir Putin with some kind of tangible military progress in Ukraine ahead of the day of May 9th, that's when Russia celebrates victory day, marking its defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II.

Can the General Aleksandr Dvornikov pull that off? Two analysts we spoke to have serious doubt saying they do not think that the general has the resources right now to do that, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, Brian Todd, with the good background information. I appreciate it very much.

Let's get more on this with the former Director of National Intelligence, General James Clapper. He's a CNN National Security Analyst. He's a retired U.S. General. Thanks so much, General, for joining us.

With this new commander in charge, how far will this go potentially to turn around Russia's failures on the battlefield, at least so far?

JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I'm not sure it will, Wolf. You know, he has a reputation, as Brian Todd described in his segment, of being a butcher. So, not to be flip about it, but I guess the brutality will be more efficient now.

I do think his real challenge -- he's got two challenges. One, he's not going to be operating in a benign environment like he was in Syria, where he's got an armed and professional and skilled opponent in the form of the Ukrainians.

And so, you know, I just -- and the other thing is that I have doubts about the extent to which he can muster a combat power, which is a term that's kind of thrown around loosely, which is actually a very complex thing and in many elements of it. And I think given the weakened state of the Russian military contingent that's tried to take on Ukraine, he's going to have his hands full.

BLITZER: So, do you fear, General, that this signals potentially even more brutality against Ukrainian civilians to come?

CLAPPER: Unfortunately, I do. I mean, this seems to be the one thing that the Russians are proficient at, is killing innocent people, noncombatants and destroying civilian infrastructure. And I guess he's pretty good at that. So, yes, I fear that the horror of what we've witnessed in Mariupol and other places is going to be compounded under the leadership of this guy.

BLITZER: Intelligence suggests, by the way, that Vladimir Putin may respond to U.S. military support for Ukraine by ramping up its efforts to interfere in U.S. elections. You, of course, saw that firsthand back in 2016. How worried should we be about a more aggressive Russian election interference program?


CLAPPER: Well, we should be concerned about it. But I think we learned a lot the hard way in 2016 and there have been a great many improvements, at least from a cyber standpoint. I think we still have issues with what I'll call cognitive security. And that is what -- how well we're able to forestall Russian use of social media to influence opinions and to capitalize on the divisiveness and polarization in this country. And it's not surprising to me that Putin would resort to this since it worked pretty well for him in 2016.

BLITZER: General Clapper, thank you so much, as usual, for joining us. I appreciate it very much.

Coming up, memories of the holocaust are weighing heavily on the Jewish community in Poland right now, where Ukrainians refugees are being welcomed with open arms.



BLITZER: New data points to a staggering toll Vladimir Putin's invasion, staggering toll it's taking on children. The U.N. now says, nearly a third of Ukrainian kids have been displaced from their homes. Many are seeking safety in neighboring Poland, where CNN's Kyung Lah reports the lessons of the Holocaust are inspiring the Polish people to open their homes to refugees.


JAN GEBERT, JEWISH VOLUNTEER HELPING SHELTER UKRAINIAN REFUGEES: The Jewish corridor is just almost over here at the start.

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): This is more than Jan Gebert's Warsaw neighborhood.

GEBERT: The white one.

LAH: Oh, the white one?

It's a path to his family history.

GEBERT: That's the building over there my grandma was born and raised.

LAH: Gebert lives a block away from where his Jewish grandparents lived before the Holocaust. In the chaos of World War II, Zofia Poznanski was separated from her husband and child. The Nazis executed her at the Treblinka death camp. Of the 6 million Jews murdered in the Holocaust, around half were killed in Poland's concentration camp camps.

But Gebert great grandfather Julian Poznanski escaped the horror, sheltered by the non-Jewish family.

GEBERT: We are alive because someone helped us and thanks to them, I can help other people.

The apartment is one-bedroom apartment.

LAH: Gebert's home has little space.

GEBERT: We are sleeping over here and that used to be our bed. And we gave those to our Ukrainian guests.

LAH: But it's enough to share with the Ukrainian mother and child, the third family Gebert has taken in since the war began.

GEBERT: I just felt this part of me and I don't know if it's fate or tradition, it's just part of me. I have to do it.

RABBI MICHAEL SCHUDRICH, CHIEF RABBI OF POLAND: It's our time to do what we needed to have done for us 80 years ago.

LAH: Michael Schudrich is Chief Rabbi of Poland. In Warsaw, the Jewish community has plunged in to help in this humanitarian crisis, offering everything from childcare to food and housing, counseling and Polish lessons.

Schudrich says Jewish philanthropists, mostly American, have donated about $100 million to help Ukrainian refugees, no matter where they are or whatever faith they practice. The effort is centering on Poland, where in World War II, the majority did not help.

SCHUDRICH: Half of the Jews killed during the Holocaust were from Poland.

LAH: So, given that complicated history, how does that motivate the Jewish community today?

SCHUDRICH: It clearly has an added meaning for those who were Jewish understanding that this is what my grandparents needed. And if we still have somewhere in our hearts, a sadness, that more people didn't help, it needs then to push us to do more to help now.

LAH: You're volunteering here.


LAH: For Jan Gebert, he feels his country changing, as Poland welcomes almost 2.5 million Ukrainians. His great grandmother's home is now a shelter for refugees.

Do you think about what would happen if more of your family had been protected? Has been taken in.

GEBERT: It's a great question. I would hope there would be someone like me helping my grandparents, grandparent and my cousin during the Holocaust. Yes, that would be wonderful. I would have much greater family next to me. To have great big family in Warsaw, Jewish family and survived the war, that would be most beautiful thing, definitely.


LAH: The Ukrainian women who are being helped by the Jewish organization, none are actually Jewish. And one of those Ukrainian refugees told us that she didn't even know that she was being helped by a Jewish organization.

So, after seeing the worst of humanity in their home country, they're now witnessing the grace of the Jewish community here in Poland. Wolf?

BLITZER: So, nice, indeed. All right, Kyung Lah, on the scene for us in Warsaw, thank you very, very much.

For more on the growing humanitarian crisis, let's bring in the emergency communications specialist for UNICEF, Toby Fricker. Toby, thank you so much for joining us, thanks for everything UNICEF is doing.

As you know UNICEF today said nearly two-thirds of all Ukrainian children have now been displaced from their homes. What do these kids need most right now?

TOBY FRICKER, EMERGENCY COMMUNICATION SPECIALIST, UNICEF: Yes, that's right. It's a massive displacement of children inside Ukraine but also then across borders like in Poland.


And what these children need now is really to be cared for, to be nurtured for by their mothers, by their family members that they're with, but also to be reached with essential supplies, and medical equipment, reaching hospitals where children who couldn't get out of areas of heavy fighting have ended up in intensive care, but also the emotional support, the trauma they've lived through as quickly as possible to really cut down on the long-term of that as we can in this critical period.

BLITZER: As you know, President Zelenskyy now says tens of thousands of people have been killed in the southern port city of Mariupol. How devastating with the situation there for children?

FRICKER: Yeah. The situation in Mariupol is devastating. There's a disregard to civilian life. We see children, families, communities under attack and they're sheltering in basements underground.

If they can even stay alive, then the next challenge is getting access to water. There's very limited water. There's very limited power, if not, no power. These are all massive challenges, medical care.

That's why the conflict, the fighting in Mariupol needs to stop, but safe passage needs to be given to children, to women, to others to get out.

BLITZER: Toby Fricker, thank you very, very much, and thanks for all that UNICEF is doing.

Coming up, a rise in COVID cases here in the United States prompts a major American city to reinstate its mask mandate. Will more cities need to follow? I'll ask the new White House COVID-19 response coordinator, Dr. Ashish Jha. We'll discuss when we come back.



BLITZER: A sudden rise in COVID cases in Philadelphia is prompting that city to renew its indoor mask mandate. It's one worrisome sign as most of the United States relaxes COVID-19 rules. Another is an outbreak of cases among top government officials right here in Washington, D.C.

I talked about that and more just a little while ago with Dr. Ashish Jha, the new White House COVID-19 response coordinator.


DR. ASHISH JHA, WHITE HOUSE COVID-19 RESPONSE COORDINATOR: Yeah, Wolf, first of all, when you take a big step back and look at where we are, inspector numbers are from historical point of view, very low. Hospitalizations are at the lowest level of the whole pandemic, Wolf. So, that's the good news.

But it's true that we are seeing infection numbers rise in a few places. We are going to see that in this pandemic. And I have always believed for the last two years, we have to make these decisions on a local level based on the conditions on the ground.

And so, the CDC, of course, has laid out its framework for how to do that. And I think it's great for cities like Philadelphia to look at what's happening locally and make local make decisions on things like mask mandates and other public health measures.

BLITZER: You've said that extending the mask mandate in United States is absolutely on the table. As you look at the metrics right now, Dr. Jha, do you see data that would justify the CDC extending the mandate?

JHA: Well, what I would say is that we need a good scientific framework for how to do this, right? And we know that the CDC scientists are working on that. I expected we're going to see the framework, I haven't seen it yet. We're going to see in the next few days.

And we're going to want to make a decision, it's going to be a national decision based on that framework. So I want to see with the CDC scientists come up with and then use that. We will get a direction. We'll get a decision from Dr. Walensky and I think we will implement that decision, based on what the data and what the evidence shows.

BLITZER: Should Americans expect the transportation mask mandate to be extended?

JHA: Well, we just don't know. Again, we are going to want to let the evidence drive this, and we're going to want the framework from the CDC scientists to drive this.

What I will say is we should have a decision relatively soon. We're just waiting for that data, and we are waiting for that framework. And I meant it when I said earlier, I think everything is still on the table. We don't want to prejudge this. We want to look at the evidence as some of the framework shows. And then use that as a decision-making tool.

BLITZER: As you know, Dr. Jha, the White House says President Biden is, quote, living his life, despite the ongoing risk from this virus. Doctor Fauci says everyone needs to make that risk calculation for themselves. A lot of people -- how to people assess the risk of the stage of the pandemic? JHA: Yeah. So, the way that I would think about this is, obviously,

it's a highly contagious virus. Something we still have to pay close attention to. But the bottom line is, if you're vaccinated, if you're boosted, or in the case of President Biden, double boosted, because I think people over 60 should get double boosted, you are highly, highly protected.

And at that point, it's reasonable for people to make different miscalculations. We not only have great protection for vaccines, we also have great therapeutics that are becoming widely available. I think reasonable people are going to come to different decisions about what that means for their own personal behavior. Collectively, from a public health point of view, it is critical that we protect people by making things widely available.

BLITZER: Dr. Ashish Jha, once again, congratulations on your new assignment over the White House. We will stay in very close touch with you. Thanks for all you are doing and thanks for joining us.

JHA: Thank you, Wolf.


BLITZER: Up next, the John Lennon son moved by the plight of Ukrainian refugees sings his father's classic, plea for peace for the first time.



BLITZER: The war in Ukraine has moved the son of the late John Lennon, Julian Lennon, had never performed his father's Vietnam War era song "Imagine" publicly. He did for the first time at a fund- raiser for Ukrainian refugees.


BLITZER: Very beautiful, indeed. Thanks for that, Julian.

I will be back in half an hour on new streaming service CNN+ with my new show called "The Newscast".

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.