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Russia Has Started Donbas Offensive; Biden Not Visiting Ukraine; CNN Goes Inside Abandoned Russian Camp; Zelenskyy: Russian Forces Have Started Battle For Donbas; U.S.: Mariupol Holding Out Against Thousands Of Russian Troops; U.N.: Nearly Five Million Refugees Have Fled Ukraine; Two Teens Killed, 13 Hurt At House Party Shooting In Pittsburgh; At Least 10 Mass Shootings In U.S. Over Holiday Weekend. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired April 18, 2022 - 17:00   ET



PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: The CDC recently recommended extending the masking rule until May 3rd. You can follow me on Twitter @PamelaBrownCNN or tweet the show @TheLeadCNN. Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. Ukrainian officials say the second phase of Russia's war has begun in the east with the critical battle for the Donbas region now underway. This as officials warn no part of Ukraine is safe from the Kremlin's brutal onslaught after deadly new strikes on the western city of Lviv.

Also breaking, the first images just emerged of a significant military embarrassment for Moscow, showing a Russian warship on fire before it sunk in the Black Sea last week.

Our correspondents are standing by in Ukraine with war refugees in Estonia and over at the White House. We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We begin with Russia's escalating offensive in eastern Ukraine as top Ukrainian officials are now confirming that the battle for the Donbas region has begun. Let's go right to our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto. He's back in Ukraine for us. He is reporting from Lviv. Jim, President Zelenskyy is now speaking out about this new phase of the war.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right. U.S. intelligence had assessed at the end of March as we reported of a major strategy shift by Russia to stop focusing on its failed attempt to capture the capital Kyiv and focus its forces on the east and the south.

We've been seeing the forces move over the last couple of weeks. Now they are there. And now that battle, though it never quite stopped there, but that battle intensifying to a degree we have not seen before. And what's different about this, Wolf, is that partly due to the terrain, the flat terrain. They expect a different kind of war there.

Heavy armor, heavy artillery, larger engagements between Ukrainian and Russian forces. And sadly, maybe even bloodier than we've witnessed so far during an already bloody conflict. That said, despite the heavy concentration of ground forces in the east and the south, Russia's air campaign continues to extend all across the country as we saw this morning.

It began with air raid sirens and then what quickly followed, a number of Russian missiles striking in and around Lviv.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): A missile streaks across the sky over Lviv in western Ukraine. Russian forces launching cruise missiles on multiple targets here. An auto repair shop, just as it was getting ready to open with several employees on site, transformed into an inferno.

Also hit, what the regional military governor described as three military warehouses. This is the scene of one of the missile strikes this morning. You could see the emergency responders back here. But as we arrived, another air raid signal went off. These soldiers concerned that this will be a secondary strike on the same target.

Ukrainian soldiers ordered us behind a concrete barricade. Nervous about us filming any soldiers or military facilities, one member of the territorial defense forces cocked his rifle as he shouted at us to move back.

As other sirens warned of more missiles on the way, we took shelter in a closed restaurant. After several hours, finally the all clear signal. And this is what was left behind. Two ambulances outside one of the damaged military warehouses guarded by Ukrainian soldiers. Damaged cars, fallen trees. A section of railroad tracks from dozens of yards by the force of the blast. The auto repair shop destroyed.

The owner told CNN, several were killed here. In all, the victims numbered at least seven dead, 11 wounded, including a child. One toll in one city among many suffering through war here.


SCIUTTO (on camera): Just in the last few minutes, another air raid signal was just lifted here, air raid warning. We've been hearing them more and more in Lviv. And there had been a period of calm here, relative calm in Lviv in recent weeks. They've even shortened the curfew. You begin to see more things open here. But in the last 12, 24 hours, that calm dissipating. Russia proving that it can strike anywhere in the country. Wolf?


BLITZER: New chapter indeed beginning today. All right, Jim Sciutto, thank you very much. We'll get back to you in just a few moments.

As Russia ramps up its assault in the east, we're getting the first images of a setback for the Kremlin forces in the south. CNN's Phil black is joining us right now. He's joining us from Kyiv. Phil, tell us about these new pictures of that Russian warship in the final moments before it sank.

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf. These images appear to show the Moskva, the flagship of Russia's Black Sea fleet on fire, badly damaged, listing with a huge column of smoke rising above and the life rafts already deployed. Independent experts believe this is the Moskva in the final hours before it went down.

They also point to dark holes in the side of the hull which could indicate missile puncture marks. If that is confirmed, it would back up Ukraine's version of how and why that ship sunk because Ukraine says it attacked the Moskva with two anti-ship missiles, creating a fire and eventually leading to the sinking.

Russia still hasn't acknowledged any missile strike. It talks about a fire starting onboard and then the ship eventually going down in bad weather as it was being towed back to port. Russia also has not acknowledged any casualties as a result of the sinking. But this is seen as a really significant blow to Russia's naval, but also its national prestige.

And Ukraine has said it does not believe the country will be easily forgiven for carrying out this operation successfully, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Phil Black, thank you very much. We want to get back to Jim Sciutto. He's joining us from Lviv. Also joining us, CNN contributor Jill Dougherty, our former Moscow bureau chief and CNN White House correspondent MJ Lee. Jim, what more are you learning about this new battle that's raging right now in the east?

SCIUOTTO: Really intensifying Russia's efforts to secure territories in the east, part of which they've held really going back to 2014, including Crimea which they've held going back to 2014 as well. But the idea, the Russian intention here is to expand those territories to include the entire region of the Donbas and also connect them via this land bridge we've discussed often, connect them with Crimea.

And Russian forces, if you look at the map, have made a lot of progress and doing just that. And that's why those cities of Melitopol and Mariupol crucially have been such a focus of Russian attention there. Mariupol in particular is really a crossroads and roads leading west, east, north and south that are seen as key in Russia gaining control of that.

That doesn't mean though, Wolf, that Russia's aspirations end there. I've been told that Russia still has a desire, at least, to continue on to Odessa because Odessa crucial militarily in terms of access to the Black Sea but also commercially.

And really sets up the possibility if Russia were able to accomplish this and that's not clear, of cutting off Ukraine entirely, making it a rump state with no access to the Black Sea. Now, Russia doesn't, I'm told, have the forces necessary to accomplish that to date, but it is something to look at going forward. BLITZER: It certainly is. You know, Jill, this new images, very

dramatic images showing that badly damaged Russian warship. How embarrassing are photos like this for President Putin? It's a major military setback for the Russians.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know, Wolf, I think they're very embarrassing for President Putin militarily, internationally, you know, as military experts and armies and navies around the world look at this and see what has happened. It's embarrassing because if it's correct that the Ukrainians sank it, it's the last thing Russia would want to admit.

And then also, I think, Wolf, it's a good example of the importance of domestic Russian news because remember back in 2000, there was the Kursk submarine that sank and it was not in a war, but that information that was withheld from the people was really kind of a turning point.

And here, we don't even know at this point how many sailors might have died in this attack and sinking. And you have to understand really that there is an information blockade in Russia. Not only shutting down independent media, but also any way that you can get independent information in.

Good example, YouTube. YouTube has really become kind of like the TV for younger people. They're not watching the, you know, state-run media. They're watching YouTube. And just yesterday or the day before, a major blogger, Yury Dud (ph). I've been watching him for a number of years. Very influential -- 10 million followers.


He was declared a foreign agent. What did he do? He did a report on Ukraine. So, I think, you know, if you look at the comments from Russian officials and even from Margarita Simonyan who runs RT. We're all familiar with RT from U.S. elections. And she said my dream is to be like China and have censorship. So that's where we are headed in Russia.

BLITZER: Yes. It's pretty awful what's going on over there as far as the media is concern. MJ, you're there at the White House. More U.S. military aid is clearly arriving in Ukraine this week, but there is no announcement yet on whether a high level American official will visit the country. What's the latest on those plans? What are you hearing?

MJ LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, the latest is that there are no plans certainly for President Biden to make a trip to Ukraine. White House press secretary Jen Psaki made that news a couple of days ago and she actually repeated that assessment again just now in the White House briefing room.

But of course, what we do know is that there had been some preliminary discussions about the possibility of a high-ranking U.S. official heading to Ukraine to show solidarity, but it had been clear for a while that that was unlikely to be either the president or even the vice president. But it could maybe be the defense secretary of Secretary of State.

But one thing that is very, very clear right now, is that as U.S. officials discussed the possibility of such a trip, that security is a high concern. Essentially, how can you make this kind of a trip for a high-ranging U.S. official and make sure that they are safe. And what we just heard from the White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, is that even if they were to plan on such a trip, she essentially would not be able to and would not preview the details of such a trip from the podium for security reasons.

Now, of course, we've seen the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, telling Jake Tapper over the weekend that he would like to see President Biden visit his country. Obviously, he is somebody who knows better than anybody else how symbolically important such a visit would be, Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll see if that happens or if any other senior U.S. official makes the trip to Kyiv, the Ukraine capital. All right guys, standby. There is more breaking news we're following.

Ukraine's president speaking exclusively to CNN as Russia intensifies its efforts to seize the eastern port of the country. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's chief diplomatic adviser is standing by. We will discuss what's going on. Stand by for that. We'll be right back.



BLITZER: More now on the breaking news. Ukrainian officials saying the second phase of the war with Russia has now begun as Moscow's forces concentrate and intensify their attacks on eastern Ukraine, the area known as the Donbas. Listen to what President Zelenskyy told our Jake Tapper in an exclusive interview.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, PRESIDENT OF UKRAINE (through translation): For us, the battle for Donbas is very important. So there will be several battles and we don't know how long it is going to take. It can influence the course of the whole war. The fact that we fought them off and they left and they were running away from Kyiv, from the north, from Chernihiv, and from that direction. It doesn't mean if they are able to capture Donbas. They won't come further towards Kyiv. That is why for us, this battle is very important for many reasons. It is very important to win this battle.


BLITZER: Joining us now, the chief diplomatic adviser to the Ukrainian president, President Zelenskyy, Ihor Zhovkva. Ihor, thank you so much for joining us. President Zelenskyy now says and I'm quoting him now, "Russians forces have started the battle for Donbas." Listen to what he said just moments ago. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ZELENSKYY (through translation): Now we can claim that the Russian forces have started the battle for Donbas, which they've been preparing for long time and the considerable amount of the Russian forces are concentrating and focused on that offensive. And no matter how many Russian servicemen they're bringing in into that area, we will keep on fighting and defending and we will be doing this daily. We will not give up anything what is Ukrainian, but we don't need anything what is not ours.


BLITZER: So, Ihor, what are you hearing about this new military offensive tonight and how difficult the battle lies ahead?

IHOR ZHOVKVA, DEPUTY HEAD OF THE OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT OF UKRAINE: You know, that battle over Donbas like we call it, was the aim Russia was planning at least throughout the last several weeks because when they withdraw the troops from the northern directions of Ukraine from around Kyiv, Chernihiv and Sumy (ph), they were not withdrawing them for good.

They re-concentrated them, regrouped them and really put them into the Donbas. Really in order to have something they want to achieve there, they need to double or triple the number of their forces. That's what they're doing throughout the last weeks.

So now, yes, I can only confirm what my president said. The battle over Donbas started. It will be a real difficult battle for Ukrainian armed forces, but Ukrainian armed forces while concentrated there, most of them have this experience of eight years of war in Donbas with Russia because the open war started in 2022, but the Russian aggression started in 2014 when they captured parts of Donbas.

So now this is the final battle for them. They have to make some symbolic victory.


They will be trying to do this but my president is absolutely right. They will -- our forces will fight to the end. They know how to fight. They will definitely win.

BLITZER: As you know, Ihor, the U.S. says the city of Mariupol is still contested with Ukrainians fighting very hard right now. How big of a blow will it be if Mariupol falls?

ZHOVKVA: Well, yes, Ukrainian armed forces are still there in Mariupol and they are struggling. They will fight till the last drop of their blood. And my president is also absolutely supporting the armed forces, and, you know, in one of his last interviews, he told that if Russians were going to kill all the Ukrainian soldiers, that will be an end to any possible negotiations which Ukraine is still ready to hold.

The same time, you have to understand that there are lots of civilians there left. More than 100,000 that Russia will not leave them to evacuate, neither from the city of Mariupol, nor from this Azovstal steel plant where also there are many Ukrainian civilians such as women, children. Unfortunately, they are trying and prolonging their blockade of the city, which they have already more than a month.

BLITZER: God only knows how many men, women and children have already been killed in Mariupol by the Russians. As you know, Ihor, Russia has also struck Lviv, another major Ukrainian city in the west this time. And this marks the first reported deaths within Lviv, in that city since the war began. Is Russia sending a message that nowhere is safe in Ukraine right now?

ZHOVKVA: Absolutely. There is not a single place, a town, a city or a village left where it's safe now in Ukraine. That's what they were trying to implement since the beginning of the war because look, they not only fight the military people. They not only fight the military infrastructure. They fight with civilian Ukrainians.

I mean, what an auto service shop or a car repaint shop has to do with a military infrastructure, but they bombed it today in Lviv and they killed civilian people. Not a single soldier, but civilian people killed and wounded, among them one child. So, what this if -- what is this if not, you know, threatening, you know? All the population of Ukraine, all the war, look, we can do whatever we want. So that's why we need a united response from the world. Please help Ukraine. Please support Ukraine with more arms and we will be able to win.

BLITZER: It's a critical moment right now in this war. Ihor Zhovkva, thank you so much for joining us. Ihor Zhovkva is the chief diplomatic adviser to President Zelenskyy. Good luck over there. We appreciate it. Stay safe.

And we'll continue our conversations down the road. There's more breaking news just ahead. CNN goes inside a military camp abandoned by Russian forces in a forest near the Ukrainian capital. Much more of our special coverage coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: The breaking news tonight, Ukrainian officials are reporting intense Russian bombardment in the eastern part of the country where Moscow's forces are now concentrating their invasion after giving up on their attempts to take the capital Kyiv.

CNN's Phil Black got access to a military camp just north of the city, abandoned by Putin's forces. We want to warn our viewers, his report does contain graphic video.


BLACK (voice-over): The sign is a warning. Beware. Mines. The forest serves as protection, too, a natural screen concealing a vast secret. Here among the trees, about an hour's drive north of Kyiv, are the remains of a sprawling Russian military camp. We're shown around by Ukrainian Special Forces. This soldier says the positions were held by Russian marines. We see a

sprawling network of underground fighting positions, command posts, sleeping areas, and ammunition storage. While everywhere there is evidence of how the Russians lived and that evidence suggests their existence here was neither disciplined nor comfortable.

(On camera): It is so quiet here now. Just some bird noise and a light breeze. But recently there were 6,000 Russian soldiers bedded down through these woods. In a camp that is so large, you can't see where it begins and where it ends. Living here would have been hard. It was through the coldest of the winter days. Four weeks. Stopped here, short of Kyiv, after they failed to take capital quickly.

(Voice-over): The silence is broken by efforts to deal with some unidentified ordnance. This camp is damning proof of Russia's failures on this front. Poor preparation, desperately wrong assumptions about the numbers and resources needed to conquer Kyiv.

(On camera): What lessons do you take from all of this that will apply to the coming battle in the Donbas in the east? He says we see the volume of forces that invaded this area and we understand that will be two to three time greater in the Donbas.

(Voice-over): This force wasn't confined to the forest. Its commanding offices lived a little more comfortably in the nearby village of (inaudible). Here civilians tell disturbingly familiar stories.


Vitaliy, a local mechanic says he was detained and interrogated for almost 24 hours. He says he was beaten, blindfolded, tied up and subjected to mock executions.

He says he's never known fear like it and constantly thought those were his last moments on earth. Local priest, Vasily Benca describes dealing with the aftermath of even greater cruelty. He says he found five men tortured and killed in the garden, two more in the forest. And the Russians brought him two dead women, and told him to bury them.

Other Russians in this area camped out in fields with their artillery pieces, and stole what comforts they could, a mattress, alcohol, the works of Shakespeare.

(on-camera): So from these firing positions, Grad rockets flew through the sky towards a customer which is only a relatively short distance away. And when they hit the earth, it was often civilians who felt their power.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can see the result. So many people.

BLACK (on-camera): They were hiding in there?


BLACK (voice-over): In Hostomel, resident Dimitri Nikazakov (ph) shows the aftermath of a Russian rocket strike.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the epicenter of explosion.

BLACK (voice-over): And where some of its victims were temporarily buried.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I feel only hate.

BLACK (voice-over): Only hate?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. We can't forgive it for long (ph), maybe for life.

BLACK (voice-over): For now, the enemies in the forest, fields and villages have left this part of Ukraine. The fruits of their brief stay, the pain, trauma and loathing remain.

Phil Black, CNN, Hostomel, Ukraine.


BLITZER: Thank you, Phil.

Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut. He's a key member of the House Intelligence Committee. Congressman, thank you so much for joining us. As you know, Ukraine now says the Russian offensive on the eastern Donbas region has officially begun. Do you expect Russia to learn from its mistakes around Kyiv, the capital, take the upper hand in this new phase of this brutal war?

REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Yes. I mean, you know, the Russians are not stupid. So they will learn from the mistakes they've made. But they're in a very different situation now, Wolf. And it's important that people understand this, right, they now have much shorter supply lines. They're not nearly as extended as they were.

They're now in the open. They're now in positions that they have -- that they're somewhat familiar with because, of course, they've been assisting the breakaway regions of Ukraine for some time now. So everything is different. And that's why our support of the Ukrainians needs to be different as well.

Critical now -- and I'm glad to see that the White House, in fact, is doing this -- but critical now will be heavier weaponry that can strike the Russians at a long distance, that if the Russians do break out into the plains of eastern Ukraine, and it is all planes there, this is not the road surrounded by woods, this is planes, that the Ukrainians can decimate those forces out in the open. So it's going to be very different.

But the underlying thing here, Wolf, which I don't think has changed, and it's the sinking of the Moskva, it's the performance of their troops. This is not a high quality military, they've got massive punch, but it is not a high quality military.

BLITZER: Clearly, the Ukrainians in the Mariupol, that major city, they're still holding off the Russians. But this is a brutal fight that's ongoing right now. How big of a win will it be for Putin if he's able to take that key city?

HIMES: Well, there's no question that it'll be a win, right? It'll close off a port to Ukraine, not of the importance of Odesa, but it will close off a port, which by the way has been closed. You know, you can obviously land cargo in a place where this kind of combat is underway. But again, it's one more thing that just shows you that despite the fact that the Russians have clear supply lines into Mariupol, they haven't been able to take the place, that a smaller, more lightly armed contingent of Ukrainians have held them off for weeks.

That is, of course, meant that the Russian troops are encircling and in Mariupol right now can't get elsewhere to wreak havoc elsewhere. So yes, it is a remarkable and courageous stand that the Ukrainians are making it Mariupol. And if it falls, of course, that will be a blow but, you know, not nearly as severe a blow is their utter failure to operate around or to take Kyiv, their utter failure to preserve the flagship of their Black Sea Fleet. And so we'll need to see where it goes from there.

BLITZER: We shall see sooner rather than later, no doubt about that. Congressman Jim Himes, thanks as usual for joining us. Appreciate it very much.

HIMES: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: There's more breaking news just ahead. Nearly 5 million people have now fled the horror of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Nearly 5 million Ukrainians have fled. Plus, gun violence here in America. A wave of shootings over the weekend leaves dozens injured and some dead.



BLITZER: The breaking news this hour, the number of Ukrainian refugees swelling to almost 5 million people tonight as Russia intensifies its totally unprovoked war. CNN's Scott McLean talks to some of those fleeing the invasion about their harrowing flight to safety.


SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's been two weeks since these suitcases were first packed. Two weeks since Evgeny and Ludmila escaped the hell of Mariupol to Russia, and then finally to safety in Estonia.

EVGENY & LUDMILA, UKRAINIAN REFUGEES (through translation): Before now it was just stress. Here, we're able to really relax. I feel that we are safe here.

MCLEAN (voice-over): They lived across the hall from each other in an apartment building on the northern edge of Mariupol. EVGENY (through translation): For 14 days from the beginning of the war, somehow over shelling was all flypast us.


MCLEAN (voice-over): But their luck would soon run out. In the relentless bombardment of the city, their building was eventually hit. The damage though was limited enough for them to stay, even without power, water, heat, or cell signal.

LUDMILA (through translation): When you hear these explosions, you have an idea the direction they're coming from. And you know what you have to do, lay on the ground, run or sit down. But silence is horrifying.

MCLEAN (voice-over): On day 38, the building was hit again. It was time to leave.

EVGENY (through translation): It was impossible to go further into Ukraine. We lived in a different part of the city. There were two encirclement around us. As I understand, if we went in that direction, well, the only way to leave was through the Russian Federation. And the only thing we were concerned with at the time was leaving this ring of fire. We didn't have a choice.

MCLEAN (voice-over): They made it to a school in Mariupol where Russian-backed soldiers were evacuating people east to the village of Sertana. Then a week later, so called filtration in Bezeimenne were at a site like this one, they were searched, fingerprinted and questioned by Russian soldiers before crossing the border into Russia, to the city of Taganrog. Likely to the shelter shown here.

EVGENY (through translation): It was the first time we took a shower and over roughly 50 days, right?

LUDMILA (through translation): 41 or 40.

MCLEAN (voice-over): With the help of ordinary Russians, they made it to St. Petersburg, then onto Estonia. Their story is part of a larger trend. Most of the two sometimes 300 Ukrainian refugees arriving in Estonia every day are entering the country through Russia.

MEELIS PILLE, SENIOR COMMISSIONER, NARVA BORDER CROSSING (through translation): Most of them are coming from Mariupol after having passed the humanitarian corridor. But there are also those who say they have been deported to Russia but have managed to come here and we accept them all.

MCLEAN (voice-over): On this day, they're catching a train to the Estonian capital after staying at a hostel run by volunteers.

SERGEY TSVETKOV, VOLUNTEER HELPING REFUGEES (through translation): Some were taken by Russians by force from Mariupol to Russia. And later, they fled from camps on the territory of Russia. But others go voluntarily.

MCLEAN (voice-over): From Tallinn, they're not sure where they'll go, but they're optimistic.

LUDMILA (through translation): We will have some difficulties along the way. But if you compare what we went through, everything will be just fine. The future must be better. We don't have another option.


MCLEAN: And, Wolf, we hear so much about these humanitarian corridors to get people out of cities like Mariupol and other places that are under fire. And it seems like a pretty simple concept. But in practice, it is extremely difficult to get information to people in cities where there is no power, no cell signal, no internet.

Evgeny and Ludmila said that there was a total absence of information getting out of the city meant relying on rumors and ultimately, instincts. Wolf?

BLITZER: Scott McLean reporting live from Tallinn and Estonia. Scott, thank you very much.

Let's get some more in the unfolding humanitarian crisis. Joining us now, Rachael Cummings, the Humanitarian Public Health team director for Save the Children. Rachael, thanks for joining us. Thanks for all you're doing. What dangers are the children specifically facing as this war nears the two-month mark?

RACHAEL CUMMINGS, HUMANITARIAN PUBLIC HEALTH TEAM DIRECTOR, SAVE THE CHILDREN: Thanks, Wolf and thanks very much for having me. Well, as that report highlighted, the complexity of this war, and the impact it's having on children is unimaginable. You know, you said nearly 5 million people have now fled Ukraine. And we know that 50 percent, so half of those are children.

So this is a children's emergency. This is a child protection crisis. And Save the Children are deeply concerned about children who've become unaccompanied and separated from their families. We're also deeply concerned about children who, before the war, were living in institutions, and some children are still left in institutions, really in extremely difficult conditions.

And, you know, we cannot underestimate the impact this will will have on the mental health for children for many years to come. So whatever we can do now to somehow alleviate that suffering, and support children in these really complex journeys that they're taking is what we will do.

BLITZER: It is so heartbreaking to see what these children are going through, among other things, they're witnessing horrific violence. What are you hearing from the child psychologist? What's the impact on the mental health of these kids given what they're seeing and hearing?

CUMMINGS: Yes, it was me -- I was with a child psychologist two days ago in Zaporizhzhia and she has been running child friendly spaces with one of our partners there. Since the war started, she got up and started her services for children.


And I said to her what does she do and she said very basic. She allows children to be children and children are arriving in Zaporizhzhia having traveled from Mariupol, having traveled from the Donbas region, and deeply traumatized, deeply affected by what they've seen.

Some children have been able to bounce back quicker, I guess. But other children that she was describing are deeply, deeply affected. Some are catatonic, some are unable to communicate, and some are sort of closing themselves off from the world just unable to cope with the awful scenes that they've witnessed and been exposed to.

TAPPER: Really what the Russians have done to these children is horrific indeed. Rachael Cummings of Save the Children, thanks so much for joining us. Thanks once again for all you are doing.

And an important note to our viewers, for information about how you can help humanitarian efforts in Ukraine, go to and help Impact Your World.

Coming up this Sunday, CNN films premiers "Navalny," taking viewers inside the careful investigation into the shocking and brazen assassination attempt against Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and who was behind it. Watch this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you come to room of a comatose patient, you're starting -- you just tell him some news, tell him his story. Alexei, don't worry, you're repurposing (ph). There was a murder attempt. Putin try to kill him with Novichok and he opened his like blue eyes wide and looked at me and said very clear, (foreign language).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on. Poisoned?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't believe it's like he's back. This is Alexei.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Putin supposed to be not so stupid to use this Novichok.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's more than his explosive, his intonation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you want to kill someone, just shoot him. Jesus Christ, like real Alexei. It's impossible to believe it. It's kind of stupid. The whole idea of poisoning with a chemical weapon. This is why -- this is so smart. Because even reasonable people they refuse to believe like, what, come on. Poisoned? Seriously?


BLITZER: The Kremlin and Russia security services, of course, they deny that they played any role in Navalny's poisoning. Navalny premieres this Sunday night, 9:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

There's more breaking news just ahead, Russian President -- the Russian -- the Ukrainian President Zelenskyy alerting the world that Russian forces have started their battle for the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine. Plus, a deadly weekend of gun violence here in the United States. The latest on a wave of mass shootings.

Much more of our special coverage coming up right after this.



BLITZER: This past holiday weekend saw at least 10 mass shootings across the United States part of a very, very disturbing rise in the deadly and deadly gun violence across the country. CNN Security Correspondent Josh Campbell has this report which does contain video viewers may find disturbing.


JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Another weekend of gun violence across the United States. In Pittsburgh, police are searching for suspects after two people were killed and eight others suffering gunshot wounds after a shooting at a party where as many as 200 were gathered. Nine people shot and five injured as gunfire erupted inside a Columbia South Carolina shopping mall on Saturday.

Two people have been arrested in connection with the shooting as police continue to search for a third suspect. Two hours south in the town of Furman on Easter Sunday, at least nine people injured in a mass shooting at a lounge. Some bystanders jumping into nearby ditches to avoid being hit, according to CNN affiliate WTOC.

Mass shootings rose sharply in 2020 and remained elevated last year, according to the Gun Violence Archive. A dramatic increase from 272 in 2014, the first year data was collected, to 693 in 2021. 2022 is on track to see just as many incidents. But while the number of mass shootings is comparable to the same period last year, a CNN analysis of the data shows the total average of people injured per incident is also up.

Gun violence and crime in America are likely to take center stage in this year's 2022 midterm elections. The Biden administration is pushing for a series of reforms and nominating a new ATF director to take on the gun violence epidemic.

STEVE DETTELBACH, ATF DIRECTOR NOMINEE: Got to recognize that many Americans still face fear and isolation not because of a virus, but because of an epidemic of firearms violence. It's not a new problem and it has many causes.

ART ACEVEDO, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: We have a perfect storm in our country. We've had COVID. We've had people locked up behind their homes for a long time, a lot of frustration and a proliferation of firearms.

CAMPBELL (voice-over): But while some call for action, achieving results has proven elusive.

ACEVEDO: There are pragmatic things that can be done to keep these firearms in the hands of the law-abiding Americans of sound lines and then start with political action, not prayers. We need action not thoughts and prayers.


CAMPBELL: Now, Wolf, there are reforms on the table. The Biden administration has called for things like banning ghost guns and assault weapons but even issues that don't seem to be controversial such as universal background checks which according to a recent Quinnipiac University poll enjoys 90 percent support from Americans of all political parties, even those issues appear to be going nowhere in Congress.


And so we find ourselves in a familiar place, Wolf. Week after week, we're counting bloodshed continuing in the United States.

BLITZER: Awful situation indeed. CNN's Josh Campbell with that report. Thanks, Josh. Thanks very much.

Coming up, we'll return live to Ukraine and get closer to the large scale offensive by Russian forces in the East that is now underway. And we'll also break down the new images of a Russian warship that sunk in the Black Sea. Do the pictures reveal why their ship went down? Standby.