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Sources Zelenskyy Says, Russian Forces Have Started Battle For Donbas; New Images Of Badly Damaged Russian Warship Before It Sank; Ukraine Says, Second Phase Of The War Has Begun In The East; Zelenskyy: Russian Forces Have Started Battle For Donbas. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired April 18, 2022 - 18:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, President Zelenskyy just confirmed that Russian forces have started the battle for Donbas in eastern Ukraine, launching the urgent and dangerous second phase of this war. This, as the first war deaths are now being reported in a Ukrainian city right on NATO's doorstep.

Also breaking. We're analyzing the first images showing a Russian warship on fire before it sank in the Black Sea. Does it confirm that the cruiser was hit by a Ukrainian missile? We're going to tell you what we're learning this hour.

Our correspondents are covering all that and more at key locations in Ukraine and here in Washington. 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.

Let's get right to the breaking news on Russia's large scale assault on Eastern Ukraine, the battle for the Donbas region now underway according to President Zelenskyy.

CNN's Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward is joining us from Dnipro right now covering this battle in the east. Clarissa, you've been reporting from towns in Eastern Ukraine under heavy Russian bombardment. What do you expect to see now that President Zelenskyy is saying the battle there has officially begun?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this has been anticipated for some time, and certainly as we have been traveling around, some of these cities and towns in the Donbas region, there has been a massive intensification, in the amount of shelling a lot of these places getting pummeled by Russian forces as they were preparing for this offensive.

Ukraine's top security official saying today, that this morning, for the first time, Russian forces tried to push across those frontline positions all through the regions Kharkiv, Luhansk and also of Donetsk. They were only able to break through in two towns, Kreminna and another town, which he didn't mention by name. Take a listen to what President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had to say about the beginning of this offensive.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: Russian forces have started the battle for Donbas for which they've been preparing for a long time and a considerable amount of Russian forces are concentrated and focused on that offensive.

No matter how many Russian servicemen they're bringing into that area, we will keep on fighting and defending. And we will be doing this daily. We will not give up anything that is Ukrainian. But we don't need anything that is not ours.


WARD: Now, the expectation, Wolf, is that the fighting, of course, is only going to intensify further, that you're going to see more attempts of Russian ground forces to push through those lines, but the Ukrainians have also been launching a series of counteroffensives. And so far, there's no indications this is going to be an easy battle for President Putin's forces.

There had been a lot of speculation that perhaps he was trying to deliver some kind of victory by Victory Day on Russia which is mark on May 9th. That's just under three weeks away though, Wolf, and it seems a tall order, notwithstanding the fact that this is a three pronged offensive, Russian forces trying to come down from the north, up from the south, and also now pushing in from the east, Wolf.

BLITZER: As you know, Clarissa, in the southern port city of Mariupol, that is being called hell on earth right now by the Ukrainian marine commander defending the city. How much longer can that city of Mariupol hang on and what will come of the tens of thousands of civilians who are trapped there?

WARD: Well, this is the question, Wolf. I mean, Ukrainian authorities have described the situation there as dire but we've also heard U.S. officials say that it's too early to call it yet. There have been a lot of speculation that these remaining Ukrainian forces who are hunkered down along with hundreds of civilians, all of them refusing to leave the city or to surrender, that they could not possibly last longer than a matter of days.

We simply don't know. The other thing we don't know, which you just touched on, which is so important, is the scale of civilian casualties there. We heard President Zelenskyy talk about the tens of thousands. Other officials have referred to thousands, and the very real fear is that we will never know, Wolf.

Because if that city does fall to Russian forces, international observers, journalists, will not be allowed in on the ground or if they are, they will be going in on the Russian side.

[18:05:03] They will have very limited access to what they can see.

Also if the city falls, it could be strategically helpful for the Russians because it will free up a number of forces to potentially go and join this offensive in the Donbas, Wolf.

BLITZER: Clarissa, thanks very much. Stand by. Stay safe. We're going to be back to you in a few moments. Right now, I want to go to western Ukraine and that deadly new Russian strike on Lviv.

We have new video of a missile streaking over the city believed to have been launched by Kremlin forces. Watch this.

CNNs Matt Rivers is joining us now live from Lviv. Matt, the city had been seen until recently as a relatively safe haven from the war, but that relative sense of security has now completely been shattered. What are you seeing? What do you hearing?

MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. No question, Wolf. As a result of that video you just showed and other missiles streaking through the air, there were air raid sirens that went off here this morning, local time in Lviv.

The air raid sirens is going off not all that on common here, but what is uncommon is that shortly after the air raid sirens went off, there were four missile strikes.


RIVERS (voice over): Lviv has largely been spared the horrors of this war, which made the black smoke in Monday's skies so unusual here. We chased one such plume until we arrived at its source. Flames shooting out of two buildings as firefighters rained water down from above.

Ukrainian officials say at least four missile strikes across Lviv on Monday morning, three of which hit military infrastructure sites. Another hitting just across these railroad tracks behind me. Let me show you the impact crater from where Ukraine officials say that Russian missile struck.

Military and first responders on the scene quickly thereafter. The explosion destroying an auto repair shop. And a dozen or so cars lined on both side. The explosion shock waves blew out windows more than 500 feet away.

Mariya Holovchak, showed us her building's damage. I got very scared, she says, and I was scared that the whole building was going to fall down. I don't know whether I should stay here in the building or if I should move to Poland and flee for my life.

Overall, the four strikes across the city killed at least seven people and injured about a dozen, including a child. Here, scenes from a hospital treating victims of the strike who survived. Other victims in body bags outside the repair shop where they worked.

The owner says they were just getting ready to open up the business for the day when the missiles struck. Four of his employees, he says, were killed, and several others sent to the hospital. In what appears to be such an obvious, non-military target, it begs the question, was this a mistake by the Russian military or was this place targeted on purpose?

The owner told us the only vague connection his shop had to the military is volunteering time to make sure cars being sent to soldiers at the front were in good shape. For him, this is just another example of Russian military brutality.

He says they destroy our infrastructure. They kill people. They want to kill and destroy the Ukrainian nation.

Several of those who died have families with young children. So instead of leaving work to go home and see them, their bodies were taken to the morgue. More victims in a needless war.


RIVERS: And, Wolf, it was just a few days ago that Ukrainian defense officials say air defense systems here took out several cruise missiles that were headed to unspecified targets in the Lviv region. Taken together, I think it's safe to say that while we watch this offensive ramp up in the east, the Russian military still clearly still targeting other parts of the country in more isolated attacks. Wolf?

BLITZER: Matt Rivers, thanks very much. Stay with us. Don't go too far away, I also want to bring back Clarissa Ward, along with Retired U.S. General Philip Breedlove a former NATO Supreme Allied Commander.

General Breedlove, Ukraine has been bracing for this all out Russian assault on the eastern part of the country and now President Zelenskyy says the battle for the Donbas region has begun. How different, general, will this fight look than the fight for the capital of Kyiv?

GEN. PHILIP BREEDLOVE (RET.), FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: Well, it's been said several times, but we can sum it up by saying that I think they'll be better prepared. They took over been in the north and I think they've learned from that.

They've got their command and control a little tighter and they have one commander so he'll be able to set priorities and bring force, the focused force. Secondarily, as we've talked about many times, the terrain in south is very different.


In the north, it favored skirmishing, attacking, ambushing defense like the Ukrainian put up. I the south, it's more open, and this is the big tank and armor battle that Russia really wants to have. So there will be a few factors that the Ukrainians will have to deal with in the south that will be different than before.

BLITZER: That much closer obviously to the Russian border so they'll have easier way to get supplies. The Pentagon, Clarissa, says Russia still has the vast majority of its combat power available as this war shifts to the east. Is Ukraine prepared for this next phase of this fight? What are you hearing over there, Clarissa?

WARD: Well, I think when you drive around these areas, Wolf, you do see that Ukrainian forces are well dug in and certainly, this is terrain that is very familiar to them. They have been fighting here for eight years now in their war with pro Russian separatists.

At the same time though, there are clear differences between the type of fight that they were putting up so effectively in and around Kyiv and cities like Chernihiv and the type of fight that they will be engaging in here.

And we hear them all the time saying we need weapons. We need heavy weapons. We need, you know, it's going to be a battle of tanks and long range artillery. And I think there is some anxiety as well about the fact that while Russia now is going to be operating much closer to its resupply here in the Donbas region, it's much further from Ukraine's resupply.

And so there are some concerns that those weapons and that ammunition needs to keep coming and it needs to keep coming fast in order for Ukrainian forces to continue to put up a fight against this offensive.

BLITZER: General Breedlove, the Pentagon said today that they expect to begin training Ukrainians on the use of American supplied howitzers in the coming days. Will this new U.S. support make the difference on the eastern front?

These howitzers that are coming in and that the U.S. military will specifically go out there and train the Ukrainians how to use these weapons.

BREEDLOVE: Well, Wolf, we're thankful for these weapons, but the bottom line is they're not enough. We're talking about a battle that will have hundreds and hundreds if not thousands of artillery pieces involved and we're talking about 18 that we sent them.

So this is something we're thankful for. And we want not disencourage. But this -- we need more. And the fact to the matter as well describe, this battle will be different and it will require a different level of support than before as well.

BLITZER: I bring Matt into this conversation. Matt, the State Department today said Russian attacks in recent days illustrate they are undertaking what the State Department calls a campaign of terror against the Ukrainian people. How is this latest attack in Lviv being felt by residents there?

RIVERS: There's no question that it's changing behavior on the streets here. We saw it ourselves. It had been several weeks, Wolf, since there was a Russian missile strike here in the Lviv region, but today, Monday's strikes were the first time that civilians had been killed as a result of Russian missile strikes. And so, you know, as I said before, air raid sirens going off here in Lviv are quite common. It happens all the time. And most people don't react to it. They just continue going about their lives, driving on the road, being in the shopping mall. You know life goes on here in Lviv.

However today, after the missile strikes happened, while we were at the scene, there was another air raid siren that went off and I can tell you that all of the civilians that were on the street looking at the damage from that missile strike, they all took off.

They went to air raid shelters and they were there until given the all clear by the government and then afterwards, they came back out. It's a very clear reaction to what we saw here, which you know, might signal a shift in the way people in western Ukraine, which has largely escaped the kind of destruction and violence that we've seen in so many other places around Ukraine, people here might be reacting differently after more than a half dozen people were killed in these recent strikes. Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. Good point, Matt. Thank you very much. And to all of you, stay safe over there. Thank you, all of you, thanks very much. General Breedlove, thanks for coming in. The former NATO Supreme Allied Commander.

We're getting new information right now about the deadly Russian attack in Lviv, in the western part of the country as the first deputy mayor of that city is standing by live to join us. We'll discuss. Our special coverage will continue right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: We're following a major new military offensive in Russia's war against Ukraine. Ukrainian officials just now confirming that the battle for the Donbas region in the east is now underway. This as a key city in western Ukraine has also been hit with a deadly new missile strike by Kremlin forces.

Joining us now, the First Deputy Mayor of Lviv in the west Andriy Moskalenko. Deputy Mayor, thank you so much for joining us. How devastating is it to see the first reported deaths of the war in your city of Lviv and are you bracing for more attacks in this new phase of the war?

ANDRIY MOSKALENKO, FIRST DEPUTY MAYOR OF LVIV: So this morning there was quite tough for our city. But so it was one final that Russians fight against civilians, against children, woman, because this morning, people who come to work car service, they have some plans.


They want to work, but that missiles which were targeted from Russia's side to our city, destroyed everything. They destroyed not only buildings, but they destroyed lives of seven our Ukrainians. And so it's one more sign that Russia do genocide. That what they do in Mariupol. That's what they do in all of Ukraine and cities when they can't fight so they try to destroy, that what they do in Mariupol or in other Ukrainian cities.

And as well in our city because that was targeted this morning. It was huge car service. More than 40 cars were destroyed. Also badly destroyed some hotel, which were connected close. Also, big storage and some broken windows close to this. School, from residential buildings.

BLITZER: Do you have an update, Mayor, on the casualties that were suffered in your city of Lviv?

MOSKALENKO: So that's the latest news that right now in hospital, we have 11 people in critical condition and also one children hospital and so today, we had one more, two more times sirens and lasted towards in the evening. And so we, every time we have more and more people, Ukrainians who come back to country and try to defend. Even more. I can say that today, almost all the Ukrainian defense country, some are like volunteer, some are like a military.

But we do need weapons and so more weapons to defend our country. Less civilians will be killed because we on our land, we don't attack anybody. We simply defend our country, but we really do need support and it's like our president say, so it's critical. It's critical right now. Especially when the whole world see what Russia really is.

BLITZER: The First Deputy Mayor of Lviv, Andriy Moskalenko, thank you so much for joining us. Good luck over there. Stay safe. We will certainly want to stay in touch with you. Thanks very much for joining us.

There's more breaking news that we're following here in THE SITUATION ROOM. dramatic new images of Russia's Black Sea warship on fire just before it sank. We're learning new details we'll share with you when we come back.



BLITZER: The breaking news tonight. New images of Russia's guided missile cruiser the Moskva, badly damaged and on fire in the hours just before it sank. CNN's Brian Todd is joining us with the latest. Brina, this was the flag ship of Moscow's Black Sea Fleet, wasn't it?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was, Wolf, and it was a huge loss for the Russians in the Black Sea Fleet. We're going to show you how devastating this was. These new images coming in on social media tonight being posted, some detail.

Look at the detail here of this image of the ship listing badly to its right just hours before it sank. These are just hours before the Moskva sank last Thursday. You can see a huge plume of smoke coming up from the middle of ship. The ship does actually extend back this way a little further, but Retired Navy Captain Carl Shuster, one of the Analysts we've encounter on to kind of analyze the sinking of this vessels, says by this assessment, he believes that the missile entered and penetrated in the area just below the bridge and then exploded and sank there.

Another analyst we spoke to said, his best assessment is still that missiles were the cause of this. Of course, that's a dispute. The Russians say it was a fire that broke out then bad weather sank the ship, but the U.S. and the Ukrainians say it most likely was Neptune missiles to get on -- just another quick respective on this.

Look at this image of the Moskva before it was struck. How high the deck line is here, Wolf, compared to the water and again, look at these dramatic images of the vessel just before it sank. Really it's extraordinary.

BLITZER: Yes. It was a dramatic moment indeed. And the pictures are so, so powerful.

You know, Brian, Ukrainian officials now say flatly, the second phase of this war has now begun. Give us a sense of how this war is unfolding in the Donbas region in the east and elsewhere for that matter as well.

TODD: Right. President Zelenskyy, other top Ukrainian officials saying that the second phase of the war has begun here. Here's a more detailed map of some of the key areas were talking about. Now the secretary of the Ukrainian national security and defense council said that the Russians have tried to break through Ukrainian front lines in the Donetsk area. In the Luhansk are and in then in Kharkiv area.

He says that Ukrainian forces in these regions have held so far, but he does say, also, that the Russians have been able to enter the city of Kremmina. That is key because, Kremmina, according to our Military Analyst Colonel Cedric Layton, Retired Air Force Colonel, Kremmina, once you capture that, that's a land junction.

There are several key highways and other roads going in and out of Kremmina. If they capture Kremmina, as it appears the Russians have, Wolf, and you've got more land routes where they can connect to their forces in the Donetsk area down here where they have other forcer.


So this capture of Kremmina is a key development tonight, Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us. Brian, thank you very much.

Joining us now, CNN National Security Analyst, James Clapper, the former Director of National Intelligence. General Clapper, thank you so much for joining us.

The U.S. as you know believes Russia is still struggling very much right now, but it's trying to learn lessons from the failed attempts to take the capital of Kyiv. What factors will you be watching as this major new Russian offensive in the east begins?

JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, exactly what you in further about what lessons they've applied. The thing I'm going to be watching for is how well their units perform. I don't think they've had time to do much to enhance the combat and preparation and readiness of these units.

So there, allegedly, they've added 11 battalion tactical groups, but you wonder what their state of readiness is. What the morale is. Certainly logistics should be a little easier for them, which is a dismal failure in the campaign for Kyiv.

So those are the factors I'm going to be looking for and of course, this is a real challenge for us. From the U.S., for the United States and NATO because this is going to require a higher level of supply because of the expenditures of ammunition because in your previous segment, Phil Breedlove was talking about the differences, particularly in the terrain and the kind of battle that this is going to be as supposed to Kyiv, which is more because of the terrain could be skirmishes, special ops attacks, hitting on attacks, that sort of thing.

This is going to be in the east, much more of a frontal assault type of thing. So it's going to be intense, brutal with high rates of expenditure of ammunition. It's going to be a challenge in term turn for U.S. NATO to supply Ukrainians in the course of this battle.

BLITZER: Yes. They clearly need those supplies and they need them quickly. What will it mean for Putin, Director Clapper, both strategically and for its own propaganda for that matter, if Russia takes the key port city of Mariupol?

CLAPPER: Well this is -- as others have observed, this is crucial because it's a key city location. What's left of it. For establishing a land bridge for what I think is and most people think is the ultimate prize here, which is Odessa.

So and this could perhaps could be the claimed victory that Putin needs for his May 9th parade. I don't know. But it is crucial. Now there's some question about just whether the Russians actually control it or not. Apparently, the Ukrainians are holding out in this steel plant to the south and they're also significant number of civilians there and I would surmise that there are scattered elements of Ukrainians around the city.

So to me at least, there's some question about you know, whether the Russians actually fully control it or not. They'll want to claim that I'm sure, for psychological purposes if nothing else.

BLITZER: The Austrian chancellor who actually met with Putin last week says he thinks Putin quote, believes he is winning this war. How disturbing is it to hear that?

CLAPPER: Well, it's disturbing, but confirmatory. I think at least in my view, Putin's been in his own reality bubble for quite some time and there's long been a question about the extent to which he's getting facts about what's going on, on the ground.

He only claims that everything's going according to plan and that he's winning. Well, it makes you wonder how separate he is from any news at all that's realistic. So it is bothersome when you have someone in his position with his finger on the nuclear button who's that distanced from reality.

BLITZER: That's a good point, scary point indeed. Former Director of National Intelligence, Retired General James Clapper. Thanks so much for joining us. Always important to hear your thoughts.

CLAPPER: Thank you.

BLITZER: Just ahead, Ukraine's President Zelenskyy says the battle for the Donbas region is now underway. Russia's invasion has already left a ghost town in some parts of the country where local Ukrainian officials are now warning residents who are choosing to stay behind. New information. We'll share it with you when we come back.



BLITZER: We're following breaking news, major breaking news. The Biden administration now says the CDC's travel mask mandate for airplanes and other forms of transportation is not in effect after a federal judge today struck down the rule.

Let's break down what's going on, what that means for travelers here in the United States. CNN's Aviation Correspondent Pete Muntean, is joining us right now.

Pete, what are you learning about this? This is really significant.

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: This is super significant, Wolf. A huge shift in travel policy when it comes to the pandemic. We have seen the transportation mask mandate, which has been in place since February of 2021, the early days of the Biden administration, now no longer in effect according to reporting from Kaitlan Collins.

An administration official tells her agencies are reviewing the decision and assessing potential next steps. In the meantime, today's court decision means the CDC's public transportation masking order is not in effect at this time.


There was a surprise decision today by U.S. District Judge in Florida, Kathryn Kimball Mizelle. She was appointed by President Trump in 2020 and she said this rule, the federal transportation mask mandate exceeds the CDC's authority. Remember, this was put in place by the Biden administration February 2021. It was extended multiple times. Was to expire on March 18th. Then was due to expire on April 18th, today.

Just last week, the Biden administration announced it was going to be extended by two weeks. The new expiration date was May 3rd, 2022, and we now know, thanks to this judge's ruling that is no longer the case.

The federal transportation mask mandate, planes, trains, buses, boats and in terminals, masks no longer required pending this federal review.

We know airlines have wanted an end to this for some time. In fact, even today, Delta's Airline CEO, Ed Bastian, said it should be up to travelers to decide. And we just got this from United Airlines. It says, quote, this is a statement from the United, effective immediately, masks are no longer required at United on domestic flights, select international flights, or at U.S. Airports. A huge shift in policy here, Wolf.

BLITZER: Very huge shift, indeed. Pete Muntean, thanks very much for that update. Let's discuss this and all the late breaking developments as far as the coronavirus pandemic is concerned. Joining us now, Dr. Paul Offit, the Director of Vaccine Education Center at Children's Hospital in Philadelphia. He's a Member of the FDA's Vaccine Advisory Committee as well.

Dr. Offit, what's your reaction to this development? Was this just a matter of time or is the administration -- the Biden administration now letting this legal ruling guide this instead of COVID methods?

DR. PAUL OFFIT, MEMBER, FDA VACCINE ADVISORY COMMITTEE: Well. So the purpose of mask mandates is really to protect the healthcare system. You don't want your hospitals to be so overwhelmed with COVID cases that they can't take care of not only those cases, but the other critically ill people they need to take care of in the hospital.

So the question is, is that where we are right now in the pandemic. Right now, the Alpha Variant came into this country and swept through the county, it was more contagious. When the delta variant came through, and swept across the country, it was more contagious.

These more recent strain, like omicron strand or the BA.2 strain aren't really as much more contagious as they are more immune evasive. And what that means is that even if you've been naturally infected or you've been vaccinated or both, you still might get a mild infection.

The good news is, you are likely to get a severe infection. So although there's an increase of cases in some areas, I know in Philadelphia, there's an increase in cases, so we have a mask mandate.

The odds are that's not going to proceed an increase in hospitalizations and intensive care admissions and that's what we will see. But I think that, that's where we are right now in this pandemic.

BLITZER: Speaking of Philadelphia, Dr. Offit, this comes as your city of Philadelphia has just reinstated its mask mandate. How to people navigate this confusing time when they're getting conflicting guidance on whether they need to wear a mask?

If you go to an airport now in the United States, you don't necessarily need to wear a mask if you fly domestically or on U.S. planes, you don't need to wear a mask. What does this say that Philadelphia, your city, has reinstated the mask mandate?

OFFIT: I think it is a little confusing. I mean on Saturday, the Philadelphia, 76ers hosted the Toronto Raptors and there were 20,000 people in the stands who didn't wear a mask.

Tonight, when they host them, there's going to be 20,000 people in the stands who by definition are going to have to wear a mask. I do think though, that again, the goal is to try and protect the healthcare system. That's why the mask, I think for the most part, if you've been naturally infected or vaccinated or both, you are protected against serious disease. We're going to have to worry about this virus when a variant arises that is resistant to protection by vaccination or natural infection or both drop from serious infection. And that hasn't happened yet.

That's why we don't need a variant specific vaccine yet. So I think, generally, you have about 90 percent of the population immunity out there from natural infection or vaccination. And that's why you're seeing that although you'll see these cases, whether you have some BA.2 strains, you're not really seeing a dramatic increase in hospitalizations or deaths.

BLITZER: As you say, it's still pretty confusing to a lot of us. Dr. Offit, thanks so much for joining us.

Coming up, more on the war against Ukraine, CNN goes inside one city where officials are urging residents to leave as Russian forces begin their assault on the east. We'll be right back.



BLITZER: Breaking news: top Ukrainian officials now confirming the battle for the Donbas region has begun. This as officials in the region urged residents to leave immediately, including the mayor of Kramatorsk, where cruise missiles struck the city overnight.

But as CNN's Ben Wedeman reports, few seem to be alarmed even as Russian troops mass nearby.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The playgrounds are empty. There nor children here. The pigeons indifferent to the air raid siren and so it would seem, are the people.

I close my ears when I'm walking around, says Nicolay, because it's all the time.

As fighting flairs to the east, north and south, the few residents left in Kramatorsk carry on.

The train station seen ten days ago of a Russian missile strike that left almost 60 dead is closed. Trains don't come here anymore. The buses, oddly enough, still run.


A deep hole marks where overnight a Russian missile struck. There were no injuries this time. Nearby, signs of an earlier bombing.

After almost two months of war, Konstantine is fatalistic. I'm not suicidal, he says, but as long as other people stay here, I'll stay here.

Kramatorsk's Mayor Oleksandr Goncharenko is blunt about the perils his city faces.

MAYOR OLEKSANDR GONCHARENKO, KRAMATORSK, UKRAINE: It's not safe. It's dangerous in each part of the city. They can be attacked in every place of the city.

WEDEMAN: Alisa and her husband strolled through the city's main square.

ALISA KRAMATORSK RESIDENT: It's very bad and terrible, but we want to live in Ukraine.

WEDEMAN: For now, they have most of their city to themselves.

Under normal circumstances on a mild spring evening here in the main square in Kramatorsk, there would be lots of people here. Now, it's just me and the pigeons.

Curfew approaches and dogs abandoned by their owners roam the empty streets of an almost empty city.


WEDEMAN (on camera): And, Wolf, the air raid siren is going off yet again. It is an odd evening and we're hearing reports of intense fighting to the north of here as well as to the south. But for the first time in ten days, all evening long, it's been eerily quiet.

BLITZER: The sirens are going off, they've been going off for a while now.

Ben Wedeman in Kramatorsk for us, thank you very much. Stay safe over there. We'll discuss. We'll continue our conversations down the road.

Right now, I want to discuss all the late breaking developments out of Ukraine with Toby Fricker, specialist for UNICE, which is currently on the ground providing aid to Ukraine's children and they need a lot of assistance right now.

Toby, thanks very much for joining us.

You met families fleeing the violence further east right now. How desperate is the rush to get out as Ukraine announces that this new Russian assault has begun? TOBY FRICKER, EMERGENCY COMMUNICATION SPECIALIST, UNICEF: Yeah.

Thanks so much, Wolf. I mean, it's desperate for sure. And it's desperate because of the imminent sort of potential scale in the fighting and also found as I spoke to in Zaporizhzhia, the southeast here, we have come from the school and we spoke about empty shelves in supermarkets and other challenges not just the imminence of a scale-up in fighting.

So there are multiple challenges effecting children. We saw the playground just then empty. It's a tragedy to see those scenes. And now with the attacks yesterday in Lviv as well, we know very few places are safe for children in Ukraine.

BLITZER: Well, what about -- does the deadly Russian strike on Lviv in the west raise the fears of for anyone, anywhere in the country right now trying to get out to safety?

FRICKER: That's right. We have millions of children on the move inside Ukraine, moving mostly to the west to find safer areas. And then you have the strikes in Lviv and that brings everything back home. It brings the trauma back. Much there was a child injured in the strike earlier.

And that trauma just moves with the children. They're underground again. They're having to go into shelters again for safety. And you can't escape that. And that's the reality in Ukraine today wherever you are.

BLITZER: Toby Fricker of UNICEF, thanks for all you're doing to help the children who are in desperate need in Ukraine right now.

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

Up next, Dave Matthews on CNN performing a new song inspired by the plight of the Ukrainian refugees.



BLITZER: The plight of nearly five million Ukrainian refugees and others displaced around the world inspired musician and philanthropist Dave Matthews to write a new song. It is called "Something to Tell My Baby." And he performed it on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION" with Jake Tapper yesterday. Listen to this.


BLITZER: Special thanks to Dave Matthews.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'll be back in half an hour for our new streaming service, CNN+ with my new show called "The Newscast". It is also available on demand. Until then, thanks very much for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.