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Russia Declares New Phase of War Under Way in East Ukraine; Last Chance to Evacuate Eastern Cities as Russia Closes In; Justice Department to Appeal Ruling Voiding Travel Mask Mandate if CDC Determines it is Still Necessary; Kharkiv Mayor: "Non-Stop Bombardment of Civilian Districts". Aired 6-7p ET

Aired April 19, 2022 - 18:00   ET



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WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, eastern Ukraine under fire as Russia declares a new phase of the war is under way. CNN is on the eastern front where civilians are facing a last chance to escape as the on onslaught begins and Kremlin forces close in.

Also breaking, new evidence of Russia's brutality in besieged Mariupol. A factory sheltering civilians is attacked and Ukraine says it intercepted Russian military communications on plans to, quote, level everything to the ground.

Our correspondents are standing by in Ukraine and over at the White House covering this pivotal moment of Russia's war against Ukraine. We want to welcome viewers in the United States and around the world. I am Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We begin with Russia's major new military offensive in eastern Ukraine. The long feared assault now a harsh reality that will likely shape the final outcome of the war. CNN's Clarissa Ward and Ben Wedeman, they are on the ground for us in eastern Ukraine this hour.

Let's go to Clarissa first. She's in Donbas region, the battleground that's now a primary focus of Kremlin forces. Clarissa, I understand you visited a town on the eastern front. Is there still time for civilians there to escape what is expected to be a truly brutal battle?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we are here in the town of Bakhmut, just under 20 miles away from a town called Popasna where there has been incredibly heavy fighting throughout the day, you can hear it from here, constant volley of artillery going back and forth between Russian and Ukrainian forces as Russians continue to push in not just to Popasna but to several towns along this front.

What they are finding, Wolf, is that people too slow to evacuate are now really struggling to get out safely. Here in this town they are now desperately imploring people please do go ahead and leave, but when we were walking around earlier, and talking to people, we found many residents who say that they will stay, they give a number of reasons, they say they don't have enough money to leave, they don't have any place to go, they're worried about leaving their homes.

A lot of people said they saved up for years to buy their homes and they don't want to leave them behind because they've seen the images of what's happened to houses in areas that have been under Russian occupation, and so they want to stay home and protect their homes.

But the problem with that is it makes it an incredibly difficult situation for Ukrainian authorities who are desperately trying to get civilians out of these areas and in many cases some of them are coming under fire, getting wounded and even killed as they try to escape once it is already too late and fighting has come to their town, Wolf.

BLITZER: Clarissa, I understand about a thousand people, including many children are actually trapped right now in a factory basement in the southern port city of Mariupol. They're bracing for Russian onslaught which will be brutal. What are you hearing, what's the latest there?

WARD: Well, CNN has actually spoken to one of the commanders of that Ukrainian unit that's hunkered down. He says there are hundreds of civilians trapped in there. He is making a desperate plea. He said listen, we have only a few days or even a few hours and he directly requested for a third country to try to negotiate or broker some kind of extraction agreement.

He said that they would favor this to be the United States, he implored directly to President Biden saying he was a strong leader of a strong nation and that perhaps the U.S. could step in and play some role in averting a considerable bloodbath.

He said the situation in there is critical, people are running out of food and water, many of the civilians according to this commander are in fact wounded and earlier in the day we had heard reported intercepts released by Ukrainian security services that reportedly are from a Russian ground troop in Mariupol saying that the order has been given for Russian aircraft to basically level that place to the ground.

So there is now a sense of real palpable urgency from both civilians in Asovstal steel plant to remain there and also those Ukrainian forces who are begging the world to step in and help avert a catastrophe, Wolf.


BLITZER: All right Clarissa Ward, in eastern Ukraine for us, in the Donbas region. Stay safe over there. We'll get back to you. I want to go to another location right now in eastern Ukraine, that's where CNN's Ben Wedenman is joining us now live. Ben, I understand you got a very up close look at some of the devastation unleash by the Russian forces. What are you seeing?

BEN WEDENMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. Kramatorsk, the city we are in came under Russian fire yet again today with Russian forces massing nearby, some Russian forces able to take a town not far from here.

The fear is at the Russians approach, this city -- the fire on this city will intensify even more.


WEDENMAN (voice over): Bomb disposal technicians collect the pieces of a Russian missile that slammed into a warehouse in Kramatorsk, Tuesday, afternoon. The missile killed a 40-year-old worker, injured three others.

Doctors patch up one of the wounded from the afternoon strike. Since Russia invaded Ukraine almost two months ago, the staff here has had no rest. We weren't preparing for this says this Dr. Vytali Kyrylenko, now we're doing only urgent surgeries.

One operation ends and another begins. This time a soldier wounded on the front line. Even here glass doors must be taped to minimize shattering in case of bombing, sandbags cover windows.

The director of this hospital says thanks to help from abroad, they do not lack for medicine or equipment. What they desperately need is neurosurgeons.

That in a war where intense bombardment is the norm. These men are recovering in a special unit specializing in treating concussions sustained in artillery bombardments. When shelling is just steps away, the damage isn't visible but is there.

They suffer from intense headaches, nausea, dizziness, and disorientation. Am I tired? A bit says Roman who twice has suffered concussions. Not all wounds bleed.


WEDEMAN (on camera): And what I saw in that war, Wolf, was a lot of men with that so-called thousand yard stare. These are men, for instance, me and my crew in the last month had a few close calls. These are men on the front lines under intense, constant Russian artillery bombardment.

They've had more close calls than they care to count and they've lost their comrades, seen them ripped apart by the artillery, so you really feel these are men who are permanently scarred by what they've been through. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Be careful over there in Kramatorsk. Ben Wedenman, one of our courageous journalist. Thank you very much for that report.

Let's get more on the new phase of the war. Joining us now, Retired Leiutenant General Mark Hertling, a CNN Military Analyst and CNN White House Correspondent M.J. Lee.

General Hertling, this next phase of the war is expected, hard to believe more brutal than earlier battles. What should the Ukrainian military and the Ukrainian people on the frontline now be bracing for?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Wolf, Ben Wedenman's report now just really summed it up. They're going to be subjected to a preparatory fire from artillery and rockets and missiles and those kind of indirect fire weapons cause both physical and psychological effects as Ben just reported.

They certainly kill and maim if a round goes nearby, but the psychological effects are the- injuries. The constant fear. You don't know when a weapons going to strike until it does or you hear the whistling of the round coming in.

This is the toughest time as the Russians prepare the battlefield. And that's what they're doing. It's part of their doctrinal approach to hit targets with a lot of artillery and close air support if they can fly it. And unfortunately we'll going to see more of what we've seen in other towns where the Russians do not separate that combatants, the Ukrainian soldiers from the civilians as part of the war crime approach.

So that's what they have to prepare for unfortunately is the preparing of the battlefield with indirect fires.

BLITZER: M.J. you're at the White House.


The president, President Biden says he will send yet more artillery to Ukraine, other military hardware. What are you learning about those plans?

M.J. LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. When President Biden was traveling today he answered in the affirmative when he was asked whether the U.S. planned to send more artillery to Ukraine.

And now we are learning tonight that U.S. officials are discussing an additional weapons package that could amount to around $800 million. The details are not finalized yet, but it is something that could be approved in the coming days, we are told, and of course this kind of assistance is proving to be so critical at this phase in the war when we are seeing this kind of heavy fighting particularly centered on the eastern region, in this Donbas region when we are seeing so many casualties and is also the reason while we have talked about in recent days why the U.S. has been sending more heavy duty equipment to assist Ukraine.

Now, just two things I want to quickly point out about the president say, he did hold a global phone conversation with global leaders earlier in the day to discuss basically all of the above, and including more economic sanctions. He was also asked whether he wants to travel to Ukraine. He said that he doesn't know. Of course, we know that security concerns are very, very high and a top priority right now, Wolf.

BLITZER: Understandably so. All right, thanks very much, M.J. Lee over at the White House.

There's more breaking news that we are following. Growing fears right now of chemical attacks by Russia on Ukraine. The capital city Kyiv now pleading for hundreds of thousands of gas masks. Stay with us. Much more of special coverage coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: Breaking news this hour. The Ukrainian President Zelenskyy speaking out just moments ago in a new video address saying Russia will be remembered as a, quote, source of evil for targeting civilians in Ukraine.

Let's get more from the Deputy Mayor of Kyiv. Joining us Serhiy Kiral, is joining us. Deputy Mayor, thank you so much for joining us. Thanks for all you're doing.

This new phase of the war that Russia has begun without any justification at all is focused on the eastern part of Ukraine right now. But on Monday, Russia did kill at least seven people in your city of Lviv in the west. Is there fear Russia will now ramp up strikes on Lviv and other communities in western Ukraine?

SERHIY KIRAL, DEPUTY MAYOR OF LVIV: Well thank you, Wolf, for reporting and having me. Of course, there is fear from day one throughout Ukraine not only in western Ukraine but there are no cities in Ukraine which can feel safe and secure, including in Lviv and be ready for new strikes.

And you know what can stop the strikes and the president of Ukraine, Ukraine armed forces have been begging the west, asking for more air defense system, long range anti-battery, anti-artillery systems that could help stop the bombardments and shelling, sometimes sporadic shelling off the Ukrainian civilians in the cities.

I don't know if you heard this, but it was pretty shocking that the capital city Kyiv is now formally requesting 200,000 gas masks in fear of any potential Russian chemical weapons attack. Do you share those fears, Deputy Mayor, does Lviv -- and you're the deputy mayor there. Does need to also prepare for a possible Russian chemical attack?

KIRAL: Well, Lviv has been preparing for all sorts of emergency situations, even before the war. We had a special program, training actually together with the British embassy for that. Of course, we didn't expect the scale of barbarism and the aggression that Russia demonstrated.

Many compared from the World War II. I can also compare it with the Tatar and Mongol hordes that devastated this land back in 15th and 14th century. But you know what, the gas masks, and we've secured some, and we are making sure that we have more, will not stop the war, will not force Putin to sit down and negotiate peace.

These are the weapons, are other foreign minister said, weapons, weapons, and weapons but also tougher sanctions for embargo for oil and gas particularly from European partners for spending almost a billion dollars a day for the Russian war machine. These are the measures which will stop this war and will force Putin to sit down and negotiate.

BLITZER: Lviv Deputy Mayor, Serhiy Kiral, good luck over there. Be safe. We'll stay in touch with you. Thanks so much for joining us.

KIRAL: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead, Vladimir Putin honors a Russian brigade behind the horrific atrocities in Bucha. Stay with us. Much more, coming up.



BLITZER: Tonight, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is actually claiming that the killing of civilian in one city near Kyiv were, quote, staged and played.

And now in an especially galling moving, Russian President Vladimir Putin is actually honoring the troops behind these war crimes. CNN's Brian Todd is working the story for us. Brian, people were found not only in mass graves, a lot of people in mass graves, but there also so many people found dead in the streets.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf, and tonight, Russian President Putin is honoring the Russian military unit that's been specifically accused of executing civilians in the town of Bucha.

We have to warn you that some viewers may find some of the images in the story disturbing.


TODD (voice over): Russia's Vladimir Putin has bestowed a prestigious award on a military unit allegedly involved in the brutality near Bucha, near Kyiv. Awarding the honorary title of guards to the 64th separate guards motor riffle brigade.

That very unit is accused by Ukraine's defense ministry of committing cold-blooded murders.


Civilians summarily executed, found on the streets of Bucha after Russians withdrew. Mass graves full of murdered civilians observed by CNN teams which visited the area.

SARAH MENDELSON, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N. FOR HUMAN RIGHTS: It is outrageous. Most of the world sees the butchers of Bucha now being awarded by president of Russia who thinks that this kind of conduct is what he wants is normal, he is normalizing it, it's completely contrary to international humanitarian law.

TODD: In a letter, Putin congratulates the 64th for, quote, great heroism and courage in defending your father land.

BRIGADIER GENERAL MARK KIMMITT (RET.), U.S. ARMY: This unit was an ill disciplined mob that shot civilians. Nobody needs to be trained in the military to avoid that type of contact. So this notion that they have been awarded the guard's designation is an embarrassment to the Russian army.

TODD: According to global, the 64th separate guards motor rifle brigade has snipers, one volunteer who helped collect bodies described some people being shot by snipers.

VLADYSLAV MINCHENKO, VOLUNTEER, HELPED COLLECT BODIES: You can see they're all civilians and snipers shot them all in the head. This is how they were having fun.

TODD: Relatives of those killed said victims were also tortured, and mutilated. Human rights, war crimes experts say Vladimir Putin is likely aware of what the military unit is accused of.

STEPHEN RAPP, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR AT-LARGE WAR CRIMES ISSUES: I believe that he knew it and I believe this is part of the way in which he sends the signal, it is part of the campaign of sort of intimidation and humiliation.

TODD: And a key question tonight, what kind of message does Putin's award to this brigade send to other Russian military units in Ukraine?

RAPP: It is okay when you commit rape, and acts of torture, when you kill children, when you kill families, when you kill 80-year-old women tending their gardens.

MENDELSON: Anything goes. There's no law. There's no law of war for the Russian military. It is terrifying.


TODD (on camera): The Kremlin has denied any involvement in the killing of civilians in Bucha, and has made baseless claims that the images of civilian bodies on the streets of Bucha are fake, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. That's very galling as I said. Thanks very much, Brian Todd, for that report.

Joining us now, the former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, William Taylor. Ambassador, thank you for joining us. I wonder what goes through your mind seeing this truly out rages display by Putin. WILLIAM TAYLOR, FORMER U.S. AMBASSAODR TO UKRAINE: Wolf, it is hard to watch every time we see it. It makes our stomachs turn. It makes stomachs turn around the world and it just further inflames the thoughts, the feelings of people around the world about what's going on in Ukraine and it makes it clear what we're up against, it makes it clear how we have to stop this war crime.

President Biden has called this genocide, and President Putin has said he doesn't believe Ukraine is a real country and he's going to wipe it out. That's genocide. And in order to stop it, you have to do what the previous report said, that is provide weapons.

When you talking to the deputy mayor, he needs those weapons. The Ukrainian military needs those weapons to stop this killing.

BLITZER: By honoring this unit, is Putin actually giving a green light for other Russian troops to repeat these types of brutality, these war crimes?

TAYLOR: Wolf, he is sending a terrible signal and as General Kimmet said, this is -- this shows lack of professionalism in this army. This can't be good for the Russian army. The Russian army will come out of this terribly.

It is going to be tainted. It is going to be disgraced. So if he is sending that message, he is doing damage to his own army.

BLITZER: While Putin is honoring troops, one Russian father is now pleading for answers about his son who's been missing since the sinking of that warship, the Moskva. What does all this say about how Putin is selling this war within Russia?

TAYLOR: So Wolf, he is able to control the air waves. He's been able to control all of the messages that gets through to the T.V. audience in Russia. So they're hearing this. They see this. But they also are seeing the sinking of that ship. They figured out, Russian people are starting to figure out a lot of these troops, Wolf, are now going back, there finished up their year of contract, they're going back to towns, they're going back to Russian villages and they're telling people back there, they're telling Russians back there what's really going on and they're having a hard time, the Russian recruiters are having a hard time filling quotas.

So this, again, this is having a terrible effect. This is having a damaging effect on the Russian military and they'll remember it.


BLITZER: And by all accounts, hundreds if not thousands of Russian troops will not be going back, they have been killed on the battlefield right now and their families, they're going to be waiting for some word. But they're obviously not going to get word. Ambassador William Taylor, thanks so much for joining us.

TAYLOR: Thank you, Wolf. BLITZER: There's more breaking news out of Ukraine, just ahead. Also breaking right now, the U.S. Justice Department just announcing moments ago that it will appeal, a federal judge's ruling striking down the federal transportation mask mandate. New information after this.


BLITZER: More breaking news right now. The United States Department of Justice will appeal a judge's ruling striking down the federal transportation mask mandate if the CDC still deems it necessary to protect public health.

The mandate lifted for now for U.S. Airlines and other public transit. CNN Aviation Correspondent Pete Muntean shows us how this drastic change is now playing out.



PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT (voice over): It is a new mask less era for pandemic travel, marking the end of the 14-month long federal mandate that required masks on board planes, trains, buses, ride shares and in terminals, disappearing along with the mandate, the signs that remind travelers to wear masks along with masks themselves being tossed in the trash by airline passengers as word spread late Monday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Masks will be optional this evening for all crew and passengers as well.

MUNTEAN: In flight celebrations were kicked off by a surprise court decision that initially caused confusion in the travel industry and ushered in a patch work of new rules. Some airports will still require masks, such as Chicago O'Hare, as well as New York Kennedy and LaGuardia, even though nearby Newark Airport will not.

Masks will also be required on New York subway system as well as other mass transit systems that impose their own rules.


MUNTEAN: The sweeping new changes come during a spring break travel surge. Latest TSA numbers say more than 11 million people flew nationwide over the long Easter weekend with what could be a huge summer travel season on the horizon. The CDC remains firm on its guidance, telling travelers to continue to wear masks even in the absence of a federal mandate.

ANDY SLAVITT, FORMER WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISOR FOR COVID RESPONSE: Nobody likes the pandemic, nobody likes wearing masks, and so if the mask is become the symbol of the pandemic, you know, people cheer, will be happy if it feels like a symbol of the pandemic being behind us, but it certainly for many people the pandemic is not over, particularly people at high risk.

MUNTEAN: In her decision, U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle likened the mandate to, quote, detention and quarantine. Since the start of the pandemic, U.S. airlines unilaterally banned thousands of passengers for violating mask rules but are now letting them decide for themselves.

RACHEL, TRAVELER: We're comfortable with a mask. I feel very safe, especially since airplanes are among the safest indoor places.

JASON ALEXANDER, TRAVELER: Even traveling here and being in downtown New York and everybody not wearing, able to not wear masks and things, I felt much more comfortable keeping mine on.


MUNTEAN (on camera): The Department of Justice now says it disagrees with the U.S. district court judge's decision and says it will appeal the repealing of the transportation mask mandate, but only if the CDC deems it necessary.

Remember, the transportation mask mandate went in place February 2021, it's been extended multiple times, the expiration was March 18th, then April 18th. The most recent extension brought it to May 3rd. So, Wolf, we will see if an appeal will bring the transportation mask mandate back or if it not being in place now remains. Wolf?

BLITZER: Pete Muntean, over at Reagan national airport outside Washington, D.C. thank you very much. Let's get some more on this. Joining us now, Dr. Leana Wen, CNN Medical Analyst. The former Baltimore Health Commissioner. Dr. Wen, thanks for joining us.

What do you make of this announcement from the Justice Department, just out, the Justice Department will appeal to this ruling, but only if the CDC says the mask mandate is still needed to protect public health here in the United States. What's your reaction?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Well, my reaction is that the Biden administration has to do everything they can to preserve public health authority in the future. Right now I think it is a bit up in the air as to whether the mask mandate really is needed to control the BA.2 variant, but there may be a variant in the future that causes more deadly disease or that may evade protection from our vaccines.

We want the CDC to be able to respond at that point, and so everything the federal government can do to preserve public health authority for future crisis is important.

BLITZER: All this is left a lot of folks out there confused, as you know Dr. Wen, with more questions than answers. One question on people's mind is this. How much does a mask protect you if most of the other passengers on the flight or your subway car or bus or train or whatever aren't wearing masks.

WEN: The key here, Wolf, is to wear a high quality mask and by that I mean, a well fitting N95, KN95 or KF94 mask. A simple cloth mask is just not going to do. A lot of people wearing cloth masks is actually less protective than you wearing an KN95 or N95 mask.

Make sure it is well fitting and that you are used to it. And so if you are not used to it, practice wearing it at home, maybe practice going to the grocery store with it, make sure you can wear it for the duration of time you're in transit if.

If you have a beard, or other facial hair, shave.


That will help it fit better. Basically at this point, we need to leave it to individuals to protect themselves. If that mandate isn't there, people can still do their part. Something else to be aware of too, is that during boarding and deplaning are times the ventilation system may be off. And so make sure your mask is on during those critical times.

BLITZER: Good advice from Dr. Leana Wen. Thank you very, very much.

Up next, Kharkiv's mayor telling CNN of, quote, nonstop bombardment of civilian districts, including a kitchen partnering (ph) with Chef Jose Andres who is in Ukraine right now, working to feed civilians. Chef Andres, standing by live. He'll join us. That's next.



BLITZER: More now on the breaking news. The mayor of Kharkiv in Ukraine telling CNN his city is facing, and I'm quoting now, nonstop bombardment of civilian districts with at least 15 people killed and more than 50 injured in just the last day and a half.

Among the targets, a kitchen partnering with chef Jose Andres' World Central Kitchen, which provides meals to people living in disaster zones like Ukraine.

And joining us now, the chef, Jose Andres.

Jose, thanks for joining us and for all you and World Central Kitchen are doing to help people. It is so important, so powerful.

As you know, unfortunately, four workers were wounded in the missile strike on your partner kitchen. Do you have any doubt that Russia is actually targeting civilians?

JOSE ANDRES, FOUNDER, WORLD CENTRAL KITCHEN: Well, obviously, they are targeting civilians. In our case it was a missile with huge destruction in a very big building that happened. Our kitchen was across the street. Obviously because the power of that missile create a lot of destruction, took some lives, many wounded, included four team members of that restaurant partner of World Central Kitchen.

But it is not about that moment. Today, it was in north of Bucha, in Borodyanka, and was fascinating to me and very sad to see that many of the homes, hundreds, hundreds of homes in a rural area, seems every single window was shot at. The assault there was kind of a videogame where you are shooting at anything that moves. Many situations that we saw like in Kramatorsk, where I actually Nate Mook, the CEO of World Central Kitchen, was there with team members feeding in the train station where women and children and elderly were trying to leave through the train to the safe havens of the West or other countries.

A missile hit in the middle of that place with thousands of people normally nearby. Obviously, Russia is shooting not only playing a war, but shooting at civilians nonstop. And this is something that America, Europe, that democracies of the world cannot allow any further.

BLITZER: Yeah. It's so, so heartbreaking to see what's going on. Amazingly, Jose, you and I have known each other quite awhile, just days after the Russian attack, your organization World Central Kitchen and its partners in Ukraine, you're cooking again in a new Kharkiv location. What does that say about the resilience of World Central Kitchen, what does it say about resilience of the Ukrainian people?

ANDRES: Well, this is the resilience of the Ukrainian people and World Central Kitchen which we are an American born organization. We are supported especially by Americans and now also by people of the world.

We are here because we cannot allow the Ukrainian people to fight this war alone. They're actually not fighting the war, they're only defending themselves. They're defending themselves from attacks, especially on women and children and elderly. Everybody in Ukraine, I met many people that told me, I didn't vote for President Zelenskyy, but right now, President Zelenskyy is my leader. My plaque (ph) is a plaque of all Ukrainians.

And every person I know, including children, the ones that remain in Ukraine and even the ones that are far away in the safety of other countries, everybody is hands on to provide relief to people that need it the most. World Central Kitchen is going to be here, thanks to many people that support us for the long run.

We are not going to allow any Ukrainian to go hungry. We're going to be here for the long run and in our way, we are food fighters. We don't solve any problem. Sometimes I feel we are only a Band-Aid, but sometimes a bite of food at a time brings hope and brings kind of waiting for that moment where we all hope that peace will be achieved, where Ukrainians will be again free.

And remember, they're not only fighting for their freedom, I do believe they're fighting for freedom of the democracies of the world. So let's make sure we are next to them every single moment.

BLITZER: Chief Jose Andres, we're so grateful to you and to World Central Kitchen for all you're doing. Once again, stay safe over there and I will see you when you get back here to Washington. Appreciate it very, very much.

ANDRES: Thank you.

BLITZER: And for information about how you our viewers can help humanitarian efforts in Ukraine, including the critically important work of Chef Jose Andres, and World Central Kitchen, 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 the room of the patient, and you just tell him the news, and telling him the story and I would say, don't worry, the poisoning was a murder attempt, and Putin tried to kill you with Novichok. And he opened up his blue eyes wide and he looked at me, and he say it very clear --

ALEXEI NAVALNY, RUSSIAN OPPOSITION LEADER: Come on. Poisoned? I don't believe it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Like he's back. This is Alexei.

NAVALNY: Putin is supposed to be not so stupid to use this Novichok.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is more than this, he's in the nation.

NAVALNY: If you want to kill someone, just shoot him. Jesus Christ.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Like real Alexei.

NAVALNY: It is impossible to believe it. It's kind of stupid. The whole idea of poisoning with a chemical weapon -- this is why, this is why it is so smart, because even reasonable people refuse to believe, like, what, come on, poisoned? Seriously?


BLITZER: The Kremlin and Russian security services deny they played any role in Navalny's poisoning. "NAVALNY" premiers Sunday, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.

And we'll be right back.



BLITZER: Russia's war on Ukraine has displaced and separated millions of families. For many of them, the pain is made much worse by not knowing where their loved ones are or even if they are alive.

CNN national senior correspondent Ed Lavandera is in Ukraine for us.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Oleksii Karuk is searching for answers in a place where answers were buried or bombed. But Oleksiy must find his father. Igor Karuk disappeared while helping a friend escaped the war zone west of Kyiv.

OLEKSII KARUK, SEARCH FOR HIS MISSING FATHER (through translator): He talked about it so light heartedly that I felt like everything would be all right. We didn't have information that civilians were being shot so I wasn't worried.

LAVANDERA: On March 8, 8:00 in the morning, you got seven different texts from your dad. What did they say?

KARUK: He said that he is going to drive here near Borodianka, yes, to take his friends, and to bring him to Kyiv.

LAVANDERA: What did you write back to him?

KARUK: I asked him to be careful, to care for himself, and that's all.

LAVANDERA: Those were the last words father and son exchanged.

Oleksii is joined by his father's friend, Andriy Filin. They're looking for Igor's car, hunting for clues in the neighborhood ravaged by Russian forces, putting up pictures of the 48-year-old father of two boys, hoping someone has answers.

Unraveling the mysteries of what happened to countless missing people is another horrific chapter in this war. In the aftermath of Russia's siege around Kyiv, Oleksii and Andriy are on their own to find Igor.

ANDRIY FILIN, FRIEND OF MISSING FATHER: We have information that his phone was here, not just the car.

LAVANDERA: How difficult is it to do this? So many days, searching and searching and no answers?

FILIN: I don't know. I don't know words because we don't know where he might be.

LAVANDERA: This map shows the ground they've covered, looking for Igor. So far, every question leads to another dead end.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn't see an Open car left on the road or a gas station.

FILIN: We have been driving around looking for it, but we haven't found it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is a lot near the police station.

LAVANDERA: That lead didn't help.

Then, the men discovered four civilian cars scorched on a quiet road. Inside one of the cars, human bones were visible. Andriy thought one of the cars might be Igor's.

When you arrived here, and you saw this, what did you feel?

FILIN: I just cried. I don't see anything because I have cried.

LAVANDERA: It wasn't Igor Karuk's car.

FILIN: It's not his car.

LAVANDERA: Do you still think you can find him alive?

KARUK: Hope dies the last.

LAVANDERA: Hope dies last?


LAVANDERA: The search continues for this father who vanished in the war.


BLITZER: CNN's Ed Lavandera reporting for us -- Ed, thank you.

I'm Wolf Blitzer, in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'll be back in half an hour on the new streaming service CNN+ with my new show called "The Newscast."

Thanks very much for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.