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Ukraine Says, Mariupol Under Constant Attack, May Only Have Hours Left; Official In East Warns Russia Will Destroy Everything In Its Path. Putin Says, Missile Test Food For Thought For Russia's Foes; Ukrainian Horror Stories Of Russian Brutality Near Kyiv; Russian, Belarusian Players Barred From Competing At Wimbledon. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired April 20, 2022 - 18:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: You can listen to THE LEAD, wherever from when you get your podcasts.

Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer. He's right next door in a place I like to call THE SITUATION ROOM. I'll see you tomorrow.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, the besieged city of Mariupol under constant bombardment by Russian forces as time maybe running out to save tens of thousands of civilians trap there.

To the east, the Ukrainian official now Russia will, quote, destroy everything in its path as it intensifies its new assault on the region.

Also today, Russia tested a nuclear capable missile right in the midst of war. And Vladimir Putin delivers a warning to the west. He says the launch should give Moscow's enemies food for thought about threatening his country.

Our correspondent are covering all that and all in Ukraine, in Brussels, as well as here in Washington, as Russia's brutal war now heads into a ninth week.

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 this hour with one of the most intense battles in the war in Ukraine. The fight right now for Mariupol. Russian forces launching relentless attacks and tightening their squeeze on the decimated southeastern city.

The struggle to defend Mariupol growing more and more desperate right now, as a Ukrainian commander is warning, there may be only hours left. CNN's Matt Rivers is on the ground force in Ukraine. Matt, first of all, what are you learning about conditions of Mariupol tonight?

MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're horrible, Wolf. And we had a slight glimmer of hope earlier today when an evacuation corridor was agreed to, starting at 2:00 P.M. local time. The hope was to get civilians out and yet according to the Ukrainian, the Russians violate the cease fire, meaning only a small number of people were able to evacuate successfully.

Meanwhile, we spoke to one man recently inside Mariupol who was fighting who gave us some unique insight into the conditions on the ground.


RIVERS (voice over): The Asovstal steel plant housing Mariupol's last line of defense. If the defenders here fall, so goes the city. A few days ago, George Kurparashvilli says he was right in the heart of the fight.

GEORGE KUPARASHVILLI, AZOV BATTALION COMMANDER: I've never seen such a brutal, devastating war because Russians are just trying to execute civilians.

RIVERS: He spoke to us via video chat from an undisclosed location. Severely injured during the fighting, he says he was smuggled out to recover. He is a Georgian national and a commander in the Azov Battalion, one of the few remaining units left defending the city.

He says he was among the soldiers fighting the Russians while at the same time taking care of the hundreds of civilians sheltering in the area. Some of which purportedly seen here in a video CNN can't verify, posted on the Ukrainian government's social media.

So how long do you think your group can take care of all those people and yourselves?

KUPARASHVILLI: That's hard to answer. That's hard to answer for me. Time is short, that's all I can say.

RIVERS: Tens of thousands of citizens in besieged Mariupol still need to be evacuated. On Wednesday, a slight glimmer of hope. A humanitarian corridor agreed to by both sides where civilians could evacuate Mariupol, heading to Manhush, then Berdyansk, and then onward, eventually to the Ukrainian held city of Zaporizhzhia.

The city's mayor urging people to use it. He said dear people of Mariupol, during these long and incredibly difficult days, you survived in inhuman conditions. You may have heard different things. But I want you to know the main thing, they are waiting for you in Zaporizhzhia. It is safe there.

Video from Mariupol's city council shows buses lined up ready to take those who wanted to leave. It is unclear how many got on, but a regional official says fewer people left than he hope.

For many leaving is a difficult choice, it requires trusting that the Russian military will not harm those trying to leave. And yet this is the same military that has spent the entire war systematically targeting civilians across the country.

And yet the city has become unlivable. For the military units still resisting, Kuparashvilli he says they're caring for soldiers and civilians. Sometimes with the same injuries, due to Russian shelling.

KUPARASHVILLI: It's a triage, child or soldier. And I've seen a lot of times it was a soldier saying, go ahead take your child. It's a priority.


RIVERS: A commander inside the steel plant has urged the international community to set up an evacuation route using a third party, another country that might be able to facilitate the transfer of soldiers and civilians to safety. If that doesn't happen, Kuparashvilli says Russia will continue the bombardment and it will end only one way.

KUPARASHVILLI: So, there will be nobody left in this area. There will be dead, all the children. I'm not talking about the soldiers. But the civilians will be eliminated. It's going to be on us, on a civilized world.


RIVERS (voice over): And you know, Wolf, I asked him, would any of the members of the Azov battalion who are still fighting in Mariupol consider surrendering to the Russians, and he said categorically no. He said that they are so convince that had the Russians hate them so much, that if they were to surrendered, he believes that they would be summarily executed.

So he said basically if they're going to get out of Mariupol. He said there are two ways that's going to happen. One, they'll be evacuated in some way somehow, or number two, they'll going to die fighting.

Meanwhile we're hearing from a top presidential aide, to President Zelenskyy, who says he is ready to personally go to Mariupol to try and begin these negotiations with the Russians but he says no response from the Russians so far. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Matt Rivers on the ground for us in Ukraine. Thank you, Matt, very much.

In the midst of this truly horrific war, Russia just test launched a newly capable intercontinental ballistic missile. And Vladimir Putin seized on the moment to deliver a very stark warning to the west. Our Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr has more on Putin's threat and his powerful new weapon. What do you learning Barbara?


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Russia releasing video of this intercontinental ballistic missile test. Modernizing a key strategic weapon just as it presses forward with its new offensive in the Donbas region of Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin bragging that the launch was a momentous event.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT: This truly unique weapon will strengthen the combat potential of our armed forces, reliably ensure Russia's security from external threats and provide food for thought for those who, in the heat of frenzied aggressive rhetoric, try to threaten our country.

STARR: The RS-28 Sarmat missile sometimes called the, Satan II, was revealed back in 2016. It is designed to replace the soviet-era model. Russia claims it can carry multiple nuclear warheads and has a range of more than 6,800 miles, making it potentially capable of striking the U.S.

Russia says the missile was launched Wednesday afternoon from northern Russia traveling across the country to a test site in the far-east. The Pentagon says the test was not a surprise.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: They provided advance noticed of this launch under its new treaty obligations that a plan to test this missile. The Defense Department said today that we didn't deem the test a threat to the United States or its allies.

STARR: But a senior U.S. defense official still said the launch was not something that would be done by a responsible nuclear power in the current tense environment. As Putin's war in Ukraine drags on, Russia appears to be determined to proceed with its advanced weapons. The U.S. canceled the scheduled ICBM test earlier this month.

LLOYD AUSTIN, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We're at a very tenuous point. We wanted to make sure that we were doing prudent things in managing escalation.


STARR (on camera): And President Biden, Wolf, a short time ago concluded a meeting at the White House with his top military commanders from around the world, meeting with them to discuss both the general security situation and of course, Russia, Ukraine, discussing the need for troops and military plans nowadays with all the Russian aggression to be able to adapt and change very quickly. Wolf?

BLITZER: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. Barbara, stay with us as we bring in CNN International Diplomatic Editor Nic Robertson, he's joining us from Brussels right now. Nic, what message is Putin trying to send with this intercontinental missile test at such a key turning point in the Ukraine war?

NIC ROBERSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes. I think there are two messages here. There's the message to the international community, that despite how the war is going, we continue to test and develop our newest improved weapons systems. That we can do this while we're actually fighting a war. The war is going on to the west of Russia. This missile test was from the north of Russia, all the way to the far-east Russia.

So there is a message that the army is capable, it's functional, it can do multiple things, and fire these very big new sophisticated systems upgraded from the soviet era. But I think it is the internal message that perhaps more important for Putin at the moment, part of this, the message that we just saw from him, and Barbara is reporting there, was broadcast to Russians.


And the announcement of this missile test brought to the Russians. And I think this is to reinforce again the message that the army is capable, it is a modern army, it's a modernizing army, and that it can continue to fight.

And this, if you will, will try to scorch over all the little bits of bad negative information that are slowly, slowly filtering out to Russians, that the war in Ukraine is not going well.

However, the Kremlin tries to spin it. They have had to pull out of Kyiv. They've spun that to their population. Putin talks about the fight now in terms of a noble cause. And trying to re-rally troops and put more people into the fight.

So it's all part of that narrative that the Russian government is still on track with its military goals and poses a threat to its enemies.

BLITZER: Well, on that point, Nic, how desperate is Putin right now, for any sort of victory, potentially, for example, in the battle for Mariupol after Russia's humiliation around the capital of Ukraine, Kyiv?

ROBERTSON: Mariupol is a fight that he is so committed to. That he -- if the Ukrainians were to be able to break through, do this sort of what seems to be impossible at the moment, break through from the outside and relieve that forces inside, that would be a huge humiliation for Putin.

That doesn't seem to be on the cards. But if he continues to stall and not be able to take this final piece of ground that's held by these few Ukrainian fighters that are left in there, that's going to be a humiliation for him. It is a humiliation to have not been able to take Kyiv. They've re-spun that that was their intention.

But if he gets bogged down in Donbas, that will be very hard to sell to the Russian people, that they're not making gains, not getting the territory that they've been talking about, and, of course, that will undermine his bigger aims which are to secure bigger territory in the south and along the Black Sea.

So, he cannot afford another significant loss. So, not being able to beat a thousand fighters holding out in Mariupol for another several weeks, that just is not going to look good for him, Wolf, back home.

BLITZER: Yes. Good point. Barbara, you're over at the Pentagon. President Biden says weapons and ammunition are flowing into Ukraine daily, he says, from the U.S. and other NATO allies. But the administration is also preparing for yet another $800 million package of military aid for Ukraine. Are they bracing for the long haul?

STARR: Well, I think longer than perhaps they might have originally planned. Who knows? But there is another $800 million that is being assembled to go in. It is going to focus very heavily on artillery and ammunition.

Those are the key items that the Ukrainians need for this fight in eastern Ukraine. Right now, the focus is on getting weapons into Ukraine in order to help those forces defeat the Russians over the long haul, decisions will have to be made about what future weapons capabilities might be transferred into Ukraine to keep them secured over time. Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, Nic Robertson outside the E.U. headquarters in Brussels. Thanks to both of you both.

The breaking news here in THE SITUATION ROOM continues next with more on Russian forces laying waste to huge swaths of Ukraine. How will the country rebuild? We'll speak with a key Ukrainian government minister when we come back. Stay with us.



BLITZER: We're following breaking news. Vladimir Putin is intensifying brutal assault on eastern Ukraine right now. Where forces control as much as 80 percent of the Luhansk region and one official is warning Russia will, quote, destroy everything in its path.

Let's go to our Senior International Correspondent Ben Wedeman. He's in Eastern Ukraine for us, in Kramatorsk. Ben, I hear the air raid sirens going off where you are. I want you to be careful. But tell us what's going on. I understand you had a chance to speak to a Ukrainian military officer. What did he tell you about this battle that they're facing right now?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: First, yes, the air raid sirens are going off in about 15 minutes ago. We heard six to seven large explosions within and into the city of Kramatorsk, the closest we've heard since we got here.

And, yes, we had an opportunity to speak to an officer who we've gotten to know, and is a pretty good reliable source of information near the town of Barvinkove, which is south of Izyum, which is one of the strategic fronts in the current Russian offensive.

He was telling us that they believe there are around 15,000 Russian troops in the area. But despite that, Ukrainian forces have been able to actually retake some ground there. He told us that they have taken prisoners, they have taken Russian prisoners and that they found that there is poor coordination between Russian units, there's poor communication between them.

And among the soldiers they captured, they say there's clearly very poor morale. They said -- this officer was telling us, that in one particular area, the Ukrainians were outnumbered by the Russians seven to one. But nonetheless, they were able to push the Russians back.

And, certainly, the impression is given that the Russians haven't made a lot of progress despite supposedly the beginning of this offensive, is that many of the shortcomings that were so blatant apparent during the battle around Kyiv and North Central Ukraine are also showing up here, poor coordination, communication, morale.


So it seems that even though it was thought that perhaps some aspects of this current Russian operation in Eastern Ukraine show improvements, by and large, the problems among the troops are very much in evidence. Wolf?

BLITZER: They certainly are. We still hear those air raid sirens going off where you are in Kramatorsk so be careful over there. Ben, we'll get back to you. Thank you very, very safe. Stay safe.

I want to continue to follow breaking news right now. Joining us, Oleksiy Chernyshov, he's the Ukrainian minister for regional development. Minister, thank you so much for joining us. I know you've been on the ground in Kyiv, the capital, and other key cities in the north after Ukraine pushed back the Russians.

When you look at the homes flattened, the water and heating infrastructure completely destroyed. Just how absolute is the devastation that was committed by Putin's army?

OLEKSIY CHERNYSHOV, UKRAINIAN MINISTER FOR REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT: Yes, thank you, Wolf. First of all, I would like to admit that refugee crisis and humanitarian disaster are deepening because Ukrainian civilians are deliberately targeted by Russia. Moscow's clear objective is to destroy Ukrainian nation as a viable political entity through the war of obliteration.

We are facing a terrific, terrific numbers of destroyed assets, or destroyed buildings. And I have visited the number of regions, the number of the occupied regions, and they are facing a very, very tragic situation. I can tell you that 10 million of Ukrainian people have to leave their houses and 4 million are already abroad, which is already a serious risk for Ukrainian economy.

Nevertheless, 6 million are still in Ukraine and they prefer safer regions to be there. And this is, of course, a dramatic situation for the country.

BLITZER: Minister, what does the process look like of actually trying to rebuild your country?

CHERNYSHOV: Rebuilding of the country will take definite time. We're definitely going to do it. First of all, we are concentrated right now on basic things. Visiting the occupied region is our main concentration. It will be to get back the electricity, water supply, heating where it is needed and, of course, we are providing basic construction and renovation works, which is very important for this moment.

Of course, we are taking care about of the displaced people and the people who have lost their houses and many as you can see on the screen right now. And from this point, we have several strategies. One of them is short term. And we provide modular houses. For instance, yesterday we have opened the first camp of modular houses together with Polish Prime Minister Mr. Mateausz Morawiecki. And we have done it together with a partnership of Poland, Polish government.

The first one is dedicated for 1,000 displaced people. And everyone, every month, we plan to increase it to 5,000 more. Another strategy would be a midterm and long-term apartment, and we are planning to construct it very, very fast.

BLITZER: Ukrainian Minister Oleksiy Chernyshov, good luck to you, good luck to all the people of Ukraine. We will, of course, stay in touch with you. We will follow what's going on. It is a critically important moment that's going on right now.

CHENYSHOW: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: Thank you very much, Minister, for joining us.

CHENYSHOW: Thank you.

BLITZER: Are cracks beginning to form in the wall of support of Russia's billionaires have built around Putin? We're going to have a closer look at Putin's grip on his countries financial elite and whether his hold on power is actually now in jeopardy. Stay with us.



BLITZER: Vladimir Putin has lost the support of another Russian tycoon who has now gone public with a truly scathing indictment of the Russian president and his brutal invasion of Ukraine.

CNN's Brian Todd is working the story for us. Brian, Putin has depended for decades on these billionaires, hasn't he?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Analysts say that Vladimir Putin help those elites make their fortunes and they helped him make and hide his ill gotten money. But tonight the fallout from the war has fractured another of those alliances.


TODD (voice over): Tonight a Russian billionaire and bank founder now lashing out against Vladimir Putin's war in Ukraine. Oleg Tinkov, in an Instagram post, calls the war insane. Says, innocent people and soldiers are dying. Generals waking up with a hangover have realized they have a shit army. Tinkov asked the west to give Mr. Putin a clear exit to save his face and stop this massacre.

NATE SIBLEY, KEPTOCRACY INITIATIVE, THE HUDSON INSTITUTE: Oleg Tinkov is the first member of the Russia's financial elite to speak out against the war directly and criticized Vladimir Putin, It's significant because while others have spent on out, they have not talk to Putin himself. TODD: Oligarchs like Roman Abramovich, Mikhail Fridman, Oleg Deripaska, have campaigned for peace, but avoided slamming Putin directly.


One oligarch, Leonid Nevzlin, has criticized Putin directly, but Nevzlin renounced his Russian citizenship corruption citizenship in a Facebook post last month.

LEONID NEVZLIN, RUSSIAN OLIGARCH, RENOUNCED RUSSIAN CITIZENSHIP: I do not accept this citizenship, my Russian citizenship with the fascist Putin at the helm.

Oleg Tinkov has been sanction by the U.K. There is a growing list of luxury toys allegedly belonging to Russian elites that have been seized, following the start of Ukraine war, including several super yachts confiscated in European ports, the Amore Vero, with multiple VIP suites, and a pool that turns into a health pad, which French officials linked to sanction Oil Executive Igor Sechin.

The Dilbor, worth at least $600 million with one of the largest pools ever put on a yacht, about 80 feet long, believed to be owned by the Russian mining magnate, Alisher Usmanov, who also possess what the U.S. treasury called one of Russia's largest privately owned aircraft, an Airbus 340 named Bourkhan, after his father.

SIBLEY: The seizure of yachts and mansions and financial assets is placing increasing pressure on Russian oligarchs who reside overseas. And that's why we're starting to see them speak out in this way.

TODD: But is this a turning point for Vladimir Putin? If he continues to lose support from the oligarchs, could his hold on power be legitimately threatened?

STEVE HALL, FORMER CIA HEAD OF RUSSIA OPERATIONS: They have become politically less important, economically still somewhat important but not as important as others from, say, the security service who's are closer to the security services who are closer to the decision making and closer to Vladimir Putin.


TODD (on camera): Analysts say Putin started several years ago to replace the oligarchs in his closest inner circle with people of his own background, elites from Russian intelligence services and military. One analyst says among those Putin cronies, getting sanctioned by the west is a badge of honor and he doesn't see any of them staging a palace coup against Vladimir Putin any time soon, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Brian Todd, reporting for us. Thank you Brian, significant information indeed.

Let's get some more on what is going on. Joining us now, CNN's, Fareed Zakaria, he's the Host of Fareed Zakaria GPS. Fareed, how notable is it that this Russian billionaire now speaking out directly going after Putin and pleading with west to give Putin a, quote, clear exit to save face?

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST, FAREED ZAKARIA GPS: I wouldn't read too much into it, Wolf. Tinkov is himself made his money more from the traditional commercial side of Russia, retail, banking. Not oil and gas and things like that.

But I think more importantly, fundamentally misunderstands the axis of power in Russia. Putin does not depend on these people for his support. They depend on him. They are courtiers in his court. Putin's power comes from the security services, from the army and from oil revenues.

Remember, Putin will get $320 billion in energy revenues this year. A few billionaires here or there make no difference to him.

BLITZER: Look at these images from today of Putin, Fareed. Look at these images of Putin at this event today with young people, a girl, just 12 years old, read a poem implying that the people of Eastern Ukraine are really Russians. How grotesque is it to see Putin use these children to advance his lies?

ZAKARIA: Well, it is grotesque and it also has that feel of this kind of staged propaganda that you wonder whether anyone is really buying.

But it is worth pointing out, Wolf, that perhaps the more disturbing feature here is a lot of Russian people have been brainwashed. A lot of Russians do believe that Ukraine is just a kind of junior version of Russia, that everybody in Ukraine speaks Russian and loves Russia, that, you know, Putin is not alone in having believed this kind of fairytale about Ukraine.

And that's partly because what Masha Gessen, the writer, talks about, is that Russia is becoming a totalitarian society, brainwashed by propaganda, sealed from the outside world. It is a very worrying, in some ways what is even more worrying, is that a lot of people believe this stuff in Russia.

BLITZER: CNN's Fareed Zakaria, thank you so much, Fareed.

An important note to our viewers, be sure to join Fareed this Sunday, every Sunday, Fareed Zakaria GPS at 10:00 A.M. Eastern, once again, at 1:00 P.M. only here on CNN, a very important show indeed.

Coming up, we're getting word on whether the U.S. Justice Department is appealing a ruling overturning the mask mandates for American travelers. Stay with us.



BLITZER: Right now, there's breaking news on the fate of mask mandate for travelers here in the United States that was struck down earlier this week by a federal judge. We're now getting word on whether the U.S. Justice Department will appeal that decision. Our White House Correspondent Jeremy Diamond is joining us. He got new information. Jeremy, tell our viewers what you're learning.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it was just two days ago that a federal judge struck down the CDC's mask mandate for travelers. And then yesterday we heard the Justice Department say that it would appeal the decision if the CDC deemed it necessary to do so.

And now, Wolf, we are learning from the CDC that they do indeed and they are asking the Justice Department to appeal this decision by a federal judge.

Let me read you the statement we have from the CDC saying, quote, to protect CDC's public health authority beyond the ongoing assessment announced last week, CDC has asked DOJ to proceed with an appeal. It is CDC's continuing assessment that at this time an order requiring masking in the indoor transportation corridor remains necessary for public health.

They also say that they'll continue to assess public health conditions. But I think what is notable here, Wolf, is that the CDC is saying that the decision to appeal is twofold.


On the one hand, it is about the current conditions that they do still believe based on the science that it is necessary and should be necessary for travelers on airplanes and trains, and other transportation to wear masks while they are traveling.

And on the other hand, they're talking about protecting their authority going forward. The White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, she made this point earlier today as well, talking about the fact that this is a pandemic that is unpredictable.

That there will still be highs and lows going forward. And they want to ensure, that is the Biden administration wants to ensure that the CDC will still have this authority as it relates to mask mandates going forward.

Should we see an increase in cases once again? Should we see a new variant that pose as more serious threat?

So again, we will have to see when this appeal is exactly filed and also, crucially, whether or not it involves some kind of a stay. You know, travelers could be feeling some whip lash. They saw the mask mandates come off, airlines allowing them on travel without masks. We'll see what the future is in the coming days. Wolf?

BLITZER: We'll surely find out fairly soon. Jeremy Diamond, at the White House for us, thank you very much.

Let's get some more on what's going on, our Senior Medical Correspondent. Elizabeth Cohen is joining us. Elizabeth, what is your reaction to the news that the Justice Department will in fact go ahead and appeal this federal court ruling ending the mask mandate for travelers here in the U.S.?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: My thoughts, Wolf, are that the CDC didn't take the easy way out. They could have said, enough time has passed and community levels of COVID have gone down so much, and omicron is relatively mild. We were thinking about this anyway. Maybe it's time for this mask mandate to come off.

That would have been a much easier way to do this and they didn't. I mean they must feel quite strongly about this. That these mask mandates are important. And that they protect people, because they have a fight in front of them.

BLITZER: And we're getting a lot of viewers who are still confused about what's going on right now. And you can help explain. How can you stay safe while traveling on public transportation here in the U.S., on planes, trains, buses, boats, cars, if the mask mandate is gone for good? Will your mask still protect you if others are not wearing their masks?

COHEN: It will, Wolf. Of course, it would be better if others are wearing a mask but it will protect you. Let's take a look at the data that we get. We got this from an engineer at U.C. Davis. What he found is that when you wear an N-95 mask, it decreases by 20 fold the number of inhaled particles that you take in.

A surgical mask, it decreases by nine times. A cloth mask, it decreases by three times. Of course, it is important to say if other people are not wearing masks, you have a lot more stuff out there to inhale. You have a much greater chance of having COVID around you.

But the mask will go a long way toward protecting you. Is it as good as compared to others people wearing a? No. But still what these number show is you are better off with a mask than without one. Wolf?

BLITZER: And you're better off if others people near you, especially in an indoor setting, are wearing a mask as well.


BLITZER: Let me ask you about another development today. Pfizer today updated a time line for when a COVID vaccine might be available for children under five. What is the new information? What is the latest?

COHEN: They're saying now that it could actually be in June, which is right around the corner. I've been speaking with parents of young children, who said wow, that would make us feel a whole lot better about taking our two-year-old, three-year-old, four-year-old on a plane if they could be vaccinated considering that now people on planes are not wearing masks, so, these two things kind of go hand and hand.

So, let's take a look at what vaccination under five means for this Pfizer vaccine. It would be a little bit different than adults. The initial series that they would get is three, so not two plus a booster but really three to begin with, so two shots about, three weeks apart, and then another one about two months later. And the dosage would be way smaller than for an adult, three micrograms instead of 30.

Now, we had all hoped that this would have happened already. That there would be a vaccine out for children this age earlier, but it didn't. Because Pfizer to their credit said look, we tried a certain regimen and it just didn't work as well as we wanted and so they're trying this and we'll see what their data is when they release it. Wolf?

BLITZER: We certainly will. All right, Elizabeth Cohen reporting for us, thank you very much.

Just ahead, Ukrainians who say they narrowly escaped death at the hands of Russian forces, describe the brutality they endured.



BLITZER: Tonight, as Russian forces are intensifying their offensive in eastern Ukraine, we're now hearing new horror stories of their brutal assault near the capital city of Kyiv.

Survivors share their first hand accounts with CNN's Phil black.


PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Andrey Bychenko says his life will forever be split in two -- before and after the day the Russians came.

He remembers the skies over his home in Hostomel, near Kyiv, suddenly swarming with dozens of attack helicopters.

He says they flew in a low formation, like they were on parade and soon after, he says, Russian ground forces approached his home. This is where, he says, they opened fire from a distance.


An explosive round landed close by, fracturing his leg, shrapnel piercing much of his body.

But Andrey says he was lucky. He got to hospital before the Russians worked out. He used to fight pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine. He says many veterans from the east were deliberately killed during the occupation.

If I had not been wounded, I would have been shot, too, he says.

Vasiliy Hylko also survived Russia's occupation but at great cost.

Vasiliy was shocked by the Russian numbers and firepower that rolled in to Bohdanivka, a tiny village northeast of the capital. So many tanks passed, he said, so much ammunition. Every house had 20 soldiers occupying it, including the house where he, his neighbors and family were sheltering. They stayed in the basement, the Russians moved in above.

One night, Vasiliy says, four drunk soldiers pushed open the basement door and screamed, everyone out by the count of 10 or all will be killed. Vasiliy says women were screaming, children crying, and as he was the last one through the door, he was blasted from behind with a shotgun.

He says nothing was left of the leg, all bones destroyed, just a puddle of blood in minutes. He says two days later, some Russian soldiers helped him get to hospital. He still thinks they're beasts, not people.

The Russian invasion of areas around Kyiv violently interrupted and ended many peoples' lives and some would somehow survive brutal intimate encounters, leaving them forever changed.


BLACK (on camera): Wolf, the thing you really notice when you meet and speak to survivors like these is that they are still deeply shocked that they -- that they are still struggling really and especially those that have come -- that have experienced the callous cruelty and the willingness to indulge in such grotesque violence. These are people who speak very softly and who truly struggle to come to terms with all that they have lived through and experienced recently.

BLITZER: It's awful. Indeed.

All right. Phil Black on the scene for us, Phil, thank you very much.

And stay with us. We have more news just ahead.



BLITZER: New fallout for Moscow tonight from its brutal invasion of Ukraine. Wimbledon officials are barring Russian and Belarusian players taking part in one of the premiere tennis competitions.

Let's dig deeper with CNN sports analyst and "USA Today" sports columnist Christine Brennan joining us.

Christine, how significant is it that no Russian or Belarusian players will be competing at Wimbledon? It's supposed to start on June 27.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN, CNN SPORTS ANALYST: Well, Wolf, it's very significant. It is a major statement from a sport that Russians do very well in, both men's and women's, tennis. It's a major statement from Wimbledon. It is political in the sense that for a month or so the minister of sport in England has been talking about this.

But it is action that is different from what we've heard over the last couple of months about teams being banned. For example, the figure skating team being banned from the world championship, the men's soccer team from the world cup. What this is going avid athletes and it is controversial. Both the men's and the women's tennis tour today said they were against it. They were disappointed in this decision from Wimbledon.

But right now, that decision stands and it is a significant statement from England and from Wimbledon about what they believe the message they would like to send to Vladimir Putin about the athletes that he does care quite a bit about which in this case are his tennis players.

BLITZER: The Kremlin quickly responded to this Wimbledon announcement saying and I'm quoting now this is from the statement, making athletes victims of some kind of political prejudices intrigues hostile actions towards our country is unacceptable and you say there are others who might actually agree with that statement?

BRENNAN: Yes, there are, Wolf. Obviously no surprise that the Kremlin is upset and I'm sure many people are not too concerned about that, in fact, consider that a victory. That the statement is from Wimbledon that is, it's being heard by Putin and if it makes him angry all for the good for those for this.

But the concern is it's a slippery slope. These are individual, independent contractors. They are not part of a team. When they are playing tennis as part of a team, for example, future Olympic Games depending on where the world stands in 2024, then you might see them banned. They are banned from the men's and women's team competition, the Federation Cup and Billie Jean King Cup. That is already happened in tennis..

But then as individuals they've been allowed to compete. And the concern again is the slippery slope is okay you do this in this case, what about other cases? That said, clearly the message has been heard in the Kremlin.

BLITZER: It certainly has been.

All right, Christine Brennan, thank you very, very much.

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