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At Least 23 Killed In Russian Missile Attack On Apartment Building; Florida Lawmakers Clear Path For DeSantis To Run For President Without Resigning As Governor; First Republic Stock Plunges As Bank Failure Fears Mount; McCarthy: Haven't Heard From White House Since Debt Bill Passed; Turkish Evacuation Plane Fired Upon Near Khartoum Airport; British-Iranians Demand Govt Take Action Against Tehran For Suppressing Opposition Inside The U.K.; Texas On Alert For Baseball-Size Hail, Hurricane Force Wind Gusts. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired April 28, 2023 - 17:00   ET



BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN HOST: And if you ever miss an episode of "THE LEAD", you can listen to the show wherever you get podcasts.

Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm Bianna Golodryga. Thanks so much for watching.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, the death toll rises from a fiery new round of Russian missile attacks in Ukraine, targeting civilians, including children. I'll speak with a top adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy about this new Russian assault and plans for a Ukrainian counteroffensive that's expected to begin soon.

Also tonight, new moves by Florida Republicans designed to help Governor Ron DeSantis and is likely run for President. This amid deep concerns among Republicans in Congress about DeSantis's war with the Disney Corporation.

And we're tracking fears that another U.S. bank may collapse at any moment. First Republic stock plunging as the White House says it does not have a rescue plan in the works.

Welcome to 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 in Ukraine where CNN is on the scene of the deadliest missile strike in this new wave of Russian attacks. At least 23 people killed when an apartment building in the central Ukrainian city of Uman was hit. CNN's Nic Robertson is on the scene for us. Nic, walk us through what you've seen and the rescue operation that is underway right now.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes. Wolf, the rescue operation has been underway almost 20 hours now since we got here. Earlier in the day, we've seen firefighters pulling body after body out of the rubble. What you see down there behind me is all cleared out in the lower level. So they just going to tilt up there. I'll step back, he'll take a look at the firefighters up there, high up in the apartment building, literally hanging off the face of the collapsed concrete floors and ceilings there in those ruined apartments. They are up there because of the 109 people registered to live there. There are still are not accounted for.

We spoke to a lady earlier who told us that her friend was in an 8th floor apartment up there. The friend survived. The husband is in hospital now, but their two daughters, a 13 year old girl and a seven year old girl, are still missing.

We've just learned from firefighters right now, in the last few minutes that the reason they're there trying to work their way down to get to that debris field there several stories up. The reason they're doing it is because there are children that are unaccounted for. We don't know how many, but the firefighters have been saying all day that they would continue to work until they've been through all the debris.

So all the families that we've been seeing around here today, Wolf, have been standing around watching in the earlier hours today, some of them in desperate grief because they know, the loved ones have lost others hoping and hoping for good news.

There have been police psychologists on site here. There's a local school that's got a room full of clothing for families that have lost everything. There's even a police DNA testing center here, a mobile center that's come in to help the families here get some closure, get some understanding.

But this is what it's all about right now, working through the night. It's midnight here now, working through the night to try to bring solace for those other families who are waiting for just some information about missing loved ones, Wolf.

BLITZER: Russians continuing to attack residential apartment buildings with families, women and children and others inside.

Nic Robertson on the scene for us. Stay safe over there. Thank you very much.

Joining us now from the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, the deputy head of the office of the President of Ukraine and the chief diplomatic adviser to President Zelenskyy, Igor Zhovkva. Mr. Zhovkva, thank you so much for joining us. How devastating is it to see this Russian strike hit a residential apartment building, killing children? This is one of the deadliest Russian strikes in months.

IGOR ZHOVKVA, DEPUTY HEAD OF THE OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT OF UKRAINE: It's unfortunately the usual practice for us during the wartime, there were periods when they were hitting the residential areas, killing children and women and civilians almost every day. Now, after the several weeks of calm period, more or less, they resume today in the night.

It was 04:00 a.m. when the whole Ukraine, you know, was hearing the blast. I was hearing it in Kyiv. And, yes, you are talking about the city, a woman with 23 dead and four children, including -- and there was a city of Dnipro already, which was suffering the same attacks, and one woman was killed and one child.


So this is what they are having as their usual practice. No military object anywhere near this residential area. Just nothing. Just residential. There is multi-storey buildings with civilians sleeping. And that's what their usual practice. That's what they have all the war, that's what their barbaric acts. That's why Putin was called to arrest by, you know, ICC, because that is awful. That is terrible.

BLITZER: It's not too far from the capital of Kyiv, just south of Kyiv, the city, Uman. It comes as Ukraine's defense minister is weighing in on the expected Ukrainian counteroffensive saying this, and I'm quoting him now, "As soon as it is God's will, the weather and the commander's decision, we will do it." How high are expectations right now for Ukraine to show military results in this anticipated new assault?

ZHOVKVA: I would also add to what -- to the arguments of Minister of Defense, providing that we have enough weapon to start the counteroffensive. Because when you need an artillery systems and enough ammunition to start the counter -- artillery battery fight before the counteroffensive, and then you use your manpower.

And they need armored vehicles and tanks, western type tanks, which were started to receive from the western states, from the European states, but not in enough amount. So this is also another component, a very necessary component. Without each, we will not be able to start the counteroffensive.

BLITZER: The NATO Secretary General says the allies have so far provided almost all of the results, all of the weapons that Ukraine needs. But you're suggesting you need more from the NATO allies?

ZHOVKVA: Look, Wolf, you know, when we receive the weapon, we do not store them somewhere in the warehouses, whatever. We immediately use them on the battlefield. And, you know, Ukraine is withstanding for more than 14 months and we're having hard times, say, in the east of Ukraine. We're defending each and every inch of Ukrainian territory.

So you cannot just tell, you know, I've provided you some percentage and you rest assured you will not get anything else. We need the weapon. With the intensity, Russians are attacking us. With the intensity, Russians are bombarding our cities. With intensity, Russia are firing our frontline.

We need still more. And yes, we need artillery, we need western tanks and armored vehicles. We need air defense systems in order to protect the inland Ukraine. Look, I mean, 23 missiles were hit this night, 21 were intersected, but still two hit the target. We need more and more short range, medium range and long range air defense systems in order to protect the whole territory of Ukraine. BLITZER: On a different issue, Mr. Zhovkva, I want to raise the issue of what President Zelenskyy says, as far as China is concerned, he says he appealed to the Chinese President, Xi Jinping to help return the thousands, thousands, he says, of Ukrainian children who have been forcibly deported, taken away from their parents, forcibly deported to Russia.

This is seen as a war crime by the International Criminal Court. What do you need to see now from President Xi?

ZHOVKVA: Yes, my president raised this issue during this one hour talk with President Xi. Among other topics, territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, including Crimea. Among topics like, you know, protecting the nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhia, because China is, you know, asking not to blackmail all of us by nuclear weapons and by nuclear blackmailing. That's what the Russia is doing, capturing the Zaporizhzhia.

One of the topics like you are rightfully saying is, yes, helping us to have back our deported children, thousands of them, right? You are. We don't know any whereabouts of these children. They are somewhere deep in Russia. No one knows.

They, you know, they have no care, et cetera. So, yes, we are raising this issue with President Xi as we are raising this issue with our international leaders and organizations. This is what the most terrible thing when you fight with children, when you know -- when you have a war against the children. That's the most barbaric act you can ever imagine. So we are counting on the support of President Xi in this regard.

BLITZER: Well, let's hope something happens and those kids can go back to their parents.

Thank you so much. Igor Zhovkva in Kyiv. Thanks so much for joining us.

Right now I want to get more on what's going on in Ukraine. Our experts are standing by. And Jill Dougherty, let me start with you. What do you make of the timing of this latest, very deadly Russian assault on civilian targets in Ukraine?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, RUSSIAN AFFAIRS: you know, it's hard, Wolf, I think, to say precisely why they did it on this day, but they're obviously upping the ante (ph) yet again. And I think one of the more significant things is actually what's happening back in Russia.


You know, today, President Putin ordered that they create museums all over Russia, and these museums are going to glorify the heroic deeds, as he puts it, of the Russian soldiers. So this is, to me, an indication that Putin has no intention of stopping.

In fact, what he is going to be doing is essentially propagandizing children for the next 20 years by creating this. They're changing the educational system, et cetera. So he is, if anything, he is digging in and trying to convince his own people that this is what Russia's, you know, mission in the world should be, it's really perverse.

BLITZER: And General Wesley Clark is joining us right now as well. The former NATO Supreme Allied Commander. General Clark, we're showing our viewers, I don't know if you can see it, these live pictures of this residential apartment building that was targeted by the Russians just south of Kiev in Uman, Ukraine, killing a lot of men, women and children.

You see rescue workers on the scene. They're trying to find out if anyone is still alive inside that building. It comes at a time when Ukraine has cautioned that it won't announce when it's counteroffensive will begin. But what do you expect?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I think that we may not know exactly when the counteroffensive does begin. Hopefully, it will begin with partisan activity behind the lines, opening up avenues of approach for the Ukrainian main forces, pinning down Russian reserves, blocking roads. I mean, this is pretty standard, but the Ukrainians have an incredible capacity to do this if they choose to do this.

And then you'll see it moving forward in a reconnaissance led attack, I think. But the Ukrainians are going to be very wary when they move this forward because they know that they've got to make a dramatic impact here. They don't want to run up with all their equipment up front, suffer some losses, get thrown back, and have the world say, oh, my God, it's all over.

No, they're going to gnaw their way through these Russian defenses when they go. And they may be from a different direction than we expect. I mean, everybody's looking south. It might be the northeast. It might be south of Bakhmut. We don't know exactly where they're going to go, but they are going to move with reconnaissance.

They're going to move with concentration of power, and they're going to be certain that they can protect their flanks. They know there's a Russian counteroffensive force out there, might be 20, might be 40 battalion tactical groups with a lot of air power that could come in and strike them. They've got to have the anti-air defense.

And as the diplomatic advisor said, they got to have artillery ammunition to win a counterpart fight when they once closed in with the enemy. They've got to have the artillery all through that.

BLITZER: This is clearly a critical moment that's unfolding right now.

General Clark, thank you very much. Jill Dougherty, thanks to you as well.

Coming up, the new move from the Florida legislature that could signal Governor Ron DeSantis's intention in the race for the White House. Plus, the new report detailing the failures leading to the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank and the growing fears it could happen here in the United States again.



BLITZER: Tonight, the Florida legislature has cleared a key potential roadblock for Ron DeSantis, ensuring he will not have to resign the governorship of Florida if he decides to run for president. It's the clearest sign yet of his national ambitions.

Our political experts are here to discuss. Jeff Zeleny, this move comes during a week when DeSantis has clearly been on the defensive over his fight with Disney, even from within his own party. Listen to how some key Republicans are talking about this feud. Listen.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R), CALIFORNIA: I think the governor should shot down with them. I don't think the idea of building a prison next to a place that you bring your family is the best idea.

MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA SENATOR: I do worry that if this happens too many times, businesses that are thinking about coming to Florida are saying, maybe we don't want to go there, because if we get into a firestorm with them politically, they're going to come after our business.


BLITZER: So, Jeff, what's your reaction to that?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, this was once sort of an example of strength for the Florida governor. I was at his swearing in just about three and a half months ago on the steps of the Florida Capitol, and he talked about this fight with Disney. He was using that as a calling card for Republican voters across the country as an example of his strength going after -- he said Florida is a place where woke goes to die.

Well, it's really remarkable how much has changed and how different he looks now heading into May than he did in January. And the Disney feud and fight is sort of Exhibit A of that. Republicans inside Florida and outside Florida are going increasingly concerned, really from all wings of the party that he is going after this specific company.

And it looks like a vendetta. And it's not going so well for him, frankly. Disney has been in Florida a long time, more than 50 years, and they'll likely be there longer than he is. So this is an example of all of his opponents are sort of piling onto this.

We heard it from Nikki Haley this week. We've heard it from Donald Trump as well. So it's unclear how any of this is helping his presidential campaign, which, even before it starts, is floundering a bit.

BLITZER: Let me get Scott Jennings into this. Do your fellow Republicans, Scott, the Republicans that you're talking to, think DeSantis has stumbled in this fight with Disney? Is this hurting him with donors or endorsements?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, a lot of folks I'm talking to are looking at the polling, and I'll take the other side of the coin here. You've got the Harvard-Harris poll, you've got the Reuters-Ipsis poll. Vast majorities of Republican voters think it's right for Ron DeSantis to be taking on Disney.

And the thing he's trying to communicate is that when he gets into these fights, he doesn't walk away from them. He's going to continue to communicate that's part of who he is. That's his whole idea entity and he's not going to let it go. And I think he believes he's got the grassroots of the party behind him even if a few Washington politicians are telling him to stop.


BLITZER: You know, these are key Republican leaders, not just Washington politicians.

David Axelrod, has the fight with Disney turned what many saw as a political strength for DeSantis, that he's a fighter into a potential weakness, possibly seen as a bully?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. Well, look, I agree with Jeff on this. The interesting thing about this is kind of a microcosm of the battle within the Republican Party. I think a lot of establishment Republicans, not just Washington Republicans, but establishment Republicans across the country, believe that, you know, state governments, federal governments, shouldn't be pushing businesses around and certainly not pushing them around for expressing a point of view, which is all that Disney did was express a point of view.

And they sort of bested DeSantis in the sort of game of legal maneuvering. He was angry about that and so he threw a fit about it. I don't think you look particularly strong doing that. I don't think he's looked strong generally lately. He was asked a question about his sliding poll numbers in Japan the other day and reacted in a way that looked like something out of a Disney movie. It was just really, really strange.

Meanwhile, he, you know, his legislature is considering -- in addition to this legislation to make it harder to track who he's met with, where he's traveling, harder to track a range of things in state government, all apparently to protect him in this governor's race. He's behaving more in Florida, he's behaving more like Huey Long than anything else, but he's not looking particularly strong doing it.

It's early. He could come back. He's still someone who a lot of Republicans support as an alternative to Donald Trump, but I'd be concerned if I were in his camp.

BLITZER: You know, Jeff Zeleny, DeSantis's legislative allies back in Florida. He's in Jerusalem, Israel, right now. They've also advanced a bill barring requests for records about DeSantis's travel, a move which appears to be an attempt to protect DeSantis from negative news stories or opposition research. So much for being in -- being the Sunshine State, shall we say?

ZELENY: Without a doubt. I mean, as David was just saying, and Wolf, you're right. I mean, these proposed laws, which of course will pass because he controls the Florida legislature, are designed to sort of mask his travel and not have -- Florida famously has some of the most open public records in the country, and this would change that.

But the reason that this is underway is because Donald Trump and others have been sort of going after him, pointing out to Florida voters and others, voters elsewhere how much he's been out of the state. In fact, he's out of the state or the country, in this case, more than he's been in the office in Tallahassee.

But look, this is not going to strengthen a potential presidential bid. This may sort of keep some negative stories away from him. What his focus obviously needs to be, and his advisers know this, is sort rebooting here before he has announcement which we believe will be either late May or early June.

BLITZER: All right, we shall watch.

Guys, thank you very, very much.

Up next, the Federal Reserve releases a scathing report on mismanagement over at Silicon Valley Bank before its epic collapse. Plus, the fragile ceasefire in Sudan is already in danger with reports of fighting emerging from the conflict zone.



BLITZER: Shares of First Republic Bank plummeted today amid new fears the ailing financial institution could collapse at any moment. CNN's Jeremy Diamond is joining us from the White House with details. Jeremy, is the White House now considering a bailout?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, First Republic Bank has been in dire straits all week after the bank stock started crumbling earlier this week after the bank reported that its deposits fell by 41 percent in the first quarter. Just today, its stock has fallen 43 percent.

But despite that, a source familiar with the government's thinking tells us that there is no new effort to coordinate a rescue of First Republic Bank. Instead, what we are seeing is that the FDIC, which is responsible for supervising the bank they've been coordinating private sector talks about a potential sale or another solution for this bank.

But in terms of the White House or Treasury Department officials, they are certainly monitoring this situation. But we're not seeing the level of engagement that we saw from senior officials in March. That's when the Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen helped to privately coordinate an effort by 11 of the U.S.'s largest banks to bail out First Republic Bank, a $30 billion bailout at the time.

And that's because at the time, officials saw a need to stabilize the banking sector. But today, one source tells me that they do not see a broader risk of contagion with the banks. Now, at the same time today, we're also learning more about the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank and that's because the Federal Reserve has released its highly anticipated post-mortem of this situation.

And interestingly, in the report the Federal Reserve not only faults the bank's senior executives, but it also blames itself. This is a quote from Michael Barr, the Federal Reserve's vice chair for supervision. He writes, quote, "Silicon Valley Bank failed because of a textbook case of mismanagement by the bank. Its senior leadership failed to manage basic interest rate and liquidity risk. And Federal Reserve supervisor failed to take forceful enough action."


Now, Barr also called for strengthening the Federal Reserve's regulatory and supervisory authorities. And so we could see this report potentially setting up new regulatory actions to strengthen that kind of supervision going forward. Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes. All right, Jeremy Diamond of the White House. Thank you.

Now to the death ceiling standoff up on Capitol Hill. The House Speaker, Kevin McCarthy, says he still hasn't heard from the White House after House Republicans passed a bill raising the nation's borrowing limit.

Let's go to our Chief Congressional Correspondent, Manu Raju, he's joining us from Capitol Hill. Manu, does the House passing a bill make a default less likely or more likely?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That is still the question that is dominating these hallways into Capitol, and no one has a clear answer to that. Because even in the aftermath of the House Republicans narrowly passing their bill after months of internal work, getting their conference in line and losing just four Republican votes, and passing it on the narrowest of margins, Democrats say that does not matter.

They say simply there should be no spending cuts attached to any debt limit increase, that the debt limit should be raised without any conditions whatsoever. That is the position of the White House of Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, the House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries, who told me today that he is supporting the White House's position.

Though there are some moderate Democrats who are breaking ranks. One of them, Jared Golden of Maine, telling me earlier today that he believes President Biden should in fact sit down with Kevin McCarthy, negotiate the debt ceiling increase, try to come to some compromised position. And that is something that is voiced, too, by some Senate Republican dealmakers like Mitt Romney.


SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R), UTAH: The House has acted, Republicans, we, in the Senate, stand with a House. We have our point of view. Time for the President to step in and say, what's his point of view and do a deal, work together.

RAJU: Do you think that it's time for the White House to sit down with McCarthy, try to get a deal on the debt limit, actually have a meeting with Biden and McCarthy on this?

SEN. MARTIN HEINRICH (D), NEW MEXICO: I think that, you know, we're at a place where the President has put out his budget. We now have a counteroffer. We have to raise the debt limit. And I think the dialogue should be constructive among all of us.


RAJU: Constructive dialogue. They are being called for by Martin Heinrich, who is a Democrat from New Mexico. But in talking to the speaker today, I asked him about whether or not he has had any conversations with the White House so far. He said they have not.

And I asked him also about the possibility that if there is some discussion with the White House that they have to compromise and whether or not they have to go through and could get Republican support behind any compromise measure. He dismissed that notion said simply, they need to talk about this idea.

And some of the members on his far right who did vote for this are warning him against watering down the House Republican package. So, Wolf, there are a lot of scenarios about exactly how this could play out. If they do have discussions, can they reach a deal? If they do reach a deal, can they get it through the House? Can they get it through the Senate all in time to avoid a debt default, which some estimations now put it to late July, is the potential deadline to avoid the first ever U.S. debt default?

But that still is not a lot of time here on Capitol Hill to try to get it through the narrowly divided chambers. So, Wolf, a lot of questions about how this resolved with, of course, the economic calamity potentially weighting the wings without any sort of deal.

BLITZER: Yes, it would be a calamity. Mano Raju up on Capitol Hill, thank you.

Just ahead, we'll get an update on the conflict in Sudan where a new ceasefire is already in jeopardy amid reports of violence. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: We're following the fighting in Sudan where fragile, a very fragile new ceasefire is already under severe strain. CNN's Larry Madowo is covering the story for us. He's in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where many international evacuees are arriving from the conflict zone.

Larry, this ceasefire was violated almost immediately. What's the situation on the ground in Sudan tonight?

LARRY MADOWO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the fact that this fifth or sixth ceasefire was also quickly violated shows how difficult it will be to get any long lasting peace in Sudan. We believe that there could be thousands still trapped within -- between fighting in heavily populated areas in part of Khartoum, in the second city of Omdurman, as well as in West Darfur.

And people are running out of basic necessities, food and water and medicine, sometimes water and power lines have been bombed. So it's a really dire situation. The U.N. now says at least 50,000 people have fled the fighting to neighboring countries like Chad and Egypt and Ethiopia. That shows no signs of this fighting coming to a close anytime soon.

BLITZER: And Larry, what are you seeing there, where you are in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where evacuees are arriving from Sudan/

MADOWO: So Jeddah has become one of the main landing points for people who evacuated from Port Sudan on the Red Sea. Saudi Arabia is a key diplomatic player in the country. So far, the Saudis say they've evacuated about 3,000 people here to Jeddah. Only about 100 were Saudis, about 2,900, 2,800 were from other nationalities. 80 nationalities in total including Americans, Canadians, Kenyans, the U.K. and all around the world.

And they say that they're committed to getting as many people as possible. The U.K. for instance now saying it's ending its operation out of Sudan to evacuate not just diplomats but also private U.K. citizens. It's called it the largest and longest western diplomatic evacuation effort.


But the U.S. has also said now it is looking into getting people through land routes out of Sudan. Here's the State Department.


VEDANT PATEL, STATE DEPARTMENT, DEPUTY SPOKESPERSON: So far fewer than 5,000 U.S. citizens have requested additional information from us. Of those, only a fraction have actively sought our assistance to depart Sudan. We can also confirm that in addition to our official embassy personnel, several hundred U.S. citizens have already departed Sudan, either by land, sea or aircraft.


MADOWO: There are some Americans who feel that were abandoned by the government in Sudan. They've made their way out here to Jeddah and trying to get eventually into the U.S. The big picture here, Wolf, is that this is turning out to be probably the largest evacuation effort internationally since the Taliban took over Afghanistan about two years ago.

BLITZER: All right. Larry Madowo in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Thank you for that report.

Let's get reaction right now From the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Congressman Gregory Meeks. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us. An American teacher tells CNN she was left behind in Sudan by the U.S. She navigated heavy fighting to escape. But she says there's, quote, no reason other American civilians, U.S. citizens should be left behind. How do you answer that?

REP. GREGORY MEEKS (D), RANKING MEMBER, FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: Well, look, I'm very concerned. Number one, I'm devastating about what's taking place in Sudan when were close and thought that we're going to have a civilian rule just a few months ago. But I think that, as you heard from the State Department, what we're looking to do, we must stay in close contact with our American citizens there.

But with the airport being closed and with the fighting going on, what the Biden administration is trying to do is define the over the land routes that may be safe to get people out. But there's got to be constant communication. And that's what my concern is. There must be constant communication with our American citizens and so that we can give them the appropriate guidance when it's safe to move and how to move, and to make sure that they then get transport from land to one of the other countries where they can be found in a safe fashion.

But I am concerned we must be able to speak with me in communication with our American citizens, particularly those that need or have requested to get out.

BLITZER: As you know, Congressman, several other countries have managed to evacuate their civilians from Sudan. What more can the U.S. do to help American civilians on the ground in Sudan, clearly in danger, get out?

MEEKS: Well, I think that they're working together, and I think that the United States is leading the global diplomatic effort so that we can move people out and sharing information on the best routes to get out here. Again, sharing and talking together. If there's a route to get out that is safe, then that kind of communication is happening among all of us and all of our people in a collective way.

And there's been a number of American citizens that have gotten out and are in neighboring countries, but we need to do more when it's safe and sharing information. While this tragedy is taking place between two men who basically decided that they wanted to be the top dog in a civilian room, that we have to fight and make sure that we're negotiating with others to get a long lasting humanitarian ceasefire.

And as indicated in your report, that ceasefire that was negotiated previously rapidly deteriorated and caused individuals who we wanted to move more timely to stay in place because of the danger.

BLITZER: Neither side is respecting these U.S. brokered ceasefires. What leverage does the U.S. have, Congressman, to stop this from spiraling into an even worse, full blown civil war?

MEEKS: Well, I think that the first thing -- and I had talked to the United Nations Secretary General Guterres just earlier this week, and we were talking about, again, the dialogue and conversation and working together with all of our allies to try to put additional pressure on anybody who have engaged in or is engaged in this disaster that's taking place.

So sanctions would be one thing that we look to put in place. They know that is no opportunity at all or forever for any of them, either one of them or anyone involved therein to be in charge and in power in Sudan.

You know, we passed a bill in the last Congress that calls for such sanctions should someone try to do what we see happening right now. So I think that's one of the things that we need to do very quickly, and we have to do everything that's in our power so that the aspirations of the Sudanese people and that aspiration is for transition to Sudan rulership.

But we've got to get to those individuals who are causing the hostilities in a manner collective with our diplomatic friends and allies.


BLITZER: Congressman Gregory Meeks of New York, thank you so much for joining us.

MEEKS: Thank you for having me.

BLITZER: Meanwhile, Iranian activists in the U.K. are calling for a rally on Saturday demanding the British government designates Iran's, a revolutionary guard corps as a terrorist organization. For months, activists and parliament members have been pushing the U.K. to list the IRGC as a terror group, something the U.S. has done.

One British Iranian activist has become the face of this campaign after setting up camp outside the U.K. foreign office and going on a hunger strike that has now entered 65 days. CNN's Jomana Karadsheh has our report from London.


JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Iran International, a powerful voice, the Islamic republic once silenced, it labeled the U.K.-based opposition channel a terrorist entity. But it didn't stop there.

(on-camera): In November, London's met police notified the channel of serious security threats against a number of its journalists. Armed police were placed outside its studios, but the threat had become so severe, British authorities could no longer guarantee their safety. And in February, Iran International announced it had no choice but to relocate to Washington. (voice-over): This past year alone, the Met and intelligence services have foiled at least 15 plots they say projected from Iran to kidnap or kill individuals, including U.K. nationals on British soil.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The IRGC have managed to infiltrate the U.K. to suppress our freedom of expression.

KARADSHEH (voice-over): Many in the Iranian community say they're now living in a constant state of fear. Every time this couple go out to a London protest, they tell us their children fear for their safety.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't want to check our locks every night, set on alarms. Be scared. Our families --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our freedom of speech to be valued. We are living in the heart of democracy and it doesn't look like it.

KARADSHEH (voice-over): British-Iranians have been gathering outside the foreign office demanding their government do more. They want Iran's revolutionary guards, the IRGC, to be designated as a terrorist organization, something the U.S. and a few other countries have done.

Their demand is Vahid Beheshti's cause, the British-Iranian activist journalist has been camped outside the foreign office on a hunger strike for more than two months. He was jailed twice and tortured before he fled his homeland 24 years ago.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They took everything away from us, but I can say I was one of those lucky people who could run away and come out of the country. But they are here now. Here where we are sitting in front of foreign office is the most safest place in London. I don't feel safe here.

KARADSHEH (voice-over): We met Beheshti on his 59th day of surviving on a handful of brown sugar cubes and water. He says he's lost more than 17 percent of his body mass. Too frail to get himself out of the wheelchair.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You feel your body start eating your muscle, but mentally and internally, I'm getting stronger.

KARADSHEH (voice-over): Beheshti's voice is being heard. More than 100 parliamentarians signed a letter to the prime minister urging the government to designate the IRGC. With his wife, a British politician, by his side, the Beheshti is vowing to keep up the pressure. It's not only about Iranians, he says. This is about standing up for the most basic of British values.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They are terrorists. They must go.

KARADSHEH (voice-over): Jomana Karadsheh, CNN, London.


BLITZER: Jomana, thank you. A U.K. government spokesperson wouldn't comment on future designations, but says they will continue to use, and I'm quoting now, all the tools at our disposal to protect against any threats. Iran did not respond to CNN's request for comment.

Coming up, Texas is bracing for baseball size hail and hurricane forest wind gusts as a sprawling, severe weather system threatens the south. We'll get the latest forecast right after the break.



BLITZER: We're tracking the severe weather threat in the southern United States, especially in Texas, where baseball size hail and hurricane forest wind gusts are possible. Let's check in with our meteorologist, Chad Myers. He's over at the CNN Weather Center. Chad, where is the biggest threat this hour?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: You know, it's coming into the Hill Country, into Round Rock, into Austin and San Antonio. Those are the areas that I'm most concerned with. And really the concern at this point in time is the windy event that's going to be ahead of these cells.

Now, there is some bit of thunder and lightning here up in Dallas and maybe some small hail. Severe thunderstorm warning is in effect, but really down to the south. This is where the energy is, where the humidity is, and you can see this large line heading toward Georgetown and in toward Round Rock. That's the area here that's going to see the heaviest rainfall in the next and wind in the next hour.

We have a flood warning around Collin, and at the same time that this flooding was going on, there was a possible tornado on the ground near Fort Hood. Nobody saw it because it was raining so hard. And it was raining so hard that's why there's the flood warning going on.

But here's the weather farther down to the south. So still maybe another hour or so for San Antonio. So far, zero tornado reports. That's the good news. We will have some wind reports, though, later on tonight.


Watch where this weather goes. Even for you, Houston, you're not going to see hail like this. This happened on Wednesday. But we talk about baseballs. That right there, that's what a baseball hail looks like coming down at terminal velocity.

And by 09:00 or so, Houston, all the way down toward Galveston, that's where the weather will be again. That's where the wind will be pushing these storms. And by tomorrow, this does get into Texas. And from Texas, all the way into Florida. We'll watch that for you tomorrow.

BLITZER: We'll keep checking in with you, Chad. Thank you very much. Coming up, we'll have more in our top story. Nearly two dozen Ukrainian civilians slaughtered by a Russian missile. The bloodshed coming as Ukraine now signals it's almost ready to go ahead with a highly anticipated military counteroffensive.


BLITZER: Happening now, the desperate search for survivors after the deadliest wave of Russian missile strikes in months. The Ukrainian ambassador to the United States will share her reaction. She's standing by.