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Hala Gorani Tonight

Russia Targets Crowded Train Station In Kramatorsk; European Officials Visit Bucha; Europe Works To Pressure Putin; Growing Calls For Germany To Wean Off Russian Energy; Ukraine War Upends French Presidential Race; Source: Germany Claims Intercepts Show Russian Troops Admitting Targeting Civilians. Aired 2-3p ET

Aired April 08, 2022 - 14:00   ET



MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone, coming to you live from the CNN Center, I'm Michael Holmes, appreciate your company.

Coming up on the program, a crowded train station full of fleeing civilians targeted. A horrific example of Russia's tactics and of its shift to the


Then the Europe -- the president of the European Commission and the EU's Foreign Policy chief visit Bucha. Shining a spotlight on the atrocities

being uncovered around the capital after Russia's withdrawal. But is Europe doing enough to pressure Vladimir Putin? I'll ask an official in Germany's

Federal Ministry for Economic Development.

And we begin with an attack that underscores the terrible reality facing many civilians trapped by this war in Ukraine. Their towns and villages

aren't safe, and now it's not even safe to try to flee the war. At least, 50 people killed including five children when a missile hit a crowded train

station today in the eastern city of Kramatorsk. This is what it looked like from a short distance away, up lose, the scenes devastating. We do

warn you, the next videos are graphic and very disturbing.




HOLMES: Ukraine accusing Russia of packing the missile with cluster ammunitions to maximize casualties. Suitcases and babies, strollers

scattered among the lifeless bodies, blood staining the pavement as well as children's toys. Now, the city's mayor estimates 4,000 people were at that

station waiting to escape Russia's assault in the Donbas. He says some of the wounded have lost their limbs.

Now, let's go live now to Ukraine. Our Ed Lavandera is following developments of Odessa. You know, Ed, reportedly, the crowds there at that

station were even bigger than usual because another Russian strike was on the line itself yesterday, and that created a backlog of people wanting to

leave. It all speaks to just how important and how vulnerable the train stations are. What more are you learning?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is just the latest grotesque chapter in this Russian invasion of Ukraine. And as you mentioned, Michael,

these train stations are the lifeline for dozens of communities, dozens of villages to be able to escape either to safe havens within the country or

the train ticket out of the country. And that is why this is such a devastating and chilling attack on the civilian populations there.

And that is why you're hearing calls of this is another example of a war crime being committed here in this country. You know, this is an area that

was attacked around 10:30 in the morning as you see in those videos, this is where people were crowded into that train station, trying to get to

safer places in the country, and there was nowhere to go for the vast majority of those people in that situation.

And now the question becomes, you know, how do people escape now? How chilling is this? Where are they going to be able to go? How willing are

they going to be able to try to escape, you know, by train or in some other way. And all of this really being driven and this fear being driven as we

start getting clearer and clearer signals that this Russian push to invade again from the east is very imminent, and could dramatically change the

lives of hundreds of thousands of people in eastern and southern Ukraine, Michael.

HOLMES: Yes, we've seen what the Russians do when they're pushed, violent, attacks civilians. And there have been strikes near Odessa where you are as

well. Bring us up to date on that.

LAVANDERA: Right, in the last 24 hours, we've seen two different attacks here in the Odessa region. The first happened around midnight.


We heard three missile strikes that happened on the northeast edge of the city. We are told by Ukrainian military officials that infrastructure

facilities were attacked, and just moments ago, Ukrainian military officials confirmed that there were a number of deaths in that attack. It

has -- it was not information that was shared initially in the morning hours after the attack. And then just a couple of hours ago, there was

another missile strike here in the area, but Ukrainian military officials say that, that did not cause any injuries.

The Russian military Minister of Defense is saying that the target of the initial attack overnight was a military installation where foreign fighters

were being trained. But we managed to try to get as close as we could to that area, which is very difficult to reach too, because most of it had

been blocked off by Ukrainian military checkpoints. But many of the residents we spoke to say they're very skeptical of this Russian idea that

foreign fighters were being trained at this facility.

They say that the military installation that is in that area has been around since the Soviet area -- Soviet era, dating back to the 1970s.


HOLMES: All right, thanks Ed, for the update. Ed Lavandera there in Odessa. Now, a missile photographed near the train station after the attack

had words sprayed painted on it. Those words, for the children. Now, we don't know who did it or what the intended message was. It could be read

literally or it could be a slogan that could mean in revenge for the children. CNN's Christiane Amanpour spoke with an eyewitness in Kramatorsk

a short time ago. Nate Mook is the CEO of World Central Kitchen, he was picking up supplies near the train station when the attack happened.


NATE MOOK, EYEWITNESS, KRAMATORSK ATTACK: We drove by the railway station this morning. I looked down out of the car from the overpass and saw the

thousands of individuals, thousands of women, children, elderly, who were waiting to get on these trains just as they have the day before. And less

than two minutes later, we heard the booms. And you know, it's not just the sound that hits you, it's the vibration, and it's the feeling, and there

were about five to ten of them.

We didn't know what happened at the time. We were heading to our warehouse to pick up flour to take to a bakery. And one of our team at the warehouse

said he'd actually seen one of the missiles inbound. He said he could see the wings on the missile, and that missile was hit by a Ukrainian air


So there were probably many more of them. I then heard very quickly that two missiles had struck the railway station where we had just been the day

before and had intended to be just an hour or so later. So, we headed over to the railway station and the scene there was absolutely horrific and



HOLMES: And Christiane Amanpour joins me now live from Kyiv to discuss more. I mean, Christiane, as you know, we've seen Russian target civilians

deliberately before, be it Chechnya, Syria, so on. The aim is to break the spirit of civilians, right?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Part of it absolutely is. And we've seen it in other wars, and particularly, Russia's tactics or

just its operation in the field has been to really pound civilian targets, whether it's on the ground, whether it's by the air, and what we saw also

at the station today. And so that is a little bit of a modus operandi for them, and they have waged this kind of war before.

We saw it in Syria, we saw it in Chechnya, and et cetera. So also, they clearly are -- as the general told me, refitting and resupplying and

trying to then regroup to throw everything they have at the east there, whether or not they have, you know, reformulated their objectives, whatever

they're doing, that is -- that seems to be their next move, and that they're starting on that. And I was told by a military commander that even

as they do that, they will continue to try to weaken Ukrainian infrastructure, so train stations, railway lines, factories, fuel depots,

all those kinds of things.

And the terrible thing is though, in so much of this, civilians are caught in the middle and very often of course, are the brunt and the actual


HOLMES: And we've already seen the Russian denial playbook being pulled out again. I mean, no matter the evidence, no matter how big the outrage,

it is deny, and then blame -- put the blame back on the accuser.

AMANPOUR: That is absolutely the case and the very latest interview with another channel of Dmitry Peskov asking all about these issues,

particularly the gruesome remains and that everybody witnessed in Bucha and Irpin and in Borodyanka when the Russians were pushed back, they do deny



But there's so much evidence. And there is just so much evidence not just from reporters or just from this government, but from satellite imagery and

drone imagery and security camera imagery in real-time.

So, the evidence is huge, not to mention, but intercepts the German Intelligence, you know, ministry has said that they intercepted most

recently conversations between Russian soldiers in the Kyiv area, particularly in Bucha, talking back to their commanders in Russia, and

discussing basically the indiscriminate killings of not just soldiers, but also civilians. So, that's from the German Intelligence Ministry.

HOLMES: Now, also, I know you spoke to a Ukrainian Intelligence chief about what happened at the --


HOLMES: Train station. And we just want to roll that sound now.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): This is another example of criminal activity of war criminal, dictator, Putin. It is in our case that

I hope that would be added to the criminal investigation against him in the international courts, conducting the powerful missile strike against a

civilian infrastructure during the evacuation of civilians, it's an act of terrorism.

AMANPOUR: Have you seen this? This is the picture that was taken by people there. This is the part of the rocket, and on it, it says "for children".

Well, what does that mean?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is pure propaganda and sickening mind of the dictator who is conducting war against us.


HOLMES: And I guess, Christiane, you know, the thing is the people at that train station, they would have known, they would have seen what happened in

other places where Russian offensive and what that can mean for civilians. You know, Mariupol, Kharkiv, where you've been, Bucha as well. And so, they

were just trying to get away from that.

AMANPOUR: Right, and that is what's so sad. Because that is exactly what they were trying to do. And you know, for them, getting away means actually

leaving their homes and making it somewhat easier for Russia to sweep up that whole area that it's trying to get. I mean, they're almost evacuating

willingly before they are -- you know, before they're thrown out if these troops come in.

So, to bomb those kinds of evacuation hubs -- and by the way, apparently, according to the mayor who we spoke to earlier this morning right after the

news of this strike came through, he said that it's been well-known for the last couple of weeks that this has been a hub for evacuating civilians from

this area that Russia says it's redirecting its military efforts towards. So they said something like 8,000 civilians, and they absolutely clarify,

also, that 90 percent of those leaving are women, children, and the elderly.

Because as you know, men of a certain age are not allowed to leave and they have to remain in Ukraine and in their stations for the war effort. So this

is -- this is women and children, the elderly, just trying to get out of the war zone, and this is what happens to them.

HOLMES: Heartbreaking and outrageous all at the same time. Christiane Amanpour, our thanks to you and your reporting from there in Ukraine. Well,

Ukraine's top prosecutor now says that so far 164 bodies have been found in Bucha since Russian forces withdrew from there, Kyiv suburb, the site of a

large scale civilian massacre along with Irpin and also nearby Borodyanka. The European leaders now are bearing witness to all of that.

European Commission Chief Ursula von der Leyen and the EU's chief diplomat Josep Borrell toured Bucha today as bodies were being exhumed from a mass

grave. Von der Leyen said the civilian massacre shows the, quote, "cruel face of the Russian army."


URSULA VON DER LEYEN, PRESIDENT, EUROPEAN COMMISSION: Here is Bucha, we saw our humanity being shattered, and it is --the whole world is mourning

with the people of Bucha. And they are the ones who are as you said, defending the border of Europe, defending humanity, defending democracy,

and therefore we stand with them in this important fight.


HOLMES: Ukrainian parliament member Alyona Shkrum has also just toured Bucha and Irpin, literally just got back a short time ago, and she joins me

now. Before we get to your visit to Bucha and Irpin, I wanted to get your reaction though to the attack at the Kramatorsk train station.


I mean, if the station was indeed targeted deliberately, that would make it even more horrific than it already is. The Russians presumably would have

known it was packed with people. What are your thoughts?

ALYONA SHKRUM, MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT, UKRAINE (via telephone): Well, yes, hello, unfortunately, this is part of the strategy that we've seen

everywhere. So, I have to say I'm not surprised even though it is shocking every time, but I think that yes, it was simply deliberately targeted just

because thousands of people were there, they were waiting for their evacuation. Russians knew that very well, and they just want to produce

more killings, more panic, more fear, and this is the strategy we're dealing with.

I also think that this is some kind of personal bombardment from Putin's side, because he's targeting deliberately people who speak Russian, who he

hopes would, you know, invite him, and be in peace with Russian troops and Russian soldiers getting to their cities. And obviously, those are the

cities like Kramatorsk and Mariupol who have been fighting, you know -- they lost right now and who have been suffering the most, and they're

Russian-speaking cities. So, I think this is some kind of also sick anger and sick violence from Putin personal.

His view is to kill as many civilians as possible and you know, to torture as many civilians from those particular cities as possible.

HOLMES: And that's an important point too. A lot of these places are predominantly Russian-speaking cities as well. Yet, now, to your visit to

Bucha and Irpin, what did you see? What was your reaction?

SHKRUM: We are actually just getting back from Bucha. So, we're still on the road from Bucha to Kyiv. And you know, you hear stories. You have

friends who lived in Bucha and Irpin and escaped. And you see the pictures and you see the videos, nothing compares to seeing it with your own eyes

and talking to the people who are still there. Because there are still people who live there, they cannot, for example, evacuate their relatives

because they have, you know, grandmothers, grandfathers who cannot walk, and they don't want to be evacuated.

And, of course, it's completely horrifying to see what is left of Bucha. You know, it's like a mass of a city. The last thing we saw was actually a

massive common grave, and I am afraid that the numbers of the bodies that have been found, are even higher than what the prosecutor general said

before. So, right now, we were informed just a couple of hours ago that around 280 people were buried in the common grave.

We did start the process of taking them out and trying to, you know, to do the cremation process with the DNA and everything, but unfortunately, there

are even more people than what we saw at the beginning. And it's completely horrifying to see, and it's almost -- you're almost in the state of denial,

because I cannot imagine what kind of twisted mind would do that, and we hear stories from people who are still there that bodies were just lying on

the streets basically, and their relatives would ask backed-Russian soldiers to take the body of their killed relative home and bury them.

And they would be denied that, and Russian soldiers would joke to them and laugh and say that, it's still frosty outside, it's like minus 5 degrees,

they were still cold, they'll be all right. And then they would put those people in the common grave, and that is how we found those graves right


HOLMES: Just horrific. And what -- you're a member of parliament, what should the world be doing or what more should the world be doing in

response to all of these atrocities, these attacks on civilians?

SHKRUM: Well, first of all, I would really -- you know, I would really ask the world to understand that this is not just a war between Russia and

Ukraine. This is so much over the scale of this. This is the war of the Putin on total like architecture of security, of human right dissent of

Geneva Convention, of humanitarian law. So, basically he's trying to find everything we have tried to build for the past at least 100 years on

international war, international relations, international humanitarian law and human rights.

And he's showed that he will easily commit genocide if needed. He will easily choose to restore the in-fire by killing all of Ukrainians, and not

just Ukrainians, by erasing, you know, a nation -- the nation that doesn't want to be in his desire, and obviously, it is much bigger than just a

fight with Putin and Ukraine. This is a fight with the western world, it is a fight with the western values. It is the fight with Europe and with the

western Europe already, and he's done so many threats to Finland and Poland already, and Latvia and Lithuania and multi countries.

That, you know, I really pray that this war actually will be stopped here in Ukraine, and it will be the last ones of history of the second World War

repeats itself again and again and again in Europe. But to do that, we really need the world to provide us with more weapons, and I can say it

very clearly and very loudly.


You know, we need more weapons to end this war here. Obviously, we understand things in the country, but we need more weapons of any kind

because Russia will right now go with everything they have to Donbas and to the eastern part of the country. We need more sanctions and we need

specific sanctions to work so that they cannot be avoided, because unfortunately, Russian banks have learned very well how to avoid the fifth


Learned how to use the cryptocurrency and bitcoin and other ways to avoid the sanctions. We are working on that, we know that and you know that too,

but we need the world to move faster with those --

HOLMES: Right --

SHKRUM: Issues. We do need some more isolation from this side of Putin. We need to isolate Putin as -- you know, as it is possible --

HOLMES: Right --

SHKRUM: On a larger scale.

HOLMES: Alyona Shkrum, a Ukrainian MP, appreciate your time and bringing us that vivid picture of what you have seen today. Thank you so much.

SHKRUM: Thank you so much. Thank you.

HOLMES: Still to come on the program, Germany facing huge pressure to stop buying natural gas, oil, and coal from Russia. We'll be talking about what

options the biggest economy in Europe has right now. Stay with us.


HOLMES: Welcome back. The German Chancellor Olaf Scholz says his country could end Russian oil imports as soon as this year. The chancellor coming

under pressure from the EU to step away from Russian energy to punish Moscow for its war on Ukraine. He was pushing back against an immediate ban

last month, saying it would cause a recession in Germany. But here's what he said today during a news conference in London with the British Prime

Minister Boris Johnson.


OLAF SCHOLZ, CHANCELLOR, GERMANY: It will be important to get the supply from -- of fossil resources from other places than from Russia. We are

actively working to get independence from the import of oil, and we think that we will be able to make it during this year. And we are actively

working to get independence from the necessity of importing gas from Russia.


HOLMES: All right, let's bring in Niels Annen, the Parliamentary State Secretary, Germany's Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. Mr.

Minister, thanks so much.


First of all, before we get to talking about Germany, I wanted to get your reaction to the attack on the train station. People trying to flee what

everyone thinks is going to be a major Russian push from the east and this happens. What were your thoughts?


and it looks as it was a determined decision of the Russian government to, again, target civilians. And you know, I have to say after what the world

could observe in ten years of war in Syria, it's exactly as the same experience that we're seeing now in Ukraine. It's a deliberate attack, it

needs to be investigated, and it's just a horrible situation that, again, civilians, innocent civilians are part of that operation, and are suffering

under terrible circumstances.

HOLMES: Right. And now, let's talk more about, you know, what Ukraine wants, of course, is Europe to ban Russian oil and gas imports. Germany

resisting initially and at least for now, because of the impact it would have. Yet, you know, there was a German member of parliament, Norman

Rotken(ph), who tweeted that the talk of catastrophic consequences for Germany must stop. You had the Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi

questioning whether air-conditioning is more important than peace for some.

Are you worried that Germany will be seen as, you know, putting air- conditioning ahead of what's happening in Ukraine if they don't end these imports faster than planned?

ANNEN: Look, I am not concerned because I know what we are doing. Now, we're doing everything that's possible and responsible to support Ukraine.

Germany in a major policy shift -- we use a German expression of citing when a real game-changer in all policies. Direct shift, deliberately taking

the decision to getting neutral in terms, you know, independent in terms of energy supply from Russia in a record time.

We are supporting Ukraine with lethal weapons, something that Germany has not been doing in the past. And I think the -- quite frankly, the

comparison with air-condition doesn't really get to the point. We need to be open and honest here. We are able to cut off the imports from Russia

coal, the chancellor just made it clear that we will be very quick in cutting the imports from Russian oil as well, but gas will take a little

more time.

And it's also the German industry. Major parts of the German industry that are depending on that. But the chancellor also made clear that we are going

to in west, also in record time, and knowing Germany, it's not always easy to implement that fast, in building two LNG terminals. We are really doing

what is possible. And we should also not forget if I may add that, that Germany is putting together an enormous and very relevant support package

for Ukraine, Ukrainian neighboring countries, especially Moldova.

So, I think that we are really trying, and not only trying, but succeeding in helping Ukrainians in need.

HOLMES: You mentioned -- you mentioned coal. There was word today that the EU import ban on Russian coal will take effect in August, and will be a

phasing out over several months. I mean, August, it's April. So, you know, it will be months before this even happens. Can you understand why

President Zelenskyy is so angry, you know, that sanctions haven't been immediate enough?

ANNEN: Oh, of course. You know, the president, the Ukrainian president in a very impressive speech addressed the German parliament, and I think we

all have an enormous respect for the president, for the Ukrainian people resisting in a remarkable way. But I also believe that -- and it's a good

opportunity to say that. We have taken steps that are without any precedent. For example, boycotting and effectively locking the ability of

the Russian central bank to operate.

So, even though there's a technical transaction ongoing, the Russian government is not able to use that funds right now. And I think we need to

explain the details, are, of course, complicated. But there's a huge support in the German government and the German parliament, which we are

grateful for, but also in the German public. But let me be also very clear, what we need to do, should, you know, hit Russia's economy and not ours.

And I think it's also important to keep that enormously high level of support in the German public, which is also important for Ukraine. And the

Ukrainian friends know that they can rely on Germany, and we have been there even before the war. It sometimes gets a little overshadowed that

Germany has been the most important supporter and also providing enormous, you know, resources and funds.


And we are right now reprogramming those program lines, also in my ministry, helping the Ukrainian authorities to, for example, do what's

necessary to host the IDPs in Western Ukraine. We are working on many issues so I think that sometimes, you know, and a very emotional discussion

sometimes is being overlooked.

HOLMES: I really appreciate you taking the time German Parliamentary State Secretary Niels Annen. Thank you so much.

ANNEN: Thank you.

HOLMES: Still to come on the program, thousands of Ukrainians have relied on trains such as this one to take them to safety. We'll hear from some of

the people forced to leave everything behind. It's a powerful report. Do stay with us.


HOLMES: Welcome back. We want to revisit our top story for you now. At least 50 people, including children, were killed by a Russian missile

strike on a crowded railway station in eastern Ukraine, almost 100 others were wounded. Local police say the missiles struck a waiting room where

hundreds of people were gathered. Germany's Chancellor says the killing of civilians is a war crime. And the responsibility lies with the Russian

President, Vladimir Putin.

Now for weeks now trains of ferried thousands, tens of thousands of civilians to safety. Our Ivan Watson takes us on just one journey.


IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Ukrainian families on the run. More than a month after Russia invaded, civilians are still

fleeing from the threats of the Russian military, hurrying towards a waiting train. An air raid siren rings out as the train begins to move.

This couple, just a few minutes too late.



WATSON: The evacuation train is now leaving the station. There are about 1,100 passengers onboard this train. All of them are evacuees who are

traveling for free. They'll be traveling for the next 24 hours this train carrying this human cargo to safety in western Ukraine.


WATSON: The war forced everyone here to flee their homes, including the crew of the train. Head conductor Sergey Hrishenko ran the last train out

of the city of Mariupol on February 25th, the day after Russia launched its invasion. There had been no trains from Mariupol since as a month long

Russian siege has destroyed much of the city.


SERGEY HRISHENKO, TRAIN HEAD CONDUCTOR (through translator): My whole team, 20 conductors, everybody left with me. Many of them were made homeless lost

their apartments, some of them lost relatives.


WATSON: Hrishenko says his team spent the next month living and working on the train nonstop, struggling to evacuate crowds of desperate and panicked

Ukrainians, especially during the first weeks of the war.


WATSON: Sergey estimates that during the month that he and his team were working, they evacuated around 100,000 people.


WATSON: These days, the crowds have gotten smaller, but strangers are still packed together for this long trip. Everyone seems to be fleeing a

different part of eastern Ukraine.

Galina Bondarenko fled her village outside the city of Zaporizhzhia with her 19-year-old son after enduring two weeks of Russian shelling.


GALINA BONDARENKO, FLED RUSSIAN INVASION (through translator): I feel outrage, complete outrage, and I feel fear when they are shooting.


WATSON: Some evacuees brought their pets.


WATSON: The kitten is handling the train ride a little bit better than the puppy.


WATSON: The two families sharing this compartment met each other on the train for the very first time.


WATSON: I've been speaking with Katya, who is eight months pregnant right now. And she's traveling alone with her daughter heading west because they

don't know what will happen. And I asked "Where are you going to give birth to your child?" And she said, "Well, wherever it's safe right now." And

that's just an example of one family. She's left her husband behind. He's serving in the military right now.


WATSON: Further down the train, I meet a group of women and children who just escaped southern Ukraine.


WATSON: How long did you live under Russian military occupation?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One month. One was from 27 February.

WATSON: How would you describe that experience?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All this time, I went outside only two times. Just because I hear a lot of cases of --




WATSON: In addition to hearing unconfirmed stories of rape, the women tell me they've seen drunk and filthy Russian soldiers asking residents for

supplies like food and toilet paper.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They just put their flags on the -- on our, main building.

WATSON: Which flags did they put?




WATSON: On the police station?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everywhere. They just love this, I think. And they think that flag can change our minds, our Ukrainian minds, but it's not

work like this.

I want the Russian people also come back on their land. They have a lot of land. Just a lot of land on the map. And I hope it will be enough for them

just because enough. Stop, please. It's very painful for everyone here, for everyone in this train and outside, it's -- it was very peaceful life

without these attacks.


WATSON: I've gotten off after a relatively short journey. This strain still has more than 20 hours to go across country. It'll end up in the western

Ukrainian city of Lviv. But for most of the more than 1,100 evacuees onboard, all forced to flee their homes by this terrible war, their final

destination is likely unclear. Ivan Watson, CNN, in eastern Ukraine.


HOLMES: Still to come on the program, the French presidential race almost looks like a rematch of the 2017 election. Just one reason why voters don't

seem to be all that interested. We'll take a closer look after the break.



HOLMES: A third victim has now died from yesterday's shooting in Tel Aviv. The attack at a bar in a popular nightlife district also left more than a

dozen people wounded. Police say the gunman who carried out the attack was found and killed after security forces exchanged fire with him. Israeli

officials say he was a 28-year-old Palestinian man from the West Bank. It is the latest in a string of shootings to rock the country over the past

three weeks.

The first round of the French presidential election is happening this Sunday. Right now, President Emmanuel Macron ahead in local opinion polls

about his rival, Marine Le Pen, is making a solid comeback. Jim Bittermann breaks it all down for us.


JIM BITTERMANN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: All the usual trappings of a French presidential election are there, the billboards and

signs, the endless TV appearances and speeches. But this year is elections to determine who will lead the nation for the next five years seemed

surprisingly lifeless.

According to one poll, fewer than two voters and three are interested in the campaign, which a majority said has been a poor quality. At least part

of the reason may be that the news and minds here are concentrated on the war in the Ukraine.


BITTERMANN: Nearly 90 percent of the French say they worry about the war, although a much smaller percentage say that's the issue they'll vote on.

Even so, the issue that will motivate voters to choose between the dozen candidates in the race, the rise in the cost of living, the economy, are

directly or indirectly linked to the conflict in the Ukraine.


BITTERMANN: President Emmanuel Macron sometimes ridiculed for his stretch table diplomacy and tireless efforts to first head off and now end the war

nonetheless got a boost to the polls at the beginning of the campaign. As horrific scenes from the streets of Bucha, Ukraine flowed into French

salons in cyberspace, the leading candidates all were outraged, but some are haunted by what they've said previously.

The candidate from the far right, a TV pundit, says there needs to be an investigation. Yet in the past has sounded pro-Putin.


ERIC ZEMMOUR, FRENCH PRESIDENT CANDIDATE (through translator): Vladimir Putin defends his interest. He's a Russian patriot. The Americans have done

much to provoke Putin.


BITTERMAN: The candidate on the far left says Russia must respond to the charge of war crimes, yet earlier he said "Russia is a partner. I don't

agree with making them into an enemy."

The candidate on the center right has had the most consistent position supporting Ukraine and said Russia can no longer be thought of as an ally

of France.



VALERIE PECRESSE, FRENCH PRESIDENT CANDIDATE (through translator): Tell Vladimir Putin "Stop now."


BITTERMAN: And the other candidate on the far right, Marine Le Pen, Macron's likely opponent in the election runoff April 24th, said Bucha was

clearly a war crime. But in the past, she admits her party once took millions of loans from a Russian bank because she says she was turned down

by French banks.


MARINE LE PEN, FRENCH PRESIDENT CANDIDATE (through translator): The act of escalation that the President Vladimir Putin has decided to do is really



BITTERMAN: With his stature as a World Player magnified by the war, now Macron says Russian authorities must answer for their crimes. Because of

his efforts to end the war, politically, he might be the biggest beneficiary from French worries about it.

But in the wake of Bucha, his opponents question where exactly he has obtained results. From the beginning, Macron has been expected to win

reelection. But at is first, last, and only big rally a week before the first round of voting, his poll standing seemed to be melting away and his

supporters worried about whether they can motivate a turnout in the Shadow of War in Europe. Jim Bitterman, CNN, Paris.


HOLMES: Now we're waiting to hear from Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan ahead of a vote to remove him from office. That vote set for Saturday

morning. Now in the last ditch attempt to maintain power, Mr. Khan tried to dissolve parliament and called for early elections. But the country's

Supreme Court has ruled that move unconstitutional. Khan widely expected to lose the vote, meaning the opposition party will put forward a new

candidate for prime minister.

Still to come, how a small Ukrainian town fought back and won. We'll bring you the story of how civilians and troops came together to push back the



HOLMES: A source telling CNN that German intelligence claims to have intercepted radio transmissions of Russian troops talking about killing

civilians. Those intelligence findings were first reported by Der Spiegel and appeared to implicate Russian forces in a pattern of war crimes.

Moscow has continuously denied as we've said all allegations of such atrocities, most recently in the indiscriminate killing of civilians in



People in Ukraine, of course, have experienced some unimaginable suffering and yet, in many cases, their spirit and determination is unbreakable. When

Russian forces first launched their invasion, one of their objectives was a small but strategic town in southern Ukraine. And against all odds,

Ukrainian troops and civilians joined forces to stop them. CNN's Ed Lavandera with their remarkable story.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The sign into town reads "Russian soldier, you will die here." The Russians didn't listen. This is the story of how

the small city of Voznesensk fought off the Russian invasion in early March.

Yevgeniy Velychko is the mayor of the city of 30,000 people. He took us to the bridge, at least where the bridge used to be where Ukrainian soldiers,

volunteer fighters, and a fearlessly creative cast of civilians stared down the Russians.


LAVANDERA: How close did the Russians get to taking over the city?

You can see over here on the other side of the bridge in the distance there, just on the other side of the bridge, a row of tires and that's as

close as the Russian tanks came.


LAVANDERA: The mayor says the Ukrainians blew it up so that the Russians couldn't cross into the heart of the city. That sparked a two-day

confrontation. But thousands of residents were trapped on the other side of the bridge, the only section of the city Russian forces invaded.

This man named Ivan lives in a house along the main road into town. Several homes and cars around him were scorched in the firefight. He hid inside

with his elderly mother as the Russian tanks swarmed his neighborhood.


LAVANDERA: He describes how terrifying it was several homes, blown up around him, constant barrage of gunfire, but he tells us he actually didn't

see it, he had to hide inside his home, but just the sound of it was terrifying.


LAVANDERA: Various cameras captured the images of the Russian military vehicles with the letter "Z" emblazoned on the side. The mayor says three

columns of Russian soldiers moved into the city. One military official says the Russians invaded with at least 100 tanks and armored personnel carriers

and as many as 500 soldiers.


LAVANDERA: So this is Ghost. He's asked that we not use his full name. And he is the head of a reconnaissance unit here in this town that was

instrumental in fighting back the Russians. And this was the spot. This was the spot where you fought the Russians.

He says he thinks that's a blood stain there. Wow. The remnants of a Russian meal.

GHOST, UKRAINIAN RECONNAISSANCE UNIT COMMANDER (through translator): Wednesday we're advancing towards the bridge thanks to the Ukrainian

military forces, the Air Assault Brigade, the territorial defense and our recon squad, we fought them off. Here we shower them with artillery and we

destroyed them.


LAVANDERA: The Ukrainians blew up multiple bridges in the city to keep the Russians from moving into this town that sits at a strategic crossroads in

southern Ukraine and kept Vladimir Putin's army from invading deeper into the country.


LAVANDERA: In this spot, just on the edge of the city, multiple Russian tanks were taken out here. We're actually standing in the ashes of one of

those tanks. And there were at least two Russian soldiers that were killed in this very spot.

GHOST (through translator): We are strong. Our city is strong. Our spirit is strong. When the enemy came, everyone rose up from kids to the elderly.


LAVANDERA: Hiding residence cold in the locations of Russian soldiers, others ran ammunition and supplies wherever it was needed.


LAVANDERA: The Russians had more firepower, had more weapons than you guys had.

GHOST (through translator): They were powerful. They had tanks, they had APCs. A lot of wheeled vehicles, but we're stronger, smarter and more


LAVANDERA: Are you worried that they're going to come back for revenge after you guys embarrassed them?

GHOST (through translator): No. It's them who should be afraid. They should know if they come here, they will remain here as Cargo 200. We already have

refrigerators for their bodies, and we can bring more.


LAVANDERA: But the Russian soldiers weren't ready to face the grandmothers of Stepova Street. In a small village on the edge of Voznesensk, 88-year-

old Vera walked out, armed with her canes, and fired off an epic tirade of verbal artillery.


They say they were chased out of their homes and robbed. But the women relish telling this story with laughter. I asked if they're worried the

Russians will return to seek revenge. They tell me they're not going anywhere. Ed Lavandera, CNN, Voznesensk, Ukraine.


HOLMES: Now the war has prompted the rock band Pink Floyd to release its first new music in almost 30 years, the song featuring a Ukrainian singer.

This is Hey, Hey, Rise Up.

That singer left his own band to fight Russian forces. All proceeds from the single will go to humanitarian relief. Thanks for spending part of your

day with me. I'm Michael Holmes. "QUEST MEANS BUSINESS" up next.