Russia targets supply routes as the U.S. and NATO allies pump weapons into Ukraine

The wide plains of eastern Ukraine are now the site of a pitched battle between Ukrainian and Russian forces. American and allied weapons keep flowing in to assist Ukraine as it fends off fearsome Russian artillery and bombing. Meanwhile, a new report shows that the death toll in the war's worst air strike could be double what was originally believed. Nick Schifrin reports from Kyiv.

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  • Geoff Bennett:

    The wide plains of Eastern Ukraine are now the site of a pitched battle between Ukrainian and Russian forces. American and allied weapons keep flowing in to assist Ukraine as it fends off fearsome Russian artillery and bombing.

    And a new report shows that perhaps the death toll in the war's worst airstrike could be double what was originally believed.

    From Kyiv, Nick Schifrin reports.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    On the front lines in Ukraine's east, Russia prepares another artillery onslaught.

    Russian forces continue to make slow progress, firing at outgunned Ukrainian positions. Russia released these videos today and said it also targeted Ukrainian railway stations to disrupt the flow of Western weapons, none more crucial than these American howitzers that the U.S. is rushing to Ukraine to counter Russian artillery.

    Today, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu threatened once again to target those weapons shipments.

  • Sergei Shoigu, Russian Defense Minister (through translator):

    The U.S. and NATO allies continue to pump weapons into Ukraine. We view any transport of the North Atlantic Alliance arriving on the territory of the country with weapons or materials destined to the Ukrainian army as a legitimate target to be destroyed.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But, yesterday, many of Russia's so-called legitimate targets were clearly civilian, a bus stop in Donetsk near a chemical plant that killed at least 10, in the eastern city of Kharkiv, an amusement park, which before the war would have been filled with children, and the most widespread attack on the western city of Lviv since the war began.

    Missiles struck power stations and knocked out much of the city's electricity. British officials said today Russian troops are expected to move south from Izyum and could capture the cities of Kramatorsk and Severodonetsk. Further south, in Mariupol, a senior U.S. defense official said Russia maintains about 2,000 troops inside the city.

    In the center of that city, two months ago, 1,000 civilians, mostly women and children, sheltered in a theater's basement from Russian strikes. Today, the Associated Press estimated a Russian missile strike that destroyed the theater killed 600 civilians. That would double the official death toll.

    The AP's new estimate relies on 3-D floor plans, videos, photos and the accounts of survivors like Maria Kutnyakova. She lives only because she happened to walk outside before the Russians attacked.

  • Maria Kutnyakova, Ukrainian Resident (through translator):

    This was the ultimate realization that they are not at war with the army. They are at war with every Ukrainian, with every resident of Mariupol. They came not to capture the city, but to destroy it.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And destroy it, they have. Two months of Russia's ruthless campaign have left a ravaged skeleton of a city, soldiers and civilians' final holdout, the Azovstal steel plant.

    Mariupol's mayor said this afternoon officials temporarily lost contact with those inside.

    Vadym Boychenko, Mayor of Mariupol, Ukraine (through translator): We pray for our heroic boys. We thank them for this feat. They held back the enemy and gave us more time to prepare, our defenders of Mariupol.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Far from the front, in France today, the European Union announced new penalties on Russian banks and a full ban on Russian oil. There may be temporary exceptions for Hungary and Slovakia, but European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the move was necessary.

  • Ursula von der Leyen, President, European Commission:

    I would like to be clear. It will not be easy, because some member states are strongly dependent on Russian oil. But we simply have to do it.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But the bloc remains divided over an even larger punishment, a ban on Russian natural gas, mostly because of German resistance.

    But economic punishment has not prevented Russia from waging war. Today, in Moscow, Russian jets flew in a Z formation, a symbol of the conflict. The country is preparing for Monday's national holiday celebrating the anniversary of victory in World War II.

    British and American officials fear that Vladimir Putin could use his anticipated speech on Monday, May the 9th, to declare some kind of victory or escalate a war, Geoff, that has already destroyed so much and taken so many lives.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    So, Nick, what kind of victory could Putin declare, and what exactly are his options for escalation?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yes, you heard Mariupol's mayor admit earlier today that he lost contact temporarily with the soldiers and civilians, the last holdouts in Mariupol's steel plant.

    And if Russia takes over that plant and therefore takes over Mariupol, Putin could declare that Russia has created a land bridge from Russia to Crimea by combining territory that separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk, in the Donbass, already controlled since 2014, with new territory that Russia currently occupies in Southern and Southeastern Ukraine.

    And on escalation, a senior U.S. official acknowledges to me that Russia does have options for escalation. The U.S. remains concerned about chemical and biological attacks. And British officials are publicly saying that Putin will use his speech on Monday to declare some kind of national conscription, in which he would increase the invasion of Ukraine and could even try and target Kyiv once again.

    Now, many experts and Western officials I talk to say that's unlikely because it could spark the kind of dissent inside Russia that Putin so far has suppressed. But they do admit, Geoff, that that kind of announcement is possible.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Is there any sign that the strikes that Russia says target Western weapons, is there any sign that that's preventing their delivery?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    U.S. and Western officials I talk to you say there is no sign that Russia has managed to interdict those weapons convoys.

    A senior U.S. defense official tells me that either Russia doesn't have the intelligence to target those convoys, or the capacity in terms of precision guided munitions in order to actually interdict some of those convoys.

    And Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said yesterday that most of those howitzers, that artillery that are coming from the U.S. into Ukraine have actually reached Eastern Ukraine, and Ukrainian soldiers are now using them against Russia in the fight in the Donbass.

    But the increased weaponry has led to some officials in Moscow say that this is a kind of proxy war between the U.S. and Russia. And, Geoff, that goes back to the fears of escalation, because Russian officials have indicated that they would rather escalate than lose a proxy battle.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    And lastly, Nick, you are standing in a street that's at the center of Kyiv, as I understand it.

    Give us a sense of what life is like there now.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yes, this is the senator of Kyiv.

    This would normally be a bustling street. There's a curfew at 10:00 p.m. in Kyiv. And even though it's been five weeks since Russian forces left the area around Kyiv, this city is a ghost town after 10:00. And I am standing pretty much in the middle of the street.

    That said, during the day, a lot of residents have returned to Kyiv over the last five weeks, and there are a lot of shops and life open. But, Geoff, tonight, as you can see, this is still a city at war.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Absolutely.

    Nick Schifrin for us tonight in Kyiv.

    Nick, thanks for that reporting.

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