Clip: Global outrage grows as Russia's retreat from Kyiv exposes atrocities

Apr. 08, 2022 AT 5:20 p.m. EDT

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is now entering its seventh week, as the world saw carnage and brutality unlike anything seen before in the conflict. Russia’s military withdrawal , from Bucha, a suburb of Kyiv, exposed atrocities against Ukraine’s civilians. President Biden this week introduced a new round of sanctions targeting Russian banks and elites, including President Putin’s daughters.

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Alcindor : Good evening and welcome to “Washington Week”.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is now entering its seventh week, and this week, the world saw carnage and brutality unlike we’ve seen in this conflict. A warning, some may find the following images disturbing. Russia’s military withdrawal from Bucha, a suburb of Kyiv, exposed atrocities against Ukrainian civilians. Some people who are found dead with their hands tied behind their backs, others with gunshot wounds in their heads.

Terrified residents describe how they survived as their city was under siege.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

Vladyslava Liubanets, Bucha Resident (through translator) : We were in the basement for 35 days. There was shelling all the time. Sometimes there was no water, sometimes, there was no food.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

Alcindor : A Russian attack also killed dozens of people at a train station in eastern Ukraine that was being used for evacuations. On Tuesday, in a fiery address to the U.N. Security Council, Ukrainian President Zelenskyy took the body to task and demanded more action.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Ukrainian President (through translator) : Where is the security that U.N. Security Council must guarantee? There is no security. Where is the peace the United Nations was created to guarantee? Now, we need decisions from the Security Council for peace in Ukraine.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

Alcindor : On Wednesday, President Biden introduced a new round of sanctions targeting Russian banks and elites and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s own daughters.

Joining me tonight to discuss this and more: Simon Ostrovsky, special correspondent for the “PBS NewsHour”. He’s joining us from Kyiv; Nia-Malika Henderson, senior political analyst for CNN, and Jeff Mason, White House correspondent for “Reuters”.

Thank you all for being here.

Simon, I want to start with you. You reported and saw firsthand the carnage, the human devastation in Bucha. What sticks out for you in your mind as you think of all that you saw this week?

Simon Ostrovsky, Special Correspondent, PBS NewsHour : Well, I remember how the week started with a trip to Bucha on Sunday, when we toured the city and saw dead bodies strewn through the streets, some of them with their hands tied behind their back, and how that became the headline around the world.

But I think what a lot of people don’t realize, with all the coverage that has been focused on the town, is that the atrocities that were perpetrated during the period that Russia was occupying the area were much more widespread than just the town of Bucha. I have been traveling to towns throughout the Kyiv region, throughout the Chernihiv neighboring region, throughout areas where Russian troops came down from the north towards Kyiv, into and held for roughly a month, depending on the areas that you go to.

We have heard stories like the ones that have been coming out from Bucha absolutely everywhere, stories of soldiers coming to peoples homes, taking them away and those men and women, their bodies only being found once the Ukrainian troops came in and liberated the areas.

I think the other thing that is important to understand is that this was not a recalibration by the Russian forces towards eastern Ukraine. This was a Russian defeat in the areas around Kyiv. They retreated. And now, they are sending their troops to eastern Ukraine because the Ukrainian forces kicked them out of this area.

So, the fighting has been very heavy in some of these towns. A lot of the civilians who were killed in these areas died in fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces, in shelling, in aerial bombings from Russia. And, sadly, and I think shockingly, because of the orders that Russian troops had to go around and to cleanse the areas of undesirable people, and I think that is what is emerging over the last few days.

Alcindor : Simon is talking about all this carnage and the things that he saw not just in Bucha.

Jeff, I want to come to you, Poland’s president told CNN this week that this was a genocide carried out in Russia -- sorry, carried out in Ukraine by Russia. But President Biden, while calling Putin a war criminal, has not wanted to use the word genocide. Can you talk about how the president is balancing his personal thinking around this versus U.S. policy and how he’s talking about what is going on as we see these devastating images?

Jeff Mason, White House Correspondent, REUTERS : Sure. Well, I think we have seen with President Biden over the last several weeks during this awful war that sometimes his personal feelings get a bit ahead of U.S. policy. But he has not gone so far as to call it a genocide. He has called it a war crime and he doubled down on that this week, which you played in your opening clip.

And he continues to call President Putin a war criminal. There is even discussion starting about how to try that, and how the United States would be involved in that without being a member of the International Criminal Court.

But in terms of that line you were referring to, Yamiche, I think we will continue to see President Biden let his feelings come out and the White House will say he’s speaking from the heart, even if when he says something it does not necessarily mean there is a shift in policy. There is not a U.S. policy to go for regime change. That’s not U.S. policy.

But President Biden did say Putin should not be in power. He said he called him a war criminal before. That was the policy of the United States. And now, policy kind of caught up with him on that one. You heard President Biden referring to that as well.

So, I think we will continue to see that and I think that it’s absolutely burning within him to criticize what he sees President Putin and Russia doing in Ukraine and him wanting to do as much as he can to stop it.

Alcindor : And, Jeff, sticking with you, the White House announced new sanctions this week, including targeting, as we said, Putin’s daughters. What is the aim there?

If you could, talk about how President Biden is trying to balance being tough on Russia with the limited toolkit that he has.

Mason : Sure, it’s largely an economic toolkit. And that’s why so much the U.S. has done along with its Western allies has been in the realm of sanctions. And targeting Putin’s daughters is another example of getting close to the president of Russia.

He’s -- the president of the United States by President Biden and Western allies have done sanctions on oligarchs. So, rich people around President Putin, but this is going all the way into his family.

And I think the strategy there is just to continue to sort of tighten the screws as it were around President Putin to impact the people who he cares about, impact the people around him, and have a hope that that will impact the policy he is implementing.

He hasn’t so far. It certainly has not led to President Putin pulling back on his military advancements and his military goals in Ukraine, but it is making it much harder in Russia for Putin and the military writ-large because of the financial fallout that is happening.

Alcindor : Yeah. And, Nia, Jeff is talking about the tightening of the screws around the neck of Vladimir Putin, but the president of Ukraine says there is not enough being done. And his speech to the U.N. was incredible in some ways because he was saying you need to do more.

How is that -- what are the politics of that, given this is attention that continues to build and build with Ukraine wanting more and the West wanting to help and being sympathetic but not doing nearly what -- what Ukraine wants?

Nia-Malika Henderson, Senior Political Analyst, CNN : Right. And in that speech, Zelenskyy said, you all see this. And the “this” that he was talking about was these mass killings of civilians and their bodies laying on the street. He went into great detail about what the scenes were of those massacres of innocent civilians.

He seems to be trying to shame the West into more action, asking these international bodies that claim to stand for peace and security, asking them to actually live up to what they claim to stand for, to send many more weapons, the kind of weapons that would advance the Ukrainian cause much further, as well to cut off the spigot of funding to Russia in the form of paying for oil and gas and coal exports from the country. Billions of dollars is still flowing into the Russian economy because Europe is so inextricably tied to Russia and they need that fuel.

You have seen some moves by European countries to try to wean themselves of particularly coal in the near months, but it is at this point a situation where U.S. central he have European countries funding the war efforts. And as much as the United States has done what the United States has done in terms of tightening the screws with sanctions and targeting Putin’s daughters and the billionaires in Russia as well, as long as this money continues to flow to Putin, you’ve got Zelenskyy knowing that is essentially funding this horrific effort against his people.

You heard Biden in his speech last week say this is a long slog, most likely. The sanctions so far haven’t worked and you have in Putin someone who is fixated like a madman on Ukraine and doesn’t understand the rules of war. We have seen those horrific scenes, and Zelenskyy, over and over, to the Grammy’s, to anyone who will listen, essentially saying, the West, your thoughts and prayers and sanctions are great, but do much more in terms of helping Ukraine defeat Russia.

Alcindor : And, Simon, Nia is talking about this long-haul, this long slog ahead. You talked about Russia retreating. What more can you say about the strategy that Russia has to keep this war going, as it drags on, and as Ukrainians are saying they are ready to fight on and defend their homeland?

Ostrovsky : Well, I think the Ukrainian authorities have warned that there is going to be a major offensive that they expect in the east in the Donbas region. There has been fighting for weeks now where the Russians tried to join their southern force. That has gone all the way to the border with Crimea and to the city of Kherson that they have occupied. And that force wants to join with troops in the north that are fighting in the Luhansk and the Donetsk regions. And if they were to do that, they would encircle quite a large force, the Ukrainian force in the Donbas that has been fighting there since 2014, since 2015, when this war actually started.

I think the Russian so far has in many cases risen to the level of a war crime with what we’ve seen with the bombings of cities like Mariupol, which seem indiscriminate, where civilian areas are being targeted, and places in the Chernihiv region where Russia retreated. I heard a story a couple of days ago from residents of that village where the entire population of the village was held as a human shield in the basement of a school, that the Russian troops that were stationed there, were using as their headquarters.

So, what I am afraid of is -- and what I’m worried about seeing in the future is when we do hopefully eventually see Russian troops pull back, we will find these kinds of things that we see in Bucha and the Chernihiv region, and Kyiv region now have been happening and are happening right now in the areas that Russia continues to occupy. That is why Vladimir Zelenskyy is speaking with such urgency and speaking to any form that he can try to get as much help as he can, because I think Ukrainians, after seeing what they saw, know that they have no time to spare in order to save their people.

Alcindor : And really quickly, Jeff, while -- before we go to the domestic politics, I’m just wondering, what’s the White House bracing for when you hear all that Simon is talking about?

Mason : Oh, I think it is bracing for it to get worse. I think they are bracing for more images. I think they’re bracing for more battles.

And this kind of thing, of course, in addition to being outrageous, also raises pressure on President Biden, on the Biden administration, on the West in general to do more. Those are all things the White House is preparing for and seeing coming on the horizon.

Alcindor : Yeah. Certainly, White House officials are concerned about how all this will impact domestic politics and inflation and gas prices.

So, there’s more to talk about, about Ukraine. But thank you so much, Simon, for joining us and sharing your reporting.

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