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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

Vast Destruction From Russian Strike In And Around Kyiv; Zelenskyy Slams Weak, Insecure NATO Rejection Of No-Fly Zone; Ukraine: Russia Focused On Encircling Kyiv, Weakening Resistance; Pentagon Reiterates Americans Shouldn't Try To Fight In Ukraine; Americans Ignore U.S. Warnings, Head To Ukraine To Join Fight. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired March 04, 2022 - 20:00   ET


ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Obviously, that was before the complete and utter crash, but still the wealthiest family in Russia. This yacht in Italy seized reportedly equipped with the helipad, and obviously another massive yacht as these assets around the world now are seized.

Thanks for joining us. Our breaking news coverage continues now with AC 360.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening again from Lviv, Ukraine.

Tonight, a senior Western Intelligence official tells CNN the Russia now appears ready to quote "bombard cities into submission." Consider those words as we show you video of some of the destructions Ukrainians have endured already.

This official went on to say it is a very crude approach, which he added leads me to judge that they have completely different standards when it comes to respect for human life. That should come as no surprise to anyone who has seen Russia operate in places like Grozny or Aleppo in Syria.

According to the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, it has recorded at least 331 civilian fatalities so far, with 700 more wounded. Most casualties they say were caused by precisely the kind of weaponry and tactics that this senior Intelligence official is warning about.

Then again -- then again, as we saw last night, the war continues. These are forces who risked poisoning a chunk of the continent by assaulting Europe's largest nuclear power station in southern Ukraine.

Now tonight, we have video and sound from inside the plant as it came under fire. And as someone got on the PA system to plead for the shooting to stop.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking in foreign language).

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He is saying stop shooting immediately. You threaten the security of the whole world.

The work of the vital organs of the Zaporizhzhia station may be disrupted. It would be impossible for us to restore it.

He goes on, you're endangering the security of the entire world. Attention. Stop shooting at a nuclear hazardous facility. Stop shooting at a nuclear hazardous facility. Stop shooting at a nuclear hazardous facility. Attention. Stop it.


COOPER: That is extraordinary. That was CNN's Sam Kiley, who joins us shortly, he was doing the translation for us.

There is word today that Russian forces are advancing now on another nuclear facility, the second largest in Ukraine. Meantime, Ukraine's most prominent survivor, President Zelenskyy spoke by video to large crowds in European capitals.

He called for their support, praised Ukrainians for defending the country, and took a moment to honor the fallen. And as he did, ordinary unarmed Ukrainian civilians continued demonstrating their defiance in the most direct and frankly most terrifying way imaginable face-to-face at gunpoint with Russian troops.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking in foreign language.)

TEXT: The Russian World has come to Novopskovsk.

Novopskovsk is meeting the Russian World.

You are not welcome here. You only bring war with you. Go away from here.

The war and death follow you. Put on your stuff and leave. Ukraine is above all.


COOPER: Just imagine the courage it takes to do that, to stand in front of Russian troops who have no compunction about slaughtering innocents.

We've got a lot to report tonight and coverage across the region, CNN's Clarissa Ward is in Kyiv. Sim Kiley, as we mentioned is at a location not far from the nuclear plant.

Across the border in Poland where so many refugees have been arriving around the clock, hundreds of thousands, CNN's Sara Sidner is there, and the White House, CNN's Kaitlan Collins.

First, we want to give you an overview from CNN and Pentagon correspondent Oren Liebermann.


OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The unthinkable, now another step in Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Russian forces fired on the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, seizing control of those Zaporizhzhia facility early Friday morning.

Ukraine said the Russians fired on the plant from all sides, setting fire to a building near the reactor threatening to cause a nuclear disaster.

ANDRIY TUZ, ZAPORIZHZHIA NPP SPOKESPERSON: Russian Federation do continue shooting at the Nuclear Power Plant.

Unit one, Unit two have damage.

LIEBERMANN (voice over): A spokesperson for the plant says the fighting and the fighting have stopped. The International Atomic Energy Agency says radiation levels are normal and workers are being allowed in to continue operating the plant at gunpoint says the head of the power company.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): It could have been six Chernobyl's. The Russian tank, people knew what they were shelling. They were shelling this at close range.

This was terror at a new level.

LIEBERMANN (voice over): The crisis resulted in the U.N. Security Council holding an emergency meeting.

LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD, UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: The world narrowly averted a nuclear catastrophe last night.

Mr. Putin must stop this madness.

LIEBERMANN (voice over): Russia has not let up its attacks across the country, maintaining barrages against major cities, high rise apartment buildings obliterated in the town of Borodyanka just over 30 miles northwest of the capital, Kyiv.


LIEBERMANN (voice over): A cell phone video shot in Kharkiv interrupted by a strike on the City Council Building.

Homes destroyed in the city of Chernihiv.

ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The terrible expectation is that the suffering we've already seen is likely to get worse before it gets better for as long as Russia pursues these methods.

LIEBERMANN (voice over): The Ukrainians have had at least one victory, successfully stalling the miles long convoy advancing on key from the north with direct attacks and by destroying a bridge on its route according to The Pentagon.

In the south, Ukraine still has control over the city of Mariupol, despite intense Russian strikes according to a senior U.S. defense official. Residents there cut off from water and electricity.

Meanwhile, Odessa is preparing for a possible Russian attack. A resident of the occupied city of Kherson says they are dealing with violence at the hands of the Russian occupiers.

President Biden says it is clear Russian forces are intentionally targeting civilians as Ukraine accuses Russia of war crimes, accusation the Kremlin denies.

The International Criminal Court is investigating.

JENS STOLTENBERG, NATO GENERAL SECRETARY: This is brutality. This is inhumane.

LIEBERMANN (voice over): NATO has accused Russia of using cluster bombs, a devastating weapon that can kill indiscriminately, though a senior U.S. Defense official says they can't confirm that type of weapon has been used.

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: They are geared to execute civilian casualties on a massive scale. So, it's like having on each rocket that lands a hundred small hand grenades falling.

LIEBERMANN (voice over): But the U.S. and other NATO countries remain steadfast in their refusal to implement a no-fly zone despite Ukrainian pleas.

BLINKEN: The only way to actually implement something like a no-fly zone is to send NATO planes into Ukrainian airspace and to shoot down Russian planes and that could lead to a full-fledged war.

LIEBERMANN (voice over): Oren Liebermann, CNN at the Pentagon.


COOPER: One late note from Oren Liebermann, CNN has learned that American B-52 bombers flew over NATO's eastern flank in a joint exercise with German and Romanian forces. The remaining portion of their flight took them directly adjacent Ukrainian airspace where the Russian Air Force is still trying to establish air supremacy.

With that, let's check in with our correspondent starting with Sam Kiley. So Sam, we just saw the video from inside the nuclear power station, you did the translation, which is just a terrifying plea from the people inside the plant to the forces attacking the plant at the time to stop shooting.

What more have you learned about that attack?

KILEY: So, we know for certain that the facility came under some kind of missile attack or an artillery piece that hit at the outskirts of the nuclear facility itself, in a training area setting that on fire.

The Ukrainian authorities though, Anderson, have said that they also used the main tank, or main gun of a battle tank to fire into the facility, and I think, probably as a consequence of that, those desperate pleas to cease fire, those warnings that they would cause a global catastrophe if you fire a main battle tank weapon into a nuclear facility.

There is not just six reactors there. There is also the storage area for spent rods, which of course, remain highly radioactive, pretty much forever.

So, this is all a really, really dangerous moment, potential turning point, globally, really because of course, this is a country that saw the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in the mid-1980s, which resulted in fallout right across Europe, across the British Isles, and across Russia, and remain sealed.

And in both locations, we now know that for nearly a week or just over a week rather in Chernobyl, the people managing that defunct nuclear reactor are being held at gunpoint as indeed the people in the biggest reactor in Europe.

The crews have not been able to change out. The Ukrainian technicians, the experts in managing this vast nuclear power installation are being held there by the Russians to continue running it, to try to keep the wheels turning if you like, and that is of course causing profound stress for the nuclear community and concerns even here among civilians.


We noticed a serious uptick in the number of civilians leaving this part of Russia just on the roads as we were coming in. I am now in Dnipro, about 70 miles north of that nuclear reactor. And people have been jamming the streets, jamming the roads out, trying to get away from this particularly, I think, yesterday when there were fears that there could be some kind of nuclear catastrophe -- Anderson.

COOPER: Clarissa, I mentioned that U.S. and NATO officials note a shift in Russian strategy saying that Russia now appears poised to quote "bombard cities into submission."

We have certainly been seeing pictures of that. I mean, obviously, it would mean many more civilian casualties. You are in Kyiv.

Talk about what you have been seeing to that strategy.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So Anderson, It has been a pretty grim day in terms of the amount of bombardment that we have been hearing. It has been louder and closer than usual.

We know a lot of it has been hitting in the northwest, where basically Ukrainian forces are getting closer and closer to that massive Russian convoy, trying to push them back, but engaged in kind of back and forth skirmishes as that goes on. You showed some video at the beginning of your show from this town of

Borodyanka, which is very hard to see, horrifying images of that apartment building that has just been completely gutted by some kind of a strike.

Well, Ukrainian officials are now saying or Emergency Services are saying they believe that up to a hundred people could be trapped in the rubble or buried presumably in the rubble of that apartment building. But the problem they have right now is that because the shelling is ongoing, and because it is so dangerous there, they haven't been able to effectively send in rescue workers and Emergency Services to try to do a real assessment of whether anyone may be alive and also to try to pull out the dead, to get a better sense or approximation of how many people were killed in that particular attack.

I should also say, we heard another big strike to west of the city. That appears to have targeted an office park, not a heavily populated area, but high buildings which we can assume the Russians are trying to strike to prevent Ukrainian forces using them for defensive positions.

And one more thing that I would say that was interesting today, Anderson, because it's kind of a first was that a village to the southwest of Kyiv came under bombardment, some five people were killed in that, including three children. And the reason that's significant is because up until now, almost all of the fighting and strikes that we've seen around Kyiv have been on that kind of northern access, that 180 degrees to the north of the capital.

So the fact that they're now hitting towards the south indicates that possibly they are preparing to try to soften the ground for a push south to try to encircle the entire city -- Anderson.

COOPER: Yes, Clarissa, I want to talk about those images, those Reuters drone images that we were just showing and that you were just talking about because where you say maybe as many as a hundred people may still be trapped in the rubble of that apartment complex.

I mean, when you look at those images, that whole it -- looks like it is two separate apartment buildings. It was actually one complete apartment complex, if I'm not wrong, that has simply collapsed in the middle, it has been completely blown apart in the middle of it, not to mention both sides. Both sides happen to just still be standing.

It's very easy when you see a lot of these images that things start to all look alike and it just starts to look like: Oh, it's wreckage. I mean, just pause and look at these pictures. This is just stunning. This is an apartment complex where people live.

This looks like Grozny in Chechnya.

WARD: It does. And you know, what is so striking when you think, Anderson, of President Putin reiterating: Oh, this is a narrow targeted military operation. This is not a war. Civilians are not being targeted. And then you juxtapose that with this extraordinary image of absolute

devastation of what is very clearly a civilian residential apartment block, and it's a huge one. So you can imagine how many people were living there. You start to see the complete disconnect between the rhetoric that you're hearing coming from the Kremlin, and the reality of what we are seeing on the ground.

And I think that also gives you a sense of how disconnected people in Russia are from the reality of what is happening on the ground because they no longer have access to independent media, because they no longer have access now to Facebook, Twitter, or other social media sites.

And because they are being brainwashed effectively by state media, which is parroting the propaganda that we're hearing from the Kremlin, making this sound like a narrow, targeted military operation with a very specific goal, as opposed to what it is increasingly clearly becoming on the ground, which is ratcheting up of targeting of civilian structures, a disregard for human life, as the operation does not appear to be going according to U.S. officials quite as quickly as successfully as President Putin had hoped.


And the more they feel that pressure and that desperation and the longer that convoy is out there without resupply, the more you are going to see, I fear, this kind of indiscriminate targeting of civilians -- Anderson.

COOPER: Yes, I mean, that U.S. official we quoted at the top talking about bombing into submission as a strategy. That is what we are seeing in that apartment complex. That is what the strategy is.

Sara Sidner, at the border, what have you been seeing today? I mean, we're talking about more than a million people now according to officials have crossed over into other countries, mostly Poland, but also Romania and elsewhere, Moldova. Has the steady flow of people continued all throughout the day?

SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: All throughout the day, and into the wee hours of the morning, we are now just past 2:00 AM here on the Poland side of the border. It is 3:00 AM just over the border in Ukraine.

And we have seen all manner of things many, many, many again, as we've talked about so many times, women and children. We saw a family who said: Look, the war had not yet quote-unquote, " ... come to us. It hadn't arrived in our village." But the mother said there was no way she was going to put her children in harm.

She had an 11-month-old, a one-year-old, a nine-year-old and a 10- year-old all with her bundled up waiting here for hours for transport and she was headed to Estonia, where a company that she used to work for agreed to come and pick them up.

Those are the stories that are happening here. Sometimes people don't know where they're going and exactly where they're going to stay the night, but the one thing they want to make sure of especially these moms and children is that they can get out of the way of the bombing, and the devastation and the shooting that is happening in and around the Ukraine -- Anderson.

COOPER: You know, Sara, later in the program, I'm going to bring you a conversation that I had earlier today for this program with Helena (ph), the woman in a bomb shelter in Kyiv with her three children who we've been talking to, throughout this past week throughout the entire invasion, and she spoke about the people who have left and she certainly understands their decision to leave.

She wanted to -- she makes the point that a million people leaving, it certainly is the largest movement of refugees in the European continent since World War Two, but that there are some 43 million people who have chosen so far to remain here. She is one of them and she is going to talk about her decision to remain with her three children in Kyiv and not flee and why she's made that decision.

It is important, I think that everybody hear her perspective on that as well. So Sara, appreciate the reporting.

Kaitlan, in the White House, we heard from President Zelenskyy today condemning NATO's decision to rule out a no-fly zone over Ukraine saying that they gave the greenlight for further bombing. That was his quote.

Talk to us more about the ongoing conversation at the White House because clearly that is not on the table at this point.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No. There is very little gray area here because there have been some measures where they said all options are on the table. We're considering that, but they are not ready to take that yet. Then days later, they announced they're taking that step.

This one is one where there seems to be no budging, where U.S. officials, NATO officials are saying that this is simply not something that they believe is feasible, Anderson and that's because they say that they are concerned that if NATO does make this agreement to send planes to try to create this no-fly zone over Ukraine, that then if that ends up where they have to shoot down a Russian plane that it is going to get not just the United States, but NATO into a full-fledged war.

That is the concern you've heard from Secretary of State Blinken. That as the concern you've heard from the NATO Secretary General saying that they just don't think that that's feasible. They're not putting boots on the ground. They say they're not going to put planes in the sky.

And the other line of thinking where Zelenskyy is, is saying that if you do not do this, if you cannot at least take this step and he said last night at least, send us planes, and he said today that if they don't establish this no-fly zone or don't help with that, he sees it as they are basically greenlighting these bombardments to continue because there is no way he thinks that they're going to stop.

One thing I will note, Anderson, is there are about 20 countries mainly being led by the United States sending in defensive weapons to Ukraine. It's got a lot harder to do so. Earlier, they could fly them in before the invasion got underway. Now, they're having to find alternative routes to get this equipment in like those stinger anti- aircraft missiles, which can take down Russian aircraft, but they are sending that in, but they have made very clear they do not have any plans to establish a no-fly zone over Ukraine.


COOPER: Kaitlan Collins, thank you. Clarissa Ward, Sam Kiley, Sara Sidner as well. We'll check in with you throughout the next two hours.

In light of the ominous new reporting on Russian siege tactics, we are going to be joined by Generals Mark Hertling and Peter Zwack, talking about strategy.

And later, what life is like here now as a mom and three kids I was talking about who has been living in a shelter, still there and is why she has decided to stay. We'll talk to her ahead.


COOPER: As we mentioned at the top of the broadcast, a U.S. official saying that they expect things will only get worse in terms of Russia's strategy of attacking, bombing cities into submission. That is the strategy they said. It's not just big cities.


COOPER: ITV's Dan Rivers filed a report today from a small village outside Kharkiv where some had fled to avoid the shelling. The village it seems was leveled here's some of what he saw.


DAN RIVERS, ITV CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Across the street, a garden hewn apart by the impact, the blast is so powerful it overturned cars. The crater so deep, you could bury one inside it.

People are left sifting through what's left without the support of any aid agencies, wondering what will come next.

As the shelling continues to echo across this shattered community, there is no obvious military targets here, just a village which tried to offer shelter to those in need.


COOPER: "No obvious military target," he said. ITV's Dan Rivers reporting.

Joining us now is retired Army Brigadier General Peter Zwack. He is currently a global fellow the Wilson Center's Kennan Institute. Also CNN military analyst, retired Army three-star General Mark Hertling.

General Hertling, the leveling of a town, a village like that. It isn't even a town, it's a village, the complete destruction of an apartment complex where as many as a hundred people may still be unaccounted for, 33 people known dead.

Bombing to submission, does that work? Does that -- is that to break the back of people and their will to fight?

HERTLING: It is exactly that, Anderson. It is not only the attempts at killing the civilian population, but it is also an attempt to just eliminate the Ukrainian culture.

You know, we haven't used the word raize, R-A-I-Z-E in warfare since World War Two when the London Blitz occurred. But this is exactly what Russia is doing. It's what they have done before, they did it in Syria. They did it in Grozny. They've done it in multiple cities, usually at the behest of others.

But this time, it's an overreaching campaign to do this. They're just using artillery and rockets to level the city. It's simply to take away, the European or the Ukrainian culture.

Now, the one thing we can be thankful right now is even though Russian air has been flying, it has been hindered by both Ukrainian Air Defense and Ukrainian Air Force. They have put up a significant fight.

The Russians have had very little close air support for the movement of their troops. They're concerned about it. So they're using almost extensively artillery and missiles to attack these civilian targets.

We're going to see more of this. Unfortunately, we are going to see more of this.

I would before turning it back to you, Anderson, I would like to comment on what Kaitlan Collins said earlier because she said the stinger missiles are very effective against air targets. They are to a degree. Those are low altitude weapon systems. They can take and engage fighters and helicopters at low altitude.

But eventually you're going to see Russian Air Forces probably bombing from higher altitudes. And unfortunately, the Ukraine military does not have the kind of missile systems like a patriot or an arrow like the Israelis have. So it is going to be problematic and you're likely going to see even more of this kind of destruction.

COOPER: And General Hertling, I should have looked this up and not just ask you this, but is the stinger -- I mean, is it one and done or are they -- is it one use and that's it? And I believe the javelin is that way, correct?

HERTLING: That's correct. Both of them are very technologically advanced systems. They are going to hit what they aim at, and in fact, I read some Intelligence import from a Ukraine friend of mine just a little while ago that said they estimate that they have engaged Russian armor with over 350 javelins and have had close to 320 kills. That's about what's expected from a javelin, you want to get about 90

percent strike rates. And that is also an aim and shoot type of weapon system that can either go into the side of a vehicle or come in on a top attack to hit tanks where the least amount of their armor is.

The stinger is the same way. It is a very technologically advanced weapon. You aim it at the aircraft if you can get a good tone. You're going to knock that aircraft out of the sky, but it only goes out to a certain distance and that's what's problematic.

COOPER: Yes, I mean, General Zwack, I ask that question because, you know, we hear, oh, they are sending 200 stingers in, which sounds like a lot, but if it's only one use, then I mean you need I would assume thousands upon thousands, no?


BRIG. GEN. PETER ZWACK, RET. FMR U.S. DEFENSE ATTACHE TO RUSSIA: Yes. What they do though even a few, you knock down a helicopter or you push back, low flying aircraft to higher altitudes you create among the pilots an angst, a nervousness when they're going in. So they -- their value far outweighs their number and you don't know where they're going to be and where they're firing from. So, the pilots are also thinking how to evade is they're trying to focus on their targeting.

They -- and then they're probably their old model, Soviet Air Defense type, handheld things as well. And those again, can hit low flyers, but yes, not enough. But it's something and it's good that they're in there, along with the high value if you will, javelins, but again, those RPGs the remote rocket, or the remote, rocket propelled grenades, that that we saw in Afghanistan, and they're in Yugoslavia and the Soviet saw, those are those proliferate and those can knock out light vehicles. Via trucks and jeeps and light armored personnel and convoys, like the tight that you're seeing coming down from the north, which looks to be a gigantic fiasco.

COOPER: Yes. General Peter Zwack, General Hertling, appreciated.

Up next, we spoken to her a number of times, we're going to check in again with a mom who has chosen not to leave Ukraine as the violence intensifies. She's been living in a shelter in Kyiv with her three children for over a week. We'll talk to her ahead.



COOPER: Situation continues to intensify here on the ground in Ukraine. As we've been reporting, a senior Western intelligence official says that U.S. and NATO officials believe that Russia is poised to quote bombard cities into submission, unlikely to cause significant civilian casualties. No clear and insight. Many are still sheltering in Ukraine.

I've spoken a number of times this week with Olena Gnes and we talked again earlier today. She's a mom who's been in a shelter in Kyiv for more than a week with her three kids, one who's just an infant, as her husband fights in Kyiv to defend Ukraine.


COOPER (on-camera): Olena, how are you doing? How are you -- how's your family?


COOPER (on-camera): I see that your little one is awake. I think that's the first time we've seen her actually awake.

GNES: Oh, really? No, I've done so many interviews. She's like a superstar now. My three dragons. (INAUDIBLE).

COOPER (on-camera): She's beautiful. She's so beautiful.

GNES: Thank you. She is. Today, my husband, they visited us. He came to the shelter. Well, basically, the reason why he came because he was probably scared. There was a very heavy shelling at Bucha, this is very close to Kyiv. And he decided that it's enough. And we have to leave here, though he came like took back us into the car. And he said, you have to leave because it's your last chance. And it shouldn't be like this, this is wrong, cover kids shouldn't live in the shelter in the basement. They need to grow, they need to have normal future.

And we talked again, about what we should do. And I said that I feel I need to be here. And our children need to be here. Because this is how I feel. And he agreed. So we had about 30 minutes of time together. All family united. And they really hope it will repeat again like this..

COOPER (on-camera): Can you talk about that decision? I mean, that's obviously an incredibly difficult decision to make. And I know, I've received a lot of emails from people or messages from people saying that they hope you will leave with your children. Can you explain your thinking on this?

GNES: Yes, you're right, that this is a very difficult decision, of course, because obviously, I'm risking. But I feel if I turn my back towards the enemy, and they will start running, I will not never stop running. And that will become weak, I will lose the ground under my feet. So while we are here, we can be strong, because this is the place where we are supposed to be right now. Because if we leave, yes, we will lose our native (INAUDIBLE).

Another reason is basically see this is what Russia wants us to do. She wants Ukrainians to leave, she scares us. And then they will just come and take our homes, the same that happened eight years ago in the east of Ukraine. You see they scared some of the local Ukrainian population, people left became refugees. And then Russians came on their place. And now it is like no Russian controlled territory. I do not want my country to be Russian controlled. So this is my part of the bat. You know, obviously, I will not throw my kids on the tanks or anything like this. I don't want them to be hurt by but it's our -- like, mission to stay here. And another reason, you know, to leave Ukraine, it's not that easy. And there's children too, I mean, people who are leaving Ukraine they're risking to people who became refugees in Europe and elsewhere. For them life is not easy.

Moreover, they are having, you know, the feeling of guilt I suppose that say left. Even like some of them. I understand it shouldn't be but this is what I feel what I hear from the people.

And today --

COOPER (on-camera): Yes.

GNES: -- (INAUDIBLE) I was outside on the street and so really many people, many people from our neighborhood almost all of our neighbor state. Now I do not want the West to have no worlds to have a wrong feeling that everybody left Ukraine. I mean even if 1 million people left Ukraine there are 43 million people who stay. And I'm not the only mother was children, we have other children in the shelter. We have other women and children in this neighborhood who , you know, and life of each of us is mean it means something.


And because like you are talking to me over there from CNN, you're showing my story, and then one of very few Ukrainian women who is eager to speak and can speak English. Yes, they can talk to you. Yes, I just want you guys to know that we are here, we Ukrainian people, we are civilians. And we stay here on our native land. And we have our Ukrainian army that protects us. And we need help. We need no fly zone here for Putin not to kill us all. And we still need help. We are strong. Yes, we try our best. But we need more help, please.

COOPER (on-camera): I think for people who I know reach out to you and say you should leave I think nobody can understand what it is like to be in the situation you're in unless it actually happens to them in their country. And I think people make choices that may seem strange to people outside. But when you're in a situation when it's your country and your home and your husband fighting, and these are your streets, it's impossible --

GNES: Exactly.

COOPER (on-camera): -- to know what decision anyone will make.

GNES: I will -- if you allow, I will give one example. Like before, we were thinking sometimes from time to time, what about like, emigrating somewhere to another country was like a higher level of life? No. But when they started, it became obvious like, oh, this is the place where we belong. This is our nation. And this time, it's our challenge. And we have to face it.

And, you know, 80,000 Ukrainians who emigrated before they came back now to Ukraine to protect Ukraine. So how can I leave in a situation? I should come. COOPER (on-camera): Years from now, your daughter is three months old when she -- years from now what will you tell her about this time, this time that she lived through but won't remember.

GNES: I will tell her that she was the cutest baby ever. And this she played a very important role. Because she is like relief for everyone in this shelter. And now like everyone is so stressed and there is a lot of fear, anxiety, you know, but when people take her on her hands, now they feel -- they -- it's like a piece of light here. Something very kind and it helps us to find the devil, the darkness. And that's things that are happening right now to Ukraine.

COOPER (on-camera): Well, if she doesn't believe you, you can have her call me and I will confirm that she is the cutest baby in the world.

GNES: Thank you. Thank you.

COOPER (on-camera): I mean, my baby's pretty cute too. But your baby is beautiful. And as are you and your family and I appreciate you talking to us tonight again. Thank you.

GNES: Thank you very much. You give me hope.

COOPER (on-camera): I think you give a lot of people hope who are watching right now. So thank you for that. Your strength is awe inspiring. Take care.


COOPER: Just one family in Ukraine, a country of some now 43 million people who are facing overwhelming and overwhelming odds in this war.

Coming up, the Americans declaring themselves soldiers in this war. CNN talks with some volunteers who are on their way into Ukraine's Combat Zones even with the U.S. telling them to stay home. That's next.



COOPER: And welcome back to our coverage from Lviv, Ukraine. Before we move on, we're rushed for time, but I just got to say, I want to say before but I decided to rush for time. But Olena, that woman is so extraordinary to me and the courage it takes to make the decision that she made to stay here with her three children. And it's probably not a decision a lot of people would make maybe, but unless you're here, you may not be able to understand it.

But it is just an extraordinary choice she has made to remain in a country. She could leave but she's remaining here because she feels it is her place. And this is where she should be with her family where her husband who's not a fighter is now fighting. It's just a privilege to talk to her.

The Pentagon tonight is delivering a simple message to any Americans thinking about joining the battle here in Ukraine. They are saying don't.


JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: This is not the place for Americans to be Ukraine right now. It is a war zone. If you really want to help the people of Ukraine as a private citizen find a way to donate resources to these organizations that are trying to alleviate that crisis.


COOPER: That's John Kirby from the Pentagon. A Ukrainian defense official the country's embassy in Washington tells Military Times, then more than 3,000 applications have come in from U.S. citizens wanting to fight. Pentagon says it cannot verify that number.

On the Polish border, our Sara Sidner found Americans and other Westerners trying to make their way in to volunteer for combat. Take a look.


SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At the Przemysl Poland train station where the world's newest refugees are flooding in, we spot several men dressed in military gear walking with purpose out into the cold while most everyone else is trying to come in. We wonder who these men are who can only speak English and are itching to get to the border with Ukraine.

They agree to talk to us but first names only and they ask us for help finding a ride to the border 20 minutes drive away.

(on-camera): Can you tell me what it is you are doing here in Poland very close to the border with Ukraine.


MIKE, U.S. CITIZEN HEADING TO FIGHT IN UKRAINE: Just trying to help protect freedom. Simple as that.

SIDNER (on-camera): What is your biggest concern? You're also here, are you going in how many people? What's your biggest concern? And where are you going?

AJ, U S. CITIZEN HEADING TO FIGHT IN UKRAINE: We don't really know right now.

SIDNER (voice-over): There are six men total. They say they are strangers who met here in Poland. Mike is from Clearwater, Florida. AJ is from South Dakota. Matt is from Nottingham, England.

(on-camera): What does this remind you of this time in history?

MATT, ENGLAND CITIZEN HEADING TO FIGHT IN UKRAINE: 1936 when fascism rose in Spain, a lot of people went over, but not enough. If would have crossed fascism in 1936, we could have avoided 1939. That's what this feels like. If we don't stop it now, it's going to be our kids fighting this fight.

SIDNER (voice-over): They all came for one purpose, to fight for Ukraine. Most of these men say they are veterans of war. But Matt makes clear he has no military experience. But they say they all left once they saw the brutal attack on Ukrainian citizens jumping into action a day before President Zelensky called for more foreign fighters to join him in the fight against Russia.


SIDNER (on-camera): You're going in without a plan. Why?

MIKE: Those people also have family and friends. And, you know, somebody's got to stand up for him. And, you know, it's not just the U.S. It's not just Britain, it's the whole world coming together.

SIDNER (voice-over): It's 3:00 a.m. with no plan, no one to pick them up on Ukrainian side of the border and little equipment. Some don't even have a heavy jacket and below freezing temperatures. They jump in a taxi, head for the border and disappear into the night. And they weren't the only ones. This French-Canadian who goes by the nom de guerre Wally (ph) says he received a call from a friend asking for help in Ukraine.

WALLY (PH), FRENCH-CANADIAN: I'm a veteran but I'm programming, right? So last Friday, my friend who's in the Jeep, he called me and said, OK, we really need you, because you're an ex-sniper and can you join? I said, OK, I'll do it today.

SIDNER (voice-over): They and the other foreign men all heading into war, without the might of their country's military to back them up.

(on-camera): I mean, you guys are going into war without a huge plan. What's your worry?

MATT: Not getting there.


COOPER: Sara Sidner joins me again from Poland. Sara, if some or number of many of those foreign fighters don't have a plan or formal training, do they know what the what they're going to do once they go over the borders, there's somebody there from Ukraine to meet them to kind of take them to where they need to or where they would be used?

SIDNER: Yes, that's the problem. With the group that we happen to see while we were in the train station walking through and sort of a military stack. And that's how we noticed them with, you know, some of the camouflage on and we thought this is an interesting group, they're going the opposite way than the crowds of those who are refugees. They said that they didn't have anyone that they were planning on meeting on the other side of the border, that part of the plan hadn't been hatched yet. And they were just going to figure it out. As for the guy you saw there from the French-Canadian man, who called himself Wally (ph), they had a very, very good plan, if you will, at least to get them to where they wanted to go. And they knew where they wanted to go to the frontlines. They had arrived, they had contacts already in the country.

So, it was concerning to hear this group of six people who said they had never met each other until they all arrived in Poland, that they were going to go ahead and I -- to be honest, you know, not to be the mother hen, but they didn't have the kind of gear that you need, even for cold weather. So, very concerning, but they are determined to fight for what they believe is a fight for freedom and democracy, not just in Ukraine, but for everyone else. Anderson.

COOPER: Sara Sidner, that's what's so one of the things that's so good about you. You're on the frontline of a story. You see something that's unusual, you ask them, you talk to them, you learn about it and tell us about it. It's -- it is wonderful to watch in action. Sara Sidner, thank you.

Just ahead, someone who was in Ukraine when the war began and has seen the humanitarian crisis of close. Actor Sean Penn shares his thoughts on the crisis he witnessed firsthand and talks about his impressions of Ukraine's president, whom he met while he was there on the cusp of the invasion and on the day of.



COOPER: While (INAUDIBLE) are proving many Ukrainians destroying homes and businesses a way of life forcing many to flee or to become targets for Russian army that according to U.S. and Western officials, as we reported is poised to in their words bombard cities into submission, the words of a U.S. official.

Perspective now from someone who's seen the plight of Ukrainians up close. He's worked in crisis zones across the globe with his relief organization corps. Sean Penn sat down with Ukraine's president just before the invasion is working on a documentary.

Sean, you're one of the few people who sat down with President Zelensky on the eve of this invasion. Are you at all surprised how he has led this country thus far? I mean, this guy is 44 years old. He went to law school. He was an actor and a comedian who played a president on television. He has rallied this nation in an extraordinary way. Did it surprise you at all?

SEAN PENN, FOUNDER, CORE: You know, I when I talk about President Zelensky, I think it should be said that I'm talking about most of what I observed in you, you Ukrainian people.


You know we have these inspirational figures in our micro lives, you know.