Return to Transcripts main page

Don Lemon Tonight

Russian Forces Acting Like Terrorists; U.S. Not Willing To Engage In World War III; Russian Troops Getting Near To Ukraine's Capital; Presidents Biden And Zelenskyy Spoke On The Phone; Ivano- Frankivsk Mayor Asking For Help; Desperate Ukrainian Ask Help From CNN Crew; Russian Pundits Changing Their Tune. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired March 11, 2022 - 22:00   ET




ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Stay with CNN for the latest from Ukraine. The news continues. I want to turn things over to DON LEMON TONIGHT and Don. Don?

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Al right. Thank you very much, Anderson. We're going to get right to it this evening. We'll see you tomorrow. Be safe. Thank you very much.

This is DON LEMON TONIGHT. This is our breaking news.

CNN's teams are hearing nonstop explosions and heavy booms in the capital of Ukraine tonight. It is impossible to know whether those are Russian strikes coming in or Ukrainian strikes going out. But there's definitely something going on, and we're going to pay attention to it.

There are fears, though, in Kyiv that Kyiv could be encircled at any day now. Any day now. New satellite images from Maxar Technology show Russian artillery units firing just eight miles northwest of central Kyiv. The units are located in a field outside of a small village we're showing you there. Just four miles to the east, satellite images show damaged homes, impact craters, and fires.

The president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy tonight comparing Russian forces to ISIS terrorists.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, PRESIDENT OF UKRAINE (onscreen text): The actions of the Russian invaders will be equated with the actions of ISIS terrorists.



LEMON: The President of the United States Joe Biden spending nearly an hour on the phone with Zelenskyy today, highlighting new moves to punish Russia and suspend normal trade relations, but going on to make it very clear. The U.S. will not fight World War III in Ukraine.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We will not fight the third World War in Ukraine. The idea, the idea that we're going to send in offensive equipment and have planes and tanks and trains going in with American pilots and American crews, just understand, and don't kid yourself no matter what you all say, that's called World War III.


LEMON: Making it very clear there. That is happening as Russia is shifting its strategy. Multiple Ukrainian cities under heavy bombardment. New attacks in the north and the west, many in cities that haven't been targeted before. In Lutsk, just 70 miles from Poland, a NATO ally, the airfield badly damaged in an attack today. Officials say at least one person was killed.

In Ivano-Frankivsk, another airfield hit. The Russians say with high precision long-range weapons. I'm going to talk to the deputy mayor of that town that will happen live here on this program in just moments.

In Chernihiv, in the north, a library and a soccer stadium hit by airstrikes, attacks spreading across the country including the heavily bombarded central and southern regions. In the southern city of Myo -- Mykolaiv, excuse me, heavy shelling tonight. A local official calls the indiscriminate shooting at civilian targets including a cafe and more apartments.

In the central city of Dnipro, three airstrikes, about six in the morning local time, deployed an apartment -- destroyed an apartment block, a primary school, and a shoe factory. Officials say one civilian was killed in that.

In Melitopol, the southeast, the mayor detailing, detained, I should say, by an armed -- by armed men there. You're looking at the video it's highlighted at the top of your screen. The Ukrainian foreign minister calling it an abduction and a war crime.

In Volnovakha, in the eastern Ukraine, growing evidence the town has fallen to Russian-backed forces moving through the streets of a decimated community. Again, images up on your screen right now. All of this happening so I want to get to the region live now.

CNN's Hala Gorani is in Lviv for us and Kaitlan Collins is at the White House. Hello to both of you. There's a lot to get to this evening.

Hala, I'm going to start with you. Cities across Ukraine are getting bombarded with Russian striking further west. They are pushing into smaller cities, gaining momentum on the ground toward Kyiv. Is there a sense that the Russians are strengthening now?

[22:05:06] HALA GORANI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There's certainly a sense that they are striking deeper into western Ukraine, and that column outside of Kyiv of armored vehicles has dispersed, we understand, according to satellite imagery, this could be an indication that Russian forces are planning some sort of attack against the capital.

They are certainly getting closer to the capital. There is a city to the north of Kyiv, Chernihiv that has suffered tremendous bombing there. You see it on the map. Now they are, as you mentioned earlier in the program, Don, pushing further into the west with airstrikes on cities like Dnipro. They really are hitting according to witnesses on the ground civilian targets, a fact -- a shoe factory, for instance, an apartment building, a primary school in Lutsk, an airport there was severely damaged.

Ivano-Frankivsk, as well, another city in western Ukraine. And what the Russians are doing is that they are trying to secure a big swath of territory in the southern part of the country on their way to more western positions on the Black Sea right now just as they are trying as well to continue an offensive against Kyiv. But crucially, the capital is still holding in the hands of Ukrainians just as the Russians are trying to intensify their attacks.

LEMON: Kaitlan, let me bring you in now, because President Biden is making it very clear that the U.S. will not fight World War III in Ukraine. Tell us more about what he is saying.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It was really stark language from the president today. And this is a position that he has held for several weeks now, certainly since the invasion started, that U.S. troops are not going to be going into Ukraine, but to hear the president speak about it so bluntly today as he was talking to these Democrats saying that he does believe if U.S. forces go in, whether that's by boots on the ground or planes in the sky, he says that is equivalent to World War III starting.

And he was also talking about the risk of that happening if Putin goes after a NATO country because the president was saying every inch of NATO would be defended, though of course this military alliance would draw the U.S. into this as a military fashion. But I think this has been a big question for people.

Because you've seen the ramping up of attacks going after civilians by the Russians, and now these new concerns that you're hearing more and more frequently from the White House and from administration officials, maybe Putin is going to conduct a chemical weapons attack. And that is a big concern for the White House, and it has raised this question of is that a red line for President Biden, and what kind of response does that get from the United States?

And the White House has said he would not let that go unanswered. He said today there would be a severe price to pay if Putin does conduct a chemical weapons attack. But he also stood by that point just a few hours later that U.S. forces are not going into Ukraine.

So, Don, I think it just raises a lot of questions on what this could look like given it's only gotten progressively worse. And I think it's just still a big question of how that response would be if that is something that Putin does try to do.

LEMON: And let's hear from the president now.


BIDEN: We're going to make sure Ukraine has the weapons to defend themselves from invading Russian forces, although we will not fight the third world war in Ukraine. The idea that we're going to send in offensive equipment and have planes and tanks and trains going in with American pilots and American crews. Just understand, and don't kid yourself no matter what you all say, that's called World War III.


LEMON: Again, making it very clear there, Kaitlan. And as he is saying this, he also spoke to Zelenskyy tonight. What did they discuss?

COLLINS: Yes. That was a 49-minute conversation. It's pretty lengthy if you look at the other ones they've had. Obviously, Zelenskyy has been on the phone with multiple world leaders. We were told this one was really before the president announced what they were doing to try to revoke Russia's status when it comes to trade with the United States.

Technically that has to be done through an act of Congress. We do expect that could happen as soon as next week to try to downgrade their level of trade. And this is something that President Biden on this I was told, was laying out in detail for him. Basically, these ways that they are trying to punish Russia when it comes to an economic pursuit here, an economic strategy of trying to squeeze Putin.

And when the president himself was laying this out, after this phone call he had with Zelenskyy, he was saying that Putin is the aggressor and Putin is the one who needs to pay the price. Of course, this is being carried out against Russia as a whole, against their economy as a whole. The president was talking about the damage done there.

President Zelenskyy, we should note, for his half was saying that he told the president basically here's what's happening on the ground in Ukraine, here's where we believe war crimes are being committed as they are going after civilians and talking about what he's been seeing obviously from the ground.

LEMON: Hala, we saw the video of heavy shelling in the southern city of Mykolaiv Friday evening. A Ukrainian official described that bombardment as indiscriminate shooting of civilian targets. What will happen to the people who remain there?

GORANI: So, Mykolaiv was an extremely important target for the Russians because it's a city they need to take on their way to Odessa on the Black Sea if they want to secure the entire coastal area.


But it is resisting this onslaught from Russian forces, and it's doing so, though it's a tough battle. The civilians who are left there, those who haven't fled obviously are in an extremely dire situation. As you mentioned, officials are saying that the indiscriminate shelling is hitting civilian targets and so therefore it's becoming an unlivable city for anyone in a civilian setting in that city.

Mykolaiv is a huge prize for the Russians. The Ukrainians are fighting back, but it's an extremely tough battle because some other cities in that part of Ukraine in the southern part of the country are falling. Smaller cities, to be fair, but Mykolaiv would be really the target that the Russians would be looking to go after at this stage.

It's also important to note that the Russians are spreading themselves a little bit thinner here because on the one hand, as we mentioned earlier, there is Kyiv, that's the capital of the country, they need to secure it. And in the southern part of the country, they need to spread themselves.

So, what they're doing is that they're using air force and air power and shelling that is hitting civilian areas. This is a tactic that we've seen in other conflict zones including Syria. As you mentioned earlier and we discussed and we saw some of that footage of shoe factories and primary schools being bombed.

It's a terror tactic from the sky that forces civilians to flee, and it also diverts resources, military resources to having to tend to civilian casualties as well. So, it's something we've seen play out in other battlegrounds, Don.

LEMON: Hala, Kaitlan, thank you both. I appreciate it. As promised, I want to bring in Oleksandr Levitsky, the deputy mayor of Ivano- Frankivsk. His city's military airfield was hit by missiles today.

Thank you so much for joining us. We really appreciate it. We know that it is a very tough time for you, and we're all thinking about you.

So, we have you here to discuss what's happening. The military airfield in your city was hit. Tell us what happened --


LEMON: -- and what has been happening since that attack, please.

LEVITSKY: Firstly, on the 21st of February is the first missile attack was on our airfield. And after that I live not far from the airfield. I had -- I have heard everything that was happening, and lots of people were afraid of. They were just moving, just leaving. And after that yesterday we had one more bombarding, the same on the airfield. We don't know about deaths, but military cannot give us information about that.

But one more time, lots of people are scared. Lots of people tried to move. After the 24th of February, thousands and even more than 100,000 people came to just to try to move from Kharkiv from Kyiv and from Chernihiv and from other cities. And they are scared and they were scared a lot yesterday after a new bombarding started in Ivano- Frankivsk.

LEMON: Now, we know that in Lviv, intermittently and even more often now they are hearing air raid sirens in a place that they thought was relatively safe. I mean, you can't really be safe where there is war going on. But have you been hearing a lot of air raid sirens?

LEVITSKY: Yes, every day. Every day.

LEMON: And what happens after you hear them?

LEVITSKY: So, we go to shelters, we are trying to move in hospitals old people, children, trying to hide, trying to go to shelters, bombing shelters. We prepared lots of shelters in Ivano-Frankivsk, and we try to hide, just try to hide and pray and wait for help from European nations, from American nations, and just to stop the war, like anyone wants.

LEMON: Mayor, Russia is expanding their targets to the western part of your country where you are now. Are you worried that Russian forces will intensify their shelling near you?

LEVITSKY: Yes. They -- they -- doesn't hide their position and they are bombarding and not only military object but civilian also. And we know that they will try to do this all over Ukraine. If you know they always say that nationalism and something that they do -- don't like much more is in Ivano-Frankivsk and Lviv and western Ukraine. So, we are -- old people are afraid of bombarding and going forward.


And if we will say, if we don't think that it's the war of Ukraine with Russia, it is a war in the center of Europe, and it is a sad world war. So, we don't think they will stop here in Ivano-Frankivsk. I think they want to go further.

LEMON: You say you believe that this is the third world war, is that what you just said?

LEVITSKY: Yes. Because they are trying to bombard to make some explosions at nuclear plants, so it will hit, which will make deaths to millions of people, as well as Europe, a lot of the world.

LEMON: You believe that they will use chemical weapons?

LEVITSKY: We can expect everything. No one -- no one can try to believe that. And you know this lots of years, hundreds of years no one can believe the Russians.

LEMON: I want to talk more about that, but I want to -- I want you to respond to this as we continue to discuss this. The mayor of Melitopol, Ivan Fedorov is seeing on video being led away from a government building in that city by armed men. As an official in your city, are you worried about your safety given Russia's goals for Ukraine?

LEVITSKY: I cannot say that we are worried about us personally, but we are worrying about everyone within Ivano-Frankivsk within Ukraine. They will not stop, they will do everything they want to ruin Ukraine, to ruin the world.

LEMON: What do you want then, what do you need from your allies?

LEVITSKY: We hope for help, we hope for closing the sky. And no one can say that it will start World War II -- World War III because it has already started. And if you know lots of countries supporting Ukraine, no one is supporting Russia except of Russia or something else. And we hope for weapons, we hope for military support, we hope for taking part in this defensive of Ukraine.

We don't want to offend Russia or Belarusian. It is not true. We are not bombarding Belarusia like they say. But we are trying to defend our country and defend all the world and defend Europe. So, we hope that NATO and United States will close the sky because we are bombarded, we are always with aviation missiles always hit, and no one can hide, no one can help to deal with it.

LEMON: Thank you, Mayor. I appreciate it. Be safe.

LEVITSKY: Thank you.

LEMON: Be safe. Very powerful words there from the deputy of Ivano- Frankivsk in saying that he believes that the Russians will indeed use chemical weapons, that he will gas people not only there but in Europe. He just said it moments ago. And saying that he believes while NATO and the United States leaders are saying, hey, we don't want to start World War III, they believe World War III is already happening. Powerful words.

Our breaking news tonight, CNN's team hearing explosions and heavy bombs in the capital of Ukraine as Russian troops get closer to Kyiv. We're going to break down Vladimir Putin's strategy, that's next.


JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: People of Kyiv would tell you they're under assault right now. There's Russian bombardment and shelling going on quite violently as we speak.




LEMON: We're back now with our breaking news. Evidence in eastern Ukrainian city has fallen to Russian forces today. This video shows their troops and their tanks rolling through the city and doing it freely. That as Russian forces are approaching Kyiv from the north and from the east with the closest units now just 10 miles from the city's center. And I just want to put what's happening into perspective for everyone

watching. Ukraine is the second largest country by territory in Europe, millions of people are under attack right now. Kyiv has about as many people as the city of Chicago. The city of Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine is the size of San Antonio, Texas. The city of Mariupol where we have seen horrific destruction about the size of Long Beach, California.

So joining me now to discuss all of this is CNN military analyst and retired air force colonel, Cedric Leighton. Every evening we learn something from him.

Thank you for joining us. Take us through this. He's going to show us where it's happening. So, Colonel, Russia is widening. Before we get to that, did you hear the gentleman who was on, the deputy mayor --


LEMON: Yes. Of Ivano-Frankivsk saying this is World War III, we need help from our allies. In the commercial break he said to me, God bless America, pray for Kyiv -- pray for Ukraine, help Ukraine. What do you think of his statement?

LEIGHTON: Well, I think he has done, you know, clearly, he's in the middle of the fight. And I think he has a valid point because this is where countries like Ukraine, where a country like Russia is coming in and invading like it is. That is a place where these kinds of things where it can morph into a much bigger conflict, and that's what we have to watch out for.

I know what President Biden said. He spent some time telling his audience in, I think it was Philadelphia today, that we are not going to fight World War III in Ukraine. We may not have a choice. Hopefully we are wrong about that, and hopefully it won't happen, but it is certainly possible that something could happen here on the plains of Ukraine that could make it much more likely that we get into a wider conflict.


LEIGHTON: But let's hope that we keep it in bound so that it doesn't get that far out of control.


LEMON: I hope so. I hope you're right. But, again, this deputy mayor saying that he believes we're already in World War III. Let's get to the map now. Russia is widening their assault to new cities in Ukraine, striking closer to the border with Poland than ever before in this conflict. How does that change the state of the battlefield?

LEIGHTON: Well, what's really interesting about this, Don, is the areas that we're talking about are here, this is where Ivano-Frankivsk is, and we also have right around here, we have all of these areas being impacted by Russian air attacks. One of the interesting things about this is these airfields,

especially this one, had big 29s on them from the Ukrainian air force. So, we know what the Russians are doing. They're basically going in here and they're trying to destroy the airfields so that they can't be used to resupply the Ukrainian air force and Ukrainian fighting forces in general.

LEMON: There are new satellite images from just 15 miles north of Kyiv, and they show Russian artillery firing. We're seeing intense fighting to the north and east of the city. This battle is being fought town by town, suburb by suburb. Can defenders slow the new Russian momentum?

LEIGHTON: Well, they're going to have a real tough time. When you look at the kinds of areas that we have here, you look at how the Russian troops have basically taken over the northwestern area northwest of Kyiv. You also see this tongue right here coming into the Kyiv area from the northeast.

So, you've got these units which could be resupplied by these units right here, followed by units right here that could reinforce what the spearhead is in this northeastern quadrant. So, what we're looking at here is an assault this way into Kyiv as a possibility.

The other thing that they could do, Don, is they could use these troops right here to try to cross the Dnieper River at this point and link up with troops from here, and that then would serve to encircle Kyiv right at this point. Now, there are some obstacles to doing this for the Russians. Water is one of them, this damned area of the Dnieper River could serve to be a bit of an obstacle. But it's not much of an obstacle. And what this means is that the ring around Kyiv could be like this of Russian troops.

LEMON: Wow. Colonel, thank you very much. We'll see you soon. I appreciate it.

LEIGHTON: You bet, Don, absolutely.

LEMON: An urgent plea to CNN crews sending them to Irpin where volunteers have been digging through ruble for civilians trapped for more than 10 days. You don't want to miss that story. That's next.


NATALIA RUSSELL, UKRAINIAN ASK HELP FROM CNN CREW: Please, I beg you, Clarissa, you are my last hope. I very hope you can go and take my mama from your apartment building.




LEMON: As Russian attacks intensify in Ukraine, the number of people fleeing for safety is growing by the day. The U.N. now saying more than 2.5 million refugees have left the country since the start of the invasion. But many Ukrainians can't leave, especially elderly people.

Russian bombs may be destroying the city of Irpin, but they can't kill the spirit of volunteers searching for stranded residents, including the mom of a woman who is now living in the U.S.

CNN's Clarissa Ward has the story.


UNKNOWN: My name is Natalia Russell. I'm from Ukraine. But last five years I live in United States. My mama, (Inaudible) she is still in Irpin.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: An impassioned plea sent to us on Twitter by a daughter desperately trying to track down her mother.

RUSSELL: My mama doesn't have connection. I cannot call her. I didn't hear from her a few days. She is by herself in an apartment. Please, I beg you, Clarissa, you are my last hope.

WARD: That message brought us back to this spot, the destroyed bridge where brave volunteers continue to ferry out civilians who have been trapped in Irpin for more than 10 days. We've been told they may be able to help find Natalia's mother. On our way to meet them, we hear a familiar accent.


WARD: Dwight Crow (Ph) has flown here from San Francisco to help in any way he can. Less than a week after arriving, he is embedded with Ukrainian volunteers, and now spends his days helping Irpin's most vulnerable escape.

CROW: When I saw the invasion, I honestly bought a plane ticket and got here as quick as I could. This feels like the biggest fight for freedom I've seen in my lifetime.

WARD: Have you ever been in a war zone before?

CROW: Not like this.

WARD: for most Americans, this would be a little out of their comfort zone.

CROW: This is a little out of my comfort zone. It's scary when you hear the bombs going off. But at the same time there's people a lot closer to it than us. And they're really the ones in harm's way and we're just doing our part to get them out of here.

WARD: Lawyer Daria and her team risk their lives every day to do just that. She speeds through the deserted streets looking for those who are stranded and need help. She's agreed to add Natalia's mother to the list. So, Daria, are you not afraid to do this?

[22:35:07] DARIA PISARENKO, VOLUNTEER: I'm afraid, of course. I don't have a child yet, and I understand that I can help people.

WARD: They reach the first stop. Shelling can be heard in the distance, and they need to move quickly. You can feel how this place is completely deserted. It's like a ghost town. "Is the owner here," they shout. The team consults their list to check the address.

But no one answers, and it's time to move on. In less than two weeks, Daria has seen the pleasant suburb of Kyiv where she lives turned into a war zone. Does it make you angry?

PISARENKO: Yes. I am angry, and I think it's OK, I'm angry to all Russian people, to all the Russian people. Because silence, it's also violence now. You are with Ukraine or with Russia.

WARD: We recognize the next stop. It's the address we've been searching for. But the first glance is troubling. So, this is the apartment complex where Natalia has told us that her mother lives. I'm just a little bit concerned because I can see there's some damage up there presumably from artillery.

Team member Anton enters one of the buildings, "who is waiting for evacuation," he shouts. But there is no reply, and Natalia's mother is nowhere to be seen. There is just a handful of people still living here. Hudmila (Ph) and her husband tell us they chop wood in the forest and burn it to stay warm.

So, she's saying that there's no water, there's no gas, there's no electricity. They cook their meals out here on an open fire. Yet, they refuse to leave. Where would we go? We don't have anywhere to go, she says. Whether they kill us here or there doesn't matter. When will these monsters leave?

Across the road, Daria urges another couple to evacuate. But it's another no. They've made it this far and are willing to see it through. The team has found one man Oleg, who wants to get out. He bundles into the improvised rescue vehicle and sets off.

Beyond the smash wind screen lies the relative safety of Kyiv's center. Back at the bridge he tells us about his ordeal. "It was an awful, frightening situation there," he says. They shelled us 24 hours a day. "The rest of his family is in a city now held by Russian forces in the south. I don't know where I live anymore," he says, before bidding us good-bye.

It's time to head back. Our commission unfulfilled. We haven't found Natalia's mother. But as we get closer to the city center, our cell phone signal returns. So, we've just had some great news from Natalia. She tells me that a few hours ago her mother was successfully evacuated from Irpin by one of the volunteers.

Yet, another family saved by ordinary citizens doing extraordinary work.

It's just surreal, Don, to think that Daria just over two weeks ago was working as a lawyer, Anton was a professional scientist. And now they've been thrust into this moment. They're risking their lives every day to come together and try to help ferry people to safety.

And it's just been extraordinary honestly to see how the Ukrainians have banded together in defiance, in resistance with enormous courage to step into this horrifying moment. Don?

LEMON: Clarissa Ward, thank you very much for that.

A few guests on Russian TV actually speaking out against the war. Will they start a revolution in Putin's propaganda machine? We're going to talk about that, next.



LEMON: So, I want you to know this. You heard my interview with the deputy mayor just moments ago, he messaged us just minutes after that interview ended, saying that air raid alarm, the air raid alarm went off in Ivano-Frankivsk, and he is now in a bomb shelter. So, we hope that he's OK. We'll try to get him back if we can to talk to us. But we want him to be safe and all the folks there.

But just moments after that interview he said the alarm went off and he had to take shelter in a bomb shelter there. So, we'll check back in with him.

And then new tonight, Russian TV pundits raising questions about the war on Ukraine on Russian state television. It is rare to hear Russians speaking out against the Kremlin, but it happened Wednesday night. I want you to listen to what two well-known pundits had to say about the war, here it is.


UNKNOWN (on screen text): The war in Ukraine paints a frightening picture, it has a very oppressive influence on our society.

UNKNOWN (on screen text): First of all, the opinion in between Russian masses is changing. People are shocked by the masses of refugees, the humanitarian catastrophe, people start to imagine themselves in their place.


UNKNOWN (on screen text): Do we need to get into another Afghanistan, but even worse? They have a larger population, and they know how to use guns. We don't need all of that. The army has done its job there.


LEMON: So, let's discuss now, perfect person here, journalist and former Russian television host Stanislav Kucher, joins us now. Thank you very much. I really appreciate you joining us.


LEMON: So, two things. You heard obviously what happened with the deputy mayor having to get back into a bomb shelter. It is a living hell there. But these people went on Russian state TV, said the war paints a frightening picture and that the army has done its job in Ukraine. What does it tell you about what is going on inside Russia right now to get people saying that on state TV?

KUCHER: Well, Don, let me start by expressing my sympathy, respect, admiration, and support for the Ukrainian people in Ukraine and across the globe. And those Russians inside Russia who have the courage to state their position openly and speak against the war takes courage.

As for what's happening in Russia, well, I'm in touch with a lot of friends there, a lot of friends and a lot of acquaintances as well as I'm in touch with friends in Ukraine at the moment. And what's happening with propaganda is really interesting. Because it seems like they are changing their tune.

Just a few days ago, those very guys you've been showing right now, Shakhnazarov and Bagdasarov, one is a political scientist, another one is like a famous film director who's now on TV, and one of the propaganda peddlers. They were all saying like it's very correct, it's right, we should be there. And Soloviev, the host of the show, which is Russia's top number one propagandist.

He was calling on the Defense Minister Shoigu, like, Sergei Kuzhugetovich, let's move on, when do we start? That was several days before the war. And now they are kind of peddling back.

LEMON: Why do you think that is?

KUCHER: Well, I think that two reasons. Two probable reasons. One can be that Soloviev or somebody from upstairs whispered in his ear, like, we should slow down a bit. The other reason is Soloviev has a very good sense, very good intuition for politics for political change. And so he realizes that probably he has to work on his exit strategy. And that's really important.

LEMON: What -- exit strategy, what do you mean?

KUCHER: Well, I mean, he realizes when this whole thing is over and the regime in Russia changes, then propaganda peddlers will be one of the first to be judged because people are going to turn against them and blame them for preparing the nation for this criminal war.

LEMON: I'm trying to get a sense of what you're saying. You believe the tide is turning, you think that people will realize in Russia what's happening in Ukraine?


KUCHER: Well, I'm not sure about what first, many people are realizing what's happening in Ukraine.

LEMON: Right. KUCHER: And then the TV guys like Soloviev, they, again, they know for sure that something is changing. They -- there is a breakup in the elites obviously, in Russian elites. And Soloviev is famous for bragging about his connections with the defense minister, with other high-ranking generals and so on and so on.

So, I don't think he would have let those two guys speak like this about what's going on right now without a hint from upstairs.

LEMON: That something is going to change?



LEMON: Do you -- because the media is Kremlin controlled, right?

KUCHER: Absolutely.

LEMON: So how can someone get away with saying the truth on television?

KUCHER: Well, first, come on, they have not said anything, you know, far too criminal by Russia's today's standards.

LEMON: Right.


LEMON: By degree.

KUCHER: They just said, they just said, you know what, a more interesting thing happened on Tuesday when Soloviev, the very TV host we are talking about, when he was interviewing one of Russia's top military experts, and that expert was saying things like, you know what, we haven't taken a single Ukrainian city. And if you don't take a single city, how can you win a war? We're not winning this war.

Seems like we are -- I mean, should listen to that, look at the expression on their faces, and Soloviev ended up saying, well, you know, I'm in a very bad mood anyway, and you are doing nothing to make it any better. And that was, like, a breaking point for many. I got, that night I got a few telephone calls from Russia saying what's going on? Is this changing?


LEMON: Do you think this is going to make a dent in how people feel?

KUCHER: I'm not sure, Don, because, again, a lot of people -- you see, the machine, the propaganda machine, has been working for 22 years --


KUCHER: -- so effectively that even if Soloviev or other propagandists try to turn all the way around, the public opinion won't turn around overnight.

LEMON: It will take a while. It's going to take -- because it's just ingrained.

KUCHER: Well, because -- because you see they've been so brainwashed. The first doctrine that Putin signed when it came to the Kremlin was the so-called information security doctrine. And then first all-state television, national television was under control of the Kremlin, then all national newspapers. Then at some point all online media, all radio stations, then online media.

And as for Ukraine, even before 2014, even before the annexation of the Crimea, already the public opinion was being prepared to future invasion with "experts," in quotes, saying things like the Ukrainian language actually does not exist, it was made up in laboratories back in the 19th century and so on and so on.

LEMON: Yes. Thank you. I really appreciate your perspective. We'll have you back. Thank you so much.

KUCHER: Thank you, Don.

LEMON: So just how dangerous have Russia's attacks on Ukrainian nuclear power pants -- plants, how dangerous has that been? We're getting more information tonight. That is next.



LEMON: New updates on dangerous targets in Ukraine, their nuclear power facilities as a matter of fact. Tonight, the head of the nuclear research facility in Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine saying the core area of the lab has not been damaged by relentless round of Russian shelling but that the director general of the Kharkiv Institute of Physics and Technology says the outside of the building sustained major damage.

He says there is no current danger, but if there's a physical damage it would be a huge, huge problem. In Chernobyl, Ukraine is alleging that Russia may stage a terrorist attack at the nuclear power plant site and then blame Ukraine for it.

Chernobyl is under Russian control. The facility is currently without power. A Ukrainian official say they have lost all communication with the plant. The Biden administration expressing concern about the lack of data on safeguards at the site of the world's worst nuclear disaster. Saying it's also concerned about the situation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear facility in southern Ukraine which was fired on by Russian troops last week and remains under Russian control tonight. We'll continue to update you on that.

Next, Russia bearing down on Ukraine's capital, shelling heard in the early hours as morning begins there. We're live on the ground right after this.