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Don Lemon Tonight

Ukraine's Fight Is Everybody's Fight For Democracy; U.S. Accused Russia Of War Crime; Russia Loss Huge Number Of Troops; President Biden Meets With NATO And E.U. Allies; U.S. Makes A Pre- Emptive Move To A Nuclear Attack; U.S. Taking So Long To Act; Fate Undetermined For Brittney Griner. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired March 23, 2022 - 22:00   ET




VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, PRESIDENT OF UKRAINE (on screen text): We will be defending our country because our weapon is truth and our truth is that this is our land, our country. This is what I wanted to tell you. Glory to Ukraine!


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: If you're wondering how you can help the humanitarian situation in Ukraine, you can go to The news continues. I want to turn things over to Don who's in Ukraine tonight. Don?

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: It's very appropriate that you played that just before you came to me, Anderson, because I have a story for you. You sat in the same place that I've sat. And you know the facility. I mean, we're out to dinner and people were in the restaurant and having drinks.

And when Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the President of Ukraine, gave his speech tonight everyone in the restaurant stood up, they turned the volume up on the television. You could hear a pin drop and they were listening to him. They are proud of their president. He encourages them. He gives them courage, and he is really a symbol for the world.

I say it's a David versus Goliath, but he is what is standing between a democracy falling, and I think it's -- it is inspirational for the entire world.

COOPER: Yes. I mean, it's a -- he has tremendous support in that country. And I think even people who maybe at the beginning of the conflict didn't know how he would respond and you know, even those who didn't vote for him or didn't support him I think now universally in that country there is just a steely determination that we have seen, and a lot of it is in support of him.

LEMON: Yes. Well-said, Anderson. I'll see you tomorrow night. Thank you, sir. Have a good one.


I'm here in western Ukraine in Lviv, and we have breaking news for you. Ukraine's president, as I just mentioned, Volodymyr Zelenskyy with a message in English to the whole world warning tonight that Russia is waging war not just on Ukraine but on freedom itself.


ZELENSKYY: This is only the beginning for Russia on the Ukrainian land. Russia is trying to defeat the freedom of all people in Europe, of all the people in the world. He tries to show that only crude and cruel force matters. He tries to show that people do not matter as well as everything else that make us people. That's the reason we all must stop Russia. The world must stop the war. I thank everyone who acts in support of Ukraine, in support of freedom. But the war continues.


LEMON: And meanwhile, tonight, CNN's team on the ground in Ukraine's capital witnessing a barrage of outgoing fire in the northwest. Ukrainian forces firing on the Russians, trying to push them out of the vicinity of Kyiv. That as a senior U.S. defense official says Ukraine has forced the Russians back on the front lines east of Kyiv some 15 to 20 miles today.

And on the eve of President Joe Biden's meeting with NATO allies in Brussels, the U.S. formally declares Russia is committing war crimes in Ukraine, citing attacks on that maternity hospital in Mariupol and the theater where hundreds of people were sheltering, a theater clearly marked with the Russian word for children in letters literally visible from the sky.

And this is Mariupol today, a city in ruins. Look at it. It's hard to believe anyone ever lived there. Yet just one month ago this was a city of more than 400,000 people. And here in Lviv I spoke with the mayor today. He is pleading for help for his city and his country.


ANDRIY SADOVYI, MAYOR, LVIV, UKRAINE: Every hour Russia aggressor kill 100 civil people. Which is crazy. It is unnormal. Today, 21st century. And you must talk to every day your colleague must talk to every day. You must stop Russian aggressors. It is, only together.


LEMON: More from that interview coming up. And as Ukraine fights back, Vladimir Putin is being backed into a corner. NATO says up to 15,000 Russian soldiers have been killed in just one month. And as staggering as that number is, there are estimates that there could be between 30,000 and 40,000 Russian soldiers either killed, wounded or missing all together. And with Putin's desperation likely growing, President Poe Biden says the danger of chemical warfare is very real.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNKNOWN: Mr. President, how concerned are you about the threat of

chemical warfare right now? That Russia is using chemical weapons, how high is that threat?




LEMON: We are live tonight in Ukraine, in Belgium and in Washington, D.C. I want to go first, though, to our correspondents. And Frederik Pleitgen is live for us in Kyiv, Phil Mattingly in Brussels.

Hello to both of you. Fred, I'm going to start with you. Even in spite of Russian bombardment, Fred, Ukrainians are gaining back ground outside Kyiv. Can you us the situation there, please?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Don. Well, it certainly looks that way. And you know, one of the things that we've been seeing over the past couple of days, I would say especially in the past sort of 36 hours or so, is that there has been really intense shelling, intense explosions going on especially towards the north of Kyiv, toward the northwest and the northeast of Kyiv.

And there you can really see that the Ukrainian are increasingly firing at Russian positions not just with artillery but with rocket artillery as well. Clearly a large operation that's been going on there.

And you know, the Ukrainians really aren't talking very much about it. And I think one of the reasons for that is that the gains that they're making there, they believe those gains are still quite fragile, and also of course they believe that if they provide too much information, they might tip off the Russians as to what exactly their strategy is up there.

But we have heard from the local authorities here, is that, for instance, one of those districts that was under Russian control, that's called Irpin, it's in the northwest or towards the northwest of Kyiv, that's now 80 percent back under the control of Ukrainians.

Now the Ukrainian national police went back in there. The Ukrainian national police is working there again. They do say it's still under constant shelling from the Russians, but they have managed to push the Russians back. And I think it's something where at this point in time, in this particular location of this conflict the Ukrainians do believe that they have the Russian military on the back foot, and you can really feel how they are continuing to try to press that campaign to try and push the Russians back.

You can see that from the increased shelling that the Ukrainians are conducting, but also from generally the military movement that you see in that district as well, Don. LEMON: Fred, I want you to react to this video that we're just

getting, it's a video from Izyum, Ukraine about 72 miles from Kharkiv, and I have to say it is quite disturbing. There's widespread destruction. At points you see bodies in the streets. It has been the site of battles, Ukrainians trying to not back the Russians. And once again we can see the toll of this war.

PLEITGEN: Yes, you're absolutely right. And you know, our folks have managed to geolocate that video. And it is obviously authentic, it was indeed filmed in that place in Izyum.

That is an extremely important strategic location that Ukrainians are trying to win back. It is fairly close to the town of Kharkiv in east of Ukraine, also of course, one of those places that many people at the beginning of this conflict, the beginning of this war, this invasion by the Russians believe would fall fairly quickly to the Russians but that is still holding out.

And Izyum is also one of those places that the Russians then took and are trying to also move south from there to try and press further the Ukrainian forces in the southeast of the country. So, the Ukrainians now launching a campaign to try and win that back. But as you can see obviously a lot of the fighting taking a great toll on that place and of course especially on the civilians who are living there, Don.

LEMON: To Phil in Brussels now. Phil, it's just hours, in just hours President Biden is going to attend a NATO summit as Europe faces its worst refugee and military crisis since World War II. Does the White House have a specific goal in mind for this trip?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Several, Don. And I think it's fair to say as high as the stakes are for the expectations for the course of the next 24 hours. And when you talk to White House officials, they make clear there are a series of kind of layers to what they want to accomplish over the course of the next day.

And the short-term no question about it, they will levy new sanctions on hundreds of individuals, Russian government individuals and oligarchs, as well as work with the G7 leaders, work with European leaders to put together plans to keep individuals and entities from evading those sanctions, a critical component as they've seen their sanctions regime locked into place over the course of the last four weeks.

There's also going to be talk about military posture particularly with NATO allies in Eastern Europe. But also, long-term issues here. We're seeing a dramatic shift particularly on the issues of energy. Obviously force posture as well in Eastern Europe that the U.S. and its allies are going to start to lock into place for the future. Not just the coming days or weeks or months but really a shift dramatically and what has been over the course of the last several years a U.S. effort to move away from Europe to some degree.

That pendulum is now swinging back. That will be a critical component of this. But I think more than anything else, I think overarching when you talk to U.S. officials, they say this. They want to ensure that the unity that they've helped put into place over the course of the last four weeks, really unprecedented when you look at more than 30 countries over four -- over four continents is something that is sustainable.

They know that this war, this crisis is not going anywhere anytime soon. They want to make sure there's durability to the unification and that any splits or fractures that may exist between these countries or between these allies are at least managed to the point where they can maintain the pressure on President Vladimir Putin not just in the short-term but for the long-term, Don.


LEMON: Fred, you have spoken to some of the Ukrainians defending the skies around Kyiv. How are they keeping Russian air power at bay? Because you know everyone wants all the officials here in the area, they want control of the skies, right? A no-fly zone. But how are they keeping control of the air around Kyiv?

PLEITGEN: Yes, and Don, you know what, there's very few who would have given the Ukrainian air force a chance when this conflict began. Remember that there were a lot of people who thought that Russians would have, you know, so-called air superiority over this country in just a couple of days.

But even now that we're standing here in Kyiv there's very little in the way of Russian air activity. Of course, the reason for that is that the Ukrainian air force is still very much alive and kicking, if you will.

I was able to speak to a pilot who flies a fighter jet, you know, and he was telling me that they use their tactics and their strategy to try and beat the Russians in the sky. Let's listen to some of what he had to say.


PLEITGEN (voice over): We spoke to a fighter pilot Andriy (Ph) who was in an undisclosed location and hiding his identity for safety reasons.

UNKNOWN (through translator): At first Russian pilots dominated in quantity of fighters and newer equipment. Now they're starting to refuse to fly because we're shooting them down. We try to work with tactics.

PLEITGEN: Andriy (Ph) says he flies an SU-27 air superiority fighter. This is video provided by the Ukrainian military of the same model an older plane, but one that's still effective.

UNKNOWN (through translator): I shot down Russian planes, unfortunately, I cannot say which and how many exactly how exactly I shot them down. Air-to-air missiles and ground-to-air missiles were repeatedly fired at me. There was a flight when we flew three against 24. It means our three fighters repelled the attack of their 24 aircraft. PLEITGEN: It's impossible for us to verify those claims but during

our interview we heard what seemed to be a Ukrainian jet taking off. Andriy (Ph) says the U.S. helped teach him and his fellow airmen how to beat the Russians.

UNKNOWN (through translator): We have our tactics. We conducted the clear sky exercise with our American friends. We now are using some of the tactics we learn from the Americans.


PLEITGEN (on camera): And, you know, Don, the morale that this pilot showed, he said it's still very, very high. And you know, one of the things that the Ukrainian leadership has been talking about -- President Zelenskyy has been talking about is he wants a no-fly zone here for this country.

Obviously, some of the U.S. would have to enforce, some in the Biden administration has said it's simply not going to happen because they obviously fear that would bring them in direct conflict with the Russians and possibly into a direct shooting war with the Russians as well.

So that not happening but the Ukrainians are saying their air force right now is holding up. They're not sure how much longer that can be the case because of course there's a lot of attrition there as well. They say they need more gear. They'd like to see more jets as well. There was some (AUDIO GAP). For the moment, right now, the air force here still very much intact. The U.S. saying that as well, Don.

LEMON: (AUDIO GAP) both, I appreciate it. I want to turn now to CNN military analyst and retired air force Colonel Cedric Leighton to help explain where the battle lines stand tonight.

Colonel, thank you. I appreciate you joining us. Let's see, the first question. CNN has reported the existence of a so-called Tiger team, and tonight the New York Times is reporting that the White House is using the team to prepare for scenarios on how the U.S. should respond if Putin unleashes chemical or perhaps nuclear weapons that affect NATO allies or strikes convoys of supplies heading into Ukraine. How will they war game those scenarios?

CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, Don, that's going to be a very interesting situation because they're going to have to kind of figure out exactly how the Russians are going to act. So, it's kind of psychological. They'll kind of have to figure out Putin's psychology and what the Russian military is going to do.

One of the of things that they'd be worried about is, you know, the kinds of things that happened with Chernobyl where you had plumes of radiation going out to all kinds of areas way beyond the immediate area of the nuclear accident.

And when that happened back in the 1980s, the flume of radiation went all the way up through Scandinavia and parts of Central Europe. So those are the kinds of things they're going to look at. Obviously, the use of tactical nukes is going to be very different scenario than a Chernobyl type scenario, but that is one of the questions they're going to have to look at. They'll have to look at the intelligence, the logistics effects, and the psychological effects as I mentioned.


LEMON: Colonel, a U.S. official saying that Ukrainian forces pushed Russian troops around 15 to 20 miles back on the east side of the city. I mean, they seem to be gaining momentum around the capital, and it's really astonishing, I think, what the Ukrainian military has been able to do.

LEIGHTON: It is astonishing, Don. And what's -- what's interesting about this is, you know, these maps are not going to quite reflect

exactly what's happening on the ground, but look at this. This was an area where the Russians had troops that were really close to the city limits of Kyiv both here and in the northwestern area.

What they've done is they've -- the Ukrainians have recaptured part of Ivano-Frankivsk, I think about 80 percent, then and there's a town about here called Makariv where the Ukrainians have also recaptured that town.

What this means is that the Ukrainians go back this way and they could potentially encircle Russian forces if any are remaining right here. They can do the same in the northeastern part. This little area of Russian troops is very vulnerable to a Ukrainian counterattack.

LEMON: The mayor of Irpin, a suburb to the northwest of Kyiv says that Ukrainian forces have taken back 80 percent of the city. I mean, just a few weeks ago we saw these images of civilians fleeing Irpin over a destroyed bridge. What did it take to retake the city, if that is indeed what's happened, Colonel?

LEIGHTON: So, Don, there's a lot that goes into something like this but basically it boils down to guns, ammunition and the will to fight. And the Ukrainians have definitely shown that they have the will to fight. They have access to guns, the ammunition that they need.

And what they also developed were the tactics that were required to go house to house and take the Russians and their equipment out. That is key to this -- this kind of success. And they have to be careful, though, that they maintain this success and maintain the momentum of what appears to be the beginning of an offensive against the Russians.

LEMON: And this is very important to ask you about. Today, NATO, Colonel, estimating that up to 15,000 Russian troops may have been killed and that 30 to 40,000 Russian troops have been killed, or wounded or are missing. That is a huge chunk of forces Russia brought into Ukraine. How does that affect units on the ground?

LEIGHTON: So this is a really interesting point, Don, because you know, when we have somewhere between 150 to 190,000 Russian troops raid along the border of Ukraine, you're talking about 20 percent of these troops are either killed in action, wounded in action or missing or captured. So, the attrition rate of something like this, that's incredibly high.

That would be unacceptable for any American or NATO force that I've ever worked with.

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

LEIGHTON: You bet, Don. Absolutely.

LEMON: The U.S. officially declaring Russia's military has committed war crimes in Ukraine as President Biden gets ready to meet with NATO leaders. I'm going to speak with a former ambassador about what he needs to accomplish on this trip. That's next.


ZELENSKYY: Come to your squares, your streets. Make yourselves visible and heard. Say that people matter, freedom matters, peace matters, Ukraine matters.




LEMON: President Biden arriving in Brussels tonight on the eve of a series of meeting with American's allies about the crisis in Ukraine. The first meeting is an emergency summit tomorrow morning with 29 leaders of NATO countries followed by meetings with leaders of the G7 countries and the European Council. The president is expected to impose a new round of sanctions -- Russian sanctions.

A lot to discuss now with Ambassador John Herbst, the former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine. Ambassador, thank you. I appreciate you joining us. Perfect person to have this conversation with.

It's probably the most consequential trip of President Biden's presidency. We're expecting to see fresh sanctions. What else needs to come out of this high stakes NATO summit?

JOHN HERBST, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: There are two things I think we can expect which is positive. One is more sanctions, and two is agreement of pushing up NATO's forces in the east. But there are three hard things that should also come out of it, and we'll see if they do.

First, will NATO move more decisively to send the weapons Ukraine needs to defeat the Russian invasion? And by that, I mean they need to get those MiGs and those Sukhoi bombers to Ukraine, they need to get those S-300s high-altitude anti-aircraft systems to Ukraine. They also need to get more drones and anti-ship missiles.

Ships have been bombarding the city of Mariupol and the city of Odessa. If we send them anti-ship missiles which we should have done last -- last fall, they could take out those ships. So that's one. Two, they need to prepare for what happens if Moscow uses chemical or

biological or nuclear weapons with Ukraine. There needs to be an alliance response to that which is agreed beforehand. And three, they need to agree now what they will do if as a warning Putin sends a rocket into one of the NATO nations especially Poland.

Dmitry Medvedev, a senior Russian official has been putting out a very sharp anti-Polish statement suggesting that Moscow may try to test article 5. We need to have a very strong response prepared agreed beforehand.

LEMON: So, then what is that then because you mention that. Look, President Biden is warning that a chemical attack by Russia in Ukraine is a real threat. If -- if that were to happen, how would it change what the U.S. and NATO would be willing to do?

HERBST: Well, we don't know. My idea would be, there has to be a strong NATO response to that. That response could be something in the form of quite overtly sending, again, more advanced weapon systems to Ukraine which has been sent before.


Or maybe establishing as the Pols have suggested a humanitarian zone protected by NATO forces in the west of Ukraine so that internally displaced Ukrainians that are becoming refugees by heading into Romania or Poland can be safe within Ukraine's borders but that would be very serious step but one merited if Moscow uses weapons of mass destruction in Ukraine.

LEMON: Do you think, Ambassador, that Putin wants to provoke NATO in some way? I mean, does he want to expand this war?

HERBST: No. But what he wants to do is throw a Hail Mary pass to save the disastric -- the disastrous consequences of his own decision. His position in the west is far weaker today as a result of this invasion. But if he, for example, were to launch a rocket into Ukraine -- into, excuse me, into Poland and say it hits nothing but it has clearly violated the space of NATO and the west and NATO does not respond, that would call into question article 5, which says that all nations of NATO will protect each other from attack from outside. That would be a clear victory for Putin.

So, this would be a provocation designed not to produce a response, but to produce a nonresponse suggesting that NATO is a paper tiger. And we need to be very careful about that.

LEMON: I find it interesting that you describe the U.S. and NATO response to Russia's invasion on Ukraine as barely adequate. Now, I know you want MiGs to go to Ukraine and more weapons systems. Why do you think the Biden administration is so reluctant to do that, and what is the cost of not doing it?

HERBST: Well, they have -- they keep talking about not wanting to provoke Putin, not wanting to take any step that Putin might consider escalatory. I find that amazing. Yes, they don't want to provoke a nuclear war. Obviously, you have to be prudent.

But if Putin has escalated extraordinarily over the past four weeks. He sent 2 -- 100,000 troops into Ukraine. He's bombarding cities mercilessly. In Mariupol he's committing a war crime, starving out the city as well as bombarding civilians. He is doing the same in Kharkiv, in Sumy, and to Chernihiv.

And we need to make sure that Ukraine is able to defend itself adequately. I don't think Putin is going to go to nuclear war with us because he knows that's a catastrophe for him as well as for us. We were able to stand off --


LEMON: The concern is that --

HERBST: Yes? We're good.

LEMON: The concern is that -- is that Putin might see that or use that as a provocation, as justification to use those weapons, maybe chemical weapons or to escalate the war in a way that the U.S., NATO and allies don't want it to be escalated.

HERBST: He -- he is already doing things that are unconscionable. How many Ukrainian civilians have died? In Mariupol we may have tens of thousands of deaths as a result of his current operations. That is an atrocity of a global scale. And we are just going to sit by and let that happen?

If Putin succeeds in Ukraine, we really do have to worry about what he might do in the Baltic states. It's much easier to help Ukraine defend itself than it would be to defend the Baltic states from a Russian attack. If we're so afraid of a nuclear war that will let Putin commit war crimes on a massive scale in Ukraine, we would apply the same logic and let him waltz in to the Baltic states or waltz into Warsaw.

So, we cannot let ourselves be paralyzed by Putin's waving of his nuclear wand. We -- we withstood the Soviet nuclear threat which is greater than the Russian nuclear threat today in Cuba in 1962, in Berlin 1961. We keep talking about not wanting to let Russia move to an escalatory phase. Well, that projects weakness and that makes it more likely we'll have a standoff with the Russians over the Baltic states over our NATO allies. This is elementary.

LEMON: Very interesting. So, I have to ask you about the former secretary of state, Madeleine Albright. She's died. She helped steer western foreign policy in the aftermath of the Cold War. She just wrote a piece in the New York Times on the eve of Putin's invasion of Ukraine, warning that Putin was making a historic mistake. And she spoke with the former President Bill Clinton about it recently. Watch this.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Putin was trying to sell an argument a country with a Jewish president was actually a Nazi country was patently absurd and she just wanted to support whatever we could do to back Ukraine, and that's all she wanted to talk about.


LEMON: What would you like to add about the former secretary of state, Ambassador?

HERBST: Well, I worked a lot with her when during the peace process when I was consul general of Jerusalem from '97 to 2000. I also hosted in Ukraine after she's been secretary of state. So, I'm very familiar with her work.


She was a smart, courageous and very friendly human being, represented America at its best. And I'm really sorry to see her go. Because she understood the dangers of allowing Putin to get away with murder, which what is happening -- well, we're not allowing him but not pushing back as hard as we need to, to prevent him from getting away with murder going forward.

LEMON: Ambassador Herbst, thank you very much. I appreciate having you on.

HERBST: Pleasure.

LEMON: New video tonight from the ruined city of Chernihiv. Blasted buildings, fires filling the air with heavy smoke. The city's mayor saying that the cemetery can't handle all the dead. More on that in just a moment.



LEMON: We have some new video tonight. Badly damaged buildings lining rubble strewn streets in Chernihiv. Fires still burning, filling the air with heavy smoke. CNN has geolocated and verified the authenticity of the video.

Chernihiv's mayor saying that the city's cemetery cannot handle all the dead. That as we're learning up to 15,000 Russian soldiers have been killed since the invasion began just one month ago, and an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 Russian troops either killed, wounded or missing in Ukraine.

Many observers already drawing parallels to the Soviet Union's disastrous invasion of Afghanistan decades ago.

Here's CNN's Nic Robertson.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voice over): Nearly 43 years ago, Moscow ordered troops into Afghanistan. Over the following decade some 15,000 Soviet red army soldiers would die there. Their war and eventual retreat led to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Today the death toll of Russian troops in Ukraine could already match those killed over 10 years in Afghanistan. Four hundred ninety-eight dead in the first week of war according to Russia's defense ministry.

And despite no updates since NATO officials say after a month of fighting, the Russian death toll is now as many as 15,000. Across dozens of Russian cities more than 15,000 people have been arrested for protesting the war. Recently, anxious parents of troops have begun showing up.

Putin's Achilles' heel is the perception soldiers are dying unnecessarily. It's why his tightened reporting laws and swamped Russia with Kremlin propaganda and it's why the Ukrainian ministry shows off battlefield gains like knocking our Russian tanks or captured Russian soldiers because they know bad press back home is what got the red army out of Afghanistan.

What sunk for the Soviets in the '80s was the Afghan's determination to fight for their homeland and that the United States supplied the Afghan fighters with stinger surface to air missiles.

The shoulder launched weapons turned the tide of the war. Russian helicopters were easy prey. They lost air superiority and with it the will to endure high casualties and anger back home. Two years after an ignominious pull out in 1989 the economic cost of war overpowered the ailing Soviet economy, and 7 decades of communist rule collapsed.

Afghan parallels with today's war in Ukraine are clear. Like the Afghan's the Ukrainians are ferociously battling to save their homeland from Moscow's army. And as they did with the Afghan fighters, the U.S. and allies are supplying the Ukrainian army with U.S.-made Stinger missiles to shoot down Russian helicopters and jets with success.


JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON SPOKESMAN: The airspace is contested and it's contested because the Ukrainians are making it that way, and they're being very smart about how they're marshaling and using their air defense missiles.

ROBERTSON: Tank busting U.S.-made Javelin missiles are also helping Ukraine keep Putin's army at bay. Russia's enemies if not Russia have learnt the lessons of the Afghan war. No one yet, though, predicting the collapse of Putin's power.

Nic Robertson, CNN, Brussels.

LEMON: Nic, thank you very much. I'm here in Lviv, Ukraine talking every day with people affected by this war. Today I spoke with the mayor of this city. A city that has become a magnet for desperate people from all over Ukraine, and he told me what he needs the world to do to help them.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) LEMON: Do you welcome all of the people who are displaced? Do you welcome all the refugees here no matter how many?

SADOVYI: Yes. Yes, it is my -- it is my duty. I -- I like Ukrainian people. It is from Mariupol, from Kharkiv, from Kyiv. It is my Ukrainian people.




LEMON: We're here in Lviv, Ukraine, a city that has changed drastically in the month since Russia first invaded. There are now 200,000 refugees who have been forced to flee their homes. Imagine if a city the size of Seattle or Boston surged in population by almost one-third in just four weeks during a war.

That's Lviv today. In my few days here, I have seen just how beautiful the city is. But as the Russian invasion continues officials are moving to protect precious artifacts and historic architecture. They want to be ready if Russia directs its fire to the west.

All of this under the leadership of Mayor Andriy Sadovyi. I met him today in Lviv City Council chambers, and he talked to me about how determined Ukrainians are to win this war.



LEMON: You said that you are -- you have another city on top of your city now. Can you sustain that? Do you have the infrastructure? Do you have the services? How long can you sustain taking in all these citizens?

SADOVYI: We prepare our city to emergency situation. We make huge supplies, medical supplies. We bought a lot of diesel generator. We predict a pool of refugees. I think maybe 100 maximum. Today we host 200,000 refugees. We coordinate our activity with mayor of Lviv region and cities and west Ukrainian cities. It is very special time for me, for my citizens. It is -- it is my duty. Today it is my duty.

LEMON: No matter how many people come in, that's your duty?

SADOVYI (on screen text): I have people living in my house, with my friends.

We completely rebuild our school, our theater, our sport gym. My citizens host in home, in flat. I host one family, refugees in my home from Zaporizhzhia. We open all doors. We open my heart. It is special time.

Today we have to be united like no one else, only then we can win. LEMON: You have such pride in your city. As I walk around, I see the windows and the cathedral being boarded up. I see the statues being wrapped. I see other things being covered. What does that -- I mean, it's sad because it's such a beautiful city but you're having to protect it.

SADOVYI: Our center city help protect UNESCO. It is brilliant -- brilliant for Ukraine, brilliant for war. But you'll remember situation in Afghanistan, Taliban completely destroy historical heritage. I don't know of plan Russian aggressor. I must protect historical heritage in Lviv. It is important for -- for future.

LEMON: You have 109 strollers that you have in the park, in the square, how did that memorial come about that symbolizes the children lost in war?

SADOVYI: Today 117. Every day new -- new children Russian aggressor killed. We show for world the reality of the situation in Ukraine. Every day Russian aggressor killed children, women, old people. It is Nazi. It is Nazi. It is crazy. It is -- today Hitler equal Putin. Putin equal Hitler.

LEMON: You said it's Nazi, right? Is that what you said? And Putin equals Hitler, Hitler equals Putin. Is that what you said?

SADOVYI (on screen text): Only Nazi could do something like this. Normal people cannot kill children.

LEMON: President Biden is in Brussels meeting with NATO allies. What do you need to hear from the United States, and what results do you want from the U.S. and NATO?

SADOVYI: I expect new military equipment for Ukraine. During two weeks more than 200,000 Ukrainian men come back to Ukraine from different countries. They ready protect other country. We expect military equipment. We expect decision about closed sky.

SADOVYI (on screen text): OK, if it is difficult to ensure a no-fly zone, then provide us with air defense so that our civilians won't get killed. I expect from Biden and NATO some firm decision, but it is preferable that first they make these decisions and then talk about them.

LEMON: So finally, I want to ask you I think that -- you correct me if I'm wrong, I think Putin and the Russian military were surprised by the Ukrainian military and the resolve of the Ukrainian people not to be overtaken by Putin and Russia.


How much longer can you hold out? And do you -- are you sure that Ukraine can sustain this and will win in the end?

SADOVYI: I believe in our victory. Every one Ukrainian, men, women, children, believe in our victory. Together us 40 million people in Ukraine. Today all democratic countries support Ukraine. Only victory. Never give up. Only victory. This my land. This my city. I have only one country.


LEMON: No matter how many different ways you ask the question about how long the people of Ukraine can hold out if they will win in the end, the answer is always the same, that they believe that they are going to win. They will not let Putin destroy what they want, their independence, their freedom, not let Putin and the Russians break their resolve.

And listen, it is always -- you have to be careful about making comparisons to Hitler, right? And Nazis. We're always very careful about that. But he said it implicitly and I wanted to make sure that's what he said. He said Putin equals Hitler. Hitler equals Putin. And he believes that they are the ones who are behaving like Nazis.

And it's interesting because that is what Putin is telling his people that he's trying to drive the Nazis out of Ukraine. It is a lie.

Thank you, Mayor, and thank you to the people of Lviv who have been so welcoming, all they want from us is to be here to tell their story. They're so appreciative. And that's what we'll continue to do.

The U.S. embassy getting access to Brittney Griner for the first time since she was detained in Russia a month ago. We're going to tell you what they learned. That's right after this.



LEMON: We have some news tonight on Brittney Griner, the WNBA basketball star who has been detained in Russia. The State Department says that she's in good condition. An official from the U.S. embassy in Moscow was able to meet with Griner just yesterday. That is the first time a U.S. government official in Russia has been granted access to Griner since her arrest at a Moscow airport last month.


NED PRICE, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: There's only so much I can say, but what I can say is that our official found Brittney Griner to be in good condition and we will continue to do everything we can to see to it that she is treated fairly throughout this ordeal.


LEMON: The Russian government is accusing Griner of attempting to smuggle a narcotic substance into the country.

Up next, Russian strikes destroying civilian areas. Medics killed. Ambulances fired upon. Cities completely demolished. More of our live coverage from here in Ukraine right after this.