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Damage and Casualties in Kyiv; Russia Claims it's Taken Kherson; Shelling in Kharkiv; Tata Marharian is Interviewed about Kyiv; David Petraeus is Interviewed about the Russian Invasion; Bipartisan Unity at Biden's Speech. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired March 02, 2022 - 09:00   ET




ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Under attack, several major cities in Ukraine hit with heavy firepower as Russian forces under Vladimir Putin's orders ramp up the attacks on key parts of Ukraine.

Good morning. I'm Erica Hill in New York.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Jim Sciutto, reporting from Lviv, Ukraine.

Overnight, civilians became the targets once again of heavy shelling throughout this country as Russian forces struck border cities on the north and the south. In Kharkiv, military strikes tore through the national university and a police department. Those strikes sent shock waves through the northern part of that city.

In the capital Kyiv, rockets rained down on a maternity clinic, a Holocaust memorial site, several businesses in the capital. These are not military targets.

Right now Russia says its forces have taken full control of the southern city of Kherson. CNN has not been able to verify those claims. Ukraine denies that the city has fallen.

And take a look at these just incredible images. Workers at a Ukrainian nuclear plant standing on a road, blocking access to Russian forces, with their bodies. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is optimistic, while pointing out what he says are Putin's losses.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Russian mothers are losing their children in a completely foreign country. Think of this number. Almost 6,000 Russians died. Russian military in six days of war. This is without counting the losses of the enemy last night, 6,000. To get what? Get Ukraine? This is impossible.


SCIUTTO: The U.S. is now taking further action. President Biden announced last night he will ban Russian aircraft from entering U.S. air space. Several European countries have done the same, while reaffirming that Putin's aggression, and he kept using the name Putin, stands alone.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Putin is now isolated from the world more than he has ever been.


SCIUTTO: Distinguishing Putin from the Russian people.

Here in Ukraine, I'm thinking this morning of the Ukrainian soldiers, men and women, mind you, who slept and fought last night in the biting cold here, and the civilians who are increasingly the deliberate, not accidental targets, of the Russian onslaught. There are tanks in the streets of several European cities that were free and peaceful just last week. These are scenes of World War II in the year 2022.

Let's begin this morning in the capital Kyiv. CNN's senior national security correspondent Alex Marquardt, he visited the extensive damage in Ukraine's capital this morning, and he filed this report.


ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: It is clear, the Russians now moving from military to civilian targets, even though they deny that they are targeting civilians. They are saying that they're going to be targeting communications and information structures to stop those information attacks against Russia from getting out. They're trying to contain the narrative, although the cat's really out of the bag here.

So, this is the TV tower here in Kyiv, about three miles from the city center. It was hit by a missile just yesterday. There were missiles that landed all over this area. Take a look at this. This is a lamppost that was melted and shredded, completely solid. But you can see the heat from the blast and what it did to that.

Here on the street, pockmarks all over from that attack. And I want to ask my cameraman, Alisandro (ph), to follow me across the street. That there is -- was a gym. You can see it's still smoldering. It is -- there's been a fire there burning for about 24 hours. The -- they're -- the -- there's still gym equipment down there on the ground floor.

If you look over this way, this is where around five -- well, five people, according to Kyiv authorities, were killed. You can see that car right there was destroyed as well. And then just behind it, yet another civilian building that is an auto parts shop where the owners and staff are continuing to clean up.

So, destruction everywhere. Clearly, civilian buildings that were hit, civilians who are killed. And I should note that this is an area called Babyn Yar. This is where 33,000 Jews were killed during the Holocaust in one of the most horrific massacres of World War II.


And so now you have a president, President Putin, who is attacking Ukraine. He's a guy who constantly evokes World War II and what the Nazis did back then. And he is attacking this highly symbolic, hallowed area and killing people as Russia continues to claim that they are not targeting civilians.


SCIUTTO: You heard that there, a Holocaust memorial, a fitness center, an auto parts shop. These are some of the targets getting hit by Russia here in Ukraine.

Alex Marquardt, thanks for that report.

This morning, Ukraine is denying reports the southern city of Kherson has fallen despite Russia claims to have taken control of the city.

CNN international security editor Nick Paton Walsh is in Odessa, Ukraine, with more.

Nick, you've been in and around Kherson. You've seen, you know, really back and forth here, Russians come in, Ukrainians push them out. We've seen that a number of times. What is our best sense this morning of the state of Kherson?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: That I think it represents exactly what's going to go down in cities around Ukraine over the next weeks or so. Yes, certainly the Russians are inside the city center. They're parked in the middle of Freedom Square. There's a video of a local man waving two Ukrainian flags at them in defiance. We've seen pictures of them near the railway station, carrying shopping carts away of goods from Kherson's streets. We've spoken to residents who confirm a video we saw of men being led away, seemingly detained. Deeply chilling scenes for those locals who had thought or hoped that the bridge on the outskirts of the east of the city, so strategically vital for access up to the north from Russian held Crimea, might be the limit of it.

But it appears Russian troops felt they needed to move into that area, a population maybe. They were lacking in supplies. Maybe they felt that was the potential vulnerability for the bridge nearby.

I should tell you, we've got some quite tragic news. We can't independently confirm it, but the local administration there is saying that a total of 19 people have been killed in the clashes that have broken out, presumably since Russian troops tried to get in to the city. Bangs have been heard, loud explosions, buildings reportedly have been on fire. It's a deeply chilling moment for those inside there.

And Kherson is, as I say, possibly a sign of what we're going to see along the Black Sea coast now. Next to it is Mykolaiv. That is a vital, thriving port. We were there over the weekend. Intense explosions across the skyline. Concerns that Russians are simply pressing on that town, again and again, until they get in.

And then that brings us to here, Jim, Odessa, third largest city in Ukraine, utterly vital port infrastructure. Real fears here among the local population that there are Russian ships on the horizon. The defense ministry has said that there are Russian ships on the waters of the Black Sea, preparing a landing in here. And some images have been circulating unverified by us that have got this town really on edge.

I spoke to the mayor earlier. He said, look, they describe themselves as being in the middle of an information war. But he was more concerned about the likelihood of a three-pronged push on this city. Interestingly, Jim, you'll know about this, also from an area called Prignastovia (ph), in Russian, Transdanistria (ph). That's a breakaway part of Moldova. The mayor here was concerned that Russian peacekeepers, that's the word they've been using for them for a while, might be involved in a push on this city. Unconfirmed, but it shows, I think, the level of concerns here about what may be ahead, both from the sea, but also in the three different directs around the city.


SCIUTTO: Yes. And, by the way, that concern that Putin is not stopping Ukraine is not an isolated one.

Nick Paton Walsh, in Odessa this morning, thanks so much.

New this hour, Ukraine's air force command said that its air force shot down two Russian fighter aircraft at around midnight local time. In a statement, the air force said that a fierce air battle broke out in the Kyiv region, and it -- as a result of that battle, the two Russian planes were destroyed. We will continue to follow that. It's remarkable, this many days in, that Russia still does not have air supremacy given its tremendous advantages.

Overnight, massive explosions in the northeastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv sent shock waves throughout the northern part of that city.

CNN's senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen, he's just across the border from Kharkiv in Belgorod, Russia.

Fred, you've been watching those Russian forces roll in there over the course of days now. Are you seeing more go in? And I always asking you this when we have a chance to talk, what kind of weapons? Because that gives us a sense of what's next for Kharkiv.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think you're absolutely right, it certainly -- it certainly does give us a sense of what could be next for Kharkiv. And on this day, as you can see around me, the visibility is not very good but it's what we're hearing that really is probably concerning for the folks there in Kharkiv because we are hearing a lot of outgoing Russian artillery from our position here, but we're hearing it sort of coming from that direction over there.


So it seems to us as though the Russians are firing from closer to Kharkiv.

Kharkiv is in that direction. And it is from that direction that those sounds of the outgoing artillery certainly are coming from.

The other thing, Jim, that we are also hearing increasingly today, and that might also feed into what you said, those reports of two Russian jets allegedly being shot down over Kyiv. We're also hearing a lot more Russian air force activity above our position. We're hearing it right now. We've heard it throughout the course of the day as we've been standing here. It certainly seems to us as though the Russians are intensifying their air campaign in Kharkiv.

Of course, it's unclear from our vantage point here whether or not what we're hearing overhead is some sort of surveillance aircraft, but they certainly sound to us as though they're -- they're fighter jets or strike aircraft that are going overhead here in our position.

And, again, to tell our viewers, we are not far at all from Kharkiv and where those big battles are going on. It's about -- I'd say about 40 miles down the road from here, but only about 20 miles -- or probably less, 15 miles to the actual border with Ukraine. And from the news that we've been getting from Kharkiv, you know, there's been some big strikes going on, on Kharkiv, that the Ukrainians say happened with cruise missiles, the administrative building, the police building, the university building as well. But there is also an ongoing barrage, the Ukrainians say, of fire going into the city center, fire going into places that are civilian areas, inside the city.

So, the gist that we're getting here, Jim, on the ground, on the Russian side of the border, from the main staging area that the Russians have for their campaign in Kharkiv, is that it is intensifying and it could become a lot more ugly than it already has been for the folks that are still there in Kharkiv, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Yes, you're something of a canary in the coal mine there because what you see and hear there first, we then see and hear on the Ukrainian side of the border in action.

We've been hearing some sounds behind you, Fred. I wonder if you can describe. Because I know at times you've seen rocket fire over your head, planes as well. What are you hearing right now?

PLEITGEN: Well, right now what we're hearing is sort of jets circling overhead. We've been hearing that the entire time almost that we've been here. We've been here for about four or five hours I would say. And there has been pretty much constant jet activity going on by the

Russian air force. And, again, right now it's died down a little bit, but even as we were on air, we have been hearing thuds in the background of what could either be artillery or rocket artillery, very difficult to tell on a day like this because of the overcast, because of the weather.


PLEITGEN: But it is something that certainly is a constant.

And one other thing that I wanted to mention to you, Jim, as well. We are also still seeing a lot of resupply convoys going behind me towards the area of Kharkiv as well. So it certainly does seem to us as through the Russians also replenishing the forces that they have as well.


SCIUTTO: Yes. And that's been a challenge so far that it slowed them down. If they're getting those supplies in, that could be consequential.

Fred Pleitgen in Belgorod, Russia, thanks so much.

This morning, I had the chance to speak with Tata Marharian. She moved from her small town in Ukraine's Donbas region in the east, to the capital Kyiv in 2015 to study international law. But now she is serving with a volunteer medical battalion that's been responding to the loss of life, injuries on the front lines of this conflict.

I started by asking her what she's seeing right now on the streets of the capital.


TATA MARHARIAN, MEMBER, UKRAINIAN VOLUNTEER MEDICAL BATTALION: What am I seeing? I'm seeing dead children. I'm seeing hospitals being bombed. I'm seeing churches being bombed. It's difficult. I don't know what to tell you.

What am I seeing? I'm seeing my people die. I'm seeing all sorts of horrible things. I studied crimes against humanity at the university. I studied international humanitarian law. I never thought I would see this with my own eyes in my (INAUDIBLE) country.

So, yes, this is what I'm seeing.

SCIUTTO: Yes. It's horrible. It's horrible to imagine. We've seen the images too.

Do you feel like you can make a difference?

MARHARIAN: Oh, yes. I do feel so. I've never been more happy to be Ukrainian. I've never been more lucky to be born in this country. We all are uniting. We are all consolidating. And one person maybe is powerless to make a difference, but, trust me, we're not one. There are a lot of people fighting here, back to back. So, yes, we do -- we do have hope.

SCIUTTO: I do want to ask you, we have seen, and I've been told by my own sources in the U.S., that Russia is not just accidentally hitting civilians, but perhaps intentionally. And I wonder if you see that based on the kinds of people you're treating.

MARHARIAN: It's not accidental whatsoever. I -- this is just so ridiculous. My parents, my family, was in Volnovakha until recently.


And this was a city that -- this is a city that is on the verge of humanitarian crisis. And it's been -- it's bombed the hell out of it. It -- I can't recognize the streets on pictures. And the government sort of negotiated for a green corridor to evacuate civilians. They sort of made sure that the evacuation transport can come near to the border and evacuate people. And once they were on their way to the city, the Russian forces began attacking them. The civilians. The just -- the evacuation buses. There's no way this was by accident.


MARHARIAN: This just makes me laugh. I'm sorry.

SCIUTTO: I know so much of this is about your hometown and your family. Tell us how that is driving you now.

MARHARIAN: With my hometown, I know -- I know it's difficult for people to sort of realize that the scale of the situation right now, but just imagine that there's a -- there's a city and there's a town, small town, and you've spent there 17 years of your life, you drove your bike over there and you went to school, you said hello to your neighbors, you lived and loved, you laughed there, and then the other day you see the town, it's completely bombed, and there's not a single house that is now watchable (ph) -- I don't know what's the right term is, I'm sorry.

SCIUTTO: Yes. No, I get it.

MARHARIAN: So, yes, I really -- yes, it drives me. It -- the last thing I want is for my beautiful Kyiv to repeat the destiny of my Volnovakha. And I'll do anything in my power to stop -- stop this aggression.

SCIUTTO: Well, Tata, the world is watching and they're seeing the kinds of sacrifices you and other Ukrainians are making. I can wish you best but also wish you safety.

Thank you for joining us.


SCIUTTO: She's seeing children dying and yet she has never been prouder of her country. This is the resolve we're seeing here but it's also the suffering we're seeing here now. And the world is watching.

Still to come, despite fierce Ukrainian resistance, Russian forces are making a slow, steady advance. General David Petraeus will join us next to discuss. What are the chances for the Ukrainian military going forward?

Plus, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians are now refugees seeking safety in neighboring countries. We're going to be live at the border watching that outflow.

And international sanctions, they're crippling Russia's economy, Putin now limiting how much cash Russians can withdraw.

Stay with us. There's so much going on this morning.



HILL: This morning, ground assault and heavy air strikes continue as Russian forces move to surround multiple Ukrainian cities. Video obtained by CNN shows Russian military vehicles throughout the strategic port city of Kherson. Now, Russia is claiming this morning it has taken control of that city. It is a claim that Ukraine denies, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Now, look at this, out of Kherson in the south, a man waving a Ukrainian flag in the faces of Russian tanks that have occupied what's known as Freedom Square there. Right there, staring down those barrels. That's the kind of defiance we're seeing in so many cities around the country.

Joining us now to discuss, retired Army General David Petraeus. He, of course, was the commander of U.S. Central Command, led the 101st Airborne Division as well in the 2003 Iraq invasion.

General, it's good to have you on this morning.

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Thank you, Jim.

SCIUTTO: As I've been watching this, and I'm sure you as well, watching this unfold, we are all impressed by Ukrainian resolve and some successes early on in the first week of this war. But, and I think we'll put the map up here, Russian forces are advancing, particularly in the south, more slowly in the east and the north, but they are getting into position to surround key cities. Without sounding pessimistic, really just wanting to be realistic, is Ukraine losing this war right now?

PETRAEUS: Well, they're losing some ground, Jim, but I don't think they're losing the war. In fact, I don't think that this is a war ultimately that Russia and Vladimir Putin can win. They can take a city, perhaps, but they cannot hold it. Again, urban combat, as I mentioned last time I was with you, is incredibly soldier intensive. They just don't have the numbers.


PETRAEUS: Beyond that, everyone in the entire country hates them and most of the adults are willing to take action against them, whether it's to take up weapons, or to be human shields, as we've seen in that one inspirational scene.

You have a president who is providing Churchillian leadership. The people are undaunted. And the Ukrainian forces continue to exploit their home field advantage, support of the population and the dramatic improvements that they've made since 2014.

So, what we're really going to see is the kind of continued activity around Kyiv, around Kharkiv and so forth, where the Russian forces can't even bring their combat power to bear. I mean they've literally created a traffic jam north of Kyiv. They can't get the forces off the road because the ground is very soft and soggy. Even track vehicles, not just wheeled vehicles, are having a tough time off road. So, again, they can't actually get their forces into combat, noting that, of course, a lot of that 40-mile convoy is also logistics vehicles as well.


So they're in a real bind and, tragically, I think there is frustration, and just the willingness to use whatever it takes will lead them to do more of what we have seen in the last 48 hours, which is to launch missiles, rockets, artillery, cluster bombs, even these horrific thermobaric weapons that suck the oxygen out of an area and out of lungs indiscriminately, frankly. Increasingly, government facilities, infrastructure, try to turn off the lights, they'll starve the population of Kyiv if they have to.

But that population, I don't think, is going to crack. You'll see millions certainly flooding into Poland and other countries to the west. But I think those that stay are going to remain unbroken and undaunted. And so they can temporarily (INAUDIBLE) an area, particularly a small city or a village, but they can't hold it because urban combat, in particular, takes an awful lot of soldiers.

So, they're in a difficult position, I think. And we have seen in the past, as you know, Jim, they do not hesitate when they're confronted with this kind of situation to destroy a city, like Aleppo in Syria or in Chechnya. And I fear they may do the same thing here.

The difference here, frankly, is that the world is watching in a way that was not the case again in Syria or Grozny, where they can control and keep out the kind of coverage that you and your, frankly, quite heroic comrades are providing.

HILL: They can't control that message because so much of it, as you point out, General, is getting out. And yet they are doing exactly what you said. I mean we see these attacks on civilian areas. We just heard from this incredibly brave woman who Jim interviewed, she is volunteering with the medical services. She talked about the attacks on her hometown. She talked about what she's seeing, direct attacks on civilians. So, yes, the media has changed. Russia can't control the narrative in the same way. But that, in no way, seems to be a deterrent.

PETRAEUS: Well, at some point, what you have to start watching is what's happening in the cities of Russia, actually. When do the people actually really rise up. Noting, of course, that demonstrators know that they will be treated very harshly, physically, and perhaps detained and given a criminal record. But again, at a certain point, you're going to see some of that.

You may also see Russian soldiers just start to refuse to continue to attack what really are their ethnic and often Russian-speaking brothers and sisters. There is a history of this, obviously. Russia is either expanding or collapsing is their history. And you also saw in the Russo-Japanese war in 2005 and then, of course -- or, 1905 and then of course also in 1917, very famously Russian forces essentially refused to support the regime at the time. That's what brought about the end of the czarist regime and brought in the communists of course.

So, these are all, I think, factors that are issues that we should watch and track. That could be what will finally perhaps lead President Putin to at least be willing to consider some way out of this. And then I think you have to persuade someone like former Chancellor Merkel to come out of retirement. She's had a few weeks off now. She'll be rested and ready to go. And to provide her with something that is somewhat reasonable because we do -- what we do not want to do is force someone who is in the state of mind that we see with Vladimir Putin into a corner with nothing to lose. That's where everyone will lose (ph).


HILL: General David Petraeus, always appreciate your insight. Thank you.

PETRAEUS: Thanks, Erica.

SCIUTTO: Well, last night, U.S. lawmakers, on both sides of the aisle, Democrats and Republicans, offered what has become such a rare show of unity during President Biden's State of the Union speech, standing in solidarity with the people of Ukraine, and Ukraine's ambassador to the U.S. multiple times.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let each of us, if you're able to stand, stand and send an unmistakable signal to the world, to Ukraine. Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.


SCIUTTO: The truth is, we saw those bipartisan standing ovations, good half a dozen times by my count, when the president made statements of solidarity and support for the Ukrainian people. Can't remember the last time I've seen that.

CNN's Jeremy Diamond now at the White House.

Jeremy, listen, I always want to put in a measure of realism given the divisions in Washington today.


Can President Biden build on that show of unity, at least as it relates to Ukraine?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, President Biden, last night, certainly demonstrated that