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Erin Burnett Outfront

One-On-One With Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired July 05, 2023 - 19:00   ET



ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, our exclusive interview with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Why he believes Putin is no longer fully in control. His fear of a massive nuclear terror attack and how he finds moments of calm in the face of war.

Let's go OUTFRONT.


BURNETT: And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett. Welcome to this special edition of OUTFRONT.

Tonight, our exclusive interview with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Russia's unprovoked and barbaric invasion of Ukraine remains one of the most important stories in our world today. And that's why we will be devoting the next hour to our interview with Zelenskyy, an interview that comes at a crossroads for Ukraine. Its much anticipated counteroffensive is underway. Zelenskyy discusses the timing with us and why he says there will be no end to the war until Crimea is back in Ukrainian hands.

It also comes after the armed insurrection, led by Putin's one-time loyal lieutenant and the head of the Wagner group, Yevgeny Prigozhin. You'll hear Zelenskyy discuss his intention about how much Russia supports Putin right now and the cracks in his inner circle.

And it comes on the eve of the crucial meeting for NATO. You'll hear Zelenskyy talk about the one person who matters on NATO right now.

Our wide-ranging conversation took place in Odesa, Ukraine's Black Sea port and the current home of its navy. Odessa is also just about 150 miles away from Crimea. And Zelenskyy was clear on this. This war is not over until Crimea is under Ukrainian control.

Now, we also spoke outside and I want to emphasize this, because Zelenskyy spends most of his time indoors, with little-to-no sunlight. His life is constantly under threat. He spoke about that and he spoke about what it meant simply to be for a few moments in the sun.

And we're going to get to my interview with Zelenskyy in just a moment. I want to begin, though, with Ben Wedeman who is in eastern Ukraine

tonight, where Ukrainian forces report nearly 60 attacks from Russian rocket launchers and nearly 47 air strikes in the past day.

And, Ben, Zelenskyy did talk to me in detail about the counteroffensive not happening as he'd like. Right now, though, around Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, where you are tonight, Ukraine is claiming some success on the battlefield.

What are you learning?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. They've been claiming some success for quite some time. But really, the going is very slow. They're focusing on the north and the south. Their strategic goal is to actually encircle the city in the hopes that the Russians will either surrender or simply pull their troops out.

But beyond what officials in Kyiv are saying, we actually got a little more insight today. We've been in contact with one of the units which is involved in the push to the south, around a town called Klishchiivka, which is just about a mile and a half from the outskirts of Bakhmut.

And what they told us was that the going is incredibly tough. They had expected by the end of last week to actually really be making progress. They are gaining ground, but really, it's just a question of yard by yard. And it's similar to the pattern we've seen in other areas. Ukrainian troops move forward, but as soon as they gained ground, they come under intense artillery fire from the Russians.

And keep in mind, the Ukrainians don't have the air power to really command the battlefield, to control the battlefield. And so, they're very much exposed to Russian air power, which is obviously more superior than the Ukrainian.

BURNETT: All right. Well, Ben, thank you very much.

And, of course, this is a good part of our conversation with President Zelenskyy, as well.

And here is our exclusive conversation with the president.


BURNETT: Mr. President, it is a great honor to be here with you. We are here, of course, today in Odesa. And across the Black Sea from where we are right now, Crimea.

How does it feel to be here on a beautiful day like this and to look out and to know that Crimea is there?

VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): I've been to the hospital today, where I saw our military, the navy personnel, marines who have been injured. And they all talk about Crimea.


Also, the doctors who save lives of these guys, and I congratulated the doctors with the Ukrainian Navy Day. And all these doctors are from Sevastopol.

And when the occupation of Crimea and Sevastopol happened, they escaped to the Ukrainian-controlled territories. They're all here.

I also visited the Ukrainian Navy Institute, which used to be based in Crimea, so everyone shares the same feeling of definite victory, definite return to Crimea.

I will tell you not as a president, but as a citizen, I used to adore Crimea, even before I become the president of Ukraine. Every year, we visited Crimea with my family. We cannot imagine Ukraine without Crimea, and while Crimea is under the Russian occupation, it means only one thing -- war is not over yet.

BURNETT: To be clear, in victory, in peace, is there any scenario where Crimea is not part of Ukraine?

ZELENSKYY: It will not be victory then, because this is what we're saying right in the beginning.

Even before the full-scale invasion, we understood that it's purely a matter of time when the contact line in Donbas and Crimea will turn into a war. It could be anything. It could have been our de-occupation steps or it could have been a full-scale invasion by the Russian Federation, which has happened.

They have been planning to annihilate us completely straight from the start. It's a fact.

Thank God that now apart from ourselves, the majority of the world believes it, too. That's why there cannot be any solution without Crimea. It could be the same frozen situation as in Donbas.

BURNETT: I know the U.S. CIA chief, Bill Burns, has come and visited you regularly. He was here recently. What did you tell him about your plans, to take back territory and the counteroffensive?

ZELENSKYY: To be honest with you, I was surprised to see the information in some media both in the U.S. and Ukrainian and European media. My communication with the CIA chief should always be behind the scenes, and the media attention, because we discuss important things, what Ukraine needs and how Ukraine is prepared to act. We don't have any secrets from CIA, because we have good relations and our intelligence services talk with each other.

The situation is pretty straight forward. We have good relations with the CIA chief, and we are talking. I told him about all of the important things related to the battlefield, which we need.

BURNETT: Do you feel -- I know you've talked about some frustration about the pace of the counteroffensive, how much pressure do you feel from the United States, from other allies, to try to give them dates or timelines of when gains may happen?

ZELENSKYY: Our slowed down counteroffensive is happening due to certain difficulties in the battlefield. Everything is heavily mined there. I wanted our counteroffensive happening much earlier, because everyone understood that if the counteroffensive will be unfolding later, then much bigger part of our territory will be mined.

Thus, we give our enemy time and possibilities in order to place more mines and prepare their defense lines. All of our commanders who I talk with constantly were discussing this situation. The Russians have built three defense lines in some directions.

I'm grateful to the U.S. as the leaders of our support, but I told them, as well as European leaders, that we would like to start our counteroffensive earlier. And we will need all the weapons and materials for that. Why? Simply because if we start later, it will go slower, and we will have losses of lives because everything is heavily mined, and we will have to go through it all.

The main thing which gives me a positive support is that we move forward. This is the main signal.

When it comes to our partners, I didn't see any pressure to start the counteroffensive. In some media, I heard the noises from this or that leader or the representatives that they expected our counteroffensive happening much earlier. Yes, I've heard all of that, but we believe in our victory.

BURNETT: On the front lines, I saw Ukrainian infantry. They were -- they were dealing with the fields of mines, you know, that Russians would just throw them out and not even -- not even hiding them. They're dealing with the little tiny trip wires for grenades that they laced all the way through the forest.

You have human beings now going in to try to take 100 feet, 200 feet of land at a time.

Is there anything that would change that speed dramatically?


Is this something when you say F-16s are necessary or ATACMS are necessary, would that make a difference to those infantry walking through fields?

ZELENSKYY: Today, we've got a different war. Not only people die, first and foremost, we need material to save human lives and this material gives results.

When we talk about ATACMS, they are very important because we can hit some long-distance targets without losing our people. The fact that Russia has advantage on the ground and has more long-range weaponry is one of the things, but ATACMS are very important.

Will this accelerate our moving forward? Yes, 100 percent, because in some directions, it will give us opportunities to start the counteroffensive. In some directions, we cannot even think of starting it, as we don't have the relevant weapons.

And throwing our people to be killed by Russian long-range weapons will be simply inhumane. So we're not going to do it, and ATACMS is definitely our priority.

We also have shortages in artillery. We cannot hit all the targets because of the absence of the quantity in our own artillery. We gather some units in the priority directions, but we cannot divide it between many. We lack quantity. This is a fact.

As F-16s, I emphasized on it many times. It's not even about the Ukrainian advantage in the sky over the Russians. This is only about being equal.

F-16s help not only those on the battlefield to move forward, it's simply very difficult without a cover from the air. We've got losses of lives and slowing down.

However, let's look at F-16s as a very important humanitarian mission. We've talked about it many times, the grain initiative. Erin, we are today in Odesa, the grain corridor, extremely important for the whole world is happening just here. It's important for Africa, Asia, for the countries of Europe, et cetera.

Today, if the Russians are beginning to block this corridor, we don't have anything to answer this. F-16s give us the possibility to build the defense of this corridor.

BURNETT: Mr. President, you recently said that you have dealt -- and I'll quote you the way -- the way it quoted -- with different Putins. It's a completely different set of traits in different periods.

Now, of course, he's faced a rebellion, an attempted coup from Yevgeny Prigozhin.

Have you seen any changes in how you think he's acting, in his behavior since the attempted coup?

ZELENSKYY: Yes, we see the reaction after certain Wagner steps. We see Putin's reaction. It's weak. Firstly, we see he doesn't control everything. Wagner is moving deep into Russia and taking certain regions shows how easy it is to do.

Putin doesn't control the situation in the regions. He doesn't control the security situation. All of us understand that his whole army is in Ukraine. Almost entire army is there.

That's why it's so easy for the Wagner troops to march through Russia. Who could have stopped them?

We understand that Putin doesn't control the regional policy, and he doesn't control all of those people in the regions. So, all of that vertical of power that he used to have just got crumbling down.

Further down, we see very interesting analytics. Half of Russia supported Prigozhin. Half of Russia supported Putin. We know from our intelligence reports that Kremlin was conducting all

of those surveys -- 18 or 19 regions of Russia firmly supported Prigozhin's actions, 21 regions of Russia firmly supported Putin. Some of the Russian regions were in the balancing, in the meantime, without knowing for sure who to support.

We all see this process that shows half of the Russian population is in serious doubt. All of those stories that he controls everything, these are fable stories now. So this is a different Putin. And I don't mean a different person.

This is a different Putin when it comes to his power. It's an old person, not a perky person. This is someone who doesn't control what is happening.

When he is so weak now and he made this historic mistake by invading Ukraine, this invasion created all the rest, the power of Wagner, Prigozhin's fame, uncontrolled situation in his own country.

This is what his full-scale invasion brought upon him. In this moment when he is weak, this world needs to put pressure on him.

BURNETT: But you're saying half -- half of the Russian regions did not support Putin, would support Prigozhin.


So -- so does that mean there would be another challenge to Putin's power? I mean, that's a dramatic split.

ZELENSKYY: I think that Putin will make an attempt to consolidate his society. He will make everything in order to break and nullify the Wagnerites' fame and everything they were doing. He will be distancing himself from all of that and will be communicating extensively in order to unify the society.

The society is un-unified. Pay attention to this interesting example. After all of these events, where did Putin go?

I can tell you, he rarely comes out to the street. We see him in his offices, et cetera, but we never see him out and about.


ZELENSKYY: Where did he go? He leaves his bunker only when it's extremely needed. He went to the town of Derbent in the Dagestan Republic, if I'm not mistaken.

The stats show that Putin's popularity is the lowest in Dagestan. A lot of locals died whom he sent to the war to die, and Prigozhin is very popular there.

So he's behaving like a political animal. He goes to Dagestan. They film the staged video showing certain people applauding him, in order to show this region as a pro-Putin one.

BURNETT: Yeah, they were surrounding him and -- yeah.

ZELENSKYY: Yeah, yeah.

He just goes to difficult regions and performs his one-man show.

BURNETT: Do you believe he's fully in charge of the military right now? When it comes to your front line and this counteroffensive, do you believe Putin is fully in charge of the Russian military?

ZELENSKYY: I don't think he fully controls all the processes. He gives orders to the commanders. It's understood. They are scared to lose their jobs, but he doesn't understand and doesn't control the middle layer of the Russian military, nor the lower-ranked officers and soldiers.

Sometimes, we see it quite clearly, when he's talking about some towns or villages, that they are under the Russian flag. But in reality, all of them are under the Ukrainian control. It means he just doesn't get all of the understanding what's happening, as he's only being fed some positive information. He doesn't want to hear bad news.

I reiterate the aging autocrats don't want to process negative emotions. We are dealing with reality.

They are in a bad situation. That's why their commanders started supporting Prigozhin. For us, he's a terrorist, whereas for them, he's someone who was with them on the battlefield. He was with the Wagnerites, with those murderers, but he came to the front line, sat in the trenches and so on.

That's where he got his support from.


BURNETT: And next, more of our exclusive interview with President Zelenskyy, including an extraordinary moment. Zelenskyy speaking in English, making a dramatic plea to President Biden ahead of a crucial meeting.


ZELENSKYY: Invitation just technical thing. Just wording. Invitation, Ukraine to NATO.

BURNETT: Not down the line. Now.



BURNETT: Plus, Zelenskyy revealing new intelligence about Russia's preparations for an attack on the largest nuclear power plant in Europe using remote-control detonators.

And he has survived countless assassination attempts. Every day his life is on the line. Zelenskyy will talk about how he copes with the constant threat to his life.




BURNETT: Is there any change in power that could happen in Moscow that would change this war, that would rapidly change this war?

Minister Kuleba told me the other day, the coup was a force majeure event. No one could expect it. Had it lasted longer, things may have changed here.

Is there any scenario where some things changes in Moscow where you see a rapid change here?

ZELENSKYY (through translator): He's losing confidence in his inner circle. This confidence was built upon intimidation of the entire world. He was intimidating the whole world with different kinds of threats, controlling many countries and different politicians in Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Moldova, and influencing some European leaders. He was controlling it all in different ways.

Today, Ukraine shows that Putin is not in control. He started the full-scale invasion.

Now Europe is rejecting this control. There are some countries remaining who support Putin's policies, but they are fewer and fewer of those.

I think the most important structure of today is NATO. The NATO country should say it quiet clearly that Ukraine will become a NATO member. I think after that, Putin's inner circle who believed his words that they would never allow Ukraine to become a NATO and E.U. member will just tumble down.

This is very important. On his own, Putin will become even weaker. Some may think that he will be issuing threats. On the contrary, there's no need to be afraid of him, as a weak Putin will be looking for ways to negotiate with the Western world, with the civilized world.

BURNETT: We are days away from the NATO summit. Have you had any assurances, at least even from the United States, that they will directly support Ukraine's bid for membership?

ZELENSKYY: I'm grateful to the U.S. for their support. President Biden and the U.S. Congress, both parties despite their preparations for the elections pay a great deal of attention to the war in Ukraine. They are on our side and they support us. It's difficult for Ukraine to survive without the U.S. support and it's a fact.

I'm very direct when saying this. Without the U.S.'s help, it will become a frozen conflict.


With the U.S.'s help, we will de-occupy our territory. De-occupation of any next town is weakening Putin. We don't have to be scared of that.

The U.S. decide today whether Ukraine will get invited to NATO. This is today's situation and it's a fact. The majority of the NATO countries support inviting Ukraine to NATO.

BURNETT: The majority support?

ZELENSKYY: Those who have their doubts look only at President Biden and he knows that this depends on him. It will be his decision.

BURNETT: So he has a -- he has a decision to make coming into this weekend?

ZELENSKYY: Yes. For today, yes.

He's a decision maker for today, to be Ukraine in NATO or not to be. But I -- we have great relations. I mean, that -- so he support our future in NATO. But we are speaking now about very, very important for motivation of our soldiers, fact (ph).

BURNETT: Mm-hmm.

ZELENSKYY: No -- invitation, just technical thing. Just wording. Invitation, Ukraine to NATO.

BURNETT: Not down the line, now?

ZELENSKYY: Now. It's very important. It will push Russia. It will push our soldiers to de-occupate quicker because of the mobilization of the people.

It's so important and -- to feel that you are really be in -- through, around allies in the future. But we know that we will never be in NATO before war finished.


ZELENSKYY: So we understand everything. But this signal is really very important, and depends on Biden's decision.

BURNETT: And time matters.

You know, I met with an infantry soldier named Vlad the other day. He was a history teacher before the war. He's fighting now on the front line near Zaporizhzhia.

And he has not seen his wife or his children in a year. But he said it's okay. He's waiting for victory. He was -- he was fine to wait. But it's been a year.

And when you talk about needing Biden to say something now, I wonder, Mr. President, how long can your troops keep fighting like they are now?

ZELENSKYY: It depends on some things, which we both understand. It depends on support, with weapons from our partners, depends on financial support, but any kind of support, with energy supplies, sanction. Yet, it all depends on the moral obligations and political decisions and political will of our partners. The Ukrainian motivation will not diminish.

What can we lose? We can lose everything. What can we gain? We can gain victory.

What is our victory? It means returning everything of our own. That's why we don't have it any other way.

How can we lose our motivation when willing to survive? We defend our common values, democracy and freedom. But in our case, freedom and democracy are not just words. In our case, this is our life.

We are in Odesa now, and if we don't defend our coastline, the Russians will be here tomorrow and we won't have our sea. If we won't have our sea, we won't have any logistical way to sell and grow our crops.

So we will be losing our country. So we are fighting in order to not be a desert.

BURNETT: I know when I talk about Vlad not seeing his children, I know that you aren't -- as president, you're not able to live with your own children, like so many of your soldiers on the front lines.

Mr. President, when people see you, they see maybe a loneliness, a loneliness that so many here feel. You feel, too, that you are also suffering. How do you manage that pain?

ZELENSKYY: With some pain. Yet, it's not a pain which was in the first days of the invasion. I experience pain when I saw with my own eyes the consequences of occupation in Bucha and other places. It was a pain as I was just trying to understand what we should do to prevent all of this.

It's not a reel and we cannot rewind things. We cannot retake this or that frame. This is not a film. This is a reality.

That was my pain for all the losses that we had. But today, it's not a pain. It's a big obligation and respect for those who are no longer with us.

This is an obligation to stand here until the end and rebuild what people were dying for. Rebuild a peaceful life in Ukraine.


If we give what is most valuable for us, our life and our time with children, which you just mentioned, okay, maybe another half a year or a year, let's think it will happen sooner, and after that, our life will go on. The life of our children will go on. If we give up now, we'll have a complete exile, as we will lose

everything for sure and our children will go elsewhere. Those who can will escape. And those who can't will just die here.

That's why we have to stay and fight. The world should understand that we are fighting for our common values, because Putin won't stop here. He will go further.

It wasn't just rumors when I was saying that he will go to Poland and the Baltic states. You will see, he will go further.

When he was transferring the Wagnerites to Belarus and frightening the Poles and the Lithuanians, at first, he's intimidating them. But give him an opportunity to grow his force, use Ukraine, and he will go further. And NATO will decide then what to do.


BURNETT: And next, more of my exclusive interview with President Zelenskyy, including this --


BURNETT: How does knowing that you are, as many say, one of the top targets in this world for death, how does that impact how you live, Mr. President?


BURNETT: Plus, Zelenskyy opens up about how he clears his mind every day in rare moment of solitude, starting his mornings with AC/DC and Eric Clapton.




BURNETT: I saw a poll this week that 80 percent of the people in this country have a family member or a friend who has died or been injured, and of each of those people, they each know seven people who have died or been injured.

This is truly incomprehensible trauma for many around the world to even, comprehend, Mr. President. How do you help people? Because they tell us, they look to you, that you represent for them these values of freedoms and democracy that they're fighting for. How do you help them bear this terrible burden of loss?

ZELENSKYY (through translator): We don't have 100 percent efficient medicine in this situation. And when we are looking for a medicine or support for people in order to somehow find a substitution for their loss, I think this is all just a lie. Because when you lost your near and dear, what can substitute your loss? Warm words, money, some support? Maybe a psychological one? All of this still can no patch up that hole in the middle of a person.

Nobody will substitute the love that Putin and his army took away. So you can just be near them and with those people, fight and definitely do not forgive those who took all of this away, despite the fact that we don't have a coordinated plan on the tribunal in the world, but you yourself have to know that those people need justice.

If we won't find justice for all of these murderers later on, justice for Ukraine through the sentences for all of these murderers. This space inside people will be filled with hatred and revenge.


Is there -- is there ever forgiveness for the Ukrainians who were in occupied territory, who may have collaborated or may have gone along with the Russians and maybe they'll say they felt they had no choice? But to unite Ukraine, will there be forgiveness?

ZELENSKYY: The most difficult situation will be happening in the society, because you need time for everything. Sometimes time heals, and as I mentioned, the justice heals, too. I'm convinced, but the sentences should be happening. People should know, if you were a murderer and was fighting against Ukraine, you will be sentenced.

Even if you were made by force to kill Ukrainians, you will be answering for your deeds. Nobody will forgive you and you won't be able to explain all of this. However, those who were under occupation and were not fighting on the side of the enemy, they are Ukrainians.

In any case, time will answer those questions, and so will our law enforcement agencies.

We have our interior minister, which is working now on the security platform for the temporary occupied territories. There will be answers to this question, too.

BURNETT: You know, you live every day knowing in a very tangible way, you and many other Ukrainians, that you may die, in a very tangible way. In the first few weeks of the war, Ukrainian intelligence said that you had survived a dozen assassination attempts and who knows since then, right? It's not something to even track.

But how does knowing that you are, as many say, one of the top targets in this world for death, how does that impact how you live, Mr. President?

ZELENSKYY: I'll be honest with you and tell you I've decided, if I will be thinking about it constantly, I will just shut myself down, very much like Putin now who doesn't leave his bunker.

If I will isolate myself, I won't understand what's going on around me in the country. I will lose the connection with society. And if I lose this connection, I will lose the society.

I'm convinced that society has to see if they are at risk, their president is at risk, too, together, with them. Of course, they understand that I have protection, et cetera, but I have to be on the same side with my people. You know you can get yourself into a cage like an animal and chain yourself there constantly, thinking that you are just about to get killed. Of course, my bodyguard should think of how to prevent this from happening, and this is their task.


I don't think about it. Clearly, those sabotage groups might be back again and try to get rid of me.

In all wars, they wanted to get rid of leaders of thoughts, leaders of countries, all sorts of motivators. So I leave this to the professionals and I will free my mind to resolve the strategic issues.

BURNETT: Mr. President, thank you so very much for your time.

ZELENSKYY: Thank you very much. Thank you for you. And thank you for your coming. It's so important.

BURNETT: I'm glad to be here. I'm glad to be here again.

ZELENSKYY: It's important.


BURNETT: Our rare, extensive access to Ukrainian President Zelenskyy actually did not stop there, because after that formal portion of our interview ended, the conversation continued and Zelenskyy opened up some more. He talked about the threat he sees to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, sharing intelligence he has received about a remote-controlled terror attack.

Plus, he got personal.


BURNETT: Do you anything for yourself? Are you ever able to take a minute to read or to listen to music or something to sort of give yourself that moment?




BURNETT: And welcome back to this special edition of OUTFRONT.

Our exclusive interview with Ukrainian President Zelenskyy comes at a time of very intense tension around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which as we have said, again and again, is the largest in all of Europe. A crisis there would be a crisis for hundreds of millions.

And tonight, President Zelenskyy reveals very specific intelligence about Russia's plans he says to attack the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: Zaporizhzhia.


BURNETT: I know you've been touring the nuclear plants. You have warned that Putin could be prepared to have a terrorist attack on Zaporizhzhia.

Do you feel that that could be imminent?

ZELENSKYY: So -- I have learned from intelligence, I have documents. I don't -- I can't tell you what kind of documents, but it's something connecting with Russia.

I said that they are technically ready to do something. It's very important that they mined some local minings. Yes, local --

BURNETT: At Zaporizhzhia.

ZELENSKYY: Yeah, at Zaporizhzhia in the station. They are technically ready. And that's why we have pushed (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE) in English?

IAEA, yes, IAEA, yes, and we pushed them, and we said, look, your team there, there are four. There are four -- four people. And this plant is like city. It's really like city.


ZELENSKYY: It's huge, it's very big. Four people will not find mines.

You have to invite more people and stuff from other countries. Some countries which have also nuclear plants, and they can be also -- they will help you to manage, to find, to search, and et cetera.

And they said, yes. There is weapon on the territory, but we didn't see mines. And I said, even if you have 1,000 people there, you will not find mines.


ZELENSKY: Yes, because your -- because it can't be so. It's a big, big work, big -- and you need big, big team for it.

We just tell you that we think that it's dangerous for today. This special team has to take it and to check, because, in the documents, there was some signal that they could mine it with, you know, how to say -- distance --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Distance mining.

BURNETT: Distance detonation.

ZELENSKYY: Yes, you understand it, yes. BURNETT: Yes.

ZELENSKYY: To give IAEA the ideas, to give IAEA, and then IAEA will say that everything is under control, everything is good. Ukrainians, stop please. And in one week, they will blow.

That's why it's a very dangerous moment.


BURNETT: And I just want to emphasize what President Zelenskyy is saying there. He's saying that his intelligence shows that Russia has the ability, that they have placed mines that would allow them to set off an explosion at the nuclear power plant using a remote-controlled device after it was handed back to Ukraine, a week later, that they could detonate from a distance.

Now, that's what his intelligence shows they have set themselves up to do. It's a terrifying event, of course, would lead to a major and catastrophic escalation in this war.

And next, President Zelenskyy opens up about what he does personally every single day to cope with being a wartime president 24/7.

And I'll tell you what's behind this moment of levity with the president.



BURNETT: Welcome back to this special edition of OUTFRONT and our interview with President Zelenskyy.

Nearly 17 months into the war, Zelenskyy talked about how the war is personally affecting him and how he finds moments of calm, even as, of course, he is dealing with life and death every day.


BURNETT: Well, we were talking about before how nice it is for you to be able to be --

ZELENSKYY: Yes, to see the nature.

BURNETT: To see nature and the sun. I know they -- they said there's always drones, they are surveilling. They're -- you must appreciate being outside.

ZELENSKYY: Yes. I'm happy to be. Yes, I really don't have time. And I sit in the cabinet.

And, of course, it's great (ph) sometimes to find feeling from people. It's very important. When you see people outside, and they are -- they are clapping or they want just to -- to shake your hand.


ZELENSKYY: It's very important moment. It mean that you do something important for people and --

BURNETT: Yes, gives you energy?

ZELENSKYY: Yes, energy is so important for me. Just -- not only sun. Just to see people, it's important for me.


ZELENSKYY: Yes, not to lose this connection.

BURNETT: As a human being, so many people look up to you. They rely on you. No one can imagine how hard that is.

Do you -- do you do anything for your -- to yourself? Are you able to take a minute to read or to listen to music or something to sort of give yourself that moment?

ZELENSKYY: I have such moments, important to be in silence, to be alone. Alone -- how can I be alone? Alone, I can be with music, it's true, or with a book.

And early -- early in the morning, when there are no sounds -- sounds in --

BURNETT: No air raid sirens.

ZELENSKYY: No people, no, nobody -- I mean, people, our staff, I mean, nobody is in my cabinet, nobody --


ZELENSKYY: I can just read, think, think, and the music helps, really.

BURNETT: What music do you like?

ZELENSKYY: Oh, I like AC/DC, and the Ukrainian music. Of course, I like Ukrainian music a lot of because Ukrainian -- that's native language, that's why you understand not only music, you understand the words, and et cetera.

AC/DC, I don't understand all the words because of --



BURNETT: You like the music.

ZELENSKYY: Yeah. I like the energy of AC/DC. I like Eric Clapton. A lot of -- a lot of -- Guns N' Roses -- maybe it's too old music for --

BURNETT: I understand. We're the same, we're the same. Yeah.


ZELENSKYY: I love it.

No, no, it's important to have some -- sometimes at 6:00, 7:00 in the morning, some trainings --

BURNETT: Workout.

ZELENKSYY: Yes, workouts. Or to do something with music, with such music, which gives you energy for all the day.

BURNETT: To get through it, right.


BURNETT: I mean, you -- you are a human being.


BURNETT: And next, I'm going to tell you what was happening in this moment with President Zelenskyy.


BURNETT: As we leave you tonight, we want to show you some of the behind the scenes efforts that went into our interview with the Ukrainian president. The security and the secrecy were intense for a rare and extensive interview outside of Kyiv filmed entirely outdoors. We were told there were Russian surveillance drones over Odesa.

We were not sure if it would remain outside or even happen. But it did, and you're looking at some of the preparation by our incredible team.

And then there was this picture of him laughing. It felt like it just captures him as a human being. I mean, remember, he used to be a comedian and a television star. And even as he defined this moment and impacted the entire world with his leadership, and he really has, when you think about it -- he is still a person, just a person who can laugh. In this moment that we are seeing, he was simply taking joy in being in the sunshine.

Thanks so much for joining us.

"AC360" starts now.