Return to Transcripts main page
New Day Sunday
U.S. And Key G7 Allies Expelling Some Russian Banks From SWIFT; Ukraine Under Russian Attack For Fourth Day; Western Intel: Invasion Slower Than Moscow Might Expect; UNHCR: 116,000-Plus People Flee Ukraine To Other Nations; Russian State-Controlled Media Looks Ineffective In Covering Ukraine Invasion; Surge In Gas Prices Expected Due To Ukraine Conflict; Ukrainian Civilians Take Up Arms. Aired 5-6a ET
Aired February 27, 2022 - 05:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Good morning. Welcome to this special edition of "NEW DAY." I'm Christi Paul.
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): I'm Boris Sanchez.
Right now Ukrainian forces are fighting the Russian military on many fronts. Russian forces have moved into Ukraine's second largest city, Kharkiv. People have been told to stay in their homes because it is now urban warfare, fighting in the streets.
Kyiv has been the scene of many fighting. It is the site of a large military airfield. Russia claims to only be targeting military areas but look at these images. A school was hit and a six-year-old boy was killed.
SANCHEZ: The United States, France, Germany and Australia are among the nations now sending military aid. Meantime, there are fresh efforts to punish Russia financially. This morning, the United States and European allies agreeing to cut off some Russia banks from SWIFT. That severely limits their access to the international banking system.
CNN is reporting from across the globe. Jasmine Wright has the latest from the White House. Fred Pleitgen is near Kharkiv and Michael Holmes is live in Western Ukraine in Lviv.
PAUL: U.S. officials say Russia is encountering, quote, "stiffer than expected resistance" from the Ukrainian military.
Do you get the sense that President Putin is surprised?
MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Who knows what is in his mind. A lot of people asking that. But analysts have said the Russians likely have been surprised at the Ukrainian fight. They've stopped the Russian advance in many places. Zelensky has been appealing for more international assistance. There
were more explosions around Kyiv overnight. Our teams saw that, lighting up the night sky. They've been running battles the outskirts.
Meanwhile, the second biggest city, Russian troops entering Kharkiv, that is significant. Fierce fighting going on there as well. Ukrainians say they are still holding them back.
Your point about stiffer resistance is true. You are seeing a lot of civilians and reservists getting into the fight. Matthew Chance reporting earlier on a group of people and civilians taking up arms.
One man told Matthew he had never held a weapon until now. Another there with a box of Molotov cocktails, petrol bombs. Imagine that against an advancing tank.
The bravery and the resilience is incredible. The other thing that has been sad to see, I've been speaking with a lot of regular Ukrainians. They, too, are defiant. They also fear for their country. I spoke to two separate mothers today.
They both raised the point, what do we tell our kids?
One said, when they hear the air raid sirens, she tells them to lay down and cover their ears and open their mouths in case of the concussion of an explosion.
How would you like to be telling your kids that as the bombs are exploding in the distance.
The humanitarian aspect is getting worse by the minutes.
HOLMES: Now 160,000 or so have crossed over into Hungary to Moldova and Romania. That is already clogging things up. Arwa Damon has been reporting from there on people taking 48 hours to get across the border in what is a very cold environment. It's cold here at night. And families out in those situations. That's 160,000. U.N. said it could be, at its worst, 5 million.
SANCHEZ: The makings of a humanitarian crisis in Eastern Europe. Michael Holmes, thank you so much.
Let's pivot to Fred Pleitgen on the Russian side of the border near the front line near in Kharkiv.
You've been there several days and the scale and importance of the kinds of weapons you've seen moving toward the border with Ukraine has added significance, especially in the last 24-48 hours.
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Russians said they've entered that city of Kharkiv, the final checkpoint right over there. Also we're seeing more ambulances go in and out.
The weapons going in there do seem significant. Last night, we saw a large column of T72 main battle tanks go in. That was just before the Russians saying they had broken through one of those layers, where we are hearing reports of that heavy fighting going on.
We have seen a lot of Russian rocket artillery fire toward Ukrainian territory. From our vantage point, it is impossible to tell if that is going toward Kharkiv. We are only about 35 miles away from Kharkiv, only 15 to 20 miles from the border with Ukraine.
So a lot of Russian vehicles coming in and out. Russians seem to be rotating a lot of forces. But more going in then coming out. So there is a lot of movement there as the Russians continue to press that offensive.
Also it is important for our viewers to know, with tougher going than the Russians may have anticipated, it seems from our advantage point, here at the last checkpoint and where a lot of Russians are staging forces, certainly, they still have a lot of troops and gear here. So if Vladimir Putin feels he needs to do so, it could escalate that situation.
PAUL: Fred Pleitgen, we appreciate it so much. What perspective. Thank you.
Let's go to CNN White House reporter Jasmine Wright.
We know the international community is tightening the screws here on Russia. More sanctions and weaponry being transported into Ukraine to support the resistance there.
What are you hearing from the White House?
JASMINE WRIGHT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Something of this scale has not been done, marking it a significant step of Western countries, trying to isolate Russia financially.
The U.S., European leaders and Canada announced a lot of punitive measures. But one of the most significant is what they plan do with the SWIFT financial system. It's a high security messaging system, as you see on the screen, which connects thousands of banking systems across the globe, putting messaging and helping process transactions.
So U.S. officials say they will cut off certain banks from that system. The goal there is to make it difficult or impossible for Russian entities to process transactions.
This came together pretty quickly. It was just Thursday President Biden was asked, why SWIFT wasn't included in that original number of sanctions.
WRIGHT: He said, frankly, European leaders were not ready to make that first step.
Well, now they are now ready to respond to Russia, trying to take restrictive measures and stop them from using reserves, something like 600 billion in reserves. And waves of sanctions from Western countries trying to knock off the ruble.
This came after President Biden met with his national security officials, trying to stay updated and in touch with his officials as they look to really respond to this continued aggression from Russia.
SANCHEZ: Jasmine, thank you very much.
Let's get some indepth analysis now from Atlantic Council senior fellow Michael Bociurkiw and Natasha Lindstaedt, a professor at the University of Essex.
Michael, fighting has broken out on the streets of Kharkiv. Help us understand the significance of that.
MICHAEL BOCIURKIW, SENIOR FELLOW, ATLANTIC COUNCIL: Sure. Good to be with you again.
As Michael Holmes pointed out, it is Ukraine's second largest city, very Russian speaking but no less patriotic. It is a center of learning and innovation. So a lot of folks moved to flee are those young people.
I could also mention about Lviv. This is far away from the fighting but it's feeling more like a city under siege. For example, on my way here, I talked to a lot of Ukrainians on their way to making Molotov cocktails. It is more difficult now to get money and food.
Those of us who were here received messages from people, who are close to intelligence sources, saying Putin may send something as a reminder that he's taking over Ukraine -- maybe an explosion.
One more quick thing. When you go to someone's home, the first thing you do is go down to see where their bomb shelter is.
SANCHEZ: How seriously Ukrainians are taking the threat, as noted, there may be some sort of sign from Vladimir Putin.
Natasha, the U.S. and European allies are expelling some Russian banks from SWIFT. They are considering targeting Russia's central bank.
How badly do these steps hurt Vladimir Putin?
NATASHA LINDSTAEDT, UNIVERSITY OF ESSEX: Emmanuel Macron referring to this move, banning the banks from SWIFT as some sort of a financial nuclear weapon. This would really, really hurt the Russian economy.
If we think about the sanctions, those made it very difficult for Russia's economy to grow. This will impact Russia's economy even more. It will impact the population, get more protests out there, create more instability and ultimately impact Russia's elites.
Now I'm always doubtful about sanctions on a really, really powerful nation and particularly with Putin, because he's becoming increasingly isolated. This was one of the most risky decisions he's made.
So I'm not sure how effective it'll be ultimately until the elites that prop him up start to put pressure against him.
Seeing him speaking with his advisors, they are more distant from him and appear to be afraid of him. But for sanctions to work, they have to hit the people that matter. In the meantime, they will really have huge damage to the Russian population.
SANCHEZ: Michael, some of those you spoke to were preparing Molotov cocktails and taking other steps to fight the Russians. There are military experts that suggest Kyiv may fall and this conflict will transition from an open warfare to an insurgency..
I wonder about that idea, that soon this will become guerilla warfare.
BOCIURKIW: A lot of them have not even held weapons before. But I think things like mobilizing and getting training quickly is happening to a big extent.
The other thing to note is that the young men, 18 to about 55, are expected to stay here and fight.
On another really important front, I'm hearing from a lot of people about the crisis at the border. It is a catastrophe. I just received a note from the editor-in-chief of the Ukrainian weekly in New Jersey. And he waited 27 hours on foot to cross the border.
A big reason is Ukrainians are doing identity checks to see who is leaving. But I think Western partners need to put gentle pressure on the Ukrainians to ease off and let people through.
Also the diaspora community needs to mobilize to provide financial support for whoever is needed, today, not tomorrow.
SANCHEZ: Critics have charged Vladimir Putin has weaponized migration before in Syria, for example, and this could be seen as other instance of that.
Natasha, I want to ask you about a delegation arriving in Minsk today. They claim they are there to talk with the Ukrainians.
Is there really hope these two sides will come to a diplomatic agreement?
LINDSTAEDT: I really don't think so. Belarus is not a neutral location. The president, Alexander Lukashenko, is basically a lackey of Putin. So that's not a neutral place to have any kind of discussions.
The time for talks, it's -- too much has happened at this point. This time for Ukraine is to fight back. They feel that the Russians have gone too far. They've engaged in what they call war crimes. They've been bombing indiscriminately.
The Russians claim they are targeting military when the Ukrainian president has aired that they are targeting civilians. So I think diplomatic efforts to come to some kind of agreement right now aren't going to happen anytime soon.
And I think Putin overplayed his hand and completely misunderstood the Ukrainian resolve to fight back. I think he thought he would quickly take over the country and get Ukraine to do what he wants it to do. I think he's been surprised by how much Ukrainians have fought back.
SANCHEZ: Now Ukrainian nationalism is at an all-time high and he's galvanized the Ukrainians to join NATO and the West.
Michael Bociurkiw, Natasha Lindstaedt, thank you both very much. We appreciate it.
So more than 150,000 people have been already forced to leave Ukraine. We'll have the latest on the growing refugee crisis.
PAUL: And we'll show you how cities around the world are standing against the Russian attack.
SANCHEZ: The last few days have had the makings of a humanitarian crisis. According to the United Nations, more than 150,000 people have already fled across international borders, going to neighboring countries.
PAUL: The largest group, which amounts to more than half, are headed to Poland. That's where we find CNN's Arwa Damon.
ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This bus has just arrived. Oh and we can see some sort of a reunion happening here.
This bus just arrived from the Ukrainian border. And there's been a steady stream of buses like this coming into this parking lot that has now turned into something of a makeshift reception center.
These people, the vast majority of them, would have walked for hours trying to just get across.
And you'll notice that most of them are women and children. And that is because men between the ages of 18 and 60 are not being permitted to leave.
All of these people here that you see holding up these signs, they're all volunteers. And on these cardboard pieces of paper are written the names of various different cities that people who are disembarking from these buses can get rides to, places where they can find free accommodation. One thing that is quite eerie when it comes to being here is just how quiet it is. People, you can see them as they're coming off the bus, are completely and totally shell-shocked.
And we have been talking to a number of people here and also at the train station.
DAMON: Many of them still struggling to comprehend exactly what it is that has happened, how it is that less than a week ago they were able to wake up in their own homes and now parents are having to figure out how to describe this to their children.
One mother we met as we were speaking to her she was smiling and she said, "I have to smile because it's the only way that I can control my hysteria."
And it's really quite jarring when you think about the reality that all of these children who are here, these mothers, wives, they all said goodbye to husbands, to fathers, to sons who have had to remain behind in Ukraine. So many families torn apart.
We've also met so many people here on this side of the border in Poland who say that their loved ones, their elderly are still inside, that they are unable to make the journey this far.
No one knows what's going to happen at this stage. No one knows what's going to be happening next.
And you really see just how sobering that reality is when you look at people's faces as they're coming off these buses, as they're trying to figure out exactly where they're going to go.
PAUL: Arwa Damon, thank you so much.
It's one of those situations where we watch that from the comforts of our homes and we can only empathize and not even imagine how this is for them.
If you'd like to help people in Ukraine, they need shelter, food and water. Go to cnn.com/impact. You will find several ways you can help them. We thank you in advance for doing so.
Also other pictures from around the world are this: people standing with Ukraine. Demonstrators are joining around the world to protest.
And what is the impact of it on this aggression?
[05:30:00] (MUSIC PLAYING)
PAUL: You've seen some of the pictures but listen to what is happening in Kyiv. The city on high alert, streets around the city are empty. We've heard many people are spending the night in subway stations and underground garages to try and stay safe.
SANCHEZ: As the invasion continues and conditions worsen, even more refugees are expected to pour into neighboring countries to escape the violence. Michael Holmes spoke to a member of the Ukrainian Parliament about the situation.
KIRA RUDIK, UKRAINIAN MP, HOLOS: Basically life is, first of all, you have to watch out for the sirens. And every time you hear the siren, you go to the bomb shelter. It's usually two or three times during the day and four, five times at night.
During the night, we usually expect Russian soldiers. And every evening, goal is to stand up until the morning because what they are doing, they firstly clothe the city with the shells, cover it with the shells.
Then at some point they just bring their people with the guns inside the city. So our army is hitting the strategic spots. And then the resistance, such as myself, is taking care of the smaller groups of Russian soldiers, who are coming into the city.
So far we have been doing very well, I think, in this matter.
So about the day-to-day life, we don't have the open supermarkets anymore, maybe one or two. And everybody has a storage of their food and the storage of water. So I have one bathtub in my house and it's filled with water, because we know there could be a shortage at some point and humanitarian issues.
We are getting ready and the days are spent in just driving around, helping each other to prepare because we are preparing both for siege or for attack.
And you know the worst thing?
The, really the worst thing is how you act and tell children why they have to get down to the ground when the sirens are on, about the air force attacks.
HOLMES: Right. You tweeted -- sorry, you tweeted that, while waiting for airstrikes to pass -- and I read this tweet.
You said this, quote, you imagined "what life would look like when the war is over."
Tell me what do you imagine? RUDIK: Well, as a member of Parliament, I'm like very practical.
And I'm very concerned about every hit that the Russians make, we will have to rebuild, right?
So I'm concerned about every time they say, oh, they blow the bridge; I'm thinking, oh, shoot, how are we going to rebuild that?
We will have to work with the traumas of our children after what they experienced. We will have to rebuild the country from scratch.
But if, at that point, there will be no Russia or no -- or Russia will be decapitated and we will not have to spend like 10 percent of all our income on the defense, then we'll have such a great chance to rebuild the country to a whole new world. This is what I'm thinking of.
HOLMES: You said earlier, and I want to go back to it, you said you think about what you should tell the children when all this is going on.
What do you tell them?
RUDIK: So my friend suggested this -- and I want to share it with the audience, that when you have to tell child that there will be an attack, you don't start with, all go on the ground.
You tell him, let's play a game of Turtle.
RUDIK: So you have to lay on your belly, you have to open your mouth and you have to cover your ears with your hands. This is how we pretend that we are turtles. We had to pretend we are turtles many times already.
HOLMES: What is it like to have to do that?
I mean, I can't imagine, as a parent myself, I can't imagine what it's like to have to tell kids that.
RUDIK: Well, so you -- first you got to be very calm and brave. And there are things that, when you are telling this, you're just like getting very, very angry. This is what makes me like take the Kalashnikov and go out, because I'm thinking, like why, why do Ukrainian children have to suffer through that?
Because the crazy tyrant decided he wants our land?
And they will be traumatized for life. And they will be -- God knows how their lives will turn out because now they will be survivors of the war. And that makes me so, so vicious that you can't even imagine. This is the best mood to go out and fight Russians.
(END VIDEOTAPE) SANCHEZ: The events in Ukraine have inspired people around the world
to go out into the street. In Brussels, protesters chanted their demands for peace. Across India, students called for Russia to leave Ukraine.
PAUL: A large rally took place in front of the White House. Thousands of people gathered there. CNN's Polo Sandoval is in New York, where demonstrations overtook Times Square.
POLO SANDOVAL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Here in the United States, it's been another day for so many Ukrainian Americans as they anxiously watch the events that are taking place half a world away.
Here in New York City, we saw one of the many demonstrations, peaceful rallies we've seen throughout the country, as a sea of blue and yellow flags, this pro-Ukrainian demonstration that took place in the heart of New York City in Times Square.
Their message loud and clear, not only standing in solidarity with the people in Ukraine that are caught in this crisis but also calling on the United States and other Western nations to do more to try to restore peace.
I want you to hear from a young Ukrainian mother who initially fled Ukraine's capital city in 2014 after that initial invasion that took place.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OLGA YARIGAL, PROTESTER: It's very painful to see how my friends and relatives stayed this night, making homemade bombs to stop the tanks. And the whole world is silent right now.
I think -- I would like to finish. I think that the whole world right now needs to unite because this is -- the history, all this repeats. And now the time to stop. It was the same thing when the Second World War started. But now is the time to say no and to stop one person, who keeps in fear the whole world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SANDOVAL: Among the many voices we heard from Saturday also included some Russian Americans, including one 31-year-old New Yorker, who was born in St. Petersburg and now lives here in New York City, participated in this demonstration today.
And certainly not lost on him that there are many of his fellow Russians, who have been arrested and detained in Moscow for taking part in the demonstrations that he participated in over the weekend -- Polo Sandoval, CNN, New York.
PAUL: Polo, thank you so much. Russian news coverage looks very different from what you are seeing
here on CNN and other Western news media.
SANCHEZ: Many of those Russian reports have proven false in recent days. Jill Dougherty has the details.
JILL DOUGHERTY, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY AND WILSON CENTER: In the West, Russia is usually depicted as a pretty sophisticated user of propaganda. But here in Moscow, the picture is somewhat different.
In fact, state propaganda, state media are looking more ineffective and kind of flat-footed when it comes to giving the final message (ph). For example, CNN and other broadcasters are showing live pictures of attacks in Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities.
Here in Russia, state media do not show live pictures from downtown Kyiv. Instead, they are showing what they say are attacks in the eastern part of the country, those breakaway Donbas regions, which, they argue, are being attacked by the Ukrainians.
It is part of the strategy and the messaging of the Kremlin. Then you also have the government forbidding independent media -- what's left of the independent media -- from using words like "war," "intervention" or "attack."
In government-speak it is "a special military operation." And the government also wants those outlets to use only official government information.
Now how are the Russians reacting to this?
Well, the majority of Russians do support the operation. But there are others who do not. And we've been seeing Russians on the streets of Moscow, St. Petersburg and other cities.
In fact, about 26-27 cities so far, who have been showing up and protesting, they are very quickly, usually detained and arrested.
DOUGHERTY: Then here in Moscow, there have been people who have gone to the Ukrainian embassy and laid flowers in support. Now in social media, there is a lot of support and attacks, really, on using any type of violence against Ukraine.
There are memes; people are using music in an anti-war protest. Finally, young Russians, if they are against the war, the thing that we are hearing the most from them is that they fear that their future in the West -- the ability to travel, the ability to study -- may be taken away, as Russia becomes more and more isolated because of this military action -- Jill Dougherty, Moscow.
SANCHEZ: Jill, thank you for that report.
Coming up, the Russian invasion is sending oil prices soaring. Next, a look at how that is impacting Americans at home. We'll be right back.
PAUL: It's 43 minutes past the hour now.
Russia's invasion of Ukraine could cause gas prices to reach $4 a gallon across the country in weeks -- or even sooner.
SANCHEZ: This morning, the national average price climbed to $3.60 a gallon, according to AAA. But earlier President Biden pledged to use every tool to help shield Americans from paying more at the pump. Camila Bernal has more.
CAMILA BERNAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Prices at the pump could continue to increase here and across the country. California leads the nation with these prices. At this gas station for premium you are paying $6.35; for what some would say is cheaper or regular gas, you are paying $6.31.
BERNAL: While prices may be lower in other parts of the country, we could all be impacted by the Russia-Ukraine crisis. In part it's because Russia is a major exporter and producer of oil. And Ukraine is a key energy transit hub.
So with this crisis, experts are predicting is $4 an average in the U.S. in a matter of weeks. That's the price we could see by mid-March. If so, it will be the highest price we've seen since the summer of 2008.
I talked to a couple of tourists, who told me, as soon as they saw the price, they had to take a picture and post it. The reaction they got was shock.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It makes a difference, especially when you are commuting to and from work or I work at a college. A lot of the college students are like, oh, my God, gas. Definitely something to be scared of.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I commute about 60 miles from Arizona. So it's really hitting my pocket because I spend about $15 a day each way to commute. So it is really adding up.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BERNAL: Experts believe, in California, $5 would be the average or the norm in just a couple of weeks. Other parts of the country where prices of gas are relatively lower, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, they may not get to that $4 average price.
But overall, everyone will likely see an increase. JPMorgan saying if there is some sort of disruption in the exports, then we'll see the price of oil increase. Right now, it's just under $100 a barrel. If there is a disruption, we are likely to see $120, $150 a barrel.
PAUL: Camila Bernal, thank you.
He has become the face of solidarity and defiance in Ukraine. How President Zelensky went from an actor to a wartime president.
SANCHEZ: The United Nations says more than 150,000 Ukrainians are fleeing but many have decided to stay and fight. They've taken up arms, fashioning weapons out of household items.
PAUL: These are civilians without any military training, who say they must step up. Matthew Chance has more.
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): These are Ukraine's civilian defenders, local residents taking up arms and ready to fight.
CHANCE: That's blood on the ground?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is his blood.
CHANCE (voice-over): Already here in a suburb of the capital, Kyiv, there's been blood spilled, deadly contact between these volunteers and Russian forces.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've never served in an army.
CHANCE (voice-over): Volunteers like Yuri, who was an economic analyst. He tells me, before this Russian invasion made him a fighter --
CHANCE: You work in an office but now you're defending your country, your city?
YURI, VOLUNTEER DEFENDER: Correct. I didn't think I would join this unit just two days ago. I thought that, you know -- I don't know how to handle guns. And yesterday it came to me that, Russians are in the city.
I mean, it's close to the point that I have completely changed my mind and I have decided that I should do something about it.
CHANCE (voice-over): Just hours before, this northern Kyiv suburb was the scene of firefights as Russian forces probe the Ukrainian capital. And the entire city and its residents are bracing and preparing for more.
CHANCE: Those are your Molotov cocktails?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
CHANCE: Show me.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is what I have to use to stop the tank.
CHANCE: These are your Molotov cocktails, your petrol bombs?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
CHANCE: You made these yourself?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. The people bring me this.
CHANCE: The people?
From the local --
CHANCE (voice-over): And they may be needed soon, very soon. As we left the building, more shots ring out. Russia's assault on the city seems at hand -- Matthew Chance, CNN, Kyiv, Ukraine.
PAUL: I think I've heard him referred to as a hero so many times in the last few days. I'm talking about Ukrainian President Zelensky. He says he is number one target for the Russians. But with Putin's forces, who are just miles outside of Kyiv at this point, Zelensky is not budging.
SANCHEZ: He even reject the United States' offer for evacuation, famous words, saying that he needs ammunition, not a ride. CNN's Brian Todd has more.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just three years ago, Volodymyr Zelensky may never have envisioned himself dealing with the largest conventional military attack in Europe since World War II. Zelensky was known to Ukrainians then as a comedian, playing the role of a schoolteacher in the series "Servant of the People."
On that show, Zelensky's character unexpectedly became president of Ukraine after ranting about corruption. Then life imitated art.
TODD (voice-over): Positioning himself as a political outsider, running on a platform of fighting corruption and ending the conflict in eastern Ukraine, Zelensky won a landslide victory over incumbent Petro Poroshenko in 2019.
JOHN HERBST, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: His background is Jewish. And he was very comfortable in what's called the Russia world. He made a great career for himself as a comedian and a businessman in part by appealing not just to Ukrainians but also to Russians.
TODD (voice-over): Just a few months into his presidency, Zelensky became enmeshed in the scandal that led to then President Donald Trump's first impeachment trial.
A phone call in which Trump leaned on Zelensky to investigate allegations of corruption against Joe Biden's family in Ukraine, allegations that were never supported by any evidence. Zelensky made no promises on the call and later denied Trump pressured him.
HERBST: He handled it well because he understood that what he's being asked was outrageous.
TODD (voice-over): But this crisis makes the Trump phone call seem almost trivial. This was the 44-year-old president's message to his country on Thursday.
ZELENSKY (through translator): The enemy has marked me as target number one. My family as target number two. They want to destroy Ukraine politically by destroying the head of state.
TODD (voice-over): According to Axios, Zelensky told E.U. leaders in a video conference Thursday, quote, "This might be the last time you see me alive."
TODD: How enormous is the pressure he's under right now?
SAMUEL CHARAP, RAND CORPORATION: It's really tremendous. I mean, he to a certain extent is alone and it's clear that the Russians have put a target on his head. So I certainly don't envy the position he's in.
TODD (voice-over): By Friday night, Zelensky's warning to his nation was dire.
ZELENSKY (through translator): This night will be very difficult. And the enemy will use all available forces to break the resistance of Ukrainians.
TODD: Is he in over his head overall?
CHARAP: You need a real like Churchill-type leader to excel at a moment like this. I think he is scrambling and trying to find the right tenor and the right message.
TODD: Even top Russian officials won't flat-out deny that Volodymyr Zelensky is in danger.
When asked by CNN, do you intend to decapitate the Ukrainian leadership, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov didn't say no; saying only, quote, "Nobody is going to attack the people of Ukraine." -- Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.
SANCHEZ: Brian Todd, thank you so much.
From building Molotov cocktails to standing in the way of Russian tanks, the Ukrainian people are refusing to back down, as the Russian military attacks for a fourth day. We'll have the latest from the front lines -- when we come back.