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Kyiv on Heightened Alert as Russian Forces Close in on All Sides; CNN on Scene as Ukrainian Refugees Flee to Poland; U.S.: Putin Has 50 Percent-Plus of "His Total Assembled Power" in Ukraine; CNN Inside Ukrainian City Enduring Heavy Russian Shelling; Massive Explosion Strikes Ukrainian Capital of Kyiv. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired February 26, 2022 - 17:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news.

Fierce street battles are up as Russia's war moved deeper and deeper into the Ukrainian capital, advancing right now from all sides. Residential areas now under fire, including an apartment building hit by a missile.

Tonight U.S. officials say the Russian invaders are facing stiffer than expected resistance from Ukrainian forces. We're learning about a new vulnerability for Vladimir Putin's military, as Ukraine's president is vowing his nation will never give up.

Our correspondents are in key locations in Ukraine, Russia and here in the U.S. for CNN's special war coverage.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer, and this is a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM.

All right. Let's begin with our coverage of this truly dire situation that is unfolding right now -- right now in the Ukrainian capital.

Our chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward has details.


CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): A man stands on his balcony, looking out at a new reality, just hours after a missile slammed into his apartment building. It was 8:00 a.m. when the projectile hit, destroying parts of the 22nd and 23rd floors. According to Ukrainian authorities, two people were killed.

Officials here say it was a Russian strike. But Russia's ministry of defense claimed it was a Ukrainian anti-aircraft missile that went awry. Whoever was responsible, this is what happens when war comes to a major city. Homes and lives are destroyed.

At the city's central train station a frantic dash, as people try to escape to the west of the country. "Step back," the train conductor says, "step back". She tells the crowd to leave their bags to make room for more people.

(on camera): She just said women and children can get on the train now. You can see people pushing to get on. They've got their pets. They've got their babies. And they're trying to get on this train to get out of here.

(voice over): Ukraine's railway services say they're evacuating 5,000 people a day. Every single space is precious.

"We will stand," this woman pleads. "It's full," the conductor tells her. Inside the carriage, it's standing room only. A woman waves good bye to her family. Who knows when she will be able to return. Her daughter, Tamara, has made the tough decision to stay behind.

(on camera): For many people it will be hard to understand how brave you are to stay here, and not to try to leave and get somewhere safe.

TAMARA BAKOVA, KYIV RESIDENT: It's not brave. If you could just understand. It's my city, it's my hometown, it's my homeland, it's my country. and I'm not the one who should leave. The Russians are the ones who should leave. And they would leave. I wouldn't not leave this city before they are.

WARD: Reporter: do you think many people are like you and they're ready to do everything they can to get Russia out?

BAKOVA: I'm not -- I'm not thinking. I know.

WARD: Reporter: this is the sort of extraordinary resistance Russia is facing here. 100 miles northeast of Kyiv, a man tries to block a Russian tank. He kneels in front of it, determined to stop it in its track. For a brief moment, he does, before the column pushes on towards the capital.


BLITZER: And Clarissa Ward live right now. Clarissa, you're in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. Clearly the lights are out for a very, very important reason, a very good reason. Tell us what is happening there right now.

WARD: That's right, Wolf. Well, we are on a heightened state of alert even here in Kyiv. We've been told by Ukrainian security forces to take our position down off the roof, which we had, also to try to use as little light as possible, because the anticipation is now that in the coming hours or frankly minutes, we just don't know, there could be a major assault on this city.


And I think the assumption is that that might include pretty serious aerial bombardment. We really don't know any details yet. We're just being given instructions by Ukrainian officials. Also the hotel alert system has been going off, instructing people to evacuate as soon as possible.

And if you look out there behind me, which you can't really do very well, because we have turned most of the lights off, you can barely see a light out there, Wolf.

People are hunkered down tonight. They are fearing the absolute worst. It's been an almost agonizing wait these last few days, even as the fighting and the bombardment has continued.

People have understood that they hadn't seen the worst yet and so every night the fear that even worse times are to come, and tonight, as I said before, this city very much on a heightened state of alert, Wolf.

BLITZER: It's after midnight in Kyiv where you are and Clarissa, remind our viewers that Kyiv, yes, it's the capital of Ukraine, but it's also a city of nearly 3 million people who are now facing potentially a major Russian assault, as you say in the coming minutes, certainly within the coming hours.

WARD: That's right, Wolf. 2.9 million people living here and it's just surreal to think that a week ago we were -- occasionally when we had some time during our workday, sitting in cafes, talk to young Ukrainians, and all of them expressed the sense of disbelief. They could not actually envision that this scenario could play out whereby Russia would invade their country.

And certainly I don't think anyone imagined that they would be hunkered down in the dead of night, told not to have any lights on, told to evacuate to shelters if they possibly, awaiting what may be a huge sort of assault on the capital.

Now, we do know Wolf, that Ukrainian forces have been putting up a pretty fierce resistance. I mean you saw that image, that powerful searing image of an older man, kneeling down in front of that tank.

And that is an attitude that is reflected across this country. People are willing to kneel down and fight and do whatever they can to try to slow down this assault. I think there is, you know, an undisputable fact here, which is that the Ukrainians are outmanned and outgunned. But they're up against one of the world's most sophisticated militaries.

But notwithstanding that, it's pretty extraordinary to see how uncowed people are, how determined they are to resist in whatever way they can.

Just last night on Ukrainian television, the shows were telling people how to make Molotov cocktails. The military even came out and suggested to people don't leave your house. Stay in cover but make Molotov cocktails and throw them out the window.

And I think that says a lot about the spirit of these people. They want to be involved in this fight against President Putin and the Russian military, Wolf. BLITZER: The Ukrainian president, what can you tell us about his

whereabouts right now? Because he's been making statements -- very bold, very courageous statements that he's not leaving, although some foreign government have said they could try to help him escape if he wants to. He has pointed out, he's target number one for the Russian military.

WARD: It's pretty extraordinary. I think a lot of people had wondered how President Zelenskyy would sort of rise to this occasion. This is a man who was a comedian, who is not a military man, who does not have a political background.

And yet, what we have seen in these last few days since this invasion began has been pretty extraordinary courage. He has been posting videos from all around the city of Kyiv, telling his people that he's with them, showing that his cabinet, many of them, are also still here in the city because a lot of people had speculated that perhaps he would try to flee.

We know at one stage that the Americans were encouraging him to try to get out of the city because clearly the purpose of this whole thing, Wolf, for the Russians is to try to incapacitate the current government and install a pro-Kremlin regime.

And so when President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says that he is the number one target, he's really not exaggerating. His life is very much in danger here. And so the fact that we continue to see these messages coming out from various parts of the city in which he warns his citizens that the Russians are going to try to storm the capital, I'm sure it gives a lot of people strength to see that in a moment like this, although it probably also makes them fearful for President Zelenskyy, because he's obviously in an extremely dangerous position as we wait for this assault to unfold and perhaps to reach something of a crescendo, Wolf.


BLITZER: And I just want to remind our viewers, you're reporting very courageously, Clarissa, in the dark, no lights there. Ukrainian military has told everyone in the capital of Kyiv, turn off their lights right now. They're bracing for a major, major Russian assault on the Ukrainian capital.

If you're comfortable, and only if you're comfortable, Clarissa, I'd like you to stand by. If not, we of course want you and our crew to remain safe, that is our top, top priority. But stand by for a moment if you can -- only if you can.

In the meantime, I want to bring in our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto. He's in western Ukraine for us right now.

Jim, you have new information, I'm told, about the problems that the Russian military -- the problems the Russians are facing in this fight right now. What have you learned?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, let's first start with what the U.S. is seeing regarding what you were just talking about there. And that is Ukraine -- the Ukrainian military's resistance so far to the Russian military assault.

And that's been describe to me as stiffer than expected. Remember, as we've discussed many times, they are greatly outnumbered, outmanned, out-armored, outnumbered in the sky as well. But in these first few days and granted it is early, they've incurred greater losses on Russian forces than either U.S. intelligence assessments expected or frankly and more importantly the Russian military expected as they came in here..

This is for a number of reasons. One, Ukrainian air defenses have maintained their capabilities and had been performing quite well, outperforming based on what the previous U.S. assessments were to what was likely given Russia's enormous advantages here.

And that means that Russia has not yet been able to establish what's known as air supremacy and that is, control over the skies.

The Ukrainian air defenses have still maintained the ability to not just shoot down some, not many but some incoming missiles from Russia, they've been able to shoot down several Russian aircraft, including transport aircraft, helicopters.

But also with ground forces. Ground forces have been able to destroy, disabled many armored personnel carriers, tanks as they've been moving into this country.

I should note that you're seeing some of the weapons that the U.S. and NATO have supplied the Ukrainian military with in action here, and that's been part of the U.S. and NATO support strategy from the beginning, which was to try to raise the costs for the Russian military by giving the Ukrainian military weapons, javelins, armor piercing anti tank missiles to kill text in effect and stingers, shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles to take down aircraft. That's part of the strategy. And the U.S. is seeing that play out now.

The other piece here is that Russia expected something of a fast run through this country, really a blitzkrieg operation had been described to me. It hasn't moved as quickly as expected. So They're getting ahead of their supply lines here. And that's a problem when you have tens of thousands of forces and many hundreds of vehicles moving through the country there.

We've seen many pictures of those convoys parked on the side of the road because they simply ran out of gas. And the reason for that as it's been described to me is that they were planning for this to move quickly. It hasn't moved that quickly so they've gotten ahead of their supply lines here and it's been described to me as a definite vulnerability for the Russian military.

BLITZER: Jim, obviously they're bracing for a major Russian assault in the capital Kyiv right now.


BLITZER: You're in Lviv. Tell us what you're seeing right now. What is going on where you are?

SCIUTTO: Well, listen Kyiv is the target. Kyiv has been the target from the beginning because Kyiv for the Russian military -- it's is the capital, of course, it's the head of government -- seat of government. To control Kyiv, is in large part, to control the country or much of the country.

And the U.S. intelligence assessments for weeks now have been saying that yes, the Russians likely first to strike in the far east, but they also had plans to come down from the north, including from two directions, and try to encircle and then take over the capital city.

And part of that strategy involves an air campaign, a missile campaign, which has been described to me as shock-and-awe campaign. But you know, think of something modeled on the U.S. assault on Baghdad at the beginning of the 2003 invasion.

Of course, the danger with that is Kyiv, as Clarissa was saying there, is a city of 3 million people. It's not a military target. So when you drop or intend to drop, as Ukrainian intelligence is saying tonight, that many bombs, artillery rounds, missiles, and perhaps even airdrop airborne forces, there are a lot of people in the way of that fighting.

And by the way, that's not an accident, Wolf. Russian military from the U.S. Intelligence perspective wants to cause panic in the city but it also wants to decapitate the government. You know, political -- people, politicians, et cetera are targets. So we'll be watching very closely tonight to see if Russia follows through.

BLITZER: And Russians clearly want to capture and potentially kill the Ukrainian president Zelenskyy.



BLITZER: Jim, stand by. We're going to get back to you as well.

I want to bring in our CNN military analyst, the former supreme NATO allied commander, Retired General Wesley Clark.

General Clark, Kyiv as you saw in Clarissa Ward's report on heightened alert. Everyone has been told, turn off all the lights. The French say that the fall of Kyiv is not necessarily inevitable. But is it a realistic possibility in your view that the Ukrainian capital could fall tonight, or that the Ukrainian military could hold on?

GENERAL WESLEY CLARK (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I think it's not going to fall tonight. I think the Ukrainian military has fought brilliantly. They're absolute determination to resist is a huge force multiplier against a Russian force that doesn't really know what it's doing or why.

But they are -- the Ukrainians are facing this overwhelming Russian military capacity. I'm hearing reports of paratroopers coming in also and that there will be more action tonight, but I think that the bulk of the Russian forces, especially the bulk of the artillery is not really in the area yet.

So I would expect it's another couple days of coming into the city, testing out the defenses, finding avenues of approach, leaving diversionary groups in there to sabotage and create chaos and confusion to ambush the defenders from the rear and so forth.

And that would be the Russian tactic that's especially use at night. The Russians, as Jim Sciutto said, Russians' plan hasn't worked out exactly as they thought it would. You can imagine Vladimir Putin and the minister of defense (INAUDIBLE) are whiplashing those Russian generals to try to get stuff happening. It must be painful for Putin to see it. And that's good. And we're also so proud of these Ukrainian forces that are fighting and doing such a great job.

But they've got to get reinforcements in there, more Javelins, more Stingers as rapidly as possible. and so that's up to Ukraine's friends on the outside. I think they're doing as much as they can, now the question is what can be done from the outside to bring in the necessary replenishment.

BLITZER: Clearly a very, very tense moment in the Ukrainian capital right now.

General Clark, I want you to stand by as well.

Coming up, we're going to bring you more of the breaking news from Ukraine where Vladimir Putin has now ordered his force to attack from all directions.

Stay with us, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: We're following the breaking news in Ukraine right now. We have some very, very graphic video just in. Watch this.


BLITZER: This is the military vehicle that you've been watching in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, suddenly careening into a car, crushing its roof. The condition of the person driving the car is unknown, but the driver appeared conscious in the video. Just one shot of many going on right now in Kyiv.

I want to bring in our chief national affairs correspondent, Jeff Zeleny. He's over at the White House for us.

So Jeff, we know the White House has been in direct touch with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, as the Russian forces are trying to close in on him personally as well as the capital city.

I know you have some new information. What is the latest? JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, some

dramatic new information that really which how quickly events are moving. Just two days ago President Biden said that European leaders were not on board with essentially expelling some Russian banks from the SWIFT Network Financial System. That has changed.

Just a few moments ago, a joint statement from the White House as well as leading Europeans Union nations are saying now they are going to do that, and target specific banks in Russia, to expel them from the SWIFT Financial network.

What that is, it's the network that connects banks in Russia and indeed around the world, some 11,000 financial institutions. So what it does is it essentially closes them off. This is the financial nuclear option, if you will, the economic nuclear option.

European Union countries were slow to do this, because it will have economic impacts on their countries as well. So Wolf, This is a dramatic development, a big step from just the last couple days, as well as Germany reversing course and sending weapons into Ukraine.

The U.S. last evening, President Biden signing an order to send $350 million worth more of weapons into Ukraine for a total of $1 billion just in three last investments alone. so some major developments here.

I'm told that President Biden has not spoken today with President Zelenskyy, but he did speak with him yesterday, he asked him what he needed. He said he needed military support and extra weapons. That is what is what is going to be sent.

The question though, how long will it take to get there? But this SWIFT financial system, Wolf, is a very major development tonight.

BLITZER: It certainly is. A coupe of days ago, the president was asked about it and said, they have a point that the Europeans weren't necessarily on board, but apparently now they are on board. And this is going to really hurt the Russian banking system.

Jeff Zeleny, we'll get back to you at the Whit House.

I want to go to Moscow right now. CNN contributor, former Moscow bureau chief for CNN. Jill Dougherty is on the scene for us. Jill, U.S. officials say the Russian militaries encountering more resistance than expected.


BLITZER: How are the Russians explaining what is seen as their relatively slow advance?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know, they're not explaining it. That's the usual. They're completely ignoring it.

I mean what you're seeing right now in Russian TV is another world. It's a world of military briefings, kind of stiff uniform briefings. Some reporting but not from live shots as we and other networks are showing from Kyiv and others that is in Ukraine.

It's fighting or, you know, pictures from the Donbas region, that breakaway region. And the object of that is to make the case that in the Kremlin's eyes, that the people who are really in danger are the people in the Donbas region.

In other words they're almost ignoring what's going on right now in Kyiv. And there's you know, there's a reason because you can see the results of this.

I think in referring to the military they did think it would go faster and work easily than it is and that has necessitated changing the propaganda approach.

So the government has now ordered independent news outlets with (INAUDIBLE) a few of them left, not to use words like war, intervention and attack. This is now, you know, it's a special military operation.

And you also have had protests around the country, about 2,700 people so far detained in 26 cities. So there is -- you'd have to say that across the board there are more people who support this than not. and they're primarily people who are watching Russian television. A lot of them are voters for Putin, older people and then you have a younger population who are not watching TV, who are on the web and there's a big movement of social media kind of pushback against this war.

BLITZER: Jill Dougherty, who's fluent (ph) in Russia, joining us from Moscow right now. We'll get back to you, of course, as well.

Let's discuss what's going on. A horrible situation. The British ambassador to the United States Karen Pierce is joining us right now. Ambassador, thank you so much for joining us.

As you know, U.S. officials say Russia is coming up against stiffer resistance than the Russians had expected. But Kyiv tonight is on heightened alert.

What is the British assessment right now of how long Kyiv the Ukrainian capital can hold out amid this assault.

KAREN PIERCE, BRITISH AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: Well, I think the Ukrainians are doing an absolutely heroic job. As your photographs and documentaries show, it's very difficult for them, but I think we have all applauded the resistance shown.

I think it's right that the Russians are meeting more resistance than they thought they would get. At one level, President Put thought he'd be welcomed into Kyiv and now this shows just how wrong he is. We have moved our embassy out of Kyiv to a safer place in the west. And I think anything we can do spoke tort the Ukrainians in this resistance, our governments will want to do.

You had the SWIFT announcement a bit earlier. I just wanted to be clear that the United Kingdom is part of that SWIFT move.

BLITZER: Yes. You guys have been on board for a while, very, very dramatic and important move indeed.

The Ukrainian President ambassador as you know, Volodymyr Zelenskyy turned down an offer to evacuate saying and I'm quoting him now, "I need ammunition, not a ride."

So what does that do for the morale from your perspective of the Ukrainian people?

PIERCE: I think it must be a huge lift to them. he's a very brave man. Boris Johnson our Prime Minister spoke to him, just a few hours ago after the president. We want to support him in any way we can.

But I think when people see a leader stand there and stand up to the might of Russia, that is going to have an electrifying effect on the Ukrainians.

BLITZER: Yes, you've got to give him a lot, a lot of credit for his bravery right now.

PIERCE: Exactly.

BLITZER: Because he has self pointed out he' target number one for the Russians and his family is target number two.

The French President Macron is warning that this war, in his words, "will last".

Does the U.S. Need to be prepared to support Ukraine for the long haul?

PIERCE: Oh, I think absolutely. You know, we are sending more weapons. I want to stress these are defensive weapons, they are not to attack Russia.

President Putin has this false narrative about NATO and Ukraine being a threat to Russia. We are nothing of the sort. But we will defend NATO territory.

We will support Ukrainians with defensive weapons with extra aid. We stand ready on the humanitarian front. We have reinforced NATO forces in the southern flank.

We, the Brits, have doubled our presence in Estonia. We have sent ships to the Mediterranean and we have put royal air force jets on standby.

PIERCE: But we're also looking at what else we can do for Ukraine.


We're sending body armor, stand ready to help in other ways. We sent over $750 million and we're ready to look at questions.

BLITZER: Is Putin a war criminal?

PIERCE: Oh, I have a very long part of my career spent dealing with war criminals in the Balkans. It takes an international tribunal who decide who is a war crime suspect and who is not. Then there needs to be a trial.

But I stress all those things to show that we abide by the rule of law. The personal who isn't abiding by the rule of law is Vladimir Putin.

He's conducted this invasion, making up a false narrative as to how Russia is under threat. He's had the condemnation of the U.N. and elsewhere.

All over the world, ordinary people are coming out wearing blue and yellow, lighting buildings to show they support Ukraine.

This will not stand. However bad it gets, we stand with Ukraine. And eventually, eventually this will come to rebound on President Putin, and it will be a strategic lost for him.

BLITZER: British Ambassador Karen Pierce, thank you so much for joining us.

PIERCE: Thank you.

BLITZER: Up next, CNN is on the scene in the southern Ukrainian city seized by Russian shelling. Stand by for that.

Much more of our special coverage right after this quick break.



BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. Another night of continues Russian shelling, including, we anticipate very soon, the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. Stand by for that.

Right now, I want to get a live report from the Polish/Ukrainian border, where thousands and thousands of refugees are seeking safety.

CNN's senior international correspondent, Arwa Damon, is on the scene for us.

Arwa, you're seeing, what, buses full of people fleeing Ukraine? What are they telling you?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, these are buses that are arriving from the Ukrainian border, where the vast majority of people on these buses spent hours walking, having to walk across.

The majority of them, Wolf, they're women and children. You with see some of the new arrivals. There's still shocked and it's etched across their faces.

The reason why is mostly women and children, that's because men between the ages of 18 and 60 are pretty much not being permitted to leave. The government very much believing they need to stay behind.

In fact, Wolf, earlier we were talking to a mother what came across with her 7-year-old son and her 2.5 half-year-old child. This morning said good-bye to her husband.

And when her son said, when am I going to see daddy again? She told him he'll be right behind us. It won't be long.

The thing is, Wolf, she doesn't know if she was lying to her son or not, because she doesn't know what will be happening next.

Once these people do end up getting here, there's an entire volunteer system set up. There's all sorts of people -- there in the distance. They are holding up signs.

On those signs are written names of various cities inside Poland that they can be taken to. You also have how many families they can house.

Pretty much, this whole volunteer army that right now has said itself up in this parking lot to try to facilitate the whole process of housing they refugees.

We've been talking amongst ourselves as we've been here, Wolf. I mean, just think about it. Four, five days ago, all these families were in their homes they had a reality.

That has been completely and totally shattered. Now they've been become refugees.

Many of them understandably, cannot fully comprehend what it is that they are going through. There's a lot of confusion.

And there's so many families that are being torn apart for so many different reasons.

We've met a number of people here on the side of the border who have come, because their parents, for example quarter, are inside, but they're too sick to actually try to make this journey.

You see all kinds of different vehicles that are just caring, ferrying people across.

Wolf, this is just the beginning. The warning from U.N. agencies is upwards of five million people could end up fleeing Ukraine.

BLITZER: Yes, it's a horrendous situation. So many of those people have gotten out, tens of thousands, so far, as you correctly point out are women and children.

Because the men from ages 18 to 60 are not allowed to leave. They may need to be armed and ready to fight the Russians.

Arwa, we'll get back to you.

Arwa is in Poland right on the border with Ukraine.

I want to go to our senior international correspondent, Fred Pleitgen, on the Russian side of the border.

Fred, I understand you're seeing Russia sending in heavy arms into Ukraine. What are you seeing, what are you hearing, what's the latest?


FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the area I'm in is in the south of Russia. It really is where the Russians have staged their main troop contingents for that big battle in Kharkiv, which the U.S. has said that's probably the most-fierce battle going on in Ukraine.

We usually get a pretty early indication of whether of not the Russians are actually escalating that battle. And today, we could see the Russians move in additional forces throughout the entire day.

I was at the final checkpoint and we had seen columns of T72 main battle tanks being moved through that checkpoint to areas of Ukraine. We could see heavy Howitzers moving in as well.

One of the things that people find extremely troubling is we saw a TOS-1 flamethrower. It's a multiple rocket launcher that launches thermobaric rocket.

Essentially, when they land, they incinerate everything and suck the lungs out of people. That, too, we spotted near the front lines.

Unclear if that's been used in the battle there, but certainly is there and can be deployed at any time -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Fred Pleitgen, I'll get back to you as well. Fred Pleitgen reporting.

The breaking news, in our special edition of "THE SITUATION ROOM" continues next. Again, Russia sending in war weapons to Ukraine, including some that threaten to take the war to a terrifying new level of human suffering.



BLITZER: Breaking news we're following. Major cities all around Ukraine are enduring yet another night, a third night of heavy shelling from Russian forces that are closing in from all directions.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is reporting live from one of those cities in southern Ukraine.

Nick, tell us what you're seeing, what you're hearing, what's the latest?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: For the last hours, we've been in a city near the Black Sea. The Black Sea focuses so much of Russia's attention it seems. When we came into the city, testifies deeply edgy, and by dusk, it became clear why. An onslaught. I think we can play you some of the images of shelling we heard this evening. I'll let you some of that audio play out as I talks.

At one point during this, you'll see a loud blast.


PATON WALSH: We had a series of rocket impacts across the skyline.


PATON WALSH: And then one substantial explosion. We're not quite sure what that hit.

On and off throughout the dusk time, there were persistent shellings, explosion, multiple rocket systems.

The main fee that locals have had, with sirens going off, is of Russian saboteurs already within this town.

In the morning, we drove into see that a hard missile had hit a fuel plant on the outskirts of town. There was a state of panic, frankly.

I think you can see a picture of a bridge that had been razed that essentially cuts the city in two.

That was a purposeful move by the city's authorities to limit the capacities of forces that may have landed in the east of the city to cross over to the west. A lot of concerns here.

Learning of saboteurs during the previous nights, Russian forces and even they attempted an airdrop in that part of the city.

We heard small arms fire in that part of the city as well.

Clearly, the intention here is ongoing, and deep concerning that dawn may see a push into it Wolf?

BLITZER: Nick Paton Walsh, be careful over there. Stay safe. We'll be in touch.

The breaking news here continues. The Ukrainian capital of Kyiv on heightened alert right now as Vladimir Putin steps up his brutal assault.



BLITZER: Very disturbing breaking news.

Alex Marquardt is joining us now from Kyiv.

Alex, what are you seeing and hearing? ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: It is a

tense night in Kyiv because there are fears that the Russians could carry out a large-scale bombing campaign.

Seven months ago, in southwest Kyiv, we could see from our vantage point and hear a large explosion.

I'll get out of the way to see what I'm seeing. This is in the southwest part of the capital.

We heard a large blast. And then, since then, for the past seven, eight minutes, there's been this pulsing glow in the distance.

You have to imagine that it is some kind of fire. It is a very eerie scene.

This city is right now completely quiet. It has been quiet for quite some time. And then every so often, that silence is pierced by sounds of fighting or war, gun fire or thuds in the distance.

This was an explosion that was relatively close by. We don't know the target is. But that is the general direction, general location of Kyiv's second airport.

It is a location that we have been looking at today because there was a missile or a rocket that hit a residential building near that airport. And that was the main incident today I would say. It was otherwise a relatively quiet day.

But now we are trying to get a sense of whether this bombing campaign by the Russians is going to happen tonight. We are bracing for that. The city is bracing for that.

There's a curfew that's not just overnight but a 48-hour long curfew. The city told the residents to stay inside. To go into the air shelters when the sirens go off.

And now I'm hearing something else in the distance. That sounded like gun fire. Sounds like thunder. There are two waves of that.

So this could be the beginning of a significant aerial bombardment on the Ukrainian capitol -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Stand by. Be safe. We'll get back to you, Alex Marquardt, in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.

Kira is with us right now. She is a member of the Ukrainian parliament.

I want to, Kira, get your reaction to what you are just hearing and bracing for tonight.


KIRA RUDIK, LEADER, GOLOS PARTY & MEMBER, UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT (via telephone): I hear the same sounds as your reporter is hearing. We are expecting to have a really heavy shelling.

There's three times more shelling than yesterday. So it was lots of sirens and then lots of getting into the shelters for people.

And we all know that tonight they will try to take Kyiv as they were trying to take it yesterday. Yesterday, they failed so they are increasing their forces.

They're bringing more people, more soldiers in. And we were warned by like every kind of authority that tonight will be an extremely complicated and hard night.

Because we expect to have Russians throw all the forces, all the missiles that they have to take Kyiv.

BLITZER: So how are you, you and your family -- you have a little daughter, how are you protecting yourselves? Tells what you're doing and bracing for.

RUDIK: You know, the most complicated thing is to explain to children what is going on.

So there's this little game. It's called a turtle game to explain how to act during the attacks.

So you tell them that you go down on your belly. You open up your mouth. You close your ears with your hands and that's how you pretend you are a turtle.

We had to pretend we are turtles quite a few times today.

BLITZER: I know you told me last night when we spoke that sometimes you just hide underneath the stairs in the building there. It is a dangerous situation.

We are showing live pictures from Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. Looks like a pretty severe and massive attack.

I assume you could hear the explosions, the sirens going off. Is that right?

RUDIK: Yes. Correct. You can hear everything that's going on very clearly.

Because, first of all, people fled the city so it's very quiet. Second, because you -- we are on top of the hill so we can see and hear most of the things that's happening.

BLITZER: I want to show a picture that you posted. You never -- there it is with the Kalashnikov rifle. You learned how to shoot a rifle.

I want to talk about that in a second.

But I want to go to CNN's Alex Marquardt in Kyiv, getting more information.

Kira, standby for a moment.

Alex, go ahead.

MARQUARDT: Oh, sorry, Wolf.

Yes. This glow is still pulsating over the city. This is in the southwest part of the city.

While you were speaking with the guest, we also saw what kind of looked like sparkles up there, which could be flares.

We have been hearing an increasing diversity of these different sounds of war, for lack of a better term. Gunfire or anti-aircraft fire in the distance that way.

But what is -- the reason this city is bracing itself is because the Russians have not been doing well and the Ukrainian forces have been doing a pretty good job of keeping them at bay.

And the Russians have been living in the city and coming down from the north from Belarus.

And then we know that yesterday -- earlier this morning, early, now almost 24 hours ago, the closest fighting yet within the city limits on the western side of the city and then gotten reports of fighting in the south and the east.

Not only is this fighting sort of coming from all directions around the city, but it is getting closer and closer.

There has been some confusion as to what the Russians are up to. Are they biding the time?

Oh. There you can hear another very large boom in the distance, Wolf. And car sirens that went off as a result of that blast.

In the past, say, 15 minutes two very significant blasts that we have heard in the center of Kyiv.

BLITZER: And 1:00 a.m. right now in Kyiv.

I want you to stand by. Be careful, Alex. We'll get back to you.


Kira, a member of parliament in Ukraine, what is your reaction hearing those reports?