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The Situation Room

Massive Explosions Strike Ukrainian Capital Of Kyiv. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired February 26, 2022 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Kira, a Member of Parliament in Ukraine, what's your reaction when you hear that those reports?

KIRA RUDIK, MEMBER OF UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT: Well, it is expected that Russia needs to have some wins and I'm super thrilled that they didn't have any just yet. They were not able to take any major city in Ukraine. It's been three days, they lost 3,000 men, and they are up to nothing.

So they will increase their push, and we will push back. So I'm super proud that yesterday when we were talking with your Wolf, we were really scared, and in the morning, many, many people from all over the world were saying: Oh, we were ready to wake up to the news that Kyiv has fallen.

So we not only we haven't fallen, we don't plan to fall. So, we will fight back. Ukrainian army is strategically fighting the larger groups of Russians and when the smaller ones are getting into Kyiv, then the resistant groups such as the ones that I'm a member of, then they are taking care of those smaller groups of Russian soldiers that are coming in.

And so far, we are doing pretty well with that.

BLITZER: Kira Rudik, Member of the Ukrainian Parliament. Be careful over there. Stay safe. We will be in touch. Thank you so much for joining us, Kira Rudik, a really courageous Ukrainian.

We're crossing the top of the hour right now. I'm Wolf Blitzer in the SITUATION ROOM.

Once again, we want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world and we are following breaking news, major breaking news, massive explosions, rocking in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv right now.

Clarissa Ward is there on the scene for us.

Clarissa, tell our viewers what you're seeing.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we had been told that tonight, we should anticipate a major assault on the city and I will say it's not the first time we've been told that. So notwithstanding, of course, we are preparing ourselves.

We've been asked to lower our lights to the best extent of our ability. We've also all put on our body armor as you saw when you were just talking to my colleague, Alex Marquardt there.

I guess it was about 15 to 20 minutes ago now, we did hear a large explosion and you can probably see over my left hand-shoulder here in the distance, the sky is kind of glowing red. It's like a pulsating glowing red.

We believe, although we have no idea as to exactly what was hit that perhaps it was some kind of a fuel depot, and that the fire is still burning. That's why you're seeing that sort of pulsing glowing red light.

We've also heard a little bit of activity in the skies and some small arms fire around but generally speaking, with the exception of this large blast, I can't say that so far, this is a noisier evening than the last two that we've had, certainly than last night where there were a fair number of explosions, a steady stream at different periods in the night.

And the real question now, Wolf, is when an air assault of some sort might begin. Now, we don't know that that would happen, but we have been warned that it could happen. We were asked to dismantle our position on the roof, as I mentioned before, also to keep our lights down.

And so the assumption is that at some point, we may be expecting airstrikes or something of that nature. You can imagine how absolutely terrifying this is for the 2.9 million people who are living in this European capital city who have no sense of why this war started, what this night will bring, and what kind of a city they will be waking up to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: These live pictures coming in from Kyiv where you are Clarissa, and it's very, very scary to see those flashes, those bombs going off over there. We don't know the target. We don't know the damage, but it looks horrendous, especially for those of us who have covered wars over the years.

What else are they saying to you right now in terms of what they expected the next hour or two in Kyiv -- Clarissa.

WARD: Well, basically, they are telling people to stay inside. Earlier on, the sort of evacuation alert system in our hotel was activated, loudspeakers telling everybody to go and get into the basement and into a sort of bunker position to hunker down and wait out what was assumed to be some kind of an imminent assault. That hasn't transpired in force, although we do see this huge fire burning in the distance lighting up the night sky with that glowing red.

In general, I would say since this invasion began, we have heard the most activity around 4:30 and onwards in the morning here. It's still quite a bit earlier than that. So then the night is young, as they say. We may anticipate more in terms of strikes this evening, but certainly the expectation now for a couple of nights, Wolf, has been that the Russians would make an active attempt to storm the capital, to take control.


WARD: They haven't been able to do that yet and there has been a lot of speculation that that might be in part, because of the really stiff resistance they have been facing, not just from Ukrainian military forces, but also from ordinary people.

We saw an extraordinary piece of video on social media earlier in the day, showing a man literally trying to climb onto a Russian tank and then kneeling down in front of it. This is how determined he was to stop that tank in its tracks, and he was actually able to stop it for a few moments before it moved on.

But I think that goes to speak to the incredible courage of Ukrainian people and just the level of anger and resistance and outrage that people here feel about this invasion, about this war.

Nobody, Wolf, and I mean, nobody I spoke to here ever believes that this was really going to happen. I spoke to a man in a bomb shelter in Kharkiv the other day who said Russia is supposed to be our brother, but who treats a brother like this?

Now that the shock has worn off, that sickening fear is sort of sinking in as people try to come to terms with this new reality, and this incredible danger that they're facing, with no real sense of how to escape or where to go, or what to do.

And so for tonight, while they watch the sky, glowing and pulsing red, they turn off their lights and take to their basements and wait to see what the morning will bring.

BLITZER: Yes, and those images, the live pictures we are showing from the skies, the flashes going on right now in Kyiv. This is Kyiv, a city of nearly three million people and it was just targeted, and I know people are bracing for a lot more.

Clarissa stay safe over there. We certainly will get back to you.

Jim Sciutto is also in Ukraine for us. He is in Lviv.

But you're getting some new information, I understand, Jim, on what you're hearing about the attack by the Russians on Kyiv?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR AND NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, to be clear, an aerial attack on Kyiv, has been part of the Russian plan, from the beginning, at least the U.S. Intelligence assessment of what Russian plans are, since they began warning about this really going back to November, that it would begin with an air assault from the air missiles, rockets, the possibility as well, of aerial bombardment, that there's a tremendous number of Russian bombers within range and fighter bombers within range of Ukraine today. And that that would be in effect softening up, right, the battlefield,

in this case, the battlefield, an urban center of three million people for then what would be a ground assault to take it over. Because, and this is the other piece of the U.S. Intelligence assessment of Russian plans, is that taking over the capital, Kyiv is a key step for Russia in its plans to take over the country.

They feel that when they have Kyiv, they in effect have the country or at least a large portion of it from extending from the capital east towards the Russian border.

So the concern is when you see airstrikes like this, is that this would be a precursor to something much bigger. And we do know in the days leading up to this that Russia has been staging forces close to the capital, not quite inside it yet to carry that out.

But Wolf, I'll say this as well. This is not, certainly not yet, the shock and awe style campaign that U.S. Intel assessments of Russian plans had indicated, you know, imagine think Iraq 2003, or perhaps even 1991. We haven't seen that yet.

This is one strike. Question is why, right? Are they holding off? Are they testing defenses, and then they're going to follow up with more? We don't know because one piece of this campaign so far, Wolf, is -- and granted, it's early and it could change in a minute or an hour or a day. It is not progressing as quickly as the U.S. understanding of Russian plans were going in.

There were estimates that Russia expected to be able to sweep into Kyiv and capture the city in 20 to 48 hours from the start of the offensive. That hasn't happened yet. Why is that? We do know that the Ukrainian military is putting up stiffer resistance than the U.S. Intelligence assessments expected, but also what the Russians expected. They're killing more Russians, frankly, Russian personnel and they're taking down more Russian aircraft and Russian tanks than expected and the Russian forces are also running into supply line problems.

So you have both a Russian inability so far to carry out the most dramatic assessments of their plans, but also a Ukrainian military that is standing up to a greater degree in these early stages, and they are early stages than was expected by Russia.


BLITZER: And I know you're obviously, there are a lot of Ukrainians sadly that are being killed. But, Jim, I understand that Russian military casualties are a lot bigger than earlier expected. Is that right?

SCIUTTO: They are, and I'm always conscious. And as I know, you are in these early estimates of casualties, you always have to take them with a grain of salt. There is fog of war. We won't know for sure, probably for some time.

But if you listen to the Ukrainian military, those casualties number in the hundreds on the Russian side, as well as hundreds more that have been captured. To know the real figures, it is going to take some time.

But I am told by U.S. officials with knowledge of the U.S. Intelligence assessments that those casualties at least, are higher than had been expected, not just by U.S. and NATO Intelligence assessments, but more importantly than by Russia. Those are costs, those are costs, of course, in human life. They are also a cost to the morale and the functioning of those Russian military units.

BLITZER: Jim Sciutto, stay safe over there. We will, of course, get back to you.

We're following the breaking news, especially in the capital of Ukraine, Kyiv, a huge explosion. We don't know exactly what happened but it's very, very disturbing and the sound, the lights are frightening some three million people clearly in that Ukrainian capital.

Much more on all of these developments when we come back.



BLITZER: We are following the breaking news, a major Russian attack on the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv underway. Alex Marquardt is on the scene for us in Kyiv right now. It look like those skies are still showing the result of that attack, whatever it was, but it's pretty illuminating right now.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it is extraordinary. I mean, this attack happened just about half an hour ago when we heard this loud strike on that area of Southwest Kyiv, and for the past half hour, you have seen that glow in the sky, really bright red, just sort of reflecting off of that cloud right above it. It is clearly a fire of some sort. We're still trying to figure out what exactly that target may have been.

It is over near to an airport, and we know that the Russians have been targeting military installations, military targets, they claim that that is all they're targeting. But at the same time, over near where that fire is now burning, there was an apartment building that was also struck today that the Ukrainians accused the Russians of hitting with a missile or with a rocket.

Now, this comes about 24 hours after President Zelensky warned that last night would be a decisive night, that it would be a difficult night, but it passed with relatively little interruption, relatively few incidents, but now this night is shaping up to be a fair bit worse.

I don't want to jump to any sort of conclusions. What we have heard so far are two loud strikes from my vantage point here in the capital of Ukraine, but at the same time, it is that quiet from the Russians that is really quite disconcerting as Jim Sciutto just saying, a short time ago, the assessments were that Russia could take this city in 24 to 48 hours. They clearly did not do that.

Why did they not do that? Well, for one, the Ukrainians we know have been putting up fierce resistance. This fight is not going as well as the Russians clearly had hoped, but now, there could be an indication that they plan to step up their assault on this capital city.

We know or it is presumed from the intelligence assessments that their goal is to get rid of the Zelensky government, install a government that is much more sympathetic, and they have faced significant resistance in trying to get into this city. That may be changing now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Alex, standby. We're going to get back to you. Obviously, a very dangerous situation unfolding in Kyiv. In the meantime, I want to get some analysis from our military analyst, retired Major General James "Spider" Marks, he is here with me. You're over there. You're watching all of it. What's your reaction to what we're seeing and hearing in the city of nearly three million people?

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, thank you, Wolf. Let me show you something up front, if I can do that for you. The forces that are coming into Kyiv are coming in, in this direction. This arrow is an approximation.

If you realize that what we have here is the Dnieper River. The Russians did not deploy forces in this direction, because they would have had to do a river crossing or some sort, they would have had a separation of forces.

So what we see now is they are coming into Kyiv, let's kind of go into Kyiv and see what that looks like now. So when you look at it a little more closely, again, here's the river. What's important to realize is that the Russian forces originally we're up here at the airport, kind of out of the city. They are now working their way into the city.

When you come into a city of this size of three million, this is incredibly compartmentalized. This is where the terrain starts to suck up the personnel. This is all about infantry fighting. This is dismounted fighting. This needs to be done outside of a vehicle.

What we're seeing probably tonight is the preparation of that battlespace, which is not going to be very precise, it's going to be very bloody, and it's going to be very broad. A lot of rubble will be caused as a result of this insertion of rocket fire, missile fire, and probably some air fire.

What is happening right now also is the Russians do not command the airspace, which is a good thing in preparation of this.

So moving into the city, the key thing for the Ukrainians at this point, number one, they've got home field advantage. They've got the terrain to their great advantage. They need to start making some very clear decisions on whether they want to start to drop these bridges across the Dnieper River, again if the Russians, let's assume I'm wrong and the Russians have forces here, they now would be separated from the forces over there. That gives the Ukrainians a great advantage.

But again, there's a lot of force that needs to come in from the Russians.


BLITZER: General, standby, we're going to get back to you. We're watching this situation unfold, the breaking news very, very dramatic.

I want to discuss what's going on right now with the former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson.

He was also at one point, a senior official at the Pentagon. Mr. Secretary, thanks so much for joining us. As you've been watching, all of us have been watching to our shock, these massive explosions in the capital, Kyiv, what are you looking for? What are you watching? What do you anticipate in the coming hours as Ukrainians are desperately trying to hold on to their capital?

JEH JOHNSON, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: First, Wolf, I salute your colleagues at CNN, who are literally on the frontlines, there in Kyiv, who are at the risk of their own personal safety, bringing us information about what's happening in that part of the world.

The entire free world, Wolf, right now is rooting for President Zelensky, his government, and his people in Ukraine, and reportedly they're putting up a stiff resistance to the Russian military in the invasion there.

This is an example of an instance where very often the will to fight, even if only with a rifle or a Molotov cocktail, to defend your freedom, your family, and your homeland, can overcome a Russian soldier following orders in a Russian made tank.

Now, having said that, I believe that this is going to get worse before it gets better. I believe it is going to be ugly, I believe it's going to be bloody. Americans need to prepare themselves for some of the images we are going to see of civilian casualties in Ukraine, many Americans will then ask: Why aren't we doing something about this militarily? Why aren't we intervening? Why aren't we getting into this fight?

And the Biden administration will come under tremendous international and domestic political pressure to intervene militarily despite President Biden's pledge not to put boots on the ground in Ukraine.

And so very soon, the Biden administration, I predict, is going to reach a serious decision point about what to do in this situation, consistent with our values as Americans, Wolf. We have in the past, intervened militarily to defend freedom, but we need to remind ourselves that in situations like this, whether it is Ukraine or Libya, or Vietnam, or Kosovo, very often -- or Afghanistan -- very often, it's much easier to actually get into a situation like this than it is to extract yourself from a situation like this. BLITZER: And the fear is that if the U.S. or the NATO allies for that

matter, were to get militarily involved with boots on the ground, in Ukraine, with anti-aircraft missiles, with war planes flying over, that could lead to a direct conflict, a direct war with Russia a nuclear power, right?

JOHNSON: Correct, and we have managed to avoid a direct conflict with Russia through the entire Cold War, through the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 where things were pretty intense then. We skillfully maneuvered around a direct conflict militarily with Russia and if we're not careful now, we could find ourselves in exactly that.

And so over the next days, weeks, it's going to take a lot of discipline and deliberate thinking on the part of President Biden and his Cabinet to avoid a direct confrontation with Russia as they have pledged to try to avoid.

BLITZER: It is such a dangerous situation right now, and our hearts go out to the people -- civilians, the casualties clearly in Ukraine right now.

Jeh Johnson, the former Secretary of Homeland Security, thank you so much for joining us.

And we're looking at these live pictures from the Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. We are going to have much more on the massive explosions near Kyiv, in and around Kyiv that's going on right now.

We'll be right back.



BLITZER: We are following the breaking news out of Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. Clarissa Ward is on the scene for us.

Clarissa, we saw a huge explosion not too far away from where you are. Tell us what we suspect happened because the skies over that area keep being illuminated.

WARD: So what we are suspecting, Wolf, and we don't have confirmation of this yet is that some kind of fuel depot was hit or fuel tankers were hit possibly at an airfield. We're just starting to get basic details.

But certainly, tonight is a night that Ukrainian authorities have been warning could be a very ugly night. We were told earlier on to move our position from the roof, we were told not to use many lights with our reporting because there is basically a real fear that there is going to be some kind of a major air assault tonight.

We also had the hotel evacuation alarm system going off for quite a while telling people to go down to the basement to take shelter until the crisis is over. And what I would say is that in many respects, eerily enough, it's actually been quiet quieter than it has on other nights, but we have heard a couple of loud explosions, one particularly loud explosion, which is those images that you're seeing now.


The sky lit up by that sort of flame, that ball of flames and we believe that this now happened around the Vasylkiv, that's about 30 kilometers or 20 miles south of Kyiv.

And, of course, that is also where you will find a large airfield and multiple fuel tanks. So again, what you're seeing on your screen there, that kind of glowing red in the night sky is most likely the result of fuel tanks which have been detonated through that explosion and which are now continuing to burn.

All of this, Wolf, you can imagine, absolutely terrifying for the 2.9 million people who are living in this city, who just one week ago could never have even imagined that they would be living through an experience like this, hunkered down in the dark as bombs fall, waiting to see what tomorrow will bring, Wolf.

BLITZER: And remind our viewers, Clarissa, what Ukrainian authorities have told all the residents in and around Kyiv to brace for tonight, it's about 1:30 am your time.

WARD: So we heard a sort of flurry of online activity, warning people to stay indoors talking about a suspected round of airstrikes that might be coming down the pipeline. And I want to be very clear about something and that happens a lot in war zones. There's a lot of panic or kind of rumors that spread really quickly, because people are frightened, because they're in a state of heightened alert.

And often it's difficult to ascertain if there was something a real sort of kernel of truth at the original telling of that or whether it's just something that's circulated and become misinterpreted. So we don't know exactly what it is that Ukrainian security services were seeing and expecting, whether they're still expecting it.

We just know that the understanding was that, first of all, to dismantle our position from the roof, which is, obviously, can be seen from the skies, particularly when we have our big television lights, also to use absolutely minimal lighting to sort of lower your profile essentially.

And then as I said, the hotel evacuation alarm came on telling everybody to gather downstairs and most people in the hotel, certainly many of them, although there's a lot of journalists here too, have gone ahead and have done that. And I can only safely assume that many people in the city tonight are also hunkered down wherever they can take shelter, just waiting to see what will happen.

BLITZER: Yes. It's a scary, scary, awful situation. Our hearts go out to all the folks in Ukraine right now, especially right now in and around Kyiv. Clarissa, standby, stay safe over there. We'll continue our breaking news coverage right after this.



BLITZER: Matthew Chance is in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital right now watching what's going on. It's a very dangerous, very, very scary situation. Matthew, what are you seeing?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Wolf. Well, a lot of tension in the Ukrainian capitol tonight because the mayor of the city has warned it could be yet again another difficult evening as Russian forces are poised on the outskirts of the Ukrainian Capitol with everyone believing in this city. And, in fact, their stated intention now is to advance towards it.

You can see on the horizon right behind me there, there are flares glowing up. The flares of a fire, which is about 30 kilometers, about 20 miles or so to the southwest of the city of Kyiv from where I'm talking to you right now. And we believe that is the Vasylkiv airbase. It's a strategically important airstrip in the southwest of the city. It's a place where the Russian special forces have been deployed to try and secure a fort sort of bridgehead to bring in more reinforcements.

It's not been entirely clear that they've been successful in doing that. They've been meeting with strong resistance from Ukrainian military forces who have been fighting back attempts for the Russians - by the Russians to gain a significant foothold on the outskirts of the city.

But we now see that within the past hour, a huge explosion, rocks, the city, it came from that area, you can see those, the glare of those fires, I believe, there are fuel tanks in that location in the airport, presumably for fueling the aircraft that have now apparently been set on fire and we don't know what that is.

It may be a concerted attempt by the Russian military to regain control or gain control of that strategic airstrip once and for all. That would give them an important airhead I think is the military term that would allow them to fly in transporters with military equipment with more troops, the kind of forces they're going to need.

If they are going to surround this Ukrainian capitol and take it in the way that they say that they want to. I can tell you, it is going to be a difficult job though, because all day-to-day I've been out with the civilian defense forces in this country and they are not just bracing for an attack, but they are preparing for one as well. And so if the city is attacked in a concerted way, it is going to be a very hard fight, indeed. Wolf?

BLITZER: You have to give the Ukrainian military and their civilian forces a lot of credit for resisting a massive Russian military presence that has invaded Ukraine. Matthew, stay safe over there. We'll get back to you. There are also dramatic developments unfolding right now over at the White House. Jeff Zeleny is on the scene for us there. An important announcement just a little while ago, Jeff.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORREPONDENT: Wolf, that's right and the U.S. government, the White House, the Pentagon State Department watching the events unfolding in Kyiv very closely tonight. But they're also announcing new sanctions aimed at crippling the financial system in Russia, going after the central bank, trying to drop the price of the ruble, but specifically also going after the SWIFT financial network.

What that means is targeting specific Russian banks to take them offline, essentially, to take them away from the ability to do business with China and the rest of the world. The U.S. and leaders of the European Union nations are coming together, which is a dramatic change, only 48 hours ago here, President Biden bluntly said European leaders were not on board with this. Well, tonight they are.

So those financial sanctions certainly are going to start as early as next week. But, Wolf, that certainly will be too late for the events that we are seeing on the ground right there. But the U.S. did send more military equipment that will be arriving in the next couple of days. The question, Wolf, is it too late.

BLITZER: Yes. That's an important question, indeed. It looks like this situation is moving rapidly over there, but Ukrainian resistance so far has been impressive. Jeff Zeleny at the White House thank you very much. We're going to stay on top of what's going on the ground in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capitol looking at live pictures, see a huge ball of flames still coming up in the background over there, huge explosion just a little while ago much more of our coverage coming up.



BLITZER: The breaking news we're following just a little while ago two massive explosions lit up the sky near the Ukrainian capital city of Kyiv. Vladimir Putin's full-scale assault on Ukraine is driving thousands of thousands of Ukrainian refugees to the Polish border.

CNN Senior International Correspondent Arwa Damon is on the scene for us along the border. Give us the latest, Arwa.

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we're still seeing these buses arrive. It's been pretty much non-stop and these are buses that are coming from the Ukrainian-Poland border to what has become this sort of makeshift reception center. A lot of the people who you see waiting outside right now are actually volunteers. They've come here, they're holding signs, they're offering free rides, free accommodation, a warm place to spend the night.

Because, frankly, most of these people who are coming off these buses are women and children who do not know where to go. They are women who have said goodbye to their husbands, to their sons, to their fathers, in some cases, because men 18 to 60 years old are not being permitted to leave earlier. We were speaking to one woman who basically told her seven year old

son what may end up being a lie, and that is that daddy would be joining them. But frankly, she doesn't know if that is actually ever going to be happening. And you really see how shell shocked people still are. Everyone speaks in very hushed voices.

People are really trying to come to terms with what it is that they are going through. But it's impossible for any of them to fathom them because less than a week ago, this idea that Russia would actually invade their country was something that they never thought was going to happen and now all of a sudden, they're refugees.

BLITZER: Arwa Damon reporting for us from the scene. We'll get back to you. Thank you very much. Let's discuss what's going on with Ukrainian Ambassador to the United States, Oksana Markarova. Ambassador, thank you so much for joining us. Our heart goes out to all the people of Ukraine right now.

And as you know, we're seeing these massive explosions in your capital of Kyiv tonight, after Ukraine was able to hold off the Russians from Kyiv at least last night, are you expecting an all out Russian assault?

OKSANA MARKAROVA, UKRAINIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: Well, yes, thank you for having me here and thank you for spreading the truth about what's going on. And as we speak, you're right there is a massive assault on Kyiv, but on other cities as well. So we are preparing for this night, but as the two nights, three nights before, we are very resolute to defend our country and there will be next day tomorrow and Ukraine will continue to defending itself.

BLITZER: I'm sure you will. What are you hearing ambassador from your leadership by the government in Kyiv, the Ukrainian leadership about the current battle?

MARKAROVA: Well, there are reports about heavy assaults in Vasylkiv. It's a small town suburb of Kyiv. Also, there are sounds in Kyiv, of course, we will have more information later on as the situation is evolving now. But again, it's not something new. This word, the full- fledged word that Russia started in Ukraine is going on for the past three days and we see that they're targeting not only military as they lie publicly on the Russian TV, but essentially targeting many civilians, objects, hospitals, orphanages, just simple apartment buildings.

BLITZER: President Zelensky, your president says that Ukrainians are never going to give up. Is Ukrainian resolve only strengthening right now amid this massive Russian attack?


MARKAROVA: I have to tell you, the spirit in Ukraine is very strong. So yes, we are very peaceful people, we never attacked anyone. We did everything possible during the past eight years after Russia attacked us in 2014 and illegally occupied Crimea and some parts of Donetsk and Luhansk. Even though we had all the legal rights to return them, we never planned any offensives and we only use diplomatic tools together with the United States and all of our friends and allies to return, to restore our territorial integrity, again, peacefully.

But we don't have any other home. We will defend this one. So you see that it's not only the president, who is courageously staying in Kyiv, with our people. It's not only government, it's not only the armed forces, who we adore and respect. It's not only police and everyone else, but ordinary Ukrainians who went organized through territorial defense, but just on the streets, stopping the enemy. We all are defending our home.

BLITZER: Ambassador, are you getting all the support you need right now from the U.S. and the other Western allies?

MARKAROVA: We are getting a lot. I'm very pleased that now unlike in 2014, we have very strong anti-war coalition and that U.S. is showing exemplary leadership in this process. It's now dozens of countries that support us. We are getting a lot of the support. But, of course, we need more. We are defending from the enemy, which is much larger and with much larger military, so we need additional support, of course.

BLITZER: Ambassador Oksana Markarova, thank you so much for joining us. We'll stay in very close touch with you and we'll certainly continue this conversation. I appreciate it very much. Good luck to you and all the people of Ukraine. We're going to have a much closer look at Vladimir Putin's outrageous claims that his invasion of Ukraine is being launched to, in his words, denazify the country.



BLITZER: Breaking news, the night sky near Kyiv lighting up with explosions as Russian forces bring their invasion closer and closer to the capitol. And Russian President Vladimir Putin is trying to justify his attack with totally outrageous lies calling Ukrainian leaders Nazis. CNN's Brian Todd is working in this part of the story for us.

Brian, the term Nazi clearly resonates with some Russians.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It certainly does, Wolf. Analysts say Putin's got a clear calculation for repeatedly calling President Zelensky and his cabinet Nazis. But tonight, groups like the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum are calling the Russian president out on it.


TODD (voice over): It's a repeated refrain from Vladimir Putin and his acolytes in describing Ukraine's democratically elected president Volodymyr Zelensky and Zelensky's cabinet.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (through interpreter): This gang of drug addicts and neo-Nazis that has settled in Kyiv and taken hostage the entire Ukrainian people.


TODD (voice over): Putin invoked it when he announced to his nation earlier this week that the invasion of Ukraine had begun.


PUTIN (through interpreter): Dear comrades, your fathers, your grandfathers fought against the Nazis, not so that Nazis could now take over power in Ukraine.


TODD (voice over): Putin has said he wants to "denazify" Ukraine and he and his foreign minister have used another reference to the Holocaust to try to justify their aggression.


SERGEY LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: We are talking about preventing neo-Nazis and those promoting genocide from ruling this country.


TODD (voice over): The false accusations of Naziism and genocide from Putin and his aides against the Zelensky government have drawn outrage. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum issuing a statement condemning that language as well as the invasion itself.


STUART EIZENSTAT, CHAIR, U.S. HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL COUNCIL: Is particularly perverse and denigrates and misappropriates the whole notion of the Holocaust to talk about the current democratically elected government somehow committing a genocide against Russian speakers.


TODD (voice over): Why has Putin invoked Naziism? Some observers say Putin is well-aware that their fight against the Nazis and fascism in World War II strikes an emotional chord with Russians.


EIZENSTAT: To evoke the very memory that the Russian people have of the horrors through which they went in World War II, they lost 20 million civilians.


TODD (voice over): Analysts say Putin's Nazi references here are not only inaccurate, but disturbingly ironic. But it's Putin, analysts say, who's fighting this war the way Hitler did when he invaded his neighbors, justifying it in part by implying that his neighbors borders were irrelevant.


PUTIN (through interpreter): Ukraine has never had a consistent tradition of being a true nation.

TIMOTHY SNYDER, PROFESSOR OF HISTORY, YALE UNIVERSITY: That is straight out of Hitler's playbook, 1938, 1939, to claim that a democratic neighboring state is some kind of artificial creation that doesn't deserve to exist.


TODD (voice over): Another fact Putin seems to be conveniently ignoring that Zelensky is Jewish and he says his grandfather fought against the Nazis for the Soviets. One analyst believes Putin has another motive for his accusations of genocide against Ukraine's leaders.


SNYDER: I think it's very likely that he intends to use the genocide and denazification language to set up some kind of kangaroo court, which would serve the purpose of condemning these people to death or condemning them to prison or incarceration.


TODD (voice over): Stuart Eizenstat of the Holocaust Memorial Museum says the Ukrainian people certainly will not buy Putin's claims of genocide and Nazism and he doesn't believe the Russian people will buy it either.