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New Explosions Rock Kyiv As Ukrainian Capital Braces For Major Assault; Biden To Slam Putin's Premeditated And Unprovoked War Tonight; Civilian Deaths Mount As Russia Targets Residential Areas; People In Southern Ukraine On Edge, Preparing For Russian Attack; Biden To Call Out Putin For "Premeditated And Unprovoked" Invasion Of Ukraine. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired March 01, 2022 - 18:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. As Russia intensifies its bombing campaign on the Ukrainian capital, new explosions were heard just a short while ago. Kyiv is bracing now for a major assault as a massive convoy of Russian forces re-groups just outside the city and civilians are being targeted for attack right in the heart of Ukraine.

This comes just hours before President Biden delivers his first state of the union address. We just learned he will directly slam Vladimir Putin tonight, condemning, and I'm quoting the president of the United States right now, condemning his premeditated and unprovoked war.

We're following these two major stories this hour, major breaking news.

We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're overlooking the White House right now where President Biden is likely putting the last-minute touches on his state of the union address, the war in Ukraine forcing him to revise his speech on a night when Putin's forces could potentially unleash some of their most devastating attacks yet.

Let's go right to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv right now. Our Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward is on the scene for us. Clarissa, so what is happening in Kyiv tonight?

CLARISSA WARD, CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it has been a pretty intense evening. Earlier on, we heard three large explosions coming from the northeast of the city. Before that, several hours earlier, we heard a massive explosion. That we now know was the hit on Kyiv's T.V. tower.

We're hearing from Ukrainian authorities that five people were killed in that attack and it struck just next to the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial, that is the site of one of the worst Nazi massacres, the largest mass grave as a result of World War II.

And the irony, of course, when you hear from Ukraine's chief rabbi and others in the Jewish community here that President Putin has twisted history in order to justify this illegal invasion claiming that he's taking out neo-Nazis, and yet what he's actually doing is hitting a sort of revered Holocaust memorial site.

So, people here very much on edge, as you can imagine, Wolf, not just because Russia's defense ministry has warned people living near kind of communications towers or places with large antennas that they should leave their homes, also anyone leaving near SBU facilities, SBU is the acronym used for Ukraine's security services, but also just a broader fear that more civilian targets could be on the horizon here.

And I'm saying that because we also heard from Russia's defense minister earlier today. He warned that the Ukrainian military is hiding its weaponry and infrastructure inside civilian areas. I should underscore that we have absolutely no evidence to support that claim, whatsoever. But nonetheless, it is a propaganda line that we've heard many times from the Russians before and often it is used when they are about to target civilian areas.

I will say that while it was pretty intense earlier on in the evening, Wolf, it has been quiet now for the last couple of hours, but still this is a city you can see behind me, it's pitch black, you can hear a pin drop. The only sounds you hear now are sounds of artillery and strikes in the distance, the sounds of the church bells every hour and sounds of the air raid sirens.

And everybody now watching to see what is going to happen with that 40-mile long convoy that has been bearing down on the Ukrainian capital. Is the intention to encircle the city, to lay siege to it, to prevent humanitarian aid and food from coming in or out or could you potentially be looking at a massive sort of ground forces movement into the center of the city?

So far, we just don't know, Wolf, and that's exactly why everybody here really is sharing in that sense of collective dread just waiting to see what the night and what the coming days will unfold, Wolf.

BLITZER: Everyone is bracing for the worst scenario unfolding right now. Clarissa, I want you to stand by. We'll get back to you.

But right now, I want to go to Ukraine second largest city, Kharkiv. A massive airstrike hit a government building there, right in the city center, as Russian forces are increasingly targeting civilians.


Let's get more on this deadly assault from ITV Correspondent Dan Rivers.


DAN RIVERS, ITV CORRESPONDENT (voice over): This is Kharkiv's Freedom Square, but this morning, freedom was under attack once again. Missiles slamming into the main local government building. President Zelensky has called this open, undisguised terror.

A week ago, the view from this window was on to a European square bustling with life. Now, it is a glimpse into the grim future which seems to await this country. The search for survivors and recovery of the dead took place amid the constant threat of secondary attacks. So far, at least ten people are confirmed to have died and many more have been injured.

OLEG MESHKOVETS, RESERVIST: There are also strong explosion from the square that blew off all the glass. Everyone who was near was seriously hurt. I was okay. We were all heading downstairs to the basement but second missile come and hit the roof.

RIVERS: We arrived four hours after the attack, which has shattered the very heart of this city. The aftermath still painfully fresh. All around, reminders of the terrible human cost. The occupants of this car must have been driving past just as the missiles fell. Survival or death here is a matter of chance. But, remarkably, young Ukrainians were already out risking their lives to clear up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am sad. I don't know how we will -- how we will rebuild it after the war.

RIVERS: The strike here this morning in Freedom Square represents a bleak new chapter in this war. Russia appears to be targeting the very symbols of the Ukrainian state, hoping to bring its people to their knees, but what we found here today is defiance.

The rage at those responsible for all this is visceral.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's awful. It's awful war. We are crying every day, every night. We are crying every day. You should stop it immediately, stop it.

RIVERS: But the Russians weren't finished yet. In the afternoon, another attack hitting a building near a hospital. From another angle, you can see the extent of the damage to apartments in the street. Amid the sound of more rockets, we ventured into another of the city's hospitals.

Inside, we found the basement is now a bomb shelter for children bewildered by how their lives have suddenly been upended. In the ward upstairs, just some of those injured so far in Kharkiv. After such a day of appalling bloodshed, you might expect the people here to be cowed. But if anything, their spirit appears galvanized against President Putin's aggression.


BLITZER: That was ITV Correspondent Dan Rivers on the scene for us, horrible situation unfolding there, the second largest city in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, CNN has obtained an exclusive interview with the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky. He spoke from a bunker with CNN Senior International Correspondent Matthew Chance just ahead of possible second round of talks with Russian diplomats maybe tomorrow.

Matthew, does Zelensky actually believe Putin is negotiating in good faith?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I got the sense that he didn't, but he didn't want to go that far on camera and say that he wasn't negotiating in good faith. Certainly, it is something that they are continuing to pursue, the possibility of a diplomatic path because above everything else, the Ukrainian leader wants this fighting to end. He wants the destruction that we've just seen from Dan Rivers' report, being ripped on the cities of Ukraine to stop as well.

And so he does still appear willing to give you know, talks -- the peace talks, the ceasefire talks or diplomacy at least some kind of chance.

Take a listen to what he told me earlier today from his bunker in central Kyiv.


CHANCE: You sent your delegation to meet the Russians for talks.


CHANCE: Did anything substantial come out of that? Is there any hope as the world watches for diplomacy?

ZELENSKY: They decided -- they decided to begin to speak about this situation.


And I want it. I really want it. And I -- you have to -- first of all, everybody has to stop fighting and to go to that point from where it was beginning. Yes, it began, five -- today six, six days ago. I think there are principle things you can do it, and that is a very important moment. If you'll do these and if those side is ready, it means that they are ready for the peace. If they don't ready, it means that you're just -- you know, just wasting time.

CHANCE: And do you think you're wasting your time or do you think they're ready?

ZELENSKY: We'll see.


CHANCE: Well, president -- or current officials rather have told me earlier on that there may be some further negotiations tomorrow. They haven't confirmed it absolutely. But what they're saying is look, there's so much bombing going on, Kharkiv, the second biggest city, the television tower here in Kyiv, in which five people were killed, military bases being pounded incessantly. They're saying that the Russians are clearly trying to improve their negotiating position. And in terms of talks, everything, they say, could still change.

BLITZER: Matthew, how did President Zelensky seem to you? Obviously, he must be worried about the safety of his family and his own safety as well.

CHANCE: I think, obviously, he's going to be worried about those things. I mean, he said himself that he believes he's target number one for the Russians and he believes his family, which is something he's more worried about, is target number two.

He looked very tired. His eyes were red and bloodshot. And he looked very pale. He hadn't shaved. And he was wearing these green military fatigues that have become quite a common site for the president of Ukraine during this period.

He was asked at one point when was the last time you saw your family and he said, well, I haven't saw them since this war began. I haven't seen them for three days. And he was clearly emotional, quite upset about that.

But, you know, this is somebody who has had to take on this role. I mean, he was an actor by trade, of course. He was a comic actor in this country before he became president, but he's had to take on this enormously difficult and stressful role not just as the president of the country but as the wartime leader confronting the Russian military threat.

Not just the threat, it's an actual fact that's taking place, and that is an immensely tense and stressful and anxious position that he's in, which is why he's moving, of course, from bunker to bunker around the Ukrainian capital so that he can't be pinned down. We had to go to extraordinary lengths to meet him today. We were met in central Kyiv, taken to undisclosed location, move into another car, escorted into a bunker underneath a building which was pitch-black. There were sandbags everywhere. There were military forces there with guns and machine guns and high security.

He is a man who feels hunted, but he's also somebody who's determined to carry on being a symbol of leadership in this country in this difficult time, Wolf.

BLITZER: Matthew Chance, thank you for your excellent and very courageous reporting. Stay safe over there. Thank you very, very much.

By the way, for more information about how you, our viewers, can help humanitarian efforts in Ukraine, go to and help impact your world.

There's more breaking news we're following just ahead. President Biden now just a few hours away from his first state of the union address. Will he be able to unite the country behind his plan to take on Putin? I'll discuss that and more with the White House chief of staff, Ron Klain. He's standing by, live.



BLITZER: Breaking news. We're less than three hours away from President Biden's first state of union address, which comes amid a very, very dangerous escalation of Russia's war in Ukraine right now.

Our Chief White House Correspondent, Kaitlan Collins, is joining us as she's got some details. Kaitlan, the president is prepared to call out Vladimir Putin, and I'm quoting him, Vladimir Putin's premeditated and unprovoked invasion.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. He's going to call him out directly by name, maybe something that President Biden wouldn't have done had this speech happened a month ago. But, of course, now things have changed and we are expecting pretty early on tonight in this speech to hear President Biden call out Putin by name. And according to an excerpt released by the White House, he is planning to say this of Putin. He rejected efforts of diplomacy. He thought the west and NATO wouldn't respond and he thought he could divide us here at home. Putin was wrong. We were ready.

And, of course, Wolf, what he is referencing there saying we were ready is this invasion of Ukraine that is taking place and now created this remarkable split screen that you were going to see tonight where the president delivering this rare, primetime address and, of course, the team here at the White House is closely monitoring what is happening on the ground, well aware that Putin has his sights set on the capital city of Kyiv and wants to overtake it, and, of course, as President Zelensky in Ukraine has said, overthrow his government.

And so that is going to be a much heavier focus of President Biden's speech tonight. Aides readily acknowledged that they have been editing it and adding that in.


And I also think one part that you can expect to see tonight is President Biden talking about the actions that he has taken in response to this. Because another thing that he does plans to say tonight is that when dictators don not pay a price for their aggression, they cause more chaos.

Of course, Wolf, we know part of the price has been these sanctions that we have seen the United States rolled out in tandem with European allies, but those are sanctions that the White House has warned could cause collateral damage, talking about prices that it could -- the effects it could have on the energy markets, on gas prices. That is something we do expect President Biden to mention as well tonight.

Wolf, one other thing I want to note before we go is that when you look at the guests who are often invited to the state of the union, we are told that First Lady Jill Biden has invited the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States to sit in her box at the state of the union.

BLITZER: Which is an extremely important and very beautiful gesture, indeed. Kaitlan collins at the White House, thank you very, very much. So, let's discuss all this and more with the White House Chief of Staff, Ron Klain. Ron, thank you so much for joining us.

As you know, the Ukrainian President told CNN today he's urged President Biden to send what he's calling a useful message on Russia's invasion. But President Biden has ruled out -- he's ruled out U.S. troops in Ukraine, he's ruled out what's called a no fly zone over Ukraine. Will the president announce any concrete military steps tonight to help Ukraine?

RON KLAIN, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, first of all, Wolf, what you'll hear the president talk about, as Kaitlan referred to earlier, is what he has assembled, which is an unprecedented coalition, NATO, plus our E.U. partners, U.K., Canada, Australia, Japan, to do two things, to provide all kinds of aid, some of it probably humanitarian aid, others probably military aid to Ukraine. That's where they've been able to launch this valiant effort to resist the Russian invasion, and also, coming together with unprecedented sanctions against a country as large as Russia, sanctions that are crushing the Russia economy. The ruble now, it takes 110 of them to buy $1, the Russian stock market has been closed for days.

So, what you'll hear the president tonight talk about is this coalition he's helped assemble, he's led in assembling along with the next steps, further tightening the sanctions on the oligarchs who buck up Putin and benefit from Putin's regime, and also the next steps in getting humanitarian and military aid to the Ukrainian. And as you said, that useful message that the president will deliver tonight will be heard directly by the ambassador from Ukraine who will be the president and first lady's guest at the state of the union tonight.

BLITZER: And as I said, that's an important gesture indeed. It sends a powerful message. As you know, President Biden has dealt with Putin for a long, long time. Does he agree with the French president that Putin has now changed? Is the U.S. assessment that Putin is now simply unstable?

KLAIN: Well, I'm not going to get into President Putin's mental state. What I am going to say is he has done something now that he has not to this extent before, which is launch a completely unprovoked, unjustified invasion of country as large and as significant as Ukraine. He's obviously meddled in Crimea before and other things like this, but this is really a whole new thing.

And that's why you're seeing the kind of unified response that you're seeing to this that the president has helped assemble, the kinds of sanctions that all of Europe and other partners around the world are imposing. You know, it's hard to impose sanctions like that on a country as big as Russia. It's hard to pull everyone together to do that. And I think that's why you're seeing both Democrats and Republicans, including people who have not been big fans of Joe Biden previously, saying that this effort, this global effort to punish Putin and punish his regime is tighter and stronger than they ever expected.

BLITZER: Taking a stand against Russia and Putin will, of course, mean some economic pain here in this United States, as you know, Ron. Given that, can President Biden honestly tell Americans tonight that there's reason for optimism, at least in the short-term, when it comes to the economy?

KLAIN: Well, I think on the economy, he's going to tell the American people tonight that we made tremendous progress from where we were a year ago, and that's just an indisputable fact. Our economy has grown more this year than any time in 40 years. That's the first time in 20 years our economy has grown more than China's. But he is going to acknowledge that we do have a problem with inflation in this country and we need to take steps to bring down the prices that Americans pay for everyday goods.

He'll talk about one step tonight to try to blunt the increase in gas prices. He'll talk about bringing down the price of prescription drugs, lowering the cost of childcare, lowering the cost of elder care, lowering the cost of healthcare. So, we know Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. We know budgets are tight.


He'll talk about what he can do to make those checks go farther and to bring down the cost people are paying at the cash register.

BLITZER: When we see the president make this really important state of the union address later tonight, the lawmakers in the Congress won't have to wear masks. Will that image, that this new reality, be reflected in President Biden's message to the country when it comes to the next phase of the pandemic?

KLAIN: Yes, Wolf, you will hear him talk tonight about the next phase where we are in COVID. You know, COVID cases are down about 90 percent from where they were a month ago. Deaths are starting to come down. Hospitalizations are down lower than they had been since July. That's because we've gotten 75 percent of adults fully vaccinated, half the adults eligible have gotten their booster shots. We have new pills to treat people with COVID. We have preventative measures. We've got preventive from getting COVID. We've mailed out 250 million free COVID tests and distributed tens of millions of free masks.

So, what you're going to see the president saying is we're in a place now where we can start to relax some of these measures or we can continue to fight the disease, not fight one another and hopefully end the culture war over COVID, tackle this as a disease, take additional steps.

One thing you'll hear the president announce tonight is a new test to treat program, a program where because we're getting millions of these new Pfizer pills, we'll be able to test people in drugstores, and if they test positive, immediately give them medicine that prevents hospitalization free of charge. And so we're taking the next steps to make sure that COVID does not control our lives and we can get this country closer to back to normal.

BLITZER: That's so, so important. The White House chief of staff, Ron Klain, thank you so much for joining us on this really important day. I appreciate it very much.

KLAIN: Thanks for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: There's more breaking news we're following right now, U.S. intelligence probing Vladimir Putin's state of mind as pressure on him grows and his escalating attacks on Ukrainian civilians continues.



BLITZER: We're following breaking news. The Russian invasion of Ukraine sparking what the United Nations is now warning could be Europe's worst refugee crisis of the century. At least, at least 677,000 people have already escaped the increasing violence.

Let's go to CNN's Scott McLean. Scott, you're there in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv where you're seeing people trying to flee. They are desperate. They are so scared. What are they telling you?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, they're telling me that they are simply exhausted, they're overwhelmed and as you mentioned they are desperate. And the numbers are staggering, as you mention over 670,000 and almost two-thirds of those, according to Polish authorities, are ending up in Poland and many of them are transiting through Lviv, the western most train hub here in Ukraine.

It is most impossible to board the train out of the country unless you were a woman or a child and even for them, it is extremely difficult. We have seen countless scenes of desperation of people trying to board trains in recent days. And even when they arrive on the other side of the border, many of them arrive not knowing where they're going to sleep at night, often arriving in the middle of the night and relying on the generosity of the volunteers who are there to try to house them and to feed them and make sure that they have what exactly they need.

Left behind at the train station is largely foreign men. And I've kept in touch with some of the men that I've met over the last few days who have been stranded and most of them thankfully have told me that they have been able to get out of the country through quieter border crossing going into Hungary and Romania, but one man actually told me that he went back to Kyiv, not knowing where else to go. Now, he's trying to get a train out of the country to Moldova.

The good news is that some countries have started to be more organized in terms of getting their foreign citizens out of the country. The Pakistani embassy, for instance, has set up outside the Lviv train station marshalling students and then putting them on buses out of the country knowing that they likely will not be able to get on the trains. I met -- we met one Pakistani student earlier today who had fled from Kharkiv, on his way out, he went past what looked to be Russian armored vehicles and that was not even the scariest part, he says. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SHEHEYAR, PAKISTANI STUDENT IN KHARKIV: Apartments, some so loud that they shattered our windows. So, we had no other option but to leave. So, here we are now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We feel regret. It's really difficult. They took away everything in one day, my country, everything.


MCLEAN: And the men that you saw there, he was at a checkpoint headed west out of the city. The police, the military there told me that about one in five cars are headed forward the Polish border, including that man with his family.

Now, we weren't able to stay long there, Wolf, and that's because shortly after we got there, air raid sirens went off and the military had already warned us that the bridge and the airport very near to that checkpoint could be potential targets for Russian bombs. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Scott, thank you very much, Scott McLean for us in Lviv, in Ukraine.

Let's go to Moscow right now. CNN Contributor for Russian Affairs Jill Dougherty is in Moscow for us. She's formerly CNN Moscow Bureau Chief. So, will Putin -- Jill, will Putin be watching, based on what we're hearing, will he be watching President Biden's state of the union address later tonight?


JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, RUSSIAN AFFAIRS: Well, Wolf, in fact, we checked with the president's spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, and he said that the president, President Putin usually does not watch T.V. addresses, that he prefers to have a written report that he reads later.

So, President Putin may not be watching, but you can be sure that members of the Kremlin staff, certainly intelligence, the military, the foreign ministry, et cetera, will be very carefully watching and analyzing and we might get a statement the next day. It's late here in Moscow. Wolf?

BLITZER: And I'm sure President Biden will have a message for President Putin in that address tonight. We'll be watching very closely. Jill Dougherty in Moscow for us, thank you very, very much.

There's more breaking news we're following just ahead. How long can Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, hold out against Vladimir Putin's war machine? We're taking a closer look at the 40-mile convoy threatening the Ukrainian capital tonight and what it means for the battle ahead.



BLITZER: Breaking news we're following, Ukrainians, they are now bracing for another wave of Russian attacks on the capital city of Kyiv.

Let's bring in our Brian Todd along with Retired Brigadier General Peter Swack, he's a Wilson Center Global Fellow at the Kennan Institute. So take us through all the late breaking battlefield developments.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf. You know depending on what time zone you're in, we are either ending the sixth day of this war or entering the seventh General Zwack.

Of course, many of us are still watching the capital city of Kyiv. They have gone after the TV tower. They have gone after densely populated urban areas in Kyiv and elsewhere. How long can the defenders of Kyiv hold off Russian forces at this point?

BRIG. GEN. PETER ZWACK (RET.), WILSON CENTER GLOBAL FELLOW, THE KENNAN INSTITUTE: Ukrainians are going to fight. The Russians -- time is not on Russian side. We already see cracks in their facade both within their forces on the ground and in Moscow itself. It could take days, weeks, the march of this column that is coming down from the north.

TODD: We'll show you that.

ZWACK: It has been clumsy. It has been slow. And it just doesn't make sense to expose such density of vulnerable vehicles along that way.

The tip of this here, what, 20 miles, they have to unload, they have to spread out like this and, because if they go direct against the defense that is waiting for them, and we've looked at Berlin, we saw Budapest in 1956, we saw Grozny, this -- yes, they might overpower them, but it will be bloody. So, time is not on the Russians --

TODD: Why have Ukrainian forces seemingly not targeted this convoy yet? Would you believe, sporadically, they may have targeted it?

ZWACK: I think that going along -- and there are columns like this, several of them, all over the country, it's multi-pronged, you've got 40 incredibly vulnerable. My instinct in anecdotal reporting is a lot of the young Russian soldiers, some of them -- many of them draftees in these convoys are hearing about this and they don't want to do it.

And so I think that the Russians are having a hard time rallying them and they're also -- this is where the Ukrainians stay behind soldiers, for sure, are out there and they're carrying small arms and they don't even need javelins. The old RPGs will knock out everything. So, this is now slow, tentative and clumsy.

TODD: Let's look at this piece of video. They have used Turkish-made drones to attack other Russian convoys. Could they attack that convoy with these types of drones?

ZWACK: Yes. I believe that the Ukrainians have to husband them. I don't know how many they have. They've used some. This is high value, look, like missile-carrying air defense type units, that's -- they're not going to throw their few against supply trucks. They're going to let the ground guys. The thing about these Turkish drones, the Bayraktars, is they savaged the Armenian army in late 2020, allowing Azerbaijan to win that war. And I think that they're being used for high value, if you will, targets.

TODD: General Zwack, thank you very much.

Wolf, this picture that's developing is one where we get the impression that Ukrainian commanders really have to make some tough decisions as to which resources they use. Do they expect to target that convoy soon? Do they try to go after missile batteries? They were having to make some tough decisions tonight as to what resources they're going to use, what weapons and where they target them.

BLITZER: They are very tough decisions they have to make very, very quickly. Brian Todd, thank you very much. General Peter Zwack, thank you to you as well.

The breaking news continues. Next, people in Southern Ukraine on edge and preparing for a Russian attack. We're going live to Ukraine's third largest city, the strategic Port of Odessa, when we come back.



BLITZER: The breaking news this hour, rockets striking major Ukrainian cities and that has a lot of people on edge, especially in the strategic southern port of Odessa, fearing they may be the next, the next Russian target.

CNN international security editor Nick Paton Walsh is on the scene for us.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR (voice-over): Slowly Moscow's tentacles are strangling Ukrainian Black Sea coast. These Russian troops are helping themselves to the store of the town of Kherson, leading this man away, others, too, according to a resident who spoke to CNN.

And also showing here, too.

That callous disregard for civilian life. Leaving little left but to appeal to a higher power that any Russian rule might be benign. Head from Kherson west and the pressure builds. In Mykolaiv, where locals are braced for Russian armor, especially here 30 minutes north of Odessa.

A town of Dachnoe hit with shelling. The next stop is this, Ukraine's third largest city, Odessa, the strategic port.


Scarred still from a world for the last generation.

In the hurriedly converted food halls, the youth know it is their time.

This is like hipster paradise, right, basically.

INGA KORDYNOVSKYA, HEAD, THE HUMANITARIAN VOLUNTEER CENTER: Two days ago I was with my friends organized a small chat in Telegram. Firstly, it was five people and then after that, in two days, it is transformed in the biggest humanitarian help volunteer center in the Odessa region.

WALSH: Food, medicine and history fuel them here. They stack sandbags outside. The nearby opera house, fortified like it hasn't been since 1941. This split screen circulated by cell phone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm sorry. But well, sorry. When I just saw it, I cried. It's impossible because I was crying because, like a little girl.

WALSH: But this was in 1941 --


WALSH: -- you were fighting against the Nazis.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Absolutely. Once again we are fighting against Nazi. OK.

WALSH: Some civilians have already taken up arms, great nervousness about being filmed here everywhere, really.

Apart from here on the shore, "for history, guys," he shouts and then they tell the Russian ships where to stick it.

But while it can feel like everyone is staying to fight, they are not. The trains are still filling. Grandmother, she says, when I ask her where they're going. Another generation's fight now, you can only hope theirs is shorter.


WALSH (on camera): It is really quite chilling and strange, Wolf, to see how this city is so prepared, so locked down, so empty. People just simply not turning up to work at times in the hotel we're staying in, utter silence and blackness behind me. The fear is any day, an amphibious landing could turn this into a warzone. Frankly, it already is one, with every locked down, all the barricades in place, and seeing those images too of that town of Kherson, when we were in a matter of days go, with now Russian troops around, gunfire in a place everyone wondered if that would happen. Deeply chilling for those I've spoken to as well -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Nick Paton Walsh in Odessa, stay safe over there. Thank you very, very much.

There's more breaking news. Just ahead we're live in key locations in Ukraine and Russia as Kyiv, the capital, braces for a major assault amid a new round of explosions. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


BLITZER: There's more breaking news we're following tonight. President Biden is just hours away from delivering his first State of the Union speech against the backdrop of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Let's discuss tonight's speech with CNN's chief political analyst Gloria Borger and Kasie Hunt of CNN+.

You know, Gloria, the whole world is going to be watching President Biden tonight. What does he need to do in this first speech?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I think he has to meet the moment. The entire world is watching him tonight. The country, this country is nervous about what's going on in Ukraine and they're nervous about what's going on in this country. They're worried about inflation. They're worried about how they're going to afford things in the future.

And so, the president has to talk about why we are in Ukraine, why democracy is important, and then he has to take a turn to why and how he's going to help Americans in their pocketbooks in the future.

BLITZER: He has to, Kasie, make a major connection between the war in Ukraine and what's going on here at home and how it affects real people.

KASIE HUNT, CNN+ ANCHOR: And he has to convince them that it's worth it, that the sacrifices that they're making, that the ways in which they are feeling this in their pocketbooks is something good. And I think there's an opportunity for that. I think people are looking potentially for a wartime leader.

Whenever something like this happens, it's an extraordinary opportunity for any leader. And I think, you know, one of the things we're going to be looking for from the president tonight, he's somebody that connects with Americans very easily, very well in the campaign trail. Sometimes he struggles when he's on teleprompter and I'm interested to see how -- which President Biden we get tonight.

BLITZER: He has to instill a sense of hope, doesn't he?

BORGER: He does. He has to instill a sense of pride in what America is doing in Ukraine, for the Ukrainian people, and hope in the sense that he's got to say, look, we've turned the page on COVID. We're turning the page on the economy. I'm going to make sure your gas prices are going to be lower. I'm going to get rid of inflation as much as I can right now and give Americans the sense that things are going to get better and that they should be full of hope and pride about what this country stands for in the world.

BLITZER: This speech, Kasie, is going to be different than it would have within two or three weeks ago. HUNT: I mean, it has to be rewritten almost completely, right? And

you have to remember that, typically, these speeches are lists and especially when you're a member of the Democratic Party, there are lists of constituencies that want to be mentioned in a speech like this. I think those moments are going to feel off key considering what's going on in the world, and that's going to be one of the struggles he's going to have to confront tonight.

BLITZER: Let's see what his message to Putin is tonight, directly to Putin. Let's see what he says.

Guys, thank you very, very much.

And to our viewers, thanks for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

I'll be back with my CNN colleagues in one hour for CNN's State of the Union coverage.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.