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Growing Fears Of Nuclear Catastrophe After Ukraine Plant Attack; U.S Says, Russia Using Increasingly Brutal Methods In Ukraine; Zelensky Slams Weak, Insecure NATO Rejection Of No-Fly Zone; Interview With The Ukrainian Ambassador To The United States, Oksana Markarova. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired March 04, 2022 - 18:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Be sure to tune in this Sunday morning for a special edition of CNN State of the Union. We're live at both 9:00 A.M. and noon Eastern. We'll be talking to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio, and European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen among others.

Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. I will see you Sunday morning.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. Russia attacks and seizes the largest nuclear power plant in Europe triggering fears that the war in Ukraine could unleash a nuclear catastrophe. Ukraine's president is calling it an act of nuclear terror. And U.S. Embassy in Kyiv is calling it a war crime.

The United States says Russia is using increasingly brutal methods in Ukraine. We're getting truly horrifying pictures of the destruction in and around Kyiv, of burning homes and neighborhoods in ruins.

CNN is bringing you live continuing war coverage with our correspondents on the frontlines and around the world.

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

We'll get to all the breaking news out of Ukraine in just a moment, but tonight, President Volodymyr Zelensky is lashing out at NATO's refusal to create a no-fly zone over his war torn country. In an online message just a little while ago, Zelensky suggested that NATO leaders are, and I'm quoting him now, weak and insecure.

This as Russian invasion forces are broadening their targets, including their alarming attack on Europe's biggest nuclear power plant. In just a moment, we'll go live to the correspondents near the nuclear plant and in the Ukrainian capital.

But, first, we have a war update from CNN's Oren Liebermann.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The unthinkable now another step in Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Russian forces firing on the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, seizing control of the Zaporizhzhia facility early Friday morning. Ukraine said the Russians fired on the plant from all sides setting fire to a building near the reactor threatening the cause a nuclear disaster.

ANDRI TUZ, ZAPORIZHZHIA NPP SPOKESPERSON: Russian federation do continue shooting at the nuclear power plant. Unit one, unit two have damage.

LIEBERMANN: A spokesperson for the plant says the fighting and the fire have stopped. The international atomic energy agency says radiation levels are normal and workers are being allowed in to continue operating the plant at gun point, says the head of the power company.

VOLODYMYR ZELENSKY, UKRAINE PRESIDENT: It could have been six Chernobyls. The Russian tank, people knew what they were shelling. They were shelling this at close range. This was terror at a new level.

LIEBERMANN: The crisis resulted in the U.N. Security Council holding an emergency meeting.

LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD, U.S. AMBASSAODR TO UNITED NATIONS: The world narrowly averted a nuclear catastrophe last night. Mr. Putin must stop this madness.

LIEBERMANN: Russia has not let up its attacks across the country, maintaining barrages against major cities, high rise apartment buildings obliterated in the town of Borodyanka just over 30 miles northwest of the capitol, Kyiv.

A cell phone video shot in Kharkiv interrupted by a strike on the city council building, homes destroyed in the city of Chernihiv.

ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: The terrible expectation is that the suffering we've already seen is likely to get worse before it gets better for as long as Russia pursues these methods.

LIEBERMANN: The Ukrainians have had at least one victory successfully stalling the miles-long convoy advancing on Kyiv from the north with direct attacks and by destroying a bridge on its route, according to the Pentagon.

In the south, Ukraine still has control over the city Mariupol despite intense Russian strikes. According to a senior U.S. defense official, residents there cut off from water and electricity.

Meanwhile, Odessa is preparing for a possible Russian attack. A resident of the occupied city of Kherson says residence face violence at the hands of the Russians occupiers. President Biden says it's clear Russian forces are intentionally targeting civilians as Ukraine accuses Russia of war crimes, accusation the Kremlin denies.

The International Criminal Court is investigating.

JENS STOLTENBERG, NATO SECRETARY GENERAL: This is brutality. This is inhumane.

LIEBERMANN: NATO has accused Russia of using cluster bombs, a devastating weapon that can kill indiscriminately, though a senior U.S. defense official says, they can't confirm that type of weapon has been used.

LT. GENERAL MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: They are geared to execute civilian casualties on a massive scale. So it's like having on each rocket that lands 100 small hand grenades falling.

LIEBERMANN: But the U.S. and other NATO countries remain steadfast in their refusal to implement a no-fly zone despite Ukrainian pleas.


BLINKEN: The only way to actually implement something like a no fly zone is to send NATO planes into Ukrainian air space and to shoot down Russian planes, and that could lead to a full-fledged war.

LIEBERMANN, Oren Liebermann, CNN, the Pentagon.


BLITZER: Oren, thank you.

Let's go to one of the frontlines of this horrible, horrible war. I'm talking about the Ukrainian capital right now, our Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward is on the scene for us.

Clarissa, civilians are clearly bearing the brunt of this war. Men, women and a lot of children are being killed. Kyiv has been bombarded with airstrikes once again today, and you're there. What is the latest? Tell us what you're seeing and what you're hearing.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it has been a day of heavy bombardment particularly on the outskirts of Kyiv in the west, to the north, to the northwest and we are now hearing from Ukrainian authorities that 40 civilians are believed to have been taken hostage by Russian forces near the Hostomel Airbase. That is an airbase that Russian and Ukrainians have been fighting for control of ever since Russian airborne troops parachuted in there, back on February 24th.

And while the Ukrainians have been able to take back some parts of that territory, apparently now the Russians, and, again, this is according to Ukrainian authorities, we cannot independently confirm it, but they are claiming that 40 civilians who were hiding out in a basement there have now ceased to be in communication and they believe to be in some kind of a hostage-type of situation to essentially prevent Ukrainian authorities from fighting or hitting that area where Russian forces are.

Meanwhile as well, you saw some horrible video in Oren Liebermann's piece there from Borodyanka, another town quite near to the Ukrainian capital that has been hit very hard. An entire apartment building just completely decimated, hollowed out.

And Ukrainian officials again are saying that they believe up to 100 people, 100 people, Wolf, could be trapped in the rubble of that apartment building but they're saying it's not possible to get to them at this stage because it is simply too dangerous. There is heavy shelling continuing, which makes it impossible to launch any kind of a rescue operation. And, obviously, when you're looking at an apartment building like that, Wolf, it's quite clear that many civilians are the ones who live in places like that and who are suffering the consequences.

One other thing I wanted to mention because it's slightly new phenomenon we saw today is some shelling in a village just to the southwest of Kyiv. And that is interesting, because, previously, most of the bombardment and fighting has been concentrated in the northern sort of 180 degrees of the capital. So, this is significant in that, it may be portends Russian troops moving further around and attempting to fully encircle the capitol here of Kyiv, Wolf.

BLITZER: You can only imagine how many wonderful people, men, women, children, were in their apartments, in those high-rise apartment buildings that basically were leveled and attacked and bombed by the Russians.

Ukraine's president, as you well know, Clarissa, President Zelensky, is continuing to push the west to act. What was his plea today?

WARD: So, we heard from him twice today. Earlier on, he addressed various European capitals expressing solidarity with the Europeans, and thanks for the support, and also stopping for a moment of silence to commemorate those already killed in this awful war. And then we heard another message from him tonight broadcast on his Facebook page in which he had a slightly sharper tone, more critical of the west and of NATO specifically for not adhering to Ukraine's demand or plea that they establish some kind of a no fly zone. Take a listen.


ZELENSKY: Today, the alliance's leadership gave the green light for further bombing of the Ukrainian towns and villages, refusing to make a no-fly zone.


WARD: And he went on to say that this result -- this was a result -- this refusal to implement a no-fly zone was what he called the self hypnosis of those who are weak and insecure. Those are pretty strong words from Volodymyr Zelensky and a pretty sharp rebuke of NATO and its allies. And we haven't really heard that from him in such stark terms, but you can understand, Wolf, given what's happening here on the ground, given the rising number of civilians being killed that there is increasing desperation from Ukraine's leadership for a more active form of military support from the west, Wolf.

BLITZER: You certainly can understand that desperation.


Clarissa Ward in Kyiv for us, stay safe over there. We'll get back to you.

Right now, I want to go to our Senior International Correspondent Sam Kiley. He's near that nuclear power plant seized by the Russians.

Sam, Ukrainian President Zelensky, he called that attack, and I'm quoting him now, terror at an unprecedented level. What are you learning, first of all, about the situation there now?

SAM KILEY CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, at the moment, the Russians are saying that they seized it to prevent it from falling or to continuing to be in the hands of terrorists, as they put it. They're describing the Ukrainian authorities who have been running that power station for many decades now, they are currently under the control of the Russian military.

The power station, according to the International Atomic Energy Authority, is okay. There has been no leak. It is functioning normally. There can be no shift change though with the people who are being held by the Russians there to run it.

And, Wolf, we've just obtained video of the moments before the control room fell into Russian hands. Quite an extraordinary exchange that I'd like to kind of -- I think we've got and we can play here and if we can run that a bit, I can do a sort of -- we've done a simultaneous translation. I just think it's an absolutely staggering moment when the fate of the planet boils down to an exchange between the control room of a nuclear power station and armed men shooting at it.

So, Wolf, as this begins to unfold, he's saying, stop shooting immediately. You threaten the security of the whole world. The work of the vital organs of the Zaporizhzhia station may be disrupted. It will be impossible for us to restore it.

He goes on, you're endangering the security of the entire world. Attention, stop shooting at the nuclear hazardous facility. Stop shooting at a nuclear hazardous facility. Stop shooting at a nuclear hazardous facility. Attention, stop it.

Now, Wolf, what an extraordinary exchange, a similar exchange we saw also at the United Nations in a sense with the U.S. ambassadress there telling the Russians, explaining to the international community just how dangerous that could have been had there been a worse strike.

Now, the facility that was caught fire there was a training facility on the outskirts of this very large nuclear power station, the largest in Europe, with six reactors and the storage area for used rods. And on top of that there is now, according to the U.S. ambassador to the United Nation, Russian troops 20 kilometers from the southern Ukrainian nuclear facility, which is about 200 miles to the west of where we are here in Dnipro. I'm about 80 miles north of the nuclear reactor, which is now in the hands of Russians but managed by Ukrainians.

The Ukrainians, just as they described, the Ukrainian workers at the Chernobyl nuclear facility are being held hostage, and, of course, in this world the specter of Chernobyl, that disaster in the 1980s, hanging very heavily over everybody. Wolf?

BLITZER: What a horrifying, horrifying development indeed. Sam Kiley, be careful over there. We'll get back to you as well.

There's more breaking news we're following here in THE SITUATION ROOM with the Biden administration's reaction to Russia's attack on Europe's largest nuclear power plant now under Moscow's control. We're going live to the White House.

Much more of our special coverage of the war in Ukraine right after this.



BLITZER: Tonight, the White House says it's assessing whether Russia has committed war crimes in the aftermath of its attack on a nuclear power plant in Ukraine, the largest in Europe.

Let's go to our Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins. Kaitlan, the White House is closely monitoring this extremely dangerous situation at that nuclear power plant. Tell us what you're learning.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. They say what Russia has done here is the height of irresponsibility, Wolf, talking about how reckless and dangerous this attack truly is. And just given the fact that they have not seen elevated levels of radiation yet is such a relief of news for the White House and for officials, of course, everywhere talking about the consequences this could have.

And now, they're calling on Russia to seized operations at this plant, because you heard the operators saying earlier they are being held at gun point. The people who are still there, who know how to run this facility are being held at gun point by their invaders, that would be Russian forces who, of course, started the shelling, starting this attack last night that led to this fire underway.

And, Wolf, we should note that here at the White House, there is still question of what to refer to this as. Because if you saw this morning, the U.S. embassy in Kyiv referred to this as a war crime, saying that attacking a nuclear power plant does constitute that, in their view, saying that Putin is taking his reign of terror one step further.

But, Wolf, we should note that this morning, an urgent message went out at the State Department telling diplomat not to re-tweet that message and saying, if they have re-tweeted it, unre-tweet it as soon as possible. That obviously means this is not the official position of the United States government, Wolf. And the president here at the White House today, we tried asking him several times if he personally believed this would constitute a war crime. He didn't answer those questions as aides say they want to let the legal process play out.

Though we should note that they have said if Russia continues to ramp up its aggressive actions, they will continue to up their consequences.


One of those questions, Wolf, has been whether or not the United States is going to ban Russian oil imports. You've seen bipartisan lawmakers calling him to do so. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying that she supports to this as well. The White House as they are still studying what the impact of that would look like, how they would do that. They're not ready to make that decision yet, Wolf. But it just speak to how grave the consequences and the situation you hear in the ground in Ukraine.

BLITZER: It certainly is grave. Kaitlan Collins at the White House for us, thank you.

Let's get some more on the breaking news. Joining us is CNN's Fareed Zakaria, he's the Host of Fareed Zakaria GPS.

Fareed, does the Russian attack on this nuclear power plant prove that Putin has absolutely no qualms, potentially destroying international norms to achieve his goals?

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: I think what it shows you is that things are not going according to plan. This is further evidence of that. There is no particular strategic logic to it. You can see it from the start, the Russian plan has faltered at every level. They wanted a lightning strike. They wanted really to take control of the airport outside of Kyiv then bring troops in by plane. They were not able to get the airport. They had not resupplied the troops. Now, they're basically trying -- seems to me they are now moving to a situation where they are looking for targets of opportunity rather than strategic targets. In other words, they're taking what they can rather than what they want to and that makes it more indiscriminate, that makes it more reckless, that makes it more dangerous.

I don't think -- you know, given that radiation levels aren't that high, I don't think this is as dangerous in some ways as some of the other things they might do. Russia has lots of nuclear power plants, so it's not like they don't have the capacity to, you know, make nuclear fuel. They have lots of nuclear power plants of their own. The problem is, what it shows, is that the Russian army is now simply engaging in indiscriminate warfare, take what you can, scare the population, and that -- it's a bad sign for the next few weeks.

BLITZER: The secretary of state, Antony Blinken, says Russia has never been so isolated. That certainly may be true, but does being isolated right now really matter to Putin?

ZAKARIA: I don't think so. I think that he's probably surprised at the degree of international isolation. He's probably surprised at the number of countries that have sanctioned Russia, I mean, much, much higher than -- I can't recall something like this, maybe, you know, South Africa during the days of apartheid, but this is a very, very extraordinary international coalition.

But I don't think it's going to be enough. I think that you have to hit Vladimir Putin where it hurts in terms of all these sanctions, and that is his oil and gas revenues. Russia is a petro state. Until you starve it of its oil and gas revenues, it will not feel the pain.

BLITZER: Good point. CNN's Fareed Zakaria, thank you very much.

Important note to our viewers, Fareed, of course, will be back this Sunday for his show, Fareed Zakaria GPS, Sunday morning at 10:00 A.M. Eastern. And we, of course, will be watching.

Coming up, as the Ukrainian refugee crisis worsens, CNN shares harrowing stories of sick children being evacuated from the war zone. Much more of our special coverage coming up.



BLITZER: Tonight we're hearing more desperate stories of Ukrainians fleeing their country as the number of refugees rising above 1 million.

CNN's Arwa Damon and CNN'S Sara Sidner have been doing truly remarkable reporting from Poland on this crisis, near the border of Ukraine.

Let's go to Arwa first. Arwa, you spoke with parents of sick Ukrainian children who were evacuated by train. What did they have to endure to simply get out of the country?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, I cannot believe that they were actually able to get through this, because these parents, these mothers who we met, their children weren't just sick. These were children who were in hospice and not just in any part of Ukraine, in Kharkiv, one of the hardest hit areas in all of Ukraine.

These mothers were telling us about how -- and we've all seen now the images of how crowded these trains were and what a jostle it was just to get on them, and through all of that these mothers would cradle their children, carry them in their arms as they tried to push their way through. And many of them were saying that up until the moment they were able to get on that train that evacuated them from Ukraine back to Poland, they had not been able to put their child down. And you really just see the love of these parents for their children, this love that has effectively turned them into super heroes.

And one of the more heartbreaking aspects of all of this, Wolf, was the realization though that even though they managed to get their children to safety, even though they managed to have their children survive this journey, because, keep in mind, for a lot of these kids, doing this journey under normal times could severely threaten their lives, never mind trying to do it during a war zone, but what you really realize is the impact of everything that is happening for these parents back home.


And one of these mothers who we met, Irra (ph), had a horrible, horrible thing happen to her. Take a listen.




DAMON: She, Wolf, had just received a call that her entire village in Ukraine had been leveled.

BLITZER: So heartbreaking, indeed. Arwa, thank you so much. That's just one story. There are so, so many powerful stories like that. Arwa, thank you.

Let's go to Sara Sidner right now. Sara, so many Ukrainians are fleeing. Thousands of men are heading to Ukraine to try to help fight Russia. So, what are you hearing, first of all, from them?

SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We are standing right on the border and we have been watching. We've seen over the past day only a dozen, but a dozen men going in while thousands of people are trying to get out. And as you heard from Arwa, these are mostly mothers with their children and that's what we've been seeing all day.

But on the other side of us there is a walking border, a border you can just walk over and we are seeing men in groups walking right across that border to try and fight with Ukraine. Take a listen.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Those people also have family and friends and, you know, somebody has got to stand up for them. And, you know, it's not just the U.S., it's not just Britain, it's the whole world has come together.


SIDNER: So, you heard from him, they didn't have a plan. There were at least six people, several of them from the United States, they are veterans. And there was a gentleman from Nottingham, England, they did not have a plan as to what it is they were exactly going to do and even who they might meet on the other side of the border, but they said their biggest worry was whether or not they got to the border and to cross, not the fight ahead as they stand by Ukraine against Russia. Wolf? BLITZER: Horrible war, indeed. And Ukraine represented no threat to Russia at all and look what the Russian's are doing to Ukraine. Sara Sidner, thank you very much.

For more information about how you can help humanitarian efforts in Ukraine, go to and help impact your world, really important.

There's more breaking news just ahead. Southern Ukraine including the key port city of Odessa bracing right now for an onslaught as Russian forces make a violent advance. Much more of our coverage --



BLITZER: More now on tonight's breaking news, the intensifying Russian invasion of Ukraine, including the southern port of the country where residents of the key port city of Odessa are now building barriers and bracing for a Russian assault.

CNN International Security Editor Nick Paton Walsh has the latest.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: More than once felt between their toes, now they want between them and the Russians, sand from a yacht club's beach through these human chains sent to barricade Odessa's center.

In times past, this fun spot would have pleasured rich Russians too. Now, even if you're aged 11, you know to keep them out. I expect, she says, we will defend Odessa and everything will be okay.

Then a siren again. Off the coast are two Ukrainian naval ships pacing worriedly. At any time, the Russian amphibious landing could hit. They clear out fast although sure not to strike a pose of defiance.

Soon, the alert clears and church bells begin to sound friendly again as people thin out on the ground. But the youngest are the last to leave, and for Kyra (ph), aged three, these up and down days in the dark are too much. Nastia (ph) is bouncier. I've lost my train toy, she says. Oh, wait, it's over there. Parents who can only hope this happens so rarely, they never think of it as normal.

Out east of here, the new Russian fake world that wants to envelope theirs is unfolding. These videos showing apparent aid trucks in the center of Russian occupied Kherson. Ukrainian official was warning they are part of a movie scene being concocted in which Russia will hand out aid to fix a crisis of its own making. Although its first contact, the P.R. operation doesn't appear to be going that well.

The night before locals filmed this civilian convoy arriving at town, possibly the fake locals intended to provide public support for Russia's occupation, theater we've seen before in Crimea and Donbas. But in one village around Kherson, a taste of how the future may look for Russian units out alone. These soldiers hunted, locals said, by actual local huntsmen. Now their radios, uniforms, maps, call signs, vehicles even are in the hands of people who know the land and have shown they can prosecute their grievances.


Russia's wars are ugly but here in remote hamlets that won't back down is where they'll get uglier still.


BLITZER: CNN's Nick Paton Walsh on the scene for us reporting.

Let's get some more in the breaking news right now. Joining us, the Chairman of House Armed Services Committee, Democratic Congressman Adam Smith of Washington State.

Mr. Chairman, Ukrainian President Zelensky just lashed out at NATO for not implementing a no-fly zone over Ukraine. Listen to this.


ZELENSKY: We believe that NATO countries have created a narrative that closing the skies over Ukraine would provoke Russia's direct aggression against NATO. This is the self-hypnosis of those who are weak, insecure inside despite the fact they possess weapons many times stronger than we have.


BLITZER: What do you say to that, Mr. Chairman?

REP. ADAM SMITH (D-WA): Well, I think the military situation is clear. And if I was President Zelensky I would be saying whatever I had to say to try to get as much support as possible. But the choice that the U.S. and our NATO allies face is that to directly engage Russian forces is to start a war with them and there's no reason to believe that Russia wouldn't shoot back and attack in different places.

As we've said from the start, we want to get weapons into Ukraine, we want to get support into Ukraine, but if we start a war with Russia there will be more, not less suffering. And a no-fly zone requires us to shoot down Russians planes or it requires Russia to simply agree to the no-fly zone. We would have to contest the sky with Russia. And that's war. That's a direct conflict.

I completely understand what President Zelensky is asking for a given the situation he's facing, but a larger war would also have devastating consequences.

BLITZER: Yes. President Biden clearly fears it could start World War 3 with the Russians. Based on the intelligence that you're receiving, Mr. Chairman, what's the latest assessment of the dynamic that is now on the ground in Ukraine?

SMITH: Well, a lot of it depends on the last report he said. You much -- how well organized are Ukrainians to continue fighting even after Russians take ground? Are they able to build an insurgency? And it sounds like they are. So, the Russians can't really take ground and then feel secure. It's a constant fight.

Obviously, they have the forces far more forces than Ukraine to roll in, but can they capture and keep territory? As we know, they've been bogged down in the north, they've experienced trouble in a variety of different places, but the plan is still -- the plan is still the plan, which is basically to cut the Ukrainian army off in the east by connecting down from Russia down to the Black Sea because about half the Ukrainian army has been in the east because of that separatist movement out there, and then take Kyiv and put in a public government.

They're struggling to do that at this point. They have overwhelming force. This fight has been vastly more difficult than they expected and I don't think anyone for sure can predict how successful they're going to be in implementing that plan.

BLITZER: As you know, there are increasing calls to prosecute Putin for war crimes. Should the U.S. be using that term, war crimes, to describe Putin's aggression?

SMITH: Yes. I'm not an expert in that. I don't want to get caught up in specific semantic terms. What Russia is doing in Ukraine is brutal and indiscriminate. They are killing civilians and destroying property. It's crucial to point out, as I heard you say in your opening earlier, this is totally unprovoked. Ukraine did not attack Russia. Ukraine did not threaten them in the least bit, in any way. Russia chose to attack Ukraine and put this brutality down on a peaceful civilian population because they wanted to grab territory. This is a war of choice using force to expand borders, something that the entire world must condemn.

The brutality is obvious. I'm not going to get caught up in is it a war crimes, it is an awful, horrible thing to do that should be condemned by everybody in the world, without question.

BLITZER: You're absolutely right. Congressman Adam Smith, thank you so much for joining us. We'll continue this conversation down the road.

SMITH: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: And there's more breaking news just ahead. The U.S. says Russia is using, I'm quoting now, increasingly brutal methods in Ukraine. We're going to get the latest from the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States. She's standing by live. We'll discuss.



BLITZER: We're following breaking news. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warning about a nuclear disaster and urging Europe to, quote, wake up after Russian forces attacked and seized a nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe.

Joining us now, the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States, Oksana Markarova.

Ambassador, thank you so much for joining us.

It's been a very, very dramatic 24 hours on this day nine as Russia attacked a nuclear power plant in Ukraine. What are you hearing from Ukrainians on the ground?

OKSANA MARKAROVA, UKRAINIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: Well, yesterday, we can truly say that the world has been on the edge of nuclear disaster when Russian troops started firing weapons and trying to seize and since seized the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest actually power plant in Europe. And even though due to security protocols and brave actions of the personnel, the fire was put down, but we are not safe.


Ukraine is not safe. Whole Europe is not safe because nuclear power plants are not supposed to be shot at and they're not supposed to be run by war criminals. There should be responsible engineers who run them.

BLITZER: Of course.

MARKAROVA: So, it's just another M.O. of the same -- what Russians have been doing in Ukraine for the past nine days -- brutal devastation.

BLITZER: Despite claiming otherwise, it's become very, very clear, of course, that Russia is targeting civilian sites in Ukraine, God only knows how many men, women and children in Ukraine have been killed already. What is your message to Putin?

MARKAROVA: Well, I can -- I can only quote my president with this message, so that, he said today that the occupiers, so that they could Ukrainians to surrender by switching off their TV, cutting of their mobile communication, interrupting food supply, switching off electricity and heating. But even if they deprive us of oxygen, as my president said, we will the take the breath and we will say get out.

So, despite the fact that it has been really brutal, you all see in real time photos and videos of targeting hospitals, kindergarten, schools all over Ukraine, residential complexes, Ukrainians still standing strong. We are defending our homes.

BLITZER: You certainly are.

You received a standing ovation the other night when you attended the State of the Union address here in Washington. It was a really powerful moment. What did that moment of unity here in the United States mean to you and to your country?

MARKAROVA: Well, these ovations were to the people of Ukraine and to the president of Ukraine. And I hear from people of Ukraine three things actually, when I talk to many people, not only my leaders but also ordinary people and family from back home.

First, they, of course, talked to me about the pain and sorrow from the lost lives, from destroyed homes, from all the devastation that Russian criminals brought to my country.

Second, of course, I hear about unity. Unity and resolve, despite of this pain, to continue the fight, because this is the only home we have and we love it, whether it's east, west, whether we speak Ukrainian or any other language.

But I also hear hope, and I think -- you know, that powerful statement during the State of the Union was about that as well. And we Ukrainians hope that despite of the fact of what's going on right now, that international rules and international laws still did not collapse and that we actually can count on all of our friends and allies to stand together with us and act, and that we can stop Putin and stop him soon.

BLITZER: Ambassador, thank you so much for joining us, and thanks for all you are doing. We really appreciate it.

We'll be right back.




BLITZER: We're following allegations of war crimes by Russia.

Here's CNN's Brian Todd.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Demand is growing tonight for the Russian president and former KGB colonel in the Kremlin to be prosecuted for war crimes.

ARSENIY YATSENYUK, FORMER UKRAINIAN PRIME MINISTER: Mr. Putin is a war criminal. He has to sit behind the bars in International Criminal Court.

TODD: The International Criminal Court is now investigating possible war crimes by the Russians in Ukraine.

KARIM KHAN, CHIEF PROSECUTOR, INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT: The whole world is watching, and the whole world is concerned about the events that are unfolding in this horrible conflict. TODD: While the Biden administration is, for now, not saying whether

Vladimir Putin has committed war crimes in Ukraine, one of America's closest allies, isn't mincing words.

BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: But we have seen already, from Vladimir Putin's regime, and the use of munitions that they have already been dropping on innocent civilians, Mr. Speaker, in my view, already fully qualifies as a war crime.

TODD: The munitions in question which would point to war crimes, cluster bombs in a crowded densely populated area. NATO secretary general confirms Russia is using them. Amnesty International says one fell on a Ukrainian kindergarten. They're considered indiscriminate. A missile explodes thousands of feet in the air, releasing smaller bombs that detonate when they fall to the ground.

And a horrific weapon called the vacuum bomb, which America's ambassador to the U.N. says Russia is preparing to use.

RYAN GOODMAN, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL, DEFENSE DEPARTMENT: These bombs are thought of as bombs that can basically vaporize people. And they can suck the oxygen out of an area. That's never supposed to be used in civilian area. That's why it's so alarming.

TODD: Experts say in some previous cases, where war crimes have been alleged, arguments could be made at the head of state might not have known about them, or that a commander on the ground went rogue.

But one veteran of war crimes cases believes that's not what's happening in Ukraine.

STEPHEN J. RAPP, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR-AT-LARGE, WAR CRIMES ISSUES: This is a situation that goes exactly to the top, no question. This is Putin's decision-making that he has full knowledge of. And that he is in control of. You know, I predict in a few months that we have an arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin.

TODD: But actually bringing Putin to justice is another matter. Only a few convictions have ever been won in the International Criminal Court.

As for apprehending Putin --

GOODMAN: It's very difficult to imagine this scenario in which Putin would actually be in the dock. As the head of state, as somebody that nobody's going to be able to go into Russia and apprehend them.

TODD: But an indictment for war crimes, experts say, could weaken Putin and other ways.

RAPP: No more summits. No more going -- no more hope for visiting his tens of billions of dollars of property. And I think in the end, and it'll make him quite dispensable as the leader of Russians.


TODD: The Kremlin has categorically denied committing any war crimes in Ukraine -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting, thank you very much.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.