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New Explosions Rock Kyiv As Russians Inch Closer To Capital; Deadly Russian Strike Near NATO Territory Raises Alarms; Russia Intensifies Bombardment In Southern Ukraine; Urgent Efforts Under Way To Free Americans Held In Russia; Analysts: Gas Prices Could Soon Come Down As Oil Plunges. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired March 14, 2022 - 18:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Sign up for our newsletter. Go to, Until tomorrow, you can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the TikTok. You can also tweet the show @theleadcnn.

Our coverage begins now with Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks for watching.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, new explosions rattling Kyiv tonight as Russia once again bombards civilians in the Ukrainian capital and Putin's army inches closer and closer to the city limits. This is as the Pentagon now warns Russia is expanding its targets in western Ukraine, just miles from the Polish border, raising new fears the violence could spill over into NATO territory.

The Russians also pushing to cut off Ukraine from its crucial access to the Black Sea. Major Ukrainian cities in the south now facing relentless attacks from all directions.

Our correspondents are standing by as we bring you CNN's global team coverage of Russia's war against Ukraine.

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

Tonight, Russia's brutal assault on Ukraine shows no sign of letting up with civilians paying an increasingly bloody price for Vladimir Putin's invasion. In just a moment, we'll go live to Kyiv for an update from our Senior International Correspondent Sam Kiley. I'll also get the U.S. response to the crisis from the Pentagon press secretary, John Kirby.

But let's begin our coverage this hour with a closer look at all of the late-breaking developments in the war. Here is CNN's Oren Liebermann.


OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Russia is broadening its attack, hitting targets both military and civilian. In the capital city of Kyiv, flames pour out of the remnants of an apartment building, firefighters evacuating the wounded. Russian forces have not yet encircled the capital city, a senior U.S. defense official said, but they are trying.

OLEKSIY GONCHARENKO, UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT: In Kyiv itself, everything is okay. There are some shortages, but no desperate situation. But in towns south of here, some of them are occupied by Russian forces, and in some of them, there are fighting. Now and they're situation is absolutely awful.

LIEBERMANN: Ukraine's resistance has stalled much of the Russian advance on the ground, the defense official says, and the skies over the war-torn country remain contested. Instead, the Russians have turned to long-range strikes.

Russian bombardment pounding the city of Mykolaiv in Southern Ukraine, where they have advanced most. To the west, Russian forces hit a military base used for training over the weekend, just 11 miles from the polish border. The strike killed at least 35 people, the local military says, and wounded more than 100 others.

JAKE SULLIVAN, WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: What it shows is that Vladimir Putin is frustrated by the fact that his forces are not making the kind of progress that he thought that they would make against major cities, including Kyiv, that he is expanding the number of targets.

LIEBERMANN: It is the closest Russian strike to a NATO country but it will not stop the flow of security assistance to Ukraine. Another $200 million in aid approved over the weekend, even as Russia threatens the shipments.

Nearly three weeks into this invasion, Russia has now turned to China for help, asking China for economic support, according to sources. China denies receiving such a request and Russia denies making one. But the U.S. has information suggesting Beijing expressed some openness to providing Russia with financial or military assistance, according to a western official and a U.S. diplomat, though it is not exactly clear what type of aid.

SULLIVAN: We have communicated to Beijing that we will not stand by and allow any country to compensate Russia for its losses from the economic sanctions.

LIEBERMANN: White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan held an intense meeting for seven hours today with the top Chinese diplomat in Rome, as Biden administration faces pressure from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to impose even more sanctions on Russia.

Over the weekend, Zelenskyy visited wounded troops in a hospital as he demonstrates his defiance.

VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: We shall continue defending ourselves. Ukraine does not surrender.

LIEBERMANN: Zelenskyy is scheduled to address Congress virtually on Wednesday. It would be the eve of the start of the war's fourth week. As the fighting drags on, the U.N. secretary general raising a chilling possibility.

ANTONIO GUTERRES, U.N. SECRETARY GENERAL: The prospect of nuclear conflict, once unthinkable, is now back within the realm of possibility.

LIEBERMANN: Oren Liebermann, CNN, at the Pentagon.


BLITZER: Thank you, Oren.

Now, let's get an update right now on the situation in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. CNN's Senior International Correspondent Sam Kiley is on the scene for us.


Sam, a very rough day in the capital. So, what is the latest tonight?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, just as you were coming to me, Wolf, we could hear a few detonations. I'm pretty sure that that is outgoing counter-missile, missiles being fired by the Ukrainians, which means that there are missiles in the air or aircraft in the air continuing with their attacks against Kyiv, the capital.

Now, on the eastern edge -- I've just heard another one there. On the eastern edge of the -- sorry, on the western edge of the city, earlier on today, there was an attack against a civilian apartment building. Two people were killed, according to authorities here, seven injured. We were also in the southwest of the city doing a little story that we're going to talk about later. There a missile of some kind was intercepted, we understand, and landed fairly close to where we were. A number of people were injured there and there was a lot of damage. But we don't know yet if there were any actual fatalities.

But this is just yet another day in Kyiv. And as you were saying there, as Oren was saying in the introduction, Putin has continued his campaign against civilian areas and expanded the target list to military targets, at least in the west of the country, whilst Mariupol continues to get pounded, although, there were glimmers of help in the southeastern city when about 160 private civilian cars were able to drive out.

They kind of ran a gauntlet. It wasn't an organized process to get people out. They kind of just went for it and got through. That may indicate a slight softening of the Russian line or it may indicate a disorganization among the Russians, which has been one characteristics of this whole invasion.

They have not achieved what Putin was told would be easily achieved in a matter of days, which is the capture of this city and the decapitation of the administration. Things are getting tougher by the day for the Russians but it is principally Ukrainian civilians that seem to be paying that price, Wolf.

BLITZER: Sam, I understand you also have some reporting about some of the most vulnerable who are still in this war zone, babies who were born to surrogate mothers. What are you learning?

KILEY: Well, this is an extraordinary situation, but it is a kind of product of a war and, of course, the product of the encirclement, or the attempt by the Russians continue with their encirclement. They had now upped the level of attacks in the east and northeast of the city. And NATO sources in the United States and United Kingdom, analysts saying that they believe that the Russians have had taken a bit of a tactical pull and may try to encircle the city entirely.

And this means that we come across a clinic and a nursery in which the babies of surrogate parents are unable to be handed on to the adoptive parents or the parents that have been part of the process who are going to bring these children up and indeed they're trapped. They're also being cared for by nannies who themselves they are unable to leave the city because the weight of the responsibility of these tiny little newborn children weighs so heavily on them, so, enormous amount of commitment. Here is a little extract of our piece.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: These babies can't be abandoned. They're defenseless. They also need care. And we really hope that the parents will come and pick them up soon.

KILEY (voice over): An Argentine couple collected their child the day before, but a combination of the pandemic and now war has meant that some have been stuck here for months.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It all depends on the strength of the parent's desire. I met with parents who came to Kyiv to pick up their baby. They had tears in their eyes. They had waited 20 years for their baby and there are such couples who have are afraid because there is a war going on here.


KILEY (on camera): Now, there are 21 babies in that little nursery. That is an underground nursery in the sense it had to be moved to a basement, very close to the frontline, about well within artillery range, Wolf. And that really accounts for most of the people in the city. As the Russians press in closer, they now are switching to the use of long-range artillery, rockets, missiles that can reach pretty much anywhere in the city. So, nowhere is safe, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. They are clearly bombing residential civilian areas. Sam Kiley, thank you very much for that report. Please stay safe over there in Kyiv.

Let's go to the White House right now where CNN's Phil Mattingly is standing by. Phil, we're learning the U.S. has now raised concerns that China may be open to actually providing assistance to Russia economic and perhaps even military assistance. What are you hearing right now?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That is right, Wolf. As the U.S. and its allies have taken dramatic steps over the course of the last several weeks to isolate Russia, there is growing concern inside of the White House that the China/Russia relationship may give Russia some opportunity to fill some of those gaps.


In fact, according to information received by U.S. officials, China has expressed some openness to helping on both economic and military requests posed by the Russians.

Now, both the Russians and the Chinese have denied those requests have been made but it is an issue White House officials have brought forth publicly over the course of the last 24 hours but also, perhaps most importantly, privately.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, in a long scheduled meeting, sitting down for more than seven hours with his Chinese counterpart today in Rome who raised the issue directly and clearly, made clear the U.S. objections to any Chinese assistance and also made clear that there would be repercussions if any assistance was given.

Now, the U.S. Has not outlined what those repercussions may be but the warning is clearly there. However, U.S. officials, in describing that lengthy conversation today, said, quote there is a lot of gravity in this moment and I think the conversation reflected the intensity of that, U.S. officials concerned and very clearly trying to head off any Chinese assistance, Wolf.

BLITZER: Phil Mattingly reporting for us from the White House. Thank you.

There is more breaking news we're following here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Ukraine's president warns Russia will attack NATO unless the alliance puts a no-fly zone over Ukraine. How real is this risk? I'll ask the Pentagon spokesman, retired Admiral John Kirby, when we c come back.



BLITZER: Breaking news, western allies are increasingly alarmed by Russian strikes in western Ukraine, now coming dangerously close to NATO territory in Poland. Just a little while ago, I spoke with the Pentagon press secretary, John Kirby.


BLITZER: John, thanks very much for joining us. As you know, Russia launched a deadly attack on a Ukrainian military base just a few miles from the Polish border, Poland, of course, being a key NATO ally. How much does a strike like this raise the risk of direct military confrontation between NATO and Russia? JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: Well, look, it certainly doesn't decrease the risk when you talk about a facility that close to the border, Wolf. I will tell you, we're very vigilant on the other side on that inside Poland. We just rotated two Patriot batteries from Germany to Poland. They've only been on the ground here for a few days.

So, we're watching that air space very closely. We have a de- confliction channel with the Russians, which we know works. We haven't had to use it but we're ready to do that if we feel the concerns have raised to that level.

But, look, I think it is clear that Mr. Putin is expanding his target sets. Now, this is the third major set of strikes in Western Ukraine in just the last few days. So, it is clear that the Russians are beginning to expand the scope of their military activities, at least when it comes to long-range strikes.

BLITZER: You say this targeted base by the Russians wasn't a route to get U.S. security assistance to Ukraine, but did it house weapons provided by the U.S. and the west.

KIRBY: No, it did not. This is a training facility that the Ukrainians had been using and are still using right up until the attack. But it is not used for our deliveries of security assistance and weapons and material to the Ukrainians.

BLITZER: There is growing momentum, as you know also, among lawmakers on both sides of the aisle up on Capitol Hill for the U.S. to provide Ukraine with fighter jets. Is the Pentagon going to reconsider sending jets to Ukraine, jets that Ukraine says it so desperately needed?

KIRBY: I think it is important to remember the context here. Certainly, the United States is not going to stand in the way if another nation wants to provide aircraft or any other systems to the Ukrainians that they deem fit and able to do. I mean, those are sovereign decisions, Wolf.

What we said was we did not think it was a tenable for those aircraft to be transferred to our custody and then for us to flow them into Ukraine. We feel there are much more important ways that we, the United States, could support Ukraine in their self-defense needs, and, in fact, we are. The president just signed another $200 million just over the course of the weekend and we are already putting pen to paper right now to try to get that list filled out and get that into the hands of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

BLITZER: And very quickly, what would be the downside of the U.S. directly providing those kinds of jets to Ukraine?

KIRBY: One of the downsides is that our intelligence community has assessed and told us that, for the United States to provide fighting aircraft, could be construed -- misconstrued by Mr. Putin as an escalatory measure and spin the conflict to a higher level than it is right now. And I think we can all agree that having United States and Russia involved in an escalatory conflict, two nuclear powers, is not only not good for the world, of course, but it's not good for the people of Ukraine.

BLITZER: Let's get to another major development today. Russia's request for military assistance from China, the U.S. has information that China has suggested some openness to providing that kind of military aid. If China does, in fact, comply, could that tip the balance of the war toward Russia?

KIRBY: I guess it would depend on what China were to do. I certainly don't have direct information about any request from Russia to China or China's response to that. But, obviously, it would depend on if China were to provide support, what that would look like. And we've already said that certainly there could be consequences for China to get involved on the side of Russia in that kind of a regard. And I wouldn't want to speculate beyond that.

What I would tell you though, Wolf, is, clearly, at the very least, China has given their tacit approval to Mr. Putin for this unprovoked war. They said that they're not going to impose sanctions and that the sanctions imposed by others are illegal. They said that they want to help broker peace but they've done nothing at all to that end.


And they have blamed the United States and Ukraine for actually precipitating this conflict, which is an incredible statement. So, we haven't seen anything from China that would indicate or certainly give us comfort that they are going to do anything other than at least provide some sort of tacit approval to Mr. Putin.

BLITZER: Has the U.S. taken any retaliatory measures against China yet?

KIRBY: I'm not aware of any retaliatory measures against China. But, again, I think that is a decision that would be made down the road if, in fact, China were to offer some sort of visible, tangible support to Russia going forward.

BLITZER: The U.S. also says almost all of the Russian advances, military advances, in Ukraine remains stalled. As Putin's frustration mounts over this slow progress, is the fear that Russia will only become more brutal, is that fear realistic?

KIRBY: In some ways, you're already seeing that, Wolf. I mean, just look at the shelling and bombardment your network has been covering in places Kharkiv and Chernihiv and Kyiv and Mariupol. You can see it for yourself that they are already becoming more aggressive in we would call in the Pentagon long-rage fires, bombardment, missile and rocket attacks, already stepping up. So, we've already seen the violence increased by been by a measure of magnitude here as Mr. Putin continues to get frustrated on the ground.

He hasn't made as much progress towards Kyiv or Kharkiv. He still is isolated Mariupol but he hasn't moved into Mariupol. We know that he's frustrated, that he hasn't gained ground that he wants to gain. We know that he underestimated the Ukrainians. And so we're already starting to see an increasing aggressiveness in their use of rocket and missile attacks.

BLITZER: So, is there any off-ramp for Putin at this point, an off- ramp that allows him to at least save some face?

KIRBY: I would think so, yes, but that is a discussion that he's going to have to have with Ukrainians and be sincere about that. There was a set of talks that were ongoing today. They've now been postponed until tomorrow. We in the United States obviously encourage a diplomatic outcome here.

Mr. Putin, quite frankly, Wolf, has always had this option. He didn't have to go in on the 24th of February. He left diplomatic options on the table. They are still there. And so we hope he actually goes to the table and is serious about trying to find a negotiated settlement. But, obviously, whatever is decided would have to be decided between President Zelenskyy and Mr. Putin.

BLITZER: The Pentagon press secretary, retired Admiral John Kirby, thanks so very much for joining us.

KIRBY: Yes, sir, glad to be with you.


BLITZER: The breaking news continues next. With the latest on the surging refugee crisis, more than 2.8 million people have now fled Russia's war on Ukraine.



BLITZER: Breaking news, amid Vladimir Putin growing crackdown on anti-war protests, a truly stunning moment just unfolded during a newscast on Russian state T.V. Watch this. As cameras roll, the woman walked on to the set, interrupting the broadcast and holding a sign that reads, and I'm quoting now, look at that, no war, stop the war, do not believe propaganda. They tell you lies here.

The woman's lawyer later confirmed that she was an employee of the channel. That is a pretty dramatic move indeed.

Meanwhile, there is other breaking news we're following. The United Nations said at least 2.8 million Ukrainians are now on the run from the Russian invasion. They fled the country to neighboring countries.

CNN's Ed Lavendera is tracking the situation for us near the Ukrainian border. He's in Poland, where the majority of those refugees are being warmly welcomed.

Ed, so what are these refugees telling you?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Wolf. Well, really, we have seen some rather dramatic stories today and what has struck me, as we've spoken with refugees arriving here at this train station along the Polish/Ukrainian border is the distance that so many of these refugees are now coming from. They are coming from the eastern part of the country, cities that have been decimated by the Russian army in the last couple of weeks. And the journey for many families to get here to this very point, given everything that they have witnessed and endured for the last several weeks is really stunning.

We met an extended family of five people, two adults, a teenager and two young children, and they told us that the town that they were in that had just been leveled, just east of Kyiv, it had been leveled by the Russian army. They talked about the devastating scenes of warfare that they saw, tears in their eyes as they recounted the two-day journey to get to this very spot.


JULIA CHUMAKOVA, REFUGEE FROM KHARKIV, UKRAINE: The most frightening thing was to wake your child up to go to school and say, wake up, the war has started.

The first bombing started 300 meters from our home. So it was frightening because children don't understand what happened. But they get traumatized. They get scared and you try to keep calm, trying not to pass it on.


LAVANDERA: And what you might not have been able to see there, Wolf, is that as the woman was recounting her story to us, her nine-year-old child was holding her leg, sobbing in tears as she was remembering all of the details that her mother was describing to us. They came from the town of Kharkiv. That is just east of Kyiv. And now, really, what happens to them is very much up in the air. They need to figure out what to do next, where to go next.

The mayor of the city here in this border town along the Polish border tells us that in the early days of the evacuation, they were getting some 50,000 to 55,000 refugees. That number has settled down but it is still about 25,000 refugees a day coming through this border checkpoint area.


Dramatic numbers, especially when you consider the town that they're coming into only has a population of about 60,000 to 70,000 people. Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes, it's pretty amazing what's going on, indeed. Ed Lavandera on the Polish border with Ukraine, thank you much.

Meanwhile, there is grim new information tonight about the Russian bombing of a maternity hospital in the city of Mariupol and horrifying, truly horrifying images that were seen around the world.

CNN's Phil Black has the latest in a report that does contain graphic video.


PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): We don't know this woman's name but we can see the desperate effort to rescue her from the devastation of Mariupol's maternity hospital. She's hurt. There are terrible injuries down her right side. She appears dazed by the enormous blast that hit here only moments before. But she's conscious and clearly concerned for her baby.

At another medical facility, doctors work to save them as their condition deteriorated. Surgeon Tim Marron (ph) says they tried to resuscitate the woman while also performing Caesarian delivery. They couldn't revive her or her child. They both died.

Russian officials claimed a hospital was being used by Ukrainian troops and all civilians had left before the attack. The evidence shows that is not true. Children, patients, staff, all experienced the terrifying blast that created this crater. We do know this woman's name, Marianna Vichigeskaya (ph). Hurt and bleeding, she walked through the chaos after the explosion. The next day, she gave birth in another hospital. She and her husband have named their daughter Veronica.

The strike on Mariupol's maternity hospital has become a defining moment in a war already notorious for its brutality and great suffering inflicted on the innocent.

Phil Black, CNN, London.


BLITZER: For information about how you can help humanitarian efforts in Ukraine, go to and you will impact your world, very important.

There is more breaking news just ahead, the first signs of Americans may see at least some relief at the pump, why record high gas prices could soon start ticking down.



BLITZER: We have breaking news this hour, Russia intensifying its bombardment of Southern Ukraine right now.

CNN International Security Editor Nick Paton Walsh is in the city of Mykolaiv for us tonight. So, what are you seeing over there, Nick?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Yes, Wolf. You may not see it behind me because of the intense fog but we've been hearing the rumble of what seems to be Grad rockets landing. There is a distance from where I'm standing here in the center of Mykolavi, the key port city along the Black Sea, but I have to tell you, it was certainly the city center that was hit on Sunday.

We saw ourselves the impact after rockets hit near a supermarket killing nine people in one of the worst instances here, I think, of civilians losing their lives. I spoke to the recently created widow of one of the dead there and she described how they'd simply being queuing to buy things for the funeral of their daughter when she saw her husband killed and described seeing his blood on the floor around her.

This is all part of the daily toll that we're seeing on civilians here in Mykolaiv. The shelling is extraordinarily constant and it hits residential areas. We saw ambulances around the city today, frankly, the horrifyingly frequent rate.

And the question really is exactly what is Russia's strategy around the roads here. The suggestion is they're trying to move to the north and essentially encircle it or cut it off, come down through its western side. A military source told me that they know they can't really get across the broad bridges or the wider sways of the river that is here, and they said they're trying to move to the north where it is more narrow and they could perhaps create a bridge of their own.

But the ultimate goal being pushing down toward Odessa along the Black Sea coast, the third largest city in Ukraine, but that still means that, on a daily basis, we are hearing these blasts in the background during the night. The light sky was lit up just recently by these consistent attacks. And that is leaving civilians here, frankly, terrified. We saw a lengthy queue of people piling on to buses just to get out of here, the women and children leaving, the men staying behind to fight.

It is a regular scene but it is one here in Mykolaiv that have a strategic final moment, because if the Russians do manage to encircle this city, then they essentially have clear passage towards Odessa. But Mykolaiv has been very stubborn. It's put up a phenomenal defense so far. And we've seen how they are managing, it seems, to have control of some of the key roads around here. It is an exceptionally important fight, Wolf, from that seems to play out during the night.

BLITZER: Nick, just please be safe over there. Nick Paton Walsh in Mykolaiv for us, be safe over there.

Let's discuss what is going on with the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States, Oksana Markarova. Amabssador, thank you so much for joining us.

I spoke a little while ago with the Pentagon press secretary. He told me the risk of providing fighter jets to Ukraine, in his words, is that Putin would see that as an escalation, he says, that is not necessarily good for the world or the people of Ukraine. How do you respond to that?

OKSANA MARKAROVA, UKRAINIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: Well, look, Putin does in Ukraine right now, and we can describe it, as, Wolf, your journalist just put it rightfully, horrific and war crimes, two sentences that actually describe what Putin is doing. And this is what is not good for the world because we also hear from Russia that they will not stop in Ukraine.


We also hear that it is -- that they are liberating somehow Ukraine, which clearly does not want to be liberated in 1991, when we voted for our independence. And right now, in every city, whether it is Mykolaiv, where your brave team is, or Kyiv, or other places, everyone, all women, men and children do not want to be occupied by Russia and all of them are fighting.

And as we see this terror, actually, hitting hospitals, hitting supermarkets, hitting residential areas, today in Kyiv, (INAUDIBLE) where I used to take my kids to on the weekend was hit. All of this, you know, even this horrible terror does not result in Ukraine's surrender.

Yes, women and children are fleeing. We're trying to get them out of harm's way. Yes, we are trying to negotiate to get -- to get people out of Mariupol, where they encircled for ten days, but we are not ready to surrender. That is why they are resorting to this terror.

So, if anything, Ukrainians are showing the strength to fight for our land. We're showing the strength to fight for democracy, for freedom. It is larger than Ukraine. It is about the global security. And I think all of us together, all of our partners should also have strength to fight together with us. So, we should not, at this point, think about what will provoke Putin because whatever he's doing to Ukraine since 2014 and now was not provoked at all.


MARKAROVA: So, we have to stop him while it is still local.

BLITZER: As I keep pointing out, Ukraine represented absolutely no military threat at all to Russia. And look at what the Russians, under Putin, are now doing to Ukraine. It is horrendous.

Should we expect, Ambassador, President Zelenskyy to renew his calls for those jets as well as maybe calling for a no-fly zone when he addresses a joint meeting of the U.S. House and Senate of the Congress on Wednesday morning?

MARKAROVA: Well, I should not give a preview of what the president will say on Wednesday, but we need all of the support that we can get and, of course, all the anti-air and all the air defense items that we could get. We need all of them. And, again, we never asked foreign troops on the ground. Our motivated and very capable army, including the air force, are ready to fight, and as I say on a daily basis now, in Washington these days, give us the tools and our army will finish the job.

So, we don't anyone to be on the ground but we need all of the support, all of the equipment, especially the anti-air because you see on the ground, they are not really successful. But what they're doing is destroying our cities and civilians and civilian objects from the air, and this is what we need support with.

BLITZER: Yes, it is to so terrible. As the war drags on, Ambassador, what gives you reason to hope?

MARKAROVA: Well, you know, there is a phrase that says you never now strong you are until being strong is the only chance you have. So, for us, it is our home. We don't have any other home. And we will defend this home. And I think the fact that Ukraine didn't fall during the first 20 hours, 24, 48, whatever, for 19 days, we are fighting effectively and successfully, even though we're losing so many of us against a much larger, brutal dictator and the army of this dictator.

So, we know that it is a righteous fight. We know that God is on our side. We know that all of our friends in the United States, but in all other civilized countries are on our side. We all have to win. We all have to bring peace, not only to Ukraine, but to Europe, to our planet.

BLITZER: The Ukrainian ambassador to the United States, Oksana Markarova, thank you so much for joining us. Good luck. We will stay in very close touch with you. I appreciate it very, very much.

Coming up, urgent efforts are under way right now to free American citizens imprisoned in Russia. So, how will U.S. officials bring them home now that tensions with the Kremlin are boiling over?



BLITZER: More now on the breaking news. New explosions rocking Kyiv as Russian forces inch closer and closer to the Ukrainian capital. As many as 20,000 foreigners have now volunteered to help Ukraine fend off this Russian onslaught, some to fight, others to help.

CNN's Jim Sciutto spoke to some Americans and others, heading to the war zone, including an ex-marine, a nurse, and a recruiter who bets them.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Their resumes range from combat experience to no military training at all.

Brian, a 25-year-old from Minnesota, says he served two years with the Marines in Okinawa, Japan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On a U.S. marine. If I have to die to help these people, I will.

SCIUTTO: David, 33, from Canada, says he can help fix tires to keep Ukrainian militaries vehicles on the road.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If it's black, ground, and made of rubber, I can fix, and one of the most important things in the gears of wars is keep it moving.

SCIUTTO: All volunteers get some training, while some can't contribute on the battlefield, others may never see combat.

Maddie, another member of sky's medical team is a travel nurse from Missouri. Here to help, and willing to put her life on the line to do it, as she has done before in Iraq.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yeah, it hurts a little bit, but I have a heart for these people. I just really want to help them.


BLITZER: Jim Sciutto, thank you very much for that.

Putin's invasion is raising deep concerns here in the United States, about the fate of Americans in prison in Russia.

CNN's Brian Todd is on the story for us.

So, what are you learning about the latest push now to try to bring these Americans home?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Biden administration officials, without giving details, say they are working hide hard behind the scenes to get these Americans released. The WNBA and NBA told us a short time ago they are doing everything in their power to ensure Brittney Griner is returned to the U.S.

But there are increasing concerns tonight that with tensions this high between U.S. and Russia, they could be held for sometime.


TODD (voice-over): A new sense of urgency tonight regarding three Americans being held in Russia, and the efforts to get them released.

JONATHAN FRANKS, ADVOCATE FOR TREVOR REED: I think we're in a place where folks are legitimately in danger. They're held by thugs.

TODD: Jonathan Franks is a crisis management consultant who is campaigning for the release of Trevor Reed, a former U.S. marine who's been detained in Russia since 2019, allegedly for endangering the lives of Russian police officers, which reads family denies, and the U.S. ambassador to Russia called absurd.

But, tonight, Franks is also concerned about the fate of basketball star Brittney Griner, who CNN is told has been held in Russian custody since February 17th. After Russian authorities said they found cannabis oil in her luggage when she landed in Moscow. Franks warns we should be skeptical of those charges, and the fact that the Russians put out images of what looked like a mugshot.

FRANKS: I think that here is an effort underway in Moscow's part to cast her as some sort of king pin, and it is not exactly clear to me that she actually is guilty. Jason Rezaian, "The Washington Post" writer who is held in Iran for

nearly a year and a half, has a harsher phrase for the detentions of Griner, Reed, and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan.

In the case of Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed, I don't there is no doubt that there's any doubt that they are being held hostage, politically motivated detentions that have gone on an exorbitant amount of time. In the case of Brittney Griner, it would appear to be part of that similar trend of an American being arrested during a very sensitive moment, on political grounds. If that is the case, I would call her a hostage.

TODD: Security analysts are very concerned tonight about how long the Russians might hold on to the three Americans, given that the war in Ukraine is intensifying. Tensions between the U.S. and Vladimir Putin are at their worst levels ever.

PHILLIP MUDD, FORMER CIA COUNTERTERRORISM OFFICIAL: It is hard to imagine a more difficult negotiating environment than this.

TODD: A key question tonight, given the climate of tensions, what will it take to get the three Americans released?

REZAIAN: I am the fortunate beneficiary of a massive government effort to get me out. That government effort was galvanized by private efforts, by the company that I worked for and my family. I think that my families, employers, and the U.S. government are working, Americans wrongfully detained could come home.


TODD (on camera): Last week, Trevor Reed's parents said they feared he had tuberculosis, and would be sent to solitary confinement, rather than to a medical facility. Jonathan Franks says Reed's parents have since indicated that he has been sent to prison hospital, but Franks does not have confidence that he is getting adequate medical care.

Russian officials have just issued a statement saying it's not true that Reed has tuberculosis, and that he is healthy, and he is serving a sentence, though, in a penal colony -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I hope they come home, soon like everybody else.

Thank you very much, Brian, for that report.

There's breaking more news, oil prices plunge, there is hope that gas prices will follow. How much will they drop, and when?



BLITZER: Tonight, we're seeing the first signs that record high gas prices here in record high gas prices here in the United States, could soon come down even as Russia's war in Ukraine rages.

CNN business and politics correspondent Vanessa Yurkevich is working this part of the story for us.

Vanessa, I understand the price of oil is suddenly dropping big-time.

VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN BUSINESS AND POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, and that could mean some relief for drivers. Over the past three days, we saw the national average holding steady at $4.33 a gallon. That is significant, because we have seen prices rise really quickly, up 80 cents since the Russian invasion into Ukraine on February 24th. And oil prices dropping below $100 a barrel for the first time in weeks, after spiking to $130 a barrel.

This is because of the COVID outbreak in China. China is the second biggest consumer of oil, and because they are going into lockdown, they may not need as much energy.

Remember, Wolf, gas prices do lack, oil prices, it might be a week or so before we see these lower prices. Some analysts suggesting that we see could see a 20 cent drop. Until then, we are still at a record for $4.33 a gallon.

New tonight, Lyft joining Uber in charging for fuel. Surcharges per ride, lift is still working out details, but Uber is saying that they could be charging about 55 cents per ride to help offset this expensive gas that drivers have to pay, in order to do their work. Drivers get to keep all of those fuel surcharges, but, of course, Wolf, that fuel surcharge gets passed down ultimately to the U.S. consumer -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Vanessa Yurkevich in New York for us, thank you very much.

And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. You can follow me on Twitter, and Instagram @WolfBlitzer.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.