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Russia War Nears NATO Turf With Strikes In Western Ukraine; Biden Warns Xi Of Consequences If China Aids Russia's War; U.N. Official Says, Mariupol The Center Of Hell In Ukraine Now; Schwarzenegger Joins Push To Pierce Putin's Digital Iron Curtain. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired March 18, 2022 - 18:00   ET



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Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer right next door in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks for watching I'll see on Sunday Morning.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM: Happening now, breaking news, Russia's war moves closer to NATO territory, the new strikes in the western city of Lviv, right near the Poland border, this as Kremlin forces unleash missiles on Kyiv landing close to a kindergarten and causing absolute devastation. I'll ask a top divorce to Ukrainian President Zelenskyy about situation on the battlefield right now.

Also breaking, President Biden warns the China's president of the consequences if he decides to help Russia wage war. We're learning more about those talks and what happens next at this critical moment in Vladimir Putin's brutal assault on Ukraine.

Our correspondents are on the frontlines in Ukraine and on the ground in Poland and here in the U.S. for CNN's live war coverage.

We want to welcome our viewers here and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in The Situation Room.

We're following breaking news on multiple fronts in Russia's war against Ukraine, Kremlin forces now expanding their attacks to include a key western city on NATO's doorstep, and the United States trying to discourage China from helping Russia and turning this conflict into an even bigger superpower struggle.

We'll go live to Sam Kiley in Ukraine and Phil Mattingly at the White House in just moment. But, first, we have a new report on all of the newest developments in the war from CNN's Kristin Fisher.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) KRISTIN FISHER, CNN SPACE AND DEFENSE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): RUSSIA is broadening its targets with new airstrikes hitting the western city of Lviv, which previously had largely been spared. The mayor saying missiles hit near the airport.

The city is just over 40 miles from the border with Poland, a NATO country, and Lviv has been a haven for refugees fleeing the conflict or a stop on the way to Europe. And Russia is not letting up on the capital, Kyiv, with new strikes on the northern residential district, Ukrainian emergency services saying one person died after remains of a downed missile set fire to a residential building.

In the northeast, fires broke out in this massive market in the city of Kharkiv after it was shelled by Russian forces, with one rescue worker dying battling the blaze, according to city officials.

In the southern city of Mariupol, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy saying 130 people have been rescued from that makeshift shelter that was allegedly bombed by Russian forces, a theater with the Russian word for children written beside the building that Russia denies attacking.

VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: Hundreds of Mariupol residents are still under the debris. Despite the shelling, despite all the difficulties, we will continue rescue work.

FISHER: The seemingly intentional targeting of civilians has led many in the Biden administration, including the president and secretary of state, to accuse Russia of war crimes, as the State Department works to gather evidence against Russian President Vladimir Putin.

WENDY SHERMAN, DEPUTY STATE SECRETARY: In terms of international law, you have to have evidence, you have to have a body of proof that, in fact, there was intentionality.

FISHER: And civilians die in Ukraine, Putin held a concert marking the anniversary of the Russian annexation of Crimea. The concert featured patriotic songs, like this one, called Made in the USSR. With these ominous opening lines, Ukraine and Crimea, Belarus and Moldova, that's my country. As his country suffers collapsing caused by western sanctions, Putin claims Russia has never been more united.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT: The best proof is the way our boys are fighting in this operation, shoulder-to-shoulder, supporting each on the floor, and if need be, protecting each other like brothers.

FISHER: That's a far cry from what a top U.S. general says is crippling Russia forces.

GEN. FRANK MCKENZIE, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: They don't appear from what I said at least to be particularly motivated or particularly engaged in the campaign that they're undertaking.

FISHER: Kristin Fisher, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: Thank you, Kristin.

Now I want to take you to the scene of a Russian missile strike in Kyiv. Our Senior International Correspondent Sam Kiley was there earlier today. Take a look at this.


SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is the scene in Vynohradiv, the northern edge of Kyiv, where a cruise missile landed here in the small hours of this morning. Now, officially, according to the authorities, it was shot down. Normally, that would mean that the warhead was destroyed in the air.


But, clearly, that is not the case.

Beyond this truck here, beyond the JCP working, a kindergarten. Mercifully, no children in it because of the level of bombardment of Kyiv, of course, the kindergartens are closed. At this right opposite, another school for older children.

But look at the ferocity of the blast. That is what remains of a vehicle, right at the epicenter of this blast, an absolute scene of devastation. If we like over this way, you can see an extraordinary level of devastation in this very densely populated residential area. These are homes, humble homes of ordinary Ukrainians, struggling to get by, working with dignity, hoping one day to join the European community, possibly even NATO, and this from Vladimir Putin's perspective, is the as a result.

Now, if we walk over this way, you can see just how devastating the size of these weapons, it's quite extraordinary. This is the result of one single blast, a blast that has ripped through this community, peppering cars with shrapnel holes. Every one of those would have torn through dozens of people, every one of those bits of flying hot metal designed to rip into human flesh like a razor, white-hot and burning. And, of course, mercifully no children playing in the kindergarten.


BLITZER: It's sick that they're attacking these residential apartment buildings. What more can you tell us about the strikes on the capital of Ukraine earlier today, Sam?

KILEY: Well, I think the interesting thing about this strike and indeed the strike yesterday, which also hit a residential area, is that, in both cases, they were these very high explosive cruise missiles that were actually shot down by the Ukrainians. In the blast yesterday, there was less explosive detonation, because I think most of the explosions were taken out in the air. This one very, very damaging.

What does that indicate, though, Wolf? What it isn't is artillery. What it isn't is surface-to-surface, relatively short-range missile technology. This is long-range technology deliberately fired at the capital city, but indicating that the Ukrainian military may be right in saying that they have pushed back the Russians from the outskirts of Kyiv.

Just today, the Ministry of Defense here in Kyiv said that in the southwest of the city and in the northeast, they've been successful in a counterattack this week. In driving in the case of the eastern part of the city, or what they call the right bank of the Dnieper River, as far back as 70 kilometers, some 50 miles.

Now, we've got no independent verification of that apart from the fact that, yes, while Kyiv continues to be bombarded, it's with these longer-range, more sophisticated weapons than the short-range artillery that had been so punishing on the outskirts of the city in previous weeks, particularly when Clarissa Ward and her colleagues, Matthew Chance, were here.

This seems to be a potential turning point. That's certainly how they're being described here by Ukrainian officials who are talking about having established two lines of defense for the city and that they're beginning to establish a third, Wolf.

BLITZER: Sam Kiley, stay safe over there, in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. We will be in touch.

Here in the United States, we're now getting new details on President Biden's critical call today with the leader of China.

Let's go to our Senior White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly. Phil, President Biden warned President Xi there would be consequences if China provides material support to Russia. So, what more are you learning?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. U.S. officials have been urgently working over the course of the last several weeks to head off any efforts by China to assist Russia, either economically or through military means. And those efforts reached the highest levels today. A two-hour secured video call, which officials say focused almost entirely on Ukraine.

The call was described as substantive, detailed and candid. In large part, the president laying out in detail what the U.S. has viewed as what has transpired over the course of the last month but also the scale of the united response since. However, still concern on the U.S. front. Take a listen.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We have that concern the president detailed, you know, what the implications and consequences would be China provides material support to Russia as it conducts brutal attacks against Ukrainian cities and civilians. And, obviously, that is something we will be watching and the world will be watching.

China has to make a decision for themselves about where they want to stand and how they want the history books to look at them and view their actions. And that is a decision for President Xi and the Chinese to make.


MATTINGLY: And that's a key point there, Wolf.


Official said the president did not make any explicit ask. However, the full scale of a very united western front when it comes to the response to Russia's invasion will be on full discipline next week. President Biden heading to Europe, will stop in Brussels for a meeting of NATO partners, as well as a European council meeting, also a G-7 meetings called by Germany. Everything that has been put in place to counter Russia and could potentially be used to counter any efforts by China will be on display.

The president making this isn't just a bilateral issue or a warning, this is a warning that goes to the entirety of China's efforts to engage the world. Wolf?

BLITZER: Very important set of meetings scheduled next week in Brussels. Thanks very much, Phil Mattingly, for that report.

The breaking news continues next. I'll speak one-on-one with the chief diplomatic adviser to Ukrainian President Zelenskyy, as Russia's deadly invasion now enters its fourth week.



BLITZER: We're following breaking news, the deadly Russian onslaught into Ukraine, with the southern city of Mariupol among the hardest hit, one U.N. official now calling it, I'm quoting now, the center of hell.

CNN International Security Editor Nick Paton Walsh is joining us with the latest. So, what are you seeing across parts of Southern Ukraine where you are?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Yes. Starting first, Wolf, with Mariupol, a line of cars seen leaving from that city in these new satellite images, but also give a sense of the sheer utter destruction. Remember an airstrike hit the drama theater where possibly over a thousand people may have been sheltering. Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy saying so far 130 survivors have been helped out of the rubble. There's still enormous questions as to how many lives have been lost or indeed saved in that startlingly barbaric airstrike.

Further to the west though where I'm standing in Mykolaiv, we have heard tonight booms across the skyline here, fairly normal, frankly, given the exchanges we've been seeing around this city. But from Mykolaiv down to Kherson, that's further east along the Black Sea coast, the first city, Kherson, that Russian troops have, in fact, taken a few weeks ago, there's been a relatively, I think, safe Ukrainian advance. A lot of the villages, which were taken by Russian forces are now back in Ukrainian hands and there is now significant pressure by Ukraine on that airport near Kherson, where Russian forces have indeed been. So, possibilities there that the strategic advances may be in Kyiv's favor.

Unfortunately though, as they have been moving forward down that road, Russia's fairly standard response has been to use its massively blunt firepower. And we have seen that in Voznesensk, a town to the north of where I'm standing, where a ballistic missile has slammed into a warehouse holding weapons there, according to its mayor, and also too here in Mykolaiv. A military base not far from where I'm standing was hit, it seems, by a missile, according to images we've seen and an official I spoke to.

It's unclear at this stage quite how many lives this has taken. We believe a significant number, and it is just a sign, as I say, of when it seems that Russia is losing strategic ground, it does then respond with massive, brutal firepower. Wolf?

BLITZER: Massive and brutal and totally destructive. Nick Paton Walsh joining us from Mykolaiv, Nick, stay safe over there. We'll be in touch with you, of course, as well.

Joining us now, the deputy head of the office of the president of Ukraine, Ihor Zhovkva, he's President Zelenskyy's Chief Diplomatic Adviser. Ihor, thank you for joining us. My heart goes out to all the people of Ukraine, what you're going through right now.

Can you, first of all, update us on President Zelenskyy? What is his mindset as this war drags into its fourth week?

IHOR ZHOVKVA, DEPUTY HEAD OF THE OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT OF UKRAINE: Well, President Zelenskyy is absolutely in active mood. He's the leader of the nation and he has to be an example for the nation, which he really is. And he is an example not only for the Ukrainian people but also for the people of the world. He's doing fine on the several fronts of -- first of all, on the frontline against Russian aggression, but at the same time, he's very actively involved in the international negotiations with our partners and friends across the world in order to get them help Ukraine, in order to struggle the Russian aggressor.

BLITZER: Ukraine says it's killed more than 14,000 Russian troops so far during these first four weeks. Russia is inflicting, though, enormous pain on civilians with its brutal bombardment of apartment buildings and schools and hospitals. Who has the momentum on the battlefield right now, Ihor?

ZHOVKVA: Well, you know, right you are, they are making the bombardments and severe airstrikes practically every night and every day and every hour, and they are hitting mainly civilian objects instead of the military objects, which they claim that they only do. But now, we see, and you mentioned it in your reports, that it's a dramatic theater, it's maternity hospital, kindergartens, et cetera, multiple story buildings, et cetera. While if you ask me about the situation on the ground, there is now kind of positioned war because they haven't managed to achieve what they wanted to do, particularly in the first days of war. They wanted to encircle and capture the main cities of Ukraine, such as capital Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odessa, or some of the big cities.

For the time being, this is not the case.


They managed to encircle some smaller cities and towns in Southern and Eastern Ukraine. And that is why they are taking now their time to regroup their forces, to reach their potentially and to start a new offensive. But for the time being, I mean, they are not able to do this.

BLITZER: Yes. They have managed to destroy a lot of residential apartment buildings, but so far they have not captured those main cities, as you correctly point out.

President Zelenskyy is calling on western leaders to do more, saying Ukraine has no serious missile defense, not enough fighter planes. What is he hoping to get from NATO leaders when they meet in Brussels next week?

ZHOVKVA: Well, unfortunately, my president is really disappointed by the reaction of NATO and institutions or some member states refusing to provide a humanitarian no-fly zone over Ukraine. Once again, we're doing more or less fine on the ground, we're fine with our ground forces, but what we really lack is the support in the air. So, if NATO is not able to provide us with humanitarian no-fly zone, at least provide us with fighter jets, at least provide us with anti-missile defense, air defense systems.

So, my president will keep doing this. He spoke about this in the U.S. Congress. He's speaking about this on a daily basis with the world leaders, with the leaders of the countries, which are ready and could provide it. And that is what he will do during the next weeks, because, yes, Ukraine really badly needs the air defense.

BLITZER: All 30 of the NATO leaders will be meeting next week in Brussels. We'll see what they decide.

As you know, Ihor, President Zelenskyy is obviously in a very, very dangerous situation. Will he try to meet, though, in person with President Biden, when President Biden is in Europe next week?

ZHOVKVA: Well, you know, just this week, three prime ministers of our three friendly nations, Poland, Czech Republic and Slovenia, visited personally Kyiv, and they met personally with President Zelenskyy, so why not President Biden comes to Ukraine to meet with my president?

BLITZER: Well, that would be pretty dangerous though, don't you think?

ZHOVKVA: Well, definitely it is dangerous when you have a war against my country, a war in Europe. So, one should not be afraid. If you are brave, you have not to be afraid, you win the war.

BLITZER: We'll see if the president of the United States accepts that invitation from the president of Ukraine. Ihor Zhovkva, good luck to you and good luck to all the people in Ukraine. We will stay in close touch with you. Thank you so much for joining us.

ZHOVKVA: Many thanks.

BLITZER: Coming up, CNN's exclusive interview with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Russia's invasion missteps and the pressure on the U.S. to give more help to Ukraine's military.



BLITZER: Tonight, there's more reason for NATO officials to be on edge over Russia's war against Ukraine, after Kremlin forces attacked the city just smiles away from the Polish border. NATO and U.S. troops now are training together in Bulgaria. They got a pep talk today from the U.S. defense secretary, Lloyd Austin.

The defense secretary also sat down with CNN's Don Lemon. Here's a portion of that exclusive interview.


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: The U.S. has made it clear that they don't want to be involved in the process of given jets to Ukraine. Now, do you support other countries doing it? Are you going to encourage other countries to do it, as long as there's no U.S. involvement?

LLOYD AUSTIN, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Don, what other countries do, I mean, that's their choice, and the United States certainly does not stand in the way of other countries providing assistance. But, again, we're going to remain focused on those things that we know are making a difference.

And what is making a difference in this fight for the Ukrainians is the provision of anti-aircraft systems, the provision of anti-armored systems, and also other things that have been effective for -- the employment of drones.

And so you've heard the president say most recently what we're doing, the kinds of things we're providing. We just signed -- just provided authorization for us to provide an additional billion dollars of security force assistance. That's remarkable.

LEMON: What is your assessment of Russian forces now? Are they stalled? Are they regrouping so that they can increase their assault, increase their violence on Ukraine? What is your assessment of the Russian military?

AUSTIN: Well, it's hard to tell, Don. I think they have not progressed as quickly as they would have liked to. I think they envisioned that they would move rapidly and very quickly seize the capital city. They have not been able to do that. They have struggled with logistics. So we've seen a number of missteps along the way.

I don't see, you know, evidence of good employment of tactical intelligence. I don't see integration of air capability with the ground maneuver. And so there are a number of things we would expect to have seen that we just haven't seen. And the Russians really have had some -- has presented some problems. So, many of their assumptions have not proven to be true as they entered this fight.


LEMON: The president is speaking with Xi Jinping, and we are getting reporting that Russia has been asking China for drones and for help. What happens -- do you think China will stay out of this? And what happens if they don't?

AUSTIN: Well, again, I don't want to speculate or get involved in hypotheticals. I would hope that China would not support this despicable act by Putin. I would hope that they would recognize a need to respect sovereign territory. And so, hard to say what they will do, but, you know, we've been clear that if they do that, we think that's a bad choice.


BLITZER: And you can see more of Don Lemon's exclusive interview with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. It airs later tonight, 10:00 P.M. Eastern, only here on CNN.

Let's get some more of a military perspective now from retired General Wesley Clark. He's a former NATO Supreme Allied Commander. He's now CNN Military Analyst. General, thanks for joining us.

You heard the defense secretary just there lay out those Russian setbacks. Ukraine claims it's kills more than 14,000 Russian troops so far. What does that mean for Russia's ability to conduct this war?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, certainly stalls them out, and it means they're going to have to bring in reinforcements. So, they have -- they're scouring Africa to bring in reinforcements. Bashar Assad has promised some 40,000 Syrian fighters. And there's a new draft coming up in Russia on the 1st of April. So, you can expect those poor kids are going to be given 30 days or 45 days training and shoved into the battle in Ukraine without knowing what they're fighting for, and without any reason for it.

So, Russia has lots of obsolete equipment. It's got lots of equipment stored up. So, this is a time, Wolf, where the Ukrainians have to be on the offensive as much as they can. They have got to rip these Soviet columns up. They've got to capture the soldiers, take the equipment and send as much back to Russia as they can.

This is a window of opportunity for Kyiv and they have got to take it. They cannot sit in defensive positions. They have got to get out, use the Javelins, Stingers, mobile strike teams and rip those Russian columns apart. BLITZER: The U.S. defense secretary, as you heard, isn't budging on the issue of fighter jets. Why? Do you see any workaround for the west to get those jets to Ukraine?

CLARK: Wolf, the whole thing on the no-fly zone is a strawman. You say no-fly zone, all the legal experts in the Pentagon come out of their cracks and they start telling you what you have to do and so forth. The art of this is to put our forces in position and make Mr. Putin take the provocative step.

This is Ukrainian airspace. It does not belong to Russia, it's not owned by Russia, and Vladimir Putin has no right to it. The Ukrainians have asked for help. Okay, if we don't want to put U.S. aircraft in there, let our allies get that aircraft in there. The Ukrainians say they need it.

I hear discussion behind the scenes as well, these MiGs may not fly, they may not be very good. Look, let the Ukrainians have what they need. They say they need air cover. Let them have that. What is the problem? We were going to do it, but, you know, we keep telegraphing everything, and then we get into a political discussion and then Mr. Putin says, that's a red line.

Wolf, this is a cancer affecting not only Ukraine but the entire rules-based international system. If we allow Putin success in Ukraine, he's not stopping there. The Chinese are looking at Taiwan. Russia has already published plans and broadcast on television about how they're going to take the Baltic States.

And we have to confront this. This is not something you can duck and hope it goes away, and we can go back to worrying about economic challenges of China. This is a full-fledged assault let by Mr. Putin on the international rules-based system.

There's no ducking it. So, this meeting coming up on the 24th of March with the president and Europe is very, very important. And I hopeful we're going o see some significant changes in policy.

BLITZER: Yes. All 30 NATO allies, the leaders of all 30 NATO allied countries will be there in Brussels for that meeting on Thursday. General Wesley Clark, as usual, thanks so for joining us.

CLARK: Thank you.

BLITZER: There's more breaking news just ahead, a Ukrainian military commander shares harrowing stories from the frontline and surprising details of Russia's invasion force.



BLITZER: More now on the breaking news, the flood of refugees fleeing Russia's increasingly brutal invasion of Ukraine, more than 3.2 million as of tonight. CNN Senior National Correspondent Ed Lavandera is near the Ukrainian border in Poland for us, where the majority of refugees are seeking shelter. Ed, 2 million of those Ukrainians have actually fled to Poland where you are. ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely right,

Wolf. And it really is stunning figures. This is that entryway, people who have driven or walked to the border, they come up this way. And what we have started to notice in the last few days is that there's increasing number of people who are coming from far eastern Ukraine, who have been seen some of the worst warfare in these last three weeks. It's been a devastating story.

And the other thing that stands out in our conversations with many of these refugees who are arriving here, is that they had hoped -- they didn't leave earlier, because they had hoped that the fighting would come to an end, that they would be able to just stay in place, but it has gotten too treacherous.


And the journey out of there is incredibly brutal. Many of the people we're talking with are telling that it's taking at least two days to get to this very spot to safety in Poland.

We spoke with one woman who was from the town of Kharkiv, who said it was just too much unbearable to witness the slaughter that was going on in her hometown.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we saw some horrible things, airplanes exploding in the sky. We saw dead people. My neighbor was killed on the second day of the war. A shell fell into their yard and he was killed by shrapnel.


LAVANDERA: And, Wolf, that woman talked about her husband had to stay behind. She's coming here. They don't know how long they're going to be here. They continue to hope that this will come to an end soon. But, really, that hope of being able to return home in anytime in the near future is just not something that many of these people are even wrapping their heads around. So, it is clear that many of these people are beginning to accept that this is going to take quite a long time. Wolf?

BLITZER: So sad, indeed. Ed Lavandera on the Polish border with Ukraine, thank you.

Also tonight, Ukraine claims to have killed more than 14,000 Russian troops in the nearly month-old war. Our Senior International Correspondent Ivan Watson talked to one Ukrainian commander about what his forces have encountered on the battlefield.


SERHII TAMARIN, MAJOR IN UKRAINE TERRITORIAL DEFENSE: It's not so scary to die. It's much more scary to lose.

When we met the second army in the world, by statistics, we expected more professionals. We expected more aggressive and more strong fighting.


TAMARIN: It's hit in Russian tanks.

WATSON: And that' shit by Ukrainian artillery?

TAMARIN: Artillery, yes.

WATSON (voice over): Drone footage that CNN cannot independently verify from battlefields northwest of Kyiv, filmed by a battalion of Ukraine's territorial defense force, commanded by Major Serhii Tamarin.

WATSON: Has your battalion had casualties?

TAMARIN: Yes. Yes.

WATSON: People killed, people wounded?

TAMARIN: Yes, I prefer not to tell the number of people, but we have -- I lost already my friends and people who serve with me. We have people who are wounded.

WATSON: What is the weapon that is hurting your men?

TAMARIN: The most dangerous is artillery.

WATSON: Tamarin is a veteran of the long war against Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine's southeastern Donbas region. He re-enlisted along with his battalion of nearly 400 after Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24th.

He calls his strategy aggressive resistance.

TAMARIN: Just separating four small troops, not more than ten people, with few grenade launchers, and some kind of cleanup group, with rifles and machine guns. I can say that Russian army, regular army, infantry troops fight well. They even have food bags, which expired a few years ago. So, they don't have normal food. They don't have even water.

WATSON: Your battalion, how many armored vehicles, tanks do you think you have destroyed?

TAMARIN: Right now, more than 20. It's not on the tanks. It's like thanks and other armored vehicles.

WATSON: Does your battalion have an estimate for how many Russians they killed?

TAMARIN: FOR now, we destroyed almost 200 Russians, captured live close to six or eight soldiers.

WATSON: Tamarin is recovering from injuries sustained during a combat operation.

TAMARIN: (INAUDIBLE) fall down from the bridge, which was blow up. Half of my ribs are broken.

WATSON: He says his men have started to receive some foreign weapons, shoulder-fired missiles, and he's confident Ukraine will have victory but at a terrible price.

TAMARIN: The price which pay Ukraine right now is, I think, impossible. It's some kind of sacrifice of all nation.

WATSON: Ivan Watson, CNN, Vinnystia, Ukraine.


BLITZER: The breaking news continues next, Arnold Schwarzenegger tries to penetrate Putin's iron information curtain and appealed directly to the Russian people.



BLITZER: The death toll on both sides climbing as the Russian invasion of Ukraine unfolds. But many Russians are in the dark when it comes to Vladimir Putin's aggression thanks to a digital iron curtain.

CNN's Brian Todd is working that part of the story for us.

So, Brian, the State Department, Ukrainian hackers, the former movie star, former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, they are all trying their best to get the truth out to the Russian people.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They really are, Wolf. You know, like the war on the ground, the information war over Ukraine is intensifying tonight. Vladimir Putin's put up a digital iron curtain to try to control the narrative and perpetuate his disinformation campaign.


But as Wolf mentioned, Putin now has a formidable foe, the star known as the terminator who is beloved in Russia.


TODD (voice-over): Tonight, celebrities like Arnold Schwarzenegger, as well as entities like the State Department, attempting to tear down Vladimir Putin's propaganda wall.

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, MOVIE STAR: I ask you to help me spread the truth. TODD: The Kremlin strong man's digital iron curtain blocking his

people tonight from the bleak realities of the war in Ukraine by moving to shut off Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram inside Russia.

Schwarzenegger, the Terminator, himself, movie star, action hero, and former California governor, this week posted a video over nine minutes long with Russian subtitles telling the Russian people what's really happening on the ground.

SCHWARZENEGGER: See the world has turned against Russia because of its actions in Ukraine. Whole city blocks have been flattened by Russian artillery and bombs, including a children's hospital and a maternity hospital.

TODD: Schwarzenegger posted it to his 5 million Twitter followers but also to tens of thousands of his subscribers on Telegram, a messaging app that can also transmit messages and videos to a wider audience just like Twitter. Telegram has not yet been shut down inside Russia. Schwarzenegger tailored his message not just to Russian civilians.

SCHWARZENEGGER: To the soldiers listening to this, remember that 11 million Russians have family connections to Ukraine. So every bullet you shoot, you shoot a brother or a sister. Every bomb or every shell that falls is falling not on an enemy but on a school or a hospital.

TODD: And if only virtually, he looked the former KGB colonel right in the eye.

SCHWARZENEGGER: To President Putin, I say you started this war. You are leading this war. You can stop this war.

NATALIA KRAPIVA, ATTORNEY FOR DIGITAL RIGHTS GROUP "ACCESS NOW": The Russian public has especially my generation has grown up watching Schwarzenegger. He is a beloved figure in Russia. And Russians have told me that his video literally brought them to tears because they haven't heard any Russian official speaking to them with such respect and compassion.

TODD: Still, Putin's propaganda and disinformation are unrelenting. This week, a Russian website claimed three American so-called mercenaries were killed in Ukraine but the U.S. National Guard says they are still alive, and not even in Ukraine. They were guardsmen sent to train the Ukrainian military a few years ago.

Some tech-savvy Russians have used virtual private networks, or VPNs, plus encrypted apps and other tools to get around Putin's information curtain and access to Internet directly but analysts say there are challenges with those methods.

KRAPIVA: A lot of Russian people still haven't heard of VPNs or they cannot afford to use them.

DAVID SANGER, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: What we've learned over in the Chinese model is that over time, the state gets better and better about how to choke those off.


TODD (on camera): Still, it's possible the terminator's message to Russians was seen by a very important audience deep inside the Kremlin. Vladimir Putin only follows 22 people on Twitter, but Arnold Schwarzenegger is one of them -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I take it, Brian, the U.S. State Department is also trying to jump into this fight?

TODD: That's right. The State Department, Wolf, has set up its own telegram app just to, you know, get into Russia. To address Russians directly and give them the United States' message on really what the war in Ukraine is all about. Analysts say that that app is not engaged very much at all by Russians at this point.

But the point is to try to chip away at this and Arnold Schwarzenegger's message yesterday was just monumental as far as its impact on Russians because they really love him there. That is the kind of message that is going to get through to them.

BLITZER: You're absolutely right.

Brian Todd, good report. Thank you very much.

Just ahead, a painful tribute to all the children, the babies killed in Russia's brutal war against Ukraine.



BLITZER: We want to leave you tonight with a truly powerful image from Ukraine. Look at this. It's the sea of empty strollers. A symbol of the more than 100 children Ukrainians say have been killed since the brutal Russian invasion.

Local activists set up the strollers in the center of the western city of Lviv to simply drive home the horrific human cost of the war, and to honor its youngest victims. A Ukrainian woman, who was moved by the display, spoke of the suffering in her own country right now with her own baby in a stroller beside her.


KATERYNA BANDZHANOVA, UKRAINE RESIDENT (through translator): I feel completely in pain, pain for our children, pain for the future of the country because children are the future of the country. When they kill children, they kill the future of this country, its heart and its soul.

You wake up during the night when you hear the sirens. You hear any little sound. You start to shake because you understand maybe it was another explosion. Maybe I need to take my child and run away again.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: These are so, so painful to -- to hear these mothers speaking of their children. I must say this. Our thoughts and -- our thoughts are with the families of the children who have been killed in Ukraine, and all of the victims of this truly terrible war. May they rest in peace and may their memories be a blessing.

For information about how you can help all the humanitarian efforts in Ukraine, go to and help impact your world.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. I will be back once again tomorrow for a special Saturday edition of THE SITUATION ROOM from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.