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State of the Union

Interview With Dave Matthews; Interview With Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Aired 9-10a ET

Aired April 17, 2022 - 09:00   ET




JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST (voice-over): Wartime president. Russian forces savage Ukraine, but after Russia's atrocities, is Ukraine's leader still willing to negotiate?

VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: Give us weapon. Give us hand. Stop Russia.

TAPPER: My exclusive interview with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is next.

Plus: the fight ahead. As Ukraine braces to face Russia in the east and claims a surprise victory at sea, how long will the war last?

And desperate need. With millions displaced by the war, a new push to help. Dave Matthews performs an original new song in support of refugees, and what you can do.


TAPPER: Hello. I'm Jake Tapper in Lviv, Ukraine.

And you're watching a special hour of STATE OF THE UNION. Happy Easter and happy Passover to those who celebrate.

This weekend is one of hope for so many. But, here in Ukraine, where it's been more than 50 days since Russian troops invaded, the destruction, frankly, seems limitless. Yesterday, while traveling across the country, I saw buildings, homes blown away in Borodyanka outside Kyiv. They're still digging bodies out from the rubble, bodies of families, bodies of children, families that ran to the basement of their buildings for shelter from Putin's bombs, and they did not make it.

We saw their toys that had been uncovered in the rubble. This is the cost of Putin's unprovoked war on the people of Ukraine. And the end, frankly, does not seem near, as the Russian focus moves to the east.

The situation in Mariupol in the south appears to have grown increasingly dire. Overnight, Ukrainians rejected an ultimatum from the Russians to surrender. I traveled to Kyiv, and I sat down with Ukraine's President Volodymyr

Zelenskyy inside the office of the president. It's no exaggeration to say that President Zelenskyy changed the course of the war and decidedly the course of history by deciding to stay in Kyiv to command, to lead, to fight an army many times the size of his own.

Today, we're devoting the show to bring you that wide-ranging conversation, beginning with the very latest from the battlefield.


TAPPER: The Russian warship the Moskva, the one that Ukrainian soldiers told to F off, sank.

The Russians say -- and the Russians are liars -- but the Russians say it sank on its own. Can you offer some clarity and evidence as to what happened to that ship?

ZELENSKYY (through translator): We know that it is gone.

For us, it is a serious weapon against our country. That is why the fact that it sank is not a tragedy for us. I want you and everyone else to know that. The less weapons the Russian Federation, who attacked our country has, the better it is for us, the less powerful they are.

This is all, and it is the most important thing. And what happened to it? Time will tell.

TAPPER: The new Russian offensive in the east, in the Donbass could start any day. Your administration officials have warned that it could look as big as World War II.

You won the battle of Kyiv. Are you going to win the fight for the Donbass?

ZELENSKYY (through translator): For us, the battle for Donbass is very important.

It is important for different reasons, for the reason of safety. First of all, our grouping that is located in Donbass is one of the best military we have. It's a large grouping. And Russia wants to encircle them and destroy them. It is nearly 40,000 people. It is 44,000 professional military men who survived a great war from the beginning of 2014.

This is why it is very important for us to preserve that part of our army that is one of the most powerful. This is why it is very important for us not to allow them to stand our ground, because this battle -- and it can happen, so there will be several battles, and we don't know how long it is going to take -- it can influence the course of the whole war, because I don't trust the Russian military and Russian leadership.

[09:05:00] That is why we understand that the fact that we fought them off and they left and they were running away from Kyiv from the north, from Chernihiv, and from that direction, it doesn't mean, if they're able to capture Donbass, they won't come further towards Kyiv.

That is why, for us, this battle is very important for many reasons. It is very important to win this battle.

TAPPER: The director of the CIA warned that he's worried Putin might use a tactical nuclear weapon in this fight.

Are you worried?

ZELENSKYY: Not only me.

I think, all over the world, all the countries have to be worried, because you know that it can be not real information, but it can be the truth, true, because when they began to speak about one or another battles or involve enemies or nuclear weapons or chemical, some chemical issues, chemical weapons, they should do it -- they could it. I mean, they can.

For them, life of the people is nothing. That's why we should think, not be afraid, I mean, that not be afraid. Be ready. But that is not a question for -- to Ukraine, and not only for the Ukraine, for all the -- for all the world. I think so.

There is a possibility of them using these weapons. Nobody expected there to be a full-scale invasion of Ukraine from the Russian Federation. No one expected there to be a war in 2014. And now that there will be a full-scale invasion and killing of civilians, nobody expected them to invade the areas where there's no military equipment and just kill and shoot dead a civilian population.

Nobody expected that. But this is a fact, and it happened. And that is when Russian gives information and says, if something goes not according to plan, they can use chemical weapons and their nuclear potential. And that is why I believe these are dangerous claims of untrustworthy people.

And if we believe some of them are already untrustworthy, then they can use nuclear weapons.

TAPPER: How bad are things in Mariupol, and what can be done to help the people of Mariupol?

ZELENSKYY (through translator): The situation is very difficult in Mariupol.

It's clear that things won't get better. With each passing day, it's growing more unstable. Unfortunately, it is difficult for different reasons. I will not talk about the cruelty with which the Russian authorities have treated Mariupol, the Russian military.

There are two components. No one knows how many people died among the civilian population. If anyone gives you a figure, it would be a total lie. Hundreds of thousands were evacuated. Several thousand, tens of thousands were forced to evacuate in the direction of the Russian Federation. And we do not know where they are.

They have left no document trail. And among them are several thousands of children. We want to know what happened to them, whether they're in good health. Unfortunately, there just isn't any information on this.

And regarding what population has remained there, we also don't have a definitive answer. One day, they say there are 50,000 or 60,000 left there. And then another day, someone says 100,000. And now we have information that perhaps 10,000 people have died there, all civilians who stayed. We're talking about civilian deaths, not military.

About 5,000 children deported from this region to Russian side, because they didn't allow them to go to the Ukrainian side. I mean the Ukrainian-controlled side. Yet that's it. So, we don't know what -- the children, where are they? Nobody knows.

And so that is -- and that's why I said that the question is more than difficult and more than complicated. So, it's -- there are a lot of information which we have to check and which we don't know exactly.

TAPPER: Do you have any idea how many Ukrainian soldiers or Ukrainian civilians have been killed?

ZELENSKYY (through translator): As of now, based on the information we have, because it is very difficult to talk about civilians, since, south of our country, where the towns and cities are blocked, Kherson, Berdyansk, Mariupol, further east, the area to the east, where Volnovakha is, et cetera, we just don't know how many people have died in that area.


It is blocked. Let's take Volnovakha as an example. Volnovakha and other towns are empty. They are all destroyed. There are no people there, so it's difficult to talk about it now.

As to our military, out of the numbers we have, we think that we lost 2,500 to 3,000, in comparison with the Russian military, who lost about 19,000 to 20,000. That's the comparison. But we have about 10,000 injured, and it's hard to say how many will survive.


TAPPER: President Biden is considering whether to send a top U.S. official to visit Ukraine. Who does President Zelenskyy want to visit? That's next.

Plus: the personal side. Zelenskyy is also raising two kids with his wife, as -- while he leads a country through war. We're going to talk about how his kids are doing.

That's coming up.


TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper. I'm live in Lviv, Ukraine.

We have been hearing these horrifying stories about the violence, the barbarity perpetrated -- perpetrated -- sorry -- by Russian soldiers on Ukrainian civilians.

President Zelenskyy, he talked about bearing witness to the unimaginable and how he thinks Russia should be punished.

I have to warn you that some of the images you're about to see are rather graphic and disturbing.


TAPPER: I'm sure you have seen the video of the Ukrainian mom finding her son in a well.

What is it like for you, as the president of this country, to see those videos, to hear the crying of the moms?

ZELENSKYY (through translator): This is the most horrifying thing I have seen in my life.

I look at this, first of all, as a father. It hurts so, so much. It's a tragedy. It is suffering. I won't be able to imagine the scale of suffering of these people, of this woman. It is a family's tragedy. It is a disaster. It is the dreams and the life you have just lost.

We live for our kids. That's true. Kids are the best we were given by God, by family. It is a great pain for me. I can't watch it as a father, only because all you want after this is revenge and to kill. I have to watch it as the president of a state where a lot of people have died and lost their loved ones.

And there are millions of people who want to live. All of us want to fight. But we all have to do our best for this war not to be endless. The longer it is, the more we would lose.

All these losses will be just like that one. I'm not sure -- I'm not confident that, when we say we will do our best for these mothers to feel the government is taking care of them, I do not believe this wound can be treated or forgotten somehow. I'm not sure anyone can help this woman. I'm not sure. I'm not sure.

I think people have lost the best they had. It is the outcome of Russia's war. They came and took away the most important things people had. I know these people heroic, but are my words going to give them peace? No. There's just great pain.

We can all work on how to rebuild apartments and houses and compensate them. How do you compensate for the loss of a child? I don't think anyone in the world has an answer for that. There is a desire for justice through revenge and that at least the

people who did this would feel the same pain, so that there will be some result, some outcome, so they are punished.

TAPPER: You lost ancestors in the Holocaust.

Every year, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, politicians put out statements that say never again, never again. Those statements must seem really hollow right now to you.


When the world says never again, do they ever mean it?

ZELENSKYY: I don't believe the world, after we have seen what's going on in Ukraine.

We don't -- we -- I mean that I don't believe to this feeling that we should believe to the -- some countries or some leaders. We don't believe the words. After escalation of Russia, we don't believe our neighbors. We don't believe all of this.

Even I don't believe documents, because we also had a Budapest Memorandum. I think you know all the details of this. For me, that is just a piece of paper and costs nothing, and that's it.

So, we just believe contradict -- pragmatic things. If you are our friends or partners, give us weapon, give us hand, give us -- support us, give us money, and stop Russia, kick Russia. You can do it if you're a friend, if you think about this -- you know, this democracy and everything, yes, all these moments, because we have the same sort, if we are speaking about freedom, not because we want to have dialogue about freedom, if we are -- really thinks, yes, if we are real -- the same sort, I mean.

(through translator): The only belief there is belief in ourselves, in our people, belief in our armed forces, and the belief that countries are going to support us, not just with their words, but with their actions. And that's it.

Never again.

(through translator): Really, everybody is talking about this, and yet, as you can see, not everyone has got the guts.

TAPPER: President Biden called what Putin is doing here genocide. President Macron of France said that he didn't think it was constructive to raise the rhetoric like that, that it wasn't healthy.

What was your response to both Biden and Macron?

ZELENSKYY (through translator): I have the same opinion as President Biden.

And I immediately saw what was happening here, especially what happened in Bucha and in the east of our country. I speak about this because Russia calls it a military operation, and not a war. But look what happened in Bucha. It's clear that is not even a war. It's a genocide.

They just killed people, not soldiers, people. They just shot people in the streets. People were riding bicycles, taking the bus, or just walking down the street. There were corpses lying in the streets. These were not soldiers. They were civilians.

They bound their hands. They forced children to watch as they raped their mothers. Then they threw them in a well or in mass graves, children, adults, the elderly.

And we have substantial evidence that points to this being a genocide, audio and video where they talk about just how much they hate us. I did not even know that there was such hatred of the Russian military for the Ukrainian people.

They say they're going to destroy us. Just to steal a toilet and a washing machine from an apartment, they shot an entire family. That is genocide.

As far as Emmanuel, I talked to him yesterday. I think he wants to take some steps to ensure that Russia engages in dialogue. I just told him that I want him to understand that this is not war, but nothing other than genocide. I invited him to come when he will have the opportunity. He will come and see, and I'm sure he will understand.

TAPPER: Do you want President Biden to come here?


TAPPER: Is there -- are there any plans for him to come?

ZELENSKYY: I think he will. I think...

TAPPER: You think he will?

ZELENSKYY: I think he will. And I think he -- but it's not -- I mean, it's his decision, of course. And about the safety situation, it depends. I mean that.

But I think -- I think he's the leader of the United States, and that's why he should come here to see.


TAPPER: What about the more than four million Ukrainians who have left the country who are refugees? Do you want them to come back?

ZELENSKYY: Not now. I think not now.

First of all, it's about women and children. They should come when the situation will be stabilized and when the war will finish, of course, because they will not help us now. It's not about the men. They will not help. Men should be here and should fight, and then the families will come back, of course, because I know the statistics. About the -- 93, 95 percent of those people who are out of the way because of the war, they want to come back, really.


TAPPER: President Zelenskyy still wants to negotiate with Russia, but, after the atrocities at Bucha, is there anything the Ukrainian people would be willing to give up to Putin?

And, later, Dave Matthews has a new song in honor of refugees. He is going to perform it for us for the very first time. And we will talk about how we can all help.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper live in Lviv, Ukraine.

As Ukraine prepares for a difficult battle in the east, the U.S. is stepping up its military assistance. But is Zelenskyy's goal to beat Russia on the battlefield or to come to an agreement with Putin at the negotiating table?


TAPPER: President Biden just agreed to another $800 million in military aid for Ukraine, bringing the total American contribution to $2.5 billion.

Are you satisfied with that? Do you need more?

ZELENSKYY (through translator): Of course. We need more.

But I am happy that he's helping us now. I feel that, right now, we're having a cleaner dialogue. It's been a dialogue that has had some twists and turns, and not just talk. It's been very, very difficult, because there aren't many countries that have really helped us.

The assistance from the United States, led by President Biden -- and they are doing it again today -- but there will never be enough. Enough isn't possible. There is a full-scale war ongoing today, so we still need a lot more than what we have today.

Unfortunately, we do not have technical advantages over our enemy, just not on the same level there. But our people are stronger. That's our main advantage, and we know our mission, our objective, what we're fighting for. We're defending our country. All these families and the kids that we discussed before, we know what we stand for and from where we get our strength.

But for Biden's confirmed $800 million in support, what's most important is speed.

TAPPER: The Biden administration keeps saying that they're giving you this aid to put Ukraine in a better negotiating position for a diplomatic solution.

Is that the goal, to put you in a better negotiating position, or is the goal to defeat Russia and get them to leave?

ZELENSKYY (through translator): We need to understand that what we want can come at a very high price.

And, in any case, all these years of war, where is the compromise coming from the Russian Federation? Maybe we can end this war without any conditions. Maybe the war can end without any dialogue or compromise and without sitting down at the negotiating table with the president of Russia.

And you will understand daily, as I said before, what's the price of all this? It's people, the many people who have been killed. And who ends up paying for all of this? It's Ukraine, just us.

So, for us, this is a really great cost. If there is an opportunity to speak, we will speak. But to speak only a Russian ultimatum, it's then a question about attitude towards us, not about whether the dialogue is good or bad. It's impossible. The sooner it happens, it just means that less are likely to die.

But it's not a fact that this would actually be the case, not at all. But it's possible. And, therefore, we should try. We want to liberate our country, take back what's ours. We can fight the Russian Federation for 10 years to take what's ours. We can go down such a path.

You have to understand what you're doing, know your strength, remember that you're not fighting alone. And can you imagine you would fight one-on-one with a very large state, one that's 28 times larger than us, in terms of territorial size and economy? And their army is larger.

And one cannot fight on their character alone. To fight as one, there needs to be equipment today or tomorrow, not in two or three months. Some countries are just not offering assistance. They can send millions, but we could still lose our state.


That's why one has to strike a balance, whether you want to or not. You are not the only hero. The people are the heroes. And we must protect their lives maximally. The conditions must be humane, if, in fact, that's even possible. We cannot give up our territory, but we must find at least some dialogue with Russia, if they are capable and if we are still ready.

But the chances of this are growing less by the day. There comes a time when, think about Bucha or Borodyanka, Volnovakha, Izyum, Mariupol. After all that, no one wants to talk. Our society doesn't want us to continue talks. This is a great tragedy.

TAPPER: What do you say to people either in Ukraine or elsewhere in the world who say, just give Putin the Donbass, just give Putin Eastern Ukraine, stop the bloodshed, let him have the territory?

What would your message be about that?

ZELENSKYY (through translator): In the centuries-old history of Ukraine, there is the story that Ukraine has either taken some territory or needs to give up some territory.

Ukraine and the people of our state are absolutely clear. We don't want anyone else's territory, and we are not going to give up our own.


TAPPER: He's a leader, but he's also a dad who is worried about his family. I ask President Zelenskyy about how they're coping next.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper. And I'm live in Lviv, Ukraine.

As Russian troops began their attack on Ukraine almost two months ago, Ukraine's president said he was Russia's number one target and that his family was a close second.

So, I asked President Zelenskyy how his family is dealing with that strain as we were setting up the interview, and later to reflect on Passover and his legacy.


TAPPER: How are your wife and kids? Are they OK?

ZELENSKYY: Normal. Thank you so much.

TAPPER: They're OK?


TAPPER: How old are your kids?

ZELENSKYY: My daughter is almost 18, and then son is 9, almost 9.

TAPPER: I have a 12-year-old boy...


TAPPER: ... and a 14-year-old girl. So, it's very...

ZELENSKYY: Girl? So you understand me, 14-year-old girl.


ZELENSKYY: We understand.


I call my daughter, and she's like: "Can't talk, dad. Very busy."




TAPPER: "I'm very busy."

ZELENSKYY: Yes, I know it's -- without knocking the door, I can't speak with my own daughter.

TAPPER: Right. Right.

ZELENSKYY: That's good.

TAPPER: I know you're not observant, but it's Passover, and it's the Jewish celebration of freedom.

And I'm wondering if there is a message for not the Jews of -- not just the Jews of Ukrainian, but all of Ukraine, and the message of resilience in difficulty and also freedom, the message of freedom.

ZELENSKYY (through translator): I believe the way we fight for our freedom is the most important message, because you can send a lot of messages with words. And they come from different people.

But when it comes to actions, only a few act on their words. And, today, I believe Ukrainian people show by their actions that they are fighting and protecting freedom, a principle of freedom. And principles are everywhere.

And if our people won't be able to protect freedom in their own country, it will be a signal to all other countries that it is allowed, allowed to just come and stab, come and shoot, come and take other people's land. I believe the way our people act today is a signal to the whole world.

TAPPER: There is a chance that you will not survive this war. The Russians have made it clear that they consider you a Nazi, et cetera, all that nonsense.

How do you want the Ukrainian people to remember you? How do you want your son and daughter to remember you?

ZELENSKYY (through translator): A human being that loved life to the fullest and loved his family and loved his motherland, definitely not a hero. I want people to take me as I am, a regular human.

TAPPER: You have inspired a lot of people, including not just here in Ukraine, but around the world.

Who inspires you? Who are your heroes? Whose story do you look to for inspiration during dark days here?

ZELENSKYY (through translator): Only the people. I believe our people are genuine and unique. And I just can't afford to be worse than them.

When, at certain moments, I feel like all of this is dangerous. I understand that all the rest of us are going through this as well, what people are feeling like who are in basements, who lost their children, what our soldiers feel like right now.

And I understand I have to be the strongest one in this situation. And this is all. And the most important is the way my children look at me. They have to be proud of me. This is the most important thing. I do everything for this.


TAPPER: Is Ukraine going to win this war?

ZELENSKYY: Yes, of course, and will.

TAPPER: Thank you so much for your time, President Zelenskyy.

ZELENSKYY: Thank you so much.

TAPPER: Best of luck.

ZELENSKYY: Thank you so much.

TAPPER: Best of luck with what you do.

ZELENSKYY: Thank you so much.


TAPPER: Up next, we have something else unique and special on this Sunday.

Dave Matthews is going to debut a brand-new song in support of refugees. And we're going to talk about ways that you can help, if you can.

So, stick around.


TAPPER: The United Nations says more than 4.5 million refugees have fled Ukraine since the start of the war.

It's an enormous humanitarian crisis that's spurring so many people to try to help, including my next guest. You might have heard of him, Dave Matthews. He's trying to help the best way he knows how.

And, Dave, I know you have been really moved by the stories of the refugees from Ukraine and, frankly, refugees from all over the world.

DAVE MATTHEWS, MUSICIAN: Well, first of all, thank you, Jake, for having me. And thanks for your efforts right now to bring awareness to what's happening over there.


My mom used to always say that war is sort of like madness. It's like -- it's like a cancer. It's like cells gone awry. It's -- suddenly, we -- everything that we really naturally care about, other humans and our family, gets torn apart, and like is happening right now where you are in Ukraine.

It's just unfathomable to those of us who are far from it. But it's not only happening there. It's happening in Yemen. It's happening in Myanmar. It's happening in Nigeria. There's just so many places where -- Afghanistan -- where people are trying to just survive, and it's violence that's not allowing them to, and terrible violence.

And so those of us -- so many of us are part of this chorus of people that are trying to or hoping that we can somehow turn the tide.

And so I thought I would just join in and, in as many ways as possible, raise people's awareness, and so get some friends together and play a song that I just finished writing that I think somehow pertains to it, but at least it pertains to all of us.

It's called "Something to Tell My Baby."

Thank you very much, Jake.


MATTHEWS: Thanks again, Jake.

And, hey, I just wanted to say, there's so many organizations. Your -- maybe you can put them on the screen, but like the IRC and the World Central Kitchen, Jose Andres. There are so many great organizations that can help, are helping in their different ways to try and alleviate the suffering of people around the world and there in Ukraine.

So, everybody, do what you can, you know? And let's take care of each other, because what's the point otherwise?

TAPPER: Dave, thank you so much. That was so special and moving.

I have up on the screen right now one way viewers can donate to World Central Kitchen and to dozens of others, of worthwhile, accredited charities.

Please visit,


Experts are now predicting that this horrific war might last the whole year, if not longer.

And I'm worried that folks around the world might already be starting to shrug and hold up their hands in frustration and even turn away, as we do, as the world does, so dishonoring the promise of never again.

Let's try to pledge to each other right now on this Easter, on this Passover, on this Ramadan to try and not retreat into the numb safety of looking away. The people of Ukraine, like those of Yemen, and Syria, and Myanmar, and Darfur, and Rwanda, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Cambodia, they deserve at the very least our attention.

"FAREED ZAKARIA GPS" is up next.