Oh, I tell you what, I just heard a big bang. Right here behind me. I told you we shouldn't have done the live shot here. There are big explosions taking place in Kyiv right now.
This was Kyiv, Ukraine, on February 24th, 2022. Russian President Vladimir Putin had just given the big speech announcing a, quote, special military operation. And CNN's Matthew Chance was breaking it down on live TV when all of a sudden...
I've got a flak jacket right here. Let me just get it on.
Russian missiles started falling around the country's capital.
Fast forward to last week, February 20th, 2023.
On those very same streets, just steps away from where Matthew Chance heard those first explosions. U.S. President Joe Biden stepped out of a car to greet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
President Joe Biden
This is my eighth trip, each one more significant. We'rre here to stay.
Biden's trip was top secret and truly unprecedented. No U.S. president in modern history has ever visited an act of war zone where U.S. troops weren't deployed. And as if to underscore just how active it still is, just as Biden and Zelensky were stepping out of St Michael's Cathedral, air raid sirens rang out.
It's been a full year since Russia's unprovoked invasion began. Kyiv has held, but so many other cities and towns have not. Scores of soldiers and civilians, both adults and children, have been killed. But through all of that bloodshed, every day, Ukrainians have dropped everything to fight back.
My guest this week is CNN Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward. She's spent the last year crisscrossing the country, talking to them about why and how far they're still willing to go. From CNN, this is One Thing. I'm David Rind.
Clarissa, I want to start with the big picture here because I know it's been a year and there's a lot that's been happening in Ukraine since this war started. So big picture. What is the state of this war right now, one year later?
One year later I would say that there's no question Ukraine has made some incredible advances on the battlefield. They have pushed the Russians out of the area around Kyiv and to the north. They've pushed them, for the most part away from Kharkiv city and out of that pocket in the northeast. But right now, things are starting to look like a bit of a stalemate. It's a bit of a grind, particularly in the Donbass region in the east, where there has been very heavy fighting and the Ukrainians have been really struggling to keep the Russians back. The Russians have been pushing very hard and are making incremental gains, but gains nonetheless. And so I think it's one of those moments where everyone's trying to figure out what the next step is in order to try to regain the momentum.
And I remember in the early days, so much of the conversation was around Russian ineptitude, you know, just how unprepared their troops seem to be. But what about the Ukrainian side? Like, how have they managed to exceed expectations in the way they have?
I think what's extraordinary about the the success of Ukraine, when you look at this David-Goliath dynamic and then you realize that much of that can be attributed to ordinary Ukrainian citizens who basically put their entire lives to the side and just did whatever they could in order to contribute.
When was the last time you had a day off?
You look very confused by that question.
Who is a woman who was a whale scientist by training, who lived in Moscow since the 1990s and came back home a couple of days before the invasion because she didn't like the way things were going and looking.
We distributed a lot of food. It was mostly food and drugs because people desperately needed drugs. It was cold. So some people were cold. Children had flu.
And now spends 24 seven running this volunteer organization working to help ordinary Ukrainians who are living in some of these really hard hit, recently liberated areas where there isn't enough food, there isn't enough heat, there isn't electricity.
Every day is very different because it's it's so unpredictable.
She also does a lot of work with the military trying to get them supplies that they also need on the frontlines.
So you've been in and out of the country for the past year. What does that resolve, that fight from the Ukrainian people? What does that look like? What have you seen?
Back in April of last year. We spent some time in the northeastern city of Kharkiv, which was getting pounded day in and day out by Russian artillery, particularly in this area known as Saltivka, which used to be a bustling residential suburb, home to an estimated 300,000 people and now have become kind of the de facto front line.
So they've said that they've got reports one person at least has been injured in the shelling.
And we decided to spend the day with a pair of paramedics who were deployed to Saltivka.
We're going to see what's going on.
They got a call about an injured man and who was stuck in a building where there have been some shelling. And we went out with them. You could hear a lot of shelling had already started to pick up in the afternoon. And as we arrived, another round of shells started to come in. And we took cover beneath the staircase in the entryway. But it was violent. The building was shaking with the force of the blast.
We need to get out of here.
And as soon as the the volley or salvo stopped.
We quickly thought about how the best way to get out.
Get in the car, in the car.
But the paramedics, Alexandra and followed me did not go out with us. They went further in to try to find this man who had been injured. And I think all of us on the team were just blown away by the courage, because it really goes against human nature in a situation like that, when your life is at risk and you are being shaken by heavier, heavy weaponry, to continue to be in that place and to continue to look for someone to help them. Every fiber of your being is usually telling you to get out of there.
And what are your parents say? What does your family say? Aren't they wanting you to stop this work?
No comments? No. It's very difficult.
They call us, all day. All night.
So we thought that they were pretty extraordinary and we decided we wanted to see them again.
So, Clarissa, you went back to visit these paramedics, Alexandra and Vladimir. What are their lives like now? What is their day to day look like?
How are you? Alive? Healthy? We're alive. Exactly.
The situation in Kharkiv is much better now in terms of security. The shelling is much further away. There are still missile attacks, but they're not as common.
What kind of work is it now?
The patients before war? There's no trauma or injury. It's heart attack. Stroke.
And these two paramedics are still there every day. And whether they're deployed to somewhere near the frontlines helping out there or whether they are just helping people who might fall off a ladder or have a heart attack, they have not wavered in this conviction that they want to serve their community.
And your families are good? You have kids?
Volodymyr has been separated from his wife and his son for a long time now because they went to the relative safety of the West. That takes courage and it takes discipline. And it's a sacrifice.
We were invited to go and have dinner with Alexandra and Volodymyr in Saltivka.
Inside their home was really warm. And Alexandra's mother was there. Her husband Ivan was there.
So you were very worried about your wife?
Of course they cooked a lovely dinner and we sat around the table and talked about what made Ukraine exceptional.
Because I think everybody around the world looks at Ukraine and they say like, wow, so many heroes. And it's like...
You don't know how they how it's many them.
And how Ukraine has been able to do something that I think a lot of people really thought would never be possible, which was to expose the Russian military as a paper tiger and to fend off an enemy that on paper is far bigger and far superior and far richer.
Ordinary people became extraordinary.
Do you get the sense that they see themselves as part of that larger fight for democracy, like how President Biden kind of frames it? Like what's driving their motivation to stay put in the middle of a war and pitch in however they can?
I think that there's a number of factors. I think there's no question that Ukrainians are passionately patriotic. And this is something I've wondered about over the course of talking to all these ordinary Ukrainians who are risking their lives every day. This idea of what would it be like if this happened in the U.S. or in the U.K.? And would people meet the moment in the same way and what they sacrificed so much for their country in the same way?
What is it that has allowed Ukraine and Ukrainians to come this far?
I asked Olga about this. Why are Ukrainians so passionate about this fight? And she said it's because we're an agrarian society.
And no one should step on my piece of land, it's mine.
And so the idea of our land is deeply ingrained into our very the very fiber of our being.
Like without their land, they don't have anything.
Like you. Don't you dare. Don't you dare.
And another part of this that you'll hear a lot from Ukrainians is that this is about freedom and the idea of freedom and what it means to live in a civil society. And to that end, you will also hear a lot. Listen, we don't expect you to come here and fight this war for us. We don't need your soldiers or your boots on the ground. We're happy to do the fighting. But we do need your support because ultimately, it's for you, too.
Hmm. So to that end, what does the next year look like in Ukraine on the battlefield and in homes of everyday Ukrainians like you were?
I think a lot of people are anticipating that there will be some kind of a spring offensive on the Ukrainian side and the Russian side. The Russians have more than 100,000 mobilized troops who they haven't yet deployed in theater. And so there's a little bit of anxiety about where they will be stationed and what that push will look like. With the Ukrainian side, there's a lot of speculation that they'll make a big push in the southeast to try to get to a city called Mili topple and then from there try to put pressure on Crimea, which a lot of analysts talk about as being a very valuable leverage point. If you can put pressure on Crimea, you can start to put real pressure on Russia and start to force maybe a political process that will go in your way.
Like that might get Putin to the table.
That's the idea, you know, according to some. But more broadly, I think that there is a kind of clear eyed understanding that the war is probably not going to end, certainly in the next six months. And there probably are going to be some really tough times ahead.
We realized the problem after two months to three months of working, when it kind of realized that it's not a sprint but the marathon...
When you talk to Ukrainians, it's interesting. They'll tell you a lot that they don't think about when victory is coming because that almost makes it too hard. It's like looking at the top of the mountain when you're still ways down.
And this is what we have to do. And then tomorrow they'll show us what what our future is.
They just focus on moving up that mountain step by step with the belief in their hearts that that victory is coming at some point, but not trying to attach too much significance to predicting when it's going to come.
And you can see a lot more of Clarissa's reporting later on tonight in the CNN special, The Will to Win Ukraine at War. Clarissa, thanks very much.
One Thing is a production of CNN Audio. This episode was produced by Paola Ortiz and me, David Rind. Matt Dempsey as our production manager. Faiz Jamil is our senior producer. Greg Peppers is our supervising producer. And Steve Lickteig is the executive producer of CNN Audio. Special thanks this week to Brant Swails, Alicia Lee and Jessica Smalls. And one more thing before we go. If you listen to our show every week, we want to hear from you. We want to know how the show fits into your routine, what you like about it, what we could be doing better. We want to know it all. It's a super quick survey. Just head over to CNN dot com slash one. That's O-N-E. CNN dot com slash one. We'll put a link at our show notes as well. We appreciate it. Thanks for listening. We'll be back next Sunday. Talk to you then.