Return to Transcripts main page
Interview with U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator in Haiti Ulrika Richardson; Interview with Former Ukrainian Defense Minister Andriy Zagorodnyuk; Interview with Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra Conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson; Interview with Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra Violist Kateryna Suprun; Interview with Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra Double Bassist Nazarii Stets. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired August 18, 2022 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SARA SIDNER, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: How everyone. And welcome to "Amanpour". Here's what's coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Ukrainian soldiers will destroy the potential of the occupiers, step by step.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SIDNER: As the long stalemate continues in Ukraine, could a series of attacks on Crimea turn the tide? We hear from former-Ukrainian defense
minister, Andriy Zahorodniuk.
Then, disasters, corruption, and brutal gang violence. Can anything stop Haiti's spiral towards collapse? United Nations Humanitarian Coordinate,
Ulrika Richardson is on the ground in Port-au-Prince. Plus --
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voiceover): We've been following him for months, during his perilous escape out of China by plane, boat, bus,
motorcycle, and on foot.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SIDNER: Correspondent Selina Wang tracks one man's desperate escape from China in search of the American dream. And, fighting for freedom not with
guns, but with music. I speak to the members of the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra as they wrap up their world tour.
Welcome to the program. I'm Sara Sidner in New York, sitting in for Christiane Amanpour.
We begin in Haiti. A country that has been spiraling for years, and even more so since an earthquake left more than 2,000 people dead. That was one
year ago this week. Not long before that, the country's president was assassinated, leaving a vacuum that has been exploited by criminal gangs.
The sharp rise in gang violence has turned some Haitian neighborhoods into virtual war zones. As CNN's Nick Paton Walsh witnessed recently during a
police raid outside Port-au-Prince.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR (voiceover): Rounds hit the armored vehicle. They think they see where the gunmen are.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The building that says "SMS". The yellow and red one.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get away. You're too exposed. It's dangerous.
WALSH (voiceover): They run, but not like it's their first time under fire, perhaps even this day.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SIDNER: Joining me now to discuss this is Ulrika Richardson, the U.N.'s Humanitarian Coordinator in Haiti. Welcome to the program.
ULRIKA RICHARDSON, U.N.'S HUMANITARIAN COORDINATOR IN HAITI: Thank you.
SIDNER: I just want to go down some of the difficulties, some of the real suffering that is going on with Haiti, suffered by the average citizen. So,
since the assassination of the President Moise in 2021, and the 2010 and 2021 earthquakes, which Haiti is still recovering from, gang violence has
exploded. Killing hundreds of people.
You've got a U.N. report that says 934 killings, 684 injuries, and 680 kidnappings in the Port-au-Prince alone from January to the end of June.
Can you describe to me just how difficult it is to be a Haitian citizen right now living in Port-au-Prince?
RICHARDSON: Yes, so, the realities that you just saw in that video clip is actually the daily reality that so many Haitians face here in Port-au-
Prince. We have estimated that half of the population of Port-au-Prince are actually impacted directly by gang violence. And some 75 percent of Port-
au-Prince in the hands of gangs.
So, the daily life of many Haitians, it's actually that of being -- having to flee from bullet -- bullets, hearing the noise of firearms all the time,
being killed by stray bullets, being killed even sometimes just being in the line of fire between the gangs. And this is hitting the most vulnerable
populations that already were, I would say, in situations of quite a long- term degradation in terms of social services, in terms of water sanitation, you name it.
And so, for many people, it is of course, situational. So, that is -- in terms of really severe violence.
We've seen, in terms of, women and children, for example, sexual violence has become -- has become also a huge problem. And obviously, in terms of
the food insecurity, we know that in one of the communes in Port-au-Prince, the one that has seen the latest spike in violence. We know that one child
out of five are suffering from severe malnutrition. We also know that the country as such is suffering from hunger, actually.
And that, of course, is being again, just prolonged and deepened those situations by the gang violence. And let's also not forget that Port-au-
Prince, it's the umbilical corridor of the rest of the country, as many capitals are, is now closed off for the rest of the country.
And you mentioned, the earthquake. For example, I was just down there recently the other day, and those three million people in the south don't
have access to the capital. So, you can just imagine the impact it had on the military assistance, but also the long-term reconstruction and recovery
of the south in terms of accessing with material, the goods, commerce, et cetera. So, for example, the agricultural farmers of the south cannot
access with our commerce.
But coming back to Port-au-Prince, the violence that people are facing on a daily basis is enormous. It is -- it's devastating. And --
SIDNER: You said that 50 percent --
RICHARDSON: -- and it's not --
SIDNER: -- Ulrika, you said that 50 percent of the population is having to navigate this. And all of the population is having to worry about it. How
is the government tackling this? And can it be done at this point? Because this vacuum -- this power vacuum has clearly exposed a problem that the
police are often overwhelmed by. So, what's being done about it by the government there?
RICHARDSON: Evidently, there is a compound meant of situations here, and the crisis, there is a political crisis, but also that of the insecurity.
And everything is obviously interlinked. On the security side, the U.N. is working hard to support and to strengthen the response of the national
police, and we are seeing some positive signs to that. But there is much more to be done.
And obviously, we are also seeing how -- in fact, the trafficking of arms because we have to also face it. There are a lot of arms being trafficked
to Haiti, and that is, of course, ending up in the hands of the gangs, and that is also one of the causes why the violence is so lethal and so
devastating for Haitians.
But we are also seeing some positive signs of seizures that we know that there is a lot more to be done. And so, we believe once there is, let's
say, an advance in progress on the political side, we also believe that the gang violence will start to decrease.
SIDNER: The U.N. has been there, you know, time and time again. And how are you doing your jobs in this scenario, and what are you doing? What are you
able to do in this country that is going through such devastation?
RICHARDSON: So, what we're doing right now is, we're trying to respond to the immediate needs of people in saving lives. But also, not losing the eye
on the long term, meaning, the impunity, the corruption, the economic recession that the country is facing.
But right now, we are actually in these gang-affected areas, providing humanitarian assistance, that is food, water. Also, some support in terms
of being able to repair some of the houses that have been devastated by the fighting. We also, of course, providing assistance in terms of health care
together with our local partners. We work very closely with the local community leaders, but also with other humanitarian partners.
And this assistance, we've been, sort of, on a daily basis almost for over a month. And we try to also see how we can give a more comprehensive
service and assistance to victims of sexual violence to the many children that are facing violence either directly or indirectly. We have a situation
also here in Cite Soleil, obviously, with a lot of the children. In fact, the majority of them are not being able to resume schools. So, that's
something that we are working on with lots of focus on right now.
But it's a daily work. Lots of close cooperation with other partners, with the institutions. But we are in there and giving the assistance that is
needed right now in terms of saving lives.
SIDNER: The fact that --
RICHARDSON: And it's a contribution --
SIDNER: Ulrika, the fact that gangs are in control of so many spots and neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince, in particular, but in other areas, does
the U.N. have to cooperate with them as well? Is there any conversation going on on that front?
RICHARSON: So, we are working very closely with all the partners in these gang-affected areas. And what we are focusing on is obviously to gain
access so that we can save lives of people, but also to increase, at least try and provide for the -- for food and water, as I mentioned, so that the
conditions can be slightly improved.
But that means that we are in constant contact with our partners. We're also in contact with people outside of Port-au-Prince, obviously. As you
can imagine, there are people trying to flee, people are actually being held hostage. And so, fleeing from these areas is also a situation that we
need to support and to see how we can provide the best for those that have fled in some of these mostly affected areas. But it's a daily work. It's a
daily contacting with partners, a very, very close cooperation.
SIDNER: Ulrika, let me ask you this, from the outside looking in and from those who are inside of the country, it seems that the country surrounding
it, including the United States, what are they doing? It doesn't seem like there is a great deal of urgency or care about what's happening in Haiti?
RICHARDSON: Well, I would say two things here. One is that there is a call and if you've seen that latest, let's say -- there has been a call from the
U.N. on member states, including in the region to both -- do more, in terms of seeing how we can break the cycles of illicit financing flow, et cetera.
But also, what I mentioned before, the smuggling of arms so that we can decrease and basically stop the flow of arms into Haiti.
And this is not only, of course, Haiti's responsibility. So, the call from the U.N. to member states to do more. But also, what we are seeing, and
that is we're trying our very best to also make sure that in the global, quite complicated context, as everyone knows, we're trying to make sure
that Haiti is not a forgotten crisis. And that we can actually, together, see how we can better respond to the situation. Our -- of course, our
humanitarian actors, many of our humanitarian response plans is not fully financed.
And so, I think that call to impart solidarity with Haiti and making sure that Haiti remains as a priority for many of our member states and for our
partners and donors is essential at this point in time.
SIDNER: Ulrika Richardson, thank you so much for joining our program.
Coming up after the break, the U.N. Security-General is in Ukraine to meet with President Zelenskyy and Turkish President Erdogan. The latest
developments and a stark-warnings, coming up.
SIDNER: Welcome back. We now turn to Ukraine where the war grinds on. A nasty brutish and long stalemate. Russia's attack on key cities continues.
Ukrainian authorities say a rocket strike early this morning in an apartment building in Kharkiv killed at least 12 civilians. Many of them
elderly or disabled.
In the south, Ukraine says a team of international experts stands ready to inspect the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant to assess security threats caused by
persistent shelling around there. The plant has been under Russian control since March. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is demanding Russia forces
withdraw from Zaporizhzhia. A major focus in his discussions with the U.N. Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, and Turkish President Erdogan, who are
in Lviv today.
Meanwhile, a Ukrainian government report acknowledges that Kyiv is behind a series of recent attacks in Crimea. Crimea holds special significance for
Vladimir Putin. He calls it a holy land. Ukraine's attacks there could force Russia to change its strategic posture in the south.
Andriy Zagorodnyuk was Ukraine's defense minister. Now, he's chairman of the Center for Defense Strategies, an independent think tank. Thank you so
much for joining me now from Kyiv.
ANDRIY ZAGORODNYUK, FORMER UKRAINIAN DEFENSE MINISTER: Thank you.
SIDNER: I want to talk about this very dangerous scenario in Zaporizhzhia. And the nuclear plant that's there which is enormous. It is near the --
Europe's largest nuclear plant. And when you look at what could happen, since it is in nobody's interest to have any kind of major issue there,
what is the key to getting some sort of agreement between Russia and Ukraine to try and at least secure that as this war goes on?
ZAGORODNYUK: From the very beginning it wasn't clear, actually, what was the end game with the nuclear plant with Russia. Because clearly, they
wanted to take electricity and supply it to Crimea. Clearly, they wanted to make Ukraine independent on their decision whether to keep it turned on or
turn it off. Clearly, they wanted to show that they can actually control Ukraine -- at least parts of Ukraine energy.
And we have seen that they were quite suspiciously focused, always, on this nuclear essence of Ukraine. Particularly from the very first days of the
war, they occupied Chernobyl station, which was not working, but nevertheless, that's still a massive nuclear site.
They sent their specialists from -- what is called Rosatom, which is their, like, their nuclear organization which runs Russian nuclear stations, and
they tried to run it. But they couldn't do this without local personnel, without local Ukrainian personnel. Now, what they said that tomorrow they
told Ukrainian personnel not to go to the work. And Rosatom left and, like, their people left, and there are rumors about some sort of provocation of
which -- I don't know, some kind of a, maybe, an accent which is going to be staged tomorrow. So, people are quite nervous in Ukraine because,
indeed, this is a huge asset and it's a huge nuclear threat if mishandled.
Why they are doing this, it could be tactically just to show that they can, or -- and to press Ukraine for negotiations. Like, basically, like
blackmailing with the nuclear asset, or they can also evoke, like, all the international participants like Megatel (ph), like U.N., like all these
organizations which are running the, you know -- trying to, kind of, find a compromise or whatever or some kind of resolution. But in all cases, this
is very dangerous and certainly, you know, disturbing.
SIDNER: Do you have any sense that there could be some sort of negotiation over this, or is that just an impossibility now between the two countries?
ZAGORODNYUK: Every time when somebody asks a negotiation, the question is, like, what Russians are expecting. Because if they expect the territorial
concessions of Ukraine, obviously, this is not going to happen. And it's not just because Ukraine needs to, you know, we need to, you know, make our
country free again and independent, and so on. It's also because it's not going to help because if Russia gets something that will reward its further
activity, then they will keep on going.
In all their strategic communications, like, political, military, all of them, they're constantly saying that they want all Ukraine. So, they don't
need -- it's not like they started that war to get Zaporizhzhia power plant or they started it to get, like, south or east. No, they actually started
it to get the whole of Ukraine. And we believe that strategic intent is still there.
SIDNER: We now know the U.N. and Guterres is visiting in Lviv. What do you expect from the United Nations, as Russia is a permanent member of the U.N.
Security Council and has, you know, a powerful veto? What do you expect from the U.N., and its ability to potentially push some sort of
negotiation, or push something forward to a peaceful end? Do you have, I guess, is the question, any hope for that?
ZAGORODNYUK: We always need to keep it. Regardless whether how serious the chances we think they have, we always need to keep the door open for the
peace. Because peace is what we want at the end, you know. And so, we will never say no to any negotiations. We will never say no to peace. If we,
obviously, have a legitimate party involved, and obviously, United Nations General-Secretary, is a very legitimate party. And also, our neighbors,
such as Turkey, also a legitimate party, they do want peace to come to this region.
So, certainly, whatever they can do is going to be helpful. Because they already brokered the deal which was many people considered was impossible
on opening the Black Sea ports. And obviously, I believe he's encouraged by that, and he wants to continue further and try to do something else. So, as
a European democratic nation who wants peace, obviously, we are all for that.
It's just like, we shouldn't be misled by, sort of, agreements or ceasefire agreements or something which actually is not going to bring peace but
actually makes things worse. So -- but -- of course, our president, he knows that very well and I am sure that will have a very fruitful day.
Let's hope something comes out of this.
SIDNER: Just, curious following up on that, why do you think that ceasefire agreements don't work or aren't necessary?
ZAGORODNYUK: Because we have no indication whatsoever that Russia has changed their plans to concur Ukraine. So, for a ceasefire agreement, what
they're going to do, they will use that as an operational cause in order to recover their troops which suffered serious losses in Ukraine, and then
they will start again. Unfortunately, we have that already. We already had two agreements signed with Russians which they never honored. And
essentially, they will just use this as a tool to, kind of, increase their capabilities and readiness to proceed. So far, at the moment, we don't see
any desire of the Russian government to actually withdraw from our country and let us live, like, a normal life like we used to.
SIDNER: I want to ask you about some recent attacks, you know, there are bad things going back and forth with gains both on the Russian side, small
ones, and then also Ukraine being able to take back some territory. Ukraine has said now that it was behind at least three recent explosions in Crimea.
And when you take this as a whole, there -- it was -- there was a bit of shock, I think, to those who were there who are pro-Russian. What is the
strategic goal of an attack such as this in Crimea?
ZAGORODNYUK: Well, it's all operational goal. We need to keep -- we need to, sort of, destroy Russian logistical capabilities to attack us. Russia
throws rockets every day in Ukraine. Like, today, several people died in Kharkiv, yesterday there were some other attacks. So, there are attacks
every day. There are -- and they do this from Crimea. They do this from Black Sea. They do it from European part of Russia. And they constantly
send planes which are throwing missiles on our cities and towns in a, sort of, random order. Very often, specifically targeting civilian
So, certainly, we want to decrease their ability to do so. So, that's the most important thing. Of course, they also need to understand that Crimea
is a territory of Ukraine and they -- it will never become a territory of Russia. So, they just need to, like, learn how to live with that. But I
would focus on the fact that we need to keep our cities safe. And we know that they were using those airfields to attack our homes and towns.
SIDNER: And I think the places that were attacked were military positions and airbases, and ammunition depot as well. And so, those were things that,
as you say, Ukraine felt more strategically important for them to try to slow the war.
ZAGORODNYUK: Yes, of course.
SIDNER: Speaking of the war, let me ask you something. Let me ask you about where the war is now. We have heard the world -- word stalemate. Is this a
ZAGORODNYUK: You know, usually when people use the word stalemate, they assume some sort of stability and some sort of calmness, you know. But it's
not the case, unfortunately. It's extremely active war right now.
So, there are like -- there are people dying every day. And there are, like, a lot of operations, small operations happening, like, almost every
operational direction which are like multiple. Because they -- they have a war from Kharkiv which is north down to Mykolaiv which is south. So, we're
talking about a frontline of 2,500 kilometers, which is huge. It's like almost half of Europe -- the length of half of Europe.
So, the war is in a situation where Russians cannot move anywhere further. They are -- because of the weapons which the west provided us, we can -- we
managed now to make them stop. But unfortunately, at the same time we don't have enough weapons to -- for the proper, like, serious full-fledged
counteroffensive. So, that's why it's some sort of a parity where we can stop them, we can -- they -- actually the operation failed already because,
obviously, they wanted much more. But at the same time, we still need more weapons to start liberating our lands and actually push them out.
SIDNER: Andriy Zagorodnyuk, thank you so much for coming on the program. And I hope you're able to stick around to see this next thing because it is
for all Ukrainians and everyone around the world.
Still to come tonight, we follow the epic journey of one Chinese immigrant chasing his own dream.
SIDNER: Welcome back. Chinese President Xi Jinping is the country's most powerful and authoritarian leader in decades. According to data from the
U.N. refugee agency, since President Xi came to power in 2012, the number of Chinese nationalists seeking asylum abroad has increased by nearly
eight-fold. Repression in China has only grown during the pandemic under the country's zero-COVID policy.
It's driving fear and frustration with more and more Chinese yearning for a freer life. Some of them are risking everything to chase that dream. But
more and more are also feeling hopeless about the future of China. A place where they see freedoms and opportunities disappearing. Selina Wang has our
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voiceover): This wall separates Wang Qun from his American dream. He's prepared to risk everything to climb over,
illegally crossing into the U.S. from Mexico. But unlike most of the thousands of illegal crossings a day on the southern border, he's not
fleeing poverty or violence south of the wall. His journey started on the other side of the world. We've been following him for months during his
perilous escape out of China by plane, boat, bus, motorcycle, and on foot.
WANG QUN, FLED FROM CHINA (through translator): It's worth it no matter how much I suffer.
WANG (voiceover): He ran a bubble tea shop back in China. When COVID hit, business tanked from constant lockdowns. He left his son and daughter
behind with his parents, hoping to bring them to America one day.
QUN (through translator): I couldn't make ends meet, and I have two kids to raise. I have to get out.
WANG (voiceover): China's unrelenting zero-COVID policy, burying authoritarianism under Xi Jinping, and stifling nationalistic education
taught in his children's schools pushed Wang over the edge.
QUN (through translator): In the past seven or eight years, everything is going backwards. And Xi Jinping is going to get his third term. I see no
hope. He's just another version of Mao Zedong. There's no difference.
WANG (voiceover): At a key political meeting this fall, Xi Jinping is set to secure an unprecedented third term as the supreme leader of the
communist party. He's the strongman. A top of surveillance state. One that during the pandemic can control and track the movements of virtually all 1.
4 billion people.
Since the start of the pandemic, China has kept its border sealed, a policy the government says is needed to fight COVID-19. And earlier this year,
forbade its citizens from going overseas for nonessential reasons. With China turning increasingly inward, Wang became desperate to get out, and he
was set on one destination, America.
QUN (through translator): My impression of America is that it's a free, democratic, open, and vibrant country. You can accumulate wealth through
your own hard work.
WANG (voiceover): Through online chat groups, he discovered a network of people in China planning to illegally immigrate to America through Quito,
Ecuador. He applied for a language school in Quito and made it out of China in April with the school's admissions letter as proof. He started
documenting his whole journey, from Ecuador, he rode buses over 1,000 miles to Columbia. Then took a boat to Panama, sharing the ride with other
desperate but hopeful migrants. On the other side, a five-day hike through Panama's rainforest. An endless walk through mud, rivers, and mountains. A
journey that Wang said almost broke him from exhaustion.
A brief rest pit at a refugee camp. Then seven days of buses from Panama to Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, then Guatemala. From there, a boat to
Mexico's border, where police detained him for five days. When he was released, he paid an illegal smuggler thousands of dollars to get the
Mexico City. Dozens of people squeezed into the back of a truck, then packed into a van, more than 104 degrees Fahrenheit inside. In Mexico City,
Wang rode a motorcycle 1,600 miles to the U.S. border, where we met up with him, determined to make it to the other side.
QUN (through translator): The rest of my life will mainly be in the U.S., so it's a home for me.
WANG (voiceover): He's just one of droves of Chinese trying to flee the country. According to the U.N. Refugee Agency, the number of Chinese
nationals seeking asylum has been steadily increased until it reached a record in 2021. And most of them, 70 percent, were trying to get to
America. On China's internet, searches for immigration started skyrocketing in March, as people struggle to get basic necessities and food during
lockdowns across the country. Discussion forums with detailed tips on how to leave China have gone viral on social media. Immigration lawyers say
inquiries from Chinese wanting to leave have surged since the pandemic.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The volume and inquiries is up many hundreds of times than -- over what it previously was.
WANG (voiceover): But for others like Wang, he says their only path into America is the illegal way. He ultimately made it to the other side, walked
hours in the American desert over mountains. His sneakers fell apart. More than a month later, we met Wang in Los Angeles.
In this new world, he's found a familiar, temporarily settling into a community of Chinese immigrants. He's even made a friend who crossed into
America the same way he did. While he waits for a hearing on his immigration case, he's getting a driver's license, training to be a
masseuse, and studying English every day.
QUN (through translator): In America, I can see the sunshine, I can see the sea, I can do whatever I want. I can work hard for any job I like.
WANG (voiceover): But he's also anxious. In the best case, it will be years before he sees his family again.
QUN (through translator): My favorite food is my mom's cooking, and I may never taste her cooking again.
WANG (on camera): How do you feel when you think about your children?
QUN (through translator): My heart hurts.
WANG (voiceover): He's applying for political asylum. But if his application is rejected, he says he might ask his kids when they are older
to take the same dangerous path to America that he did.
WANG (on camera): Have you told your family where you are?
QUN (through translator): My parents don't know yet, by my son knows. I told him that there's no way out for me in China. So, I came to America to
make a fortune for you, and fight for a bright future for you.
WANG (voiceover): That future is uncertain. But with China in his past, he has hope of living out his American dream.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SIDNER: Wow. What a journey. Selina Wang, reporting for us there. CNN reached out to China's government for comment on our story. Beijing
defended the country's COVID policies and called China. "A land full of vitality and hope." Stories like Wang's are a smear on Beijing's narrative
that China is getting stronger and more prosperous, while America is in decline.
And we should note that during Selina's report, this is what viewers in China saw. The material in her report was either censored or the signal was
blocked altogether. Now, most households in China do not have access to CNN, but it is available in many hotels. Blocking the feed often happens
when CNN shows reports that China's officials consider sensitive.
When we come back. An orchestra on a mission. How a band of Ukrainians are using music to fight for their country.
SIDNER: And finally, war refugees defending their nation through music. The Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra on a 12-city world tour, with their final
performance to be played this weekend in Washington, D.C. It is made up of Ukrainians, some who fled Russia's unprovoked war on Ukraine, and others
who will have to return to that war. 74 musicians are shining a light on Ukrainian culture which Moscow is trying so hard to obliterate.
I had the absolute pleasure of sitting down with the orchestra's Canadian- Ukrainian conductor, Keri-Lynn Wilson. Viola player, Kateryna Suprun, And Double Bass Player, Nazarii Stets. Here is our conversation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SIDNER: First and foremost, I just want to say to you that I'm really happy you're here, that you're safe, and that you made it out for the time being.
But I know it's hard being here as well. You living on two different worlds, I think.
How did you come up with the concept of bringing this group of people together, all refugees who had just experienced the worst thing that you
can basically experience, which is a war in your country?
KERI-LYNN WILSON, CONDUCTOR, UKRAINIAN FREEDOM ORCHESTRA: Well, this invasion, it really hit a personal note for me because I'm part Ukrainian.
I grew up in Canada to great-grandparents who came from Chernivtsi, and I still have cousins who are there. One of which is fighting in Donbas. He
joined the military in 2014. And at the start of the invasion, he went immediately to protect his nation on the very front line.
And this felt like I wanted to help too. I needed to do something that would give a voice to my colleagues, to my musician friends, to my family.
Seeing these refugees flowing into Poland, it was the logical place to reach out to see whom I could help. And I thought as a conductress, a
musician, this would be my weapon. To hold my baton and form an orchestra of either refugees or those who are still in Ukraine. And come together and
fight for the freedom and independence of the nation on the cultural front. As I like to call us the soldiers of music.
SIDNER: Kateryna, you fled Ukraine at the start of the war. Can you tell me what it took for you to leave? What it was like for you to leave your home?
KATERYNA SUPRUN, VIOLIST, UKRAINIAN FREEDOM ORCHESTRA: I left my home, the 24th of February with my daughter, who is two years old. And we go on the
border for days.
SIDNER: You left on the 24th of February, which is the first day of the invasion, Russia invaded unprovoked into your country and into your city,
with your two-year-old daughter. Where was your husband?
SUPRUN: My husband now in Lviv. He's French. But live in Ukraine last seven years. But on these seven years, he start love Ukraine, like he Ukrainian.
And he don't want to leave Ukraine now.
SIDNER: So, he stayed behind.
SIDNER: You had to leave with your daughter without your husband.
SIDNER: How did you do it?
SUPRUN: I'm very proud about this because he find many foundation and helps for our soldiers. And he is singer. And now he recorded many Ukrainian
songs. Yes, and I'm very proud of him, but I and my daughter, very -- (speaking in foreign language).
NAZARII STETS, DOUBLE BASSIST, UKRAINIAN FREEDOM ORCHESTRA: Are very sad.
WILSON: You miss him very much.
SUPRUN: Yes, miss him very much.
SIDNER: Nazarii, can you talk about men your age, just like her husband, men your age, were required to stay and fight? How did you end up leaving?
And do you have to go back at some point?
STETS: Yes, of course, we have to ask the special permission from the Ministry of Defense. So, we have this special permission and we can do this
tour. But, of course, after the last concert in Washington, I have to go back to Ukraine. But I'm very happy that I'm returning because I still have
a lot of work there, and even during this tour, one composer from Ukraine wrote a new double bass concerto for me, and I hope to premier it in the
early September. So, there's a lot of things to do.
SIDNER: I think a lot of people would hear you play, especially the somber music, and thinking about you having to return to a place of real and
SIDNER: How do you feel about the prospect of returning and what will you be doing, you think, when you get back?
STETS: I hope to do music, which is the best thing I can do at the moment. And that is actually the best thing now because music still helps to live a
normal life even in Kyiv during a war. Because Ukrainian people need culture. They need art just to take their mind from TV for some hours to
listen for a beauty.
SIDNER: I read, Kateryna, that when you first got into Poland that you couldn't play. That it hurt your heart to even, sort of, think about
playing. What was it that stopped you initially from being able to play?
SUPRUN: My first months of war, you don't know how to continue live. You read news 24 hours. You must prepare some eat for your daughter. You have
SIDNER: You just couldn't do it?
SIDNER: What was it like when you played for the first time after fleeing the war? What did that feel like?
SUPRUN: When I played in the stage, this is strange feeling because this is a dream, but not in this situation. You don't -- (speaking in foreign
language), you don't --
STETS: You can't be happy.
STETS: You can't enjoy the moment.
SUPRUN: You can't enjoy. But this is your dream but you can't enjoy.
SIDNER: So, you finally realize a musician's dream.
SIDNER: But your mind is flooded with the thoughts of war.
SIDNER: So, you can't enjoy it?
SUPRUN: I feeling that really my mission, and I feel, like, I feel better.
SIDNER: For you, you have found a mission.
SIDNER: That makes you now happy to play.
SUPRUN: Yes, yes.
SIDNER: When you hear this from those who are surrounding you, I mean, what was the first rehearsal like?
WILSON: The first day, the first rehearsal is very exciting. And I could say it was a little rough, and I think everybody would agree because things
aren't perfect in any rehearsal even if an orchestra is already formed. So, it was a 10-day rehearsal process, a very intense rehearsal, that's why I
like to call them soldiers of music because we really were like a musical military boot camp.
And after 10 days we had our inaugural concert in Warsaw. And I could never imagine the level being so high. What was -- what is extremely special
about this orchestra is that it's made up of these musicians who have been given a voice back. They were silenced throughout the war. They are
silenced. And suddenly they have a voice and a very powerful voice. And that is to galvanize the western world, to show that Ukrainian culture is
alive and well.
So, what I really feel from these musicians is there's a mutual love and respect and determination and this drive, to prove that this is what
Ukraine is all about. It's the soul of Ukraine. It's musicians. It's a culture, and it makes me very, very proud. Somehow, I've given them the
opportunity to find hope and some joy in what was taken away from them.
SIDNER: Can you describe to me what that first concert was like for you?
STETS: I was so proud that we are doing this all because when you look at the audience, you saw -- full audience with the Ukraine flag, and this very
powerful support from the audience. It's just amazing to perform.
SIDNER: What message are you trying to send?
STETS: The main thing is Ukrainian culture exists, and it's really deep. And we expected that someday the whole world will start to discover
Ukrainian culture because it is an amazing country. And for example, how many Ukrainian composers you can count, I think it's like, maybe two or
three. But there are really a lot of them. So, this is also our way to push our culture in these terrible times.
SIDNER: You ended up going back to Ukraine, at some point, to see your husband. Can you tell me, in the midst of the war, I think it was May, that
you ended up heading back to Ukraine, what was that experience like for you?
SUPRUN: This is a very strange experience.
Because the first time in my life, I would be very happy, watch Ukrainians train, this Ukrainian flag, really. And this is three days, I really
understand what will be Ukrainian. And I proud to be Ukrainian because Ukrainian peoples they continue to live. Continue to live. Continue make
concerts. Continue in Ukraine. Continue to live. And this is very big feelings. And I realy understand. I feel proud to be Ukrainian.
SIDNER: You saw the power of the people there.
SIDNER: And was that something that told you that Ukraine is not going anywhere, it's not crumbling?
SIDNER: When you -- where were you on February 24th when the invasion happened?
WILSON: I was in Europe. Between rehearsals and performances, I was in Spain. And then I was in Prague. I was just constantly glued to the
television and horrified and contracting all of my friends in Kyiv, in Chernivtsi. It was -- for me, life had stopped as well. I felt guilty going
to rehearsal, having the freedom of performing.
So, I started taking action. I was playing the Ukrainian national anthem with the orchestras I was conducting. I was making speeches to the
audience, saying we must support Ukraine. So, this week off I had, I went to London. I met my husband for two days. And there is when we put our
minds together. He thought it was a great idea to form this orchestra. For refugees, and he immediately contacted his colleagues at the Polish opera
who had refugees staying in their opera, in their theaters.
So, I mean, it was just a logical place to contact, to see if we could make this dream of mine become a reality. So, that's how it all came together.
And just being in Europe, being Ukrainian, it was like home. How dare this monster kill innocent people in the 21st century? I mean, it's unreal. It's
real -- we're still all in shock. Everybody is in shock. And it is getting worse.
And that's why I'm so proud that we have galvanized audiences, that were fighting as much as we can as musicians, just to keep the attention, keep
the resolve, and keep everybody in solidarity. Because ultimately, it's not just about Ukraine. This is about world peace and the future of democracy.
SIDNER: I was going to ask you how different it is conducting this orchestra, made up of Ukrainian refugees fresh out of the war, and other
WILSON: We are united in our breath, in our hearts, in our souls. It's much more than making the orchestra technically perfect. It's much more than
making that phrase beautiful. It's this feeling of harmony and humanity and compassion and camaraderie amongst musicians that really, I think,
audiences have responded to in an amazing way.
SIDNER: I was going to ask you both, describe what happens to you when you're playing that last song, you're playing the Ukrainian anthem. What
does that feel like for you?
STETS: A man with a beard and tears.
SUPRUN: Don't cry.
STETS: But it happens all the time. It's --
SUPRUN: For me, too.
STETS: -- it's a very emotional moment. And, of course, it happens during, called the tour. But it still happens with tears. I can't do nothing with
that. And also this --
SIDNER: You're playing?
STETS: Yes, this arrangement of the national anthem is just amazing. It's really touching. It's a little -- it is a little bit different than normal
arrangement of Ukrainian national anthem because this piece that Keri-Lynn chose for further program is actually for -- only for string part of the
symphony orchestra. And maybe because of that special string sound, it's really touching the heart.
SIDNER: Is music helping to heal some of the wounds for you all?
SUPRUN: Yes, especially when we played arrangement national anthem, peoples who listen our concert, stand up.
STETS: Yes, all the time, Ukrainian peoples in the audience --
SUPRUN: Yes, raise flags
STETS: -- they raise flags.
SUPRUN: This is a special moments for us, really. And tears don't stop.
SIDNER: That solidarity --
SIDNER: -- gives you a huge emotion, a tearful emotion. But, pride, right?
SIDNER: Is anything else you'd like to add?
WILSON: I have every intention of bringing this orchestra to Ukraine when it's safe. And before the war ends, I'm sure, we are courageous as
soldiers. I've actually been invited by the National Opera of Ukraine and the national symphony to go this season. So, we are planning for an
engagement in December. I will to Kyiv. We have no fear. It will be so special, the date that we can perform in Ukraine.
SIDNER: We are ending where we began with you saying you are soldiers and your weapon of war is music.
SIDNER: Thank you. Thank you all.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SIDNER: Musical warriors. And I want to do a special thanks to Mark Barren (ph), our editor there. That is it for now for us. You can always catch us
online, on our podcast, and across social media. Thank you so much for watching. And goodbye from New York.