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Interview With Russian Journalist And "Putin's War At Home" Producer Vasiliy Kolotilov; Interview With Russian Social Media Activist Natalia; Interview With Historian And Author Timothy Snyder; Interview With "The Song Of The Cell" Author Siddhartha Mukherjee. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired November 11, 2022 - 13:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. And welcome to AMANPOUR live from Ukraine's capital, Kyiv. Here's what's coming
Celebrations as Ukrainian troops entered the key city of Kherson. Reaction from two Russians standing up against Putin's war. Then.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: From the day-to-day battlefield moves, we pull back to look at the big story, the fight against autocracy with the esteemed historian,
Yale professor, Timothy Snyder. Plus.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SIDDHARTHA MUKHERJEE, AUTHOR, "THE SONG OF THE CELL": It's one of the most exciting times for the biology of cells and learning the biology of cells.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee talks to Walter Isaacson about the power and potential of cellular biology. And finally.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: A trip to the circus. Between air raid sirens and power cuts, Ukrainian performers and people tell us, the show must go on.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in Kyiv.
As the world marks Armistice Day, a major development for Ukraine in its fight against Russia. Cheers, hugs, and waves are after Ukrainian forces
liberated the southern city of Kherson, the only regional capital that Russia seize since February. It's a stinging defeat for Moscow, though it
is -- it's forces are still there. They still remain in the eastern part of the Kherson region.
Correspondent Nic Robertson was there and saw the jubilation and also the trepidation among some Ukrainian residents in one of those newly-freed
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN'S INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: It is quite incredible. Everyone is telling us we are the first reporters here.
Literally, the Ukrainian troops only arrived here yesterday and liberated the town. The Russians left two days before. As you drive into the town
here, everyone is waving. Everyone is happy. People -- to here have horror stories to tell about their treatment by the Russians, particularly, over
the last few days.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Now, this happened much, much quicker than Ukrainian authorities had expected. And we're told that tomorrow, there will be a huge police
effort, a security effort inside Kherson to check that buildings are safe for people to go back to, are not mined or are not booby traps. They're
going to do that and do a big sweep in the city of Kherson.
Now, Vladimir Putin is facing fierce criticism for his invasion of Ukraine, including from some of his own people. And at major personal risk, this is
the focused of a new frontline documentary. It is called, "Putin's War at Home". With me now from Georgia is producer, Russian journalist, Vasiliy
Kolotilov. And also, featured in the film, Russian TikTok activist, Natalia, who's only going by her first name for security reasons and she's
joining me from Serbia.
So, Vasiliy and Natalia, welcome to the program. Can I ask you first, both of you, to weigh in on, obviously, the breaking news today? Many people --
you probably -- I don't know how you feel about your forces being defeated on this side of the border. But what is your reaction, Vasiliy, to the
liberation of Kherson?
VASILIY KOLOTILOV, RUSSIAN JOURNALIST, PRODUCER, "PUTIN'S WAR AT HOME": Hello. Sorry, that was a little bit unexpected. Well, I'm happy for the
people of Kherson, actually. But it's hard to say for me what's coming next. I mean, that's good development in the work for Ukrainian side,
apparently. But I just rather, maybe, wait and see what happens next because there are speculations about the Russians forces that might be
planning something else.
AMANPOUR: Exactly. Exactly. I'll get back to you in a moment with more on your incredible documentary. But let me ask you, Natalia, you know, you
have been a really, sort of, prominent TikTok activist. You are out of the country now. Tell me how risky it has been for you to maintain this public
NATALIA, RUSSIAN SOCIAL MEDIA ACTIVIST: I think it is always a risk and I am always scared. And, you know, every time a new video gets released that
is -- especially, talks about something that has to do with Putin or not to do with the generic propaganda but that's something very governmental. I am
very worried, always, that this will be the final time when they will, you know, come and get me.
So, I am more at peace now when I'm not in Russia talking about various stuff. Because during my time in Russia, I had to avoid a lot of words. I
had to -- a lot of -- avoid a lot of topics just because it was -- considering how many people got, you know, prison sentences for very
innocent things, it's always, always, a worry for me doing that from inside of Russia.
AMANPOUR: I am going to play this little excerpt from the documentary. And this is you talking to the camera in one of your TikTok posts.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NATALIA: Eight days ago, Russia annexed Crimea. Honestly, motherland freed Crimea. Cry me a river. And behind me, there is a national holiday
celebration in Moscow that is livestreamed on state TV. The tagline of the event is, for victory and for the world without Nazis. The level of
ridiculousness is escalating really fast.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Vladimir -- (Speaking in a foreign language). Putin.
VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Peoples of the Russian Federation united by a common destiny.
NATALIA: We actually do have a lot of people who care about our country falling apart and becoming the next North Korea.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: You know, that -- that's quite chilling, that public rally that Putin had. It is just very reminiscent of some very difficult moments in
history. And you say there in your post that there are a lot of people who do protest, Natalia. What do you -- and -- do you think there is more who
protest now or who dissent from this war, or how do you read inside the country?
NATALIA: I think since the beginning of war, people expected that it will be war somewhere else. But once it came to their homes with the
mobilization, with, you know, the wartime policy in some regions, people realized that, sort of, the promises that the government made that it will
be somewhere far away from them were not kept.
And now, you can see more and more people getting angrier and being disappointed in the current government. So, I do believe that now even
those who were initially, sort of, supportive of that, they feel betrayed. And you can see more and more people disagreeing. If not, you know, taking
it on the streets but at least disagreeing with it on social media or just generally trying to, kind of, engage with independent news more and try to
see, you know, the real picture.
AMANPOUR: Vasiliy, you are a producer and you worked with the director and -- to get this film done. But you're the one who is the Russian and who had
to do it from inside of the country during these very difficult times for anybody who expresses any kind of opposition. What gave you the courage to
stay there to film, to do these interviews, to -- yourself speaking on camera throughout this documentary?
KOLOTILOV: Well, honestly, as it -- that -- as a journalist, I think that that's my kind of job and duty just to tell the stories, tell the truth and
report on the other side of the picture, you know. So, and -- I just thought that it is very important for out of world, for everyone to know
that there are people in Russia who are against the war. Who are not afraid to speak out against it.
Even in the situation where all their freedoms are being pressured and were, like, freedom of speech is kind of nonexistent in Russia. And I
think, to me that was something that I felt that I have to do. And also, it was aspiring -- inspiring for me, you know, just to tell those stories of
the people who are brave enough to speak out.
AMANPOUR: You know, you say, people who are brave enough to speak out. Your co-producer said that in all of his work doing, you know, this kind of
documentary in other authoritarian states, he had never seen so many people actually drop out. People that you thought you had secured their
participation dropped out.
But not Olga and Elena. These are two journalists from the Siberia region who decided to go and investigate when they saw a lot of people from their
own region suddenly being sent to the front. And they wanted to know what was going on. So, here's a clip and it's really very affecting. We're just
going to show this clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Do you understand that you are risking a criminal punishment of eight to 15 years for disseminating
unreliable information about the armed forces of the Russian Federation as well as for cooperation with foreign media?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I understand that I might be punished.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I understand that I might be punished.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): By taking this position we potentially can ruin our whole lives.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, they clearly knew what they were in for. Tell me how you've managed to convince some of these people to actually, you know, cooperate
and talk at this time.
KOLOTILOV: You know, actually, most of the people whom we were approaching when we're looking for characters, they were -- we didn't have to convince
them. They were ready to take part, at some point, because they actually wanted for their voice to be heard.
But in the process, during the film, of course, when the situation in Russia was getting worse in terms of repressions and craved (ph) down on
dissent, some of them got scared and its -- you cannot blame them for that. And it's just -- when you have, you know, in the news, not in the official
news, but in -- like, when the independent media reports that another activist or another journalist was arrested or was sentenced to jail term,
of course, this creates an atmosphere where you just might be too afraid to speak out. So, yes, that's --
KOLOTILOV: But Olga and Elena are incredible, I mean, they are.
AMANPOUR: Yes, I'm going to play another clip, actually, in a moment. But first, I want to ask Natalia. You know, you were brave. You spoke out. You
did your TikTok post regular. But it -- the war took a toll. The sanctions have taken a toll on ordinary Russians. Very sadly, you know, your father,
he had cancer. He wasn't able to complete his treatment and he succumb to the illness. And we're really sorry about that.
Can you tell us how it affected your family and maybe some friends and other people you know, the hardships, with the sanctions right now there.
NATALIA: I think the part from my father who did pass away because the specific drug that was issued for chemotherapy, it was on the sanction
list. But also, just ordinary drugs are not on the market anymore. My mom, she found access, you know, her medicine. And a lot of people I know,
especially with diabetes or with AIDS, they don't have access to what was available. And Russia does not make all the drugs in the world despite
claiming that they have everything, you know, produced inside of the country.
So, even that is a massive tragedy for a lot of people. And I know, you know, friends of friends who are battling very serious illness and have no
access or have to go to Turkey or to Serbia or to countries to get that treatment.
So, you know, Russia has this kind of facade that, don't worry, we have everything. We don't need the west. But in reality, they do really need the
west. And a lot of things that were available to Russians previously, they -- we don't have them anymore.
AMANPOUR: I want to ask you also, both of you, to comment on another clip. Because again, it is Olga Elena. I was referring to how they had quite
early on in the war found actually evidence of Russian casualties when the official line from your government was that everything was going well and
the victory was at hand. This is the clip of Olga and Elena who found and visited a funeral center, a funeral home.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I quietly walked in and saw first one coffin surrounded by people then a second coffin. Then a third
and a fourth. And it was a shock.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Olga and Elena reported the names of the dead soldiers on their website. They also wrote about the impact of the war on the local
community. The region is estimated to have one of the highest casualty rates from the war in the country. The government blocked Russians from
accessing the website, claiming the journalists were spreading inaccurate information.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Vasiliy, they took, obviously, a hidden camera. I mean, it wasn't -- you know, they were not showing everybody there or what they were
doing. And again, it was really courageous. What point of the war did that take place? What made them think about, you know, trying to get an accurate
count of what was going on in that way?
KOLOTILOV: As far as I remember, they -- they've started doing this right away after the war started. And it was -- I'm not sure when this exact clip
was done. I think it was in April, the kind of beginning of the war.
KOLOTILOV: But -- as they said in the interview, they've just realized that they have to say that, to tell the truth because it's -- something is
happening in their country with their people. And as journalists, they had to report on that.
AMANPOUR: Yes. Again, it takes a huge amount of courage as you know, Natalia. I wonder -- I mean, you've obviously, seen the whole film,
Natalia. I wonder if you can comment on, I think, it is Sasha (ph) and Sonja (ph). Partners.
One is an artist and she has been, basically, arrested and now incarcerated. The film shows that they would not even give her bail for a
simple -- yes, it was protest but it was not violent. It was just an artistic protest where she flipped some, you know, what looked like price
tags in -- on -- in supermarkets. And it really, sort of, delineated the cost of the war.
Tell us about that and if they can get arrested, how much more risky is it for you, for instance?
NATALIA: I'm actually and fairly close contact with Sonja, Sasha (INAUDIBLE) girlfriend.
NATALIA: Because we're both from Saint Petersburg and we're both activists. And, sort of, we got to meet each other. But it is a tragic
story. And I do think that -- because Sasha was one of the very first people who got arrested under the fake news law, Russia did it to threaten
other people, almost. When you give such a horrendous sentence to someone, you expect that other people will back off and will not try to repeat
something like that.
And in Saint Petersburg, it did have an effect. And some activists who I personally know, because -- you know, quite a few people decided that
they'll also go under -- in the -- in the shadows. But for me, I guess, I always hoped that my work, because it's not targeted for specifically
Russian audience and what Sasha was doing is trying to, you know, bring the awareness within the Russian community. I always hoped that, maybe, because
I talk to, you know, European and western audiences, they are not as invested into what, you know, girls in TikTok say in English.
AMANPOUR: It is really remarkable. It is an amazing documentary. Natalia and Vasiliy, thank you so much for joining us.
And "FRONTLINE's" documentary, "Putin's War at Home" is now available to stream for free on the "FRONTLINE" website, on YouTube, and in the PBS
Now, the final outcome of the U.S. midterm elections is still undecided. But this week, President Biden hailed them as a good day for democracy.
Here in Ukraine, President Zelenskyy has said that the global fate of democracy is at stake. Historian Timothy Snyder is a scholar of what
happens when democracies fail. The rise and fall of totalitarianism, its history, its present. And he teaches The Making of Modern Ukraine at Yale.
The lectures are on YouTube and they've reached millions of people. And Timothy has thrown his support to Zelenskyy and his mission. And today, he
was sanctioned by the Russian government. Well, with all of that, he is joining me now from New Haven.
So, Timothy Snyder, welcome to the program. Sanctioned by the Russian government. How does that affect you?
TIMOTHY SNYDER, HISTORIAN AND AUTHOR: So, Christiane, I should be clear about that. I was sanctioned by the Russian government some time ago. And -
- I mean, I guess, unlike a lot of people who joked that they wouldn't go on vacation in Siberia anyway or whatever. I mean, it is meaningful to me.
I do hope that at some point I will be able to return to a better Russia because there are a lot of things in Russia that I care about. And as we've
just seen from your segment, a lot of brave and very intelligent people in the Russian Federation.
AMANPOUR: Well, let me ask you about the effect of those brave and intelligent people who try to protest. You studied, you know, these
authoritarian nations and the idea of even having any dissent. Can you, kind of, calibrate what even that small amount of dissent can do to a
regime like Putin's?
SNYDER: I mean, I guess, one way to start the answer would be to compare with Ukraine. Everything, I think, that happens in Russia, in some way, is
in conversation with what happens in Ukraine. Unlike the Russians, the Ukrainians were able to move from a small descendant (ph) movement in
Soviet times to a broad base movement to defend democracy which worked in 2004, it worked in 2014, and it worked again during this war.
So, I guess, what I would say about Russia is that it's absolutely indispensable for them to have such people. And the question is whether
they will, at some point, get to that next step where there is enough numbers and enough civil society, actually, to push Russia in the right
Personally, I'm now hopeful that Russian defeat in this war might be the step which might be the moment where things start to turn.
AMANPOUR: OK. So, that's really interesting. You heard us say that President Biden has called the midterms a good day for democracy. You know
more than any of us that certainly Ukraine and its western and other supporters are saying the fate of democracy also is at stake on this
battlefield. And you were bullish on it, too. You tweeted after these midterms. You tweeted, China has peaked, Russia is retreating, and Trump is
done. There's hope, people. Really?
SNYDER: Absolutely. Of course, there is hope. I mean, the history of democracy has always been difficult. And the key point about democracy is
that it depends upon the people wanting to rule. And the very encouraging thing about Ukraine -- I mean, one of the many encouraging things is that
the Ukrainians reminded us that even when things seems that completely against you and no one really believes that you can succeed, actually you
And that it starts with believing that you can and your willingness to take risks. So, I -- there's -- they're not -- there's an awful lot that has to
be done in the U.S. to improve our democracy or to make our country a more democratic. But, yes, I think there is hope, people. That is certainly what
AMANPOUR: You had posted something on Substack, you know, warning people - - and I'm talking now about the U.S. midterms. And of course, the final results haven't yet been called. It's expected that the Republicans will
take the House. And it is expected that the Democrats will keep the Senate. What were you worried about before the election? And were you surprised by
the outcome since that's not what the pundits were saying.
SNYDER: So, I worry about the U.S. the same way that I worry about other countries. We fall prey to the same temptations. We make the same mistakes.
And the mistake that's built into our system is a very flawed system of representation, which a lot of people in our country, especially since Mr.
Trump's coup attempt on January 6, 2021, have been trying to exploit the gerrymandering, the money in politics, the possibility of false slates of
What I was worried about is a scenario which could happen in 2025 or 2029 when the losing candidate claims that he or she has won. That's already
happened in the U.S. So, we -- you know, we can't rule it out. And there are a lot more people who, you know, lie about elections now than there
were a few years ago.
I think that the results were encouraging because it turns out that Americans understand this and care and vote on it and don't want big liars,
people who lie about elections, to be representing them. And in that sense, it was a very good day. As for me -- I mean, I kept saying that we should
care about democracy. I'm glad we do.
AMANPOUR: Yes. You know, I keep remembering because we did interviews before the midterms.
Some Democrats are getting quite panicked and saying, why are we just talking about democracy? Why are we talking about women's rights to choose?
We should be talking about the Republicans are, about inflation and the economy, and this and that. And it turns out that all the above were
important. And democracy was incredibly important.
And, of course, President Biden is clearly thrilled about that, particularly that -- you know, the majority of the Republicans running were
actually election deniers. But only a small portion of them won. This is what President Biden said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: Thank you for fighting like the devil to make sure that we had a free and a fair election. And you know, all those
election deniers, so far, best of my knowledge, none of them has not said they -- when they lost, had said, we lost. That's a big deal. You know, I
really mean it. You know, Tuesday was a good day for America. A good day for democracy. It was a strong night for Democrats.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: What does it mean, Timothy Snyder, that some of those deniers are now, you know, cemented in government? I guess, for the first time, how
big an obstacle is that, or again, do you think all of this is on the wane?
SNYDER: Well, the big lie itself is in the system. It's in the bloodstream of the system and that's very negative because in so far as we have people
who are one-issue politicians. Who are only concerned about upsetting the Democratic system from within, we have a problem, Obviously, it's better
that there are fewer of them than somewhat -- than we might have thought.
And what happened, I think, in the midterms has taught us that you're not going to be able to win in 2024 just by saying that you actually won last
time. Which is why I think Trump is done. I think the Republicans are aware that this is not a winning issue. It's going to cause us trouble. It is
still a threat to our democracy. But it's not something you should really be running on. And I think people have understood that.
AMANPOUR: So, you have said, you know, many times that currently, anyway, Ukraine and what's at stake here has woken the world up to the value of
democracy and the, you know, necessity to defend it. I said in the introduction that you're teaching this course on Ukraine and the history.
Why have you chosen to do that and specifically -- and it's getting, you know, a lot of takers on YouTube, et cetera? How do you explain that? What
are you telling people?
SNYDER: Well -- I mean, it's -- we -- Ukraine is, maybe, the most important place in the world right now. And the fate of, you know, freedom,
at large, really does hang on what happens in Ukraine. And I'm capable of teaching such a class. There is only one other class in the United States
of America which is a full history of Ukraine. So, I decided to teach it at Yale. And Yale was kind enough to make it an open class which means that
anyone can watch this class for free right now.
And what I realized is that people needed another story. They knew that Russia was saying, official Russia was a lie. But they didn't really know
how to think about the past of eastern Europe and the past of Ukraine. So, now we're filling that gap. And I'm delighted that there are millions of
people who want to take a history class. I find that incredibly encouraging because I think we need history, not just for this war, but I think we need
history for democracy generally. So, I'm thrilled.
AMANPOUR: So, I think everybody needs a little tutorial for the next couple of minutes on this because you know that Putin's rationale for this
is that Ukraine doesn't exist. It's a fake nation. They're really just Russians. Ukraine language does not exist. It's just bad Russian. And yet
we know that in the 800s and 900s there were has this thing called Ukraine. And it was even before Moscow was a real force.
Give -- what do you tell your students about actually the origins of, you know, Ukraine as an entity?
SNYDER: Well, one thing I would tell my students and also everybody else is that it's always the imperialists who were saying there's no state,
there's no nation, there's no people, right? Hundreds of years of imperialism shows us that. And the Russian attitude towards Ukraine today
is just that. It's imperial. In many other worse -- in many other bad things.
The history of Ukraine is like the history of lot of other nations. It's ancient. There are interesting things. Powers bump up against each other,
unexpected forces collide, and at certain point in Ukraine is around the time the 17th century, people began to understand themselves as a people.
Ukraine is actually a rather early nation.
And in many ways, we mentioned democracy already, in many ways, Ukrainian national consciousness is much less problematic than Russian national
consciousness. That, I guess, so far as to say that fighting this war against Ukraine is a way for certain Russians to try to answer the question
of who they are because unless they're fighting against Ukraine, they don't have an answer to that question.
AMANPOUR: You know, just as we're talking, President Zelenskyy nightly address has dropped. And he has called today, particularly -- obviously,
the move on Kherson a historic day. And it isn't an accident, or maybe it is an accident, that it happens on Armistice Day. So, you know him. You've
talked to him. Talk to us about how big a deal this is.
SNYDER: It is extraordinary that the Ukrainians are winning this war. They have American help and western help, and we should be glad to be on the
right side. But it is extraordinary that basically their civil society is held together under all this pressure. And one victory after victory,
supporting their armed forces that no one thought they could win.
It's really important that a multicultural, multilingual society with a president who's a national minority has shown that it's civil society and
pluralism, that it's the right way to get things done. So, this is a victory for Ukraine. I think a very decisive victory for Ukraine. But it
also reminds us that the good things can be effective, and that's really important, too.
AMANPOUR: And as you are talking, we've seen some recent nighttime video coming out of the city of Kherson, where residents are just, you know,
hugging and cheering and wrapping themselves in the Ukrainian flag. And, you know, back to your work here with the government here and trying to
help out. Let me get this straight, you are not just an ambassador for this platform, United24, but you are raising funds for an anti-drone system to
counter all those drones that are hitting civilian infrastructure.
Is that a -- I mean, I find that interesting. I mean, you are a professor of history, but you are raising funds on a military platform as well.
SNYDER: Well, I'm -- so, it was easy for me to say, sure, I will raise money to destroy a library -- I mean, to rebuild a destroyed library. I
even saw the library in question in just a couple of few weeks ago. But I asked them in Kyiv -- I asked my friends, I asked people, what do you want
most? And they said, protection from drones.
And so, I thought it would be a little self-indulging of me not to give -- not to try to work for the thing that they said they needed the most. They
are the ones without water. They're the ones without electricity. They're the ones facing these attacks.
So, I am doing the thing which the people in Kyiv said that they needed the most. I didn't want to be self-indulgent. I want to do the thing which
helps the most. So, that's what I'm doing for the United24 platform, along with a lot of other great people like Barbara Streisand and Mark Hamill and
really -- a really great team, which I'm very proud to be associated with.
AMANPOUR: And interestingly, you know, the president of the United States has announced a new security package, which also includes more air defense
systems. So, that is what they definitely say they need here.
Finally, can I ask you to, sort of, you know drawback to the countries that are watching this? What messages and which countries, do you think, are
being most affected by actually what is happening here on the ground? The narrative completely shifted, you know, compared to what people thought
would happen here.
SNYDER: Well -- I mean, the country most affected is, of course, Ukraine where Russia is fighting the war of destruction and has to be stopped. The
second country affected is Russia where Ukraine sets an example of things that are possible inside Russia itself. The third country affected is
Belarus. If Ukraine wins this war, it's going to be much harder for Lukashenko to lean on Russia to become a dictator in perpetuity.
But then beyond that, there is Germany and the European Union who should be learning from this war that their purpose is to resist empire, to resist
imperialism, that that's the history of the second world war actually teaches. And that they should be as firm as they can on the right side with
military and humanitarian aid to bring this war to a close with the Ukrainian victory, and then move forward to the natural tasks of
reconstruction and integration that will leave everybody freer and safer.
You asked about what Zelenskyy said. One of the things that he said, which is very smart, is that freedom and security go together. And that
liberating a town, or liberating a region, or liberating a country, means bringing not just the absence of Russian soldiers or occupiers, but also
security, rebuilding, getting things better this time around. I really appreciate that.
AMANPOUR: Exactly. Timothy Snyder, thank you so much.
Now, the integrity of democracy is not the only issue, an institution that needs protection. Our next guest is keen to highlight another. The Pulitzer
prize-winning author, Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee believes we are living in an anti-science moment. That's despite new medical breakthroughs, helping ill
patients defy the odds. He details some of these stories in his new book, "The Song of The Cell". And here he is with Walter Isaacson.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WALTER ISAACSON, CNN HOST: Thank you, Christiane. And Siddhartha Mukherjee.
SIDDHARTHA MUKHERJEE, AUTHOR, "THE SONG OF THE CELL": Thank you for having me.
ISAACSON: This great new book, "The Song of The Cell", is really the third in the series after your "Emperor of All Maladies" about cancer, and then
"The Gene", a very personal book about how the genes determine everything from our health to our mental health.
Tell me why you did this book now on the cell?
MUKHERJEE: This book is a follow-up from "The Gene", because while I was writing "The Gene", I realized that a gene is an incredibly important unit
of information that codes for all of the things that happened in life. But a gene itself is lifeless without a cell. It's a molecule. It's a chemical.
Ironically, "The Gene" encoded in the DNA, the double helix, has become the iron of life. You know, when you see a portrait of life, you always see the
double helix. But in fact, it is the cell that enlivens the gene.
And finally, we're beginning to enter the century of the cell, which we're beginning to enter a time when we can manipulate cells using genes, using
gene therapies, using medical therapies, et cetera. It is one of the most exciting times for the biology of cells and learning the biology of cell.
And so, I thought that this book was very timely to convey the excitement and also the potential of what we can do as we learn more and more about
ISAACSON: You have called this book, "The Song of The Cell". And it seems to me there's a metaphor there, because a cell is like a single note. But
when they come together, the song is different. It is greater than just the individual notes.
MUKHERJEE: Absolutely. And there are two metaphors there. One is the one you just described, which is that multicellular organisms develop songs.
They develop songs in the sense that they can communicate with each other, they mix with each other, and they can create properties, emergent
properties, that could not be present in a single cell alone. So, there is a song there.
The second metaphor is the one that we had started off with which is that genes are like a musical score. But a score is not music. It needs a
musician to play it. And it's the cell that plays out that music. It plays out the genome. It plays the -- as it were, the score or the orchestra of
the genome until it becomes a song.
ISAACSON: You know, when I was reading your book, it seems like the metaphor is there with the book itself. Because unlike some of your other
books, it's not just a pure narrative. There's lots of little cells. It's like a collection of cells, your book is, and then they come together. Was
that intentional to use the cellular formation as a metaphor for the book?
MUKHERJEE: When you write a book, it's -- you know, like, "The Song of The Cell" explaining the history and the future and the excitement of cell
biology, you have to think about structure. And usually often, you know, you form -- you follow historical narrative. You follow time.
The problem with following time, in this case, is that multiple discoveries in cell biology were happening at the same time. And it would be impossible
-- you would have to flip from one cell type to another cell type, to another cell type, to another cell type, another cell type. It's not like
DNA or the gene where you're, sort of, essentially carrying out a chronological series of discoveries until you find your ultimate
understanding of gene. In this case, there are multiple things that are happening at the same time, and cells are extremely diverse.
And so, the only way this book could be written, so that it would not become a complete confusion, was to really imagine it as a series of almost
short stories. Each one with his own chronology. So, you have a chronology of the immune system. You have a chronology of the formation of bone. You
have the chronology of stem cells. You have a chronology of, you know, blood.
So, each chapter, really, is a mini history. And put together, it sort of becomes the -- what I call "The Song of The Cell". So, it's organizational
structure is both a challenge, but also, I think, somewhat interesting and, I would say, to me at least, fun to write because I could write about each
of these separately, like, little mini chronologies or mini short stories that then come together to form a larger picture.
ISAACSON: Like all of your books, this one is very personal and has very personal stories in it. Including Sam, the sportswriter who gets cancer.
Tell me about him and how the story of his cancer helped you understand the cell.
MUKHERJEE: Well, just -- the book opened with two very contrasting stories. Both of which involved cancer. So, the Sam, the sportswriter, and
Emily Whitehead, the young lady, young woman with leukemia. In both cases, we used two different forms of immunotherapy.
So, let's focus on Sam. In Sam's case, we used -- doctors, a friend of mine, and doctors used a kind of immunotherapy that uncloaks the cancer
cells that have cloaked themselves and made themselves invisible to the immune system. There are new medicines, many of us are familiar with them.
There are new medicines that enable us to uncloak a cancer cell because cancer cells builds, sort of, invisibility around them to survive the -- an
These medicines uncloak that and make the cancer revisable or visible to the immune system. The trouble was that when you uncloak a cancer cell and
make it visible to the immune system, you also uncloak the normal cells in your body and make them visible to the immune system and you get, as a side
effect of these medicines, you get autoimmune diseases.
And in Sam's case, he got autoimmune hepatitis -- autoimmune disease of the liver. So, every time he would increase the dose of these uncloaking
medicines, taking away the invisibility cloaks of cancer, we would also, though, unfortunately, spur or spark the autoimmune disease in the liver.
And there was no place that we could find in Sam's case, sadly, where there was the exact right level of medicine that would make the immune system
attack his cancer, but not attack his liver. And unfortunately, he died because we could never find that right spot, the sweet spot where we could
just attack his cancer without simultaneously killing off his liver cells.
ISAACSON: Throughout this book, you talked, not only about the historical figures, but you go back to poets and to philosophers. In fact, you go all
the way back to Aristotle in the middle of the book. How does that help us understand?
MUKHERJEE: Well, I think it is important to understand the idea -- for people to understand the idea that science is a continuous conversation
that, you know, goes all the way back to (INAUDIBLE). It's not like, you know, pathology or our desire to solve illness, suddenly, sort of, sprung
(ph) about in the 18th century, or our desire to understand the human body sprung about in the 19th century.
People like Aristotle -- philosophers like Aristotle and others in various cultures have for, really centuries, been trying to understand the body.
Been trying to understand inheritance, trying to understand what makes someone sick. Is it a divine phenomenon? Is it, you know, is it a mental
problem? Et cetera, et cetera.
So, I wanted to show that there is a lineage of conversations that extends way back into philosophers such as Aristotle. In fact, for the longest time
in history, they -- you know, scientists were called natural philosophers. There were term natural philosophers because they -- there was really no
distinction made in them and philosophy.
And so, it's really important to understand that that lineage is a continuous lineage and is very important for our contemporary understanding
of science and how we do science. And, you know, we're living in an age where it's very -- it's -- we're living in a very anti-science moment,
politically. People have distrust science. People think that, you know, scientists are egg heads who are out to make the world worst. And it's very
important to remember that that is really not the case.
Scientists are trying to find out how the world works, how nature works, and have been doing so, not just yesterday or the day before yesterday.
They have been doing so for generations, going all the way back to very revered figures such as Aristotle.
ISAACSON: In your book, and in your book "The Gene", you talk about the mental illness that affects your family. Madness, you say, runs in the
Mukherjee family. Tell me about that personal experience and as you deal with it in this book and in "The Gene" how that drives your thinking.
MUKHERJEE: Well, the idea of mental illness is very important because it drives a particular way of thinking of, you know, about suffering. In this
book and in "The Gene", I make a very important distinction between disease and desire. Suffering -- diseases is suffering. Disease has fundamentally
to do with suffering.
Desire, on the other hand, has to do with augmentation, making ourselves better, and trying to be taller, stronger, live longer, et cetera. Medicine
has made a very strong distinction between suffering and augmentation, or enhancement.
Mental illness is an incredible arena where we can really explore, I think, our understanding of suffering, and I explored it in my own family and
myself, and distinguish it from other forms of illness because mental illness -- one of the problems with mental illness is that that it's very -
- it's abstract. You don't have a lump in your body. You don't have a tumor growing somewhere. It is the state of your brain.
And therefore, I think, for many years it was neglected. Depression was a neglected disease. Schizophrenia is a poorly understood disease partly
because they are so abstract. But they are very much low side of suffering. And so, I wanted to be -- I wanted to show or demonstrate the idea that can
be suffering and suffering that maybe -- that has to do with genes or with cells, that may be more protean and more abstract than, as I said, a lump
growing in your body or an autoimmune disease where you have manifestations on -- in your skin.
And I wanted to show or demonstrate that that suffering is as real for me, my family, and for all the people who suffer from mental illness, as any
other physical manifestation of illness. And that's why it sort of comes a little -- comes up in the book, in book "Gene" and in "The Cell".
ISAACSON: To what extent are you driven by your own personal biography?
MUKHERJEE: Well, the idea of a personal biography in a book is very important to me. Because, again, it's very easy to write a book as, you
know, you're an abstract off the object. You're, sort of, you're the narrator but you keep a distance from all of this. For me, that book is
less personal. It's not -- it's less readable, it's less relatable.
I want people to understand that who -- I want people to understand who is writing this book and from what viewpoint and why. What is the drive behind
the book? What drives me? Who am I? And why, you know, why have I chosen to write this book? What is driving me in this particular book?
So, I find the personal memoir aspects of it, again, enliven the book as me -- for me as a writer and hopefully, enliven the book for the reader as
well because they can understand who I am, where I am coming from, and what drives the -- what the drives and passions of the book are.
ISAACSON: The subtitle of your book refers to the new human. Tell me what your vision of what the new human could be.
MUKHERJEE: Well, the new human is a provocative subtitle. And it's provocative because, you know, I think for a long time, we've been thinking
about the so-called new human as a kind of prosthetic sci-fi version, infrared equipped and, what I call, Keanu Reeves in a black moon from the
For me, the new human is not that. The new human for me, the capacity of cellular engineering, rebuilding bodies to cells. The capacity of cell
engineering and genetic engineering of our body before gene engineering has really cellular therapy or cell engineering. You put the gene in the wrong
cell, you don't get any genetic immune (ph).
That capacity, the capacity to transplant cells, to move cells between bodies, to rebuild of the human from our acomistic (ph) blocks, from you
know, cell by cell, as it were stem cells that rejuvenate entire blood systems. The capacity for us to be able to put electrodes in our brains and
stimulate cells so that we can battle diseases like, you know, really treatment resistant depression.
All of these are, to me, new humans. These are not augmented humans. These are humans in whom we're using cells to rebuild degenerating or
dysfunctional organs and organ systems and cellular systems, such that they can be relieved from dysfunction disease.
ISAACSON: You are a great cancer researcher. Tell me what cellular biology is going to do next in our fight against cancer.
MUKHERJEE: So, I would say two things. First of all, cellular biology will help us understand the cancer cell in a deeper way. So far, a lot of cancer
biology has been focused appropriately on cancer genetics, which is important. Cancer is a disease of mutated genes. But the cellular biology
of cancer still remains quite unknown.
So, for instance, how do cancers form homes for themselves? How do they blow out of blood vessels? I mean, these are questions that have, you know,
permeated the field for a long time, but we're finally getting answers to them. How do cancers become invisible to the immune system? Why, and this
is a very important question, why do cancers metastasize to certain organs such as the liver, but don't metastasize to an adjacent organ, the spleen?
That doesn't have to do -- you can read the genome of a cancer cell, or a genome of a normal cell. The genome will not give you the answer to those
questions. It's only cell biology that will give you the answer to the question. Cancer cell biology.
And the second is that now we can potentially use our understanding of cell biology, especially the immune system, to direct new medicines against
cancer. And it's not just the immune system. There are other systems, understanding the homes that cancers build around themselves. Understanding
how they metastasize at a cellular level will hopefully create a whole new vision of medicines that we will be able to use against cancer.
So, both, I would say, understanding cancer and directing therapies against cancer depend on our understanding of cell biology and the cell biology of
ISAACSON: Siddhartha Mukherjee, thank you so much for joining us.
MUKHERJEE: Thank you, Walter.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And finally, tonight, here in Kyiv, we have been struck by how life is carrying on under the shadow of war. Most museums are open, as are
some comedy clubs, theaters, the opera, and, as it turns, out the circus, too. So, as we end our week of special programs from the Ukrainian capital,
we want to leave you with this slice of life.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR (voiceover): The show must go on, even in wartime. Perhaps, especially, in wartime. Patrons, young and old, stream into the national
circus of Ukraine in historic downtown Kyiv. This is their Halloween show, extended by popular demand.
Everyone tells us coming here is like a breath of fresh air. Relief during this suffocating wartime atmosphere. Amid air raid sirens and dashes to the
basement, Alex Maliy tells us, rehearsal is difficult, but each performance for this aerial acrobat, so rewarding.
ALEX MALIY, ACROBAT, NATIONAL CIRCUS OF UKRAINE: We give people energy, you know? Artists give energy for audience, audience give for us, for
artists energy also. Now, in this so hard time, people sit just at home with nothing to do, nothing -- have work, you know, like this. But here in
the circus, the happy smile. So, very awesome.
AMANPOUR (voiceover): Natalia Solyanik (ph) started as an aerial acrobat 25 years ago. Now, she is the assistant director. She tells us coming here
is like therapy for even the most hardened vets.
Their psychologist came, too, she says, and told us the circus takes these men back to their childhood, and it becomes much easier to work with them.
Men came back from a war with wounded souls, says Natalia. After the show, some had tears in their eyes.
The razzle-dazzle performance for an almost full house takes everyone out of their daily drudgery and fears for at least this one hour. It keeps the
Our circus is super. Our artists are incredible, says Natalia. We are so thrilled. We even took the day off to come here with the kids.
Katerina says her daughter, Eva, becomes transported.
KATERINA, WATCHED CIRCUS PERFORMANCE IN KYIV: Oh, she love everything. When she is at circus, she loved everything.
AMANPOUR (voiceover): And to the naysayers wondering why this is even happening in the midst of war, circus spokeswoman, Bohdana Kornienko, has a
BOHDANA-VALERIA KORNIENKO, SOCIAL MEDIA MANAGER, NATIONAL CIRCUS OF UKRAINE: Usually, when you explain to them that it's really good for the
economy of the country, and that it's good for emotion of everyone, literally -- and civilians and army, because they both come here. And
they're like, OK. Well, that makes sense.
AMANPOUR (voiceover): A much-needed escape to a place that feels human again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR (on camera): From Kyiv to Kharkiv, from Odessa to Lviv, art remains a major relief. Thank you for watching. Goodbye from Ukraine.