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Interview With Head Of The Office Of The President Of Ukraine, Andriy Yermak; Interview With Held v. Montana Plaintiff Held v. Montana Lead Attorney, Julia Olson; Interview With Rainbow Railroad CEO, Kimahli Powell. Aired 1-1:55p ET
Aired June 27, 2023 - 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." Here's what's coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): You defended the constitution, the lives, the security, and the freedom of our citizens.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Putin thanks his security forces, but what do these cracks within Russia mean for Ukraine? Andriy Yermak, head of President Zelenskyy's
office, joins me from Kyiv.
Then, the young Americans fighting climate change in court. I'm joined by one of the plaintiffs and the attorney in the groundbreaking Montana case.
Plus, cries for help from around the world. We look at the increasing risks faced by LGBTQ people and those helping them to safety.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
You virtually stopped the civil war, the words of Vladimir Putin as he addressed his security forces in the wake of the Wagner Group's failed
rebellion over the weekend. The Russian president has accused the West of fomenting the mutiny, and he's vowing to bring the organizers to justice.
Belarusian president, Alexander Lukashenko, has confirmed that Prigozhin is in his country.
Meanwhile, the United States is set to announce a new round of military aid for Ukraine. So, will this situation be a decisive moment for Ukraine's
military? President Zelenskyy says they have advance in all directions on the southern and eastern fronts. But just last week he had admitted that
progress in the counteroffensive was slower than hoped.
Andriy Yermak runs Zelenskyy's office, and he's joining me now from Kyiv. Welcome back to our program.
I don't know where to begin. I think to begin by asking you, have you and your team been able to make any sense of what happened in Russia and
specifically, have you thought about how it could benefit you or vice versa?
ANDRIY YERMAK, HEAD OF THE OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT OF UKRAINE: First of all, hello. You see, I'd like to say that practically 500 days of the
heroic struggle of Ukrainian destroyed the myth of indivisibility of the Russian army. And I think that the events and all of these things of the
last days, it's finally destroying the myth of the -- that everything is Russia is under control. We can see this control.
And of course, I think it's one more evidence that the (INAUDIBLE) attempt to revive the USSR, its finally failed. I think that it's a very strong
signal that the war in Ukraine is terrible, barbaric, illegal invasion, which started in 24th of February last year. And the war, as you know,
started many years ago in 2014.
Of course, everything which happened in Russia, last days, is the result of this war. And this is the result of, how I said, practically 500 days of
the brave fightings of Ukrainian nations. And the -- you know, I think it's -- after these events, more people in the world more sure about Ukrainian
AMANPOUR: Well, let me ask you two questions to follow up. One is, to respond to what may have been wishful thinking from your camp, and maybe
many other camps.
You tweeted over the weekend, while all this was going on, a Russian civil war was the only plausible outcome to Putin's unlawful invasion of Ukraine.
History shows us all dictators eventually collapse under the weight of their contradictions, even their hubris.
So, OK, Putin remains in power. He's just given a few demonstrations of the fact that he, you know, stared down Prigozhin. But do you think this is the
first, you know, sort of serious chink in his armor or will he doubled down because he's come out on top?
YERMAK: You know, it's -- they started come down and they started -- as we Ukrainians think, they started in 24th of February last year. But these
last days, they more confirmed that they not control the situation. They not living in reality. And of course, they can't make the really -- some
And I think, in any way, we're -- all of the world seeing this show and of -- but, in any way, I think it will help historical and very serious
influence for everything which will be in the future. And of course, I'm sure that the many people in the world, especially world leaders, will
change his opinion and will change his trust of everything which set and will say Putin in the future.
AMANPOUR: OK. So, that's interesting. Because you had talked earlier about the myth of Putin's control and strength and organization. And as you know,
many of your friends in the West have been reluctant to give Ukraine the kind of weapons that might cause Putin to double down and escalate. Do you
think that was wise, and are you asking them to change that now that they've seen that he's actually -- you know, he's actually not -- maybe
he's a paper tiger?
OK. We have a problem. Yes? So, I'll tell you what. -- right. Well, we have just lost our connection with Kyiv. But I wonder if we can just play a
report from our Nick Paton Walsh on the state of the battlefield, which was what I was going to ask Andriy Yermak and maybe we'll get him back after
we've seen this report from Ukraine.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voiceover): Unpresented chaos in Moscow has yet to ease Ukraine's bitter fight in the trenches, close combat
around Bakhmut, two weeks into the continued grind of the counteroffensive open operations filmed over the weekend, just as Wagner troops rolled
Here, the red, white and blue are Russians in disarray and surrendering. The hope is more will follow as word spreads of the failed rebellion and
morale and discipline falter. It was near here Ukraine proclaimed Monday progress on the front lines with room for hope elsewhere.
To the south, on another Donetsk front near the heavily contested Marinka, it appears some Kremlin loyal Chechen fighters were pulled to Moscow for
its defense at the weekend. Here, they are strutting along an apparent highway near the capital.
Bakhmut and Marinka, opportunities for Ukraine in the east, but also further west near Kherson, the Antonivsky Bridge, the scene of intense
clashes captured by this Russian drone, as Ukrainian forces claim to cross over to the Russian-controlled eastern bank. Opening another front,
It is too early to tell whether, or if, Russia's crumbling. And Ukraine's progress has been incremental still.
This, the familiar scene, when their fighters declared they have captured another small village in the south, Rivnopil, on Monday. None of this yet,
their strategic sea change in Russian collapse, the weekends madness that Zelenskyy visiting troops in the east Monday as well, will hope follows.
He faces anxious choices, even with all the Kremlin's intimate ugliness so exposed. Move now or wait for more in Moscow to unravel? He must be sure to
make no mistakes of his own or interrupt the torrent of them in Moscow.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, as we try to get Andriy Yermak back from Kyiv, we are going to move on for a moment.
Turning now to the climate crisis, and it is clear the younger generation will inherit the damage that we've all done to our planet. And many of them
are taking the fight against climate change to the courts. Like 16 young people in the U.S. State of Montana. They are arguing that the state's
support for the fossil fuel industry undermines its own constitutional guarantee that the state shall maintain a clean and healthy environment for
present and future generations. The trial lasted maybe two weeks. And now, everyone is awaiting the verdict.
18-year-old Lander Busse is one of the plaintiffs, and Julia Olson is the lead attorney representing them. She's on the nonprofit law firm, Our
Children's Trust. Welcome to the program.
Can I start by asking you, Lander Busse, you and -- well, just tell me how you grew up? What was it that motivated you as -- I think you were 15 when
this all started -- to take on your state as a way of, you know, mitigating climate change?
LANDER BUSSE, PLAINTIFF, HELD V. MONTANA: Absolutely, Christiane. And thank you so much for having me on today. One of the main things that we share in
Montana, just together, not even as youth, but just as citizens, is our love for this state and the land, and everything it has to offer us. That's
something that transcends party lines and partisan values, so much as that even in 1972 it was ratified into our constitution for the protection of
And so, I've spent much of my life, just like many others in Montana, fishing and hunting and growing up using this land to the best of our
ability as our constitution guarantees us. So --
AMANPOUR: Lander, was there a moment, you know, that you just decided that you would have to actually go to court to preserve, you know, those
childhood rights and those experiences that you grew up with?
BUSSE: Yes, absolutely. Well, in the past five years or so, we've started to see how climate change has been really affecting the things that I've
enjoyed in my life for so long, whether that be lower water levels in the spring -- or in the fall, or higher water levels in the spring as a result
of glacial runoff. We started to see the effects of that much more directly in my life. And as I became more aware of the signs of climate change as
well, I just started connecting the dots myself and realizing the correlation in my own state.
And so, when OTC gave me the opportunity to be a part of this case, I jumped on it right away.
AMANPOUR: So, OTC, that's your organization, Julia Olson. How did you come up with that, Our Children's Trust? And how did you formulate the legal
case for this trial?
JULIA OLSON, LEAD ATTORNEY, HELD V. MONTANA AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, OUR CHILDREN'S TRUST: Hi, thanks for the question. Yes. Our Children's Trust
was formed in 2010, and we launched the global campaign to bring cases on behalf of young people to fight the conduct of governments in violating
their fundamental human rights, often their constitutional rights.
And the organization was really borne out of me becoming a mother and being an environmental attorney and seeing that the climate crisis is the most
significant threat to our youth, and to all future generations.
AMANPOUR: But, Julia, what did you do specifically, or rather, what did you hang this case on, specifically? Because, you know, obviously people -- a
lot of people will say, from their side, you can't blame us. You know, we've got private enterprise, we've got this, we've got that. It's not our
OLSON: Well, I think what's critical to understand is that governments are the entities that allow our energy systems to be powered by fossil fuels.
So yes, the fossil fuel companies play an important role in causing this crisis, but really, fossil fuel companies operate at the permission and
often the subsidization of government. And so, the case in Montana is a perfect example.
Lander and the other 15 youths sued the state because they have laws on the books in Montana that require fossil fuels to basically go forward,
extraction, consumption, exportation of the vast fossil fuels that exist in Montana, and it's sanctioned by law. And they do so without any
consideration of the impact to these young people and the climate crisis, including the increasing wildfires and the unhealthy smoke engines that
these youth out live with.
OLSON: And it's a violation of their rights to safety and health and their natural resources.
AMANPOUR: So, Lander, you know, the actual language is that the state must "maintain and improve a clean and healthful environment." What does that
look like to you? If you win, what are you expecting to happen?
BUSSE: Yes. And honestly, one of the most important parts you left right out at the end, Christiane, is for future -- current and future
generations, which is the crux of really this whole case is that the youth, and the 15 other plaintiffs, including myself, will be bearing the brunt of
the climate crisis and just some of the few effects that we've started to see and how enhanced it will be.
So, we -- what we are looking for right now from the state is, at the very least, a recognition that our constitutional rights have been and continue
to be infringed upon by a state that turns a blind eye and, in fact, systematically tries to make sure that fossil fuels will be continued to be
engrained in our state's culture, unless we something about it.
So, it's really up to the courts at this point, and we've done everything we can to get this to where it needs to be, and we put on quite the case
just in this last week. So, we're very proud of the work we have done and we are hoping that this will start to -- really start to trickle down of
larger change throughout the nation.
AMANPOUR: OK. So, before I go to Julia for some more legal, I want to ask you, you said -- you know, you are, I think, 16 members who brought this or
18 members who have brought this. And I want to know what kind of support you have beyond the group of plaintiffs? What kind of support do you have
in your community?
Because the, you know, assistant attorney general said this during opening arguments, Montana's emissions are simply too miniscule to make any
difference. Climate change is a global issue that effectively relegates Montana's role to that of a spectator.
BUSSE: Yes. This is actually one of the tamer comments you picked out about the A.G.'s office has decided to point in our direction. They've just
continued along a pattern of just hate and distrust toward us and a complete lack of respect towards the legal system and how we've approach
this. And it's really disappointing, but it's, in fact, very in line to see from a state that wants to continue to promote fossil fuels,
And so, we are taking it upon ourselves to hold our state accountable and hold these elected officials accountable for how they are impacting my
generation and the future generations of Montana.
AMANPOUR: And, Julia, I mean, I'm looking at this stat here, the plaintiffs now range in age from five -- the age of five to 22. So, what was it like
to represent such a passionate, you know, group of people and people so young? I mean, obviously they don't, I guess, fully understand or know the
legal arguments. What did you get from that range of young ages?
OLSON: Well, I have to say, they're the best clients I've ever represented. And I think people underestimate youth, and what they understand, and what
they are capable of. I think they understand the law better than a lot of adults at this point, and they understand their rights, and that their
government is violating their rights.
And, you know, going back to what the Montana attorney general's office has said, that Montana's emissions don't matter, I mean, literally every ton of
carbon that is emitted into the atmosphere matters today, and we're seeing the consequences of it.
And so, we put experts on the stand, and we put these amazing youth on the stand, 12 of them testified. And they told heartbreaking stories of what
they're experiencing at the hands of governments around the world, including their own. And so, it's now really up to the judge to decide,
does the evidence show a violation of the constitutional rights of these youth? And what's the remedy? What can be done about it?
AMANPOUR: Well, I'm going to ask you about that, because that is the important thing. Is it a precedent? Will it go to the Supreme Court? All of
that. But I want to ask you, Julia, because you've just mentioned the range of people you put on the stand, experts, doctors, psychiatrists. Your case
lasted five days. But the state used only a single day and called only three witnesses. How do you account for that?
OLSON: You know, this was a state that actually denied the climate change was human caused, that it was caused by fossil fuels. They changed course,
the day before trial started, and I think it's because, you know, they have some experts, including a climate skeptic scientist and others who just
didn't understand the climate crisis, who are going to come testify.
And at the end of the day, after seeing the experts on our side testify, I think they realized that they just couldn't put their people on the stand.
And it's the importance of having climate cases go to court, and go to trial, because you can't lie in a court of law, right? There's perjury.
And so, putting the evidence forward in such a methodical way really tells a clear story of harm to this youngest generation, and it also tells a
story of government culpability, and that it is governments permitting all of these activities. The pattern and practice of locking in fossil fuels to
our energy system and preventing the transition that is really the cause of the climate crisis today.
AMANPOUR: So, Lander, what do you hope, let's say -- obviously you hope for a victory. But what do you hope that will do? What kind of precedent? How
many other states in the U.S., for instance, are potentially implicated? And I guess, just a quick add on question, do you get hope from, you know,
similar groups abroad who brought similar cases in Europe?
BUSSE: Yes, absolutely. Well, we're already starting to see, around the nation, and even with the help of OTC, with the Juliana v. the Federal
Government case, that this is starting to make an impact and people are starting to recognize how they can take the stand and be able to hold
their, whether its state or national governments, accountable.
Montana is in a really unique position just because of how special our constitution is in explicitly guaranteeing all of its citizens to a clean
and healthful environment, but there are definitely -- I'm not one to talk about this, Julia is much more well-versed, but other states that have
similar protections as well that could definitely be able to add on to that precedent of climate case law.
We've started -- we've seen, just recently, just an outpour of support from people internationally and people who are letting us know that they're
there with us. And we've really never seen any -- I've never seen anything like this. I live in a community that doesn't recognize climate change, let
alone find ways to act on it. So, really seeing this outpour of support and just humanity from people who care about this as much as we do has been
phenomenal and super inspiring.
So, we're going to continue to fight as hard as we can and we're encouraging those around the world to do the same.
AMANPOUR: And, Julia, you know, batted that that part of the question over to you. I want to know what other states have similar laws? How big could
OLSON: You know, Montana does have a special constitution from 1972, but there are a lot of constitutions across the United States and the world
that recognize explicitly the rights to a healthy environment, but we don't even need that explicit recognition because almost every constitution in
the world, in free democracies, protects the rights to life and liberty, health and safety and equal protection of the law.
And so, climate crisis and what governments are doing to perpetuate fossil fuel energy systems that cause climate change are infringing on people's
rights to life, to their health, to their safety, to their freedoms, including their abilities to live in their communities, to have families,
to practice cultural traditions. So, every constitution has a claim for these young people to bring forward.
And when we started this work in 2010, Our Children's Trust brought the first cases in the world on behalf of youth to protect their constitutional
rights in the face of climate crisis. And since then, there's been an explosion of these cases around the world, many of which we support.
And one of the biggest cases going forward, we just got the green light to head toward a trial again, after eight years, is the Juliana v. United
States case, that Lander mentioned. And it's against the government most responsible for the climate crisis, historically, and that's the United
States. And so, we look forward to heading to trial there too.
AMANPOUR: Yes, it's remarkable, and we'll all watch to see how this snowball. But just the last question to you, Lander, because we've, in the
past, interviewed your father, Ryan Busse. He's a former firearms executive. He is now, obviously and has been for a while, campaigning
against the industry. And I just wonder what kind of, you know, influence your father had in your own activism?
BUSSE: Well, a lot of what my dad has done, you mentioned his work in the gun industry, and that's a pretty point and clear, has been pretty night
and day from what I've really started doing in the last few years. Obviously, my parents are both very encouraging of the work that I'm doing,
especially now with OTC and what we've been able to do with this trial.
But for the most part -- and my brother is a plaintiff as well. We've done this completely independently, because we realize that we are the
generation that will be burying this, first and foremost, and our kids after that. So, we -- yes, that's really what it came down to, is that
Badge and I realized how big of a deal this was on our own life, and how it would affect us later, and why we chose to get so involved in the first
AMANPOUR: Lander Busse, young activist, and JULIA OLSON, lawyer, on this really important and landmark case, thank you so much for joining us.
BUSSE: Thank you.
OLSON: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: And we can now speak again with Andriy Yermak, head of President Zelenskyy's office, who is coming to us again from Kyiv.
OK. Mr. Yermak, we've got you back, and I was in the process of asking you the following question, do you hope -- have we -- do you hope that in the
upcoming NATO summit that this will have an effect on some of the thinking, some of the pledges that might have -- we all know that there's a big, you
know, pressure and a lot of talk about Ukraine, you know, wanting to join and maybe consideration being given to Ukraine's membership. How do you
think this crisis will play out in the Vilnius Summit?
YERMAK: Yes, of course. I think, as I said, that I'm sure that it's -- that it will have the influence to the many procedures and as well, for the
Vilnius Summit of NATO as well. But, you know, that Ukrainian position is still very clear and we, in this position, talking and continue
consultation with our strategic partners and the other members of the NATO.
We are waiting to receive in Vilnius Summit the strong signal that the future of Ukraine is the membership of NATO, and nobody in the world can
change this position. And of course, we're looking in this way to receive from our partners the real security and guarantees, which, first of all,
give for us opportunity to continue our fightings, and in the end, protected us for any potential invasion in the future.
AMANPOUR: Can I ask you --
YERMAK: This is our estimate -- yes.
AMANPOUR: Yes. You are in Copenhagen at a special meeting, you know, potentially trying to figure out is there the possibility of a peace
summit. Is there any possibility? You know, the BRICS countries where there, and you told them, we are willing to listen to your ideas. But what
can you tell us about their ideas? What is South Africa saying or the African peace proposal that we hear about, Brazil, the others?
YERMAK: Thank you, Christiane. For this question, first of all, I'd like to start, you can see the results family photos, and this is -- was very
clear, if you compare what in this moment happened in Russia and same time, in Copenhagen (ph), Ukraine, the partners from G7, from Turkey, from
Denmark, from the Global South, we are talking about the future. We are talking about peace. We are talking about principles of United Nations. And
of course, it was very important meetings. It was very successful that we are sitting together, we are talking.
I have the possibility, very in detail, to discuss with colleagues peaceful formula of President Zelenskyy, which, you know, consist 10 points. And
this is not just about the end of the war -- of this war. What absolutely, for us main goal. It's about how to settle the potential crisis, or the
crisis which already happened, as for example, about the food security.
You know that in 17th of July, we'll be -- next day in which we need to prolongate this initiative. And you listen, once again, some statement from
Russia. And it was a great opportunity to talk with African colleagues and sit and explain what doing Ukraine, the partners, how to survive the
people, the children in Africa?
We are talking about nuclear security. You can see what is still happening in Zaporizhzhia station, and you can listen about our concern, about some
terrorist attacks which absolutely still we not control, Ukraine not control this station. It's really a very big concern, a big concern not
just for Ukraine, of whole world and about many others, including the ecological catastrophe which happened in results of destroy of the Kakhovka
AMANPOUR: Can I --
YERMAK: It means that, for us, was very important, and I'm very happy that we have about five hours very constructive, very open conversation with
colleagues. We decided to continue working in these four months, and I'm looking for the next such meetings in the very short future.
AMANPOUR: Can I ask you, you said, you know, you were very happy to be in this constructive format. But did you notice a shift in attitude from some
of these interlocutors, whether they are Africans or the rest of the BRICS, who have spent a long time, essentially, I mean -- you've accused them of
carrying Putin's peace plan to you all? Do you sense they are thinking, well, whoa, he's not as strong as we thought he was, and maybe we shouldn't
put all our chips on that person?
YERMAK: You know, it was the position which we expressed and In Kyiv during the meeting with envoy from India, China, the delegation of African
countries that it will be logical that the base of we continued this consultation have been Ukrainian plan, because the war in our territory.
But what is very important, and I repeated it several times in Copenhagen, we are ready to listen, to sitting in the table and discuss with any
countries who is respecting our territorial integrity, our sovereignty, our independence, with respect principles of United Nation. Because each of 10
points it's for 100 percent based on the principle of United Nations, of the principle of the international law.
And by the way, we know that by each of these points we have very similar resolution of General Assembly. It means that our proposals it's based for
the principle which respected by all responsible countries. This is our position. And my attitude that we started this dialogue in Hiroshima, it
was the first meeting there, what presence, the G7 countries, Ukraine, and some leaders of the Global South, and I think we successfully continued in
AMANPOUR: OK. All right. OK. Well, listen, it's really good to get all that information from you. Andriy Yermak, the head of President Zelenskyy's
office, thanks for being with us from Kyiv.
Now, around the world, LGBTQ plus rights have been in decline over the past year, from America, to Europe, to Africa, new laws have been introduced
targeting their safety. Kimahli Powell is CEO of Rainbow Railroad, an organization that helps LGBTQ people fleeing persecution. And he's joining
Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the increasing risks facing that community.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HARI SREENIVASAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christiane, thanks. Kimahli Powell, CEO of the Rainbow Railroad, thanks so much for joining us.
So, you put out an annual report, and in that report, you document that you received 10,000 requests for aid last year. Why do you think 2022 was the
most number of requests you've ever had?
KIMAHLI POWELL, CEO, RAINBOW RAILROAD: Our work intersects between two desperate crises. One is that the UNHCR reports that there are 110 million
people displaced in 2023. That's the highest number on record. And at the same time, there are 67 countries that criminalized same sex intimacy.
And I think as we see globally a number of GOP political crisis and concerns, whether it is in Afghanistan or Ukraine or earthquakes in Syria,
we know that LGBTQ plus persons are increasingly at risk, which is why they reached out to organizations like Rainbow Railroad to help.
SREENIVASAN: So, we recently had World Refugee Day, and tell me a little bit about kind of the compounded problem that it is to be a refugee fleeing
your home going into another country and also being LGBTQ plus?
POWELL: You know, the rules of the refugee convention mean that if you are feeling a country based on war, famine, or any other issue, you need to
flee your country of origin and go to a neighboring country and register with the U.N. refugee agency. But in the situation of Uganda, which I know
is top of mind, for example, people in Uganda need to flee to neighboring Kenya. And both countries criminalize same sex intimacy.
So, if you are LGBTQ plus and you are trying to seek protection, the first hurdle is crossing that land border and getting into the country. It's
certainly difficult if you're a woman or if your trans. But even if you do get to that land border, then you are trying to register for U.N. refugee
agency, or get protection in a country that also criminalizes same sex intimacy and discriminates because of sexual orientation or gender
And so, we've seen documents reports of violence, persecution, both in the country of origin, where people are internally displaced, as they seek
SREENIVASAN: In Uganda, they already have some of the toughest anti-gay laws on the books, and this was a country that you are getting requests
from already. But just recently, they passed a law that, I think the phrase is aggravated homosexuality, and it would carry the death penalty. What has
that done? Have you seen an impact on that already? I know that this report was based on stuff last here, but what's happening in Uganda?
POWELL: So, one of the key reasons why we do this report is because there's very limited data on the persecution of LGBTQ plus persons, which is why we
launched it on World Refugee Day. And last year, Uganda was already amongst the top 10 countries of which we received requests for assistance. We were
nearly, you know, over 300 requests for assistance.
The good thing about our data that we're able to track that at real-time, so that we can could respond to crisis situations. In 2023, so far, we've
received double the amount of requests for assistance from Uganda. And the vast majority was now over 600 requests for assistance have come since
March, when the anti-homosexuality law was passed in parliament.
So, the direct correlation with the further aggravation of these laws and the persecution of people. And now, Uganda is amongst 12 nations that
impose the death penalty on people just for who they are or who they love.
SREENIVASAN: So, tell me, what are you able to do? What's your organization able to do, what are partner organizations on the ground able to do for
people who are reaching out to help?
POWELL: Absolutely. Rainbow Railroad has developed a model by which we work collectively with human rights defenders on the ground to verify, identify
people at risk. When we do that, we do that -- people are able to reach out to us directly online in multiple languages, but we also rely on our
partner networks to help us identify cases directly on the ground.
Once we do that, we initiate travel options, when we can. Sometimes there are very limited options. And we look at all the tools that we have at our
disposal. And then, ultimately, we conduct travel and evacuations ourselves, alongside the individual at risk.
Often in those cases, we have to advocate for pathways to safety, calling on governments to work collectively with us, especially when there's a
crisis situation, which would do so as well. And we are continually, then, looking at how we can learn from our work to provide more support for
people at risk.
SREENIVASAN: One of the things that, I think, is interesting in your report, when you look down at the list of top 10 countries of request, I
mean, you go past Afghanistan and Pakistan and Turkey and Uganda, but down at number eight is the United States. Explain how the United States got on
this list of people requesting assistance from organizations like yours.
POWELL: You know, Hari, this is something we are still unpacking as an organization, to be honest. But the data really points to an alarming trend
that LGBTQ people from the United States are reaching out to us for assistance. And they are doing it in two aspects. One, they are asylum
seekers who are reaching out for assistance, but also, U.S. born citizens who are saying that they are facing danger and are looking for assistance
to flee the state, or relocate to another state or another country, which is alarming.
But I will say that there's a direct correlation between those requests for help and U.S. policy across the country. One of the things our data does is
look at spikes throughout the year, and we saw two interesting spikes. One was along the adoption of anti-LGBTQ, in particular anti-trans laws in
various states like Florida.
But the second, which was a little more surprising to us, was after Roe v. Wade. And we -- the spike then, I think, was related to some concerns that
have since been solved with the Protect for Marriage Act that Roe v. Wade would open the door for less protection for LGBTQ plus persons.
And so, you see our data points a general fear from people, and it continues to this year. The United States, in 2023, is amongst the top
three countries of request for help, outside of Afghanistan and Uganda. So, it's a deep concern for us. And we're looking carefully about how we work
with other partners across the country to address this phenomenon.
SREENIVASAN: So, how do you sort out the idea that there are certain states inside this country where you are getting requests for assistance from, and
at the same time, this country is also the place where you are trying to resettle some people from other parts of the world, because the rights here
are better than what they are fleeing?
POWELL: Yes. To be clear, Rainbow Railroad is continuously advocating with the Biden administration for increased resettlement to the United States.
And that is -- that continues to be our position. And at the same time, we are monitoring and are concerned about the safety of LGBTQ plus people.
You know, we look at when we relocate people through international borders, what we're really looking for are whether they are generally protections
under the law for LGBTQ plus persons and, you know, are there refugee protections for those individuals. And our request -- and our assistance in
various countries ebb and flow. You know, when LGBTQ plus persons were facing detention under the so-called Muslim ban, previously, for example,
we paused resettlement into the United States. And so -- and we do that in multiple countries as well.
At the moment, you know, even though the states laws are concerning there are still overarching protections legally for LGBTQ plus in the United
States. And ultimately, all of our interventions, whether it's directly in countries that criminalize same sex intimacy or in the United States are
always driven by people and partners on the ground.
So, in this case, we look really closely to our partners who are asylum seekers, who have sought asylum in the United States and said, you know --
and we're saying and having the conversation, should we continue our efforts and work? And ultimately, they say, yes. Because as people who've
had the experience of fleeing their country it's one thing to be concerned about laws in United States, it's another thing to fleeing your country
because it's life and death. And the United States is still solace for many people.
SREENIVASAN: When you think about the big picture, is there any kind of similarity between what might be happening in Florida and what might be
happening in another part of the world?
POWELL: Absolutely. There are well funded, resource groups. Unfortunately, sometimes religious groups here in the United States and other parts of the
world that are funding these legislations. Sometimes they're copycat law, they're going from state to state and also, from country to country. And
so, there's a blueprint, a playbook, on anti-LGBTQI plus and anti-trans laws that are being passed around and funded from country to country, which
is driving the legislation. And we're also seeing that same movement happen overseas. There is -- it's not a coincidence that this is happening.
SREENIVASAN: So, I'm looking at your report here, and the top 10 countries of requests, number one is Afghanistan. Is this result of the Taliban
POWELL: Absolutely. You know, very difficult to relocate people in Afghanistan before the fall of Kabul and the takeover of the Taliban. And
there was a direct correlation with the withdrawal of U.S. and coalition forces, the takeover of the Taliban and the evacuation of people that led
to the spike of request for assistance.
We released another report on Afghanistan. You know, I directly been in neighboring Pakistan more than once to help set up our network. You know,
our organization was never -- never anticipated us being in the middle of geopolitical crises, but we're seeing direct -- Afghanistan was a real
example of a larger geopolitical situation that directly impacted LGBTQ plus people at risk. And so, we had to act, and we have relocated several
hundred people from Afghanistan.
But with the success of relocation comes an increase in request for assistance, which is documented in the report.
SREENIVASAN: You were in Islamabad helping Afghans leaving that country and coming to Pakistan, what was that like?
POWELL: This is another example of what it is for people to flee from one country of persecution to another neighboring country in order to seek
protection. You know, Pakistan also criminalizes the same sex intimacy, although, there are some protections for trans individuals. And so, the
troops were motivated by building their partnership and network.
One of the challenges with Afghanistan is that civil society organizations and people were fleeing the country. And so, we need to set up as much
neighboring networks as possible, and I'm really thankful for our partners on the ground who were mostly advocacy-based organizations, which
completely transformed their offices into safe houses while we built a more safe house since system.
You know, it's part of the job that we do to help establish our partnership (INAUDIBLE) in the countries that sometimes aren't always safe.
SREENIVASAN: The other crisis that is getting a lot of airtime is the war in Ukraine. But often, there are populations inside Ukraine, inside Russia,
that are not talked about as much. In your report, you talk about this crisis and what it's done. How has that war made things worse for the LGBTQ
plus populations, I guess, on both sides of this war?
POWELL: Yes. First in Ukraine, you know, the concern was ensuring that LGBTQ people had access to safe havens in neighboring countries.
Fortunately, with the conflict, the civil society organizations in neighboring countries really have stepped up to provide support. And we
have worked to facilitate the -- again, the establishment of those safe houses and resources, so people fleeing Ukraine can get access to those
I think there remain challenges, in particular, for transgender women who are facing difficulties leaving the country and, of course, the general
instability of Ukraine. There were kind of, you know, incremental advances LGBTQ plus persons in the country, but by far, the country has not have
overall protections of LGBTQ plus people.
And Russia's situation was a little more dire. We actually saw more requests in Russia from people who were displaced, but our work in Russia
has been continuous since the 2013 anti-LGBTQ propaganda law, and then subsequent republics like Chechnya essentially torturing LGBTQ plus
And one of the things that we're concerned about is while the focus is on Russia's aggression of Ukraine, the fact of the matter is that the conflict
affects LGBTQ plus people in Russia with limited options for evacuation or resettlement.
SREENIVASAN: What are some of the stories that you have heard from these individuals that are either fleeing countries like Afghanistan or Uganda
and are looking for a better life, whether it's in the United States or Europe or elsewhere?
POWELL: You know, I have the kind of honor to kind of meet some of the people that we've helped, sometimes on both sides of the journey. And, you
know, actually just recently, I was in New York launching our -- for our World Refugee Day. And in the room was -- were three individuals that we
helped. And one that really struck out at me was someone that was from Kenya, actually, who fled to Uganda, believe it or not, which also receives
And so, they were displaced in Kenya, they fled to Uganda, while awaiting our support. And then, with our support, we helped them relocate to the
United States. You know, and they spoke about kind of what it was like to have to flee as a human rights defender, because their house was literally
burning down. And what it meant for them to have safety and protection in the U.S.
SREENIVASAN: I know you work on advocacy issues and legislation, have there been any successes for your organization and your cause in the climate of
increasing anti-trans legislation in the United States?
POWELL: Our advocacy in the United States is guided by a memorandum by the president on the human rights of LGBTQI plus people around the world. And
that memorandum stated two important things. One, around enhancing -- the U.S. role in enhancing human rights on the world, which we believe means
that you also have to, you know, walk the talk by making sure that we're enhancing human rights in the country.
And then, the second one is protection for our LGBTQI plus refugees. And one real opportunity that we are following right now, which is an
advancement is the establishment of a private sponsorship program that will allow citizens across the country to work with Rainbow Railroad to provide
support for LGBTQ refugees.
SREENIVASAN: If you had a message for someone who is being discriminated against in their country and are looking for a way out, what is that?
POWELL: Yes. First and foremost, you know, do what you need to do to be safe. I think that's the first message that we provide with people that
reach out to us, sometimes facing real imminent danger. And, you know, that there are people in solidarity with you in your country. Again,
organizations like Rainbow Railroad who are trying to do everything that we can to help.
And I would also extend that same message to governments. You know, we reached a historic milestone with the government of Canada, who is
partnering with Rainbow Railroad through a direct trusted referral, and we want to do that in the U.S. and other countries as well. Because
ultimately, what we really want to tell to that person listening is that we have options for you, but we can't have options unless governments are
stepping up to address the scale of the crisis.
SREENIVASAN: Kimahli Powell, the CEO of the Rainbow Railroad, thanks so much for joining us.
POWELL: Thank you so much for having me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Only months after being freed from a Russian prison, the American basketball star, Brittney Griner, has been chosen to play in the WNBA All-
Star game. Griner was picked as a starter for the game, despite spending some 300 days in a Russian prison. Griner has been one of the better
centers in the league this season, averaging more than 19 points per game. This is her ninth All-Star selection.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRITTNEY GRINER, WNBA ALL-STAR: You know, I'm honored anytime that I get voted into All-Star, I know it's going to be a great time. I didn't even
think I was going to be in the seat, you know, like a while ago. But like I said, honored to be at All-Star and go down to Vegas and make it a good
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Now, Griner missed the entire 2022 season while being detained in Russia, but was named as an honorary All-Star last year.
And finally, tonight, turning to more sports stars cementing their place in history, literally, the new list of Hollywood Walk of Famers has just been
announced, tennis champion and trailblazer Billie Jean King has made history as the first female athlete to receive a star. And a reminder, she
will be our guest later this week on this show.
Two posthumous stars will be awarded to actor, Chadwick Boseman, and the legendary single, Otis Redding. Michelle Yeoh, Eugene Levy, Dr. Dre and
Gwen Stefani are also receiving the coveted honor.
And that is it for now. Remember, if you ever miss our show, you can always find the latest episodes shortly after it airs on our podcast. And you can
always catch us online, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Thank you for watching and goodbye from London.