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At This Hour

Ukraine Rushes To Restore Power After Barrage OF Russian Strike; Nearly 40,000 Gun Deaths In U.S. This Year; Texas Parents United With Infant Twins Rescued From Russia Orphanage. Aired 11:30a- 12p ET

Aired November 24, 2022 - 11:30   ET




ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Power starting to return two homes across Ukraine. This after yet another barrage of Russian missiles left at least 10 dead and shut down all four of the country's nuclear power plants for the first time in 40 years. CNN's Sam Kiley is live in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine with the very latest for us. So, power coming back, but this is going to be an ongoing issue, Sam.

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is going to be an ongoing issue. It's an ongoing campaign. According to the Ukrainian government, Erica, the Russians have done at least seven of these mass attacks using cruise missiles. These are the most expensive and sophisticated missiles in the Russian army, arguably many of them fired from aircraft many miles away. They're capable of cruising at very, very low fast levels of altitude, and also very, very high, very difficult to shoot down. Most of them were shot down.

The Ukrainians asking for more and more air defenses to pride -- to try to prevent more of these attacks because, with every attack that happens, they do recover, but recovery becomes that much harder. And it's already affecting the neighboring state of Moldova that suffered disastrous 50 percent blackout yesterday as a consequence of this, there are cities there's a little bit more light here in Zaporizhzhia.

But of course, the danger is also to the nuclear power stations. If they lose incoming nuclear -- incoming power, then their cooling systems which are dependent on external electricity need to fall back on diesel generators just to stop them from melting down. For the first time in 40 years, essentially ever, all of the nuclear power stations that normally provide 50 percent of the power in this country were shut down for over the last 24 hours, Erica.

HILL: Yes. And that is really saying something. Sam, appreciate the reporting. As always, thank you.

Joining me now is CNN military analyst, retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling. Good to see you this morning. When we look at you know, as Sam pointed out there, as the Ukrainians have said, this is clearly a campaign we've seen going on now for some time continuing as we head into the winter, really targeting the infrastructure in Ukraine. But it's not just about the power and potentially the heat that this could provide in the winter. This also powers critical civilian and military communications. When it comes to those repairs and the rebuilding, do you have a sense that Western nations are really doing all they can because it's going to continue?

MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: You know, Erica, it's really difficult to determine that because what's happening is it's a shift between supporting the military campaigns of Ukraine against Russia to now supporting the civilian infrastructure. There is a move afoot to get more generators into the areas to try and get that power back up to support the infrastructure within Ukraine. But it's exceedingly difficult to do that when you're talking about the kinds of cities that have populations of half a million, 300,000, in some cases, a million people, that's just is almost an impossible task to generate power outside of the normal systems that are involved.

But this is what's facing President Zelenskyy right now. He not only is attempting to continue the military campaign in the east and the south, but he's also now very concerned about this damage to the civilian infrastructure as well as the horrific crimes that are being committed against the Ukrainian people.

HILL: Yes. I mean, it is really something. When we look at sort of the state of affairs, I find it interesting a top Polish official said Ukraine should get the Patriot missile defense system that Germany had offered to Poland after last week's deadly strike there. What could that system change for Ukraine?

HERTLING: Well, those are -- those are long-range interceptors, air defense systems. And truthfully, Erica, I've heard these reports from a lot of people saying just give all these things to Ukraine. The problem is these are very difficult and challenging systems to work with. It takes a lot of training to put these into effect. And even with a very limited supply from the west of Patriot missiles that would not be able to cover the entire front edge of the Ukrainian battle fronts, and it would not be able to stop all of the mission -- missiles coming in.

Ukraine is doing a relatively good job on -- of -- with what they have, popping three-quarters of the missiles that come in, but as the pictures you're showing, they're not getting all of them. These are missiles. As you look at these films that are targeting (AUDIO GAP) patients, it violates all four elements of the Geneva Convention. This is again Russia continuously committing war crimes to try and get Ukraine to give in and we certainly have not given any indication that they're going to do that.

HILL: No. No indication whatsoever. Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, always appreciate your insight, your expertise. Happy Thanksgiving, my friend.


HERTLING: And the same to you, Erica. Thank you.

HILL: Coming up here. America's gun violence epidemic is a public health crisis. So, how can doctors and law enforcement work together to combat it? We'll ask some of the frontlines next.



HILL: America's gun violence epidemic crystallized by 20 mass shootings in this country in just the last two weeks. Among those, the shooting at the University of Virginia, a Colorado LGBTQ-plus bar, the Walmart in Virginia. It's not just mass shootings, though in this country that are leading to this epidemic that's a crisis of gun violence. The gun violence archives reports nearly 40,000 gun deaths in America this year alone. Just to put that in perspective. That means 121 deaths a day, five lives taken every hour.

Joining me now is Dr. Megan Ranney. She co-founded the American Foundation for Firearm Injury Reduction in Medicine, better known as AFFIRM Research. She is an emergency physician.

And I know how deeply you care about this issue because you see it on a regular basis. In fact, you tweeted just a few hours ago after you wrapped up your latest shift in the ER. Gun violence is so much more than mass shootings. I saw the direct harm and the ripple effect of the trauma tonight. Our communities all deserve better. It doesn't have to be that -- this way.

You know, it's that trauma, that lasting ripple effect, can you just put in perspective for us? How widespread is that in this country?

DR. MEGAN RANNEY, EMERGENCY PHYSICIAN: Now, Erica, thank you for having me on, and happy Thanksgiving. Even -- my shift last night was just a microcosm of what happens every day across the United States. As you said, there are more than 120 people that die and over 200 who are injured every single day across this country.

We see similar rates of gun violence in rural and urban areas. And every one of those whether they are injured or dies, these a ripple effect in their community. It causes trauma among those who survive, it causes fear. We see increased rates of substance use and depression in communities that are affected by gun violence. So, this is about the bullet wounds, but it's also about so much more. And those mass shootings, they are just the tip of the iceberg.

HILL: So, you've spoken out about the need to address gun violence as a public health crisis. The AMA made that declaration back in 2016. Is there a parallel you think when it comes to other public health emergencies? Can we compare gun violence to COVID?

RANNEY: We can compare gun violence to COVID. But what I actually like to do is to compare it to car crashes. They're both injuries caused by objects. Back in the 70s, our car crash death rates were almost 70 percent more than they are now. And we decrease the death rates not by banning cars but by using this public health approach. We gathered data. We put in place things like Drunk Driving Laws and better seatbelts, and we educated parents about car seats. Through a combination of different measures, we managed to make the road safer. And I don't often lose someone from a car crash death these days.

Meanwhile, firearm deaths are increasing. We have more people dying of firearm deaths than car crashes in this country. And a big reason why is because we have not applied this public health approach, which includes policies, but also so much more. Policies are necessary but not sufficient.

HILL: It's also about the education. I think it's so important when you make that analogy. It's not about taking away the car. It's about better understanding how to use the car safely and how your use of the car impacts other people. And I know that's part of what you do in your work with AFFIRM Research. You have started and continue to host these conversations where you bring people together in an apolitical space, and this is talking about how you can work together, how you can find actionable common ground, can you give us a sense of some of the progress that you've seen because there has been some?

RANNEY: Absolutely. Listen, 40 percent of Americans are gun owners. If we cut them out of the conversation, we are not going to make progress. And we have seen significant progress over the last 15 years I've been working on this issue. For the first time in 24 years, we have federal funding from the NIH and CDC to study and implement programs that work to reduce gun violence. We're seeing community violence intervention programs grow and succeed in breaking the cycle of violence. I'm part of one here in Providence that has a great partnership with local police with community members, and they make a real difference.

And we're seeing programs with the military and with veterans. I know you had General Hertling on just before. The military has one of the highest gun suicide rates in the country. We were having great partnerships with them to try to reduce that toll on our veterans.

HILL: It's so important and so important that the conversations continue. Dr. Megan Ranney, always good to see you, my friend. Thank you for joining us. Thank you for all of your work on this very important topic. I hope you and your family have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

RANNEY: Thank you, Erica. You too.


HILL: Coming up here. A nonprofit organization says it has rescued these infant twins from a Russian orphanage. They're now with their parents in Texas. We're going to speak with the person behind that operation next.


HILL: One Texas family is extra grateful this Thanksgiving after Project DYNAMO says it rescued their twin infants from a state-run Russian orphanage. The nonprofit has helped to get civilians out of Afghanistan and Ukraine. This video that we're showing is shot by Project DYNAMO shows the parents being united with their babies in neighboring Estonia. The organization says the couple was expecting the twins via a Ukrainian surrogate, who Project DYNAMO says fled to Crimea when the war broke out and then to St. Petersburg where she gave birth to the babies in September.


Joining me now is Bryan Stern. He's the founder of Project DYNAMO. Bryan, I have so many questions for you about how this happened, how are you able to pull it off? First and perhaps most importantly, this family, how did they find you and how were they -- how were you able to verify that the twins were, in fact, their children?

BRYAN STERN, FOUNDER, PROJECT DYNAMO: Thanks for having me. Happy Thanksgiving. We -- the family found us to a friend of theirs in the diplomatic corps at one of the U.S. embassies, who was also had a child via surrogate pregnancy and was kind of familiar with some of the nuances. And this friend of theirs was helping them -- was helping them any way that they could.

These babies were born in September. This is November. So, this family has been fighting for their children for almost three months. So, they've been through a kind of a roller coaster ride and had some pretty intense trials and tribulations to get -- to get reunited with their babies.

HILL: We see some big smiles on faces in these pictures that you shared with us. So, you mentioned they meant -- they found you through some of their friends -- diplomatic friends. I know you reached out to the State Department here. Were they able to help, or did they try to wave you off? Were they concerned about this given what's happening right now with Russia?

STERN: Yes. The State Department does, specifically, U.S. Embassy in Moscow and specifically U.S. Embassy in Tallinn, Estonia were tremendously helpful. They're the consular services. In our experience doing this now, this is our -- we've done over 350 operations. And they always try and do their best and they try and help wherever they can.

The catch is that sometimes they can't. Not for any fault of their own or anything like that but the geopolitical situation or the security situation, or what have you doesn't -- is an obstacle for them. Not because they want it to be, but that's just the way it is.

HILL: Yes.

STERN: In Russia, America is not the most popular team in town right now. So, the leverage the U.S. -- the U.S. State Department has in Russia isn't as good as it could be.

HILL: Yes. And certainly, may not be what it was even just a year ago, CNN, I should point out, has reached out to the State Department for comment. We haven't yet heard back. But I mean, just give us a sense. How were you able to pull this off? How are you able to extract these babies from Russia without the help of the U.S. government at this point? STERN: Well, that's kind of what DYNAMO does. We operate in what we call the gray space, which is the space where the -- where the government isn't, for whatever reason, either because they left like Afghanistan or because they haven't got there yet, like Hurricane Ian, where we showed up first, or in Ukraine, where they won't have boots on the ground, and now in Russia, where diplomatic relations aren't the best. We're able to operate in this gray space because we're not government, we're donor-funded, we're entirely private, and we have a freedom of maneuver that governments just don't have. It doesn't mean that the government is bad or wrong, it just means that it's government like anything else.

HILL: I'm sure you take all this into account. But one of my questions, too, I was worried as I'm looking at all of this, are there any concerns on your part that the Russian government could try to come after you or try to come after the family?

STERN: I don't -- I don't think so. When we do these operations as a matter of course, we do them always safely number one, and always -- and always legally. So, these be -- this was not a raid at an orphanage.

HILL: Yes.

STERN: Rather, it was understanding a lot of the nuances of the situation and being able to operate within the confines of Russian law. One of our big concerns that we had, tactically and operationally speaking, was that the Russian rule of law towards Americans can be somewhat flexible, as we've seen with the Brittney Griner case where a minor fraction can be catastrophic and have catastrophic consequences. So, when we operate, I don't want to give -- in this case, we didn't want to give the Russian government an excuse to be mad at the family, certainly not be mad at us and, of course, not be -- not be angry towards the babies because that just causes more problems.

HILL: Yes.

STERN: So, we don't do that.

HILL: Yes.

STERN: We follow the law.

HILL: Yes.

STERN: We follow the law.

HILL: Absolutely. And I'm sure there's a lot of planning things that we'll never know about, obviously behind the scenes that it is meticulous. Let's talk about these babies because I know there's that video of the moment when the couple met their twins for the first time. You were there. Can you just describe for us what it was like for this family -- what the last couple of days have been like for them?

STERN: Well, since getting the babies, I think that they're a little overwhelmed. These are new mommies and daddies with twins. So, their hands are definitely full. These moments, we -- Project DYNAMO has a program called Gemini which is our surrogate baby program. We've done 60 of these operations in the war zone. 60.

HILL: Wow.


STERN: Our first step was Lenny and Moishe Spektor which were premature baby twins from Atlanta Georgia. That's kind of how we cut our teeth doing babies. And all these cases are unique and special onto their own. And they're honestly my favorite ones to do because at the end of this story are a really happy American family and two safe, beautiful, you know, adorable babies.

HILL: Yes.

STERN: Very often, when we do the operation, our kind of garden variety operations, the end of the story is that people are going to a refugee camp or they've lost their homes like in Sanibel, or they're fleeing the Taliban in Afghanistan or what have you, the baby stories are always a lot of smiles. And I kind of geek out with it a little bit. I'm like the uncle taking my nephews. And my team loves doing them for that reason.

HILL: Yes.

STERN: We deal with a lot of pain and suffering on a daily basis, a lot of doom and gloom on a daily basis, and this is a really beautiful ending to a really hard-fought battle.

HILL: Yes, it is. I can see the joy, the smile on your face, and I can only imagine the size of the joy for this family and so many other families who've helped. Bryan, really appreciate your time. Happy Thanksgiving. Thank you.

STERN: Thank you. Happy Thanksgiving to you, thank you.

HILL: Thanks. We'll be right back.