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Food Crisis Looms as Russia Blocks Ukrainian Grain Exports; EU Lawmakers Debate Energy Security Amid Row with Russia; Afghan Girls Denied Education Learn Alternate Skills; Ukrainian Eurovision Winners Receive Hero's Welcome at Home. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired May 19, 2022 - 04:30   ET



SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This official saying here in this military court that the Russians have not taken any significant new territory. We have also seen as well casualties of course. But the Ukrainians being able to hold that defensive line. That they blew up this bridge in order to make sure that they were maintaining the territory that they do have control over. And that in the east, they've been able to get closer -- get much closer to that supply line that is critical to the Russians. So having said that, this is a war. There are casualties. And the military reporting just overnight more civilians, Ukrainian civilians have been killed -- Max.

MAX FOSTER, CNN ANCHOR: Suzanne Malveaux in Lviv, thank you very much indeed for bringing us up-to-date.

Now one of the most gut wrenching consequences of Russia's war on Ukraine is the threat of a severe food crisis across the globe. Ukraine is one of the world's major grain producers, but Russia warships have blockaded its ports and cut off vital shipments of grain to some of the world's most vulnerable populations. On Wednesday the U.S. pledged an additional $250 million in emergency food aid to deal with the grain crisis. The U.N.'s top food official pleaded with Russia's leader to end the blockade.


DAVID BEASLEY, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, U.N. WORLD FOOD PROGRAMME: It is absolutely essential that we allow these ports to open because this is not just about Ukraine, this is about the poorest of the poor around the world who are on the brink of starvation as we speak. So, I ask President Putin, if you have any heart at all, to please open these ports.


FOSTER: Russian actions to weaponize food go well beyond the blockade. In agricultural areas they currently control, the Russians are accused of stealing farm equipment and tons of grain from Ukrainian farmers. We'll get more now from CNN's Isa Soares.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ISA SOARES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Before the war, most of the food produced by Ukraine was exported through ports like this. Now these key trading docks have ground to a halt blockaded by Russia. Who according to Ukraine's defense ministry, has also pilfered an estimated 400,000 tons of grain from Ukrainian farmers in Russian- occupied territory. Footage obtained by CNN from Zaporizhzhia shows trucks wearing the white zed symbol of the Russian military, transporting grain to Russian-held Crimea. An act that President Zelenskyy's administration is calling food terrorism.

VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): This is not just a strike at Ukraine. With our agrarian export, dozens of countries in various regions of the world have found themselves on the brink of food deficit.

SOARES (voice-over): Through satellite images, we were able to identify the Russian merchant ship, Matros Pozynich, one of three involved in the trade of stolen grain, seen here at the port in Sevastopol, Crimea on April 29. From there the vessel carrying an estimated 27,000 tons of grain. According to maritime tracking site Petemon (ph), traveled through the Bosphorus to Alexandria in Egypt, but was denied port. Then it went on to Beirut in Lebanon but was also turned away. Finally, on May 8, it reached Latakia, the principal port in Syria according to shipping sources and Ukrainian officials.

OLEG NIVIEVSKYI, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR, KYIV INSTITUTE OF ECONOMICS: So, in this situation, the countries in the Middle East and in EMV and in northern Africa, they will be -- they don't have choice, OK. And they will import wheat from anywhere from where it's possible. So, I think that this is really state-supported theft. It's not Ukrainian assets but Ukrainian grain.

SOARES: For Russia stealing wheat and other grains during the war could prove lucrative. The price of wheat has skyrocketed so far this year, more than 60 percent or so, spiking after the war started on February 24. And how much of a valuable commodity is it while the price of wheat is now trading about $400 a ton on the world market.

SOARES (voice-over): As supplies run low and as prices continue to rise, there are fears the war was pushing the world to the brink of a food crisis. With the German foreign minister calling Russia's actions, a deliberate war of grains. After seeing for themselves the tons of grain, wheat and corn stockpiled at Odessa, the President of the European Council Charles Michel, vowed the EU, with support from the U.S., will help look for ways to export grain from Ukraine.

Some of it is already being shipped from ports in neighboring Romania, but still only a fraction of Ukraine's total production. More help is needed if Europe's bread basket is to continue to feed the world.

Isa Soares, CNN.


FOSTER: All right, let's take you live to Brussels. EU lawmakers are debating how to keep energy supplies flowing as tensions grow with Russia. Moscow has already shut off its gas exports to Poland and Bulgaria.


There are signs that Finland could be next possibly as soon as this weekend. For more I'm joined by Clare Sebastian. It's not as clear cut as the Kremlin saying that we're cutting off supplies, but that is how it is being interpreted.

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, and of course, we have precedent, right, with Poland and Bulgaria and now the Finnish gas company, Gasum, is saying that they are not going to use this payment mechanism that Moscow has set up. Where you can deposit euros and then they get converted to rules. They're not going to do that, so they say is now likely they think that the gas will be shut off this weekend.

This is why, Max, that the EU is no longer treating this as a hypothetical. It's been done before, they know this could happen. They just launched their new $221 billion plan to essentially redraw the energy map of Europe. To try to eventually do without Russian energy. No real surprises there. More LNG, more renewables, cutting demand -- that's critical. They say they can do that by about 5 percent, just simple things like using less air conditioning. And they have sort of put together a plan for what they would do for a sudden stop when it comes to Russian gas. And that would involve sort of working together, pooling their resources and shifting energy from the places that need it less to the more critical needs.

FOSTER: The other thing that Russians control, which is vital to the world economy, is Ukrainian grain, they are effectively -- it is effectively trapped, isn't it, in the Ukrainian ports and Isa there describing how this is being described as a grain war.

SEBASTIAN: I mean, you know, it's a horrifying situation. You heard the head of the World Food Program saying that people are on the brink of starvation because of this.

FOSTER: These are parts of Africa largely, aren't they. Who rely on those supplies.

SEBASTIAN: Yes, countries like Somalia for example get 100 percent of their wheat, or did at least before this conflict, from Russia and Ukraine. It is affecting the poorest of the poor. And the rhetoric in Russia around this, is this is the result of sanctions. The sanctions are the aggressors here. You have them to blame for rising inflation in Europe, for these food shortages. But we heard from Antony Blinken, the U.S. Secretary of State, yesterday trying to counter that argument. Take a listen.


ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Some have tried to blame the sanctions imposed on the Russian Federation by the United States and many other countries for worsening this crisis. This is false. When we imposed sanctions on Russia in order to end the war as quickly as possible, we delivered and carefully created exceptions for agricultural goods and fertilizer. We're working every day to get countries any information or assistance they need.


SEBASTIAN: And, Max, the sanctions landscape is complicated. There's been self-sanctioning. There's been uncertainty, that has sort of up ended trade in many ways. You know, shipping companies, banks have been reluctant to sort of get grain shipments out of countries like Russia and Ukraine because of this uncertainty. But the bottom line is, there are no sanctions that would prevent Russia from reopening the ports on the Black Sea.

FOSTER: OK, Clare, thank you.

Still to come --

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: You are 17, you're never known the Taliban government. Did you ever imagine that this would happen to you, that you would be prevented from going to school?

AMANPOUR (voice-over): No, never. We tried our best for our future, but it is a dark one now.


FOSTER: The lives of women in Afghanistan are just a shadow of what they have been before the Taliban takeover last year. We'll talk to some girls who are trying to take control of their own destiny, next.



FOSTER: The Taliban have been chipping away at women's rights since they took over Afghanistan last August. They promised that girls would be allowed to go to secondary school, a promise that remains unfulfilled. But some Afghan girls are finding their own ways to assert their independence. CNN's Christiane Amanpour spoke to some of them.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR (voice-over): Wednesday morning in Kabul, and we're going to girls' school, through these plastic curtains and past prying eyes.

Yes, this fashion studio has become an alternate education facility since the Taliban stopped girls from attending government high schools. 17-year-old Rokhsar wanted to be a doctor. Now she's learning to be a dressmaker.

We're feeling very bad, she tells us, girls are not able to go to school, staying home doing nothing. We hope that this will change our life so we can be self-sufficient, have a profession, learn, earn money to support ourselves and our families.

Neda wanted to be a professional soccer player.

AMANPOUR: You're 17. You've never known the Taliban government. Did you ever imagine that this would happen to you that you would be prevented from going to school?

AMANPOUR (voice-over): No, never. We tried our best for our future. But it's a dark one now because we're kept away from our schools.

Nageena Hafizi started this fashion business with her sisters four years ago. Today, she's running the resistance. When the Taliban slammed the door in their faces, she opened hers up to high school girls aiming to have them sufficiently trained to earn a living and support themselves within 6 to 12 months. She does this for 120 girls and women across three locations.

AMANPOUR: You're helping them but they all want to be doctors or an athlete or, you know professionals. They want to go on to university. How do you feel about them having to be embroideries or dressmakers?

AMANPOUR (voice-over): This is very upsetting says Nageena, when someone is following their own dreams, it's very good. It's different when they're forced into doing something else. And it's a bad feeling. Because most of these girls wants to go to university, become a doctor, a teacher, an engineer, it's very difficult for them. And I know that they can't do any other work, so at least they can learn the dressmaking profession for their future.

For the record, the powerful deputy Taliban leaders, Sirajuddin Haqqani told me that girls public high schools would open again soon, and that, of course, women have the right to work within the Islamic framework.

But 26 years ago, I had the same conversations about the same issues when the Taliban was first in charge.

AMANPOUR: A lot of people want to know what you're going to do about the women issue. What about women's education, girls' education, women working, widows who have no other way to support themselves?

SHER MOHAMMAD ABBAS STANIKZAI, THEN DEPUTY TALIBAN FOREIGN MINISTER: I know that, especially in Western news media, it's the propaganda against that, that we are against women education, which is not right, not correct.

AMANPOUR: But the girls can't go to school. We've been to schools here that are all closed.

STANIKZAI: We have just told them that for the time being they should not come to office and school. So, till the time that we can come up with some sort of solution.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Even the youngest understand something is not right. 10-year-old Aziza (ph) complains about having to stay home all day.

[04:45:00] We just do housework, cleaning, baking bread and sweeping the floors, she says.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I love my work. It's my right to work. And I need to work. Because I got education in this country, and the government spent money on me. And even my family, and I want to express myself to my society.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Brave then, brave now. Only now after more than two decades of progress for their wives, their daughters and their family incomes, so many more Afghan men support them.

Haji Noor Ahmed tells us not even 1 percent of Afghan people are against women working. We don't want our people to grow up as if we're in a jungle. We want people to have culture, knowledge, we need food and work.

Back at the design studio, these classes are not only open to high school students, but to older women who are suddenly out of work like 30-year-old Rabia, who's a teacher.

We feel suffocated, she says, why can't we in our own country, our own place live freely, move freely. Wherever we go, whatever work we do they put barriers in our way. We can't reach our goals in life. We're always afraid. Whether the previous government or the Taliban emirate regime.

Rabia comes here to retrain, and like many of the mothers and wives to have some kind of social life, like Norjan (ph), whose daughter Neda (ph), wanted to become a soccer player.

When I'm really upset, she tells me, my husband says I should come here so that at least I can meet others. My husband is so kind. We are all sisters here.

Christiane Amanpour, CNN, Kabul, Afghanistan.


FOSTER: Meanwhile, warm hugs for Ukraine's Kalush Orchestra as they return home fresh off their Eurovision win. Coming up, we'll tell you how the folk-rap group managed to give back to their war-torn nation, next.



FOSTER: The Ukrainian folk-rap group Kalush Orchestra have made a triumphant return home after claiming victory in this year's Eurovision song contest. Now the group is using the power of music to help their battered and war-torn country. CNN's Suzanne Malveaux reports, but we must warn you that the images you are about to see are graphic.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Ukraine's Kalush Orchestra returning to a hero's welcome as winners of this year's prized Eurovision song competition. The folk-rap group greeted at the Ukrainian border by servicemen and women bursting with pride.

Front man Oleg Psyuk and his band launch into an impromptu version of their winning song, "Stefania".

Saturday, the musicians won the annual song contest in the Italian city of Turin, beating out their main rivals, the U.K. and Spain, riding a wave of popular support by voting viewers who skyrocketed them to the top.

"Stefania", initially written as a tribute to the band leader's mother, turned into a rallying cry and tribute to the nation as Ukraine battled against the invasion of its neighbor, Russia.

When I met them here in Lviv, it took little prodding for them to launch into a jam session of their popular song. But Kalush is keenly aware of the impact of the band's victory and what's at stake.

MALVEAUX: What does this moment mean? This is so much more than a musical competition.

OLEG PSYUK, FRONT MAN, KALUSH ORCHESTRA (through translator): We decided to take part in it because there are attempts to destroy and kill our culture. And we took part in it to show that our culture is alive. It does exist, and it's very beautiful.

MALVEAUX (voice-over): The group was given special permission by the government to leave Ukraine to perform. And despite competition rules forbidding overt political statements, the band was praised by many Ukrainians for calling for the liberation of Ukrainians and Mariupol and inside the steel plant of Azovstal besieged by the Russians. Soldiers sheltering in the steel plant belted out the lyrics as shelling could be heard from above.

Residents of Kalush, the hometown of the band, gushed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): With all my soul, with all my love, I love my Kalush.

MALVEAUX (voice-over): And President Zelenskyy promised to bring the singing contest to a liberated Ukraine next year. Now Kalush is auctioning off its trophy and planning to tour Europe to fundraise for the Ukrainian soldiers and charitable foundations for Ukraine.

PSYUK (through translator): People say Ukraine is my mother and take it that way. That's why this song is now even called the anthem of war. But if it's called that, I would rather it to be the anthem of our victory.

MALVEAUX (voice-over): Suzanne Malveaux, CNN, Lviv, Ukraine.

(END VIDEOTAPE) FOSTER: Ukraine's fight to hold their ground against Russia was in the spotlight during a special late night talk show experience, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke about Ukraine on the late show with Stephen Colbert.


BLINKEN: The Ukrainians are standing up for their freedom. They're standing up for their sovereignty. They have so much of the world with them. And here is what I can tell you. What Vladimir Putin was trying to do was to take away their independence, their sovereignty and in his mind, Ukraine is not an independent country. Needs to be subsumed into Russia. That's what this is about. And what I think that we can see with a lot of certainty and conviction is that a sovereign independent Ukraine is going to be around a lot longer than Vladimir Putin is on the scene.



FOSTER: America's top diplomat ended his time on the show by grabbing a guitar and playing along with the band.

Now the NBA's western conference finals are under way and it was a rough start for the Dallas Mavericks. The well-rested Golden State Warriors crushed the Mavs 112-87 by containing Dallas star Luka Doncic. He led Dallas with 20 points but shot 6 of 18 from the field. Warrior's star Steph Curry had 21 points. Game two is Friday in San Francisco.

U.S. women's soccer has scored a major victory in its fight for equal pay. After years of pressure from female players the U.S. Soccer Federation announced a new deal on Wednesday, ensuring women will be paid the same as male players. It also makes the U.S. the first nation in the world to equalize World Cup prize money. The landmark agreement also addresses issues such as child care, parental leave, mental health impairment and equal quality of venues in field surfaces. The deal is set to run through to 2028.

NASA is trying to figure out what is causing a mysterious issue with a spacecraft it launched 45 years ago. Voyager 1 is still exploring space after all these years but its data readouts now seem random and don't match up with what the probe is actually doing, but its signal is as strong as ever. The Voyager team says it's possible they may not find the source of the incorrect data and will instead adapt to it.

Thanks for joining us here on CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Max Foster in London. "EARLY START" with Christine Romans and Laura Jarrett is next. You're watching CNN.