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Erin Burnett Outfront

Kremlin Claims Americans Captured in Ukraine Committed Crimes; Russian Priest Offers Ukrainian Shelter, Says He Does Not Fear Speaking About His Opposition to Russia's Actions; United Airlines CEO: Airlines Need Government Help to Get Back on Track. Aired 7:30-8p ET

Aired June 20, 2022 - 19:30   ET


JOY BLACK, FIANCEE OF ANDY TAI NGOC HUYNH, AMERICAN MISSING IN UKRAINE: Andy and Alex are not mercenaries. They are not soldiers of fortune. They are a part of the Ukrainian military.


And they are a part of that military, meaning they are prisoners of war and they should be treated as such under the Geneva Convention.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN HOST: There is this new video that surfaced over the weekend and it shows both Alex Drueke and your fiance, and it comes after this photo was posted on Russian social media, showing them in a truck with their hands behind their backs. The latest video, which, again, we are not showing because it shows the men under duress, Drueke reveals he's been beaten several times. Do you fear the same is true for Andy?

BLACK: I try not to think about it. I'm just trying to stay positive. Because I know Andy is being strong, so I need to be strong for him as well, and trust in our government officials to do all that they can to get them home safely. I know they want them back very much as well.

HARLOW: Yeah, we all do. For you, for the families and I know you have been speaking with the State Department pretty regularly since Andy went missing, can you share with us what they have been telling you?

BLACK: Most of what I can say is they are working nonstop, and working very hard on this. And that, again, they want them back just as much as we do. Obviously, we want the info to come faster, but it's a constantly changing situation.

So, I am just staying positive and I'm putting my trust in our government officials to get them back.

HARLOW: Obviously, you and Andy are very, very much in love and planning a wedding at your church for his return. And I just wonder if you can tell the American people, despite all that, it was obviously very hard for him to leave you. Why was it so important for him to go, to fight?

BLACK: It weighed really, really heavily on his heart. He saw the footage coming out of Ukraine, and he knew we needed to go help in some way, anyway he could, that he could be useful over there. It did not sit well with him to see the suffering and he felt called to go over there and help any way that he could.

HARLOW: Yeah. And now there is that video I mentioned on Russian television showing that Andy is being held in Donetsk which is significant, because Russia has a moratorium on the death penalty, but Donetsk is in Eastern Ukraine, and allegedly uses firing squads to execute condemned prisoners. If that is correct, that that is where he is being held, what are your thoughts tonight and your words for him?

BLACK: I try not to think about that. I'm going to try to stay positive and strong for him since I know he is being strong. But if I could say something to him, I would say that I love you, and I know you are being strong, and we are working really hard to get you home.

HARLOW: Joy, you are in all of our hearts, okay? Thank you for sharing. What you can about Andy with all of us tonight. We will check in on you again soon.

BLACK: Thank you.

HARLOW: More now on the third American also missing in Ukraine, separately from Alexander Drueke and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh. Grady Kurpasi is a marine veteran and a Purple Heart recipient who was last heard from on April 26th. At the time, he was fighting alongside Ukrainians where members of the foreign legion reportedly were exchanging gunfire with Russians.

OUTFRONT now, Don Turner, a friend of Grady Kurpasi. They met in Marines in 2006. They were deployed in Iraq together.

Thank you for your time tonight, Don.

DON TURNER, FRIEND OF GRADY KURPASI, U.S. MARINE VET MISSING IN UKRAINE: Yeah. Thank you for having me on. Appreciate your time.

HARLOW: Of course, obviously, incredibly difficult for you, for everyone who is so close to him. He has a wife, a teenage daughter. How are they doing?

TURNER: You know, they are holding up, they are being strong. Grady is a strong man who has strong character, and it goes into the family just the same that they are getting all the support that they could right now from friends and family, and they're holding it together.

HARLOW: You've known him for over 15 years, you've served with him. And, you know, I think -- I would love for you to address people who are wondering well, you know, Americans were told not to go and told not to fight.


Explain to them why he did, right? Because you have said you understand as someone who fought alongside him. TURNER: Yeah. So, I think it really goes back to the reason why Grady

joined the Marine Corps in 2001 after 9/11. You know, those attacks put a lot of unity inside of our country and patriotism that we hadn't seen in a long time, and probably have not seen since then in a lot of ways.

But I think a lot of us and my personal opinion is something I saw from the Ukrainians when the Russians initially invaded them was their intestinal fortitude to stand up and fight for their beliefs, their way of life, and their country, and that resonates within us. I know it resonates within me, and I feel it was the same thing with Grady. And, you know, he had not the intention to actually be combative, you know, but he wanted to help whichever way he could, and he found himself in the situation alongside with the legionnaires, trying to defend the position, or hold the position and report enemy movements so civilians could flee.

HARLOW: The State Department has classified Grady as missing in action but there are very few other details about what happened. I know the family has undertaken its own efforts to try to track him down and what is the latest that you're hearing?

TURNER: I mean, we have evidence of a cell phone that he used that was located out of Kherson, outside of a mall in that area where he's known to have held POWs at one point, that was early as June 9th. The State Department -- yes, they've only classified him as MIA. They've not really been too informative, but I don't feel like they are asking questions to the right people.

We can talk directly to the Russians and ask them anything. But one thing I do want to note and put out there is Andrew Hill, who is a British individual who is about to be going on trial was in the same position with Grady Kurpasi whenever Andrew Hill was taken. We've seen him in the media. We saw the state of his wounds, so we have hope that Grady could be in the same situation but why are we not getting answers?

HARLOW: The family deserves answers. All of you, of course, do.

Don Turner, thank you for taking the time tonight to talk to us.

TURNER: Thank you. I appreciate your time as well.

HARLOW: Of course.

Well, OUTFRONT next, a Russian priest risking it all in order to help Ukrainians who are fleeing Putin's unprovoked invasion.

And thousands of flights canceled is one of the nation's largest airlines pleads for help from the U.S. government. What can Washington do? Next.


HARLOW: Tonight, a priest in Russia risking everything, offering Ukrainians shelter and safe passage to the European Union. And what's even more remarkable is he does this with donations pouring in from other Russians.

Our Fred Pleitgen is OUTFRONT.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): The church, a single bare room in a former factory in St. Petersburg. But Reverend Grigory Mihknov-Vaytenko's tiny Parish is a humanitarian powerhouse.

He's helped scores of Ukrainians displaced by what Moscow calls at special military operation to the European Union.

REVEREND GRIGORY MIKHNOV-VAYTENKO, RUSSIAN PRIEST: There are thousands of people because every day, every day, a few hundred people go.

PLEITGEN: Most of the Ukrainians sheltering in this hostel in St. Petersburg are from Mariupol, a city almost completely destroyed by artillery, airstrikes and urban combat.

On March 9th, the city's maternity clinic was hit. An infamous incident that killed four people and wounded scores including Victoria, who lost her unborn baby.

"They did a caesarean operation, there was panic everywhere, but they said they have to save me," she says. "They saw the child had no more vital signs. They try to pull them out and reanimate him but the explosion hit me right in the belly and they could not save him."

A double tragedy as her husband, Vladimir, was also hit by shelling as he was trying to visit Victoria, killing a friend walking with him.

"I heard a loud ringing and I thought to myself I'm dead, too," he says. But I looked down my leg and my kneecap had been torn off. I crawled to a fence and screamed help, help.

Vladimir's leg, later, had to be amputated.

Thanks to Reverend Grigory and his network of volunteers, they made it to St. Petersburg, where, like so many, they stay free of charge at this hostel, waiting to leave Russia. Ukraine has accused Russia of targeting civilians in Mariupol, Russia denies those claims and, instead, blamed Ukraine.

Bogdan and his family also escaped, they live near the Mariupol drama theater, which was bombed in mid-March, reportedly killing hundreds, though the exact number remains unknown.

As his neighborhood was being flattened, Bogdan took his wife, his son, and his eight-month- old baby girl, Kira, and fled, ending up in southwestern Russia. Like everyone here, they want to get to the European Union.

Reverend Grigory says Russia does not prevent Ukrainians from leaving the country. But due to a lack of information, some end up in remote regions of this massive country.


MIKHNOV-VAYTENKO: They have no information. This is the main problem. They have no information on what they can do, and what it is possible to do, where they can go.

PLEITGEN: The cost of moving so many Ukrainians, some severely wounded to the E.U. are massive. Reverend Grigory relies on donations, mostly by Russian hospitals, companies, business people and ordinary citizens, some opposed to what Russia calls for special military operation but afraid to speak out.

Reverend Grigory left the Russian Orthodox Church in 2014. Its head, Patriarch Kirill, is a staunch ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and supporter of the special military operation.

MIKHNOV-VAYTENKO: For me, it was not possible to stay there, when they have a military church.

PLEITGEN: Reverend Grigory says he doesn't fear speaking openly about his opposition to Russia's actions in Ukraine, he only fears God. As he sees Victoria and Vladimir off, they've gotten to go to head to Germany where Vladimir is set to receive a prosthetic limb, a bit nervous, but also grateful for the chance to start a new life thanks to the help of Reverend Grigory and his band of supporters.


POPPY HARLOW, CNN HOST: What a remarkable person. I wonder, Fred, is the priest facing any backlash inside of Russia? Any backlash inside of Russia?

PLEITGEN: Hi there, Poppy.

Well, he certainly understands he has to be quite careful about the way he communicates and the way he operates as well. On the one hand, we just heard he's not afraid to say he's opposed to what Russia is doing in Ukraine but he certainly doesn't want to communicate that much, because in the end for him, it's about keeping all of this going, about helping as many Ukrainians as possible get out of the country. There are so many volunteers that he has in Russia, Russian people, a lot of which also feel bad about what's going on in Ukraine and they want to do their part to get donations but also logistical support.

You saw those two Russians driving the couple to the border. That's a several hours journey, just to make that happen. So, yes, he does communicate that he says he's against what's going on but at the same time, really has to be careful about what he does do it -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Well, thank you so much for that reporting. Fred Pleitgen, live for us tonight in Moscow.

OUTFRONT next, thousands of flights canceled, passenger stranded. What is going on with the mess at airports across the country? Plus, a 3,400-year-old city revealed after an extreme drought.



BURNETT: New tonight, one of the biggest airlines in the world sending out an SOS amid record cancellations and delays. The CEO of United Airlines telling our Richard Quest it needs government help for operations to get back to normal.



SCOTT KIRBY, UNITED AIRLINES CEO: Our focus in the next few years needs -- and months and years -- is to build a resilient system that can handle these increases in demand. It has some margin of error. Airlines can't do that alone. In fact, we almost need the governments more than we need ourselves to help.


BURNETT: It's quite a statement. And this comes amid an absolute mess at airports around the world, as you have probably noticed. Today alone, more than 15,000 flights were delayed around the world. Nearly 2,200 cancelled, one day after 2,700 flights were cancelled globally. And in the United States alone, more than 5,000 flights were cancelled between Thursday and Sunday.

OUTFRONT now, the anchor of "QUEST MEANS BUSINESS", Richard Quest.

Richard, you know the airlines inside and out. I mean, cancellation numbers like this are staggering. What is driving it?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN BUSINESS EDITOR-AT-LARGE: It's a confluence of events, which is not at all helpful to those who are stranded or in difficulties. Essentially, what has happened is that people have got back traveling faster than anybody thought was going to happen. So, that more travelers, more air, more requirement for air travel, the whole system did not gear up enough in time.

Now, I know that might sound extraordinary and we might be saying, well, how could they have not known two years ago they're going to need all these planes back. But it's a complicated business bringing planes that have been stuck in the desert. And they didn't bring one or two planes back. They brought hundreds, if not thousands back.

And then you had to bring staff back that you'd furloughed because of the way the schemes have worked, the furlough schemes. The net effect is the system now can't cope. It will.

It will. It will pick up speed. It will get better, probably not for this summer. Anybody who tells you that things are going to be better by mid-summer, don't buy or listen to them. It's going to be difficult throughout the summer because demand is so high and the infrastructure system is quaking.

HARLOW: I mean, it was stunning, frankly, to hear the United Airlines CEO just there saying we need the government almost more than ourselves. That's quite a statement. They need government help.

Can you explain to people what the government can actually do and how fast?

QUEST: Yes, we're not talking here about bailouts or anything like that. What he's talking about is the government doing its job, employing, getting the number of air traffic controllers back to full strength. It's down 50 percent, 60 percent.

Getting infrastructure projects done so that at airports like Newark, there aren't never mind terminal delays, just vast waiting times because of runways and the need for more expenditure, terminal aid, for example, which still needs to be renovated and completed.

Wherever you look in the airline industry, you're seeing the result either of a need of change of regulation. Let's just take, for example, the whole business over 5G transmitters near the end of runways.


Now, the whole industry came perilously close to basically saying we're going to have to reduce capacity because of these 5G transmitters. That's been sold for now. But you have an industry that now needs to be updated. The planes are updated. The safety is updated.

It's the rules, the regulations, the infrastructure, all the bits that make it work. It is beautifully safe, but it is not necessarily efficient. And that's what he's talking about when he talks about government.

HARLOW: So well-put. Richard Quest, thank you. Great interview. Appreciate it.

OUTFRONT next, remarkable images of a 3,400-year-old city that has been unearthed because of an extreme drought. Next.


BURNETT: Finally tonight, an amazing discovery, a 3,400-year-old city in Iraq revealed in a reservoir after extreme drought. Archaeologists had a field day digging up thousands of thousands-year-old ceramic artifacts.

The sunken city is believed to date back to the Bronze Age, and it was excavated earlier this year after water levels dropped, allowing it to the briefly see the light of day. It is now back underwater. Researchers continue to look for clues about who built the city.

Thanks so much for joining us tonight. Erin is back tomorrow.

"AC360" starts now.