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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Ukrainian Forces Now Fighting to Regain Territory; Interview with Ukrainian Parliament Member Maryan Zablotskyy about the Russian Invasion; Biden Travels to Europe for Global Summits on Russia; What Ukrainian Refugees Took with Them. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired March 23, 2022 - 05:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. It is Wednesday, March 23rd. It is 5:00 a.m. here in New York. I'm Laura Jarrett.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Christine Romans. John Berman is in Lviv, Ukraine -- John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to both of you. So east of here near Ukraine's capital the Pentagon says that Ukrainian forces are now on the offensive, trying to take back territory.

That's new video of an intense firefight that happened just a short time ago between Ukrainian and Russian troops near Kyiv. Ukraine's forces say they have made some headway north and west of the capital. Russian forces there still stalled with some suffering frostbite because they lack cold weather gear.

New satellite images show more fires and destruction across the besieged city of Mariupol to the south. A U.S. Defense official says Russia has begun firing from ships in the Sea of Azov.

Just a few hours from now President Bbiden heads to Brussels. He will depart the United States to meet with NATO leaders and we've now learned he will announce new sanctions there.

Let's begin, though, with the very latest here in Ukraine. I'm joined by CNN's Phil Black.

And Phil, we are seeing this clear effort by the Ukrainians to take the fight to the Russians.

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, John, yes. A real effort to regain territory that they have lost. We've seen that near the capital of Makariv, west of Kyiv, but also in the east of the country, Izium. And in the south, Kherson, Mykolaiv. This is according to the U.S. Department of Defense officials who described the Ukrainian fighters as agile, nimble, fighting very hard. And you get a real sense of that from some of that video that you just

saw which shows this intense firefight near the capital, just northeast of there, so the train station. A small band of Ukrainian defenders under fire, returning fire. One of them repeatedly standing out in the open firing a rocket propelled grenade into the distance.

But there is also evidence of what they're up against. The Russian war machine. We've got new video of a naval vessel on the Black Sea off the coast of Crimea firing a volley of cruise missiles at targets unknown but potentially across a very wide area based upon the range of those weapons.

And we should talk about Mariupol, that besieged city on the coast of the Sea of Azov. It is increasingly difficult to get a sense of what's happening there on a daily basis such as the siege. But satellite photos do show us that -- and they back up what we're hearing and that is the indiscriminate bombardment continues. There was more destruction and devastation every day. But what those images don't know is what's happening on the ground.

The suffering of the people who are hiding in those buildings and who are getting by with very little food and water. We also understand and have heard that some naval vessels off the Sea of Azov have also been joining that attack on Mariupol. And yes, U.S. Defense Department officials say that there's a group of about seven ships there who have joined that attack, who are firing on Mariupol as well.

So we're now about a month into this war and on one hand the Ukrainians are fighting back hard but it is still clearly a very mismatched fight. And the Russians are still desperate to try and build some momentum, to take some of their key military goals. This is not a position that many would have predicted that we would be in when all of this started -- John.

BERMAN: It is relentless what's happening in Mariupol. I was speaking to the deputy mayor there yesterday. I asked him, is there anything that gives you hope and he wouldn't or couldn't answer me.

BLACK: There's no reason for hope at this stage, John.

BERMAN: All right. Phil Black, thank you very much for that.

Want to bring in Maryan Zablotskyy, a member of the Ukrainian parliament. He joins us from somewhere in western Ukraine.

Thank you so much for being with us right now. There really are two stories happening in your country, in this country. Number one, in Kyiv, this effort to take the fight to the Russians. Ukrainian forces trying to retake territory at the same time civilians suffering so much. Where do you see things this morning?

MARYAN ZABLOTSKYY, MEMBER OF UKRAINE PARLIAMENT: Well, from a military standpoint, we are retaking this relatively small groups who often go out at night and these are basically 10 content groups. So there isn't a large-scale offensive per se, but just a lot of these groups working and having quite a significant defeat of the Russian forces. On several lines around Kyiv Russian forces have actually been pushed back several dozen kilometers away, and in some positions they are almost surrounded.


From humanitarian standpoint, we continue to hear more about Russian atrocities. We hear that from intercepted communications of Russian soldiers with their families, unfortunately the picture is much worse than the pictures of destroyed buildings. Russian soldiers are openly confessing to killing civilians, children, raping people, torturing people in very graphic manner. And there is growing anger amongst us for the crimes that they've committed.

BERMAN: Horrible situations for so many people trapped in some cases where they are. I know you have concern about food for people trapped in some of these cities inside Ukraine but also the global food chain at large.

ZABLOTSKYY: Of course. Ukraine exported around 80 percent of wheat and sunflowers that we always grew so Ukraine was feeding more than 200 million people. Ukraine was always a great exporting country. Apart from the food crisis which is happening due to war in Ukraine especially in the besieged cities, food prices around the world have skyrocketed to new record highs. So even in relating to U.S. consumers, inflation, I know it's already record high in the United States because Russia has blocked the export of grain from Ukraine, and they will still go higher.

And unfortunately around the world people will suffer greatly because Russia has implemented a sea blockade on Odessa even though it has not captured it. And unfortunately this year millions will lack food and would have (INAUDIBLE) with the Russians.

BERMAN: How are you and your family doing? Have you been able to stay relatively safe?

ZABLOTSKYY: We were, but I do travel to Kyiv from time to time. I'm a member of parliament so we have parliament sessions. We continue to adopt new legislation which benefits our country so currently in Ukraine due to war, we are implementing the most free taxation possible, so we are eliminating all taxes. On the inverse, so we eliminated the profit tax for all companies because in many cases businesses are implementing and giving a lot of things to the army.

On a personal level, my wife is with me and she drives almost every other day to purchase supplies for the army because it's relatively difficult to get them in a train. And we are fine. We are fighting and so do nearly all of Ukrainians.

BERMAN: Maryan Zablotskyy, member of the Ukrainian parliament. We wish you and your family the best. Thank you for being with us.

ZABLOTSKYY: Thank you.

BERMAN: You know, it is interesting where I am, Christine and Laura. This city still, Lviv, relatively quiet. People out getting coffee, shopping. In some ways it's hard to see the war going on here but then you're reminded when the air raid sirens go off. It's very real.

ROMANS: Absolutely. All right, John.

President Biden expected to announce a new round of sanctions today against Russia after he arrives in Belgium. The target? Members of Russia's parliament. The U.S. has already sanctioned some members of the Duma. The upcoming announcement will expand that list.


JAKE SULLIVAN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: One of the key elements of that announcement will focus not just on adding new sanctions but on ensuring that there is joint effort to crack down on evasion, on sanctions busting, on any attempt by any country to help Russia basically undermine, weaken or get around the sanctions.


ROMANS: President Biden is expected to announce those new sanctions on Thursday.

JARRETT: For more on this we're now joined by CNN national security analyst Shawn Turner.

Sean, nice to see you this morning. Appreciate you getting up bright and early with us. Let's start here with this trip to Europe. What do you think that the president needs to accomplish? What's the main objective?

SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, good morning. Thanks for having me this morning. I think the president has two objectives on this trip. The first deals with the sanctions that we just talked about. The president needs to make absolutely sure that those sanctions are particularly strong round of sanctions. We don't know all the details yet. But those sanctions need to be that get at Putin and those who are around him, those who influence him. But also that make those people feel the pain a little bit more.

As I've said previously, we've got to continue to squeeze Putin. We've got to continue to make sure that it's not just about the oligarchs, it's not just about him, but it's about all those around him who can put that pressure on him to cause him to change his behavior. But I think there's something else. And I think it's arguably more important.

You know, the president needs to have a bunch of official meetings on this trip but on the margins of those official meetings, I think the president needs to talk to our European leaders and European allies, about how we deal with Putin once the dust settles.


You know, and more importantly, how we deal with Putin if he decides to escalate this conflict through the use of chemical or nuclear weapons. Those are -- you know, Putin has shown us that that's a possibility and those are conversations that the administration needs to have it because they understand that we don't have a luxury of waiting until it happens in order to have those conversations. So those are going to be really important things.

ROMANS: Right.

TURNER: It'll be outside of the public view but important conversations to have.

ROMANS: Yes, is Putin cornered? Is Vladimir Putin cornered and how much more dangerous is he cornered? Because we know that this Russian offensive is taking longer than the Russian expected. We know that they have said, you know, Putin's spokesman has said that, you know, they haven't reached their aims, their goals, yet in Ukraine. How does that affect Vladimir Putin's strategy down the line?

TURNER: Well, you know, that's a really good point because as we enter what looks like to be -- looks to be some sort of stalemate here, Putin's patience is going to run thin. And as his patience runs thin, he's going to have to do something to break the will of your adversary to fight, and so this next phase of this conflict is something that, you know, we've sort of talked about on the margins.

But I think that our European leaders and allies and certainly the United States is concerned about what the next phase of this conflict looks like. Because for Putin, breaking that stalemate, the longer we talk about a stalemate, the longer we're talking about a failure for him, but breaking that stalemate is going to be key for him to be able to move forward, to figure out the next step here.

The problem is that we don't know exactly how Mr. Putin will do that. And the options he has available for him, look, you know, none of them are good for Ukraine. None of them are good for NATO or the international community. So this next phase is going to be key.

ROMANS: All right.

JARRETT: All right, Shawn Turner, CNN national security analyst, thanks so much, Sean. Nice to see you.

TURNER: Thanks. You too.

JARRETT: Up next, Ukrainian refugees forced to make split-second decisions with their lives on the line.

ROMANS: And breaking overnight, a deadly tornado strikes New Orleans.



BERMAN: More than 3.5 million Ukrainians have fled the country and many who had to leave their home had only moments to gather their most precious belongings. What do you take not knowing if you're ever going to return?

CNN's Salma Abdelaziz spoke to refugees, joins us now with these stories.

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: About a quarter of Ukraine's population have been forced to leave their homes. That's an astounding number. One in four forced to leave not knowing when they're going to come back. What is the thing you grab with you in that moment as you run? Take a look.


ABDELAZIZ (voice-over): Life changed in an instant for these families. Forced to flee their homes as Russian troops invaded. But what do you take with you as you run? What is your most precious possession?

For 11-year-old Viktoria, it's her beloved teddy bear. She's outgrown him but he's just the right size for her little sister.

(On-camera): It's for Valeria. This is her favorite toy is her bear.

(Voice-over): It was mine, and now it's hers, she tells me. When she's crying a lot, she cuddles him at night.

Tatiana packed as the sound of explosions grew closer and closer to her family's home in Kyiv.

(On-camera): What is the most precious thing you took?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is me and my father.

ABDELAZIZ (voice-over): When I was gathering my stuff I knew I needed to take this, she tells me. It's the only album with my dad's pictures in it. Her father died when she was 6 but pictures of his smile bring comfort. I knew the photo album would make me feel calmer.

Seven-year-old Milana rushes to grab her favorite things. It's easy to see why she loves it. Because there are animals in it and dogs and you can count. Here is 6, here is 4.

Denise was given just 10 minutes to leave his university dorm but he knew what to grab. My sunglasses. I adore them, he tells me. They make me look cool like Kurt Cobain.

(On-camera): Put on the sunglasses for me please. How do you feel now that you have the sunglasses on?

(Voice-over): It makes me feel like everything is going to be fine, he says, that we will win and I will walk on the streets of Kyiv under a peaceful sky again.

A dream shared by the many victims of this senseless war.


ABDELAZIZ: I think what's astounding was just how much hope there was despite how terrible the circumstances was. Each one of those families. I said, are you going to move further west? Are you going to cross the border to Poland? They said, no, we're going to stick it out. We're going to win. We believe we're going to win. We believe we're going to go home. And even a month into this war to still hold on to that optimism, especially those young children who now understand what it means when someone says you have to run, there's war.

BERMAN: What a lovely, heartbreaking piece. And I was just going to say, when you talked about what they're bringing the most important thing they bring with them is hope. And that's what they have to hold on to more than anything.

Salma Abdelaziz, thank you so much for that.

Laura, Christine, back to you.

ROMANS: What a great piece, especially, John, since we were just talking four weeks ago, right, we were talking to people on the streets of Kyiv and all over Ukraine who weren't convinced a war was coming. They were going about their daily lives and then to have to all of a sudden leave home, grab the important things and leave. Just -- thank you so much for that great piece.

JARRETT: Also breaking overnight, homes ripped from their foundations as a deadly tornado strikes New Orleans.


We have details for you next.


ROMANS: All right, breaking overnight. A large and deadly tornado ripping through parts of New Orleans.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There it is. You can see it. OK, folks. Get to your safe place.


ROMANS: Some homes were leveled. Others just ripped from the foundation. One person was killed in St. Bernard Parish. Thousands of people are without power now this morning.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As soon as we went in the bathroom we were watching it.


You know, the TV, the electricity started flicking. We went in the bathroom and you could hear it. I mean, it's just -- it's just like they say. It's just like a train.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri with us now. Where is this storm system headed at this point?

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: You know, it's pushing right along portions of the southeast here at this hour. The conditions improving dramatically over the next couple of hours. And then as we get afternoon heating, destabilize the atmosphere a little bit. Additional thunderstorms are possible but notice this, we're talking over 50 plus reports of tornadoes in the past 48 hours, 26 of which came down on Tuesday, 32 of them were on Monday.

And of course the severe weather threat now shifting right around portions of the panhandle of Florida. But as much of the activity remaining offshore as far as the thunderstorms are concerned. But right there, just west of Panama City around Destin, Rosemary Beach, Seacrest, Sea Sides, some of these areas. That's where we see the strongest storms in place right now. That's precisely where the tornado watches in place through 6:00 a.m. local time in this western area of the panhandle, in southern and southeastern Alabama.

But again the energy is going to shift in towards portions of the southeast to over the next few hours. And it's where the active weather stays in place for about 30 million Americans indicated in yellow. That's on a scale of one to five, that's a level two. Compared that to a level four that was in place at times in the past couple of days. So the severity threat drops off quite a bit here, large hail, damaging winds are the threat.

But a few isolated tornadoes certainly possible along those areas indicated there in yellow. But that energy eventually does produce some rain showers for you in New York City later this afternoon and later tonight. And into northern portions of New England there, Christine, could see some wintry weather as well in that area.

ROMANS: Pedram, thank you so much for that.

JARRETT: All right. World number one Ash Barty shocks the tennis world by retiring at the age of 25. Andy Scholes has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report."

Andy, what's she going to do? She's 25 years old.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: You know, apparently she's got a lot of other things on her mind and things she wants to accomplish in her life even at this early age, Laura. Ash Barty, you know, she became a legend in her native Australia less than two months ago, becoming the first Australian Open singles champion in 44 years but she took to social media last night to say good-bye to the sports she loves.


ASH BARTY, THREE-TIME MAJOR CHAMPION: I just know that I'm absolutely -- I am spent. I just know physically I have nothing more to give and that for me is success. I've given absolutely everything I can to this beautiful sport of tennis and I'm really happy with that. (END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHOLES: The 25-year-old also saying it was time for her to go out and take some other dreams. Barty quit tennis back in 2014 to play cricket but returned less than two years later. She steadily moved up the world rankings and finally reach number one shortly after winning the French Open in 2019. She followed it with a Wimbledon crown last year and capped it off with that triumph down under in January. Barty ended each of the last three years at number one. Now she's walking away.

All right, with baseball's opening day and the NBA playoffs just weeks away, New York City's pro sports teams are going to have to wait a little longer to find out if their unvaccinated players will be allowed to play at home. Mayor Eric Adams says he's still not ready to lift the workplace vaccine mandate.


MAYOR ERIC ADAMS (D), NEW YORK: Right now we're going to take some complaints, but when this is all said and done people are going to realize this is a thoughtful administration and we got it right. And so baseball, basketball, businesses, all of those things, they have to wait until that later comes.


SCHOLES: All right. In the NBA last night Hawks star Trae Young making his return to New York's Madison Square Garden for the first time since last year's playoffs. Knicks fans booed him every time he touched the ball in the game but Trae silencing the crowd with a fantastic performance. Made seven three-pointers including one late in the third quarter and Spike Lee shaking his head.

Then in the fourth quarter with the game in the balance, Trae crossing over Todd Gibson before knocking down a jumper. Trae finishing with 45 points and eight assists in Atlanta's 117-111 victory over the Knicks.

And I'll tell you what, guys, Trae Young in Madison Square Garden is one of the most fun things in the -- that we have in the NBA right now. It's always an event. And Trae right now definitely has the upper hand to all of those Knicks fans.

ROMANS: All right.

JARRETT: Thanks, Andy.

ROMANS: Andy, nice to see you.

SCHOLES: All right.

ROMANS: All right, just ahead President Biden is warning about cyberattacks from Russia. Just how big and dangerous a threat is this?