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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Hundred-Plus Civilians Evacuated from Besieged Azovstal Steel Plant in Mariupol; Pelosi Meets with Polish Leader After Surprise Trip to Ukraine; Experts Warn War on Ukraine May Spark Global Food Crisis. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired May 02, 2022 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CO-ANCHOR, EARLY START: Hi there, welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world, I'm Christine Romans.

LAURA JARRETT, CO-ANCHOR, EARLY START: And I'm Laura Jarrett. And we begin this morning with hopes to evacuate more civilians trapped by Russian forces inside that steel plant in southern Ukraine. Dozens who were sheltering inside the plant in Mariupol were finally brought to safety Sunday, but a Ukrainian commander inside says that Russians ships fired on the plant overnight, and so, it's unclear if more civilians will be able to leave today.

Right now, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is in Warsaw for meetings with the Polish president. Pelosi, fresh off a surprise visit to Kyiv where she became the highest-ranking U.S. official to meet with Ukraine's President Zelenskyy since the war began. CNN's Scott McLean is live inside Ukraine right now. Scott, good morning. What do we know about the on again, off again efforts to evacuate the hold outs in Mariupol? I know that you were following this all weekend.

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Laura, so they're giving us precious little information yesterday. And today, again, there's very little detail officials say they don't want to jeopardize the success of the operation which by the way is still ongoing.

A Ukrainian military commander who is inside the plant says that there are still 200 civilians including 20 children who need to come out. He also said that overnight, there was intense bombardment of the plant that began after those evacuations finished for the day especially for about a one hour period of time overnight.

So, as you mentioned, it's not clear what impact that's going to have on the success of the operation today. Now, the reason why so many people were able to get out yesterday is because of what President Zelenskyy calls a real ceasefire, a real ceasefire for the first time. There had obviously been concern from the Ukrainian side about what direction these evacuees would actually go in once they managed to get out, because we know that a lot of people from Mariupol had been pushed into Russian-held territory. But in this case, it actually appears that they were given the choice.

Russian state media says that about 80 people were taken to Russian- held territory, about a 100 towards Zaporizhzhia in Ukrainian-held territory. And one woman, when she arrived in Russian-held territory described the intensity of the bombing, saying that the bunker that they were sheltering in, it was difficult to breathe down there, but because of the intensity of the bombing, they didn't even want to stick their noses outside to get a bit of fresh air.

That is how intense that it was. She also seemed quite excited about not having to use a bucket and a flashlight to go to the bathroom. You can imagine what the conditions were like there for more than two months. Now, that commander inside also said that there are some 500 wounded soldiers there as well. That they would also very much like to get out. But the Russian foreign minister said in an interview just recently that, that seems pretty unlikely.

He says that Kyiv, and specifically President Zelenskyy continued to push this idea because he claims that there are foreign mercenaries amongst the fighters. Now, there's no evidence that, that's true, but also, it's difficult to know for certain. As the rest -- as for the rest of the other soldiers that remain, well, I interviewed one of them last week, and they say they will not leave without a weapon in their hands. Failing that, they say that they will fight until the end. Laura?

JARRETT: All right, Scott, thank you so much for your reporting.

ROMANS: All right, as we told you, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi meeting right now with Poland's leader in Warsaw. She led that congressional delegation on a surprise visit to Kyiv over the weekend, making her the highest ranking U.S. official to meet with Ukraine's President Zelenskyy since this war began. Want to bring in CNN's Nic Robertson in London for us.

Nic, the speaker of the house, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi vowing the U.S. would support Ukraine, in her words, until the fight is done. What's the reaction to her visit?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Very positive. She was awarded the Order of Princess Olga, which is a tribute the Ukrainians said to her efforts -- her efforts, Nancy Pelosi's efforts to build and strengthen Ukrainian-U.S. relations. President Zelenskyy said that her visit was important because it not only signaled the U.S.' leadership in the fight -- in the war against Russia, but also the very strong signal over congressional support as well.

The -- what he described, bicameral, bipartisan support of Congress. The ambassador -- the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States made also perhaps a slightly more politically pointed response as well.


You know, Zelenskyy had spoken about the need for more weapons. They're very much appreciating the U.S. military and financial support. But it was the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States who said we look forward to Congress passing that supplemental funding bill, the $33 billion supplemental funding bill that will go through Congress that President Biden has pushed forward.

So, yes, her visit seems to have been a success, winning praise, winning respect, and that order. We're not aware of that high order, Ukrainian order --

ROMANS: Right --

ROBERTSON: Being offered and bestowed on any other visitor, recently.

ROMANS: All right, Nic for us, thank you, in London. Thanks.

JARRETT: OK, let's bring in Shawn Turner; CNN national security analyst and former director of Communication for the U.S. National Intelligence Service. Sir, so nice to see you again. Talk to me about this visit from Pelosi. How important of a signal does this send to Ukraine about the support from the U.S.? Is this more than just optics?

SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It absolutely is more than that, just optics. I don't think we can under estimate the significance of this trip. You know, it sends a strong message there, we understand that the best way to deal with a bully is to show the bully that you're not afraid of them. And I think that, that's what we're doing by sending someone of Pelosi's level there.

I think it's also important to point out that, it's not just about Speaker Pelosi's visit. You look at the last several weeks, we had a number of high-profile visits, both from the Secretary of State, from the Secretary of Defense, we had the U.N. Secretary-General there, and it's all designed to send a clear message to Putin that the international community and the United States is going to stands with Ukraine.

You know, and also suggest that despite the highly irrational nature of everything we've seen of Putin's behavior, he's still being calculating. You know, he understands that these visits are happening, but these high-level individuals are being able to have safe passage. So, Putin is still in this fight and he's still making decisions that are really key, but these visits are extremely important for the Ukrainian people.

ROMANS: Yes, the show of force, the western unity that it shows, you know, Europe and U.S. unity behind Ukraine incredibly important. And you know, Putin and the Kremlin and Russian state media, they've been discussing this war as a war against the West and western ideas, not just Ukraine, but NATO and the West. And originally, Putin justified this war as a way to de-Nazify Ukraine, and to neuter evil Ukrainian leadership. Is there a change in Putin's, I guess, calculation or what he says he's fighting against here now?

TURNER: You know, I think we're seeing Putin redefine success in real time. You know, early on, he embarked on a campaign of misinformation and disinformation in order to set the stage for this invasion. And to be quite candid and surprisingly, to a lot of people in the national security space, a lot of my former colleagues, he didn't -- they didn't do a very good job of setting the space with this information.

And so, we're seeing him adjust. At the same time that he was pulling troops back and making a decision to focus on the Donbas region, go after Luhansk and Donetsk, the port of Mariupol. We began to see a sort of falling off of the rationale behind -- or talking about the rationale behind this war. And so, yes, I do think that, that he's making adjustments. I don't think that it means we'll see any less mis or disinformation, but I do think the nature of that disinformation will change.

And we can probably, as many people have said, look for some announcement that suggests that he's redefined success and achieved success sometime before May 9th.

JARRETT: Congressman Kinzinger has introduced an authorization for use of military force -- the force resolution that if passed would allow the president to use U.S. forces to defend Ukraine if Russia should use chemical, biological nuclear weapons, actually to take it that far. What do you make of him introducing that resolution? Do you think that, that sort of signals where at least lawmakers think this thing is headed?

TURNER: You know, I think it would. What it says is that lawmakers like so many of us in national security space, believe that the United States should very clearly draw that line in the sand and send a strong message to Putin that, the use of chemical or biological weapons or nuclear weapons is a line too far, the crossing of the line goes too far.

I don't know that the authorization for the use of military force is necessary at this point, it may be a bit premature. But I do think that it is in line with the idea that the United States and the international community needs to take a strong stand on this. And it just -- it can't be ambiguous. It needs to be clear, it needs to be precise, and Putin needs to understand that if he should go there, then we will respond decisively as an international community.


ROMANS: All right, Shawn Turner; CNN national security analyst, nice to see you this morning. Thanks for getting up for us.

TURNER: Nice to be here --

JARRETT: Hey, Shawn. Just ahead for you, anguish for the family of a Ukrainian soldier now dead after his capture by Russian forces.

ROMANS: Plus, how a chain reaction from Russia's war could lead to a global food crisis.

JARRETT: But first, lady Jill Biden just announcing a trip overseas where she's headed, and why?


JARRETT: Welcome back. Russian propaganda videos encourage Ukrainian troops to surrender and vow to treat them humanely if they do. But CNN's Matt Rivers has the story on one Ukrainian soldier whose death raises questions about whether Russia is keeping those promises.



MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Russian propaganda with a clear message to the last remaining defenders of Mariupol.


RIVERS: The video says, "we guarantee that we will save your lives, we will follow international laws to guarantee humane treatment. Such will be the case", says the voice-over, with this man, a captured Ukrainian soldier Dan Zvonyk. The 25-year-old member of Ukraine's territorial defense force was captured at the Azovstal Steel complex, the last remaining pocket of resistance in the city. CNN has geo- located the building behind them to an area just northwest of the plant.

A Russian soldier detailing how they'll be treated. "As you are captured", he says, "we will treat you with honor and with understanding." These videos were published on April 20th. Five days later, Zvonyk was dead. This picture of his face hauntingly lifeless was sent to his mother by officials in Russian-held Donetsk, she told us. We redialed the numbers and were hung up on once we're identified as journalists.

To confirm who he was, they also sent a picture of his chest with a tattoo on the body clearly matching the one seen on Dan Zvonyk when he was still alive in Russian propaganda videos.

(on camera): When you first saw that message, what went through your mind?

ANNA ZVONYK, MOTHER OF KILLED UKRAINIAN POW (through translator): Nothing. I just screamed. There was nothing. No thoughts.

RIVERS (voice-over): We met his mother near where she is staying in Kyiv. She fled Mariupol herself just two weeks ago alongside the rest of her family. Her sister-in-law also reeling from the photo of her nephew.

LUDMILA ZAGURSKA, AUNT OF KILLED UKRAINIAN POW: I still have the photograph in front of my eyes. It's constantly in front of my eyes.

RIVERS: The Morgan(ph) Donetsk confirmed to CNN Zvonyk was dead and that his body was picked up on Sunday. CNN can't confirm how he died, but we know he died after being taken into custody either by Russian or Russian-backed separatist forces.

(on camera): Do you think that the Russians killed your son?

ZVONYK: Yes, I'm sure. RIVERS (voice-over): Russia's Ministry of Defense did not return a

request for comment about how Zvonyk died. For weeks, CNN has heard directly from soldiers inside the steel plant complex who have told us they will not surrender to the Russians for fear of being executed. Within their ranks, Zvonyk death only hardened that sentiment.

(on camera): Does what happened to him only reinforce the notion that the soldiers that are there are not going to surrender to the Russians?

GEORGE KUPARASHVLLI, DEPUTY COMMANDER, AZOV REGIMENT: Matt, don't you think it confirms their fear, and actually expectations, what Russia did today? This is a -- this is a war crime.

RIVERS (voice-over): We asked Zvonyk's mother, Anna, if she is angry with the Russians. Her answer, honest and gutting.

ZVONYK: For now, I only feel innermost pain, pain and emptiness. But that's it.

RIVERS: Matt Rivers, CNN, Kyiv.


ROMANS: Just a heartbreaking story. Thank you, Matt. All right, emotional moments on stage at the Country Music Hall of Fame as Ashley and Wynonna Judd honor and remember their mother, Naomi after her sudden death.

JARRETT: First, how Russia's war could affect the food on your family's table here at home, next



ROMANS: Growing alarm this morning that Russia's war will spark a global food crisis, raising prices for staples around the world and hurting the neediest the most. Ukraine is the world's biggest exporter of sunflower oil, a major exporter of wheat, pig iron, corn, maize and barley. It is now limiting many exports as are Russia, Indonesia and Turkey to secure food and other commodities for their own people.

Experts say this kind of protectionism, plus the loss of Ukraine's production, sanctions on Russian exports and a pandemic-related supply chain hang over, all of it could spark devastating food shortages worldwide.


DAVID BEASLEY, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, U.N. WORLD FOOD PROGRAM: Ukraine is the bread basket of the world. They grow enough food to feed 400 million people. Well, that's gone. You're already seeing fuel pricing spike, food pricing spike, cost of shipping spiking. It's already creating havoc for the poorest of the poor around the world. But this is going to affect not just the poorest of the poor, it's going to affect everybody.


ROMANS: World Food Program Chief, David Beasley says world leaders must come together somehow to keep Ukraine's sea ports open, so it can continue to export at least some of its production to the world. Some farmers getting back into their fields are finding their fields have been lined with mines which will make it difficult to get into those fields to harvest and to plant throughout the Spring, soybean and corn crops.

So, this is something that is going to have reverberations for months and months if not years ahead here.

JARRETT: Yes, the ripple effect is just so --

ROMANS: Yes --

JARRETT: Significant. Well, up next for you, America's first lady about to get a firsthand look at the refugee crisis caused by Russia's war.

ROMANS: And the actress Amber Heard shakes up her team as she gets ready to testify against Johnny Depp.



ROMANS: First lady Jill Biden will travel to Romania and Slovakia this week in a show of support for Ukrainian refugees there who have been forced to flee Russia's invasion. She will also be meeting U.S. troops stationed overseas and top level officials in both of those countries.

I want to bring in Vladislav Davidzon; he is the Atlantic Council Fellow, and the author of the book "From Odessa with Love". And he joins us again this morning from Romania. So nice to see you again, thanks for joining us. You were just able to get your father-in-law out of Ukraine into Romania. Tell me about that experience.

VLADISLAV DAVIDZON, FELLOW, ATLANTIC COUNCIL: Thank you for having me. Good morning. Experience was, in a word, exhausting. We were 16 hours on the road. He is an old man.