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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

CNN Reports: U.S. Medics Saving Lives In The War Zone; James Harden Chats With Michigan State Shooting Survivor; Russia's Economy Resilient Despite Unprecedented Sanctions. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired February 24, 2023 - 05:30   ET




CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: All right. It has been one year exactly since Russia invaded Ukraine leaving a trail of death and destruction through its cities and on the front lines.

CNN's Sam Kiley just visited a field hospital near Bakhmut riding along with American medics volunteering at the front.


SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Almost walking, this wounded Ukrainian soldier has an obvious injury. Arriving at a casualty evacuation point for the battle of Bakhmut American medics look for hidden trauma.

CHRIS WRIGHT, VOLUNTEER MEDIC, ROAD TO RELIEF: Tell him I'm going to roll him and I'm going to check his back. One, two, three. And Uleau (PH), when you get a chance give his legs a feel for me.

ULEAH: Sure.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can we back -- a shrapnel wound out here as well that looks minor.

WRIGHT: You want to go ahead and draw some (INAUDIBLE) for me?

KILEY (voice-over): Chris is from Houston, Texas. He's three kilometers -- less than two miles from Russian troops --

WRIGHT: Take his blood pressure for me.

KILEY (voice-over): -- and he's only 22.

Last year he took time out from his job to volunteer for Road to Relief. The charity relies on donations to fund and equip frontline ambulances and these teams are unpaid.

[05:35:00] ADAM MEYSING, AMBULANCE DRIVER: There's credit cards, and my -- and my mom, and a little bit of prior savings. So as long as you have enough money to scrape by and just buy, like, the basic goods things tend to be OK.

KILEY (voice-over): Hospital and medical staff are regularly targeted by Russia. This location is hidden in trees near Ukrainian artillery that's firing overhead on Russians just up the road.

WRIGHT: So it's just a -- yes, we need more medics, more trucks. It's just that the amount of injured is super high.

Does he have any allergies?

KILEY (on camera): Chris is saying privately that one of the reasons there is such a need for foreign volunteers to work as medics is that so many of the Ukrainians have been killed.

KILEY (voice-over): The team relies on a former software designer for translation.

KILEY (on camera): Is there anything about this that you can't handle?

ANNA KOVALCHUK, TRANSLATOR: All those deaths, I -- of course, they are incredibly hard. I don't know -- hard to take. Somehow you feel guilty about that.

KILEY (voice-over): It's a 20-minute run for the ambulance to a field hospital.

WRIGHT: Would you push this slowly for me, please?

A mine -- roughly, what was it? Twenty minutes ago, 30 minutes ago now? Yes, a mine 30 minutes ago.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Careful, please.

KILEY (voice-over): He's delivered to another secret clinic. Here the wounded pour in. A soldier has lost a leg. In his abandoned uniform the piece of shrapnel that took it.

Medics here say it's relatively quiet. Some days there are hundreds of patients.

WRIGHT: He doesn't remember losing -- if he lost consciousness or not. But pupils were equal and reactive -- normal -- the same size.

KILEY (voice-over): Blood-soaked stretchers dry in the sun outside. And sunset can be busy for medics. Soldiers trapped by fighting can be rescued as the light fades.

Back at the evacuation point no wounded. Five dead soldiers lie in body bags. They're so fresh from the battlefield they're unknown. Their I.D.s are checked and they're photographed. Their suffering is over. Their families don't yet know that theirs is about to begin. Sam Kiley, CNN, near Bakhmut.


ROMANS: Just awful.

All right, quick hits around the globe right now.

Three men have been arrested in Northern Ireland after the shooting of a high-profile detective near Belfast. Police believe the suspects could have ties to the new IRA.

Russia launching a Soyuz spacecraft to bring two cosmonauts and one U.S. astronaut back to Earth. A coolant leak on their return capsule stranded them on the International Space Station.

Eighteen presidential candidates making final pitches to Nigeria's 93 million registered voters ahead of Saturday's general election. Key issues include security, corruption, and the economy.

Just ahead, the secret retreat Ron DeSantis is holding right in Donald Trump's backyard.



ROMANS: Here is today's fast-forward lookahead.

President Biden will meet virtually today with G7 leaders and Ukrainian President Zelenskyy. They will coordinate the war effort on this one year since Russia's invasion.

Alex Murdaugh will face a second day of cross-examination. He has already admitted on the stand that he lied about not being at the scene before his wife and son's murder.

Ron DeSantis begins an invite-only weekend retreat in Palm Beach. The Florida governor is hosting donors as he inches toward a presidential run.

The Lakers cruise to a big win against the Warriors in their first game after the All-Star break.

Andy Scholes has this morning's Bleacher Report. Hey, Andy.


You know, LeBron calling this final stretch of the season the most important 23 games of his career as he tries to get the Lakers into the playoffs, and it's off to a good start. The Lakers were hosting the Warriors last night who are still without Steph Curry.

In the second quarter, Dennis Schroder is going to throw the alley-oop to LeBron who's going to throw it down. LeBron, though, actually had a really bad night shooting in this game. He went five for 20 from the field -- just the sixth time in his career he shot 25 percent or worse when taking 20 shots.

But he did save a camera in the fourth quarter. Look at this. He collides with the camera guy going for the loose ball and he grabs the camera from falling.

The Lakers would win this game easily 124-111. They're now a game and a half out of the Play-In Tournament.

All right, the 76ers, meanwhile, with a wild comeback against the Grizzlies. Philly was down 11 with under six to go. Joel Embiid coming up with the big block of Ja Morant right here. Look at that.

P.J. Tucker then, with 40 seconds to go, is going to get the ball over to Tobias Harris who hits a three to give Philly the lead. Moments later it's going to be a mad scramble for a loose ball. James Harden is going to come away with it right here and he's going to get it up to Embiid who takes it down the court for the emphatic slam. The crowd's going nuts.

The 76ers get the great comeback win 110-105.

We had a scary moment during yesterday's Europa League match when a fan ran onto the field and punched Sevilla FC goalkeeper Marko Dmitrovic. The six-foot-four goalie, though, turning the tables and pinned the fan down to the ground until security could take him into custody. Dmitrovic stayed in the game after that incident.

All right, and finally, one of the victims of the Michigan State campus shooting receiving a warm message from one of his favorite athletes yesterday -- 76ers star James Harden, who we just saw in that highlight. So a bullet severed John Hao's spinal cord leaving him paralyzed from the chest down. Harden donating to John's GoFundMe, sending him some game-worn sneakers, and he chatted with the 20-year- old from his hospital bed.


JAMES HARDEN, GUARD, PHILADELPHIA 76ERS: Everything will work itself out. You're strong.


HARDEN: You're all right. You're going to be all right. I promise you will -- all right?



HARDEN: And be sure -- I love -- I love when you're smiling, too.


HARDEN: I love when you smile, all right? I'm with you. I know it's tough right now but you've got to stay strong. You know what I mean? You've got to just think positive things and just keep pushing and keep fighting.


SCHOLES: Yes, Christine. John's been through such a tough time there but good to see at least a little bit of a smile on his face as he got to talk with James Harden there.

ROMANS: Pep talk from James Harden.

All right, nice to see you, Andy Scholes. Thanks.

SCHOLE: All right.

ROMANS: Next, Vladimir Putin's crucial lifeline from China's President Xi.


ROMANS: All right, your Romans' Numeral this morning, 50.6 billion. That's the dollar value of Russian crude oil that China bought from March to December -- 45 percent more than the year before. That cash -- that cash from China is a lifeline for Moscow, all but banished from the global economy by unprecedented Western sanctions against Putin's invasion of Ukraine. More on that in a moment.


But looking at Wall Street and markets right around the world right now on this Friday, you can see Asia closed mixed. Europe has opened mixed. And on Wall Street, stock index futures right now are leaning down a little bit. The S&P 500 broke a four-day losing streak to close higher.

There's new evidence the job market is still quite strong. And U.S. economic growth weakened slightly in the fourth quarter, but it was a still respectable 2.7 percent GDP growth to end the year.

Mortgage rates rose for the third-straight week. The average 30-year fixed coming in at 6 1/2 percent.

On inflation watch, gas prices holding steady at $3.39 a gallon.

And the big event today -- the Fed's preferred inflation gauge, called the PCE, is due out at 8:30 this morning.

So after a year of war, how effective have Western sanctions been on Russia's wartime economy?


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): The Russian economy has proved itself to be much more resilient than in years past. The government, the chambers of Parliament, the national bank, and so on.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Russian economy is now a backwater, isolated, and struggling. Putin thought Ukraine was weak and the West was divided.


ROMANS: Let's bring in Rana Foroohar, CNN global economic analyst. Rana, this morning on this grim anniversary here we know that since the invasion countries have placed more than 11,000 sanctions on Russia. More than 1,000 companies have exited the country.

Russia's economy has taken a hit but it has held up better I think than some of the predictions a year ago. What's happening?

RANA FOROOHAR, CNN GLOBAL ECONOMY ANALYST (via Webex by Cisco): Well, just as you say, Christine, it's all about oil. You know, Russian oil is being purchased by China. Basically, everything that the West isn't buying now the Chinese are buying. As you say, oil imports are up 45 percent. Overall imports from Russia to China of everything are up about 40 percent. So the slack has simply moved to Asia.

Now, that doesn't help you if you're a Russian consumer. Russian individuals are living day-by-day. The consumption in Russia is down 30 percent. Not easy to be a citizen living there right now. But the country overall can keep pumping, keep selling, and keeping fighting this war, quite frankly.

ROMANS: We know that Russia has a budget deficit of about $23.5 billion. We know that spending jumped 59 percent but revenue plunged 35 percent. I mean, these are unsustainable numbers for government coffers.

Does this matter to Putin?

FOROOHAR: That's a great question. I think the answer has to be no.

As you point out, Russia has run down its own financial coffers. It needs about $70 a barrel in oil price to make its budget. It's selling that for half right now. So, no, it's not sustainable.

But, you know, autocrats don't think a lot about normal economics. This is a political war. It's run by petrol politics.

It is interesting to me though that China -- even though it's buying a lot of Russian energy and in some ways helping to fuel the war, it's also coming in now and saying to Putin hey, we want to see an exit plan here. They're putting forward a plan for a ceasefire in Ukraine. The Chinese are starting to exert some diplomacy there. So I'm interested that perhaps they, as in some ways the economic funders of this war, are saying enough is enough.

ROMANS: Yes, you're talking about this position paper that China released overnight on the anniversary. These 12 points it would like to see without a road map of how to get there. But still, I guess --


ROMANS: -- at least the beginning of that.

So they could -- the Russian economy could actually grow this quarter. The IMF, one of the most optimistic --


ROMANS: -- on what's happening in Russia, thinks that they could actually have an economy that grows while the U.K., by the way, has a contraction. That's a split-screen that I wouldn't have anticipated last year.

FOROOHAR: Unbelieve in some ways. I mean, the U.K. is really suffering from just a terrible government, frankly, and the dominoes falling with their -- with their currency.

You know, it's really about liberal democracy versus autocracy, in some ways. If you're an autocrat in a country or a state you can keep funding whatever crazy policy you want to. And the U.K. sadly doesn't have oil. It has a dysfunctional government. Russia's is more dysfunctional.

I expect though, Christine, if the Chinese put their foot down and say look, we want to see a ceasefire -- we want to see some change here -- Putin will probably have to come around at some stage.

ROMANS: Well, yes.

FOROOHAR: I expect that there's going to be some kind of face-saving move though.


ROMANS: Yes. China is its big customer right now. It is its economic lifeline so that means that Chinese voice is amplified.

So nice to see you. Thank you, Rana Foroohar, CNN global economic analyst.

FOROOHAR: Thank you.

ROMANS: All right, one year since the start of Russia's invasion. Defense Sec. Lloyd Austin tells "CNN THIS MORNING" what to expect in the year ahead. That's next.


ROMANS: All right, Friday edition. Our top of the morning, the top songs streaming on Spotify.




ROMANS: Number one, PinkPantheress and Ice Spice with "Boy's A Liar."

Here's number two. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)



ROMANS: "Flowers" by Miley Cyrus.

And number three.