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Laura Ballman is Interviewed about Russia Destroying Ukraine Culture; Daniil Nemirovskiy is Interviewed about his Escape; Americans Concerned about Inflation. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired April 12, 2022 - 06:30   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Kylie Atwood for us at the State Department.

Kylie, I also know you have news about Brittney Griner. You'll come back and give us that in a little bit. Thank you.

So, a former CIA officer is calling on President Biden to protect cultural sites that Russian forces are destroying.

Plus, Russian troops accused of using miners to spy on the Ukrainian military.

And the breaking news, new shelling, new Russian attacks in eastern Ukraine, but the weather may be getting in the Russians way.


BERMAN: So as Russia launches a new offensive in eastern Ukraine, we are seeing more and more examples of suffering among the Ukrainian people, mass graves, buildings in rubble, homes destroyed.


There is also what appears to be a concurrent Russian effort to obliterate Ukrainian culture. A former CIA operations officer writes, quote, not since Nazi Germany has a powerful European nation so blatantly targeted people's cultural objects for destruction.

Joining me now, Laura Ballman, she's a former CIA operations officer and former head of intelligence for the FBI's art crime team.

Laura, thank you so much for joining us.

This is important, particularly in this case, because what Vladimir Putin is trying to do is erase Ukraine, correct?


Russian destruction of cultural property is an intrinsic part of Vladimir Putin's effort to wipe Ukraine off the map, to erase its history, to delete its independent identity. BERMAN: And for Ukraine, its culture is foundational to its identity.

You go around Ukraine, I was just there a few weeks ago, the statues are of poets, of writers, they're not of military leaders, because the history of that country isn't a military one, it's a cultural one. So talk more about that.

BALLMAN: Exactly. What we're seeing right now there are, as of yesterday, approximately 200 significant cultural sites that have been absolutely destroyed or significantly damaged. And we're talking about museums, churches. And it should be noted that these are Ukrainian orthodox churches. The Russian orthodox churches are being spared.

There's artwork, antiquities, all sorts of artifacts. It would be like, from an American perspective, as if a hostile power toppled the Statue of Liberty, bombed the Lincoln Memorial. It goes to the core of who the Ukrainians are.

BERMAN: And, you know, you were talking about some of the targets here, churches that are, I mean, hundreds and hundreds of years old from the 1200 and 1300s. And as you noted, targeting the Ukrainian orthodox churches, not the Russian ones. So you get the sense of just how deliberate this is.


BERMAN: What are some of the more precious sites that have been targeted?

BELLMAN: Well, there is the Evanov (ph) Folk Museum, which is only about 50 miles north of Kyiv. There are -- there is the St. George's Church in the Donbas area. There is the Mariupol Drama Theater. And I can tell you, as a former CIA case officer and as someone who has worked in numerous war zones, what we're seeing are war crimes. Russia is a signatory to The Hague Convention which obliges belligerence to not only not attack cultural sites, but to protect them during times of war.

BERMAN: And, very quickly, what do you think the Biden administration should be doing about this?

BELLMAN: Well -- well, and, I'm -- sorry. I'm calling on the White House to assign a point person at the National Security Council who can serve to marshal all of these fabulous resources we have inside and outside the government around cultural property protection to, you know, go in the same direction, to work together, and to be a leader in this.

Remember, John, one of the ways that the west won the Cold War is by being on the right side of cultural issues. And now that we're facing a new Cold War, this time between democracy and authoritarianism, showing leadership and cultural issues and cultural protection is in our national interest. And it's going to help us win this new cold war.

BERMAN: Yes. So many of these churches were actually shut down by the Soviets during the Cold War, used as storage sites. I promise you, the Ukrainians will not let that happen again.


BERMAN: Laura Ballman, thank you so much for joining us this morning. Appreciate it.

BALLMAN: Thank you.

BERMAN: Next, the harrowing story of someone who survived the horrors inside Mariupol. Our next guest spent weeks trapped in a bomb shelter.

Plus, the breaking news this morning, Ukraine says the Russians are leaving behind unexploded mines, making the country one of the most contaminated in the world. Stand by for much more.



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: No one had heard from Daniil Nemirovskiy in days, and they feared the worst. But he finally surfaced after spending weeks in a bomb shelter. And he used his artwork to help him survive, sketching fellow Ukrainians who found themselves in the same, dark place. Daniil managed to get out with four of those sketches. I spoke to him about his ordeal in Mariupol earlier this morning.


KEILAR: Hi, Daniil. Thank you so much for talking with us this morning.

You were in Mariupol for four weeks before you were able to leave. Can you tell us, what was it like there?

DANIIL NEMIROVSKIY, TEACHER, MARIUPOL BRANCH NATIONAL ACADEMY OF FINE ARTS AND ARCHITECTURE (through translator): Well, I must say when the invasion began on the 24th of February, nobody in Mariupol understood how serious this was. And it was still possible to evacuate for about three days. But then as of the 1st of March, it wasn't possible to leave anymore because the Russian troops besieged the city very quickly, straight away. And first they switched off the internet and the phones. Then we lost water, electricity, heating.


And then gradually we lost everything else that we needed to live on. There was some humanitarian aid, but it was very -- it disappeared very quickly.

So, until the 23rd of March, when I left, there was -- there was nothing at all. Nothing to buy. No food stores. No pharmacies. No drugstores. Nothing. No cash machines. There was nothing that we could get.

KEILAR: Daniil, you left on foot. You walked out of Mariupol to save yourself. What was that journey like? NEMIROVSKIY: Yes, so about 21st, 22nd of March, it became intolerable

because our shelter and -- where we lived, this was near the meteorological (ph) plant which was a strategic facility. And it was under constant bombardment from the Russian troops. There was a woman called Emma, and she said, OK, I'm taking the children and the people from the nearby buildings and we're leaving. So, we all walked. So, we walked through the territory that was controlled by Ukrainian -- the Ukrainian government and it was relatively safe, but we did have to cross some neighborhoods where there were a lot of damaged buildings. Some buildings were missing stories. Some building were -- buildings had holes inside them or were burned from the inside. And I saw dead bodies wrapped in blankets where people tried to bury them.

So, we gradually reached the other side of the city, which was directly opposite to where we started from. And that's where I saw the most hostilities. So there were -- I saw Russian soldiers, Russian tanks with the letter z (ph) on them. Armor personnel carriers. And I saw a lot of buildings destroyed, nine-story buildings, 15 story buildings. And so this was the neighborhood 23. And that's the name of the neighborhood. And that's where the street fighting was going on. And that was different from where we were because where we were, we were under shelling or air bombardment, whereas in that area directly opposite, that -- that was a lot of street fighting and a lot of armored vehicles there.

KEILAR: How many Russian checkpoints did you have to go through to get out to safety? And what happened at those Russian check points? What did Russian forces do? And what did they say to you?

NEMIROVSKIY: So, when we left the first neighborhood, the Ukrainian- controlled neighborhood, and we crossed over to the Russian-controlled neighborhood, there was one check point. And then when we left the city limits there was another check point. And then we got on to the bus towards -- to Waladarski (ph), which is the current name of the town, it used to be called Nicolski (ph) when it was a Ukrainian city. Now it belongs to the Donetsk People's Republic, so it's called Waladarski (ph). And there were -- we had to cross two checkpoints there. So, I realized that we had to leave that area, I had to leave that area and get to Ukrainian territory as soon as I could.

Now, there were a lot of buses there that were heading towards Rostov (ph) and Russia. And I -- there were some busses that were marked heading for Zaporizhzhia, but for some reason they were not. They were -- they were heading toward Rostov. So, I eventually managed -- we managed to get on to a private -- we hire a private car that took us to Berdansk (ph). And there we had to cross four more checkpoints. And there were two of those checkpoints belong to the Donetsk People's Republic because I knew that because the people didn't hide their faces and they were not very well armed. And there were two more checkpoints in Berdansk itself that I knew belonged to the Russian forces because people there were masked and they were very well armed.

And those people checked me over. They checked my arms, my hands. They checked for signs of carrying weapons, signs of wearing a vest, a bullet proof vest. And back in the earlier checkpoints, they were also checking for tattoos and for signs of drug taking, like they were checking my veins because their propaganda says that the people who are fighting in the Azov (ph) battalion, that they're all drug addicts and they're all tattooed. So, they were checking for that.

They also asked me where I work. And when I said I was an artist, they said, OK, we need builders and artists, painters.


And so when I was in Berdansk, I finally found Ukrainian humanitarian buses that were taking us along the humanitarian corridor to Zaporizhzhia. And there were six more Russian checkpoints along that route. And they were mainly checking the telephones, checking the phone -- the photo gallery and the telephones, checking for any evidence that I had been fighting or somehow associated with this Azov (ph) battalion.

KEILAR: Daniil, we are so glad to be speaking to you. We are so glad that you are safe. And we appreciate you taking the time to tell us about your journey out of Mariupol. Thank you so much.

NEMIROVSKIY: Thank you very much. Glory to Ukraine. Glory to heroes.


KEILAR: A critic of the Kremlin taken into custody in Moscow just hours after an interview with CNN. You're going to hear from him.

Plus, new inflation data is set to be released today as the cost of everything keeps rising. How Americans are feeling about soaring prices, next.



BERMAN: Just a short time from now we will get fresh numbers on the state of inflation in America. And all signs are these numbers will be bad.

Joining us now, Harry Enten, CNN's senior data reporter.

Harry, it's interesting because when we talk about this economy, there are conflicting trends, good and bad.

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR DATA REPORTER: Yes, there are conflicting trends, good and bad. You know, one of those, you hit on inflation, and these are last month's number. These are as of February. Look at that, up 7.9 percent. That is the highest annual growth rate since 1982 on an annual inflation rate. But look at the unemployment rate, it's down to just 3.6 percent. That's the lowest pre-pandemic. So you basically have these conflicting signals. It's a, quote/unquote, interesting economy. One in which there is both bad signs but also some pretty good signs as well.

BERMAN: So, conflicting facts, conflicting data, but really no conflict on how Americans feel about it. ENTEN: Yes. So, you essentially ask Americans, is the economy good or

bad? Bad. Bad. Sixty-three percent say bad, just 31 percent say good. So, people are leaning more on inflation than on jobs.

But I'll also note on this bad, even only about 50 percent of Democrats say that the economy is pretty good or very good right now. So, this is basically a universal thing where independents and Republicans clearly think it's bad and Democrats are very lukewarm.

BERMAN: And that's even with the strong economic growth, very good unemployment numbers. When you ask Americans why is the economy bad?

ENTEN: Yes, so, you know, I think there's this idea from the White House, oh, people don't realize how good the job situation is and they're kind of being misled. It's a messaging problem. If only we had better messaging.

But why do people say the economy is bad among those who think it's bad? Eighty-six percent say inflation. Inflation, inflation, inflation is one of the reasons they think it's bad. Just 17 percent say unemployment. So I think people actually have a pretty good idea that the unemployment rate is low, it's just they're far more likely to lean on inflation. They see the cost of living, they see how much things are costing at the grocery store, they see how much fewer dollars they have to -- how much less money actually goes for them at this particular point. So, inflation, inflation, inflation.

BERMAN: Yes, they know how they feel and they know why they feel that way.


BERMAN: You have another measurement of how people feel about inflation relative to other issues.

ENTEN: Yes. The top problem facing the country in the United States at this particular point. So, this isn't just economy, right? This is Covid. This is crime. This is pretty much everything on the board. Seventeen percent in March of 2022 said that inflation was the top problem facing the United States. That is the highest, the highest Gallup has recorded since 1985. This is before I was born. This is how long ago this was.

So, again, inflation. People are understanding what the inflation rate is. It's not surprising inflation is the highest since '82. It's the highest problem since '85.

BERMAN: That's what I'm saying, it's roughly the same -- you know, the last time inflation was like this, roughly that same time period. And it's not uniquely an American issue. It's not only Americans that care about inflation.

ENTEN: You know, one of the things that I'm going to be very interested in the next few weeks is this France presidential runoff, right, between Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron, the incumbent president right now. And essentially before the election they asked, OK, is inflation in your top three issues for the French vote, in terms of determining your vote? Among all voters, it was 56 percent said it was in their top three issues. That was higher than any other issue. And Marine Le Pen supports, it was 63 percent, the clear majority. A little less among the Emmanuel Macron supporters at 50 percent. But the fact of the matter is, this is not just a U.S. problem. Inflation is a problem that is rippling across the entire globe and it's being seen in France. And that is one of the reasons Le Pen is competitive with Macron, which is truthfully crazy.

BERMAN: Yes, look, you know, when people are paying more, when people have less money to spend, they feel it. It matters to their preferences.

Harry Enten, thank you very much. Great to see you this morning.

ENTEN: Nice to see you.

BERMAN: NEW DAY continues right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KEILAR: Good morning to viewers in the United States and around the world. It is Tuesday, April 12th. I'm Brianna Keilar in Lviv, Ukraine, with John Berman in New York.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy calls it a new stage of terror against Ukraine as fears grow about Russia potentially resorting to chemical or biological warfare.

A Ukrainian military unit in the battered southern city of Mariupol is accusing Russian troops of already using a chemical weapon there. CNN cannot independently verify that claim, however.

But the head of the military in the Donetsk region tells CNN that three people who are being treated for a non-life-threatening illness after an attack, after something was dropped from a drone.