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Ukrainians Celebrate Orthodox Easter in Midst of War; Secretaries of State and Defense Visit Ukrainian Leaders; John Berman's Marathon Journey Takes Detour. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired April 25, 2022 - 06:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to viewers here in the United States and all around the world. It is Monday, April 25. I'm John Berman with Brianna Keilar.

And we do have breaking news. We're just getting our first readout of the high-stakes visit by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to Kyiv. This was the first time high-level U.S. officials visited Ukraine since the Russian invasion.

The meeting with President Zelenskyy lasted 90 minutes. Major announcements include that the U.S. will send diplomats back to Ukraine for the first time since they were pulled out for safety just after Putin launched this war.

The president will nominate a new ambassador to Ukraine, Bridget Brink, who is the current ambassador to Slovakia. Also, decidedly different language from the secretaries about the future of the war.


LLOYD AUSTIN, DEFENSE SECRETARY: In terms of our -- their ability to win, the first step in winning is believing that you can win. And so they believe that we can win. We believe that we can win -- they can win if they have the right equipment, the right support. And we're going to do everything we can, continue to do everything we can to ensure that that gets there.

ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: We don't know how the rest of this war will unfold, but we do know that a sovereign, independent Ukraine will be around a lot longer than Vladimir Putin is on the scene.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BERMAN: Now notably, and I believe for the first time, a senior U.S. official said he wanted to diminish Russia's military power going forward so Russia can not do this again.


AUSTIN: We want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can't do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine. So it has already lost a lot of military capability and a lot of -- a lot of its troops, quite frankly. And we want to see them not have the capability to very quickly reproduce that capability.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Also breaking overnight, missile strikes in the Lviv region. This is in the West of Ukraine. Ukrainian officials say the Russian forces struck five railway station there in the West and also in the center of the country, all within an hour, and there are casualties that we are getting word of.

Meantime, Russian forces are bombarding the steel plant in Mariupol, the last holdout of Ukrainian forces, where hundreds of civilians are also sheltering.

According to the "New York Times," Ukrainian forces say they are willing to leave the factory and evacuate the city if there is a guarantee of safe passage for them and those trapped civilians.

And in Kherson, an ominous warning from a top Ukrainian military official, who says Russian forces are preparing an offensive strike formation. I spoke with the mayor there, and we're going to hear from him later this hour.

BERMAN: Let's begin with Matt Rivers live in Kyiv this morning. Matt, we're just learning the details of this high-stakes visit.

MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John, that was the big news out of Kyiv over the weekend with that meeting between the U.S. secretaries of state and defense and the president of Ukraine, with the country here saying that those heavy weapons are desperately needed, a welcome visit at a time when missiles keep falling across the country.


RIVERS (voice-over): Orthodox Easter Sunday in a country at war. A holiday defined by its celebration of life, this year shrouded by death.

ANDRII HALAVIN, PRIEST (through translator): Our people live in the time of war, under bombing and shelling, with tears, grief and sorrow. But we needed rays of hope.

RIVERS: Some of those rays are ways to fight back. At least if President Zelenskyy gets his way, telling reporters that getting more and more heavy weapons from the U.S. would be a top issue at a meeting he said was scheduled for Sunday with U.S. secretaries of state and defense, Antony Blinken and Lloyd Austin.

This, as Russian shells rained down across the country over the weekend, including in Odessa. Here, a video of what Ukraine called a Russian missile hitting an apartment building, killing eight, according to authorities, an infant and her mother among them. Inside that building, a camera captured the strike's horrific impact.

And in the town of Horenka, Northwest of Kyiv, there is utter destruction. Russian shells, shattered homes and lives. There is nothing left here but pain and an eerie silence.

(on camera): Ukraine is, of course, pushing for all these new weapons to try and avoid other towns ending up like this one. So, look here. This playground now, littered with bullet holes, the remnants of the Ukrainian fighting position to my left. And to my right, there's a sign of all the land mines that are now in this area.

It's going to be a long time before children can use this playground once again.

(voice-over): The secretaries of state and defense are not the only U.S. officials interested in the future of Ukraine. We met up with two members of the U.S. Congress, Representatives Tim Walberg and Victoria Spartz, who toured the damage. Spartz, the first Ukrainian-born member of Congress.

REP. VICTORIA SPARTZ (R-IN): Watching it breaks my heart. But they're actually living through hell. To see it, it's important. And it's important for us to share this with the American people.

RIVERS: Ukrainian officials told us they repelled the Russian drive toward Kyiv right here back in March, a powerful sign of resistance against an unwanted invader.


The two Republicans will head back to Washington soon with an urgent call to send whatever Ukraine needs, and fast.

REP. TIM WALBERG (R-MI): They're brave. They're committed. Just put something in their hand that matches the efforts here, and they could win it.


RIVERS: We're going to be watching very closely what the impact will be of these Russian missile strikes at train stations across the country. Will it have a negative impact on the ability to ship some of those heavy weapons agreed to by the United States, sent here to Ukraine to get to those front lines? That's the open question at this point, Brianna.

KEILAR: Certainly is, Matt. Thank you so much for that. Do appreciate your report.

I want to bring in CNN White House reporter Natasha Bertrand and Kylie Atwood, CNN national security correspondent.

This was a big visit, and there was a lot that that was said as you had Secretaries Austin and Blinken there. Let's start with something, Natasha, that Austin said, which is he wants to see Russia weakened. He said, "The U.S. wants to see Russia weakened to the degree it cannot do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine."

That's really bolder than we've heard.

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It is, and this is consistent, of course, with what they've been saying about wanting to provide Ukraine with the weaponry that it needs to defeat Russia decisively.

They are not in agreement with the U.K. prime minister, Boris Johnson, that Russia will necessarily or could even win this war. They say that the Ukrainians can win this as long as they have the equipment that they need. They can drive the Russians out as long as the West supports them sufficiently.

And so the announcements that we saw from Secretary Austin, from Blinken over -- during this trip to Kyiv yesterday really underscored that. Over $300 million in new security assistance to Ukraine alone, 700 million to Eastern Europe writ large in kind of new equipment, new assistance to allow them to have a heavier equipment that they need, those Howitzers. Seven more, Austin said, are being sent to the region as we speak.

And, you know, they're also going to start training them on NATO-type systems, heavier equipment that the Ukrainians have not necessarily been using before that the U.S. and the West were more reluctant to provide them training on, because they weren't necessarily sure which way this -- the conflict was going.

But now they really do seem to believe that, as this fight has shifted to the Donbas region, the Ukrainians, while the conflict is going to be different in its form, they do have a chance of defeating the Russians here; and that's exactly what the U.S. wants to see.

KEILAR: It's really interesting to hear this difference between American officials and not just once. I mean, we heard it from Ned Price. We heard it from Tony Blinken. We heard it from Lloyd Austin, compared to what Boris Johnson said about his assessment, Kylie.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes. An overwhelming sense of optimism, right, from Blinken and Austin on this visit.

And just to remind folks, what Boris Johnson said last week is that there was a real possibility that Russia could win this war. And what you heard both Blinken and Austin saying on this visit is that the United States believes that Ukraine can win. And Blinken said that the U.S. believes that Russia has already failed here.

Because what it initially set out to do, which was to overtake all of Ukraine, to undermine its independence, its sovereignty, they have failed to do. So their first priorities were clearly not able to come to fruition.

Now, Russia is still seeking to take a part of Ukraine, and that is going to be a real intense fight. But what the Biden administration wants to do here is make sure that Ukraine has everything in its capacity to succeed on the battlefield, and that is a key part of this visit, as Natasha was saying.

KEILAR: And Kylie, Blinken saying diplomats are going to return to Ukraine. It's important to note they had not from America.

ATWOOD: Yes, that's right. He said that diplomats are going to resume work in Ukraine, but they're not going to be restarting at the embassy in Kyiv, which they left when this war was about to break out in early February.

What these diplomats are going to be doing is taking day trips into Lviv. That's a city on the western side of the country.

The United States is known for being incredibly careful and risk- averse when it comes to sending its diplomats into place where it could be challenging for them. And obviously, there's a war in Ukraine. We've seen these missile strikes just this morning on the western side.

So the U.S. is going to resume this diplomatic presence, but they're not reopening their embassy like some other countries are doing. The U.K. doing that in Kyiv this week.

KEILAR: Yes. Lviv is, relatively speaking -- I emphasize relatively speaking -- a safer part of Ukraine, but it has had some missile strikes. And you have the Lviv city. You have Lviv Oblast, kind of like a larger region, just to make it clear to Americans who are watching.

But you saw these missile strikes in the Lviv Oblast as we saw secretaries Austin and Blinken had just potentially passed through. They went by rail, and this was on rail infrastructure. What kind of message does that send?

BERTRAND: It's clearly a warning shot, right? I mean, it can't be an accident that the same day that the -- two of the highest ranking U.S. officials visit the region, you see these missile strikes on railway stations and areas that we have not seen them recently. Right?


And so I think that the Russians are trying to send a message here about the fact that the United States is continuing to support the Ukrainians with this heavier weaponry and that they show no signs of backing down. Right?

But this is also why the Biden administration has been so kind of reluctant, I think, to send the president himself to the country. Right? And this is something that a senior State Department official did address in a briefing to reporters last night saying, Look, the president's presence in the region in the country, it just requires a massive security footprint.

It is much different than sending Blinken and Austin. And just in terms of the entourage, in terms of the security preparations.

And now we see, of course, that Russia has kind of widened the area of its targets in the country, it just doesn't seem like it's going to happen, even though the president has said repeatedly that he would like to go.

KEILAR: Yes. He has twice now, Putin, hit Lviv area when you have American officials there. He did it when President Biden was just over the border in Poland. He's done it again here. It's very important to keep an eye on.

Kylie and Natasha, thank you so much to both of you for your reporting.

BERMAN: All right. Joining me now CNN military analyst and retired Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton.

Cedric, I want to start with what Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said, if I can. Because when a defense secretary says a goal of the United States now is to weaken a super power, Russia, so that they can't do this again he is not just talking about Ukraine, he's talking about overall. That seems to me to be a significant statement going forward. What do you see there?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I believe that, as well, John, and when you look at the map of NATO, for example, and you see, you know, how big Russia is and we're not even showing all of Russia here. And you've got all of the NATO countries here. We're definitely setting up a situation, John, where we're going to have a border, maybe, like this going across this way.

And what that can mean is maybe the start of another cold war or maybe an effort to contain Russia in a way that allows the United States and its western allies probably to include Ukraine going forward.

So this is a game-changing way of describing what has happened. I think a lot of people have been there mentally within the Washington establishment. But now what we're seeing is an effort to really put that into records and to make this a kind of a reality for NATO policy, as well as obviously for U.S. policy.

BERMAN: Not just stop them but reduce them going forward. Let's talk about what's going on on the ground in the West right now. Obviously, the battle is in the Donbas region, the Eastern part of Ukraine.

And one of the things, Colonel, that we keep on hearing is that the Russians may be making some territorial gains there, taking over some towns. But we keep on hearing they're not achieving their strategic goals and may not.

Explain to me how that can be, they could be making territorial gains but not succeeding. LEIGHTON: That's right, John. So what they can be doing, for example,

is you'll see like in these areas right here, and I'll go into the detailed map of the Donbas just to illustrate the point, they can make gains right here.

They've been reported to have made some gains here, a few gains right here and in small places here. But they're making these gains, and everything else that was kind of staying stationary, that is not what the Russians want to do. They want to take Mariupol, they're not taking Mariupol.

They want to go into areas like in the South here. They want to go ahead and hit this area, right potentially go to Odessa. That is not happening at the moment. They are doing -- conducting operations around Mykolaiv and Kherson, of course, has been part of this before.

They have captured this area, but they're not moving any further forward. And so what this generally means, John, is they are in a static mode. They are not going forward. They're not doing the kinds of things that they need to do in order to actually take the offensive to the Ukrainians.

They have some huge losses that are coming up in the types of tallies that are put together by the Ukrainians and, in most cases, reflected also in Western intelligence.

When you lose over 21,000 personnel, 181 aircraft, and go through the tanks, almost 900 tanks, all of these different pieces here, this is an incredible price to pay for any military. And when you look at what has happened, you see that this is incredibly difficult for them to -- you know, to actually sustain.

So the Russians are going to make a huge effort here, but they're going to fail if they can't replenish this. And it looks like they're not being able to replenish this.

BERMAN: I'm glad you brought up Odessa at one point there. Odessa obviously here on the Black Sea coast. Cedric, you say don't sleep on Odessa. The Russians may really want this.

LEIGHTON: Yes. Yes. They may really want this. And the reason they would want this is this is the third largest city in Ukraine, and it is the largest port. This is where all the major seaborn traffic comes through. It came through here before the invasion and through Mariupol to a large extent.


Well, when you don't have Mariupol, you need Odessa. And the idea that the Ukrainians have is to control this area, because what they want to do is they want to prevent the Russian advance in this region, because if Odessa falls, Ukraine, in effect, becomes a landlocked country.

And if Ukraine becomes a landlocked country, that changes the economy of the country, it in essence, strangles it, potentially, because this is the fifth largest exporter of wheat in the world. And it is also a major exporter of other agricultural projects, as well as steel and other finished products.

So this is a major deal. Odessa needs to stay in Ukrainian hands if the Ukrainian economy is to remain viable.

BERMAN: Col. Cedric Leighton, as always, thank you so much.

LEIGHTON: You bet, John.

BERMAN: So Russian forces, you heard Cedric talking about it, poised perhaps to launch a new offensive down here in the Kherson region, where there is already heavy damage. We're going to hear from that city's mayor.

Plus, a new report explains why the U.S. has so far refused to sanction Vladimir Putin's girlfriend and the mother, allegedly, of his three -- or three of his children.

And one week ago at this time, I was getting ready to run the Boston Marathon. It didn't go as planned at all. I'll explain, next.



BERMAN: As many of you know, last week to raise money for charity, I ran the Boston Marathon. Or maybe I should say ran in the Boston Marathon or at. How about most of the Boston Marathon?

The fact is, I didn't finish. Now, when you run a Marathon -- and I've run four before -- pretty much the No. 1 goal is to finish. That's why you spend five months training and getting your body ready. You're not trying to win. You're trying to finish.

Well, I didn't win, and I didn't finish. And frankly, it does leave me feeling extremely unfulfilled. I'm not going to lie. It kind of sucks.

What doesn't suck is being alive. And there was a bit of time last Monday where I wasn't sure that was a given. This is what happened insofar as I remember it, though the most important parts I don't remember.

I was running a terrific race. I felt great. I wasn't on pace for a personal best or anything, but I was on the faster side for me and was actually smiling when running, which is very unusual for me.

I remember around mile 24, I started feeling fatigued, not overwhelmed but enough that I was doing the math in my head that I could run much, much more slowly and even walk some and still finish the race right around the time I wanted to. I really didn't have that much further to go.

So that was mile 24. And that's the last thing I remember about the race. Because the next thing I remember is waking up in an emergency room with maybe 12 or 15 people around me doing all kinds of things to me. They told me I had taken myself to the medical station at mile 25. You

can see it there on my watch. It stopped recording the run right then, there at the bottom. I can't believe that picture.

They told me the people in the tent put me in an ambulance to the emergency room at Beth Israel Hospital. Again, I have no idea how I got to the tent or who saw me there or who put me in the ambulance, but thank God they did.

In the ER, my body temperature was around 104, my blood pressure wicked low, and my heart rate very, very fast. They were pouring ice all over me, trying to bring my body temperature down.

The worst part was I was incredibly disoriented and confused. I knew my name, but not my address or phone number. I could remember my wife's name, but not her number. I could remember that she was waiting for me at the finish line, though, and I wasn't there. And I was never going to be there. And I had no way to reach her, and that broke my heart.

Not being in control of my head was terrifying. I could not put many thoughts together, but I could put enough together to know I was messed up and I knew that my brain is crucial to what I do, because clearly, I'm not going to get by on my athletic ability.

Now, ultimately, they were able to bring my body temperature down and stabilize everything that was running wild. And then, I'm not sure when, maybe an hour or so later, my wife was able to track me down by calling around to hospitals. That was everything I needed. And I am so profoundly sorry for what I put her through.

But she found me, and I started to get my wits about me, which is when I posted this photo to let people know what happened. At that point, I thought I'd spend a night in the hospital, just one night and be released; but it was not to be.

They tested my blood and determined I had something called rhabdomyolysis. Rhabdo for short, or as I like to call it, Rambo, because it makes me sound butch. Rhabdo can happen from heatstroke, which is apparently what I had. It basically means you have dead muscle tissue which decays into your system and can be a huge problem for your kidneys.

But once they spotted it, there was really no risk. I just needed to be on an IV until the levels went down far enough. I was hydrating an ungodly amount. I've more than made up for the 1.2 miles I did not run with trips to the bathroom.

But it worked. After three nights in the hospital, three nights, they let me out as long as I promised to drink my body weight in fluids for the next few days. There shouldn't be any lasting effects at all.

It goes without saying that I'm only here because of the amazing people at Beth Israel Hospital, whoever saw me in the medical tent, whoever helped me get there, if anyone did. Thank you so, so much. You all probably saved my life. I also want to thank everyone who reached out to me on social media,

email, text. I heard from almost everyone I've ever met in my entire life. Family, neighbors, friends from elementary school, high school, college, Republicans, Democrats, ABC and CNN. Since half the people I know are TV producers, most of you were offering to produce my treatment. I am so grateful.

Now, I don't want to be presumptuous, but I genuinely did feel loved. And even if you were faking, it made a huge difference.


I wanted to mention one text that deserves special recognition. It's from my college friend, Adam. After I posted my photo from the emergency room, he wrote to a -- he wrote to a group of us.

So what he's saying is he didn't finish. I think that means the charity gets nothing, right? So I laughed.

But, yes, he was partially right. All of this rambling explanation is to say I didn't finish. But not the charity part. One of the more annoying parts of all this, besides all of it, is that I never wanted the Marathon to be about me anyway. I was running as part of Team Beans, led by my colleague, Andrew Kaczynski, in memory of his daughter Francesca. Raising money for Dana Farber to treat and beat pediatric brain tumors and cancer.

Yes, team beans still gets the money, in fact, largely because of Andrew and his wife Rachel, Team Beans raised a ton of money. It makes it all worth it. You can give right now. Please do. The link is right there.

Team Beans is what is important here. Not me and my stupid missing mile.

On that final note, and in closing, I wanted to show you a gift that my hospital roommate's family gave me. He was a Marathoner in with the same thing I had. They gave me this bell, which people in the crowd ring when you get close to the end of the Marathon. It says, "One mile to go."

That about sums it up. That's a cosmic metaphor for my life at this point.

I'm sorry it was such a long, long explanation, but hopefully, we don't need to talk about this anymore or go running for a long, long while.

KEILAR: It is -- Thank you for explaining that, Berman, because I just learned so much about what happened myself. I just took for granted that you were going to run and run pretty fast and that you were going to finish. And, you know, all of it was for Team Beans.

And when I found out you were in the hospital, I was completely floored and incredibly worried, but also, I felt very confident in the care that you were getting. But every day that you stayed in longer than I thought you were, I just kept worrying what now? Is something else going to happen?

But I was so thrilled to learn when you got out of the hospital and, look, maybe you didn't even finish the last mile, but that was the best run of your life for such an important, important cause.

BERMAN: One mile to go. I'll always have this. I mean, I literally will always have the bell. And I will always have one mile to go at this point. I thank you so much.

Look, again, the scary part was the moment when my head wasn't working, which I think -- I think it is now. The next few days in the hospital were just frustrating, because I wanted to get out, I wanted to be here with you.

KEILAR: I know. You kept thinking you were going to be.


KEILAR: And we kept thinking you were, too, but we're glad, so glad that you are back this morning.

BERMAN: Thank you. Thank you, everybody. I mean it.

KEILAR: Your friends, man --

BERMAN: Right? Right?

KEILAR: Funny guys. Funny guys.

Can a football coach pray on the field at school? Why the question is going before the Supreme Court today.

BERMAN: Plus, in Georgia's gubernatorial race, the challenger, former Senator David Perdue, opened up the debate last night, talking about the election.