Erin Burnett: “Ukraine’s story will define the world we all live in”

Editor’s note: A version of this story originally appeared on ‘Inside CNN.’ Create a free CNN account to access this newsletter and more.


Oleksandr Urazov and his family escaped war-torn Ukraine thanks to their childhood friend Alex Velychko, who now lives in New York.

Shortly after their arrival, Urazov, his wife and their three children stayed at Velychko’s one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn, where Velychko and his wife have hosted 12 refugees at a time.

As part of the Champions For Change TV series, CNN’s Erin Burnett highlights Velychko and his two siblings who immigrated from Ukraine years ago and are now helping those fleeing the war.

Burnett has reported extensively on the war in Ukraine, which began in February when Russian forces invaded the country.

A few months ago, the Inside CNN newsletter team caught up with Burnett shortly after returning from a reporting trip to Ukraine. Below is an abridged version of that interview:

I met a couple whose son was killed in the war. Their house was in ruins, riddled with rockets and bullets. Their backyard was a series of holes dug by Russian troops, still filled with mattresses, sheets, and cigarettes stolen from them when they had been living there for over a month.

Vadim and Olga lost everything. The day I met them, their goat, which was pregnant before the invasion, gave birth to two kids. Olga held them, breathing in the scent, and murmured that it tasted like milk, honey, and eggs. He said, “We have new life.”

Olga lost her only son in this war and yet found joy in newborn goats. I asked Vadim what words he would use to describe his life now — he didn’t pause. Lucky, he said. Lucky, because in the nearby houses the Russians raped women and tortured people.

Lucky, he said, that God helped them. They felt lucky. And there I was, unable to comprehend their loss.

I learned from Vadim and Olga that sometimes, as much as a moment moves and affects you, you cannot understand it. I was speechless by their ability to take joy in their goats and bring them good luck.

I could only hear and see their experience.

From them I learned in a new way that it is something we humans can do for each other.

Vlad Demchenko, a Ukrainian soldier who leads a drone unit, returned with me to a town his unit had liberated. As we stood on a dirt road littered with the wreckage of a lost and destroyed life, Vlad said, “This is where I got my first patch with a Russian name” – that is, the first Russian involved in the killing. In fact, he says that 10 Russians were killed where we were.

Walking with him, I reached out to pick up something under his foot. It was a patch of Russian uniform covered in greasy ash. He stopped and cried out in surprise. He believed that the Ukrainian soldiers would take them as “souvenirs”.

Then he looked inward: “In fact, it’s very rare to see people die and when you say, ‘Yes!’ ”

He was very aware of how war takes away the soul. He continues to fight on the front lines of Ukraine. While he fights for independence, he also fights for specific parts of everyday life that make up a country: “There are many reasons to fight. We can talk about freedom, but in general these children have to go to school. That’s all.” He told them he fights so he never has to.

Since the early days of the war, when we saw Ukrainians lining up at ATMs to withdraw Ukrainian currency and men taking their families to the borders and returning only to fight, Ukrainians’ belief in their country and their mission to defend it has not changed. . (Editor’s note: Erin Burnett remains in touch with Vlad and provides regular updates from the front lines)

“Very strange feeling”: Ukrainian soldier describes killing Russian soldiers

One of my great passions in life is travel. It’s one of the reasons I always dreamed of working at CNN. I wanted to travel to find and tell stories. Maybe that started when my mother instructed me to keep journals on my childhood trips. Covid has curtailed travel for all of us recently, but I’ve been traveling the world for work and that’s a great gift.

Every story I’ve worked on has left a mark on me.

When I was in Egypt at the beginning of the Arab Spring, every street was protected by armed locals; there were shots in the air. There was unrest, and yet at first there was a triumphant celebration when the people got their country back. The possibility of that moment – even if it has not yet been realized – I will remember forever.

Children always change you as a journalist: We visited a women’s prison in Pakistan where women were serving life sentences for minor infractions. Their children were allowed to live with them until they turned 7, then they were taken away forever. In a refugee camp on the Mali border, where people were seeking refuge from Al Qaeda terrorists, I remember Mariam. His gaze is looking at me from the photo journal I kept of that reporting trip.

And when America faces the tragedy of Buffalo and Uvalde, I think of the sad and sickening parade of mass shootings: outside a casino in Las Vegas, outside a nightclub in Orlando, outside a school in Newtown, Connecticut, outside a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. . As journalists, I can’t believe we cover the same story over and over again and nothing changes.

yes Ukraine’s story will define the world we all live in.

I started in journalism for a simple reason: I quit jobs when they weren’t right for me. I thought I would end up in the CIA or as a lawyer, a lawyer. I considered business school.

But when I landed a job at a media startup within a larger company, I ended up having to do a few tasks: run the numbers, create marketing presentations, and conduct video interviews with CEOs and financial experts.

I realized that what I loved was asking questions. It wasn’t work! From there my path became clear. There were many ups and downs on the way to my dream job at CNN, but the truth is, I’m grateful for my job every day.