Anderson Cooper on Anchoring From Kiev: 'It's Tense'

"It's what I love about working at CNN, is the opportunity to be on the breaking wave of history," the CNN anchor tells THR.
Courtesy of CNN
Anderson Cooper in Kiev

"It's tense. There's a lot of concern and a lot of uncertainty," Anderson Cooper told The Hollywood Reporter on the phone Wednesday night from Kiev. The CNN anchor has been in Ukraine since Sunday, when he began anchoring Anderson Cooper 360 from the region while also providing updates across the CNN schedule.

Like all global conflicts in the era of instant video, this one has been unfolding in real time since November, when Ukrainian protestors hostile to the then-Russian-backed government took up residence in Kiev's Independence Square. The conflict took a bloody turn during the waning days of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russian President Vladimir Putin's $50 billion moment in the global spotlight. 

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"Vladimir Putin spent billions of dollars on the Olympics to promote Russia's vision for itself and how it wants to be perceived on the world stage," Cooper said. "And a lot of that has been eliminated in a matter of days."

Russian blockage of Ukrainian military facilities in the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea and images of dead and maimed protesters in Independence Square "has certainly nullified some of what [Putin] was trying to achieve with the Olympics," said Cooper.

According to Ukraine officials, 77 protesters were killed and nearly 600 wounded in the square on Feb. 18. In a report that aired Tuesday, Cooper gave viewers a tour of the square, which is now part memorial and part barracks, as protesters live in tents among the widening flower-festooned shrines while stockpiling bricks, tires and beer bottles (for Molotov cocktails) in anticipation of further clashes with pro-Russian forces.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Paris on Wednesday failed to broker a first face-to-face meeting between the Kremlin and the new Ukrainian leadership, and as Thursday unfolded in Kiev, which is seven hours ahead of New York, pro-Russian authorities in Crimea pressed ahead with plans to separate from Ukraine and become part of Russia.

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Field reports from war and conflict zones have become Cooper's signature at CNN and remain inextricably linked to the CNN brand even as the network is undergoing an overhaul under CNN Worldwide president Jeff Zucker. Cooper is among the few TV news anchors to travel to Ukraine. Fox News Channel's Shepard Smith is the other high-profile anchor in Ukraine; he's been there since Monday. And NBC News chief correspondent Richard Engel has been in the region off and on for several weeks.

"It's one of the great things about CNN," said Cooper. "They still believe in having people out in the field. They want to send people, no matter the costs, difficulties, logistical or security concerns. They want reporters on the front lines. It's what I love about working at CNN, is the opportunity to be on the breaking wave of history. It's an extraordinary thing to be here right now."

Cooper and a small team plan to remain in Ukraine indefinitely. But he admits that working around the clock – he's anchoring his show at 3 a.m. Ukraine time – has its limits: "You can maintain that [schedule] for about five days and then you usually need a good 12 hours to a day off."