CNN anchor cries interviewing man who lost wife and children in Ukraine attack captured by NYT photographer

CNN anchor Erin Burnett broke down in tears live on air on Wednesday as she interviewed a man whose wife and two children were killed in an attack in Ukraine that was captured in a harrowing image by a New York Times photographer.

Serhiy Perebyinis’ wife Tetiana Perebyinis, 43, son Mykyta, 18, and daughter Alisa, 9, were all killed in a Russian mortar strike as they tried to flee across a bridge in their hometown of Irpin back on 6 March.

Anatoly Berezhnyi, a 26-year-old church volunteer who was helping the family evacuate, also died in the attack.

New York Times photographer Lynsey Addario witnessed their horrific deaths at the hands of Russian forces and captured heartbreaking images of the victims lying dead in the road.

The photo went viral online, becoming one of the most harrowing images of Russia’s brutal assault on Ukrainian civilians.

Mr Perebyinis spoke to Ms Burnett on Wednesday about how he found out about his family had died when he saw the photo on Twitter.

“I’m so deeply sorry for your unbearable loss. Have you been able to see Tetiana and your children from her? Have you been able to bury them?” Ms Burnett asked.

Mr Perebyinis told her through a translator that he had “managed to bury everyone”.

“I was driving for three days and I broke in there and managed to bury everyone. I even managed to take away a pet dog from there,” he said.

The grieving father shared his final memories of speaking to his wife, the night before they she and their children were killed.

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CNN’s Erin Burnett breaks down speaking to Serhiy Perebyinis about the deaths of his family


“The last conversation before her death, that was the day when there was already no water, electricity, gas, and we discussed — I spoke to her at 10pm, even though at that point there was no connectivity either,” he said.

“But I managed to get through and had a discussion about potential evacuation.”

Mr Perebyinis was in eastern Ukraine at the time, looking after his sick mother.

“At the last moment however, the convoy she was planning to travel with was shelled at and fired at. And then she came on foot to the bridge, trying to make an escape on foot,” he said.

Mr Perebyinis paid tribute to his “cheerful” wife who was the financial director of Silicon Valley company SE Rankings.

The couple had been married for 23 years and, in 2012, he said they had a second wedding in a church because “we wanted to make the marriage lawful in the skies above us”.

“She was a very cheerful person, she was the financial director of a large American company,” he continued.

“We spent lots of time together as a family.

“We loved bicycles, in winter we went skiing, and she loved very much planting flowers at her countryside cottage.”

Tetiana Perebyinis, 43, was killed in a Russian mortar strike with her two children

(SE Rankings)

Ms Burnett became visibly emotional and was forced to pause for a moment before she went on to ask about her children.

“Serhiy, as a parent, any person around the world can’t imagine your unbearable loss. Above all, losing your children…,” she said, putting her head down and trying to compose herself.

“Can you tell me about them?” she continued, her eyes brimming with tears and voice cracking with emotion.

Mr Perebyinis told her how he had been checking on his family’s safety by tracking their whereabouts on Google maps.

He said he knew something terrible had happened by the location on the app.

Alisa Perebyinis, 9, loved to dance, her father said

(Serhiy Perebyinis)

“We used to see each other with my wife on Google Maps, and that morning I noticed that there was unusual geolocation between Kyiv and their ping, and then 20 minutes later her phone moved to another location – to a hospital in Kyiv and I suspected something was wrong,” he said.

His worst fears were confirmed when he then saw reports on Twitter that there had been mortar shelling in the area and that a family had died.

“I saw a photo on Twitter and I recognized my children,” he said.

“Their things, their clothes, and I called my friends to say ‘the children are dead, their bodies are lying on the pavement’.

“And I said ‘could you help me find my wife?’”

Ms Burnett became increasingly emotional by her heartbreaking account and was seen wiping her eyes and face at one point, before asking the grieving father how he wanted his children to be remembered.

Mykyta Perebyinis was in his second year at university

(Serhiy Perebyinis)

“They were normal, cheerful children,” he said.

He paid tribute to Mykyta who was studying programming in his second year of university and wanted to go on to work in IT.

Little Alisa, who was nine, “liked dancing, painting” and studied English, he said.

Ms Burnett, by this point her eyes strewn with tears, thanked him for sharing his heartbreaking story.

“Serhiy, thank you so, so much for speaking with me and for sharing this, such deeply personal loss,” she said tearfully. “Thank you.”

The Independent has a proud history of campaigning for the rights of the most vulnerable, and we first ran our Refugees Welcome campaign during the war in Syria in 2015. Now, as we renew our campaign and launch this petition in the wake of the unfolding Ukrainian crisis, we are calling on the government to go further and faster to ensure help is delivered. To find out more about our Refugees Welcome campaign, click here. To sign the petition click here. If you would like to donate then please click here for our GoFundMe page.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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