Ukraine war anniversary, Cocaine Bear hits theaters: 5 Things podcast

On today’s episode of the 5 Things podcast: One year of war in Ukraine

USA TODAY World Affairs Correspondent Kim Hjelmgaard reports from Ukraine on the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion. Plus, Alex Murdaugh faced cross examination in his double murder trial on Thursday, Harvey Weinstein has been sentenced to more time in prison for rape and sexual assault, Southern California braces for a blizzard, and ‘Cocaine Bear’ hits theaters.

Podcasts: True crime, in-depth interviews and more USA TODAY podcasts right here.

Hit play on the player above to hear the podcast and follow along with the transcript below. This transcript was automatically generated, and then edited for clarity in its current form. There may be some differences between the audio and the text.

Taylor Wilson:

Good morning. I’m Taylor Wilson and this is 5 Things you need to know Friday, the 24th of February 2023. Today, one year of war in Ukraine. Plus, the latest from the trial of Alex Murdaugh, and blizzards in Southern California.

It’s been one year since Russia invaded Ukraine. Ahead of the dark anniversary, USA TODAY World Affairs Correspondent Kim Hjelmgaard has been reporting on the ground in Kyiv and on the war’s front lines. I spoke with him to get a better sense of how Ukraine is coping after a year of violence and disruption. Kim, welcome to 5 Things.

Kim Hjelmgaard:

Thanks very much, glad to be here.

Taylor Wilson:

So it’s been one year of war in Ukraine. Kim, I wonder if you could just paint the picture of what your experience reporting there has been like this month.

Kim Hjelmgaard:

It’s strangely mixed. Ukraine’s a huge country, but if we take the capital, Kyiv, compared to when I was there this past summer, it actually felt pleasantly calm. The restaurants are open, bars are open, there’s still a curfew, so you’ve got to be in between 11:00 PM at night and I think it’s 4:00 AM or 5:00 AM in the morning. There are still air-raid sirens that go off periodically, three, four times, sometimes five times a day. A lot of people ignore them, and Ukraine’s air defenses are working 24/7 to shoot these things down, whether they’re drones or whether they’re missiles. They get most of them I think, most of the time, but there are some that still make it through. People are still dying from these things, buildings still being damaged. But just in terms of the general atmosphere in the capital, things are running. There’s electricity, people obviously have generators in case things get taken out by these missiles because just Russia has been fighting an energy war against Ukraine as well.

I think that with this anniversary approaching, Ukrainians are both thinking about it and ignoring it. It’s meaningful and meaningless, but they’re also confused about where this war will go. There’s great confidence and insistence by Ukrainian officials and government and everyone in the military, and I think also civilians, that they are going to win this war. I think that is partially a confidence trick that they need to talk in those terms to keep themselves motivated.

Taylor Wilson:

We all have been hearing reporting about this expected Russian offensive coming over the past few weeks and months. What’s the latest on that?

Kim Hjelmgaard:

This idea that Russia is going to mount some new large-scale offensive against Ukraine was something we’re hearing a lot. Ukrainian officials were saying they were preparing for it and that they need more weapons to deal with it, I think partially that was a political optics game thinking that was their best strategy to apply pressure to the US and other allies to get these tanks that they’ve just heard that they’re going to get to Ukraine quicker to apply more pressure for the fighter jets they want to defend the skies above Ukraine, and also potentially to attack into Russia itself, or at least Russian-occupied territories. But as we’ve been waiting and watching for this offensive, it hasn’t really materialized. And bear in mind, the front line is a 600-mile front line, lots of different towns and villages and scenarios. It’s not a monolith, so it looks different in different places.

Taylor Wilson:

Kim, a lot of the conversation in the US has centered on the aid that the United States is sending to Ukraine, be it money, be it weapons. What are Ukrainians saying about this kind of aid, and the difference, or the lack thereof, that it’s making in the war?

Kim Hjelmgaard:

I’d say Ukrainians are, particularly to Americans, extremely grateful. A lot of these weapons, as it’s been described to me, are lifelines for them, and have been for this past year. And that particularly some of the bigger weapon systems, like in my story, I went and looked at a big artillery weapon called a howitzer, which is a long-range that has been around for a long time. I mean, the military, they’ve been fighting with this thing through several world wars, but they’ve just gotten smarter and smarter, and now they’re GPS-guided. And apparently, the consensus seems to be that the American ones are some of the best. And when these things arrived, it really changed the trajectory of the war for the Ukrainians, according to the military commanders that I spoke to. And there are many different types of weapons, US weapons in Ukraine, I mean, not just the big stuff. There’s what they call kamikaze drones, there’s armored vehicles, there’s satellite imagery, antenna, there’s everything you can imagine. I think the view is that without these weapons, they’d be in a substantially worse place at this point in time.

Taylor Wilson:

All right, Kim Hjelmgaard covers world news for USA TODAY, joining us from Kyiv. Thank you so much, Kim, for all the info. Really appreciate you.

Kim Hjelmgaard:

Thanks for having me.

Taylor Wilson:

Be sure to stay tuned to this podcast feed later today when we release a special edition of 5 Things on the war in Ukraine. You can find it right here at 1:00 PM Eastern, 10:00 AM Pacific.

Disbarred South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh testified at his double murder trial yesterday. The 54-year-old is charged in connection with the 2021 shootings of his wife Maggie and son Paul. He’s pleaded not guilty, and in court yesterday denied killing them, but admitted to lying to investigators.

Defense Attorney Jim Griffin:

Did you lie to SLED Agent Owen and Deputy Laura Rutland on the night of June 7th, and told them that you stayed at the house after dinner?

Alex Murdaugh:

I did lie to them. I wasn’t thinking clearly.

Taylor Wilson:

Prosecutors alleged that Murdaugh killed his wife and son to gain sympathy and by time to cover up his financial crimes that were about to be discovered. He admitted to stealing client funds, but Murdaugh testified that a confrontation with the former CFO of his law firm on the same day of the murders wasn’t a big concern. Murdaugh said he got into financial trouble due to an opioid addiction, and that before entering detox, he asked a friend to kill him. Police said he did that so his surviving son would get a multi-million dollar life insurance policy. As you can tell, there are lots of layers to this story and trial. For more, click the link in today’s show notes. Cross-examination will continue today.

Harvey Weinstein was sentenced to an additional 16 years in prison in his Los Angeles criminal trial yesterday. That’s in addition to the 23 years he’s already serving behind bars for rape and sexual assault. Weinstein now won’t be able to leave prison until he’s 109 years old, effectively sentencing him for the rest of his life. He told a Los Angeles court that he’s innocent, as the woman he was convicted of raping sobbed in the courtroom. Moments earlier, she told the judge about the pain she felt after being attacked by him, saying, “Before that night, I was a very happy and confident woman, everything changed after the defendant brutally assaulted me. There is no prison sentence long enough to undo the damage.”

For the first time in 34 years, the National Weather Service has issued a blizzard warning for the Southern California mountains through Saturday, and you might not even need to be at high elevation to experience the winter weather. UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain tweeted that nearly the entire population of California will be able to see snow from some vantage point later this week if they look in the right direction. The winter storm is one of just several pounding the country this week. More than 24 million people in more than two dozen states were under blizzard, winter storm, wind chill and freeze warnings yesterday, and another 49 million people faced other types of winter weather advisories. For all the latest, stay with

Cocaine Bear hits theaters today. And while that might seem like a ridiculous title for a movie, it’s inspired by a true story. Kirby Adams from the Louisville Courier-Journal explains.

Cocaine Bear Trailer:
Bear did cocaine.

Ray Liotta as Syd:
I need you to go and get it.

Kirby Adams:

The bear seems to have more of a prominent role in the movie than the actual drug smuggler. But what we do know is that back in the 1980s, there was a man named Andrew Thornton, who was a former police officer-turned-drug smuggler. He was the son of a prominent Kentucky horseman, and he happened to know how to parachute or skydive, and also pilot a plane. And he ended up with a lot of cocaine, lots and lots of cocaine. And his plan was to go up in a plane with, I think it was about 300 pounds of cocaine, and he would start to drop it out with beacons out of the plane. And then his plan was to go back and find the cocaine. He also was going to throw himself out of the plane, he was going to put the plane on autopilot, strap cocaine to himself, several weapons, thousands of dollars and a parachute, and then jump out.

However, as the story goes, he hit his head on his way out of the plane, was unconscious, wasn’t able to deploy his parachute. And the next morning, a man in Knoxville, Tennessee walked out and found Andrew Thornton dead on his driveway. A few weeks later, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation found a large black bear in the woods there, which was just south of the border of Tennessee. The bear was dead, there was a lot of cocaine around the bear, and so they started putting this whole thing together.

Taylor Wilson:

The film also stars the late actor Ray Liotta in one of his final films.

Ray Liotta:

The Bear sticks his nose in the cocaine and likes it. He goes off and he’s doing his thing, and whatever. There’s a bunch of people hiking or doing this, doing that. It was my drug, so I want to go get them. And it’s just the wild, crazy story.

Taylor Wilson:

You can read about what’s fact and what’s fiction surrounding the Cocaine Bear with the link in today’s show notes.

A reminder to come back to this feed later today at 1:00 PM Eastern for our special edition on the war in Ukraine. Today’s show was produced by James Brown and Shannon Green. Our executive producer is Laura Beatty. Special thanks to Cherie Saunders and Alexis Gustin. I’m Taylor Wilson, back tomorrow with more of 5 Things from USA TODAY.

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