Reporter’s Notebook: Russia’s Ukraine war, witnessing 3 months of tragedy


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At the end of month 3 of the War in Ukraine, I also ended tour 3 in the country this year – and it’s never been so complicated.

In late January and early February, it was all about whether the Russians would invade and if the Ukrainians were ready.

In March, after the attacks started, it was all about a remarkable fight-back by the Ukrainians, and then the big reveal of some very ugly Russian atrocities.

This time around, late April to May, the air raid sirens still wail in Kyiv, the random missile strikes nearby, but the bulk of Russia’s aggression has shifted to the east and south. Lowered expectations from Moscow, but heightened ugliness.

UKRAINE MILITARY UNIT DESTROYED, RUSSIA REPORTS

A vivid example of Russia’s “scorched-earth” policy could be found an hour outside of Kyiv in Borodyanka. It’s called the hardest-hit town in the region. Seven weeks after the Russians were driven out, only a third of the residents have returned. That’s because there’s nowhere to stay. Low-flying Russian planes bombed huge hunks out of apartment buildings on the main street. Jagged tooth-like structures still reach up to the sky.

As reports continue to come in about Russian soldiers’ inhumane dealings with Ukrainian civilians, one has to go no farther than the Kyiv suburb of Bucha to be reminded of the hell-on-earth the Russians brought here. Close to 500 civilians killed there. Bodies left to rot on the street. Those streets are all cleaned up now. The mass grave site’s soil smoothed over. But, nearly every single person we spoke with broke down in tears at some point as they recounted the occupation.

There was Kira Rudik, the 36-year-old female member of Parliament whose picture posing with a Kalashnikov went viral around the world in the early days of the war. She still has her gun nearby, but has new worries: the disgusting sexual abuse heaped on women here by the Russian occupiers, and mental injuries done to children living with the war and existing “on the run” as refugees. Referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin, she pretended to me she was leafing through pages telling me, “He’s just going through Adolf Hitler’s book of war crimes.”

Former President Petro Poroshenko is putting politics aside and standing behind the Ukrainian leadership.

UKRAINIAN DEFENSE SAYS RUSSIA HAS USED 60 PERCENT OF ITS HIGH-PRECISION ARTILLERY

He took me to a hill overlooking the Dnieper River and pointed to a bridge leading into Kyiv. “We were an hour away from blowing that up,” he explained, with Russian tanks just miles away at one point. Now, his message to Putin is to butt out of Ukraine’s affairs. “You have no right,” he told the Russian leader firmly through our camera lens.

We interviewed acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Kristina Kvien, back in Kyiv after the embassy here finally re-opened. The early shuttering of the place before the Russians invaded unnerved some, and the somewhat late raising of the flag exasperated others. But, the steady and building flow of military aid to the brave Ukrainian soldiers from the West – but led by the U.S. – has locals pleased. We want them to win, Kvien told me.

Kira Rudik with a Russian-made AK-47 Kalashnikov rifle.
(Kira Rudik)

AS UKRAINE WAR DRAGS ON, RUSSIA REMOVES MILITARY AGE LIMITS

And mostly, it was just the words of normal Ukrainians that stay with us. 

The woman who looked out at a graveyard of young fallen Ukrainian soldiers telling me, “They are all like my sons.”

The young girl who explained she still gets nervous every time she hears a siren, recalling vicious blasts from weeks past.

Or, the older respectable gentleman who had a very unprintable expletive that he used to describe the Russians.

The biggest attraction now in Kyiv is an assortment of rusted-out Russian tanks and armored vehicles lost in past defeats, laid in a central square in Kyiv. Crowds of people stare. Some take selfies. Some kick the tank treads. Not the sort of Kyiv scene Vladimir Putin had planned months ago.

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At the beginning, I said this was the most complicated time so far in the war. That’s because now, the fighting between Ukrainians and Russians is a slow slog. Artillery and missiles fired at long distances. Both sides are digging into defensive trenches. 

And those here and in capitals abroad are struggling to keep the world’s attention and backing focused with so much else going on.

After so much brutality from Russia, and so much courage from Ukraine, compromising with Moscow, letting Putin get away with it, does not seem in Kyiv’s lexicon now. That could mean some very long and difficult months ahead.



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