The Russian invasion against Ukraine took the world by surprise. Most experts and analysts predicted that Russian President Vladimir Putin would not dare to order a military incursion against an independent and sovereign country on a large scale. But he did it and changed the lives of millions in just one night, including those of domestic and foreign journalists who were in Kiev.
“It was the worst night of my life”: American journalist
Faced with the Russian attacks, alarm sirens, and the dangers of being trapped in a country in the midst of an invasion, many — hundreds of thousands — made it their mission to flee Ukraine. Among those who sought to leave immediately was Manny Marotta, a young freelance journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who described what his twenty-hour journey to the Ukrainian border with Poland was like.
“It was a hellish 20-hour journey undertaken in the middle of winter with thousands of refugees. I saw some terrible things,” Marotta wrote on his Twitter account, Ukraine Conflict Live 2022, where he updates the highlights of the Putin-ordered Russian invasion. “The vehicles were stuck for 25 kilometers, many without fuel. Several were abandoned as their occupants fled westward on foot as fast as possible.”
According to Marotta’s story, Ukrainian soldiers, following the invocation of the Martial Law, were stopping cars and buses to recruit men 18 through 60 years of age.
“We reached a place where a soldier was shouting: say goodbye to your daughters, mothers, wives, because you must go back and fight the Russian invaders.”
It’s hard. Hard to take it in from afar, and terribly frustrating to see it firsthand. Taking parents away from their families is by far an order that can only be understood under the stark context of war, where Ukrainians have a duty to defend their civilians, their nation and their freedom. All threatened by foreign troops of the world’s second military power.
“We befriended a 24-year-old named Max, who was pulled out of the caravan while he was talking to us. I had time to get his number before he was drafted and then he left with a smile of utter disbelief. I will never forget his face,” noted Marotta, who also witnessed how a Ukrainian soldier “slapped” a woman who wanted to prevent her husband’s conscription. “Things look really desperate,” he added.
Marotta’s account is from five days ago. It seems like an eternity! Western intelligence had leaked to the American press that Kiev would fall in 72 hours. But there it is, the Ukrainian capital, and the main cities of the Slavic country that still remains in the hands of its army, despite the Russian siege.
According to the American journalist, the children suffered considerably from the journey, especially from the long walk to the Ukrainian-Polish border. “It was the longest and worst night of my life. I was speechless,” he pointed out.
Marotta commented that upon arriving in Poland he felt a great sense of relief and was gratified to be welcomed with tea. “It was an amazing tea.”
Now, the Pittsburgh journalist’s future is uncertain as he was about to head for the United States, yet, despite being an American citizen, he is not being allowed to return to his country, apparently, because his American passport is not an original but a copy. He was traveling with his other passport, an Italian one, he explained. “I am legitimately beginning to believe that this is a divine mandate for me to return to Ukraine and complete the journalistic work,” he said.
“He asked me to take his daughter with me. She is my family now”
Sol Macaluso is Argentinian, but lives in Spain, and has been working for the media there for a long time. She went viral after revealing that her guide and camera operator asked her to “please take his daughter” with her.
The story is poignant and sad. Sol, who had already been covering the tensions between Ukraine and Russia for three to four weeks, was suddenly faced with the final outbreak of war. Now it was her turn to flee, along with her team.
One of them, the camera producer and guide, has a daughter and wife who are now waiting for him in a shelter near Kiev, 40 kilometers away. He also has his parents in the Ukrainian capital itself.
Sol said that this guide had to go back to look for his wife and parents. The man, according to the journalist, is ready to take up arms and defend his country and asked her and the rest of the team to take their little daughter with them so that she would be safe from the war.
As the whole production was organized on the fly because the war demands it, she revealed – as she pointed out on the verge of tears, in a link, that they had no plan or roadmap — that the current situation of the whole team “is especially sensitive because we are approaching the border where the guide’s family will cross, while he will remain here (…. ) It is very hard to have to stay to defend his country, leave his family and have him ask me: ‘please take my daughter with you and take care of her, see that she has everything she needs.’”
Inevitably, a question came up from Spain: “And are you taking the girl?” Sol immediately replied, “Of course. She’s my family now. She’s my sister.”
The Argentine correspondent admitted that a brotherly bond had been created between the whole team during her stay in Ukraine. “We are a large and great family,” she said proudly.
“They are just men and women who want to defend their country”
Just as there are heartbreaking stories, such as parents forcibly leaving their families, there is also the other side of the coin: citizens who take up arms out of conviction.
Andriy Dubchak was interviewed by Juan Felipe Vélez of The American. Dubchak is a freelance journalist specializing in war issues, who in 2015 founded the media Donbas Frontliner, and right now he is in Ukraine covering the field, in the midst of the invasion ordered by Putin.
Regarding the weapons handed out by the Ukrainian government, and the civilians who are now defending their nation, Andriy has this to say: “Many men and women from the Territorial Defense are ordinary people, with ordinary lives. For example, and you can see it on my Instagram or Facebook, I talked with Julia, who’s just a teacher, and the other woman who is some kind of psychologist. These are people who have taken up arms, and it’s very sad, but all they want is to protect… they want to protect their country, they don’t want to leave it to fucking Putin.”
On the day Juan Felipe interviewed Andriy, in the early hours of 28 February, Kiev had lived through one of the toughest nights since the invasion began. The city, for now, remains under Ukrainian rule, even as Russian troops continue to advance.
“All day long many of us have been hearing sounds of bombing and fighting. Today I was near the Percherska metro station. There was a car bursting into flames and heavy fighting between Ukrainians and Russians, lots of unexploded projectiles on the Russian side. There was a lot of blood and ammunition fragments,” Andriy told The American, and added that the Ukrainians are not ready to lay down their arms and will hold up a strong resistance against the invading army.
There is some uncertainty about what is actually happening on the battlefield. However, what is certain is that this is an unpredictable war. Not even the most experienced will probably know what will happen. Moreover, there is endless information coming from Ukraine that is difficult to verify. Western intelligence, in fact, failed to predict a rapid fall of Kiev. Everything points to the fact that Moscow also missed its calculations.
Yet, not everything is unverified information. There are legitimate stories, told in first person by journalists and civilians. From these stories, captivating and sad, we must hold on to seek the truth.