In the underground I found Pete Keyhart, a photographer working with BuzzFeed News, and Isobel Koshiw, our team’s fixer and reporter. They had gathered their things and were already scanning news reports and social media to see what was happening. It was a bummer to see him there after celebrating a good reporting week with cocktails and steaks the previous evening. Before turning up and since I had used up all my reporter’s notebooks, I visited a stationery shop where a little girl pleaded with her mother to buy a pen with a teddy bear.
It was the last normal thing I experienced before the bombs went off.
In a video carried by Russian state-run television and widely shared on social media, Putin announced that a military operation was underway to force the Ukrainian government to hand over control to him. Very quickly we realized that missile attacks were being launched on strategic military installations across the country – from eastern Kharkiv to western Ivano-Frankivsk to central Uman – and the scale of Putin’s aggression became frighteningly clear.
By late afternoon, casualties were mounting. Among the first killed was a boy. A woman riding a bicycle on the road also died. And many more Ukrainian civilians and soldiers were killed. On Thursday night, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said at least 137 Ukrainians have died in the Russian invasion so far, including civilian and military casualties.
I frantically called Ukrainians I had interviewed and friends I had lived and worked with for over a decade and sent texts asking for information and advice. Where would it be safe? what was happening When will it end? Unable to give them adequate answers, I felt completely useless.
In the country’s pre-industrial steppe, a shooting war has simmered for eight years, in the capital Kyiv, with its gold-domed monasteries and cobblestone streets, and in the rural west near the border with Poland and the European Union, black plumes of smoke fill the sky, each a mark of Putin’s hatred toward Ukraine.
The country was burning.
Defiant, Zelensky declared martial law and ordered the country’s arms to be opened to “all patriots” willing to defend freedom and democracy against tyranny and terrorism.
By nightfall, it was unclear how things would turn out. An unknown number of Ukrainians sought safety in bomb shelters created after World War II, which no one thought they would ever have to use. And the fight escalated.
In a sign that the tide may be turning in Ukraine’s favor, the military managed to retake control of Hastomel airport, where earlier in the day 34 attack helicopters had flown in from across the border and dropped Russian troops just 15 minutes from Kyiv.
Somewhere near the capital, the sound of artillery could still be heard, signaling another long, sleepless night.