Journalist’s notebook: Putin’s war continues, but Ukrainian morale still high

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Crossing western Ukraine, there is little evidence of war, but the threat of attack by Russian cruise missiles is constant. Military checkpoints are everywhere, usually built with old tires and sandbags, the blue and yellow Ukrainian flag fluttering proudly in the gentle spring breezes, reflecting the sky and the golden fields or rapeseed stretching up to on the horizon.

The joint site of an army checkpoint on a Ukrainian highway.
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The joint site of an army checkpoint on a Ukrainian highway.
(Andrew Fone/Fox News)

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I would describe Lviv as a combination of Paris and Rome – its cobbled streets lined with stately homes over which tower the spiers and domes of ancient churches. It is a city that takes advantage of spring, even in the midst of conflict. Having been here in the cold depths of winter when refugees arrived in their thousands at the station and people hunkered down in anticipation of the Russian attack, it is surreal to see the city come back to life. The trees are green, the gardens bloom, and the cafes and restaurants do good business.

Lviv in western Ukraine can be described as a combination of Paris and Rome.

Lviv in western Ukraine can be described as a combination of Paris and Rome.
(Andrew Fone/Fox News)

Last time I was here a pair of pigeons were starting to build a nest in the eaves of the building across from my hotel room. Every day they actively brought twigs and branches, intertwining them. Six weeks later, they nestle in their new home, unaware of the war. That’s not to say there aren’t air raid sirens, and authorities are constantly reminding residents to stay alert.

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My stay in Lviv was very brief, only one night. Since the Ukrainian forces are currently repelling the Russians, I left for kyiv, traveling by car through the countryside. The roads are very quiet, practically empty except for the trucks transporting their loads to the capital. Due to the war, there is a shortage of gasoline and diesel, and the few gas stations that have fuel have long queues – many hours of waiting to fill their empty tanks. Even 240 km from kyiv, there are checkpoints manned by soldiers in camouflage uniforms. They took a quick look at our vehicle before waving us on.

A destroyed bridge in kyiv, Ukraine.

A destroyed bridge in kyiv, Ukraine.
(Andrew Fone/Fox News)

Approaching kyiv, you begin to see the first signs of conflict. Not far from Irpin and Bucha, suburbs that suffered the full brunt of Russian artillery and fierce fighting, buildings were in ruins, riddled with bullets. What remains of an industrial building bears witness to the bombardment this area suffered, its twisted steel beams and its walls charred by a direct hit. Nearby businesses and homes have had all their windows blown out, but even here, where so many have lost everything, there are signs of life. I saw several people working in their gardens, shovels in hand while tending to their vegetables.

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A few kilometers later, kyiv could be seen in the distance, an indication of the Kremlin’s proximity to the capture of the capital. Most of the bridges were deliberately destroyed by the Ukrainians to block any advance, but reconstruction is already underway. Meanwhile, cars negotiate a rutted dirt road and cross a temporary bridge to access the remaining highway into town.

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Much like Lviv, once you are in kyiv life seems surprisingly normal with minimal signs of damage. Hedgehogs, welded steel barriers designed to stop tanks, lie idle on the sidewalk near Maidan in the central part of the city. Sandbags continue to line the subway entrance where residents who remained have sought refuge. kyiv is slowly returning to a new normal, with all eyes on the east where the fighting continues, but with a growing belief that Ukraine will prevail in the end.

Steel barriers line the sidewalk in central Kyiv.

Steel barriers line the sidewalk in central Kyiv.

In a small supermarket, the shelves are well stocked, even if fresh products are limited. Despite the threat of war, there has never been panic buying. People bought what they needed and nothing more, caring about others. There was always a sense of unity, the understanding that they were all in this together. During the 10 weeks I was here at the start of the war, I witnessed countless acts of kindness, people opening their homes to strangers who had nowhere to go. War brings out the worst in people, but it also brings out the best.

Andrew Fone is a Fox News field producer.

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