Journalist’s Notebook: Russia’s War in Ukraine Witnesses 3 Months of Tragedy

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At the end of month 3 of the war in Ukraine, I also completed tour 3 in the country this year – and it has never been so complicated.

In late January and early February, it was a question of whether the Russians were going to invade and whether the Ukrainians were ready.

In March, after the attacks began, it was a remarkable response from the Ukrainians, and then the big reveal of some very ugly Russian atrocities.

This time around, from late April to May, the air raid sirens are still sounding in Kyiv, the random firing of missiles nearby, but the bulk of the Russian aggression has shifted east and south. Reduced expectations from Moscow, but increased ugliness.

UKRAINE MILITARY UNIT DESTROYED, RUSSIA REPORTS

A stark example of Russia’s ‘scorched earth’ policy can be found an hour from Kyiv at Borodyanka. It is called the hardest hit city in the region. Seven weeks after the Russians left, only a third of the inhabitants have returned. It’s because there’s nowhere to stay. Low-flying Russian planes bombed huge dudes out of apartment buildings on the main street. Jagged structures still reach for the sky.

As reports continue to pour in of Russian soldiers’ inhumane dealings with Ukrainian civilians, one need not go further than the Kyiv suburb of Bucha to be reminded of the hell on earth that Russians have brought here. Nearly 500 civilians were killed there. Bodies left to rot in the street. These streets are all cleaned up now. The floor of the mass grave has leveled off. But almost everyone we spoke to broke down in tears at some point when recounting the occupation.

There was Kira Rudik, the 36-year-old MP whose photo posing with a Kalashnikov went around the world at the start of the war. She still has her gun nearby, but has new worries: the disgusting sexual abuse inflicted on women here by the Russian occupiers and the mental injuries inflicted on children living with war and living “on the run” as refugees. Referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin, she pretended to flip through pages, telling me, “He’s going through Adolf Hitler’s war crimes book.”

Former President Petro Poroshenko puts politics aside and supports Ukrainian leaders.

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

He took me to a hill overlooking the Dnieper River and pointed out a bridge to Kyiv. “We were an hour away from blowing that up,” he said, with Russian tanks a few miles away at one point. Now his message to Putin is to get out of the business of Ukraine. “You don’t have the right,” he told the Russian leader firmly through our camera lens.

We interviewed Acting US Ambassador to Ukraine Kristina Kvien, who returned to Kyiv after the embassy reopened here. The early closure of the square before the Russian invasion angered some, and the somewhat late raising of the flag infuriated others. But, the steady and growing flow of military aid to brave Ukrainian soldiers from the West – but led by the United States – has delighted locals. We want them to win, Kvien told me.

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

AS UKRAINE’S WAR LONGERS, RUSSIA DROPS MILITARY AGE LIMITS

And most importantly, only the words of normal Ukrainians remain with us.

The woman who looked at a cemetery of young fallen Ukrainian soldiers and said to me: “They are all like my sons.

The girl who explained that she always gets nervous every time she hears a siren, remembering the vicious outbursts of weeks past.

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

The biggest attraction currently in Kyiv is an assortment of rusting Russian tanks and armored vehicles lost in past defeats, laying in a central square in Kyiv. Crowds of people watch. Some take selfies. Some kick the tank tracks. Not the kind of scene in Kyiv that Vladimir Putin predicted months ago.

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At the beginning, I said that it was the most complicated period of the war so far. This is because now the fights between Ukrainians and Russians are slow work. Artillery and missiles fired at long range. Both sides dig defensive trenches.

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

After so much brutality on Russia’s part and so much courage on Ukraine’s part, compromising with Moscow, letting Putin off the hook, no longer seems to be in Kyiv’s lexicon. It could mean very long and difficult months ahead.

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