By Ruslan Khalapov
On February 24, a call from an employee of our television channel woke me up. At five in the morning. “The war has begun. We are being bombed,” the colleague told me.
I was surprised that I knew how to act and what to do. My “emergency suitcase” had been packed a few weeks before that. It had everything I needed: documents, money, a few essentials. I got up, washed, and made myself some tea. I gathered my thoughts and thought about the next steps. I went out on the balcony, lit a cigarette, and listened to the echoes of explosions. Apparently, the air defense system worked. I did not yet know how to distinguish the origin of explosions and types of bombs by their sounds. I woke up my sister and my flatmate, called another sister who lived in another district of Kyiv.
The last time such a feeling of inevitability and anxiety overwhelmed me was on February 27, 2014, in Simferopol. I did not want to run away from home for the second time.
I caught myself thinking of the deja vu that I was feeling. The last time such a feeling of inevitability and anxiety overwhelmed me was on February 27, 2014, in Simferopol. Already then, I knew with certainty who our enemy was. I did not want to run away from home for the second time. How will my relatives be in Crimea? I’m here, at least I have the opportunity to go somewhere, but they?!
My thoughts were interrupted by a call from one of the producers of our TV channel. She asked if I planned to leave Kyiv. I said no, I wanted to be helpful on the information front. The producer said that they would be waiting for me in the office. The flatmate called a taxi and was going to see her parents in the Cherkasy region. I got dressed, instructed my sister where the nearest bomb shelters were and went to work.
I had never seen so many people in a hurry. Cars were queuing at gas stations. But I cannot say that most people were in a panic. Instead, no one knew what to expect, so people tried to stock up – food, gasoline, medicine. I saw many people with suitcases going to the train station. Their faces were calm but focused on finding and buying tickets. No one cried, said anything, asked anything. Only the clatter of train wheels broke the silence.
It was essential to get to the original source. I immediately understood that I should not panic and frighten my audience.
Colleagues in the office were drinking coffee and discussing how the morning started, who and where would be evacuated, how long the fighting would last… No one knew what we should do yet. Later, we were instructed to mobilize all available resources to ensure we could make the television marathon. Everyone was assigned a task. My task was to do fact-checking. The flow of information, throw ins, fakes was incredible. It was essential to get to the original source. I immediately understood that I should not panic and frighten my audience. I have never read or monitored so many media, newsmakers, and various pieces of information as I did that day. Some of my colleagues were hysterical; some were crying; some were going to join the ranks of territorial defense. Everyone listened to any sounds that might have sounded like explosions. The feeling of anxiety did not leave me, but on the contrary, grew.
The feeling of anxiety did not leave me, but on the contrary, grew.
The day passed like a few minutes. I was going to stay overnight in the office, we were planning to continue the marathon, but in the evening, we were picked up by the producers and told that we had to go home and wait for instructions in the morning. My two sisters and I took some food, a blanket, tea in a thermos and went to the shelter.
We spent our first night under martial law at a metro station. Sitting on the floor, I watched other people come to spend the night in the shelter. There were a lot of them; there was no place to step. Some slept, some sat – on the stairs, benches, on the floor. Many took their pets with them. Children were running carefree among those sheltering at the station. I thought about how much children depend on adults‘ decisions and how it will affect their lives. I recalled stories of Crimean political prisoners‘ children, growing up under occupation and illegal repression for nine years and playing raids or prison. What will Ukrainian children, growing up under fire and constantly hearing explosions, play?
Field trips allowed me to relax a little and feel helpful because sitting in the four walls while others defended the country and did everything to get closer to victory, I felt utterly helpless.
I was able to fall asleep only in the morning. I could not break away from the news. When we were returning home from the shelter, I was told at work that we had to stay at home and work remotely. I immediately expressed my desire to work in the field as a reporter. But I was able to leave only twice to cover my area: first when the wreckage of the rocket fell on a nearby house, and second, to visit the territorial defense fighters at the checkpoint and make a story about them. These two field trips allowed me to relax a little and feel helpful because sitting in the four walls while others defended the country and did everything to get closer to victory, I felt utterly helpless.
On the twelfth day of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, an acquaintance provided me with a car so that I could take my sisters and two other friends to Lviv. On the evening of March 7, I left Kyiv. Now I work in Lviv remotely, covering the Crimean direction. My team and I are working on the information front of the war.
There is still a lot of work ahead. And it will be even more after the end of the war, when we, journalists, will have the opportunity to work in the liberated territories and talk about all the consequences of Russia’s occupation and war crimes on Ukrainian soil.