Ukrainian woman sobs after crossing border into Poland

A Ukrainian woman sobs after arriving in Poland by train on Feb. 25, 2022.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This essay is excerpted from a Storyboard newsletter originally published Friday, Feb. 25, 2022


Just one day into the madness being visited upon Ukraine, and already there is no end to heartbreaking images. I study them in my newspapers and on news websites and on CNN, horrified by the destruction of the crowded streets and graceful buildings I used to stroll through during my many trips to Kyiv, where I worked with reporters at what was the former Kyiv Post. A new version of the Post now operates, but its chief editor, Brian Bonner, and his entire staff were dismissed.

Many of those journalists have since launched the Kyiv Independent, and now find themselves covering the kind of military assault not seen in Europe in 80 years. Some, no doubt, are on Vladimir Putin’s list of priority targets. All have spent their lives surrounded by economic and political tension. A few already had experience as war correspondents from covering the Orange Revolution in 2004 and Russia’s hostile takeover of Crimea in 2014.

An undeclared war has raged in Eastern Ukraine ever since but, as is true of so many conflicts and crises around the world, did not receive sustained public attention. The world is watching now, although I expect many Americans are more focused on the stock market and gas prices than on the plight of people 5,000 miles away.

I hope I’m wrong. I hope, distant as it seems and helpless as it makes us feel, we watch and listen and consider our place in shaping — or ignoring — history as it happens. That’s not a political statement: My knowledge of high-wire power games is far too limited to play armchair president. It is, rather, a personal fear that we are too quick to forget lessons of the past, and too willing to shrug at news that is about someone and somewhere else.

I am just old enough to remember when the United States ended the military draft after the Vietnam War. I thought of that yesterday when Ukraine issued a call for all men ages 18 to 60 to remain in the country and prepare to take up arms. And one of the images that sticks with me from the frenzy yesterday was of a young man in Ukraine, who had just been issued an AK-47. A CNN reporter asked if he knew how to use it. He chuckled — perhaps out of anxiety, perhaps out of resignation — and said he had never fired a gun, but would find someplace quiet to go for a couple of days to practice so he’s ready to fight.

Journalists on the ground are in the fight, too. That’s true of all of them. But for those who call Ukraine home, the fight is personal as well as professional, and must be a level of terrifying I’ve never known. If you read nothing else today, consider this first-day account from Veronika Melkozerova, executive editor of the English-language news site, The New Voice. In a guest essay for The New York Times, she wrote of her grandmother who refuses to flee, of a desperate neighbor who wasn’t prepared, and of the need to walk her dog despite the chaos. She brings us deep into her life — one many of us would recognize as not unlike our own, until now. And she ends this way:

Now the battle for Ukraine has come to a climax.
But it’s about more than Ukraine. It’s a contest between democracy and autocracy, freedom and dictatorship, whose implications will scatter across the world. It’s not our fight alone. So please don’t leave us alone to fight it.

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