Underground, I found Pete Kiehart, a photographer working with BuzzFeed News, and Isobel Koshow, a repairman and reporter on our team. They had gathered their stuff and were already scouring news reports and social media to see what was going on. It was shocking to see them there, having spent the previous evening celebrating a good week of reporting with cocktails and steaks. Before going and because I had exhausted all my reporter’s notebooks, I visited a stationery store, where a young girl begged her mother to buy her a pen with a teddy bear on it.
It was the last normal thing I remember before the bombs went off.
In a video broadcast by Russian state 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 soon we realized that missile strikes 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 invasion has become terrifying.
By noon, the victims were piling up. Among the first to be killed was a young boy. A woman riding a bicycle in the street was also killed. And there were many more Ukrainian civilians and soldiers killed. On Thursday evening, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said at least 137 Ukrainians had been killed so far in the Russian invasion, including civilians and military personnel.
The Ukrainians I had interviewed and the friends I made over more than a decade of living and working here frantically called and texted asking for information and advice. Where was he sure to be? What would happen ? When would it be over? Unable to provide them with sufficient answers, I felt completely useless.
In the country’s industrial eastern steppe, where a fierce war has been simmering for eight years, in the capital, Kiev, with its golden-domed monasteries and cobbled streets, and in the pastoral west near the border of Poland and European Union, black plumes of smoke filled the sky, each a mark of Putin’s hatred of Ukraine.
The country was on fire.
A defiant Zelensky declared martial law and ordered the opening of the country’s armories to “all patriots” willing to defend freedom and democracy against tyranny and terrorism.
As night fell, there was no telling how things would turn out. An unknown number of Ukrainians have sought safety in bomb shelters created after World War II that no one would have ever thought they would need to use. And the fighting raged.
In a sign that the tide may be turning in favor of Ukraine, the military has managed to retake control of Hostomel airport, where earlier in the day 34 attack helicopters arrived from across the border and dropped Russian forces just 15 minutes from Kiev.
Somewhere near the capital, however, the thuds of artillery could still be heard, suggesting another long sleepless night.