KYIV, Ukraine— As we got into our vans to leave Kyiv for the last time on this trip the snow was coming down again. It was getting colder. Signs of tough times ahead.
I was wrapping up my fourth trip this year to Ukraine. Never had I felt such confidence in the people of this country in their brave struggle against Russia. Never had I felt such forebodings.
It was the best of times and the worst of times.
There was the utter jubilation of the liberation of the city of Kherson from Russian control. Wonderful crying grannies and jumping for joy kids clutching Ukrainian troops arriving into towns and villages.
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Enthusiasm felt across the country. We were caught up in a celebration in the center of Kiev.
“Why are you happy,” I asked one young man.
“Because Kherson is free!” he replied.
“Kherson?” I asked a young girl.
“Ukraine!” she answered.
We visited with a lady who showed us her apartment in a Kyiv building that had been blasted by a Russian missile at the beginning of the war. She and her family were unhurt. Now they were rebuilding the place. Others in the place were doing the same.
“It’s home,” she told us.
We explored the growing group of destroyed Russian vehicles in a central Kyiv square. It was still an attraction. Visiting families, boys, girls, posed in front of the wrecked missiles and tanks. Some smiling, some grim, all determined.
One Saturday afternoon we met up with our dear friend Sviat (Fox’s first Ukraine “fixer” in 2014; then the youngest-ever Member of Parliament; now an icon of the early days of war, seen in images worldwide on patrol with an AK-47).
He brought us to one of hundreds of hip bars, restaurants and coffee shops still alive and kicking in Kyiv. Young folks, very much aware of the problems swirling around them… but still… drinking, eating, laughing, holding hands.
The best of times… and the worst of times…
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On several mornings… then an afternoon… then an early evening… the still awful drone of air raid sirens echoed through the city. One time I heard a distant blast. Another time I heard a whole series of low rumblings.
It is the new way of war of Vladimir Putin. Blasting the civilian critical infrastructure. The power grid. The vital services. Electricity, water heating.
Underperforming against Ukrainian soldiers, he is now going after Ukrainian civilians. Making them suffer. Trying to break them.
We walked down Kyiv streets once bright… now darkened caverns.
We were with people huddled around charging points for essential mobile phones.
We saw lines of people waiting to fill bottles of water dispensed from public taps.
And heard of 18 floor climbs to apartments, elevators stuck by power outages.
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Caught in the cross-fire… or hit in the bull’s eyes… we witnessed residential buildings slammed by Moscow’s missiles. Huge holes in the sides of homes. Bodies and wreckage carried away by emergency workers.
There was a moving funeral. And a cemetery. One grave after another after another. Filled with the young and old, cut down by this horrid hurricane of blood and soul.
Many cried with us. Many remembered those lost. Many broke down from the sheer difficulty of the life imposed on them by Russia’s dictates.
But incredibly no one… not a single person… and we spoke with dozens and dozens this trip… said Ukraine should give up. That it was just too much. That there was too much suffering. That Kyiv should hand over to Moscow what it demanded.
All, essentially, told us this was a fight to the finish. And the “finish” was when all the Russian troops who burst into this country uninvited had all left.
When the borders were restored.
When the death, damage, destruction and heartbreak were made amends for by those responsible.
As already noted, the weather in Kyiv is now getting harsher. More snow and cold are on the way. At least one official said this would be the hardest winter the country had endured since World War 2.
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And all along the long frontline, soldiers in snow and mud, dug into trenches and fox holes, look like they’re in the midst of something more akin to World War 1.
Another thing we heard as well. That as bad as things were in cities like Kyiv and Lviv. They were worse where the men and women are fighting.
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And we also heard from the folks in Ukraine: Thank you. To a large extent to the U.S. and its allies. For helping and supporting them. With guns and ammo, cars and tanks, blankets and generators.
Ukrainians know, as brave as they are, without the world’s help, their world as they know it, would be finished.
So, as our team leaves this time, what is happening in Ukraine will remain in our hearts and minds. Knowing we’ll no doubt be back. For maybe harder times. Or perhaps… some good ones as well.