Kiev on the Brink as Fog of War Envelops Reporting on Ukraine
The capital’s subterranean public transport system has essentially become a network of bomb shelters.
ATHENS — Something one can always count on in the fog of war is that conflicting information will fly faster than speeding bullets as both sides look to steer the narrative in their favor. That appears to be happening daily in the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as President Zelensky’s office has refuted Russia’s claims of capturing Kherson, a port city near the strategic Crimean peninsula.
According to a Reuters report, an adviser to Mr. Zelensky, Oleksiy Arestovych, said street fighting continued for the provincial capital and that “the city has not fallen.”
There’s contradictory information as well concerning the World War II Jewish massacre site Babi Yar: While it was widely reported that the present-day Holocaust memorial, which lies within Kiev’s city limits, came under direct Russian aerial bombardment yesterday, Ynet on Wednesday is running an article that says one of its reporters on the scene finds the memorial itself intact, and that it in fact sustained no damage in a nearby missile strike.
A Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, Igor Konashenkov, made no mention of Babi Yar yesterday (though the Associated Press reports that he did claim the missile strike on the nearby Kiev television tower did not hit residential buildings). Ynet concludes that “it seems the reporting that the Babi Yar memorial itself was hit was part of the Ukrainian misinformation campaign aimed at destabilizing the enemy.”
Not that the enemy isn’t demonstrably ruthless, as other residential areas around Ukraine have been the target of Russian fire; AP reported that one airstrike hit a residential area in the city of Zhytomyr, killing at least two people, burning three homes, and breaking windows at a nearby hospital. The article adds that the Ukrainian military’s elite 95th Air Assault Brigade may have been the intended target.
Conflicting information is also flying at higher levels. In Europe, hopes for a speedy de-escalation of hostilities were boosted by news of an impending second round of talks between Russian and Ukrainian delegations. Euronews reported that they were to take place Wednesday but did not specify where nor who, specifically, would participate. In the meantime CBS News reported that the U.K.’s foreign secretary, Liz Truss, has estimated that the world could be looking at a protracted, 10-year war.
Today’s forecasts, bleak and less so, were taking a backseat to the inevitable human toll of war. According to the AP, Britain’s Defense Ministry said it had seen an increase in Russian air and artillery strikes on populated urban areas of Ukraine over the past two days and that the major cities of Kharkiv and Mariupol were encircled by Russian forces.
Mariupol’s mayor, Vadym Boychenko, was quoted by Interfax, an independent Russian news agency, as saying: “They have been flattening us nonstop for 12 hours now. We cannot even take the wounded from the streets, from houses and apartments today, since the shelling does not stop.” Reports of cluster bombs being dropped on Kharkiv and elsewhere in Ukraine have been denied by the Kremlin.
The Ukrainian newspaper Ekspres reports that Belarusian troops have entered Ukrainian territory. The veracity of that report could not be immediately confirmed. What is true is that many news sites around the world had a field day with a picture of the Belarusian president, Alexander Lukashenko, a close comrade of Vladimir Putin, standing in front of a battle map of Ukraine that appeared to show tiny Moldova as the next target of Russian assault — bad optics that contribute to a sense of dread throughout much of Europe on this frigid March day.
With the massive Russian armed convoy drawing ever closer to the Ukrainian capital, residents of Kiev are seeking shelter in subway stations: Deutsche Welle reports that the city’s subterranean public transport system has essentially become a network of bomb shelters. Images of locals whose lives have been turned upside down — and now forced underground — in the space of one week dominated an emotional report on Britain’s Sky News.
The network also broadcast scenes of internally displaced Ukrainians huddled outdoors in the freezing temperatures in the relative safety of Lviv, the large city near Ukraine’s border with Poland. With Kiev firmly in Russian crosshairs, Lviv has rapidly assumed the character of a sanctuary city.
The Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter ran an article headlined, “Desperation at the Stations,” reporting that thousands of people are trying to get to safety from the war. “There are no train tickets or relevant timetables anymore,” the newspaper reports, with photos echoing the sense of foreboding implicit in the headline.
Those who managed to board a train heading west are if nothing else dodging much nastiness in the east: Russian forces “may” have fired at the airport in Odessa, Reuters reports, and then there is the unsettling reality, somewhere, behind the roar of the Daily Mail’s late-breaking headline: “‘Full-scale genocide’ unfolds in Mariupol where mayor says ‘15 hours of shelling’ has left ‘hundreds dead.’”
What is very clear is that for many thousands of Ukrainians, chiefly in Kiev and points east, it looks like a rough night ahead.