Ukrainian journalist describes tense but calm atmosphere in central Kyiv as Russian troops approach

Ukrainian journalist describes tense but calm atmosphere in central Kyiv as Russian troops approach

For a sixth-straight day, Russia continued its invasion of Ukraine, launching airstrikes against various civilian targets while a military convoy inches closer to the country’s capital.

Asami Terajima, a Japanese-Ukrainian journalist with The Kyiv Independent who has been reporting on the invasion from the country’s capital, spoke to CHEK News via Zoom about the current situation in Ukraine.

“This is a very dangerous situation, we are seeing shellings and missiles pounding, not only here in the capital but also other cities as well. The tensions are high, and we are worried for what’s going to happen because the Russian tanks are approaching,” she said. “It is serious.”

Despite repeatedly denying plans to invade, Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the invasion Thursday under the pretext of protecting citizens in eastern Ukraine.

Since then, Terajima said there have been periods of silence interrupted by the sounds of air-raid sirens, explosions and gunshots in Kyiv and elsewhere in Ukraine.

“You get used to it, as you hear it so many times. But it is not something that is pleasant to hear every single time and it went off a lot.”

Terajima, who has been reporting from the centre of Kyiv, said the air-raid sirens were more frequent but there were gunshots and explosions Monday night than in previous nights. Still, there were numerous airstrikes during the overnight and morning hours, including at a maternity hospital near Kyiv.

“During the night we saw an airstrike that hit a military base in Brovary, which is a town near Kyiv, and that was really loud,” she said. “We also saw in the early morning, Russian shelling that hit a maternity hospital near Kyiv.”

Russia has denied that the military is targeting residential areas, despite evidence suggesting otherwise.

“We see [Russia] is not only targeting soldiers but also mothers who just gave birth to their babies. Everyone was evacuated, fortunately,” said Terajima.

On Monday, the United Nations said at least 102 civilians have been killed and hundreds wounded — a figure they warned was likely significantly higher — while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said at least 16 children are among those who have died.

Story continues below

‘Almost nothing left’: Food supplies low in Kyiv

Those living in Kyiv, many of whom have taken shelter in subway stations, had been under a 36-hour curfew that was lifted Monday morning, allowing residents to finally visit grocery stores and get much-needed supplies.

Terajima said she was able to visit a couple of grocery stores Monday morning, and described seeing massive lines and plenty of empty shelves.

“It’s not that people are panic buying, it’s just that the stocks are low,” she said.

“Fresh products such as vegetables and fruits, a lot of it was gone, as people were buying them,” she recalled. “When I went to a smaller grocery store, there was almost nothing. There was no grains and rice.”

RELATED: Russia launches a wide-ranging attack on Ukraine

Terajima said she tried to find bananas and apples but couldn’t find any, along with other fruits, vegetables and dairy products. She said had no problem finding junk food, crackers and other non-essential food items.

“There were plenty of other food, like cookies or crackers, chips, but you know, in terms of like real food … there wasn’t any.”

Terajima said there wasn’t a frenzy of panic buying that was causing the shortages but simply wasn’t enough product available for everyone.

“There were lots of people shopping for groceries because they ran out of stock,” she said.

Story continues below

Tensions high but people keeping calm

New satellite imagery from the Maxar company suggests a Russian military convoy is roughly 64-kilometres in length — about the same distance as driving from downtown Victoria to Duncan on the Trans-Canada Highway — is now only 25 kilometres away from the capital.

According to Terajima, many people in the centre of Kyiv, are trying to remain calm even as the convoy rolls closers and closer.

“Tensions are high but at the same time, from what I see in the centre [of Kyiv], Ukrainians are very calm. I mean, they are obviously worried about what’s going to happen to their country, what’s going to happen to the future, and whether even the Ukrainian military will be able to defend your country as well. But at the same time, they know that panicking wouldn’t help.”

RELATED: Ukraine’s president vows to stay and defend Kyiv as residents once again shelter underground

Terajima said she encountered a group of men when she was outside singing and chanting, in an effort to keep people’s spirits high.

“One of the men was singing ‘oh, we will be fine, we will be fine’ and trying to encourage others around them and others were laughing and just staying strong together,” she said. “When I see that even during difficult circumstances, they are trying to stay positive, that reminds me that it’s really important to stay optimistic.”

That outward appearance of calm, Terajima suggested, may have something to do with the country’s recent past, pointing to the Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea in 2014, an event that saw thousands die. She also noted that many of Kyiv’s nearly three-million people were born before the collapse of the Soviet Union.

“Ukrainians have already been under distress for all these years,” she said, later adding. “Every time there’s a difficulty like this, they encourage each other they try to lift each other up because they know that together they can make a change.”

Story continues below

‘Heartbreaking’ goodbyes, hope and an uncertain future

Although many people remain in the capital, thousands have fled and many continue to leave.

Terajima said some of her colleagues have left the city and that she is planning on leaving at some point soon, but getting a ticket for a train — one of the few options available for people wanting to go — is not easy.

“I’ve talked to several people who are staying here and they said that they also had difficulty booking the train tickets. So, they decided to stay here,” she said. “But many of the people I talked to told me they wouldn’t leave if they had a chance.”

Around 660,000 refugees have left Ukraine, with the vast majority ending up in Poland, Hungary, Moldova, Romania, and Slovakia, according to the UN Refugee Agency’s most recent update.

“I personally know people who tried to get through the border and tried to get across the border and it’s been difficult for them. They’ve been waiting for hours and days. They’ve seen families say goodbye to each other because one was allowed in and the other one wasn’t,” said Terajima, referring to the fact that males of fighting age cannot leave the Ukraine. “That has been heartbreaking.”

Fortunately for Terajima, her family evacuated Ukraine in early February, something she said has made reporting on the war a little easier.

“It is difficult for me to worry about your family as well in a difficult situation like this. I am covering the war 24/7 … I feel good that my family is in a safe place. So, I am just focusing on my work and what I can do to help Ukraine.”

RELATED: Thousands gather at B.C. Legislature in support of Ukraine

Terajima said the outpouring of support for Ukraine from ordinary citizens around the world has not gone unnoticed. She also said while it isn’t clear what will happen in the coming days and weeks ahead, the entire situation has already taken a tremendous toll on everyone, including herself.

“Ukraine has been my home for over 12 years, I’ve grown up here. I have so many memories here and I’ve lived the most years of my life in Ukraine. So, I have a strong connection here and it has been very difficult for me to see more and more Ukrainians being killed by Russian forces and Russian aggression,” she said.

“I really hope war will be over soon.”

READ MORE: Russian Vancouver Islanders react to protests in their homeland and the crisis in Ukraine

Asami Terajima, is a Japanese-Ukrainian journalist with The Kyiv Independent who has been reporting on the invasion from the country’s capital. On March 1, she spoke to CHEK News via Zoom about the current situation in Ukraine and central Kyiv.

[email protected]

Nicholas PescodNicholas Pescod

Recent Stories

Send us your news tips and videos!