I’m in Kyiv and I wake up in the darkest hour – as Putin’s bombs rain down | Nataliya Gumenyuk

A a famous russian freelance journalist called me for a quote after russia launched airstrikes all over ukraine. We never met but she began to apologize for what her country is doing and could do to mine. We are both experienced reporters used to covering difficult stories and conflicts. We talked, and we cried.

So it starts: 5am. Kiev, Kharkiv, Odessa, and all along the 2,000 km long Russian-Ukrainian border.

I am in contact with friends and colleagues across the country who are awake and hearing the explosions. A possible attack on February 24 has already been mentioned by the government. A few hours earlier, in the middle of the night, my husband – also a journalist, but not a war correspondent – ​​decided to drive to the office of a friend who is on duty to collect bullet-proof vests “before it begins “.

What or? I’ve done war reporting before, so I’m used to the sound of shelling. I know that a loud bang, a missile, a military explosion can be heard from far away.

Trying to identify places and directions, it seemed that Russia was hitting military targets and military airports, which the President of Ukraine later confirmed. He also said that Ukrainian air defense was working. Before the all-out attack this morning, I heard from the military about a particular object to be targeted in Kramatorsk and near Kharkiv if things happened. This knowledge calmed me down. This led me to believe that the military knew what to expect.

I was one of those who, until the very last moment, could not accept the idea of ​​a full-scale invasion with airstrikes on our major cities. Putin’s speech was sickening, but there was still a logical, if fictional, rationale for a limited Russian operation. The full-scale attack on Ukraine destroys even that.

I talk to people, I do interviews, but in the meantime, I pack up and scoop water out of buckets – just in case. I told my husband, who has never been in the war, not to go out on the balcony. He jokes: finally he will be allowed to smoke inside.

I run a media organization, I’m not supposed to do breaking news. But now I have to. It’s my choice but it’s a duty. I received messages from friends abroad, from as far away as Chile, asking me if I should really continue reporting. Just a day before, I canceled a prestigious scholarship in Vienna to go to the eastern front line instead. I covered the conflict there for eight years. For me, there is only one place to be.

I read messages and receive news that other cities are under attack, and slowly more clarity emerges. Some of the news about Russian marines in Odessa turned out to be false. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who hours earlier recorded a moving speech to Russian citizens urging them to stop the war, issued a new statement. He referenced a famous World War II anti-military song: “Do the Russians want war? and added, “The answer is on you.”

In the new one-minute statement, he urged us to stay home, don’t rush, but be strong.

At 6.30 am, in between, I send a message to the people we should have met with for an event today – human rights defenders, MPs and civil servants. It’s a one-word message: “cancelled.” Each of them is awake and we are giving and offering our support. I feel very emotional.

We hear reports of possible air attacks. Yet the rest of the city remains quiet. We hear the noise of the police, but not the military sirens.

The parish continues. Journalists write that the metro is still working, while many decide to go to the west of the country. Ukrainian Railways informs us that westbound trains are running.

I spoke to my Russian journalist friend about our mood. For years I hesitated to compare any dictator to Hitler, or any war to World War II. The comparison seemed to me exaggerated, even vulgar.

But what other analogy is there? For no reason, in an act of sheer madness, an old fashioned aerial assault was inflicted on a neighboring country.

I said this to my Russian colleague and tried very hard not to show how my voice was shaking. She again asked for forgiveness.

There is a famous phrase, “4 o’clock in the morning Kyiv is bombed”. All Ukrainian and Russian children know this. This is how the announcement of the German bombardment of Kiev in 1941 resounded.

And here we are: February 24, 5 a.m. Kiev is bombed by Russia.

I’m happy to hang up my call. I don’t want my journalist colleague to hear me cry. And then my sister calls. I knew she would, I’m the one the family and my mom turn to when there’s trouble or they need to know what’s going on.

For two and a half hours since the start of the invasion, they slept. I didn’t dare call them. I really didn’t want to. I wanted to prolong the peace for them, if only for a few hours.

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