By Isobel Yeung, VICE World News, March 27, 2022
Mykolaiv, southern Ukraine, north of the Black Sea
This is not mainstream TV news, broadcast from safe and comfortable high-tech studios in faraway New York or Los Angeles.
This is blood and sorrow news, up close, and exactly in front of you, from the shattered, burning, smoking city of Mykolaiv, Ukraine, where the Russian armed forces have been brutally assaulting the people of this city since February 24th.
Isobel Yeung, perhaps all of 25 years old, and the young men and women of her camera crew are live action storytellers. They are steadfast, resilient, brave, serious reporters of the honest truth. Isobel and her friends are warriors.
Isobel Yeung starts her report in the emergency room of the city hospital.
Later, she interviews Oleksander Syenkhevych, mayor of the city of Mykolaiv. Together, they visit an apartment complex, near a shopping center, that has just been torn apart by Russian cluster bombs.
Isobel asks the mayor, “What if the Russians come? What then?”
Mayor Syenkhevych quietly replies, “We will fight with them, and we will kill them, because they are trying to kill us, our families, our women, our parents, our children.”
Next, Isobel stops by the city morgue to speak with Ruslan, the city mortician.
Later, speaking with families waiting at the city bus station, Isobel interviews women and children of Mykolaiv, whose homes have been shattered and destroyed by Russian artillery, missiles, and bombs.
No one knows how long this war will last. Most don’t want to risk their lives to find out. Over half of Mykolaiv’s residents have already left.
The women and children are waiting to board buses headed for the far western border of Ukraine, to become refugees just across the border in Moldova, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland.
Isobel and her crew then travel to a bombed-out neighborhood in the devastated city of Mykolaiv. The residential areas of the city have been brutally bombed and shelled indiscriminately since the beginning of this war one month ago.
She speaks with Olya, a young woman, 25 years old, who is caring for her helpless, aging grandfather. Their “safe” place is the basement of their destroyed home. It is hard for Olya to leave her grandparents on their own.
Like many people in this region, Olya has close family in Russia. Every few days, she calls her aunt, Svetlana, who lives in Russia.
On her iPhone, Olya calls on her aunt, who answers, “Hello. How are you? Are you okay over there?” Olya replies, “Yesterday, there were enough explosions for me to think about leaving. You know its hard for me to leave my grandparents on their own.”
There is a pause . . . Aunt Svetlana says, “Wait a bit,” as she chokes back her emotion. Aunt Svetlana then replies, “Its better to just leave, because nobody knows what is going to happen next.”
Olya asks, “I would really like to know what you are being told there, over the border. Will they keep this up?” Aunt Svetlana replies, “Nothing specific. The Nazis torture people. They show on TV how they abuse girls and children. They rape and abuse them. Olya, they just hide that from you. The Russian forces are liberating Ukraine from Nazis.”
Isobel speaks on the phone with Olya’s aunt, saying, “Right now, we’re with Olya near a bombed-out building. Thousands of people are being killed. A lot of people are being injured. Millions of people are being separated from their family members. Do you still support President Putin?”
Aunt Svetlana replies, “Oh, its hard to say. Of course, I do because we have information saying they are liberating Ukraine from Nazis. In that case, of course, everyone really does support Putin.”
After the phone call with Aunt Svetlana, Isobel asks Olya, “How does it make you feel that they don’t believe your side of the story?”
Olya says, “I feel like I live in a movie, in a lie. Our houses are being shot at. Our houses are destroyed . . . and they do it on the contrived belief that we might be hiding some weapons, and we are some Nazis.”
For Olya, and many other Ukrainians, the disbelief expressed by their own family members, who live just across the border in Russia, is in bitter contrast to the devastation of their homes and the death of their neighbors that they see all around them in their city.
Isobel and her camera crew then head out to the front lines to speak with the paratroops of the Ukrainian 79th Air Assault Brigade on the outskirts of the city of Mykolaiv.
Speaking calmly with soldiers of the 79th, Isobel and her friends know very well they are eye deep in harm’s way. Their perceptive common sense is working perfectly.
Isobel and her team are aware of their danger, as they pursue their work as journalists. These young men and women have a serious case of courage . . . bravery that has overcome fear.
You see it over and over again these days . . . in Ukraine.