Mar 7 • 17M

Dispatches from Ukraine: Hollie Answers Question from Kyiv on Day 11 of the War

 
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Hello and welcome to another dispatch from Ukraine with Hollie McKay. Today, we're going to be asking Hollie some questions and that have come from people on the Internet. We are going to get some answers from the source herself. How are you doing today, Hollie?

I'm not doing too bad, just day-by-day, sleeplessness.

Yeah, I bet you know considering where you are in Kyiv. Alright, so here's the first question. What is the most concerning piece of war propaganda being pushed to the Western world?

I don't know. I think there's just a whole lot of propaganda that comes from all sides, and it's actually been really disappointing. The number of people that that have said, “Oh, we don't trust the media. We can't believe this.”

There are some really incredible journalists that are still here. Many journalists have left, but there are some really great journalists still here. Most of them are with the major networks. But, I just think it's important to look at the sources. And just because it's mainstream media doesn't mean it's suddenly wrong. I think it's a disappointing route that a lot of conspiracy theorists have gone to. People are risking their lives to be here to bring you the story and they deserve a little bit more respect.

Just be aware that propaganda is going to happen. I saw this in Afghanistan. I certainly see it here.

If you're seeing a picture or a story, check the source. Try to understand where it comes from. If it's an image, do a reverse image search and check if this really the war in Ukraine, or if this an image from 2008 in Georgia. Just do a little bit of due diligence if you're unsure.

But I think this distrust, while I understand it, is also really disappointing because it takes away from the people that are here doing important work.

Yes, indeed people like you among others, OK, next question, does it look like humanitarian and military aid is arriving and getting into the hands of the locals?

It's very difficult. It's place by place. So, it's impossible to sort of paint that as a broad brush picture. I think in in places that haven't been hit too hard, aid is still going in and out. You know, where possible. It's obviously very challenging because a lot of the bridges and things are being blown up, especially around Kyiv at the moment, both by Russians who today, in a very chilling way, used mortars to rain down on people that were evacuating. Families and kids were getting killed as they were trying to leave, so that was really heartbreaking.

But Ukraine has also had to blow up bridges to try to stop Russian tanks from being able to cross easily. So, it's difficult. It's still sort of doable in Kyiv right now, but certain areas, especially in the suburbs around the city that have been really just under fire for the past few days, it's very difficult to get aid into those places.

From my discussions with the military top brass, the Russian propaganda playbook works by basically sieging a city or shelling it to the point people are in their basements, they can't get medicine, and they can't get food. The Russians will come in and occupy it, then basically push the civilians to the brink where they're starving and they're desperate. Then suddenly, they bring out bring out aid and try to curry favor. That way, when people have absolutely no choice but to take it, then they film those videos of Russian soldiers being the heroes of the day. Then, that all gets played in in Russia as a as propaganda to the people. That is something that the Ukrainians are very aware of is happening and likely to continue to happen.

Do you think it would be in the best interest of the country if Zelensky fled Ukraine so he could still lead effectively from afar without the fear of being murdered until it is safe to come back?

I don’t think that’s the approach that the Ukrainians want to take at all. I think that you know they're very proud of their president for not running away. I think it would be very hard and very demoralizing for Ukraine if their own president fled to safety while they're on the firing lines. You know, risking their lives. So, I think it's very important to the morale for President Zelensky to be here, and I think that he's setting a very strong precedent. I don't think, at this point, it would be useful to him to leave. I think he him being here is what is keeping Ukraine fighting.

Oh wow, well that's a that's a very strong assessment and a very heroic one at that. Next question. From what you're seeing, is this a black and white issue with Russia being the villain? Or is there a more nuanced perspective?

In most wars that I cover there usually are a lot of nuances involved. There is usually some sort of mix of good, bad, and dumb. You can see it from every side.

This is unique in that this was a completely unprovoked invasion. This is entirely on Russia. They have no legal basis of invading a sovereign country. They have made up basically 6&llsH#t reasons of why they are invading. They refuse to even call it an invasion. They're calling it a nonsense liberation from the fascists. I mean, you know, Putin himself is the fascist. There is nothing to saying it’s a Nazi government. Zelenskyy is Jewish. There's nothing within the Ukrainian government framework that has any indication of it being Nazi.

So, this is a completely unprovoked, unwarranted, unnecessary, terribly sad war; and one of the few circumstances I would say Russians will argue, Russian friends of mine in the United States also argue, oh, but you know, NATO is expanding. Russia doesn't want to see NATO on its borders. Well, I'm sorry, but Ukraine is not NATO and Ukraine is not Russia. Ukraine is its own country, and they have absolutely no basis to be here. So in this circumstance, I feel pretty confident in saying there is there is one evil villain and that is Mr. Putin -- everybody is suffering as a result of this one megalomaniac.

The next question come shifts a little bit. Do you think China will follow in Russia's footsteps and invade Taiwan?

There's. a lot of talk about this and people have been talking about this now really since the Russian buildup. I think, obviously, China is watching this very coherently looking at the Western responses, looking at sort of how this is all coming to play, and I would hope that that China would look at this and realized that the cost of invading a sovereign country would really come to sanctions and the ostracization from everything from the World Cup Soccer, to tennis tournaments, to whatever that would be; that they would really be suffering in the population.

Having said that, China also is a very different economy to Russia. Russia has a terrible GDP. It's already deeply impoverished, whereas China has a lot more of its own internal mechanisms that could probably make up for even very hard-hitting sanctions.

So, I don't know that China would be as isolated as Russia is looking to be. If it was to try to invade Taiwan, they could also probably interpret it as saying, well, you know, we're not really going to see a military response from NATO or anybody so, you know, it's not a huge cost to us to do that and so they are sort of looking at the response.

Quite frankly, what I've seen is that the United States is scared of China. You can look at something like the NBA where people won't even criticize China. There is no criticism of China at a lot of these major companies, whether it be Nike, major telecommunications, or places that have a presence in China. They're absolutely terrified to say anything about the Uighurs or any of the human rights abuses that happen there. I'm not confident that even if China wants to invade Taiwan, that any of these corporate conglomerates that make billions from China each year would even say anything. So, China is definitely in a much stronger position than Russia is.

We get a lot of misinformation from news channels. Can you tell us how the Ukrainian people are doing? Are there safe towns they can go to? Are the Russian shelling civilians like we've been hearing, or are they more asset targeted, like we've also heard?

I think at the beginning the approach was to try to take out military assets and targets. You know, airports and bases where infrastructure was being kept. But as we're looking at ten or eleven days into the war now, I think that kind of targeted policy is pretty much gone out the window. At this point, I think when Putin realized that he wasn't taking the country as fast as he perhaps expected to, he's taking a much more Syria approach to things now, which is basically just carpet bombing towns and civilians without much care for human life.  That is what we're seeing now, and certainly on the outskirts of Kyiv. Plus, in other cities like Kharkiv and Mariupol. It's very chilling because this is somebody who absolutely has no regard for human life at all.

It's baffling to me that in the 21st century that you can't look at Ukraine and think that this isn't the lowest point of the international community to be able to protect the innocent. But in the 21st century there is nothing that can be done to stop one man from absolutely annihilating hundreds, thousands of people, women and children, and seem to be getting away with it without any sort of military intervention. It's a very heartbreaking state for the world that we're living in. I feel being here it.

It's something like out of the Second World War. The you know the concrete blocks and the checkpoints, and even the sort of they put these very spiral, I'm not sure what they're called, but they put these big spiral things on the road that are supposed to I guess absorb artillery as it's falling. They're also a throwback from the Second World War. It's a strange and bizarre time. As much as we think with advanced in society that this could never happen, what is happening now is just proof to me that we haven't really advanced all that much, and it's heartbreaking that there isn't more that can be done.

I know people are very terrified in the West of taking on more into the intervention approach with the new fly zone or something because Russia is a nuclear power. But you know, we also have to remember the US was a signer of the Budapest agreement, in which Ukraine gave up its nuclear arsenal. In exchange, they were supposed to be protected.

You could make the argument that if Ukraine still had its nuclear stockpile, which it had a very significant nuclear stockpile, you know from the Soviet era, they’d have the ability to protect people. This is something that the world stage has failed on.

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At the time that Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons, it was in fact the third largest nuclear power on Earth. A very brave move that seems to have backfired on them as history has gone on.

Next question. Is there a curfew in place in the evenings? What do people do during the day?

Yes, there is a curfew in place during the evening, so that starts around 8:00 PM and ends around 8:00 AM. So, you don't want to be out in the street at that time because you will risk being shot at, although I don't know that Ukrainians are all that sort of trigger happy. But certainly, it's important to be inside to allow them to do their job as effectively as possible without having to worry about civilians roaming around. So, there is that in place.

During the day, it's fairly quiet, but you know, people still go out, and there's really nothing open. You get a notification every day of which pharmacy or which market might be opened. So, you tend to see, sort of when you're driving around, you see a large group of people waiting in a corner, and that's usually they're waiting in lines to go into a pharmacy or a market to get necessities and things that they need. So, that's basically all that's open.

And then the cars that you see are just people trying to go from A to B really. Beyond that, someone like me, I'm obviously out working trying to do stories, doing interviews, which is a very big logistical challenge right now. It's hard to find drivers, fixers, and those sorts of things. But as an independent journalist I'm doing my best. I'm here on my own.

But it is, yes, people are out. But it's certainly a city that's a shell of its former self.  It's hard to imagine how quickly things changed from normal into a state of war.

Last question and it's kind of an open question. Are there any myths that you think need to be debunked that you would like to talk about as you finish this dispatch?

I don't think there are any myths specifically. People are very aware of the Russian propaganda machine. You know in Russia that it's being spun as some kind of liberation. But there's a fifteen-year jail sentence for anyone that utters the word invasion or war. So, you can tell that that it's not something that's getting the proper coverage over there. Although, there are a lot of protests.  That (15-year jail sentence) legislation was passed on Friday unanimously in Parliament, so there was no objection and no one stepping out of the vote, so that really shows you how weak the Russian Parliament is, quite frankly. What a bunch of weaklings that they are that they can't even, you know, abstain to something as ridiculous as that.

I just hope that Russian people can access the right news agencies to be able to get around some of that censorship, to get a clear picture, because, the end of the day, it’s really the Russian people that are the only ones that it can put enough pressure on their government to stop this, and to stop Putin from this crazy killing that is happening. So, those myths are the ones that need to be stopped here.

People that I speak to (in Ukraine) will say things like they have family in Russia and their own family doesn't believe them that their house is being shelled. It's just crazy! It’s absolutely ripping families apart.

The Russian people have a big responsibility in this. I hope that they can help the world really to rid us of this evil.

That is a heavy dispatch, one of the heaviest conversations I think I've ever had with you. And then there you are. In the middle of this place. Please stay safe and I look forward to the next time we talk.

Thank you, Dennis. Thank you for your support. Thank you all for your support.

For those interested in learning more about the aftermath of war, please pick up a copy of my latest book “Only Cry for the Living: Memos from Inside the ISIS Battlefield.”

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