The Globe and Mail is spotlighting some of the unsung heroes of the war in Ukraine, who are doing their part amid Russia’s invasion. Other pieces in this series include recognition of the doctors, the farmers and the public servants
Christian Borys is the founder of Saint Javelin, a company that has donated more than $1-million from sales to Ukraine since the start of the war, and a former reporter based in Kyiv from 2014 to 2018.
In February, early in Vladimir Putin’s unprompted and illegal attack on Ukraine, Russian troops quickly advanced from the south and from the east until they were on the footsteps of the Ukrainian city of Mariupol.
As the Russian military began its siege of the now-infamous port city, there came a moment of reckoning for the foreign aid workers, journalists, photographers and others staying in hotels across the city: whether they should stay or leave.
Most left. But Evgeniy Maloletka and Mstyslav Chernov, both veteran Ukrainian journalists who have covered the war with the Associated Press for years, decided to stay, because they understood what the Russians were about to do to Mariupol. They decided that their job, no matter the personal risk, was to tell that story to the world.
Since 2014, they’ve both seen firsthand the depths of depravity within the Russian military. They understood what the Russian military can do and does to journalists who expose their horrors. And they knew that the Russian military would be only too happy to wipe Mariupol off the face of the Earth, killing thousands of civilians, if it meant achieving Russia’s goals.
Yet they stayed. And by staying – the only international journalists who remained in the city, over the course of their month there – they became the first journalists to shock the world with the true face of Russia.
With Russia’s relentless shelling knocking out power throughout the city, they used generators to power their phones and laptops so they could upload their work to Associated Press editors around the world, using whatever weak internet signal was left.
And that work was gruesome and heartbreaking. In late February, they started to send photos of lifeless Ukrainian children in Mariupol’s hospitals who’d been killed by Russian artillery and air strikes. The photos were almost impossible to look at, but Mr. Maloletka and Mr. Chernov bore witness at those hospitals, spending hours with those medical teams, watching countless children and civilians die so that the rest of the world could see what Russia was doing.
The psychological effect of what they saw and experienced is impossible for almost anyone to understand, but they did it day in and day out. They experienced danger themselves, too; Mr. Chernov said the Russians were hunting them down. “They had a list of names, including ours, and they were closing in,” he wrote.
Over the course of the nearly three-month siege, Mariupol became the home of a humanitarian crisis with thousands of reported deaths. In May, the city fell under Russian control.
The two of them never fired a bullet, but in a very real way, I think that those two men helped to save Ukraine. They may not have fired a bullet, but their photos and videos helped galvanize the world’s support. In my mind, the country still fights on today, in part because of their cameras.
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