The War is Close. It’s Within Arm’s Reach
Oleksiy Prodayvoda is war correspondent at TV Channel Ukraine. He has been working in the zone of the active conflict in Ukraine since 2014. After February 24, he has been actively covering the full-scale war in Ukraine. He shared with us how the war came to his home, how Ukrainians and their enemies had changed in eight years, and why Ukraine will win.
Before we began our conversation, you warned us you’d only slept a few hours. Is it your new norm?
I usually sleep enough, because sleep is one of the sources of not only productivity but also safety. In this case I had to prepare a story from the frontline for the Ukraine 24 morning slot in the national telethon. It’s a regular situation that can happen even in the time of peace. The only difference is the topic of the story.
You live in Kyiv. Some of its residents sleep in corridors of their flats or spend nights in bomb shelters, while some are living in the metro stations…
I evacuated my family. I feel better when I’m only responsible for my own safety. I don’t sleep in the corridor, I prefer my bed. Despite even that being at home I could hear fighting that was going on right outside the city.
There was a funny situation at the very beginning of the war. I decided to soothe a panicked elderly woman at a store. I told her, “Think to yourself, it’s a residential area, there’s not a single military facility here. Only civilians live here. What could they [Russians] be seeking here?” I think the lady is still recalling my words with bitterness, because no sooner had I told her that than there was a strike on the parking lot near which we were talking. The panes in the nearby store got smashed. And in a couple of days our neighborhood became one of the hottest in the city, especially after the missile strikes and terrible destruction of various buildings.
This is the reality you really can’t accept. It’s evening, you’re home and seemingly safe. The next thing there’s an explosion, after which you begin to understand the people of Japan, the land of earthquakes. Then you learn you don’t even have to take a car to see the epicenter of the explosion. The war is close. It’s within arm’s reach. And, alas, there is no safe place anywhere.
Which of the stories you have made so far has become the most memorable to you?
It’s about the liberation of a village in the Chernihiv region. I arrived there immediately after the fighting ceased. I saw dozens, if not hundreds, of dead invaders. I’m an emotional and emphatic person. I understood they were people too, somebody’s parents, sons or husbands. But I didn’t feel a slightest hint of sympathy. Though I didn’t feel fury either. Those men had come to kill and rob my people. They deserved what they’d received. It was fair.
What struck me most was that I felt pride. The pride for my land and our warriors, who are liberating it village by village, meter by meter…
What makes you smile at war?
You must both cry and laugh not to break down. A journalist could be moved deeply when making a story. It’s natural, because it’s the sing of your humanity. But you also must laugh, as it gives you relief. And it can catch up with you in the most unexpected situations.
One day I and my cameraman were waiting for the military commanders to accompany us to a scene to make a story. But first they asked us to help move a paralyzed elderly woman from one evacuation bus to another. We took her out of the first bus without a problem, but we couldn’t get her in the other bus. Finally, we did it but it took us a lot of time and effort. Then, we realized the reason for the effort and understood where we’d made the mistake. And so the cameraman tells me, “Then let’s get her out again and then get her in properly.” And we couldn’t help but burst into wild laughter.
The war humor is cynic. Many jokes are connected with death. You laugh at the dead enemy, as he got what he intended to bring to you. Laughter is your reaction to really terrible situations.
I recently noticed that Ukrainians didn’t become crueler in this situation. But they became really tougher. Here’s a simple example: In the past few people could watch videos from sites of car crashes, while now even more awful videos don’t scare or scandalize the majority of people.
You covered the beginning of this war, in Crimea in 2014. How has the enemy changed in these eight years?
The enemy hasn’t changed much. And he underestimated how much we had changed. Putin started this war, but it’s not him who’s attacking us but the sick Russian society. The military is part of this society. They too watch TV and believe in the non-existent biolabs, fascists and the illusory threat.
And we see the result – the people take a hold of the understandable and convenient reality. It’s hard for them to apprehend what their sons and husbands did in Bucha, Hostomel and Borodianka. And it’s been said a lot about the civilizational level of the enemies, their reaction to asphalted roads in villages and ordinary home appliances.
What deed impressed you most?
On which day of the war? Because every day I’m learning of people and the impressive things they’re doing. For instance, the Hero of Ukraine – because I’m sure this 23-year-old man will be awarded post-mortem –who saved 20 infantry soldiers. They’d charged an attack covered by a single armored vehicle. Hadn’t it been for him, they would have been unprotected and the enemy would’ve taken them all down. But the man took all the fire on himself and destroyed two enemy vehicles. He hit the third too, but it’d shot a just second before he fired. This shot took his life.
I’m always impressed with the evacuation stories. When people flee, they take the most valuable things they have. And then you see these are not TVs or toasters, but living souls. A bosomed cat, a cage with a parrot or hamster. Dogs walking next to their owners or carried in their arms…
The humanity of the Ukrainians and our ability to do good are what makes us different from our enemies. These are the things you can’t destroy.
Do you still have professional taboos as a war correspondent?
Yes. It’s panic and anything related to it. War is always emotional swings. There are victories but there are also losses. We’re all people – we can get tired, lose our hope or feel disappointed. Every time I appear in front of the camera, I ask myself, “What’s the use of my story?” Therefore, I always try to cover the things that make our victory closer, despite all the pain and fear. To show the people who overcome all hardships, obstacles and tragedies to make this victory come true. Thus, I’m trying to keep focus.
Do you know what you will do after the victory?
No. Most probably, I’ll keep working. I want to make stories about the renovation of our towns and cities. About recovering the infrastructure, logistics, production… And about the people who are building the peaceful life.