Story #151. A War Reporter's Journey Through Battlefronts and Injuries

May 30, 2024
Dmytro Yevchyn, a reporter for Radio Svoboda, shares his experiences covering the war while undergoing rehabilitation after being injured by a mine explosion.

Dmytro saw with his own eyes just how fluid the front line can be. Just weeks after filming near a familiar hotspot, he might find that journalists were no longer allowed there after the fighting intensified further. This unsettling scenario has played out for him multiple times.

Of course, journalists' safety comes first.

In addition to carrying bulletproof vests, tourniquets, and first-aid kits, Dmytro had to learn to gather all his filming equipment within seconds, respond immediately to military commands, and even distinguish types of enemy weapons by their sounds.

In many frontline areas, the sirens often sound only after the explosion. Thus, my team and I learned to listen to everything very carefully. Of course, we are not soldiers, but sometimes you can sense that something is coming.

However, predictability and war rarely ever go together. One day, there was an incident when Dmytro could not avoid close contact with a shell.

It was one of those rare occasions when his team was invited to enter the military's behind-the-scenes and film the real-time war. Although Dmytro does not give the impression of being blindly passionate about his work---after all, he regularly takes tactical medicine courses for his and his colleagues' safety---they altogether seized this opportunity.

"We were offered a ride in a BMP to go to Robotyne, Zaporizhzhia Oblast, and film our military operations at ground zero. We had to leave in the dark to avoid drones. We arrived under fire, and it was quite clear by that point already that something was wrong.

As we understood, we arrived just as the Russians were rotating their troops and had received orders to press and attempt to assault our position.

Still, we worked all night and left around 6 a.m., while it was still dark. Our positions were shelled throughout the night, but we had to leave.

As I was getting into our BMP, I felt a severe burning in my legs. I couldn't pinpoint where exactly at first. I realized something had hit one of my legs because I quickly lost feeling and couldn't move it. I was dragged into the BMP, and it wasn't until the aid station that I learned shrapnels had hit my other leg as well.

In the BMP, I started bleeding profusely. We fought desperately to stop the bleeding with whatever we had."

This happened in January of 2024.

Similar to the war dynamics, the whole character of Dmytro and his team's work changed. Before the full-scale invasion, he reported on the many aspects of life in occupied Crimea and its indigenous people, the Crimean Tatars, for the Krym.Realii project.

As Russia plunged Ukraine even deeper into the war, Dmytro's focus naturally expanded to include the previously peaceful southern regions. 

"I remember our first trip to the frontlines very well. It was to Mykolaiv, where we were based. At that time, Mykolaiv was constantly under heavy bombing. It was only for minimal intervals if the air raid sirens ever subsided. I also recall how the water supply system was destroyed there, and the whole city, including us, were left without water."

In time, he became more regular in visiting Ukraine's war-affected areas.

Dmytro usually spends a few weeks near the frontlines and a few weeks at home. Working days involve constant threats to his life, amplified by sleepless, high-alert nights. When it is cold, Dmytro always has all his clothes on just in case they have to run away from the bombing.

"When we started traveling to Mykolaiv, the city was within range of all kinds of weaponry, as the occupied territories were just 15-20 kilometers away. It was impossible to predict what would be fired at us---the enemy attacked randomly, targeting everything indiscriminately.

Once, after spending a night in the basement, we emerged and entered our hotel. The place was already so ventilated, with curtains blowing in the wind... It was only then that we saw all the hotel's windows had been blown out.

We later measured that an S-300 missile had fallen just 120 meters away from us. These sorts of scenes were typical in the city."

Dmytro after the injury in Zaporizhzhia Oblast.

During his rehabilitation, which is still ongoing, Dmytro has had enough time to reflect on what had happened when he was hit. There were not any groundbreaking revelations --- he understood how dangerous his work was after the full-scale war's start, and he still does now. After all, this is what he expected from it.

"At home, everyday life has, of course, changed. It has become more difficult for my wife and the children. Even without the war, journalism has always been this way. For those who work in the field, it involves constant trips, movement, and displacement."

After all, Dmytro has the same message we routinely hear from other war reporters and many newly minted soldiers --- one gets used to anything. That's exactly what happened to him. He is now used to danger, to working with the military, to loud explosions, and even to pain.

What Dmytro is not going to get used to is walking with the crutches.

"The doctors said I would be able to return to my usual work as soon as I learn to run again. I don't know when that will be, but I can already walk with just one stick."

However hard Dmytro's work has been at times, he was surprised to find that the material he is most proud of is an interview done in the comfort of a subject's home.

"I had a story about a boy with autism. He is probably around 12 or 13 years old. He and his mother are from Berdyansk. In short, it was a story about their escape from occupation and their life in Zaporizhzhya afterward. He paints pictures and volunteers. Somehow, it made me very emotional. Even though there are no scenes of explosions or violence, this boy's story is so impressive -- at least it was to us."

Although powerful stories can be filmed even from the rear, Dmytro longs to return to his usual work, including trips to the front. It's not a matter of adrenaline or an 'if not me, then who?' mentality; it's simply about reclaiming his previous life.

Lisa Dzhulai
Journalist at UkraineWorld