Inside the Ukraine Invasion: TV Correspondents Share the Reality of Work, and Life, in a War Zone

Several news reporters spoke with PEOPLE about their experiences on the ground in Kyiv and other conflict zones around Ukraine as Russia continues its invasion

Clarissa Ward
Photo: Marcus Yam

Russia launched a military attack on Ukraine early Thursday morning local time, and for Ukrainian residents whose cities are under assault, the intervening hours since have been nothing short of a nightmare — and a surreal one at that.

According to journalists stationed around the country, the people of Ukraine truly did not believe the conflict would escalate to this point. Now, with the din of battle growing ever closer, Ukrainians are desperately seeking safety, searching for basic daily necessities and perhaps even holding out hope for a swift resolution.

PEOPLE spoke with multiple TV news correspondents about how the invasion of Ukraine is unfolding — from inside the muddy trenches of the front lines to subterranean metro stations that are now serving as makeshift shelters.

For more on what's happening in Ukraine, listen below to our daily podcast on PEOPLE Every Day.

Below, these reporters share their firsthand experiences from the last few days, explain why this conflict feels different from others in recent memory and shed light on what they hope Americans will take away from this harrowing moment.

Russia and Ukraine
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Trey Yingst, Fox News Foreign Correspondent: Last week [war] felt far away to many of the people that we spoke with.

Holly Williams, CBS News Senior Foreign Correspondent: They've been living with Russian aggression for years. It's not their first time with thousands of Russian troops on the border. ... I think this real sense of pride: "We're not going to be intimidated by this."

Martha Raddatz, ABC News Chief Global Affairs Correspondent: When we did [This Week with George Stephanopoulos in Ukraine] on Sunday, we had our set out in a town square. People were walking by, they were shopping — and there we were saying an invasion's coming.

Clarissa Ward, CNN Chief International Correspondent: For people on the ground, it just didn't seem real. It seemed fanciful. It seemed impossible that Russia — which is a country with such deep, close, historical, religious, familial ties to Ukraine — was going to stage a bloody invasion.

Charlie D'Agata, CBS News Senior Foreign Correspondent: [They were saying], "It's not going to happen here. The fighting's going to be out in the East. It's not going to affect us. They're not going to bomb the capital. President [Vladimir] Putin isn't that crazy."

Ward: They thought it was a bluff.

D'Agata: And I'm not talking about denial here. They were fully aware of the threat. They knew what was going on. But ... people really do want to hope for the best. They don't want to think the worst-case scenario is going to happen.

Raddatz: I've covered the Pentagon for so many years, have a pretty strong sourcing ability there, and the reports every day were just growing more and more alarming. ... There's nothing that brought it all home to me more than this text that I got from senior Pentagon official. He wrote to me while we were waiting for the invasion and we knew it was coming. He said, "You are likely in the last few hours of peace on the European continent for a long time to come. Be careful."


Raddatz: I was in touch with [a colleague], and we're both pretty old hats at war reporting. And both of us were saying there was a large amount of trepidation about what was to come.

D'Agata: [On Wednesday night in America] we finished off the evening news at 1:30 in the morning here. I put my head to bed.

According to the Ukrainian government, Russia began its invasion Thursday morning local time, with forces moving from the north, east and south.

Raddatz: And then, the next morning there were air raid sirens where we were. We started hearing that there would be attacks.

D'Agata: I awoke to the sounds of explosions — first in the distance.

Raddatz: There was a complete shift in mood.

Ward: I think a lot of what you're seeing is just this sense of being in a daze, of being completely shocked by, as one woman put into me, waking up in a totally different reality from the one you went to sleep in.

D'Agata: I'm coping on an hour-and-a-half of sleep the past 24 hours.

Williams: I think I've had two hours sleep in the last 36 hours.

Threats have steadily mounted against Kyiv, the capital city of 2.8 million people.

D'Agata: There have been a lot of fighter jets flying overhead. And at around noon [on Thursday], a huge number of explosions on the perimeter of the capital. They make the ground shake. They're terrifying when you hear them.

Yingst: People in the capital feel like they are living in a nightmare because the worst-case scenario, the far-off possibility of a full-scale Russian invasion into their country, is now taking place. People are understandably scared.

Williams: [We started to see] that stoic front slip for the first time. So today we did see panic buying in the shops here in Kharkiv. People apparently lined up to give blood.

Raddatz: We did see lines in banks and lines in pharmacies and picking up sleeping bags.

Ward: There isn't anywhere safe right now to go in Ukraine. There are so many different cities and areas coming under attack, that people feel frozen in fear.

Yingst: Kyiv is bracing for what comes next and the mood of the city is quite tense.

Ward: It's just very hard to reconcile this European cosmopolitan city [like Kharkiv under attack]. This woman [I spoke with described] this new reality of strikes and thuds and explosions and the paralysis of fear, not knowing what to do.

Raddatz: It's an absolute tragedy. There are people saying goodbye to their husbands and fathers and leaving them behind. It's complete chaos at the borders. ... The human cost in this is unbelievable.

Ward: The other thing that is heartbreaking to see is ... Russians and Ukrainians, they share these deep ties. There are millions of Ukrainians living in Russia and vice versa. Most Ukrainians speak Russian as a second language. Many also speak it as their first language. There are such deep ties. And so, seeing Russia's president launching this kind of an onslaught onto a country that is so deeply embedded in the history ... it's just so hard to get your head around that. I interviewed a young man called Vladimir [who] said to me, "Russia is our brother, but who treats their brother like this?" And that really stayed with me.


President Putin's aggression toward Ukraine has been widely condemned by the international community, including with economic sanctions and NATO troops massing in the region. Putin insists Ukraine has historic ties to Russia and he is acting in the interest of so-called "peacekeeping."

Ukraine War

Yingst: [It has surprised me] how unafraid the soldiers were. Last weekend, we flew with the Ukrainian National Guard to the front lines.... These soldiers are living there on the front lines for months at a time, and they're [in] actual trenches. I mean, it's like you would see in World War I. And talking to these soldiers, they were so unafraid and it was hard to grasp how they were so unafraid. I would attribute their lack of fear with their patriotism, like how patriotic they were about Ukraine. They basically were like, "This is our duty to protect the country."

D'Agata: The people in Ukraine ... are defiant. There's an utter hatred toward President Putin — not towards the Russians themselves, but towards President Putin. And they are doing all they can to put up patriotic resistance against Russian invasion. They have a tremendous amount of support for their troops. But they know they're outgunned. They know that their forces are no match to Russia's military machine.

Yingst: [During our visit to the front lines] suddenly incoming fire started right at this position, and everyone had to run for cover. It gave us a taste of what these soldiers experience every day, but I think that it really gets to the core of the type of weaponry that was being used and is now being used. We're now looking at ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, fighter jets — not motor shells that can be fired really just by two people.

D'Agata: The government has made it easier for people to get weapons for their own self-defense.... Some young men we spoke to said they are going to fight. In fact, we saw [civilians with guns] walking down the street today. It was a little bit jarring for a second, because when you do the work that I do, you see a gun, you get worried. You know what I mean?


Numerous residents have been seen trying to flee. "We are facing a war and horror. What could be worse?" one 64-year-old woman living in Kyiv told the Associated Press.

D'Agata: Parts of the capital itself are a ghost town. They've declared martial law here. ... [On day one, the Russians were] pretty much right on the doorstep of the city itself. So people are concerned. People are worried.

Williams: It doesn't matter where you are or who the target is, that sound of the machinery of war, I think, for most human beings is really distressing. This is a country I've spent a lot of time in since 2014 and I know a lot of people here, and so, as that was happening, I was thinking about them.

Yingst: The people that I'm focused on this week are the Ukrainian people — the moms and dads who are taking their kids underground to hide from air raids, the factory worker who puts down their gloves and picks up a gun to defend their country. These are the people whose stories I want to tell.

Ukraine War
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Williams: In the subway stations in this city, there are hundreds of people, maybe more, taking shelter because they're worried about another night of missile strikes and airstrikes.

Ward: Hundreds of people ... were sitting in the dark, in the old, in the train cars. They were sitting on the floor.

Williams: We spoke to a computer programmer who was down there with her mother with all their camping gear, trying to figure out what their next move was.

Ward: They don't have a lot of food. There are not a lot of bathrooms. It's clearly not a sustainable situation, but no one knows where to go and what to do. I spoke to one woman, she said, "I have a car, but where would I go?"

Raddatz: You have parents trying to calm their children down, with air raid sirens that they've never heard in their life.

Ward: There was one woman I was interviewing ... with her 6-year-old girl and her 9-year-old boy. ... She said, "We're so scared, but we're trying really hard not to show the children that we're scared because we don't want to frighten them. We don't want to traumatize them." And this is something I've seen many times in war — the incredible strength of parents trying to put on a brave face to protect their children, protect their innocence.

Williams: [People are] thinking, 'Well, but realistically, how long can we stay here?' Because it's middle-class Ukrainians with their pets. People are down there with their dogs and their cats. It's so recognizable for so many Americans.

Ukraine attacked

Ward: I never imagined that in 2022 in Europe, I would be going into a subway station and finding hundreds of people hunkered down, fearing for their lives.

Raddatz: [At the border] there was a young woman in a car who had clearly just dropped off someone. And she was just sitting in her car, crying. Their lives are changed forever. You can see the horrific bombing and the fierce fighting that's going on right now — but when it comes down to it, it's a young woman in her car, tears streaming down her face.

Yingst: I [want] people to look past the bombs, to look past the missiles and to look past the destruction for a moment and remember the people. Because I think it's so easy in war to get caught up in the explosions, it's so easy to get caught up in the conflict, the bullets and all of this that's happening.

Ward: The people of Ukraine have done nothing to deserve this whatsoever. They have no desire to fight Russia or have any kind of conflict with Russia. And they've had no recourse, no ability to try to stop this from happening.

Raddatz: [These] people are just like us. They care about their families. They go to their jobs every day. They go to dinner every night. And this is what's being destroyed, lives just like ours.

Ward: We should all feel profound compassion for what they're going through. And also we should feel profound anxiety because it doesn't necessarily stop at Ukraine. ... Symbolically, this is not just about Ukraine. This is about an assault on our way of life.


"The prayers of the entire world are with the people of Ukraine tonight as they suffer an unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russian military forces," President Joe Biden said as the invasion appeared to begin.

D'Agata: Some of the people we're working with are getting a little bit jittery as well, because this is going to be a very hostile place — the capital. And people are genuinely concerned.

Yingst: My crew and I, we were prepared for the worst-case scenario from the beginning because we always prepare for the worst and hope for the best. It's a cliché saying, but you have to be, in this industry, prepared for everything to collapse and chaos to consume the world around you because it happens often.

Ward: A few days ago, I thought talk of a full-on, all-out invasion sounded hyperbolic to me.

Yingst: I think what is different about this story compared to the other conflicts that we have covered around the world is the level of human suffering that is taking place currently and could take place. ... It's a scale that the world has not seen since World War II.

Ward: At this stage, having crossed the Rubicon now, nothing sounds too far-fetched. ... I just don't think that we can take anything for granted right now.

The Russian attack on Ukraine is an evolving story, with information changing quickly. Follow PEOPLE's complete coverage of the war here, including stories from citizens on the ground and ways to help.

Joelle Goldstein,
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Joelle Goldstein is the Staff Editor of TV for PEOPLE Digital. She has been with the brand for five years, beginning her time as a digital news writer, where she covered everything from entertainment news to crime stories and royal tours. Since then, she has worked as a writer-reporter on the Human Interest team and an associate editor on the TV team. In her current role, Joelle helps oversee all things TV, and enjoys being able to say she has to watch The Kardashians, America's Got Talent, Love Is Blind and Dancing with the Stars for her "work" responsibilities. Prior to joining PEOPLE, Joelle was employed at The Hollywood Reporter, where she was co-nominated at the 2019 GLAAD Media Awards for Outstanding Magazine Article for feature cover story. She graduated from Ithaca College with a Bachelor's degree in Television-Radio (and an appearance in the NCAA Women's Volleyball Final Four!)

Dory Jackson
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Dory Jackson is an Associate Editor for PEOPLE's digital TV team. While at the brand, she's had the opportunity to interview a long list of celebrities, from Kate Hudson to Pierce Brosnan to Billy Porter. She also recaps popular TV shows like The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and Vanderpump Rules.

The New York-based Maryland native graduated from Randolph-Macon College in May 2016 with a focus in Communication Studies and Journalism. She came to PEOPLE in March 2021 after working at a number of major news companies, including Newsweek and Us Weekly. She also previously co-hosted a podcast called "Idol Nation."

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