On the Ground in Kyiv with Photojournalist Lynsey Addario

Lynsey Addario in conversation with Katie Couric

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The Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist spoke to us about the devastation and inspiring moments of resistance she’s witnessed.

Lynsey Addario is one of the brave photojournalists on the ground in Kyiv, covering the brutality of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist has spent her career documenting war zones, capturing images from Baghdad during the Iraq war to the genocide in Darfur. She traveled to Ukraine in the days before the Russian military began its assault and has been photographing the devastation as well as the stirring moments of Ukrainian resistance. 

Katie spoke to Addario about her time in the country, what she’s witnessed so far, and the vital role journalists play in covering crises:

Read on for some excerpts from their moving conversation.

Katie Couric: Let’s talk about the capital city, Kyiv, which is a huge focus right now. Tell me what you’ve been seeing and what you’ve been shooting.

Lynsey Addario: Every day we’re looking at a mass mobilization of civilians, people who are offering themselves up as volunteers. So that has been pretty incredible. I met this woman, Julia, a young woman who was crying as she was going to the volunteer center. She’d been handed a gun two days prior, didn’t even really know how to use it. But she just felt it was her duty to her country to go and at least try and fight. Yesterday I was at this incredible center, which was a base where they train people in two or three days on everything from intelligence to anti-tank mining and operating a gun and all sorts of weapons. 

Every day it’s getting more and more tense. The sirens are going off more and more. The first few days I was here there were several residential buildings that were hit.

And had people evacuated those buildings? I saw those photos and wondered if there were people inside.

If they had a place to go, yeah. A lot of people have moved west. A lot of people have moved their families out of the capital, but some people just don’t have anywhere to go. So we’ve seen the scenes at the Polish border. This is the tragedy of war — you have these poor civilians who don’t have money to leave. They don’t have the resources to leave. Some people are elderly, they can’t move. Some people are disabled. I met a woman in this town of Schastia, which we heard has been pummeled by the Russian military. She spoke Italian, so I was able to speak with her at length. She said her husband has diabetes, he can’t walk, and he’s blind, and they live on the third story and so she has to stay there because she can’t move him. This is what people are dealing with.

It’s incredible to see the people of Ukraine taking up arms: Cab drivers, restaurant owners, teachers. Tell us a little bit about those people and what’s motivating them to risk their lives to defend their country.

I think democracy. These are people who have been able to thrive in the last few years. They have lives, they have businesses, they have a certain amount of freedom of speech. They feel united as Ukrainians. They have a leader who has been amazing and strong and who has been speaking up and defiant. 

They’ve also endured eight years of war. So there is a certain tolerance, which is also really important to note. When I was in the east and they were being shelled, there was one day where I spent about an hour face down. And I, at one point, looked up to see if anyone was around and there was a woman with her 5-year-old on a bicycle. And there were literally shells landing in the village. And I said, “Aren’t you scared?” And she said, “No, this is our life.” 

I think Ukrainians have really come together. And the more Putin pushes, the more the Ukrainians unite.

Despite their best interests, the Russian military is far superior. There is no Ukrainian Air Force, there are tanks rolling into Kyiv. Are people thinking it’s just a matter of time before the Russians overtake even the most determined Ukrainians?

I think somewhere in the back of their minds, of course, they must be thinking that, but publicly they’re not voicing that. They do not want to live in a Putin-controlled Ukraine. They do not want to be part of Russia. They will fight. And whether or not they believe this is their fate, they just don’t see themselves going back to that. They just don’t accept it.

What do you think is gonna happen, Lynsey? Have there been missiles destroying government and security buildings?

Not yet. I think that’s probably gonna happen tonight. They’ve warned people to leave certain areas of the [city], so they’re giving people a little time. They also did that in Mariupol, where they said residents should leave and sort of gave people a window.

Are there some photographs that you’ve taken, Lynsey, that seem to exemplify what is going on in Ukraine right now? And could you describe them?

It’s so hard. I feel like I’m never doing enough. I think I’m trying to show the civilian toll. I’m trying to show residential buildings that get hit. I’m trying to show the mobilization of people coming to volunteer. 

For me, as a mother, yesterday seeing the mothers and their children in the shelter, that was heartbreaking. I can’t imagine taking care of a four-month-old baby in a shelter, where you’re sharing a space with dozens of other people, and you’re terrified. Most of these women are separated from their husbands. They’re separated from their other children. The men have been called to fight. There is so much emotional stress that’s going on right now. For me, as a photographer, I’m always trying to show the human side and how war affects civilians and women and children. So that’s what I’ve been focusing on.

How dangerous is this assignment compared to others that you’ve done?

You can ask me that in 48 hours. I’ve never been up against the Russian military. I think it’s gonna be brutal. I think it’s gonna be pretty ugly.

Why do you do it, Lynsey?

Because I think people need to see. This is such a historical moment. This is a European capital being invaded by the Russians unprompted. How can we not take note? At some point the world leaders have to act. How long can we sit around? And if you don’t have journalists on the ground, if you don’t have journalists holding Putin accountable for what he’s doing, then it’s just gonna be Russian-led propaganda. I think it’s very important for people to see reality.