The Last Death
A word that suggests a measurement both small and imprecise.
In Kyiv this morning that word signified the difference between life and death.
Having witnessed the carnage of war for more than seven months from the vantage point of Kharkiv, the nation’s frontline city, a weekend trip to Ukraine’s capital was meant to be an escape from the mounting visage of deaths across the northern and eastern fronts.
It was not to be.
The first noises outside my highly perched window sounded hauntingly familiar, too familiar but my geographic location precluded me from processing the fact that we were under attack.
A few seconds later a stark reality, and visual confirmation, broke through my suspended disbelief.
Plumes of black smoke emerged from behind the skyline, rolling upwards in soft bulbous patterns, blanketing the blue sky and overtaking the clear autumn day.
In the scene below throngs of people scampered into the underground shopping passages, searching for cover as more explosions ripped across the landscape.
After gearing up, which meant a vest, tourniquet, and helmet, I headed out to the streets to visit the epicenter of the smoke trail.
I found destruction almost immediately.
Within a minute I came across blown-out glass, and the damaged facades of buildings.
In two minutes I was at a set of makeshift barricades, manned by a variety of police officers and soldiers.
Then a sight I instantly recognized came into focus.
The site of Russian terrorism. The sight of Russian war crimes.
A mangled body stretched across the asphalt.
Another, charred to nothing but bone, still encased in the driver’s seat of a car.
Multiple vehicles tangled up at an intersection, smoke still coming from them.
Carnage measured in meters.
The reports began streaming into my phone. Apparently, additional rockets were incoming, Kamikaze drones had been sent, and Russian bombers were taking off.
In those moments, however, when covering the terror of this Russian-created war, such details don’t bring significant fear.
They can’t. Not when confronted with the remains of the dead, and the heroic work of the living.
The city of Kharkiv and its inhabitants have lived under near-constant Russian attacks since the early hours of Feb. 24, since the same date, not a day has passed where Kharkiv Oblast has been free of Russian war crimes.
Despite having lived through the vast majority of that unfathomable Kharkiv-centric violence, it has never become a normal experience, nor should it ever, and in Kyiv, I was reminded of that in the most tragic of circumstances.
In the great city of Kyiv, life had become normalized again, yet there is nothing normal about members of the populous being grotesquely strewn about the wreckage of civilian neighborhoods, nor can we as believers in democracy and liberty allow for this type of scene to settle upon us an accepted part of life, as just the price we pay for having Russian as a neighbor, in any part of Ukraine.
As a now veteran observer of death, be it in Kharkiv or Kyiv, two undeniable truths have emerged during the course of my work.
1) Every death matters in this war.
2) Every Ukrainian civilian, as well as every soldier, policeman, and first responder, who dies is an eternal hero.
It is time we stop crowning heroes on the streets of Ukraine, and demand that our allies across the globe give us the weapons to achieve a total victory over the Russians.
After this morning, as is the case after every death I document, a refrain comes from my heart and echoes throughout my soul, and now I share it with the world.
“This must be the last death.”
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