Civilian targets are under increasingly heavy fire as the Russian invasion of Ukraine enters its fourth week. Russian forces bombed a theater that was being used as a shelter for women and children late Wednesday evening, even though the word “children” was spelled out in giant letters in front of the building. More than 130 people have been pulled from the wreckage. LA Times foreign correspondent and photographer Marcus Yam has been documenting the invasion from the front lines in Ukraine and joined host Lisa McRee for an interview on “LA Times Today.”
Yam is currently in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. He explained the conditions in the city.  

“The city is basically right now a ghost town. There are curfews in place. The city has had almost three weeks of work to fortify their defenses and really build up their defensive posture against the Russians. There are checkpoints everywhere. People have basically sent their families away towards Poland and towards other neighboring countries. The men have to stay and fight. No men of fighting age are allowed to leave Ukraine. We’re seeing people who were once bankers, publishers, traders, actors, directors, filmmakers, pick up arms and basically volunteer themselves for a greater good, which is to defend their home,” Yam said.

What You Need To Know

  • Russian forces bombed a theater that was being used as a shelter for women and children late Wednesday evening, and more than 130 people have been pulled from the wreckage

  • LA Times photojournalist Marcus Yam has been in Ukraine since the start of Russia’s invasion

  • He recounted his experience in the subway tunnels, with people hiding from bombs and compared it to images from World War II

  • No men of fighting age are allowed to leave Ukraine, so Yam has witnessed families saying goodbye as the rest of the family flees to safety in Poland and other nations

There have been images of Russian artillery aimed at civilian complexes in the heart of Kyiv.

“Russian bombardment has been inching closer and closer to the capital. The closest being our temp building, which is, I think, a weapons manufacturing building in downtown Kiev. Which tells me that the Russian military is centering its crosshairs and sharpening its aim,” Yam shared.

Yam has been on the ground since the beginning of the invasion. He shared details about the cities and towns he’s visited, the people he’s seen there, and the destruction he’s witnessed.

“I landed a couple of days before the war broke out. We started out in the east and we basically moved around in the cities and tried to find stories, thinking the war would start for maybe a couple more weeks or maybe months, or maybe not at all. We were hopeful that there would be a peaceful diplomatic solution to this, and we would try to do stories that reflected that, too.

When the invasion began, Yam and his team were not sure what would happen, or how much danger everyone in Ukraine was in.

“We didn’t know if they would just come in and carpet bomb the entire place and basically reduce the east to rubble. We made a decision as a team to backtrack to Kharkiv, the second largest city in Ukraine, close to the border of Russia, and try to operate out of there. In Kharkiv, we went into the subway on the first day of the war, and we found so many hundreds and thousands of civilians lying on the ground. It felt reminiscent of World War II. You know, something out of the history books, people in dark subway cars who have been there since the early hours of the morning.

Bombardment started about 4 or 5 in the morning, and they had been down there since like 6 or 7 already. By the time we arrived, it was already four in the afternoon or so and they were restless. They had no water, no bathrooms to go to and people brought their pets, their restless children.

They brought yoga mats to sit down on the floor. People were sitting everywhere, including around the subway tracks,” he recounted.

One of the toughest things to document for Yam was the Battle of Irpin, a suburb on the outskirts of Kyiv.  

“We saw dramatic scenes of evacuation. We caught one of the last evacuating trains out of Irpin, where you could see soldiers in ready position, pointing their rifles towards the Russian bombardment coming in, almost hitting the railway. And then women, children rushing on board. It was couples saying goodbye to each other for the last time before they can go to Kyiv and hold it. On top of that, we followed volunteers who would volunteer their lives, basically to evacuate people who don’t have transportation out of Irpin. These are examples of Ukrainians who do not necessarily have to pick up arms to defend their country. They want to do good for their fellow citizens, but you have to find other ways to do it,” he shared.

The war has been devastating for the Ukrainian people. Covering the events is also very dangerous for the journalists on the ground. Pierre Zakrzewski, a camera operator for Fox News, was killed in Ukraine. Yam knew him and remembered his friend.  

“Pierre was a kind soul that I’d run into in Afghanistan. We became easy friends quickly because he had a positive, upbeat energy. He was passionate, and he had a great sense of humor. He had a bushy mustache, which I constantly poked fun at because he would catch the foam of his cappuccino all the time. He was a generous soul. Pierre was always helping me out and offering assistance. Before coming to Ukraine, he was giving me advice on logistics and security and even offered me shelter and a ticket out of here if I needed it,” Yam shared.

Yam talked about what is next for his team as the war rages on.

“We are going to remain in key for the time being and decide if we might head down to the southern cities like Odessa and try to do more stories there before backtracking to Kyiv. I’m committed to stay on for as long as I can to cover this war,” he said.

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