Listening in on Russia’s War in Ukraine

Listening in on Russia’s War in Ukraine

By The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX

In this week’s episode, produced in collaboration with the Associated Press, reporters on the front lines take us inside Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and share never-before-heard recordings of Russian soldiers. 

The day President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion, Feb. 24, 2022, Russia unleashed a brutal assault on the strategic port city of Mariupol. That same day, a team of AP reporters arrived in the city. Vasilisa Stepanenko, Evgeniy Maloletka and Mstyslav Chernov kept their cameras and tape recorders rolling throughout the onslaught. Together, they captured some of the defining images of the war in Ukraine. Stepanenko and Maloletka talk with guest host Michael Montgomery about risking their lives to document blasted buildings, enormous bomb craters and the daily life of traumatized civilians. As Russian troops advanced on Mariupol, the journalists managed to escape with hours of their own material and recordings from the body camera of a noted Ukrainian medic, Yuliia Paievska. The powerful footage went viral and showed the world the brutalities of the war, as well as remarkable acts of courage by journalists, doctors and ordinary citizens.  

Next, we listen to audio that’s never been publicly shared before: phone calls Russian soldiers made during the first weeks of the invasion, secretly recorded by the Ukrainian government. AP reporter Erika Kinetz obtained more than 2,000 of these calls. Using social media and other tools, she explores the lives of two soldiers whose calls home capture intimate moments with friends and family. The intercepted calls reveal the fear-mongering and patriotism that led some of the men to go from living regular lives as husbands, sons and fathers to talking about killing civilians. 

In Bucha, a suburb of Kyiv, Russian soldiers left streets strewn with the bodies of civilians killed during their brief occupation. Kinetz shares her experiences visiting Bucha and speaking with survivors soon after Russian troops retreated. In the secret intercepts, Russian soldiers speak of “cleansing operations.” One soldier tells his mother: “We don’t imprison them. We kill them all.” 

Will Russian soldiers and political leaders be prosecuted for war crimes? Montgomery talks with Oleksandra Matviichuk, a Ukrainian human rights lawyer who received a 2022 Nobel Peace Prize. She runs the Center for Civil Liberties in Kyiv, which has been gathering evidence of human rights abuses and war crimes in Ukraine since Russia’s first invasion in 2014. Matviichuk says it’s important for war crimes to be handled by Ukrainian courts, but the country’s legal system is overwhelmed and notoriously corrupt. She says there is an important role for the international community in creating a system that can bring justice for all Ukrainians.  

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