Richard Engel Lifts the Veil on Ukraine’s Secret Resistance in New MSNBC Special: ‘Fatigue Is Not an Option’

“If they lose this fight, they lose their country, they lose their lives,” the reporter tells TheWrap

Richard-Engel

One year after Russian forces first invaded Ukraine, Ukrainian civilians are showing no signs of halting their resistance to the already-entrenched occupation, according to NBC News’ Richard Engel, who says that “fatigue is not an option” for Ukraine’s secret resistance.

“If they lose this fight, they lose their country, they lose their lives [and] they lose their homes,” the NBC News chief foreign correspondent told TheWrap, adding that Russia has destroyed any symbols of Ukrainian identity and engaged in campaigns of “extreme violence and repression” in occupied cities. “Russia set out to conquer this country, topple the government [and] put in its own government … Getting fatigue or losing morale isn’t an option for them.”

“On Assignment with Richard Engel,” which premieres Friday at 10 p.m. ET on MSNBC and will stream on Peacock, centers on the civilian resistance that brought together Vlad, a car part salesman, Mykhailo, a taxi driver, and Nastya, a bartender, who covertly spied on the Russians in an attempt to liberate their occupied city of Kherson.

David Zaslav and Chris Licht Warner Bros. Discovery CNN

As Vlad, Mykhailo and Nastya successfully conducted their information-gathering and carried out several attacks without getting caught, Engel attributes their victory to working with a small, trusted circle — a practice that could have protected Sasha, another civilian who requested to use a pseudonym for the project but was ultimately forced to give up his conspirators after being jailed and tortured.

“Sasha’s biggest problem was that he started working with people he didn’t know, and once you start doing that, it opens up a whole world of problems,” Engel said. “This group was extraordinarily secretive, and they kept it very small, only talking to each other, and not letting anyone else in on it.”

While the two resistance groups don’t cross paths in the documentary, their parallel resistance, which concluded with the trio raising a toast to Kherson’s liberation while Sasha relocated to another city after following his jail time, showcase the perilous reality of resisting the ongoing violent occupation.

“Just because you stand up and want to resist, it doesn’t mean you’re going to succeed,” Engel said. “Do you only understand what risks they were taking when you saw someone who didn’t succeed, whose mission ended up being derailed and got caught?”

Jen Psaki

Whereas other documentaries might re-create an incident and bright back involved participants for the project, “On Assignment” was conducted under fire, following the occupation of Kherson from its attack through its day of liberation — a moment Engel recalls as outpouring of thankfulness as citizens tied flags around their necks like capes and expressed their joy.

“There was an outpouring of emotion, because people got their freedom back,” Engel said, noting that the “universal sensation” of freedom transported him to the liberation of Paris or another city whose brutal repression suddenly was gone. “You had this weight off your back, that’s more than just a weight because it was it was crushing you was beating you, it was oppressing you. So you had this oppressor removed.”

“On Assignment with Richard Engel – Ukraine’s Secret Resistance” premieres Friday, Feb. 24 at 10 p.m. ET on MSNBC and will stream on Peacock.

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NBCU NEWS GROUP TO PROVIDE IN-DEPTH COVERAGE OF THE WAR IN UKRAINE – ONE YEAR SINCE RUSSIA’S INVASION – WITH SPECIAL PROGRAMMING ACROSS BROADCAST, CABLE AND STREAMING

NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Andrea Mitchell to Sit Down with VP Kamala Harris in Munich for an Exclusive Interview

‘On Assignment with Richard Engel: Ukraine’s Secret Resistance’ to Air Friday, Feb. 24 at 10 p.m. on MSNBC

NBC News Senior International Correspondent Keir Simmons to Anchor ‘Inside Russia: The World’ and ‘Putin’s War’ on NBC News NOW

MSNBC Chief Correspondent Ali Velshi to Host ‘VELSHI’ Live from Ukraine

‘Morning Joe’ One-Hour Primetime Special Hosted by Joe Scarborough to Air Thursday, Feb. 23 on MSNBC

Feb. 17, 2023  – Marking one year since Russia invaded Ukraine,  NBC News ,  MSNBC ,  NBC News NOW , and  NBC News Digital  will examine the ongoing fight in the region, the global implications of the conflict, and feature interviews with U.S. leaders on what the next year looks like.

  • Today, NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent  Andrea Mitchell  will sit down with Vice President Kamala Harris for an exclusive interview in Munich, Germany airing on  MSNBC’s  Andrea Mitchell Reports  at  12 p.m. ET  and across platforms. Mitchell will also report on the St. Nicholas Cathedral School in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village, which has become a sanctuary for Ukrainian families fleeing the war. 
  • Beginning  Saturday, Feb. 18  through  Sunday Feb. 26 , MSNBC Chief Correspondent and Host of  VELSHI ,  Ali Velshi  will be on the ground in Ukraine reporting across  MSNBC . He will host  All In With Chris Hayes  at 8 p.m. ET from Ukraine, as well as his show  VELSHI , airing Saturday and Sundays at 10 a.m. ET.
  • NBC News Chief White House Correspondent  Kristen Welker , NBC News Foreign Correspondent  Josh Lederman , NBC News Senior White House Reporter  Peter Nicholas , and NBC News Channel Correspondent  Jay Gray  will report from Poland.
  • NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent  Richard Engel  and NBC News Correspondent  Erin McLaughlin  will be on the ground in Ukraine. 
  • NBC News Senior International Correspondent  Keir Simmons  will be reporting from Moscow, Russia.
  • NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent  Andrea Mitchell  and NBC News Pentagon Correspondent  Courtney Kube  will be reporting from the Munich Security Conference in Germany. 
  • On  Thursday, Feb. 23 at 8 p.m. ET ,  MSNBC  will air an hour-long  Morning Joe   special hosted by  Joe Scarborough,  featuring interviews with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.
  • On  Friday, Feb. 24 ,  MSNBC’s  On Assignment with Richard Engel  is dedicating a full hour to the war in Ukraine, featuring Engel’s on-the-ground reporting from the region throughout the year. “Ukraine’s Secret Resistance” tells the stories of three friends who joined Ukraine’s underground movement to secretly fight back against the Russian army. The new episode will air at  10 p.m. ET  on  MSNBC  and stream on  Peacock .
  • On  NBC News NOW ,  Keir Simmons  will anchor two documentary specials, “Inside Russia: The World” and “Putin’s War,” looking at the impact of the war on Russians from on the ground in Moscow.
  • Plus, throughout the week, across all platforms,  Richard Engel  will update on the status of the war one year later, where things stand and how the U.S. shaped the conflict.  Erin McLaughlin will visit Ukrainians she had met at the beginning of the war and share an update on their life a year later, including Ukraine’s battlefield ballerinas.
  • NBC News Digital  will publish deep dive features, follow-up reporting and photo essays to mark one year of the war in Ukraine.

For more information contact :

Joya Manasseh NBC News e:  [email protected]

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tv   On Assignment With Richard Engel  MSNBC  February 24, 2023 10:00pm-11:00pm PST

on assignment with richard engel ukraine's secret resistance

On Assignment With Richard Engel MSNBC February 24, 2023 10:00pm-11:00pm PST

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One Year into Ukraine War, NBC's Richard Engel Shares Insights from the Ground: 'Still in the Early Phases'

Storied war correspondent Richard Engel has watched Russia's invasion of Ukraine unfold up close. On its one-year anniversary, he fills PEOPLE in on what's happening overseas — and explains what's next

Career war journalist Richard Engel has witnessed plenty of international conflict, covering wars and revolutions across the Middle East and North Africa for more than two decades before the recent invasion took his focus.

But there's something different about what Russian President Vladimir Putin is doing in Ukraine, he tells PEOPLE. It's a war of conquest with a proper frontline and uniformed soldiers. It's a militarized conflict unseen since World War II, one that threatens democracies around the world.

Now one year into Russia's invasion of Ukraine , Engel isn't surprised that the fighting rages on — as NBC News' chief foreign correspondent, he knew to be prepared for a long-haul conflict. What he hadn't anticipated is how hard Putin would struggle to overthrow the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, a testament of Ukrainians' commitment to preserving its freedom and identity.

Engel — who first arrived in Ukraine two months before Russia invaded and spent a large portion of the past year there — has gathered a wealth of heartbreaking and inspiring stories on the ground since Feb. 24, 2022.

He'll tell some of those stories in an hour-long special of On Assignment with Richard Engel , airing Friday at 10 p.m. ET on MSNBC and available for streaming on Peacock. The special will focus on three ordinary Ukrainians living in Russian-occupied territory who joined an underground resistance to liberate their city.

Ahead of Engels' new broadcast, PEOPLE caught up with the war correspondent to ask about the toll of the past year, and what the world can expect to see next in the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Below, our conversation.

Did you expect Russia's invasion of Ukraine to last this long?

I thought this could be a long war, but I didn't know what kind of war it would be. It turned out to be very different than anticipated.

I thought the Russians were going to invade, topple Kyiv and that the story would be the Ukrainian government trying to fight back and claw its way back into power. Instead, the Russians came, they invaded and within a matter of months, it was clear that Vladimir Putin had miscalculated.

Very quickly on, the Ukrainians were driving the Russians out of the country and pushing them back. And that is still what the Ukrainians are trying to do, trying to push the Russians out of the country entirely.

I didn't know how it was going to play out, but I was quite convinced that, in one form or another, this was going to be a long commitment.

Has either side shown signs of conceding this battle, or is there no end in sight?

I think it's going to drag on. We're still in the early phases.

We're seeing Ukrainians fighting for principle. They're fighting for their land. They're fighting for their homes. Ukrainians' existence is at stake. They don't feel that they're in a position to compromise. If someone is trying to take your home and your forces are doing well to defend your house, why would you start negotiating and say to the invading forces, 'Okay, well, you can take one bedroom, or you can take the living room, just don't take the whole thing'?

Ukrainians feel that they have international support, at least from the United States and Western Europe, and their soldiers have been fighting bravely and with dedication on the frontlines, so they're not in a position to give up anything at this stage.

And for Putin, he's framing this as a war for Russia's survival. Framing this as a war against NATO. He's mobilized the entire Russian population to try and fight this war. So he's also digging in on a matter of principle, even though this isn't an existential fight for Russia. If Russia pulls out now, it's embarrassing for Putin. If Ukraine loses this war, Ukraine is gone — it doesn't exist anymore.

So at this stage, neither side is showing any signs of flexibility because for Ukraine, it's a matter of survival and they're doing well. For Russia, for Putin, which is the only voice that counts inside Russia at this stage anyway, it's a matter of principle.

Over the past year people have read reports about Russian soldiers battling fatigue on the ground. Have you seen Ukrainians start to tire, too, as this seemingly David vs. Goliath battle drags on?

Not at all. I was just talking to Ukrainian troops and I was not sensing any kind of fatigue. Of course, they're tired physically, they're tired emotionally, but they're fighting to defend their homes, their identity, their language, their right to existence as a people. They can't afford to get tired because everything is at stake for them.

They're rallying around their military, they're rallying around the government, they're rallying around Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a way that is inspiring. This entire country is mobilized. Everyone is helping, everyone is volunteering. Even people who aren't at the front are helping by working in soup kitchens, sewing clothing, or sewing camouflage cargo nets that you throw on top of armored vehicles.

We did a story a few months ago about a bar where everyone in there was raising money for the troops , collecting money for the families. The entire country is engaged in this battle for survival. Not just the troops who are firing rifles and artillery.

What is the significance of the war in Ukraine?

There's several layers to this.

The most immediate, what's at stake for the people of Ukraine, roughly 40 million people, is their survival as a nation. Russia says that they don't exist, that they're Nazis. In cities that Russian troops occupied, there have been tremendous human rights abuses and mass graves have been found. Ukrainians know what Russia has in store for them should Russia take over this country because there's widespread evidence of atrocities in the areas that Russia has taken over. And Russia said that Ukraine shouldn't exist, that it's a historic anomaly and that it's a part of Russia that should be brought back into the fold and reincorporated in the motherland.

What's at stake for peace and security is, this is the first real test of the modern era since World War II. After World War II, you have a new global order that was the establishment of the Geneva Conventions, establishment of the United Nations. And that post World War II civility has seen wars, but not wars of conquest like this, where a nation mobilizes its armed forces, mobilizes its population with the intention of taking over, subduing, conquering and annexing its neighbor.

We haven't seen that since World War II, when both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany broke out of their borders with the intention of gobbling up their neighbors and reforming an empire. The United States went to Iraq, no doubt, and toppled a sovereign government, but the intention was never to make it a 51st seat and colonize it and to make it English-speaking. We're seeing the post-World War II world order being challenged, where a sovereign state, which is democratic, is being threatened.

It's important to remember, there was a democratic revolution in Ukraine in 2014. Suddenly, Ukraine broke away from Putin's leadership, started looking to the West, started looking to Europe, started looking to the United States. That's what triggered this invasion. At first, it was the takeover of Crimea, and then the takeover of Eastern Ukraine, and now finally, the war that we're in right now.

This is an attempt by Putin to take over this nation which was starting to look to the West. It's a challenge of the post–World War II order, and it's a challenge to NATO. It's about national sovereignty, it's about the survival of democracies.

What sets the invasion of Ukraine apart from other conflicts we're seeing around the world?

What makes this war unique is that it's so clear. A lot of the wars in the Middle East, which I've spent the past two decades covering, are far more murky. They're religious wars, they're ethnic wars, they're tribal wars.

Here, you have Putin who decided to take over a country by sending about 190,000 troops over the border to topple a democratic government and take it over. So it's different than the conflicts I've seen before. Here you have the two sides fighting each other in uniform. It's a militarized conflict. In conflicts in the Middle East, participants didn't wear uniforms, they were civilians, they were hiding, guerrilla war, assassination, kidnappings.

Here, you have a population mobilized behind its army to defend its territory, much more like World War II than the last wars of the Global War on Terrorism era that began with 9/11.

R ELATED: NBC Newsman Richard Engel Returns to Safety After Kidnapping in Syria

In your time reporting on the Russia-Ukraine conflict, you've met countless people whose lives will forever be affected by the events of the past year and the eventual outcome of this invasion. Do any stories from the last 12 months stand out?

Everyone is impacted by this war all the time. About half the population has been displaced, internally or externally . But there is one story that fascinated me because there's another dynamic to this.

Russia has occupied certain Ukrainian cities since the start of this war. And I was fascinated to know what it's like to live under Russian occupation. This war is not just to topple the government, it wants to occupy and take over Ukraine, because it says that Ukraine is a Nazi state, it's Russian and it has to be returned to Russia, as well as speak the Russian language instead of the Ukrainian language and use the Russian currency.

And there was a city, Kherson, in Southern Ukraine, that for eight months was occupied by Russian forces. They imposed an occupation government, they made the schools teach only in Russian language, they imposed Russian culture, and they ripped down all the signs of the Ukrainian government. You couldn't fly the Ukrainian flag and couldn't sing the Ukrainian national anthem. These things were all made into crimes.

But in this city, an underground resistance formed. Civilians who were still in the city were working actively to undermine the Russian occupation authority, spying on the Russian soldiers, killing the Russian soldiers. And we followed a group of them, and we heard their stories of what it was like to resist the Russians inside an occupied Russian city while hiding what you're doing, knowing that the consequences for being caught are severe, very severe. And we have an hour on their story airing in my On Assignment special on Friday.

In the early days of the war you were holed up in a hotel with other journalists like Fox News' Benjamin Hall , who narrowly survived a Russian blast, and his beloved colleague Pierre Zakrzewski , who didn't. What effect did that tragic event have on your view of war reporting?

It was terrible. A tragedy.

There is a risk that journalists face while covering war zones. I was in Ukraine. I saw Pierre at breakfast. Maybe not that morning, but the morning before and the morning before that. We were in Kyiv, and the Russians were advancing. These were the early days in the war when it looked like the Russians were going to enter the city, but they were being held off at a bridge. One side of the bridge, where we were staying, was government-controlled, and then beyond the bridge was where the most active fighting was, where the Russians were advancing to try and close in on the city.

It was very risky to cross that bridge. It was very risky to be inside Kyiv because the Russians weren't there yet and there was a chance we may get hit by an airstrike or something like that, but once you cross that bridge, which was a bottleneck, you were in a battle zone and there were risks. We went into that area. It was very risky and made it out. I'm very glad we did. His team didn't and it's a terrible, terrible tragedy.

I've lost friends in many conflicts over the years and every time I do, I think about them and remember why they're doing it. They're doing it because they believe it's important to tell the story and it's important to understand what's going on.

Why do you feel that it's important to still have reporters on the ground in Ukraine right now?

It's fundamental to be on the ground. You don't know what's happening unless you're there, especially now in this age of rumors and active disinformation. I think it's probably never been more important to get firsthand information. And in a war zone, that's more complicated, and it's more risky than other situations.

On Assignment with Richard Engel: Ukraine's Secret Resistance airs this Friday at 10 p.m. ET on MSNBC and will be available for streaming on Peacock.

How Russia's invasion turned Ukrainian residents into resistance members

KHERSON, Ukraine — At dawn almost a week after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine , car part salesman Vladyslav Nedostup watched a Russian armored vehicle emblazoned with the letter “Z” rumble down the street of his hometown, Kherson . Under the amber gloom of the streetlights, soldiers marched in formation alongside their war machines.

“It was like the tentacles of the Russian monster were entering our city,” he said. “Driving their armored vehicles slowly along the streets, covering them in darkness.”

That’s when Nedostup, 28, decided he would become a partisan and join the city’s underground anti-Russian resistance. According to his own telling, a man who had never fired a gun before would soon become a killer.

“They are destroying us. They are killing my loved ones,” Vladyslav Nedostup says.

“I am not a trained guerrilla or an assassin,” he told NBC News during one of several lengthy interviews conducted over two visits to Kherson. “I just wanted to destroy them with my own hands.”

Kherson was the first major city to fall to Russia after its forces invaded on Feb. 24, 2022. The Russians violently suppressed residents protesting against the Kremlin-appointed government for more than eight months, until the Black Sea city was liberated in November.

When Nedostup initially joined Kherson’s territorial defense in the early days of the invasion, he was handed a rifle and sent to different positions to guard the city. But with the Ukrainian military quickly overwhelmed, the defense units disbanded.

With the Ukrainian army unable to enter the city, Nedostup and the rest of the resistance fought back as the Russians became more entrenched. He contacted the Ukrainian intelligence service and became a conduit to pass along information that could help the Ukrainian armed forces with their push to take back the city.

Nedostup knew he couldn’t do it alone, so he paired up with two old friends who remained in the city: a gregarious taxi driver, Mykhailo Kuanov, and Nastya Burlak, an easygoing bar manager.

Together, they developed a system to spy on and target Russian soldiers in the city and to pass the information on to the intelligence services.

Kuanov would drive around the city chatting with the Russian soldiers who were among his customers, getting information about their movements.

“Taxi drivers like to talk,” Nedostup said during several interviews. “Mykhailo is an expert at this.”

“The guys were so carefree that they didn’t even try to hide their whereabouts,” Kuanov said of the Russians. “I was picking them up from point A and bringing them to point B, and I knew that they were obviously not alone at point B, that there were quite a few of them.”

Mykhailo Kuanov said taxi drivers like himself have the advantage of being able to go anywhere without raising suspicions.

In the summer, Kuanov said he got a tip that the Russians were storing equipment inside a giant warehouse that had also been used as a shopping mall.

“Instead of running straight to Vlad and yelling, ‘Vlad, there’s equipment there!’ I thought I’d go for a drive,” Kuanov added.

Taxi drivers have the advantage of being able to drive anywhere in the city without raising suspicion, so Kuanov scoped out the site to confirm that Russian equipment, mostly vehicles, were being stored inside.

After receiving the information from Kuanov, Nedostup went onto Google Maps, highlighted the shopping mall and sent the screenshots and coordinates to Ukrainian intelligence. Other partisans in the city also worked on targeting that building, and in September the building was destroyed by Ukrainian strikes.

From left: Mykhailo Kuanov, Nastya Burlak and Vladyslav Nedostup.

Nedostup and Kuanov said they didn’t know if anyone had been killed in the strike.  

Kuanov said he wouldn’t be sorry if the strikes that he helped make possible ended up killing Russian occupiers. 

“I can’t say I wished them dead,” Kuanov said, “But wait a minute guys, I didn’t ask you to come here and ‘liberate’ me.”

An eye on Russian clientele

Meanwhile, Burlak, the bar manager, was keeping an eye on her Russian clientele.

To mess with the invaders, Burlak, 30, and the other staff would sometimes intentionally mix up their pizza orders or upsell them on the more expensive drinks.

Nastya Burlak worked with her friends to spy on and target Russian soldiers.

But she and her staff had to be careful and focused despite the hijinks. 

“The Russians in the bar were very cruel,” Burlak said, describing how soldiers would come to her bar in the middle of the day, order whiskey by the bottle, eat plates of crayfish and carouse with prostitutes.

Burlak said the soldiers could turn on her or her staff in an instant. 

“You had to think carefully so you wouldn’t blurt something out and accidentally provoke them,” she said. “The possibility of ending up in a dungeon frightened me most because that’s where people were tortured and women were raped.”

She also noticed that the soldiers were sloppy, getting wasted, and sometimes forgetting their weapons in the bar.

This kind of information was useful to Nedostup and would lead him to take his most aggressive action yet.

One night, Nedostup said he noticed a lone Russian soldier coming out of another bar.

The soldier was about 25 years old, a little drunk, unarmed and wearing headphones, making it easier for Vlad to tail him as he walked in the dark. Vlad followed him past an old playground, around the aging Soviet-era apartment blocks, until they were on a dark path beside a row of low brick school buildings. 

A knife carried by Vladyslav Nedostup.

Nedostup said that’s when crept up behind the soldier, grabbing him by the neck and sticking a knife in his back to the right of the spine.

“I wanted to pull out the knife but instead I twisted it inside,” Nedostup said.

As the soldier screamed and tried to fight back, Nedostup covered his mouth with his hand. The soldier bit him as a last resort before falling to his death. 

NBC News cannot independently confirm Nedostup’s account of the killing, but other partisans in his group said they were aware of his actions.  In separate interviews, other partisans said Nedostup had told them about the location and manner of the killing after it took place, but had only been comfortable sharing these accounts after Kherson was liberated .

In January, NBC News visited the site where Nedostup said the killing happened. He was visibly trembling, shaken by having to relive the memory. But asked if he had any regrets, he shook his head “no.”

“What helps me not to feel remorse or suffer is that I was right,” he said. “They are destroying us. They are killing my loved ones. They seized my city.”

on assignment with richard engel ukraine's secret resistance

NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent, Host of MSNBC's "On Assignment with Richard Engel"

on assignment with richard engel ukraine's secret resistance

Gabe Joselow is a producer at NBC News.

Michael Fiorentino is an associate producer at NBC News.

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Few expected Ukraine would be able to hold off Russian troops, but a month into the war, they were doing just that. Ukrainian forces began a counter-attack. In the village of Mala Rohan, outside the city of Kharkiv, Richard Engel spoke to civilians, who told him about their fears, their anger and the loved ones they’d lost.  April 26, 2022

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Ukraine's Secret Resistance

Ukraine's Secret Resistance

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  • On the one year anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, NBC News Chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel is on the ground, speaking with ordinary civilians who bravely joined an underground resistance to help liberate the city of Kherson from Russian occupation.

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Ukraine War

A Year After Russia’s Invasion Of Ukraine, News Correspondents Make The Case For Continuing Coverage

One year since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine , networks continue to rotate reporters in and out of the country. Media outlets reassess security precautions as the nature of the battle changes. Correspondents are preparing for the possibility of an even longer and more brutal war, perhaps with even more risks and uncertainties.

And while some recent polls have shown softening support for U.S. aid to Ukraine, news executives insist that viewership interest is still strong, with plans to continue a significant presence there.

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NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel said that “everything over time diminishes because it is not as new. So inevitably, if this war is still going on a year from now, we might not be talking about it as much.”

But there’s also the possibility of the nature of the conflict changing dramatically.

“We could have a Cuban missile-style nuclear crisis. China could intervene in a major way supplying weapons to Ukraine. The Ukrainians are talking about launching a new counter-offensive to break up the Russian front line,” Engel said. “I don’t think people are going to lose interest because it is so important. It is so dynamic. Russia launched the largest ground invasion since World War II. If you’re not interested in that, then I don’t know what you’re interested in.” 

Another correspondent who has been reporting from the country, CBS News ‘ Holly Williams, said, “The danger with long-running conflicts is that sometimes there is fatigue that sets in and people feel like they know the story, and they don’t need to hear about it anymore. But I don’t think I have seen that yet with Ukraine.”

“We’re definitely mindful of it. It’s part of the coverage,” said Katie den Daas, ABC News ‘ London bureau chief. “But I think there’s a difference between people wanting to use taxpayer dollars to support Ukraine, and people wanting to know what’s going on in Ukraine. I think those are two very different things. And what we see is continued interest and continued engagement.”

Moreover, correspondents say their jobs are not to be advocates for such aid, but they do express a goal of showing why the war is relevant to the American public, a challenge that is true of just about any international conflict. 

“I’m just here to tell the stories of what’s going on. And I think people do want to know, and if they don’t want to know, they should,” Engel said.

The Ukraine-Russia story does not dominate coverage like it did in the first months of the war. Broadcast networks’ nightly newscasts devoted 346 minutes last February and 562 minutes in March, compared to 34 minutes in December and 40 minutes in January, according to Andrew Tyndall, an analyst of news coverage. But he notes that the figures understate coverage in that they don’t account for related stories like NATO planning, Zelensky-Biden diplomacy and internal Russian politics. The Ukraine war , he noted, has never been out of the top 10 most heavily covered stories each month. Networks have spent millions in their investment in covering the different facets of the war across the country.

Greg Headen, vice president of news coverage at Fox News , said, “It is an important story, and Fox is committed to telling the story. Granted, you have folks that are thousands of miles away, our viewers. So why is it important to them? Well, it is important because we are watching in real time a country that never asked for war being completely pummeled. We have interviewed Zelensky. We have seen the mass graves. We report daily on the utter destruction, the human suffering. It’s important to tell the story.”

Network executives say that the biggest concern remains security of its correspondents and personnel. The initial weeks of the war, when Russian troops were about 20 miles from Kyiv, proved to be an especially fraught time, as crews scrambled to cover the advance. In March, Fox News cameraman Pierre Zakrzewski and Oleksandra “Sasha” Kuvshynova, who was working as a freelance consultant for the network, were killed when the crew vehicle was struck by incoming fire near Kyiv. Correspondent Benjamin Hall was severely injured; he lost one leg and both feet, his sight in one eye and the use of one of his hands. He’s publishing a book about his experiences next month.

Clarissa Ward, CNN’s chief international correspondent, said, “I do think it’s natural that there comes a moment where … public attention is not as uniformly galvanized as it once was. And that’s a big part of where journalism comes in because our job is to ensure that as long as this tragedy is playing out every day, and as long as this illegal war continues, that we keep telling the story of the people who are living through it and keep holding those who are in power accountable.” 

CNN’s demand for Ukraine stories, Ward said, is “almost to the point where I wish I could get a little bit more sleep.” She added, “That’s not just because CNN likes this story or cares about it or thinks it’s important. That’s also because it does resonate with viewers, and viewers care about it and viewers think it’s important.”

Ward is presenting a special on Sunday, CNN Special Report: The Will to Win: Ukraine at War , in which she revisits places like Kharkiv, near the Russian border and where she was when the invasion started. “I really wanted to profile ordinary Ukrainians who really are the kind of secret sauce, if you will, to why Ukraine has come as far as it has against the odds,” she said.

In the year since the war started, Ward said that the security situation has changed for journalists. In the early weeks of the war, as Russia began its onslaught and its troopers were on the outskirts of Kyiv, a number of journalists came under fire, and there was not an obvious person to go to for guidance “to try to navigate your way through that fog in order to do your work,” Ward said. 

“I would say that the security situation — it’s not so much that it is better, that it’s clearer,” Ward said. She said that it is “clearer where the front lines are, what the riskiest areas are, how to mitigate some of those risks, which then makes it easier for us, although challenging.” It has been difficult to cover from those areas under relentless bombardment “without taking risks that become extremely high and more and more difficult to mitigate and contend with.” 

Ward said that another challenge is to look for fresh angles and news “where you can keep the story moving, if you will,” and not fall into a lull. That may be especially the case if the war continues in a kind of stalemate, with no considerable gains on either side. She said, “As you continue to tell a story, and we are entering the second year, I think it does require more consideration and perspectives to think about, ‘What’re the really important story going forward and how do we get at that?” 

on assignment with richard engel ukraine's secret resistance

What can be difficult to convey to viewers is what is happening in the capital, Kyiv, where, despite the continued threat of missile strikes that is evident from air raid sirens, “the city is buzzing. There are art exhibitions. The ballet is on.

“We tend to sometimes have this idea that if there is a war in a country, that means the whole country is being bombed day in and day out. They can’t leave their houses, and they are sort of sitting in bunkers. But what is kind of fascinating about Ukraine — and I think it speaks to the resilience of the Ukrainian people — is that it is a much more complex, nuanced picture than that.”

CBS News’ Williams has a piece for Sunday’s 60 Minutes focusing on Kherson, the port city that was liberated after a period of Russian occupation. She, too, said that one of the challenges has been to show how Ukrainians “try to keep their lives as normal as possible.”

“That in itself is kind of an act of defiance, saying, ‘You are not going to take that away from us. We are not going to be fearful of you 24 hours a day’,” she said.

on assignment with richard engel ukraine's secret resistance

She recalled that two days after the invasion started, she and a crew were driving across the country from Kharkiv to Kyiv, and “suddenly territorial defense forces had spring up, seemingly out of nothing, often of local guys, older guys, with their own shotguns, manning points along the road. So there was this immediate sense that Ukraine is not going to allow this to happen.” 

“A lot of people obviously had doubts as to whether the Ukrainians would be able to hold the Russians back from here. They thought that the capital would fall within days. And it’s just been sort of fascinating watching that shift, both inside Ukraine and outside Ukraine, to the point where, when you talk to Ukrainians now, they feel very confident, for the most part, that they are going to win this war.”

Andrew Roy, CBS’s London bureau chief, said that they have had a rotation that happens every three or four weeks, including a correspondent, producer, camera crew and high risk adviser, as well as work with local producers and drivers.

“This is a very different war than the media have covered,” he said. “This is not generally people with small arms shooting at you and you have the risks of kidnapping.” Instead, he said, “you can be 20 kilometers from the front line and be at risk of artillery fire. The risks have not diminished in any way. It is still dangerous for journalists.”

A challenge is to convey the human side of the story, rather than what reporters go through in the danger zone. One recent CBS News story focused on the effort by Ukrainians to provide psychological support for troops. Interest in the story continues to be strong, as is shown by social media impressions, Roy noted.

“The stakes are as high as when Putin crossed into Ukraine. For audiences to turn away from the story because they are tired of it would be a massive mistake on their part,” he said.

Rather than pulling back on coverage, a concern may be how to staff up in the event of a major escalation.

“I don’t see us leaving Ukraine any time soon. I don’t see anyone leaving Ukraine any time soon,” Roy said.

MSNBC will present On Assignment with Richard Engel: Ukraine’s Secret Resistance on Friday, in which Engel profiles residents of Kherson who joined the city’s secret underground movement to fight back against Russian occupiers. Engel and the network crew started working on the project as they also covered the city’s continued bombardment by the Russians.

on assignment with richard engel ukraine's secret resistance

“We went down to Kherson because we heard maybe Ukrainians were going to take the city, and then we were there and went as Ukrainian troops were liberating it and people were celebrating on the streets,” he said. “And then, people came out and tell their stories, and we found all these amazing stories of people who have been under occupation for eight months, and are now suddenly free and able to describe their experiences.”

Engel said that the story of the occupation relates to Americans in part because, as a nation of immigrants, “every one of us has a story like this in our past. You just have to go back and look far enough.”

NBC News’ presence in Ukraine has varied from one to four teams over the past year, but the coverage has been constant.

Engel said that the shift in the battle from the “chaos and panic” of Kyiv and other cities, to one where there is a front line in the east, has created “a totally different war.” Occasionally there are attacks on Kyiv and other cities, he said, but “the vast majority of the conflict is along the front lines.” “Here there is a front line with trenches in between them and both sides are wearing uniforms,” he said. “It feels like you are in a war documentary.”

Kirit Radia, the director of international news for ABC News, said that the Ukraine coverage has been the biggest commitment that ABC News has made to an international story since the war in Iraq.

“And it is a sign not only that the audience has been there, but just that the stakes are so high.” More than 100 people from the network contributed to coverage inside of Ukraine, he said, including correspondents James Longman and Ian Pannell, who have traveled thousands of miles across the country.

Den Daas, the London bureau chief, said, “I think there is a real threat in conflict reporting that it becomes a numbers game, that we get focused on who has how many tanks and how many guns and how many soldiers — and we cover that and we report that information — but I think our coverage has been focused on people, even from before the war started. And I think when we double down on that, that is where the engagement comes.”

Pannell, for instance, was sent in January to follow up on certain Ukrainians were doing a year later, after profiling them at the start of the conflict.

The network has about two dozen people in the country at any given time. Deployments now run about two to three weeks from the earlier six weeks. Den Daas credits Ukrainian producers for covering the war “without any breaks,” even with the concerns over the safety of their families.

“We’ve had a correspondent, at least one, in Ukraine every day since well before the war started, and we are not going to take our foot off the gas pedal anytime soon,” she said.

She said that she is actually surprised at the level of audience engagement. In the first two weeks, viewers watched 12.5 million hours of war coverage. The death of Queen Elizabeth and her funeral, also lasting about two weeks, was 7.1 million. 

“Our platforms and shows are still very hungry for content. So if they are hungry for content, and they are looking at the numbers and the ratings every day, that tells me the audiences still want to know what is going on. If I had people in Ukraine twiddling their thumbs, saying, ‘Oh my gosh, are we going to make TV today?’ But we don’t. We have the exact opposite problem.”

Fox News foreign correspondent Trey Yingst said that he is in his fifth rotation in Ukraine since the war began, and “we’re still getting on TV. We’re still doing pieces on Special Report . … Certainly every news cycle changes, but I would say there is still an interest in what is happening here.” 

“This certainly has been the most dangerous and the most difficult to navigate, personally and professionally,” he said. “This level of death and destruction just hasn’t been something I have seen as a journalist in my career.”

“It’s hard to put into words just how bad it was,” he said. “Sometimes I stop myself from describing when people ask me what it’s like because I realized that the things that we’ve seen are things that most have trouble conceptualizing. They are so violent and brutal.”

Fox News’ Headen said the network has has brought in about 20 reporters and 20 producers and photographers in the past year, in addition to security agents, drivers another personnel. They have two teams in the country now, with plans for one reporter on the ground, along with local “fixers,” once the other cycles out.

Security teams shadow reporters at all hours, and they talk to those traveling around the country with other networks as well. The network crews also use armored vehicles, Headen said. “Putin and the Russian army don’t have any qualms about hitting civilian targets. So we have had a plan, we continue to have a plan. We go over those plans. And we feel comfortable with where we are at,” he said.

Yingst said that Ukraine is no different from other conflicts in that the onus is on correspondents to explain to viewers why the war should matter to them. What he has tried to do, he said, is “humanize” the story.

on assignment with richard engel ukraine's secret resistance

He recalled being in the suburbs of the city last year, and meeting a blind man as the Russians were shelling the street. Yingst and his crew went back two weeks later, after Russians had been repelled from the area, and the man’s house was completely destroyed. They found him in a nearby hospital. A more recent story was speaking to school children, aged 9 and 10, “who are telling us about missiles and drones.” “I think that is the thing I lose sleep over,” he said. 

Like other correspondents, he described having difficulties disconnecting from the story in between deployments there. When he was in Kabul on assignment last year, he found himself texting sources in Kyiv.

“I just remember that we have a job to do. We have a responsibility to be here, informing the world about what is happening on the ground,” he said. “I think most journalists who are here signed up for that. They understand that, but you have to be mentally and physically prepared to cover a story like this.”

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IMAGES

  1. On Assignment with Richard Engel: Ukraine’s Secret Resistance

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  2. Richard Engel Lifts the Veil on Ukraine’s Secret Resistance

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COMMENTS

  1. On Assignment with Richard Engel: Ukraine's Secret Resistance

    One year after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Richard Engel is on the ground, speaking with ordinary civilians who bravely joined an underground resistance to...

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    MSNBC will present On Assignment with Richard Engel: Ukraine's Secret Resistance on Friday, in which Engel profiles residents of Kherson who joined the city's secret underground movement to ...