Feb 23, 2023 - News

Chicago reporter in Kyiv reflects on year of war in Ukraine

Julian Hayda reporting on a Rosh Hashanah pilgrimage in Uman, Ukraine, last year. Photo courtesy of Pete Kiehart/NPR

A year ago, Chicago journalist Julian Hayda found himself unexpectedly at the heart of war when Russia invaded Ukraine.

  • Hayda, whose late father led St. Joseph's Ukrainian Catholic Church near O'Hare, had left journalism to study for the priesthood outside Kyiv in 2021.
  • But when the war started, Hayda returned to journalism working as NPR's coordinating producer in Kyiv.

What's happening: Tomorrow marks one year since the invasion, and the ensuing warfare has killed thousands of Ukrainian civilians and many more troops.

Why it matters, locally: Chicago is home to one of the nation's largest Ukrainian-American communities.

  • It's among the top cities in the U.S. when it comes to sponsor applications for Ukrainian refugees, according to data from the Department of Homeland Security.

Zoom in: We recently caught up with Hayda, our former WBEZ colleague, to see what has changed in a year.

State of play: "Ukrainians are bearing the brunt of this war," Hayda tells us. "Tens of thousands of people are dead today that wouldn't have been if Russia hadn't invaded one year ago. Pretty much all have died on Ukrainian territory.

  • "… Ukrainians feel like this is their war to fight. I've heard people say over and over, that it's a 'fight for survival.'
  • When half of Kyiv — a city the size of Chicago — loses half of its power and water supply because of missile or drone strikes, it's a great test of human resilience. That shared struggle has also, in some ways, been an equalizer."

Yes, but: The mood of Ukrainian people is "overwhelmingly hopeful ... They've also united in a way they never have in 30 years of independence and hundreds of years of colonialism."

Backstory: Hayda initially moved to London when the war broke out but now splits his time between Chicago and Kyiv, where he says signs of pre-war life can be seen in the high-rise condo buildings that continue to be built across the city.

The bottom line: "Don't take a single moment for granted because things can change very quickly," he says.


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