Professor reports from scene of Malaysia Airline disaster

Commentary

KYIV, Ukraine – My phone was turned off when the Malaysian airline story started to break.

I was at a concert in an art gallery in Kyiv’s city center. As we came out, my friends immediately switched on their mobile devices.

“An international passenger plane had been shot down over Ukraine,” Taras said, “in the war zone.” That’s what people here call the eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk, where Russian funded militants and Russians have been killing Ukrainians for months.

I couldn’t absorb the news. A few minutes earlier I’d been listening to baroque liturgical music. News of more deaths was jarring.

With sounds of ancient instruments still echoing in my mind, I wasn’t grasping the full magnitude of the disaster, and suggested we stop in a nearby café with an amazing patio. It was a lovely summer evening. As we ordered, Taras kept checking his phone and sharing the news as it was coming in.

My horror began to grow, and soon I couldn’t wait to finish, go home, learn more and start sharing information.

The following day, I went to a press briefing by Ukraine’s Security Service Chief Valentyn Nalyvaichenko. He showed video footage from the crash site, and played audio recordings of intercepted phone calls between the Russian funded militants. Fragments of conversation of men initially gloating that another Ukrainian plane had been shot down – then panic when they realized that it was an international civilian airliner.

A CTV News cameraman caught me photographing Mr. Nalyvaichenko in their news report.

After filing my report for Public Radio Ukraine, I went for an evening walk. Strolling past Parliament and the Presidential Administration explosion-like sounds unnerved me. Spotting a police officer, I approached him.

He must have seen panic in my eyes, since he interrupted his phone call and said, “How can I help you?”

“What are those noises?” I asked.

Calmly, he said, “Those are just fireworks; it’s the weekend and someone’s celebrating something.”

Not convinced, I pressed him, “Are you sure?”

He smiled, “This is the city center, no need to worry here.”

I could not forget the look of my violinist friend Yaryna after the concert. As news about the airline crash was unfolding, she was visibly sinking. “This war is spreading,” she said.

Edmund Burke’s words have been running through my mind a lot recently. So, I volunteered at the Ukraine Crisis Media Center. On Saturday evening they sent me an emergency request to translate the Defense Minister’s latest statement into English.

I cancelled dinner plans with a friend and sat down to my computer.

Marta Dyczok, a Western professor joint appointed in History and Political Science and Fellow at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs, specializes in international politics and history, with a focus on east central Europe and Eurasia, and specifically Ukraine. She has published three books, Media, Democracy and Freedom. The Post Communist Experience (2009), The Grand Alliance and Ukrainian Refugees (2000) and Ukraine: Change Without Movement, Movement Without Change (2000).