A Journalist Explains Why Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine Saw Him Put Down His Camera—and Pick Up a Kalashnikov

From a story in the Toronto Star by Jeremy Nuttall headlined “A journalist explains why Russia’s invasion of Ukraine saw him put down his camera—and pick up a Kalashnikov”:

The static of radio communications intrudes into the conversation as Sergei Loiko, speaking from a basement surrounded by Ukrainian fighters on the outskirts of Kyiv, explains how he went from reporter to territorial defence fighter.

For about 25 years, Loiko covered conflict and life in Russia for the Los Angeles Times as an award-winning photojournalist and reporter until his retirement in 2015, after which he wrote novels.

Now, as the Russian invasion of Ukraine enters its third week, the 69-year-old Moscow native says he’s prepared to kill or be killed, all in order to stop Russian President Vladimir Putin

“This war is a black-and-white war; it’s the war between good and evil, and it’s very easy to takes sides,” Loiko told the Star in a phone interview.

“I finally took my side.”

He said he decided to postpone a surgery for the operable cancer he’s battled for two years to join the Ukrainian effort, adding he’d rather “die on the battlefield than in a miserable hospital.”

The call for foreign fighters put out by Ukraine’s government has been answered by people from around the world, including Canada.

Some, such as a Canadian sniper reported to have arrived to join the fight, have military experience. Others have nothing but a desire to help Ukraine during its time of need.

Thursday, Loiko released a video on YouTube in which he holds a Kalashnikov and asks for other foreigners with military experience to come to Ukraine and join the territorial defence forces to fight against Russia.

In the video the Russian says he’s fighting against “my motherland” to defend Ukraine, because Putin is “the Hitler of today” and that the war is for the whole world.

Loiko served with the Soviet special forces in the 1970s but his time spent in more than 10 conflict zones as a journalist, including in Iraq and Afghanistan, contributed to his decision, particularly the battle for Donetsk airport in 2014, he said.

Then, he was inside the airport working as a journalist, and later wrote the novel “Airport” with the Donetsk airport siege being the heart of it.

He said he remembers feeling as though he was getting in the way during that battle and said now he feels more control, and even elevated, during the conflict. It’s different than the feeling of helplessness a war correspondent often deals with while carrying a camera and notepad.

“The goal is different,” he said. “(As a reporter), you need to survive to tell the world what is happening; here you need to survive to win the war.”

So far, he’s been helping the Ukrainians with their public-relations effort, highlighting some of those who are helping to fight Russia.

He said he aims to write a first-person novel of the war at some point. For now, he said, he hopes his second novel “Flight,” based on the downing of a Malaysian airliner over eastern Ukraine in 2014 in which nearly 300 people died proves prescient. The protagonist in that book ultimately kills Putin.

“Now, I am joining the Ukrainian forces to finish the business I started in my second novel.”

Jeremy Nuttall is a Vancouver-based investigative reporter for the Star.


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