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March 7, 2022updated 30 Sep 2022 11:07am

Mark Austin on his escape from Kyiv: Hotel staff told Sky News team ‘God bless you all for coming’

By Mark Austin

Sky News presenter Mark Austin has written a second exclusive behind the scenes diary from Ukraine where he and his team continue to cover the war, this week starting in Kyiv before retreating from the capital for Lviv.

Austin shares his personal reaction to the news that his Sky News colleagues were ambushed and shot at west of Kyiv, with chief correspondent Stuart Ramsay wounded. That team has now returned safely to the UK, but dozens of British and American journalists remain in Ukraine.

Read Austin’s first Ukraine reporting diary for Press Gazette here.

Monday 28 February

Sky News cameraman Dean Massey in Ukraine. Picture: Sky News

The explosions are becoming more frequent and closer. We are broadcasting seven hours a day from Kyiv and the sirens are sounding with an unnerving frequency. What is most unsettling is that in this city the explosions come before the sirens. Our cameraman, Dean Massey, captures two huge explosions that light up the night sky. The image reappears in the UK papers. The basement is filling up. But the hotel staff still work, the food keeps coming and the power and the internet stays on. There is a strange rhythm to life here.

Tuesday 1 March

Our security teams are suddenly edgy and busy on their phones. We carry on broadcasting from the balcony of the hotel, often with flak jackets on or handy. Another siren wails while we are on air. Otherwise, it is a calm night with the occasional rattle of distant gunfire. The centre of this capital is not under bombardment. We are happy to stay. But suddenly things change. We come off air to receive a security briefing about an attack on one of our teams. Chief correspondent Stuart Ramsey and his producers and crew have come under fire. Their description of what happened was terrifying. I am reminded of the attack on Terry Lloyd and his team when we were together working for ITN in Iraq in 2003. They were killed. It changed ITN. This time, somehow, Ramsey and his team were not. I felt sick. I couldn’t watch the footage. 

Wednesday 2 March

Mark Austin and Nick Stylianou of Sky News in Ukraine. Picture: Sky News

A decision is taken to pull us back from the city. “I think we’re out of here”, said my producer, Nick Stylianou. It was a difficult one to accept because we had felt it was important we were there. But before we know it we are packing and on the road out of Kyiv. Before we left, the local woman who had looked after our rooms asked me why we were leaving. “Will they come?”, she asked. “Maybe”, I replied. And then she said: “God bless you all for coming”. It was heart-breaking. The hotel staff were somehow reassured and encouraged by the media presence.

Thursday 3 March

After a 14 hour drive through more armed checkpoints than I care to remember, we arrived in Lviv, a city in Western Ukraine yet to come under assault by the Russians. It was home to hundreds of journalists and tens of thousands of women and children fleeing the fighting. The city centre hotels were full. We found a place on the outskirts and started broadcasting again. The story around the country was worsening. The Ukrainian forces were resisting in the most remarkable way. And most extraordinary of all, the people, ordinary people, stood defiantly in front of tanks, refused to move, refused to be cowed. This was not how Putin thought it would be.

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Friday 4 March

Awake to find a new hell, engulfing this country. The Russians had hit the area around a nuclear reactor. In the country home to Chernobyl, another nuclear catastrophe had been narrowly avoided. It was not encouraging. The port city of Mariupol is under a horrifying assault. Water and power is cut off. It appears to be an indication of what lies ahead for many Ukrainian cities. We air the footage of the attack on the Ramsay team. The reason is that it was one small snapshot of the horror unfolding here. I am on air and we go to a news conference by the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. He says that the war is about hundreds of thousands of individual stories of human tragedy and human suffering inflicted by one man. He is right…and I don’t know when or how it ends.

Mark Austin and Deborah Haynes of Sky News in Ukraine. Picture: Sky News

Pictures: Sky News

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