Sky News' Stuart Ramsay on Ukraine attack and mental health

'Our gear and our training saved me 100%': Sky News' Stuart Ramsay on Ukraine attack and mental health

Stuart Ramsay

Sky News chief correspondent Stuart Ramsay has revealed he was left “in tears” on his birthday after returning home from Ukraine when he first realised he had been shot six times more than he had thought.

In Tuesday’s episode of the Behind the Headlines with Headlines Network podcast, Ramsay (pictured) also recalled how the stigma around mental health when he first started in foreign reporting was so intense that admitting any struggles was tantamount to signing your “unemployment papers”.

Ramsay and his team were some of the first foreign reporters fired upon by Russian forces during the invasion of Ukraine when they were attacked on their return from a day of reporting near the then-frontline in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, on 28 February.

Ramsay was badly wounded in the attack, which continued despite the team identifying themselves as press. He was shot in the upper leg with the bullet exiting through his lower back but missing his vital organs. However after he got home he realised he had in fact been shot seven times in total.

He told the podcast: “Dominique [van Heerden, Sky News producer] rang me and said have you looked at your gear since coming back… so I got out my bag and I looked at my armour and I saw a nick in it. And another. And it turned out I was hit six more times by bullets, who none of us knew anything about.”

He added: “I can tell you it was actually on my birthday, my wife came into the bedroom, I was in tears going ‘Oh, my God, look at that’… it was more about this is happening to all sorts of people and it really came back to me. It’s like our gear and our training saved me 100%. And yet, civilian families have no chance, and are definitely going to die. That’s what was upsetting me.”

He went on: “The effect of the shooting for a lot of people was a lot of trauma concern, and an awful lot of people asking me to stop and retire. Interestingly, not my family who just said there’s no point, he’s just not going to do it.”

Some 15 journalists have been killed while reporting on the war in Ukraine since it began in February, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, alongside an estimated 4,700 civilians.

Ramsay said that on another occasion he was left in tears while recording a podcast for Sky when they played audio of the attack and he could hear “all of the screaming”.

He said: “I got blown up in Mosul. I don’t particularly like seeing that picture very much. That was unpleasant. And I’ve been kidnapped at least twice. Those are pretty bad incidents.”

He added: “My kids are very used to me coming being in dangerous places. So I talked to them about it [being shot]. In fact, my daughter wrote, because she was really worried about it.

“She’s 21, and she wrote [after seeing the footage] saying ‘I thought it was going to be worse than this dad, I’ve seen so many bad things’.”

Ramsay said this attack felt “slightly different” as he actually had to go to the hospital after returning to the UK.

Usually it is a difficult transition home after a traumatic experience, he said: “…one day you’re in a war zone, and the next day you’re home. And that is difficult. It’s difficult for everyone. Firstly, you always come back exhausted. I find that you’re often quite irritable, but that’s probably because you’re tired.”

“In the days gone by when my kids were much younger… it was much more their mum saying to them, ‘let’s greet dad and everything but just give him a bit of space until he calms down a bit’,” he added.

“You’ve suddenly gone from being in one group where you’re all focused on one thing, it’s often fun, it’s not like it isn’t, it is fun… And then suddenly you’re back and you’ve got responsibilities and bills to pay and something’s gone wrong with the washing machine, and you have got to sort it out.”

Asked about his advice for journalists struggling with trauma, Ramsay said: “I think what they need to do is to avail themselves of any and all psychological help that the companies now offer.”

He added: “I think back to my early years, if you said to the company, I can’t do this because I need a break, and it’s really affected me, they’d be like ‘Stuart’s lost it, he’ll never go out again’.

“And that was something that I know I felt, and I know many colleagues who do a similar job, particularly in the United States, felt – that they just basically would be signing their unemployment papers. That has all changed.”

He also warned against journalists drinking to cope with trauma, saying that instead of going “out on the lash” it was better to focus on the more mundane parts of life to cope with readjusting to the slower pace of living outside a warzone.

“That sudden coming back and euphoria of getting out of somewhere, and it’s been a great trip,” he said. “It’s something that’s got to start to calm down, and it’s quite essential that you calm it down yourself.”

Excessive drinking has been an infamously common way for many war reporters to cope with their experiences, including Sunday Times foreign correspondent Marie Colvin, who was murdered by government forces while reporting on the war in Syria in 2012.

The Behind the Headlines Podcast is produced by the Headlines Network, a group working to support mental health in newsrooms through mental health workshops, media exposure and lobbying the industry.

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Picture: Justin Tallis / AFP / Getty Images

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