This Is Reno photographer and video journalist Ty O’Neil, whose passion lies with documenting conflict zones, traveled to Europe to document the war in Ukraine and its impacts. This Is Reno will continue to follow Ty’s efforts in Ukraine as he is able to send them.
KYIV, Ukraine – The city of Kyiv should be a bustling city of nearly three million people with cafés, bars and restaurants buzzing with energy. Now, though, the city is eerily quiet with much of the population having fled to safer locations.
While some residents have stayed, it’s possible to venture down relatively major roads without seeing a single person or moving car. One of the main roads through Kyiv is often so sparse with traffic that pedestrians simply cross wherever they choose. Normally, underground passages and designated crosswalks would be the only way to cross to the other side.
Military checkpoints dot the city, and major intersections are built up with defenses and armaments. The media has been asked not to photograph these. Cars and people are frequently stopped to have their paperwork checked.
The city is on edge. People are on the lookout for Russian saboteurs or even social media posts that might give away or draw Russian attention to a specific target.
An individual I spoke with in Kyiv explained that some people think the attack on the Retroville shopping center, which killed at least eight, was the result of a social media post showing military trucks under the building a few days prior.
Street after street of businesses are closed down, which makes it challenging to find food or essentials, such as medicine. A few shops remain open and tend to have a line to them at all times. The grocery stores are clearly affected in terms of variety, but the shelves remain fairly well stocked, with fresh produce being the hardest to find.
The war here is close. Explosions and air raid sirens are common, especially at night. Throughout the city you can see residents who have put an X shape of tape on their windows to hopefully prevent them from shattering and sending glass shards into their homes. I have seen images of people hit by the shattering glass and the injuries are truly horrific.
While the city is asking residents to keep lights off at night, I ventured out onto the small balcony of my temporary rental and looked to see how many people I could tell where home.
The answer: very few.
Light poked out from only a few of the hundreds of windows I could see, though some could be office buildings. But for a municipality that was a 24-hour town before the Russian invasion, at night it has become the opposite – silent.
The main square of Kyiv, Maidan Nezalezhnosti or Independence Square, is central to the 2014 revolution and is marked by monuments to those who fought in it. It’s a bit heartbreaking to see a place that only eight years ago was a battleground for the Ukrainian people fighting for their future and against Russian influence.
Now the country is at war for their very existence against the Russian invasion.
As a foreigner I can’t truly understand the fighting spirit of the Ukrainians. But standing in the place where dozens of people died fighting their own government so that Ukraine could be a country that makes its own decisions, it’s difficult to imagine how Russia ever thought they would be welcomed here with open arms.
Ty O’Neil is a lifelong student of anthropology with two degrees in the arts. He is far more at home in the tear gas filled streets of war torn countries than he is relaxing at home. He has found a place at This Is Reno as a photojournalist. He hopes to someday be a conflict photojournalist covering wars and natural disasters abroad.