In a subway station turned into an impromptu bomb shelter in Kharkiv, Ukraine, CNN chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward walks past a toddler in pale pink overalls. She passes a family huddling around their pet dog. A young couple are entwined in each other’s arms nearby on the ground. An elderly man walks the choked pathway, steering a young child.
A woman, accompanied by her parents, stops to tell Ward about waking up to the sound of explosions that morning. “It cannot be true,” the woman says, crying.
On Thursday, Ukrainians woke to a full attack by Russian forces, announcing what may be the biggest war in Europe since World War II. For Americans, reporters like Ward serve as an indispensable resource—communicating each news event but also mirroring the real human toll of the ongoing attack. In the few hours since the invasion began in earnest, Ward has captured some of the devastating fallout for Ukrainians. She is accompanied, according to her Instagram Story, by CNN field producer Brent Swails, CNN cameraperson Scott McWhinnie, and photojournalist Marcus Yam. Ward’s calm focus in the face of terror—pink scarf wrapped around her neck, her reporting seemingly unfazed by nearby explosions—is mesmerizing.
Early Thursday morning Ward reported on a small group of Ukrainians kneeling in prayer on the stone ground in a town square in Kharkiv, despite below-freezing temperatures. The poignant, painful moment, she said, “speaks to the state of ordinary Ukrainians here, who have done absolutely nothing to deserve this, who have no quarrel with Russia, who have no desire for war or conflict.” These same people, she said, will be the ones to suffer from the “multipronged major attack by one of the world’s most sophisticated militaries on a sovereign, independent nation.” The image of half a dozen Ukrainians praying on their knees as Russian forces advance into the country—narrated by Ward but captured by an unnamed CNN camera person—is already impossible to forget.
Ward has been an international reporter for more than 15 years. But even from the midst of an active war, she has fielded comments on her gender. Praising Ward’s reporting from Ukraine, Atlantic writer Tom Nichols noted that in an interview, a CNN anchor asked Ward how she, a mother, feels about the violence. “You don’t often see male reporters asked their feelings ‘as a father’ about military action,” Nichols noted, accurately.