Wednesday, April 17

“This war is like the battle of Stalingrad”


When Michael of the Source and the TVE team of which he is a part came to Ukrainethe war hadn’t started yet. That yes, the tanks and the Russian troops already had been stationed, threatening, in the border. And it was cold. “The average temperature in those days was 10 degrees below zero – says De la Fuente-. The snow reached a meter in height across thousands and thousands of square kilometers. Then, as the temperature dropped, the snow disappeared and the fields turned into quagmires in which the Russian tanks became muddy and had serious difficulty moving. With the arrival of spring, these last days, those fields have dried up and, on them, Ukrainians and Russians are hitting very hard. They look like battles WWII. Those scenarios have reminded me of the images of the Battle of Stalingrad”.

The cameraman from Ourense returned last week from the Ukraine, after 55 days of news coverage: “We arrived before the war -he relates-. In principle, the plan was to stay a couple of weeks but, two days before our return, being in Kramatov (a city in the Donbas region), the Russians crossed the border and began the invasion by sweeping the trenches that the Ukrainians had opened in Kharkov. We had to stay, of course, and our work changed radically. Fortunately, the press permits arrived on time, although what were previously facilities became obstacles to being able to move to the front lines of combat and even prohibitions to film in certain places.”

A war of the past

More than thirty years of experience in covering practically all the most important recent war conflicts in the world from the front line, endorse a Miguel de la Fuente who subscribes to the paradoxical phrase “All wars are the same and, at the same time, they are all different”. In Ukraine he has appreciated an important difference: “The wars changed in 1991 with the first Gulf war – he recalls -. There it began with a series of bombardments through Tomahawk missiles that arrived at the precise point and, by implosion, burst the buildings from the inside without causing great damage on the outside; This is what is now called surgical warfare. It was about destroying the resources of the country to, immediately afterwards, deploy the troops in what, it was believed, was going to be a military parade. This has been a constant, a characteristic of the wars of the 21st century, although on many occasions that “walk” was not such. In Iraq, especially in Basra, there was a lot of hand-to-hand fighting.”

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“However -specifies De la Fuente- in Ukraine things change. Russia has a lot of ground power and excellent aviationbut he soon realized that, against the forecast of his military strategists, Ukraine had sufficient anti-aircraft defenses They were doing them a lot of damage. So, from Moscow, it was decided that the weight of the invasion would be carried by the infantry divisions led by their powerful tanks; that is to say, here, as I was saying before, we have returned to the battles in the purest World War II style, in which the territories are conquered inch by inch after very bloody confrontations. And that is where the invaders have come up against the stronghold of some organized Ukrainians who have not only caused them numerous casualtiesbut they have managed to cut off the fuel and ammunition supply lines of the Russian troops.”

One of the aspects that has surprised the Galician cameraman is how prepared the Ukrainians were for the war. Russia/Ukraine relations have been characterized, since the dismemberment of the USSR, by permanent tension. After the, in effect, annexation of Crimea, the Ukrainians knew that the Russians were going to return at any moment. And trust that they did, and this time with an authentic display of their military power: “Yes – Miguel confirms – I was very surprised at how prepared and, at the same time, organized, the Ukrainians were, both from the point of military view as well as that of the civilian population, especially the latter. Every time a building is bombed, a brigade of civilians immediately appears made up of 50 or 100 people who proceed to clean up the rubble and almost always before we journalists have time to film the destruction. And not only that, they also planned their escape routes for the children. I was with them and I have come to see how fathers and mothers took their children to the border and returned to continue fighting. These brigades are also in charge of organizing food supplies both for the soldiers who fight in the front line and in the shelters for the civilian population where, if you go in, you will see that everything is very organized: meals, beds, toilets… Talking with them, they informed me that, since the Crimea, and very discreetly, this entire defense network was articulated. Ukraine was already a country on alert.”

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And how are these people distinguished from the rest of the civilian population?

It’s very easy: when the alarms go off, most don’t move, but these people do. They are connected to each other, even by apps own, and they know where, when and how they have to act.

Zelensky’s figure

From the war in Ukraine has emerged a new figure in international politics, its president Volodímir Oleksándrovich Zelenski, a law graduate who, before embarking on his political career, was an actor, screenwriter, producer and director of film and television. He has become a symbol of the Resistance, at least seen from the outside, and Miguel De la Fuente corroborates this from within the country: “Everyone agrees that they have a great president, even those who, before the invasion, criticized him. There were soldiers who confessed to me that they were not very in tune with him but that, well, he was the president of Ukraine and they were going to defend him to the death. And really Zelinsky is managing like a fish in water. She has turned a lot and, in the media, she is doing very well. He has the general and I would even say unanimous support of the Ukrainians”.

Of course, when talking about the resistance of the Ukrainian people, their unity, their courage, their willingness to give their lives for their country, there are exceptions, and for this we must refer to the aforementioned region of Donbás or Donest ( name that sounds a lot in Europe for a football team, Shakktar). Located in southeastern Ukraine, Donbas is a territory whose boundaries have never been delimited, which includes important cities such as Luhansk, rich in minerals, as well as the strategically key port of Mariupol, whose city has already been almost completely razed. “The Donbás -explains De la Fuente- is divided into two parts, one pro-Western and the other pro-Russian, and conflicts have been numerous between the two sides in recent years. Russia has repeatedly accused Ukraine of committing crimes against pro-Russians and that has been one of the justifications for the invasion. In my opinion, Putin’s goal was to take over the entire Ukraine, but now that he knows that he cannot do that, at least as easily as he thought, he argues that what he wants is to liberate the Donbass, which would allow him to have a way out of sea ​​through the port of Mariupol.

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As can be verified, Miguel does not hide his sympathies for the Ukrainian cause. During the last two months he has filmed, and seen, hundreds of images, and, as happens in all the wars he has been in, some of them will remain with him in his memory forever: “Yes, there is always something that shocks you , which especially excites you. From this war I am left with the sequence of a crying child who wanders along the border with Poland. He is alone, in one hand he carries a chocolate bar and in the other a bag. It is a scene that CNN broadcast and that transmits a lot of anguish because it represents the situation in the country. It is the anguish of a town invaded in every way, devastating the population, throwing them out of their homes, from where they have been forced to leave with what they were wearing and leaving the family behind knowing that you may never see them again. These people do not deserve what is happening, and kids like that, even less.”

As fate would have it, while returning to Spain with his colleagues from TVE, Miguel received the news of his mother’s death in Vigo. He arrived in the olive city last weekend just in time to attend her funeral. Already on Monday, he returned to Madrid, where he lives: “What if I’m going to come back? Well, at the moment it is clearly not. We have spent very hard days, in tension from when you get up until you go to bed, on permanent alert, and that burns a lot. You can get used to sirens, but never to bombing. You know that as soon as you hear them you have to get going immediately. But I do not rule out returning later because I believe that, at least in one part of Ukraine, the conflict will continue for a long time, although media attention will surely diminish. In fact, we have already entered another phase. This war has already ceased to be the first news on the news and occupies secondary spaces. It’s something that always happens.”


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