The last time Variety caught up with Sky News chief correspondent Stuart Ramsay, he was hunkered down in a military compound near the Kabul airport, where thousands of Afghan civilians were awaiting evacuation as the Taliban watched on.
Seven months later — after a stint in Brazil’s Amazon and a quick trip home to the U.K. for Christmas in between — he’s coming up on two months in Ukraine. Ramsay and his producer, Dominique van Heerden, have been in Kyiv for around a week, and in the last few days, it’s become much harder to get any shut-eye.
“The problem is, we’re not sleeping an awful lot at night because of the bombing, so everything just becomes a bit of a blur,” says Sky’s longest-serving foreign correspondent. “It is very challenging. The bombing is very heavy, and with bombing, it can be very indiscriminate.”
The team are in a relatively quiet neighbourhood, but it’s near some “strategic military roving,” says Ramsay, meaning the area could be targeted for attacks overnight. Until Saturday, media have been given good mobility and the Ukrainian armed forces have been “very friendly,” but there have been numerous restrictions on what can be filmed.
“There are a number of people [militias] with weapons now on the streets and both they and the police — who are all armed — and the army are very, very jumpy,” says Ramsay. “That’s potentially very dangerous in that they can suddenly start shouting at you because you’re filming something and they didn’t notice you were there, and then you’re having to prove that you’re not a Russian spy [or] Special Forces.”
At press time, a 36-hour curfew is in place for Kyiv; the Sky News team won’t be able to move around the city until Monday morning. There’s talk of the government organizing press trips via buses on Sunday, with police protection, “but I’m not convinced we’ll be on one of those,” says Ramsay.
“There’s too many things that can go wrong with these types of set-piece events,” he says. “If they get it wrong, suddenly we’re on a bus being attacked by the Russian military or someone else.”
Ramsay has a long history reporting from Ukraine. The British journalist covered Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the war in Donbas from 2014 to 2015, and was even taken hostage for a day (one of three hostage situations he’s experienced).
Over his 30 years as a reporter covering 18 separate wars and myriad natural disasters, he’s “been a lot more scared” than he is in Kyiv right now, “but it doesn’t mean that it’s not scary or difficult,” he says.
Ramsay observes that global support for Ukraine’s armed forces, particularly on the arms front, is already evident in the defense of Kyiv from Russian attacks on Friday night. “I think [the U.K.] and the EU and United States in particular have actually been pouring in weapons into this place.”
“We didn’t think [the Ukrainian forces] were going to last very long, and I’m pretty certain Russia didn’t think they would last very long,” Ramsay continues. “And I know it’s only three days in, but in terms of what was thought to be this blitzkrieg, it’s [been] a remarkable effort.”
There have been some explosions so far on Saturday evening, but it’s still relatively quiet. “We’re somewhat scratching our heads,” he says.
Journalists are trying to figure out whether Russia is feigning until they have worked out a strategic position, whether they are waiting for reinforcements, or as Ramsay puts it, “whether they’re just getting beat.”
“The question is, is that just a humungous effort by the Ukrainian professional military, Ukrainian conscripts and the militias? Or is it a reflection of Russia not being as good as everyone thought they were? Or is it simply the advice and equipment they’ve been given by the West?”
On Sunday, despite the curfew, the Sky News team will have access to the roof of their building, where they’ll work on a wrap package comprised of analysis of the war in Ukraine, as opposed to the Kyiv invasion they’ve been focused on in recent days.
Asked how long he expects to be in situation, Ramsay says, ominously: “There’s no timeline at all.”
“On the face of it, if you were to say that Russia is going to win this one, it would be amazing to be here if they didn’t. But if one assumes they are, and they take over, there will be a long period before people are allowed out and God knows the bureaucracy. We could be talking weeks and weeks, to be honest.”