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“The war between Russia and Ukraine is also being waged on the internet”

The Alcañiz journalist Aurora Moreno has covered the crisis with Russia and the invasion for two weeks from Ukraine. She has just crossed the Polish border back to Spain.

After spending two weeks in Ukraine covering the Russian invasion for Radio Nacional de España, do you feel relieved to cross the border with Poland this Wednesday?

Yes. When I have moved to community territory I have felt in a more controlled place. But on the other hand, I remember the people who have stayed in Ukraine, especially those who are trying to leave. The station in Lviv – a town near the Polish border – was packed with people at night, especially women and children who stayed to sleep to wait for the opportunity to catch a train to Poland or the Czech Republic. They have to take the trains to boarding, but with children and suitcases it is complicated. Very dramatic scenes are seen.

How do they face the wait?

It is very cold and since it has snowed, the temperatures drop below zero at nightfall. The small children, three or four years old, are wearing their anoraks and do not take their hands out of their pockets, not even to eat. The mothers give them food so they don’t have to take them out.

He arrived in Ukraine in mid-February. Were you surprised that war finally broke out?

In part, yes. During the first week of my stay in Ukraine, no one, even near the border with Belarus, expected an invasion. Only one person, a military man from the territorial defense, told us that it was coming. People believed that Putin would not dare. Just in case, he bought weapons and food reserves.

Did it seem inconceivable?

It is incredible that in the 21st century and in a European country there is a war like this, which seems more typical of the mid-20th century. It is striking that Russia chose to start the bombing of Kiev at four in the morning, the same time that the Germans began bombing the city in World War II on July 7, 1941.

Could it be a fluke?

No, not at all, it is a demonstration of Putin’s peculiar sense of humor and responds to his reputation as a leader who likes to wink at history.

What has impacted you the most as an observer of the conflict?

In the first few minutes, what struck me the most was seeing how people who did not believe that the invasion was coming and had not stocked up on food suddenly rushed to pharmacies and supermarkets in search of medicine and food. Queues of hundreds of meters formed. Those who had cars took to the roads, collapsing all the exit routes from Kiev. Gas stations had long queues and when you got to the pump there was no gas left. Kiev became a cage.

How did you experience the beginning of the attack on Kiev?

First the bombs fell on the outskirts, but then also indiscriminately in the city. They could hit buildings or roads and cause civilian casualties, because there are civilian targets in this war. It seems unbelievable that Russia marks civilian targets, attacking residential buildings or even nurseries. It is a war that does not respect a minimum of humanity.

Aurora Moreno explains that low temperatures worsen the conditions of those displaced by the war.

Aurora Moreno explains that low temperatures worsen the conditions of those displaced by the war.
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Should we prepare for a wave of refugees as a result of the fighting?

More than 600,000 Ukrainians have crossed the borders into Europe. 20 kilometers from the border you can already see people pushing carts with children and babies because their car has broken down or they have run out of fuel.

Does fear spread among the population?

The most general feeling among civilians is panic. But the men say they can’t be afraid to pick up a gun and volunteer. The recruiting centers are full. Everyone is willing to pick up a weapon to fight.

How has the defense of the country been organized?

They are very well organized. Every few kilometers and at the entrance and exit of all the towns there are controls with very high barricades to identify all the occupants of the vehicles. His intention is to resist. They don’t care if the Russian army is in front of them, which is a great army. I was struck by how the population identifies with their country in this conflict situation. I don’t know what we would do, but they have a common idea, they are a block, to defend their territory. The one that more and the one that less is willing to stand up, to resist. They have a lot of endurance.

Does the situation remind you of World War II, when Germany invaded the country?

Yes, it has all the looks. They are very sensitive due to the presence of Russian infiltrators, but they treat us journalists very well because from the first moment they want the world to know what is happening in Ukraine.

Do they ask the West for help?

They want the world to help them with money and weapons. The first 48 hours they felt very alone, abandoned. They now feel more supported by the West, but still recognize that they cannot tackle Russia alone. They can put the dead, but they need weapons.

Are they afraid of the nuclear attack with which Russia threatens them?

I think that, at the moment, they don’t even consider it. They are on the front echelon of the war, focused on evacuating families and resisting with very basic weapons. When I heard Putin raise that possibility, I wondered if he was crazy. But if it happens, it will be a catastrophe and not only for Ukraine but for all of Europe.

Although he tells me that the priority is to get civilians to safety, he also tells me that it is very difficult to leave the country.

The trains are not enough to go to the Czech Republic and Poland and people leave as they can, sometimes on foot. Anyone who can pay for a taxi pays for it, but there are people who take advantage of this situation.

How are they used?

In Lviv, where almost all the refugees end up, hotel prices have tripled. People can’t afford them and sleep where they can. It is shameful because they take advantage of the misfortune of the people. With an average salary in the country of 600 euros per month, they ask 140 for a room. Nobody can pay it. But you also find people who take you for free. Both houses of humanity are present. Crossing the border can take you 24 hours to travel 20 kilometers, because the cars do not move.

And how long has it taken you?

We passed quite quickly because we are journalists and the driver was overtaking in the opposite lane. If not, he would still be in Lviv.

How have you been treated when entering Poland?

I am in the first town in Poland after crossing the border with Ukraine, 10 kilometers from the border crossing, Ustrzyki Dolne. A man who is a truck driver and whom we met through contacts helped us get there and agreed to take us. Then we have crossed the border on foot. Since he is of fighting age, from 18 to 60 years old, the driver cannot leave Ukraine. They have received us in Poland thinking that we were refugees because we arrived on foot with the suitcase and the backpack on our backs. They have taken us to a place with heating, where they have offered us water and something to eat, but we have not wanted to because we are journalists. From there, buses take people to their destinations and, if they don’t know where to go, they go to refugee centers that have been opened all along the Polish border.

How is the flight of the civilian population?

Refugee problems come to you and you empathize with them, especially when you’ve been a refugee for a few hours dragging suitcases down the road. You realize that Ukrainians have been doing the same thing for days. I go back to my country, but they go on an adventure, not knowing if they will be able to eat in the country of arrival. It is a desperate situation that I have lived for a few hours, in which, at least, I have sensed his desperation.

It is said that in a war the first victim is the truth. As an eyewitness, have you detected a lot of fake news?

On the part of Russia, the first intoxication was, as soon as the war began, to spread the message that the Ukrainian president called the army to surrender. It was false, but many media reflected it. It was pure disinformation launched by Russia, which has been at the forefront in this field.

How has Ukraine responded?

He has also smartened up and created his own cyber group by recruiting volunteer computer scientists and hackers to hack into Russian websites, both government and intelligence agencies. He also releases his own misinformation about Russia. It is the war that is being waged on the internet.

How do you distinguish reality from fake when reporting?

The good thing about being here is that you give the information you see, you tell what you have collected first-hand and, if it is official information about the conflict, contrasting it with official press offices.

More information on the Russian-Ukrainian war.

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