Fox News correspondent Mike Tobin has covered six wars, but the horrors taking place in Ukraine are different he tells TheWrap.
Tobin has been in Ukraine since Feb. 23, the day before Russia launched its invasion. In a recent phone interview between assignments, Tobin said what makes Russia’s assault on Ukraine so horrific is that civilians are often targeted and the resulting refugee crisis is spinning out of control.
“I have never seen so much indiscriminate fire, then so much in the way of civilian casualties,” Tobin told TheWrap. “When you’re talking about Kharkiv, when you’re talking about Mariupol, they have just pounded everything in that town. The mayor of Mariupol says 80 to 90% of the housing has been destroyed. And so there are going to be people in there.”
Tobin recently lost two colleagues in the fighting, Fox News cameraman Pierre Zakrzewski, who was killed when incoming fire struck the vehicle he was in near Kyiv. Ukrainian journalist Oleksandra “Sasha” Kuvshynova, 24, was also killed in the incident. She had been working as a consultant for the cable news network.
Tobin said after Zakrzewski was killed, a Fox News security team had the difficult task of confirming his death.
“There were members of our security team who took a lot of risks to go to Kyiv and confirm that Pierre was dead and secure his dignity. I want people to know how grateful to them I am for that. Also, the Save Our Allies organization who helped rescue [Fox reporter] Benjamin Hall are special people,” Tobin said.
While the Fox News journalists on the ground are risking their lives to bring viewers the truth about what’s happening, some of the network’s hosts, including Tucker Carlson, face constant criticism from people saying they are acting as a shill for Russia. Despite Carlson repeatedly making headlines for his comments defending the former Soviet Union, Tobin has been a vocal Putin critic and noted the Russian despot ordered an invasion of Ukraine under false pretenses.
“It was so dishonest, but he didn’t even tell his own troops that they were going in. Part of that was to prevent leaks. The other part is because it’s an immoral war,” Tobin said. “We’ve seen from the interviews with the prisoners of war, and from some of the texts that have been intercepted with guys sending messages home to their mothers, they thought they were part of an operation, or just an exercise, and now they’re part of an invasion and they’re killing civilians in droves.”
Below is more of TheWrap’s interview with Mike Tobin on what he has been witnessing in Ukraine.
TheWrap: How has the situation evolved in Ukraine since you first arrived?
Mike Tobin: As it has progressed, as you have seen the horrors of the civilian casualties in places like Mariupol and Kharkiv, I think [the Ukrainian’s] resolve has hardened and accepted that they’re in this for the long haul, that it’s going to get worse. But they’re not going to give up Ukraine, it’s their home.
In speaking with the residents, what are some of the most harrowing stories you’ve heard?
Usually, what you find are these people who have been trapped in the basement for days. The incoming fire stops, and they grab whatever they could. I talked to one woman at a train station who had a backpack, and I asked her what was in her backpack. She said she didn’t know. She just grabbed what she could, and got out as fast as she could, and was headed to Poland. And I said, ‘What are you going to do?’ And she didn’t have a plan. She just got out and was running away from the fire. I’ve talked with refugees who were from Kharkiv and they were Russian speakers. They were Russian-friendly. There was a great train wreck happening in their head, because Vladimir Putin said this war was about ‘liberating’ them, and [Russians] came in and were killing everyone. And it’s traumatic, and there’s so much dishonesty involved in it.
When you talk to residents, is there a message they want you to share? You know, with the West?
What you hear from so many of the Ukrainians is ‘close the sky,’ meaning they want the no fly zone. The message has come back from Western leaders that they’re not going to do that because that would involve putting U.S. pilots in the sky, or NATO pilots in the sky ultimately, against Russian pilots. And that could be the slippery slope that gets us to world war three. And so the West says ‘we’re not gonna implement a no fly zone.’ So they’ve kind of altered the request to air defenses. Things like the Patriot missile system or Israel’s Iron Dome … something that could intercept aircraft.
With so much shelling going on, what are you and other journalists doing to stay safe and where are you staying?
We’re staying in different hotels and with different organizations. I’m pretty close to the Polish border, 40 miles from the Polish border. And the war is, the ground war anyway, is to the east… most of it is to the east of the country in terms of ground forces in terms of indiscriminate rocket fire and artillery.
How do you stay focused when you are surrounded by trauma and horror?
We just do. There’s a gear you get into and just try to shoot for the backbone of a story, and don’t get emotional about it. There’s a lot to get emotional about, and part of it is that we’re just so busy. We’re just trying to get to the next deadline, then the next live shot making sure that we’re accurate. That’s job number one. I guess at some point when this is over, I’ll deal with my emotions.
This interview has been edited and condensed for content and clarity.