Ukraine war will be a long haul

Joseph Lindsley’s reports on WGN radio help Chicagoans empathize with protracted, far-off conflict.

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University of Notre Dame graduate Joseph Lindsley went to Ukraine in 2020, and for the past year has been reporting on the war almost daily on WGN-AM (720).

University of Notre Dame graduate Joseph Lindsley went to Ukraine in 2020, and for the past year has been reporting on the war almost daily on WGN-AM (720).

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Friday, it will be one year since Vladimir Putin sent his Russian army crashing into Ukraine.

An unmitigated disaster all too familiar to most. An act of unprovoked aggression conducted to boost the massive ego of an autocrat, the invasion was supposed to be quick and easy. Instead, one year on, it has been terrible for Russia — 200,000 casualties, freedoms scuttled, their country turned into a pariah state.

Worse of course for Ukraine: thousands of civilians dead, cities ruined, economy wrecked. If the war ended now, it would take years to rebuild. Though there is no sign of the war ending now, or anytime soon. It could go on for years.

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Are we ready for that? America and her NATO allies stepped up quickly and decisively in response to the assault, providing armament and expertise to the Ukrainians while managing to stay out of the war itself, so far. Joe Biden just made a daring trip to Kyiv this week to demonstrate American resolve to stem Russian aggression.

Good for now. What about the long haul? With Republican leaders like Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis boosting Russia and the rest of the country’s famously short attention span, how do we keep focused on what will be an expensive, long-term commitment?

The way to do it is to do it, and I admire how veteran Chicago broadcaster Bob Sirott has woven Ukraine into his morning show on WGN AM 720.

“Let’s check in with Joseph Lindsley in Ukraine,” Sirott will say, handing his podium over to an American reporter who moved there in 2020, just in time for a ringside seat at the calamity.

“I’m speaking with you from the Carpathian Mountains,” the Notre Dame graduate will begin. Or: “Good afternoon from Eastern Ukraine. I’m on the edge of Donetsk. ...”

Firemen work to clear the rubble and extinguish a fire by a building heavily damaged after a Russian rocket exploded just outside it in Kharkiv, Ukraine on March 14, 2022.

Firefighters clear the rubble and extinguish a fire by a building heavily damaged after a Russian rocket exploded just outside it in Kharkiv, Ukraine, in March.

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The reports are after the fact. This isn’t Edward R. Murrow narrating the Blitz from a London rooftop. But they give a voice and personality to what would otherwise be the dense copy in newspapers that many WGN listeners don’t get. Lindsley isn’t shy about putting in his two cents.

“If Ukraine loses, the next targets are going to be be Lithuania, Poland, Scandinavia ... even London,” he said, after the Russians deliberately targeted a shopping mall in Kremenchuk. “Anyone who could commit such an atrocity is someone who could never be trusted.”

This is still WGN radio, and as someone who remembers Wally Phillips and Bob Collins, I admire how the station’s traditional pie-cooling-on-a-sill neighborliness is wedded to international crisis. Sirott was giving away Ukrainian flags, and listeners then started sending in photos of those flags on display, prompting Sirott to name-check them on on air, completing the circuit — hey to Beverly in St. John, Indiana, and Marie, who draped hers on her deck, and Debbie from Malden, an hour north of Peoria.

A protest of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine outside the Russian embassy in Nicosia, Cyprus on Tuesday, March 1, 2022.

A protest of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine outside the Russian embassy in Nicosia, Cyprus on March 1, 2022.

Associated Press

Lindsley has provided something rare in our world of corporate, automated radio: regular, real humanity.

“Joe’s reports go beyond the numbers of casualties and the structures that are bombed so we hear the emotions of the people who are there and what daily life is like,” said Sirott.

Last week Lindsley was checking in from Harkov after a night of cruise missile attacks. Sirott said listeners are concerned that Lindsley is being worn down.

“I’ve noticed it a little bit in your voice,” Sirott said. “How are you feeling?”

“The weight is heavy,” Lindsley replied. “I’ve been in Harkov for more than two weeks now. When I left Lviv, it was a Sunday evening; even though there’s the heaviness of the war there, you still feel vibrancy of the city. Here in Harkov, after 4:45 every night, it’s dark. Very few lights. There’s damage and the signs of war everywhere. Then you have these frequent attacks. Because we’re so close to Russia, just 30 miles, the missiles hit before the air raid alarm can sound. It affects you. As I’m walking around the city, I turn a corner and you imagine incoming missiles. Or I turn another corner and see the work of local graffiti artist, Hamlet; he’s been painting flowers in the craters, little flowers. You see this all over the city. Sometimes I awake to a noise, maybe it’s a door slamming, but it’s a missile. This is a madness, but also why I stay here all these weeks. Journalism requires radical empathy.”

So does being an American citizen. As a supposed democracy, we have common cause, in theory, with other democracies. We know if we don’t defend the freedom of others, we risk losing our own.

Refugees wait in a crowd for transportation after fleeing from the Ukraine and arriving at the border crossing in Medyka, Poland, on March 7, 2022.

Refugees wait for transportation after fleeing from the Ukraine and arriving at the border crossing in Medyka, Poland, in March.

Markus Schreiber/Associated Press

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