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‘This is the Future of Europe’: WSJ Journalist Discusses War in Ukraine at Harvard Event

Harvard's Ukrainian Research Institute co-sponsored Thursday's event with the Davis Center. At the event, Wall Street Journal foreign correspondent Yaroslav Trofimov said the war in Ukraine has "the highest stakes" of those he's covered.
Harvard's Ukrainian Research Institute co-sponsored Thursday's event with the Davis Center. At the event, Wall Street Journal foreign correspondent Yaroslav Trofimov said the war in Ukraine has "the highest stakes" of those he's covered. By Julian J. Giordano
By Jo B. Lemann and Angelina J. Parker, Crimson Staff Writers

Yaroslav Trofimov, chief foreign affairs correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, said the war in Ukraine will decide “the future of Europe” during an event at the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies Thursday afternoon.

“Ukraine — it probably has the highest stakes of many other wars I’ve covered, for sure,” Trofimov said.

The event, which was moderated by Ukrainian history professor Serhii Plokhii, discussed Ukraine’s struggles on the frontlines as it seeks to defend itself from Russia’s brutal full-scale invasion of the country and Trofimov’s career as a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist for his work as a war correspondent.

Trofimov, who was a Pulitzer finalist in 2022 for his coverage of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and again in 2023 for his coverage from the ground in Ukraine, started the event by comparing his experience reporting in Afghanistan to Ukraine.

Trofimov said that the war in Ukraine is “the most dangerous war to cover as journalist.”

“At least in Afghanistan and Iraq, you had the illusion of control of the environment,” he said.

“The Taliban didn't have an air force, they didn’t have an artillery. You knew what areas were more or less safe,” he said. “Whereas in Russia, death can get you anywhere.”

“I think seven or eight of the hotels where I stayed in — places like Kharkiv or Zaporizhzhia — had been destroyed by Russian missiles since then,” said Trofimov.

Trofimov, who is Ukrainian, also talked about his experience covering the Russo-Ukrainian war in the city he grew up in.

“I was in the middle of Kyiv, standing all alone in the street that was empty because everybody had gone or was hiding, wearing a helmet and body armor, and thumps of artillery were background noise to it.” he said. “It felt like a personal insult — almost an injury — sort of feeling that, ‘How dare they?’”

“It's a city where every corner of geography was intimately connected with my past,” he added. “I remember the botanical gardens when I used to go on dates; the hospital where my grandmother used to take me to check out my eyes was now housing the wounded.”

Trofimov said that the extent to which the war was personal gave him “extra motivation to go out and to go to the frontlines.”

Trofimov and Plokhii also mentioned the 2022 peace talks in Istanbul between Russia and Ukraine, which Trofimov said failed after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy witnessed the aftermath of Russia’s massacre in Bucha.

“So 400 plus civilians in a small town were executed. There were bodies with their hands tied behind their backs found on the courtyards and dismembered corpses in the streets,” he said. “It was a shock to Zelenskyy who came to Bucha — it was the first time he left the city of Kyiv since the war began.”

“There he said, ‘How do we talk to these people? What is there to talk about the people who are basically committing genocide?’” Trofimov added.

Trofimov also spoke about the United States’ failure to send much needed aid to Ukraine, an effort that has stalled because Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-La.) has refused to take up a bill passed by the Senate that would provide $95.3 billion in foreign aid.

“Now because of internal political reasons in the U.S., American military funding has stopped now for four months,” he said. “And Ukraine is once again outgunned and is losing ground because it just doesn't have enough ammunition.”

Despite recent battlefield losses for Ukraine and a lack of military assistance from Washington, Trofimov said Ukrainians are motivated to fight for as long as it takes.

“There is a determination, real determination, to keep on fighting because there are no other options,” Trofimov said.

—Staff writer Angelina J. Parker can be reached at angelina.parker@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @angelinajparker.

—Staff writer Jo B. Lemann can be reached at jo.lemann@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @Jo_Lemann.

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