CNN’s Matthew Chance was live on the air from the rooftop terrace of a hotel in Kyiv at 5:07 a.m. local time on Thursday when he first reported the sound of explosions. He told viewers at that time that he didn’t know exactly what the blast was, but put on a flak jacket and helmet. Soon there was confirmation from Ukrainian officials: The Russian attack had begun.
Chance said that, based on intel from Ukrainian sources, an attack was expected even earlier in the morning, “so we were all prepared, ready to go live, waiting for these air strikes to happen,” he told Deadline in an afternoon phone interview. “The deadline had passed, but within minutes, astonishingly, the missiles started to fly. I stood there for many, many hours — all night, in fact. I stopped counting after about 20 cruise missile salvos. I lost count after that.”
More Stories On Russia-Ukraine Conflict
The Russians were attacking airports and airbases on the outskirts of Kyiv, in what may be a prelude to an attempt to move into the city itself.
U.S. officials have warned of a Russian invasion for weeks, yet Chance, senior international correspondent based in Moscow, said that he still was surprised by President Vladimir Putin’s speech announcing military action, followed soon after by the sounds of blasts in Kyiv and other cities.
“I was shocked when he announced, in that forthright way, that he was basically going to war against Ukraine,” Chance said. “And then the fact that the airstrikes started within minutes of that speech ending shows you carefully choreographed this whole exercise had been.”
Fox News’ Steve Harrigan On What Happens If Russia Moves Into Kyiv: “It Could Get Very Ugly Here”
He added: “Up until last night, I sort of thought Putin was a rational actor. In the end, I thought that he wouldn’t go that far. I’ve kept that belief in my opinion of Putin — throughout his Chechen wars, throughout his interventions in Ukraine earlier, throughout the poisoning and killing of dissidents and opponents. The bombing in Syria. Last night, for me, it was almost a different world. Not only [is] Ukraine a different country, but Russia is a different country as well. Russia is now run by a man we cannot understand anymore.”
Chance said that they “kind of got the impression that Ukraine officials were up until the very last moment, really, sort of dismissing it,” not fully believing that Putin would go through with an attack.
CNN had leased the terrace nightclub bar area of a Kyiv hotel, next to the foreign ministry building, with a panorama of the skyline. But because of the foggy early morning, visibility was somewhat restricted, so it was the sound of the explosions, 15 to 20 miles away, that was heard.
“We didn’t know that they weren’t going to strike right outside — like I said, we were right next door to the foreign ministry,” he said. “You could have had a missile attack there, and actually there still might be airstrikes in those government facilities in the hours and days ahead.”
ABC News’ Martha Raddatz And Ian Pannell On Covering The Human Side Of Ukraine War: “Praying For The Best, And Fearing That The Worst Is Coming”
After the attack had started, and with about three hours of sleep on Thursday morning, Chance went out with his crew to one of the strike locations, a Ukrainian military airbase. Chance said that they had heard that Russian troops had landed at the base, yet he heard from Ukraine’s deputy interior minister that they were going to take the airbase back.
As the CNN team drove to the site, Chance said, they passed by the Ukrainian military stationed on the side of the road. A couple of miles later, they spotted troops stopping cars. Speaking in Russian, Chance asked someone who he thought was a Ukrainian military official whether he could do a live shot, and after some convincing the official agreed.
“I said [to the military official], ‘Tell me. We were told that the Ukrainians have taken back this base and the Russians are not there. What do you think has happened?’ I said, ‘Who is in control now, the Russians or the Ukrainians?’ He said to me, ‘What do you mean?’ And he said to him, ‘Who is in control of the base now, the Russians or the Ukrainians?’ And he was like, ‘The Russians.’ And I said, ‘OK, where are the Russians, then?’ And he says, ‘We’re the Russians.’ And I found that we were standing talking with the Russian airborne troops that had been sent in and had taken that base.”
CBS News’ Holly Williams On The “Surreal” Experience Of Reporting On The Front Lines Of Ukraine
He added: “We thought they were Ukrainians. They were Russian Special Forces — very disciplined, very professional. They were actually quite nice. They were like: ‘Yeah, you can stay here, but be careful. Please don’t show our faces.'”
In an extraordinary moment, correspondent @mchancecnn unexpectedly encountered Russian troops on the outskirts of Kyiv — and caught them live on camera. Watch: pic.twitter.com/1v7x4kdxQ0
— Christiane Amanpour (@amanpour) February 24, 2022
As it turned out, just before his live shot, a firefight broke out behind a government building, with CNN capturing the dramatic footage.
Ukraine has imposed martial law, but that has so far not limited journalists’ ability to move through the city. There is a concern over a media blackout, including a blocking of signals, and that things like communications towers could be targeted.
As a journalist, Chance said, “you just do whatever is safe, whatever you can do that is safe. At times you have to take a calculated risk, which we calculate very carefully. You have the responsibility to get to where I think the story is, and to show the world what is happening. And sometimes you get what you don’t expect, which is what happened to us,” referring to his encounter with the Russian military.
Ukrainian News Organizations Enact Contingency Plans: “This Is A Time When The Media Should Unite The Country”
Ukrainian officials, he said, believe that Russians are surrounding the capital so they can fly in additional forces, with a view to toppling the government and installing a pro-Russian regime.
“We’ll see what develops over the course of the next evening,” he said.
Chance said that what the situation has done is “brought into sharp focus the dangers of ignoring this kind of despotic, imperialist behavior.
“I used to think, ‘Why would Americans care about Ukraine?'” Chance said. “Ukraine is the frontline for democracy, the frontline for liberal democracy. You got to support it.”
He added, “The question we should be looking at now is: Where does this stop? Does it stop at Ukraine? There is actually no evidence of it stopping at Ukraine.”
Must Read Stories
Subscribe to Deadline Breaking News Alerts and keep your inbox happy.