A year after Benjamin Hall was severely injured when his crew vehicle was struck by incoming fire in Ukraine, the Fox News correspondent has published a book, Saved: A War Reporter’s Mission to Make It Home, due to be released Tuesday.
The title refers not just to the attack but to the covert, extraordinary mission to rescue Hall from Kyiv, then nearly surrounded by Russian troops, and deliver him across the border to Poland and ultimately to a hospital in Germany. In writing the book, Hall had to do his own reporting to find out the details of the mission to retrieve him, which included correspondent Jennifer Griffin’s mobilization of efforts to enlist the help of the group Save Our Allies.
Hall lost one leg and both feet, his sight in one eye and the use of one of his hands along with severe burns in the explosive attack. Two of this colleagues, cameraman Pierre Zakrzewski and Oleksandra “Sasha” Kuvshynova, who was working as a freelance consultant for the network, were killed.
In the book he describes in great detail what happened: how he was hearing in his mind the voice of his daughter, telling him to get out of the vehicle as it was struck, that ultimately saved his life. He also describes the immediate aftermath of the blasts, including a final few moments with Zakrzewski, who was still conscious but ultimately died of a shrapnel would that severed his femoral artery.
Hall also writes of his own intimate journey from war correspondent — a job he says made him feel truly “alive” — to father and husband, where the gratitude of family has taken precedent.
Before going to Ukraine, Hall had moved the previous year to Washington, D.C., to cover the State Department, seeking less hazardous work after a career covering war zones as an independent journalist and later foreign correspondent for Fox News. When the war in Ukraine started, his wife Alicia and three daughters were still in London last year, having yet to move to the U.S. with him. He was drawn back into the war zone, seizing on the chance to cover the biggest European conflict since World War II.
He writes that now, when it comes to covering conflicts, “while the pull remains, I cannot say it’s a priority anymore.”
Hall told Deadline: “I think it would be selfish of me to say, ‘I need to go back and cover wars right now, because it will be fulfilling to me to do my job.’ When I think right now I have to also focus on being there for my children without putting my own life at risk right now.”
Hall has several more major surgeries ahead but says he wants to return to telling stories about people doing incredible things in dangerous places, as well as helping those who have had injuries like his.
What hasn’t disappeared is the reporter’s instinct, he writes, and it remained even in the early stages of his recovery. When Secretary of State Antony Blinken called him to check on his condition, Hall, from his hospital bed, tried to pepper him with questions and take notes. Last weekend, at the Gridiron Dinner in Washington, Blinken said, “Ben, we can’t wait to welcome you back.”
Fox News will present a documentary on the rescue of Hall, Sacrifice and Survival: A Story from the Front Line, at 9 p.m. ET on March 19.
From his home in London, Hall recently spoke to Deadline via Zoom about how he researched his own story, where he is in his recovery and what his plans are for his return.
DEADLINE: To what extent did you have to investigate what happened to you and how they got you out of Ukraine?
BENJAMIN HALL: For the first month [in the hospital] I couldn’t move at all, but I could talk to people. And it was just this incredible journey, where I was every day, every week finding out that someone else was involved [in his rescue], that they had these incredible stories of their own in the military. I suppose I felt like a reader myself as I started to learn these things. For me, this was about the people who did come to help me, and the reasons they came to help me, I found it was absolutely amazing. That’s one of the things that I wanted to do within a couple of days of being injured, and I remember lying there thinking “Whatever happens, I’ve got to start taking notes. I’ve got to talk about what happened, my memories, what’s happening now, how I got out.”
As it turned out, Hall was transported to Poland on a special train carrying that country’s prime minister, who, by chance, had been in Kyiv on a diplomatic mission.
DEADLINE: Was there a psychological challenge for you, of going back through these events often in great detail?
HALL: I wanted to learn more. I wanted to know what about it, and perhaps that’s just the journalist in me, but I thought it was very important to also think back and be very clear about what happened to me and think about lying there with Pierre, and think about the injuries and the pain. To this day, I still think back to that. Psychological? Absolutely. But I think you have to find a way of making that into an optimistic and hopeful angle, which I think I have done.
DEADLINE: You start the book with this moment when the car is struck, and you hear the voice of your daughter, “Daddy, you got to get out of the car.” Does that moment continue to run through your mind?
HALL: Every day, every day. And you know, I didn’t just hear my daughter. I saw her. I felt her. She was there. And I just think that when you break everything down to the very core, family is very basis. That’s what’s right there. And I’ve spoken to a number of people who have had near death experiences, people in similar attacks. Quite a few of them say that in the one moment where they were really badly injured, the thought of their family came to them. Whether that was my daughter or whether that was an angel, someone came and got me out.
DEADLINE: In the aftermath of the strike on your vehicle, you still had your reporter’s instincts. You describe how you took a photo of your legs and then deleted it. You didn’t want your wife or your family to see it.
HALL: For a long time I thought about looking up the deleted photos, and I never did. It’s funny because I never thought that I was going to die. I always thought I was going to crawl, however I had to crawl, I was going to crawl home. But I did think of her — that if I did, I didn’t want that photo to be there.
DEADLINE: You write of your experiences covering war, that in “the extremes of depravity and brutality, the harshest hours of suffering and turns of fate, there exists something impossibly beautiful and indefatigably good, some spark of light and joy that cannot be extinguished.”
HALL: When I’ve been out during conflicts, I see families with children, with nothing, living in bombed-out homes, smiling and playing and hugging each other, sitting around and cooking up soup made of grass. And right at its core, that family bond that is still something that brings them joy. And that’s how you got to get through something like this. There’s always something good and positive to look forward to. I do that every day, whether that’s something as small as going for a beautiful walk or looking at the sunlight, or whether that’s talking to someone who’s been badly injured and trying to get them to feel more positive. Find something in life that is not all sour, that is not all depraved.. There’s so much good out there. There really is.
DEADLINE: How common is that feeling among war correspondents?
HALL: It is a huge spectrum. … It’s amazing how different many people can be, and then you’re all brought together in one place. You bump into the same people wherever you go. Might be totally different people, but you’re certainly united by some something similar. Whether that is trying to experience the real extremes of humanity, whether you really want to see what it is at its core. That’s one of the things that I always wanted to do.
I loved covering wars. I found it was something exhilarating. I enjoyed being out there. I was young and carefree, and I did what I wanted. And that changed slightly, because you start to really hear some stories, you start to see the families, those kind of parts. So you develop much stronger relationships that you have gone through. But it is — it makes you feel alive. Honestly, covering stories they weren’t conflicts sometimes felt quite hard because they didn’t get that real pure drive of humanity. I remember being asked to go and cover like royal stories, for example, and my heart dropped. I was thinking, “I am going to Windsor and cover Harry’s wedding?”
DEADLINE: You had most recently been covering the State Department, which entailed going to briefings.
HALL: My wife and I had a lot of conversation for a long time about whether to pull back from war zones. I had three young children, and it was an ongoing discussion. The move to the State Department seemed like the natural one for me. It was still geopolitics, it was still international affairs, and so it seemed like the right way. But even quite early, within the first couple months there, it wasn’t the same. It didn’t feel the same as the job I had done for so many years. I wasn’t that connected to it.
Honestly, it’s I think it’s a battle for any war correspondent you speak to. That is what they love doing, that is what we love doing, but you’ve got to sometimes wonder when it’s the time to stop.
DEADLINE: How much do you think you’ve learned from Pierre? You write, “He taught me how to find beauty in the ugliest places.”
HALL: Pierre and I worked together from my first day at Fox. [In television news] you get two minutes to tell a story, and you have to pull out like the most incredible part of humanity, and that’s what Pierre knew how to do. He was someone who just loved the world, every corner of the world. And everywhere he went, he was interested in the people. It didn’t matter. It wasn’t about going and talking to the president of this country or that country, which we would do. It was about talking to the people at the bottom as well.
DEADLINE: You wrote that you find it too hard to watch the footage that he shot that day. Do you think you’ll go back and really examine it at a certain point?
HALL: I’ll be honest: It’s one of the few things that I haven’t quite done. I’m not quite sure why I don’t enjoy watching it, whether you start asking yourself some questions, whether you wonder whether there was something that went wrong, something we didn’t do. Rather than the moment and what went wrong, I try to remember the positives of it.
DEADLINE: You described a meeting with a psychologist in San Antonio. And he kind of keyed in on the whole idea of survivor’s guilt. How has that been a challenge?
HALL: I know that what we were doing is something that we loved doing, that we thought was incredibly important. I think that being out there covering wars, neither of us would have changed our careers. I’d do anything to change that day, of course, but I don’t ask myself, “Why did I survive? Why am I the only one to survive?” I just think that I have survived, and I have to make the best out of it. So I don’t think I have been plagued with survivor’s guilt. I think about it, and I talk to the families as well. I talked to Pierre’s family, and that’s very difficult. Because I was given everything back. I get to go, come home and I’ve got my wife and my children. You can replace almost anything but not after death. And so speaking to them is tough, but we’ve got to make the most out of it.
DEADLINE: Returning home to your wife and your daughters, you worried about the reaction of your children. But they seemed to have adapted very quickly.
HALL: It was my wife who I had to give all the credit to because she kept this home going just as it was before, talking to the children as often as we could but keeping their routine normal, [and] slowly, bit by bit, telling them a little bit more about the injuries. Every time I was going to tell them something that I thought would really worry them, it bounced off them. I tell them about the leg. “‘”Daddy has no leg left or no feet left,” expecting really big repercussions. No, nothing. “Oh, you got a robot leg? That’s cool. That’s great.”
My eldest at the moment talks to me almost every day about the attack and about the bomb and the injuries. … You have to find a really good balance between being honest, talking about everything while also guiding them slowly so they understand. I pick them up at school and every kid comes around and wants to talk about the leg. So they are in it at the deep end, and all their friends ask them about it. So I need them to be prepared for that as well. I’ve been so proud of them and my wife too, because they’re the real heroes here as well. So I’m lucky.
DEADLINE: Do you have moments when you replay, you know, if only we had done this differently and that differently?
HALL: You’re crazy if you hadn’t thought about them, but I don’t dwell on them. I think about what happened. And again, how can we find and do something good out of this?
DEADLINE: Given what happened to you and to other journalists, do you think that there are any additional precautions that should be taken in war zones?
HALL: I just think that every day you have to make sure that you have protocols, that you follow the protocols, that you are really strict about them — that you know where you’re going, that you’re in total communication with your team back home, your base, producers, and just do everything you can. I don’t think that reporters should stop going to wars. I don’t think they should stop telling these stories.
DEADLINE: You have said you would like to interview Ukraine President Zelensky. Any chance that would happen?
HALL: Well, yes, and I know from his office that he’d be happy to do that as well. I think the discussion that has to happen first is with my wife about heading back into Ukraine. So we’re not certain yet. But yes, one of the things I want to do on this is continue to learn the stories of incredible people, people who have gone through things like I’ve gone through, people who have helped people like myself, and people like Zelensky and other leaders who inspire people. So I do want to focus on that, and I am almost certain I will go back. The question is when, but there are no plans at the moment.
DEADLINE: What do you think about what is happening here, where there are some political figures who are questioning just how long to continue assistance to Ukraine?
HALL: That’s certainly what Putin will be looking for as well. Can he outlast the support and funding that you are getting from the West? It is going to be a concern. It’s an interesting discussion at the moment, and I know where I stand on it, but as a reporter, it’s always been my instinct to report on what’s happening on the ground, rather than to say exactly what I think should be going on. But I do think that the Ukrainians are still fighting and have held their country because of the support that they have received from the West, and certainly see where the relationship is between Ukraine and the U.S. I think with the Biden administration, that won’t change. But in a few years. Who knows?
DEADLINE: Given what happened to you and your colleagues, do you have a level of anger toward the Russians?
HALL: You know, I’ve been very lucky in that I don’t have this burning hatred inside that some people get, which might lead to PTSD, for example — something that can often happen where you all you want is revenge and anger. I do think that the … decision to invade Ukraine, the people who are out there, slaughtering families and wiping out villages, I can’t understand where people like that come from. I can’t understand what drives them to do that. I don’t feel hatred. I feel passionate that they need to be stopped. And I think about it a lot, to be honest, because part of me just wants to say, “Hate them. Look what they did.” But I don’t feel that. I just look at it [with] hope that evil can be put away, that evil can be stopped.
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