Eight days ago, Asami Terajima, a college student living in Ukraine, was balancing classes—conducted over Zoom at William Woods University, the American school she attends remotely—with a job at The Kyiv Independent, an English-language media outlet. When Russia invaded Ukraine, she had the opportunity to leave the country. But the 21-year-old decided to stay. Now she spends essentially every waking moment covering the war.
“The war affects us,” she says of the small team of reporters who run the publication. “But we still continue reporting on the ground, and telling people what’s happening, and making sure that we’re doing our best to record all the hostility that Russia is causing against Ukraine.”
If you’ve been following the invasion closely, you may have heard of The Kyiv Independent. The publication’s Twitter account, which posts continual updates on the attacks and the international response, had around 33,000 followers last Wednesday. Now it has has 1.5 million followers.
“I think it’s important that we continue being the voice of Ukraine,” says Terajima, who has covered stories such as the risks of cyberwarfare for Ukrainians and the rollout of sanctions on Russia. “There are many more media [organizations] that are here in Ukraine to cover the war. But at the same time, there are things that the local journalists will understand because we are always here. We speak the language. I’m trying my best to deliver the voice of the Ukrainian people that many media don’t pick up. We cover everything about Ukraine, and we’ll be here the whole time. Even after the war, we will always be here.”
Terajima, who was born in Japan, moved with her family to Moscow as a child and then to Ukraine, where she’s lived since 2010, with the exception of a brief period she spent studying in the U.S. She’s a business student and had no ambition of becoming a war reporter. But when the attacks began, she wanted to keep working. “I never wanted to leave,” she says. “When I woke up on [February] 24th, I did have a way to leave here. I began packing, because I knew that I would have to head to a bomb shelter. But I didn’t want to leave.”
She echoes the line of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who turned down the U.S.’s offer to help him evacuate, even though he was well aware that his life was at stake. (Zelenskyy reportedly told the U.S. government, “The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride.” An alleged assassination attempt on Zelenskyy was reported to have been thwarted over the weekend.) When Terajima had a chance to leave, and her parents relocated to Poland because her father’s company required it, she says she said “no, I’m not going to take the ride.”
The U.N. refugee agency reported today that more than 1 million people have left Ukraine, out of a population of 44 million, since the invasion began, many of them mothers with young children. Some can’t afford to leave; a typical salary in the country is around $600 per month. Men ages 18 to 60 have been conscripted to fight in the country’s defense. But the majority of people, like Terajima, have chosen to stay in place to help despite the risk. After a missile flew through a neighboring building, one elderly woman told The New Yorker that she wasn’t planning to leave and wanted to help neighbors who had formed a self-defense unit. “If nothing else, I can make them sandwiches,” she said.
“Even though everyone is scared and nervous about what may happen in the future, Ukrainian people are also very calm at the same time, and they’re not panicking,” Terajima says. “They’re very brave. They know how to speak rationally and what they should do to help the nation that they love.”
For Terajima, that means staying glued to her laptop to continue sharing the latest news. So far, she says, her internet connection hasn’t gone down. On Tuesday, as the fighting intensified, she finally decided to get on a train out of Kyiv to a hotel in another city. “We need to keep the website running, and I’m not trained enough to be in a war zone,” she says. But she’s staying in the country. She says that Ukrainians will continue to fight.
“People often underestimate the amount of support Ukrainians have for their nation,” she says, “and what we’re willing to do for the future of the nation.”
Editor’s Note: This article is part of Fast Company Spark, a new initiative for middle and high school readers.