Announcer: This is The Takeaway with MHP from WNYC and PRX in collaboration with GBH News in Boston.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Ukraine's interior minister Denys Monastyrsky and two other senior officials died yesterday when their helicopter crashed near a kindergarten in a residential building in a suburb of Kyiv. Kyiv's Mayor Vitali Klitschko spoke about the crash on Wednesday.
Mayor Vitali Klitschko: It's a young guy, they make police reform in Ukraine, and is actually a big treasure for Ukraine, for his family, and also children.
Melissa Harris-Perry: The crash caused a fire inside the school building resulting in the deaths of at least 14 people, including 9 people that were in the helicopter, and at least one child on the ground. It was not immediately clear what caused the helicopter crash. This comes almost a year into the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and only 4 days after one of the deadliest attacks on civilians where 45 people including 6 children died from a Russian missile strike. Let's talk now with Joshua Yaffa, contributing writer at The New Yorker. Joshua, thanks for joining us.
Joshua Yaffa: Thanks for having me.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Joshua, before we get to the helicopter crash, can you bring us up to date on the deadly strike at the apartment building? I know that initially, Russia had denied responsibility. Where does all of that stand now?
Joshua Yaffa: Well, it stands now in that emergency workers seem to have just finished finally going through the wreckage trying to find the last victims collecting bodies. The number of dead has risen to above 40, including a number of children. It's really been a tragedy across Ukraine in a year full of tragedy for the country. This strike has really penetrated the consciousness of many Ukrainians and really the world just given the nature of the random horror of the attack and the fact that this apartment building was a purely civilian site filled with families in the evening at home.
The notion of or question of responsibility is still being sorted out but I think the answer there is quite clear. In other words, no matter exactly what type of missile this was or the circumstances in which it was fired, was it the target where Russian forces aiming at another site? None of that really matters given the ongoing context of Russia launching near-daily missile attacks and bombing raids across all of Ukraine. This attack is very much part of Russia's strategy that it's carried out since the beginning of the invasion last February, but really with renewed intensity since this fall when it switched to a strategy of trying to cripple Ukrainian infrastructure.
Specifically, electricity and heat generating facilities to plunge the country into darkness and cold to try and break the wheel of the Ukrainian people. Those missile strikes have intensified, and it's in that context that the apartment building in Dnipro was hit.
Melissa Harris-Perry: There doesn't seem to be any evidence that this helicopter crash is anything other than an accident but your point about the tragedy layering on top of tragedy. I'm wondering, in this moment, how this loss and of course, again, a more children's lives lost, is being discussed and understood in Ukraine.
Joshua Yaffa: I've picked up on a sense of exhaustion of people being beyond or pushed beyond the breaking point in terms of trauma, loss, grief, and then still being made or being forced to go even further and deeper in their loss. The crash which killed an interior minister, Monastyrsky and a number of others including several children on the ground in the kindergarten where the helicopter crashed, it's a feeling of just beyond bearable or beyond the limits of imagination or forbearance of the Ukrainian people. That's the mood I've come across that, especially coming on the wake of the Dnipro apartment building attack that we just discussed.
It's a feeling of just one loss mounting after another in a year of so much loss and death and tragedy just when Ukrainian society and the Ukrainian people feel like they've mustered somehow the will, the forbearance, the courage to pull themselves together from one strike, from one tragedy, another one comes in the most unexpected place. Kyiv and the Kyiv area, although it's seen Russian missile strikes in recent months, has been one might say relatively safe since last spring when Russian forces withdrew from the Kyiv region. They were once in Brovary, the town where the helicopter crashed.
They haven't been for six months. In a place like Brovary, there was a feeling of yes, there still is the danger of these long-range missile strikes from above but things feel safer than they did half a year ago. I think the crash was just a dark and tragic reminder of how in Ukraine these days, no place really feels all that safe.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Can you tell us a little bit about the interior minister, about Monastyrsky? What was he like? We heard from the mayor of Kyiv, and you could hear the catch in his voice, the sense of this being not only a political and national loss but a very personal one.
Joshua Yaffa: Yes. Well, since the beginning of the war, figures from the Zelensky administration and especially those involved with security matters as the interior minister absolutely is by virtue of overseeing police and other internal security structures rose to real prominence in the country. He was a relatively young figure seen as an energetic modernizer in that office and someone with real authority and legitimacy and a reputation for not just being a patriot as we heard the comments from Mayor Klitschko in Kyiv.
But someone with a real agenda and vision for his office and his ministry and his loss, like we've talked about, feels like just another compounding loss in a year of so many mounting losses. I think that that is what makes it so acute and so tragic for many Ukrainians, is there just seems to be no bottom or no end to the amount of death and loss that the country is facing.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Let's take a pause right here but don't go anywhere. More of The Takeaway in just a moment. We're back on The Takeaway I'm Melissa Harris-Perry, and I'm still with Joshua Yaffa, contributor to the New Yorker and author of Between Two Fires: Truth, Ambition, and Compromise in Putin's Russia. Joshua, I'm going to take an opportunity to think not only about this loss in this emotive way but also as you said, top Ukrainian officials have become wider known symbols of the nation, but in a very real way, what does it mean to have lost the Minister of the Interior at this moment in the war?
Joshua Yaffa: Not just the Minister of Interior but his entire top staff at the ministry, his deputy, and other top officials were also in the helicopter and were also lost. It really is a devastating loss personally, first and foremost but also for the functioning of the ministry, like which we've discussed is in charge of police force but police force in the context of war is responsible for much more than what we might just think of in terms of local policing. It really has a larger security function in the country during wartime.
On the one hand, as you mentioned, Ukrainians have certainly looked to their political leaders as orienting points for figures of resistance, for examples of patriotism and bravery in the face of Russian invasion but really that bravery, that forbearance, that patriotism comes from the Ukrainian people themselves. Many people, of course, rallied around the image of President Zelensky, who famously stayed in Kyiv rather than fleeing in the early days of the invasion. That absolutely provided a jolt of faith and belief and confidence among many Ukrainians.
Ultimately, people who are defending their country, whether actually in the armed forces on the front lines fighting the Russian military, or in small ways doing work in their own cities, whether to rebuild or to keep them safe or help their neighbors, they're doing it out of their own patriotic attachment, out of their own horizontal ties to other people in their community. While the loss of someone like Monastyrsky resonates and has this symbolic quality to it, as Zelensky himself said the other day, it feels like "tragedies are outpacing life," which produces this sense of exhaustion, I think, among many people in the public but that reservoir of courage and resistance comes not from Zelensky, not from Monastyrsky but from people's own attachments to their country and attachments to their friends and neighbors and those, of course, remain intact, and I think will continue to give people strength, motivation, and courage.
Melissa Harris-Perry: You say those, of course, remain intact, but I wonder about those horizontal connections in these moments, as you've described a feeling like there is no bottom. Do they begin to fray or do they simply become stronger?
Joshua Yaffa: Of course, you can't say or give one answer for the whole country. Ukraine in wartime is a diverse place with as many human stories as it has people living in it. People of course have responded to the war in all sorts of different ways to say that the only or uniform response in Ukraine since the beginning of the invasion has been one of bravely facing down the Russian invasion force head-on. That absolutely is a story and maybe the defining story, but it's not the only story.
Many Ukrainians have chosen to move themselves and their families out of the country. Difficult to cast the first stone. Difficult to say what the right or correct way to deal with the invasion of your country is. There's a small percentage of people in the eastern regions or southern regions who welcome the Russian invasion force or at least chose to collaborate with it and to work with it, whether out of fear or actual belief. A very small minority, it should be said, but such people do exist.
Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry: Joshua Yaffa is contributing writer at the New Yorker. He's also author of Between Two Fires: Truth, Ambition, and Compromise in Putin’s Russia. Joshua, thanks for being here.
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