As a Ukrainian journalist working as a consultant for Fox News, she told me that she was so busy and tired covering the Russian invasion that she could barely open her eyes in the morning.
She sent me a selfie that showed her wearing a helmet and bulletproof vest and updated me on her whereabouts. When we last talked, Sasha had just managed to leave the city of Irpin, which had been devastated by Russian attacks. She told me she was lucky to get out of the city safe and sound.
Despite the danger she faced, she cracked a few jokes and sent me memes because “you can’t get through it without humor,” as she once said.
Nine days later, on March 14, Sasha, along with Irish news cameraman Pierre Zakrzewski, were killed when their vehicle came under fire in a suburb of Kyiv. Fox News Correspondent Benjamin Hall was also injured in the attack.
When I first learned about her death, I couldn’t pull my strength together. In the initial hours, disbelief overwhelmed me.
I wanted to pick up the phone and call her.
My mind told me a story I wanted to hear: I would dial her up, and she’d laugh into the speaker and tell me everyone made a mistake. We would arrange to have coffee, and she’d tell me about another escape, another brush with Russian shelling in her quest to do what journalists do – bring the story to the world.
But then the reality came flooding back, and I knew silence is all I’d get on the other end.
Then came the questions. People kept calling, asking if I knew Sasha, and I realized I didn’t have a single bad word to say about her. She was bright, beautiful, smart, funny Sasha, who made movies and loved poetry and film. She was always hunting down the facts, boldly joining the Fox News crew to report from the front lines.
It was always nice to spend time with her – to do business or to have a glass of wine. To just be around her. She was only 24.
Before this, I never understood how people write memorials to their loved ones, but now it feels somehow like the only way to make it through.
It feels vital to capture the memories I have of Sasha: the woman whom I worked on music projects with, drank wine with in our favorite bars; the friend who inevitably became what all Ukrainian journalists must now become – a war reporter. And because of the war, this light is now gone.
As surreal as it is to think about, writing about my friend’s death is just the latest writing I’m doing on this war. Much of my professional life as a journalist has involved chronicling Russia’s attacks on my people. I cofounded Stop Fake, a fact-checking organization that was launched in 2014, when the war in Ukraine was still limited to the east. More recently, I’ve gone from reporting on the Russian troop build-up along the Ukrainian border to covering the daily deluge of war.
And Ukrainian journalists, just like their foreign colleagues, are working hard every day – in an environment that grows increasingly hostile – to ensure the world gets a clear picture of what’s happening here.
“It was professional, the rounds kept smashing into the car – they didn’t miss it,” Ramsay recounted.
And while many brave reporters from around the world have come to report on the war, it’s personal for the Ukrainian journalists. Many of us are learning in real time how to cover Russian forces smashing our beautiful houses, destroying our lovely cities. How to cover Russian forces killing our friends.
This war has gone on for more than a month now, and the terrifying and dreadful and sickening dances all around us. For Ukrainians, we’ve already had front row seats to more than 800 hours of horror, with no end in sight. We don’t know when an attack will hit the places we love and remember– the coffee shops where we used to gather with friends, the corners where we had our first kisses or the parks where we played as kids.
We don’t know when the shelling will hit our loved ones, or when it will hit us.
All the scary stories and horror movies we once consumed now seem harmless, fading away in the presence of this real horror: what one human can do to another.
In the weeks before Sasha’s death, everything felt surreal. That’s just what your brain does: It pretends all this isn’t quite real.
You know it is. But you also can’t quite believe it. There’s a threshold, and it protects you.
It’s as if there were a thin glass between you and this enormous, overwhelming suffering. It’s still right there – you can see the wave of devastation, ready to swallow you, but it’s slightly distant. If you stretch out your hand, it’s almost as if you can touch what’s really happening.
But the glass still holds it back, and the overwhelming feelings remain at bay.
And it actually works pretty well.
Until your loved one dies.
The denial is strong, like a thought so painful my mind won’t allow itself to follow it all the way to the end.
I know rage will come, too.
Somewhere there will be more grief.
And then the acceptance will come.
But I know that the emptiness I feel – emptiness where Sasha was – as well as the feeling that this should’ve never, ever happened, not here nor anywhere else – this feeling will never leave.
And for that, I will never be able to forgive – because not only is Sasha dead, that thin glass protecting me has shattered.
My brain can’t protect me anymore. Like it can’t protect all the others mourning their loved ones killed in this war Russia started in Ukraine.
I can’t bring Sasha back.
At the end of our last chat, she told me how tired she was and how she just wanted some pancakes.
A little later she wrote: “You won’t believe it. I went down for breakfast – and there they were! Pancakes!” She wrote then that she smiled like a happy child for the rest of the day.
When I learned she was killed, my first weird thought was: That place where she is right now – whether it’s heaven or Valhalla – better have some damn good pancakes.
Sasha died attempting to show the world the truth of what’s happening every day in Ukraine. And while her job is done, now it’s our job to continue the fight.