INTERVIEW: 'Freedom is worth dying for; Ukrainians are able to express this fully'

Hong Kong journalist Kaoru Ng has been filming from the front lines of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
By Chen Zifei for RFA Mandari
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INTERVIEW: 'Freedom is worth dying for; Ukrainians are able to express this fully' Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Hong Kong freelance journalist Kaoru Ng has been capturing the conflict on the front lines.
Credit: Provided by respondent

Hong Kong freelance journalist Kaoru Ng has been reporting on the Russian invasion of Ukraine since it started a year ago, filming at the front lines in different regions of the country, and living with the danger and privations that come from living in a country at war, including a close shave with death.

"Russian troops had already entered the city, and battle was under way," Ng recalls of one particular incident that he says nearly cost him his life. "We wanted to get to where the fighting was to see what was going on, but two of the three bridges on the way there had been blown up, and the third was on fire."

"Just as we were crossing the bridge, a Russian missile detonated about five meters behind us," he said. "I was blown some distance by the blast, but my fixer [translator and assistant] was closest to the missile, and shrapnel from the missile got stuck in his spine, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down for six months."

"I, miraculously, wasn't hurt – maybe he shielded me from the worst of the blast."

Ng said he is now used to the danger to life and limb, as well as being inured to the constant cuts to power and water supplies, and that many people he knew have either died or suffered injuries in the war.

A person looks out from a war-damaged building in Ukraine. Credit: Provided by respondent

"It's really horrible," he said. "Every Ukrainian knows someone or has family who have died in the war."

"There is a lot of trauma in places that have been occupied by the Russian army, as well as a lot of mass graves," he said. "There have been a lot of charred corpses along the way, often with a detonated missile with Russian writing on it nearby."

"But in extreme situations like that, you can also see how much people help each other and love each other," Ng said.

"There is a very strong will among Ukrainians [to repel the invasion], and those who are able contribute money [to the war effort]," he said. "There are a lot of people who take a lot of risks by volunteering in very dangerous areas, helping local people to evacuate."

"It sounds like a cliché to say it, but it's really in that kind of darkness that the brilliance of humanity comes shining through."

Surrender is not an option

Ng said he has witnessed the near-total destruction of some towns and cities in the area east of Kharkiv, although some places still have pockets of holdout residents who hang on, picking up dead branches to burn on makeshift wood fires to stay warm in winter, and staying in their homes regardless.

"The Ukrainians know very well that under Russian occupation, surrender doesn't mean an end to Russian persecution, so surrender isn't an option for Ukrainians, and this is very important to them," he said.

Scenes from Ukraine. Credit: Provided by respondent

"Ukrainians aren't going to sit around waiting to die, either," he said. "I have learned from them what it means to live with dignity."

"It's worth dying for freedom, and Ukrainians are able to express this fully."

Solidarity with Taiwan

Ng, whose hometown of Hong Kong also saw pitched battles between demonstrators and armed riot police in a mass protest against encroaching totalitarianism in 2019, said Ukrainians are also fairly united in their perception of what is at stake.

"They see this as a war between liberalism and totalitarianism," he said, adding that many in Ukraine have expressed solidarity with the democratic island of Taiwan, which China claims despite never having controlled the country, and has threatened to annex by force if it continues to refuse "peaceful unification" under Chinese Communist Party rule.

"Every Ukrainian knows someone or has family who have died in the war," Kaoru Ng says. Credit: Provided by respondent

"People in Ukraine have been very concerned about the situation in Taiwan ever since this war started," Ng said. "They understand the difference between China and Taiwan, and some people here are advocating a total switch to Taiwan-made drones to prevent infiltration [of the Ukrainian army by Chinese tech]."

One year into a war that Russian president Vladimir Putin expected to last a matter of weeks, Ng plans to stay in Ukraine, and contribute to the free flow of information about what's happening there.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Malcolm Foster


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