I’m CBS News foreign correspondent Holly Williams, and I'm here to provide any insight I can on Russia's ongoing war on Ukraine.
It's been one year since President Vladimir Putin ordered the full-scale invasion and air war against neighboring Ukraine. The fighting has likely left hundreds of thousands of people dead and displaced almost 16 million from their homes.
But this war's roots actually go back much further than the Feb. 24, 2022 invasion. I've traveled to Ukraine repeatedly since Putin first sent troops across the border in 2014, in a smaller-scale incursion that helped him illegally seize control of Ukraine's southern Crimean Peninsula. Eight months before Putin launched his ongoing full-scale invasion, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy led me through trenches in the east of his country and he warned clearly of Putin's intentions.
His dire predictions have been proven over a year of brutal warfare unlike anything Europe has seen since World War II. We've met the fighters defending Ukraine against a much larger Russian army, and the civilians whose lives have been turned upside down by that fight.
I'm ready to answer your questions about covering the war, how the battle has changed over the last 12 months, and what may come next.
EDIT: Thank you for your questions, everyone! Watch my latest report from Kherson, Ukraine, where citizens continue to live under fire from Russian artillery, on Sunday's 60 Minutes. Here's a preview: https://www.cbsnews.com/video/kherson-under-fire-sunday-on-60-minutes/
I just don't know. As I said in another answer, there are a lot of variables at play. For the Ukrainians, the key factor is whether the West keeps arming them - and gives them some of the weapons they've been reluctant to supply so far.
Have you spoken with any experts to discuss how Ukraine (assuming that it "wins") will rebuild economically with a historically aggressive neighbor? It seems that even if Russia were to totally withdraw and Putin were to resign immediately, the threat of a future invasion would still deter many Ukrainians from returning and many companies from investing.
I think Ukraine is counting on continued support from the US and some of its allies, not just with weapons, but to help keep the economy alive.
What is one aspect of the war that you feel is the most misunderstood by the average American? Historical origins? Locations of fighting? Psychological effects on the Ukrainian and Russian people? Something else? Political/Economic impacts?
I think it can be difficult to explain to people that, even in a war zone, life goes on. People get married, have kids, send their kids to school, try to do their jobs. They love, and they live, and they laugh. For many people in Ukraine, trying to lead as normal a life as possible seems to be an act of defiance. They don't want to be seen to be living in fear 24 hours a day.
Do the Russian people at large actually support this war?
Have you talked to anyone ("person in the street") to guage public sentiment?
Thank you for your reporting!
It's so difficult to tell given that questioning the official line in Russia is now very dangerous. Also - right now we can't get visas to go.
Do your sources indicate that the U.S. and EU are limiting what counter-offensive attacks Ukraine can carry out to avoid rapid escalation?
The US and other countries that are supporting Ukraine are trying to strike a delicate balance. They want to give Ukraine the weapons it needs to defend itself and defeat the invasion, but they don't want to be seen to be fueling a wider conflict.
How are Russian soldier's motivated to fight with Ukraine? Money? Propaganda?
I think one of the biggest problems for Vladimir Putin right now - and he faces quite a few - is that many of Russia's soldiers do not appear to be highly motivated to fight.
Can you describe what it felt like landing in Ukraine immediately after Russia invaded? Were you scared? How do you prepare to cover a war?
We were actually there, and had been for several weeks, when the invasion started. It was chilling. I was frightened. I don't know how you prepare to cover a war - but if you're a journalist, it's important to WANT to cover the story. We do our best to mitigate the risks.
How intense are the Russian misinformation and disinformation campaigns in Ukraine? Putin is attempting to get the world to believe that the US started the war on Ukraine, so I can only begin to imagine what he's telling the citizens of Ukraine and Russia.
Hi everyone! I think most Ukrainians are hyper-aware of Russian disinformation - and tend to see through it fairly quickly. Plus there are groups in the country actively fighting against it online.
How is it covering the war now compared to the invasion in 2014?
This is a bigger conflict, and more dangerous. Also, the outcome of this conflict is likely to be more widely felt than back in 2014.
This might be a stupid question, but how do we know the news being reported by our western media isn’t propaganda? I mean, if either side say that each other are lying, how do we discern the truth?
Propaganda generally represents the views or interests of a government, a leader or a regime. That's why propaganda from countries like Russia or China tends to reflect a single narrative. When you look at the US media its obvious that it reflects so many different view points. Also, good reporting is backed up with good sourcing and facts. That's something to look for.
Good afternoon Holly. Do the people in Ukraine remain hopeful concerning their outcome?
Very much so. I haven't yet spoken to a Ukrainian who thinks Ukraine is going to lose. The conflict also seems to have crystallized some people's thinking. They're more certain about their identity, about their values, about what they want for Ukraine, and what they DON'T want.
Thank you for your questions, everyone! Watch my latest report from Kherson, Ukraine, where citizens continue to live under fire from Russian artillery, on Sunday's 60 Minutes. Here's a preview: https://www.cbsnews.com/video/kherson-under-fire-sunday-on-60-minutes/
How has this compares to other things you have covered? It feels like, covid aside, it is probably one of the biggest events (certainly in the west) in a long while.
Several people already asked about end games but a different question - do you think this sort of thing could happen again and is there anything we could do to reduce risks for it to happen? In the West or globally (unclear how much wars happen at anything like this scale globally but such an invasion feels unusual).
I don't think there a most important story in the world right now. Part of the reason for that is that many people believe that if Putin is allowed to take a bite out of Ukraine, he could do the same thing again to other countries. And that may encourage other governments to do the same thing. The US and many of its allies believe that if Putin is allowed to get away with invading Ukraine it will make the world less stable and more dangerous - including for Americans.
Thank you for doing this. It seems that even if Russia occupies all of Ukraine they will face an insurgency backed by Western weapons and intelligence. It seems that even if Ukraine reclaims all territory, going back to the 1991 borders, Russia will remain a looming threat that can launch another attack at any time. Do you (or your sources) foresee a definitive victory on either side? Or will this need to be addressed through some peacekeeping presence and armistice, whatever the borders?
Thanks. Once again, there are so many variables here. We just don't know how this war will play out for Russia, and what impact that will have on Russia's domestic politics. That may decide whether Russia remains a looming threat to Ukraine.
How well have neighboring European countries been accommodating refugees and providing them with sustainable methods of self-support (language skills, job training, subsidized housing and healthcare)?
Ukrainians have had extraordinary support from their neighbors. Ukrainian refugees have been welcomed to Poland, Romania, Hungary, Moldova, and elsewhere in Europe. But many of them are counting the days until it's safe for them to go home.
Is there a clear path to victory for either country?
I think there are a lot of variables at play. One is continued support for Putin in Russia, or lack of it. Another is whether the West continues to arm Ukraine at the same rate it is now. There's also the question of what "victory" means. At some point Putin MIGHT try to claim victory despite not achieving anything close to his initial goals.
I've watched your segment on 60 Minutes and appreciate your reporting. What are the most reliable (public) sources that you use for understanding what is happening in Russia during this conflict?
Thank you so much for your kind words. And thank you for watching. An excellent reporter based in Moscow is Steve Rosenberg from the BBC. I would take a look at some of his reporting.
I think the biggest question I have is this: What is the overall sentiment towards this war in Russia? Is there any possibility of the Russian people bringing an end to this themselves?
It's the big question, isn't it? I don't have any great wisdom on this topic, but it's key. As you know, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan played a role in the collapse of the USSR.
What do you see as the endgame for this war? The immediate objective of the Ukrainians is obviously restoring lost territory, but given Russia's transgressions over the last decade I doubt they would be satisfied with merely that. Also, what do you think the international political scene will look like in the aftermath of this war?
I think the key thing for pretty much every Ukrainian I speak with is sovereignty. They do not want to hand over a chunk of their country to Vladimir Putin in the hope that it will stop him attacking them further. There is also a strong desire to investigate and prosecute alleged war crimes.
What's not reported? We see drone footage and hear reports of children being moved out.
We've included both drone footage, and the reports of child deportations in our stories. I actually think reporting of this conflict in the US media has been rich and in-depth.
In light of the recent escalation of hostilities in the region, I'm curious to know how you think the conflict has evolved over time, and what factors have contributed to its endurance despite attempts at de-escalation and peace negotiations. In your opinion, what are the key geopolitical interests at play in the region, and how might they continue to shape the trajectory of the conflict moving forward?
At the started of the conflict, it was key that so many Ukrainians decided to stand their ground and fight a bigger and powerful adversary. As the war has gone on, the continued willingness of the US and some of its allies to arm Ukraine has been crucial. The Russians, meanwhile, have failed to achieve their objectives time and time again.
This feels like the first war between two modern militaries in our lifetime.
Do you think the impact of modern technology (for example drones) make this a different kind of war than we have seen before?
How do innovations and technology impact the ways you choose and need to report?
I would say that drones certainly make things much more frightening.
Russia's prime justification for this war seems to be to protect their borders from invasion. Who in their right mind would want to invade Russia? It would be an insanely costly in both lives and treasure and would likely lead to at least a limited nuclear conflict. I constantly see "experts" in the media acting like this is a fair concern for Putin, when there is almost no possibility of it occurring. Do you feel the sympathy some are displaying for Russia in this regard is valid, or just the media trying to appear balanced?
I think a lot of Russia watchers would agree with you, and are extremely skeptical about Putin's justifications for the invasion.
Is their a reason that Russia isn't sending newer weapons and vehicles? I know they traditionally make some for export. Is it more difficult to send these? Are they only sending old-stock? It's weird to see that many Russians have to outfit some of their basic supplies, is that how you saw it? What would you say is the biggest Morale booster for the Ukrainians? It has to be difficult after all this time. What would you say the most significant turning point this far, and do you foresee Ukraine regaining all of it's seized land? Do you think it has a chance to retake Crimea? Thanks for this!
I think it's worth considering the possibility that they don't have better weapons, or at least not enough of them. I agree that it's been shocking seeing some of the antiquated equipment that the Russian soldiers have been using.
Is it true that many Ukrainian children have been stolen/trafficked by the Russians? Has it been possible to get any of them back? Thank you for doing this AMA and for all your and your fellow journalists' efforts.
There's been a lot of reporting on this. You can see some of it in our 60 Minutes report this Sunday. Anecdotally, we've heard that some children have been able to return to Ukraine.
What plans are in place to give Ukrainian soldiers some relief, particularly for those who have been deployed for over a year?
I don't know. They must be utterly exhausted. Some of them have been fighting since 2014.
How well do you think Russia's propaganda is working outside North America and Europe?
I can't quantify it, but I think it's been pretty impactful INSIDE North American and Europe.
Who's your favorite Star Trek captain?
I'm a huge Michelle Yeoh fan. So her.
Worst thing u got to see from this war?
I find stories of sexual violence deeply distressing.
Hi Holly! I just want to say I am a huge fan of your journalism. I was in awe seeing you cover the wars right there on the battlegrounds. Please stay safe and I look forward to seeing more of your work. Thank you!
How do you think this tension of China possibly fully supporting Russia in the war will affect the world economically?
Thank you for your kind words! Television is a team effort and I work with an extraordinary group of people.
Let's see what China does. There will clearly be consequences for Beijing if it directly arms Russia in Ukraine.
Every other day there is news of a high level Russian official who drops dead. It's always an "accident" or "suicide." It's become a meme at this point that high ranking officials should stay away from windows and stairs. Can you provide additional insight into these deaths and whether they might signal disarray among Putin's officials?
I cannot provide any insight - but you're right, many people find it deeply suspicious.
I know Ukraine has done an amazing job at defending their country, that being said are they in a position to sustain this defense? Are they any major bottlenecks on the horizon that could spell doom for them? Is their military capable of keeping this pace of attrition?
A big part of this depends on the supply of weapons from the US and its allies.
Thanks for bringing your experience and insight here. Have you felt threaten or that you were imminent danger in a situation while being over there and reporting on this war?
Thank you! I think everyone in Ukraine has felt threatened at least at some point during the last year. Russia's weapon reach deep into the country, way beyond the front line.
What do you think postwar will be like for each country?
Big question! It really depends on the outcome.
What do you believe is America's role in all of this? My hubby and I were just discussing this, wondering if 2016 had gone differently... If Russia would not be this way, somehow. 🤷🏻♀️
That's a big question! I don't have a simple answer for you. But I also wonder what this conflict would look like if the 2020 election had played out differently.
Do you think Trump's entrance into the 2024 election has emboldened Putin to hold out?
Also, can you confirm whether or not that Russia's armed forces pay is delayed? I've heard they're a few months behind. If this is true is it only MoD troops, or does it effect Wagner, the Chechens, etc.?
I certainly think that Putin is hoping he can wear down the West, and create divisions in NATO.
Do you think all the alluding to using nuclear arms that Putin has done has any validity? Is he truly that crazy and desperate enough to escalate to that, and what do you think would come of things if nuclear arms were to be used in our current era?
Who knows? I have spent so much time in the last few months/years trying to figure out what Vladimir Putin is thinking. I think the truth is that nobody knows but Putin himself.
Are you worried about the push Russian plans on making in the spring with the new conscripts? It'll make their numbers much higher and a bigger drain on the Ukraine fighting forces? It seems like a last ditch effort on Putin's part, but the effects will be devastating either way to the people of Ukraine.
Ukraine is clearly worried. But I think a key question is whether the Russian military will also have new weapons and new IDEAS.
How can you resist the urge to react negatively when interviewing someone who believes Russia is right or is doing well?
Part of being a journalist is giving everyone a fair hearing. And trying to understand how people have arrived at their point of view.
How has the OSINT community and Social Media affected this war?
How has hacking and state run Disinformation played a role in this war?
How has the United States presidencies affected Russia's relationship with Ukraine over the years? In a recent book of Bush's memos, we know he warned Obama of Russia wanting to retake Ukraine. I am curious how the latest presidents handled the conflict over the years.
Social media's played a huge role. The Ukrainians have used it to get the message out about what's happening to their country. The Russians are accused of using it to spread disinformation.
Hey Holly. Do you see global conflict similar in scale to the world wars as a realistic prospect with nuclear weapons on the table? What could prompt such an escalation?
I really hope not.
With Russia sinking so much military resources in Ukraine, does it have much capacity left to fight back if the West gets involved more directly?
Obviously nobody wants a direct confrontation, but at some point the West might want to rip that band-aid and break the stalemate.
I think the US and its allies are absolutely adamant that they don't want to put boots on the ground.
Why in a world with more cameras than ever are we seeing virtually no live coverage of what’s happening over there?
I disagree. I'm seeing a lot of live coverage.
Why/Should the US be involved so heavily?
Eastern and Central Europe are historically volatile regions with fluid borders. EU and NATO have encroached on Russian territory with Lithuania and Latvia; former Soviet states with heavy Russian culture and influence.
The Balkans are destabilizing.
It seems dangerous, overreaching, and unnecessary.
From the perspective of the US and many of its allies this conflict is not just about Ukraine. They fear that if Vladimir Putin is allowed to get away with invading Ukraine, the same thing could happen elsewhere, and it will be destabilizing for the entire world.
Nobody I've spoken to in Ukraine wanted this war. They want peace. But they're also determined to fight for their freedom, and they believe they're also fighting for values that extend far beyond Ukraine's borders.
How do you think this war is going to end realistically?
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