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'We are Under a Suffocating Siege,' Reporter Trapped Near Kyiv Says

Reporter Adnan Can and cameraman Habib Demirci broadcast live from a makeshift bomb shelter in Ukraine. (Facebook screenshot)

Wrapped in blankets and wearing bulletproof vests and helmets, reporter Adnan Can and his cameraman Habib Demirci broadcast live from a makeshift bomb shelter.

The Alaraby TV journalists were trying to leave Irpin, a town some 17 miles (28 km) northwest of Kyiv, on Saturday when Russian fire forced them back.

Seated on the ground, Can, 39, describes on camera how a local family offered them shelter at their home. Like the news crew, they too are trapped by Russian shelling and fighting.

"We spent Saturday night at a house belonging to a family also stranded in this area," said Can, adding that fierce clashes blocked their route to safety.

In a separate video broadcast Sunday, the reporter said he had moved to a nearby shelter, alongside hundreds of locals, including elderly people, women and children.

The shelter has no electricity and those gathered are running low on water and food, he said.

Footage shot by the crew in the nearby area showed damage to a building and cars and a sky tinged orange from fire.

"We are under a suffocating siege here," Can reported.

The journalists work for Alaraby TV, a London-based Arabic-language satellite channel.

Moutaz Al Qaissia, an assignment editor in London, has been in constant contact with his colleagues. As of Monday, he said, both are still trapped.

"They are stuck in that shelter place because Russian forces are trying to take over Irpin and Ukrainian forces are pushing them back," Al Qaissia told VOA in a phone interview.

Alaraby TV last week decided to evacuate all its staff from Ukraine's capital, anticipating an intensification in clashes.

"We had a total of six staff dispatched in Kyiv," he said. "Four of them decided to leave the city while it was still possible to do so, but Adnan and Habib volunteered to stay behind and continued their coverage."

The rest of the staff went to Lviv, a city close to Ukraine's border with Poland, and are reporting from there, Al Qaissia said.

Alaraby, a pan-Arab news network funded by Qatar, has dedicated most of its airtime to the war in Ukraine.

Can, a Turkish national of Syrian origin, arrived in Kyiv on February 10, less than two weeks before Russia launched its invasion.

He covered Ukrainian military preparations in Odessa, a city in southern Ukraine, and the start of fighting from Kyiv.

A veteran reporter, Can has covered the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh Armenia and Azerbaijan conflict, and the failed coup attempt in Turkey in 2016.

"He is an experienced war correspondent who has received safety training in the past, but now anything could happen on the ground as we see civilians and noncombatant personnel getting caught in the crossfire," Al Qaissia said.

Several journalists have been injured or caught in crossfire since Russia invaded on February 24.

A Russian airstrike that hit a Kyiv TV tower last week killed five people including Yevhenii Sakun, a Ukrainian camera operator.

Two journalists at a Danish newspaper were evacuated after being fired on while on assignment, and Sky News broadcast footage of their five-person news crew coming under attack in Bucha. Sky's chief correspondent was wounded and a cameraman hit twice on his body armor in the attack.

"We are deeply concerned about the safety of our colleagues," editor Al Qaissia said. "We have notified many government agencies on both sides, as well as international media watchdogs such as Reporters Without Borders, about the situation of Adnan and Habib.

"If Ukrainians managed to defend Irpin and stayed in control, it would be easy to get them out," he said. But "If Russians captured it, we would have to contact the Russian government to facilitate their exit."

The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders estimates around 1,000 reporters traveled to Ukraine to cover the conflict. The media watchdog is setting up a center in Lviv to provide journalists with assistance, including bulletproof vests and helmets.

Protective equipment is a necessity, said Robert Mahoney, deputy executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

In an interview on CNN's "Reliable Sources" on Sunday, Mahoney said that if the war escalates, foreign crews will leave and rely on Ukrainian media to report back on what is happening. "And those journalists, many of them are woefully unprepared for this kind of brutal conflict," he said.

The Council of Europe's platform to protect media issued a statement March 2 calling for all sides to ensure the safety of journalists.

"We emphasize that journalists are considered civilians under international humanitarian law and are not legitimate targets," the COE statement said.