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'Extremely surreal': Russian independent journalist describes covering war in Ukraine

Uliana Pavlova spoke to us from an undisclosed location because of her country's strict penalties for honestly reporting about what's happening.

CLEVELAND — Born to a Russian father and Ukrainian Mother, Uliana Pavlova grew up in Russia spending the summers in Ukraine.

She got her journalism degree in the United States, then returned home to work for English media in Moscow. She was right on the border reporting as the first Russian tanks crossed into Ukraine, quickly followed by airstrikes.

"It still felt extremely surreal and weird for me to be there, you know, see those strikes going into Ukraine and know that I'm half Ukrainian and I have family in Ukraine," Pavlova said. "I also called them that same day."

She's speaking to 3News from an undisclosed country, knowing that there are severe penalties for reporting the truth in the place she grew up. She's heard stories about independent journalists across Russia disappearing.

"There was another media law passed that basically said if you call war in Russia anything other than the 'special military operation,' if you say it's an invasion, if you say it's a war, you can face up to 15 years in prison," Pavlova told us.

That hasn't stopped Pavlova from producing and publishing for several international outlets, most recently writing a story about the large number of young Russians leaving their home country and speaking out against Putin.

"Children stop speaking to their parents because their parents believe everything they're watching on TV," she said. "They support the 'special military operation' and their children don't know how it happened, [asking] 'How can you believe in this?'"

As she travels to stay safe, Pavlova carries with her the same white puffer jacket she wore as she watched those first tanks enter Ukraine, wondering if and when it could be safe to go home.

"I want to go back to Russia and cover the story," she admitted, "but I also understand that right now, Russia is a completely different country than it was before the war started."