On the morning of March 20, Tatiana Bespalova got word that a piece of communications infrastructure in Pushcha-Vodytsya had been knocked out—by shelling, most likely. A hospital, an orphanage and the local Territorial Defense Forces had all been cut off, so she knew it had to be fixed. Pushcha-Vodytsya is a gathering of historic dachas and sanitariums in the forests on Kyiv’s northwestern edge, part of the sector Bespalova manages for national telecommunications operator Ukrtelecom from an office on the city’s Left Bank.
The closest engineering crew consisted of a four-man field unit and a dispatcher based on the other side of the Dnieper River from Bespalova. The men, all but one in their 50s, operated out of a large building with carefully tended potted plants inside and a wooden shelter out front where they played dominoes and smoked. They’d been working just about every day since the Russian invasion began almost four weeks earlier, but Pushcha-Vodytsya was closer to the front than anywhere they’d yet been, 3 miles from the Russian-occupied suburbs of Bucha and Irpin, and the fighting was heavy. They’d need a military escort.