Behind the Story: Refugees fleeing Ukraine

See how MSNBC anchor Ali Velshi and his crew cover Ukrainian refugees fleeing war.

MSNBC host Ali Velshi and his crew explain how they get onto MSNBC air inside Záhony train station in Hungary, overcoming numerous obstacles, from bad weather to technological challenges. They outline the journalistic responsibilities involved while covering the arrival of Ukrainian refugees fleeing the Russia-Ukraine war.

Check out our previous video documenting the initial arrival of NBC News crews in Ukraine: Behind the Story: The Russia-Ukraine crisis


NBC News crews have had to adapt to the unfolding crisis since Vladimir Putin’s Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. Ali Velshi and his NBC News team, audio engineer Mark Roberts, field producer David Douglas and cameraman Jim Long, are stationed in Záhony, Hungary as Ukrainian refugees cross the border on trains. “About 10% have come here to Hungary and this is where they get off,” Velshi said.

As of March 25, the U.S. State Department confirmed 3.7 million people have been forced to flee Ukraine with reports of 1,035 civilians killed in Ukraine.

Velshi has been anchoring MSNBC shows within sight of the train tracks, dealing with a multitude of interference not normally present in a studio. Between radio frequency, station announcements and crowds of refugees, Roberts the audio engineer said, “it’s definitely a challenging environment.”

Hosting for two to three hours at a time during the weekend and MSNBC primetime requires a quality setup that is managed by Douglas. “We have to get the show on the air,” he says. “It has to be clean, has to be smooth and the people at home can’t know that we have a problem with a teleprompter or transmission or whatever else might be going on here,” he said. The crew also works with local fixers to navigate logistics abroad.

Gallery: Ukrainian refugees in Záhony, Hungary (via Getty Images)

Coverage in the field is more than a dedicated crew collaborating on an equipment setup. Their purpose is to document the facts accurately for viewers to see the whole story. There are moments that must be captured to articulate the important individual stories of refugees in Záhony. The broader journalism includes weaving interviews, liveshots and analysts to make an informative program.

“This is a crushing human tragedy, and we got to try and approach it with as much respect and compassion as we possibly can,” said cameraman Long. Refugees are not only exhausted; they are displaced and grieving.

Alongside all the traumatized families, you will not hear the crew complaining about how cold or tired they may be because the story they are covering encompasses just that: refugees seeking nourishing meals, warm coats and better lives.

“Sometimes the important part of what we do as journalists is simply to bear witness,” Velshi said. “The best job we can do is just to show people what’s actually happening in the world so that no one can deny that they knew it was happening and that they can make their own choices about what they’d like to see done about it.”

Long seeks out for the positive, “I look for the smiling kids’ faces because you can’t just search out all the sadness all the time. You got to give people some hope, right?”

Gallery: Ali Velshi’s crew in Záhony, Hungary