Ukraine Defiant––The Atlantic Publishes Special Issue on Democracy’s Front Lines

Staff writers George Packer, Anne Applebaum, and Franklin Foer report from Ukraine

The Atlantic's October 2022 Cover

Six months into Ukraine’s defiant stand against Russia’s invasion, The Atlantic is publishing a special cover package devoted to life in the country and the state of the war, with new, on-the-ground reporting by staff writers George Packer, Anne Applebaum, and Franklin Foer. Packer, Applebaum, and Foer are three of the most influential and established voices on the perils of war, authoritarian threats to democracy, and Ukrainian and Russian politics.

Taken together, their features tell the story of life on the front lines of democracy. Ukrainians (and their neighbors) are rallying to save their nation and defend democratic values—values under strain on American soil. As Applebaum writes in her profile of Belarusian fighters volunteering with the Ukrainian army, “Those of us who live in luckier countries, with better geography, don’t know what it feels like to have a choice between fighting and exile, but all of the people sweating in this field truly do.”

The cover stories from The Atlantic’s October issue are publishing online today through Thursday, September 8. Details about all three follow; please be in touch with requests to speak with Packer, Applebaum, and Foer about their reporting.

Join The Atlantic for an extended conversation about this reporting at The Atlantic Festival in Washington, D.C., happening September 21–23. Tickets and more details are available at

On Democracy’s Front Lines,” by George Packer
“I told myself and others that Ukraine is the most important story of our time, that everything we should care about is on the line there,” George Packer writes in the first feature to publish. Packer has spent a career witnessing war. In Ukraine, he found ordinary citizens mobilizing as a national community, risking their lives to defend their young democracy. The Ukrainians, he writes, offer “a model of what we all believe to be good and want for ourselves—courage and freedom and unity.”

Departing for Ukraine, Packer felt a sense of dread, though “not of the place I was going, but of the place I was leaving behind, of the ‘Let’s Go Brandon’ signs and the school-board showdowns and the next mass shooting, the prospect that our experiment in people coming from all over to run their own affairs together was finished. For the first time in my life, I felt hopeless about America.”

On the ground in Ukraine, by contrast, he is inspired by the energy and unity of the people. “Nearly everyone I met had looked for something to do as soon as Russia attacked—some way to be useful without waiting for instructions from a higher authority.” Doctors are leaving their practices to train civilians in combat medicine; a priest drove military material 700 miles across Ukraine to the front lines; volunteers make phone calls to Russian citizens with the aim of slowly puncturing the Kremlin’s bubble of lies. Nearly every Ukrainian whom Packer met shared an optimism about the war’s outcome. He heard time and again: “We will win.” And also: “No compromise.”

“The Belarusian Volunteers,” by Anne Applebaum, publishing September 7
Applebaum embeds with a band of volunteer fighters from Belarus who are taking up arms in Ukraine in the hopes of bringing change to their own country. The men of the Kalinouski Regiment that Applebaum meets are young, in their 20s and 30s, some with careers in computer programming, and options other than fighting in Ukraine’s war. But they have volunteered for the fight because they sympathize with Ukraine’s democratic cause and because they hope, eventually, to liberate Belarus from the dictatorship of Alexander Lukashenko, who has been in power for nearly three decades.

We didn’t finish our revolution, we didn’t remove Lukashenko, we didn’t prevent Russian troops from crossing our border to attack Ukraine—all of these are reasons, now, to fight in Ukraine,” Applebaum writes.

The men of the Kalinouski Regiment, Applebaum continues, “believe that if they lean hard on the scales of history and help the Ukrainians win, then both Russia and its Belarusian satrap will be far weaker. They could pay a high price—not just with their time and effort but with their lives … But if they don’t fight, they might pay another kind of price: If Ukraine loses and Russia is empowered, then Belarus will remain a dictatorship, and they will never be able to go home.”

“The Operator,” by Franklin Foer, publishing September 8
The journalist Sergii Leshchenko has a knack for inserting himself into the pivotal moments of Ukraine’s history. His reporting helped lead to the demise of the Russian-backed kleptocrat Viktor Yanukovych; later, he made a cameo in American politics, when he revealed the existence of a “black ledger,” containing records of illicit payments, that led to the resignation of Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Eventually, Leshchenko won a seat in Parliament. “I wanted to see the war through his eyes,” Foer writes, “to understand how the country had survived the Russian onslaught—and whether the war had changed the trajectory of Ukraine’s still nascent democracy.”

When Russia attacked, Leshchenko, who had been appointed to the board of Ukraine’s national railway, packed a backpack and joined a small band of executives attempting to keep the trains running as Russian soldiers poured across the borders. He witnessed—and played a role in—a remarkable effort that allowed a nation under attack to move citizens to safety. Later, Leshchenko went to work for Volodymyr Zelensky in the presidential bunker, connecting the Ukrainian president with influential figures in the West and using his skills as an investigative reporter to debunk the onslaught of Russian disinformation. Foer traveled to Kyiv to meet with Leshchenko and to view the war from his unique vantage point.

“Ukraine Defiant” is the cover package of The Atlantic’s October 2022 issue, which will continue to publish across the next two weeks. Please reach out with any questions or requests.  

Press Contact:
Anna Bross | The Atlantic