In the In Times Past column, David W. Dunlap explores New York Times history through artifacts housed in the Museum of The Times, for which he is curator.
Founded in the bloody decade before America’s Civil War, The New York Times seems to have been born to cover battle. Many artifacts in the Museum at The Times speak of this heritage, including those that arrived this month from the correspondent Megan Specia, who has made five trips to Ukraine since 2022.
The items Ms. Specia sent from London, where she is based, scarcely fill a small mailer. But they tell of the enormous impact on Ukraine of a devastating Russian missile barrage a little over a year ago.
Inside the mailer was a three-inch-long metal slab. It was given to Ms. Specia as she and her colleague Oleksandra Mykolyshyn surveyed the wreckage in central Kyiv less than an hour after the barrage ended on Oct. 10, 2022.
They encountered a man sweeping up debris, Ms. Specia said in a recent email. “He was keen that we bear witness to the attacks,” she wrote. “He had found a number of metal pieces, which he and some local authorities said were missile debris, and had wrapped them up in a few small pieces of paper. He pressed one into my hand, and another into Oleksandra’s.”
Another item in the mailer was a morale-boosting “Invincible Sticker Set.” One sticker showed a young person (and a contented cat) on a sleeping bag under the green “M” logo of Kyiv’s Metro — where stations now double as bomb shelters.
Most poignant was a mourning handkerchief, embroidered with ivy, symbol of everlasting life. Ms. Specia received it while covering the funeral of Dr. Oksana Leontieva, a pediatric oncologist who was killed during the Oct. 10 barrage, shortly after dropping off her young son at school. The handkerchief was presented by Dr. Leontieva’s father, Hryhorii Leontiev, who is now the boy’s principal caretaker.
“Sometimes,” Ms. Specia wrote, “it feels a bit like you take all of the often deeply troubling experiences and stories of pain and put them in a little box on a shelf in your head when you return to your ‘normal’ life. It can be hard to explain everything you have seen to family and friends. At the same time, I have found comfort and a sense of purpose in the importance of shining a light onto the human cost of this war.”