‘They Had No Choice’: The New Reality for Ukraine’s Journalists

29/6/2022

Lviv Media Forum Executive Director Olga Myrovych explains the challenges facing Ukrainian journalists and why their work is more important than ever.

In the first days of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, as people taking cover from Russian shelling in metros and basements were glued to their phones for news of what was happening above ground, the journalists reporting that news were facing their own crisis. What had once been a thriving advertising market had collapsed overnight, decimating their income at a time of skyrocketing demand for accurate reporting. In addition to the acute lack of resources, media workers suddenly found themselves in a new role as war correspondents, with all of the risks and dangers that occupation entails (more than 20 journalists have been killed in Ukraine since the war began). At the Centre, we’ve so far awarded 668,000 euros to Ukrainian media organisations, allowing them to continue their vital work.

We spoke recently with one of our partners in Ukraine, Lviv Media Forum CEO Olga Myrovych, about the urgent needs of Ukraine’s journalists and how her organisation supports them.

Centre: Could you describe what changed for media professionals in Ukraine when they awoke February 24th?

Olga: You know, I’m not sure any journalist could have been prepared for the full-scale invasion by Russia. Unless one has years of experience as a war correspondent, it is impossible to adjust overnight. But as a media support organisation, we had planned for this scenario and were ready from day one to provide safety equipment, relocation support for the families of media workers, and other urgent assistance to help them keep operating.

Centre: What were the most immediate needs in those first days of the war?

Olga: We set up a shelter for journalists here in Lviv. We tried to make it as cosy as we could in an emergency. Two days after the invasion began, we were already hosting the first two people in the shelter. We also had our hotline open. Media organisations were calling us with all kinds of questions, but especially about how to protect their websites. There were a lot of cyber attacks against media in the first days of the invasion, and it turned out that some media outlets needed to quickly move their websites off of Russian hosting platforms and switch to European hosting companies as soon as possible.  Many needed to step up their cyber security urgently.

Centre: Counting all of the services you offer to journalists, how many people have you helped since the war began?

Olga: Since the invasion started we have helped more than 80 media organisations and have received more than 500 calls to our hotline. We’ve hosted about 200 people in our shelter. After the first week, we were able to launch a co-working space so that the journalists who wanted to continue working from Lviv could do so. We’re now expanding that workspace.

Two days after the invasion began, the Lviv Media Forum's hurriedly built shelter was hosting journalists. They continue to expand and improve the accommodations. Photo by Arthur Zajac/Lviv Media Forum
Staff are now focused on improving the co-working space so that journalists, many of whom work for outlets whose offices have been destroyed by Russian forces, have a place to work. Photo by Arthur Zajac/Lviv Media Forum.

Centre: Physical security is obviously a top priority. How are you able to help media workers on that front?

Olga: We’ve been distributing personal protective equipment, satellite phones, first-aid equipment and other essentials that are needed by media workers across Ukraine. Those outlets in the south and the east located close to the worst of the attacks are prioritised, but we are supporting colleagues around the country. We provide first-aid training—how to use tourniquets and things like that.

Still, the most common request from journalists is for personal protective equipment. They had no choice, they had to become war reporters overnight. The second biggest need is for financial support to cover operational costs after the collapse of the advertising market. Then there is technical equipment: laptops, microphones, cameras. We try to facilitate access to Starlink because in many parts of the country there is no regular Internet now.

There is also a shortage of power generators. Electricity is cut off due to the shelling, and media offices have no power without generators, so they are desperately needed. The news needs to get out of liberated cities, but for example in Bucha and Irpin, there is still no electricity. We are hosting now an outlet from Irpin whose office building was completely destroyed, so they need everything. We’re also helping journalists find jobs by facilitating cooperation between Ukrainian journalists and foreign media outlets so they can earn some money for living.

We also have to consider their psychological state. Two months of the war are behind us, but there is a long way ahead of us. This will take a toll on everyone’s psyche, but especially journalists. We have experiences hosting psychological support and community building residencies for journalists from other countries under pressure. Now Ukrainian journalists need this support.

Centre: Ukraine has been dealing with Russian disinformation and hybrid war for years. How has the role of disinformation and the fight against it evolved since the start of the full-scale invasion?

Olga: On one hand, the intensity is really huge, much more than before. On the other hand, it is much more Ukrainian centred. The message from Russia is to get Ukrainians to argue with each other over anything, small aspects of each other’s behaviour, anything that can cause a clash between people. The only way to combat this is through local media. They know how to make quality content, but more importantly than that, they know their audience and they have the trust of their audience.

--Emily Thompson

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