As the Russian invasion forces continue to make advances in Ukraine, at least five journalists have been killed and a number of media workers in the country, local and foreign, have come under attack.
The violence and aggression have put many journalists at risk as they strive to bring accurate information to citizens and the international community at large. Journalists on the ground are risking their lives daily to ensure that truth does not fall prey to the war and channels of information are not manipulated.
Last week, The Coalition For Women In Journalism hosted a panel on Twitter Spaces to discuss the current situation regarding Ukrainian women journalists on the frontline both in terms of safety and resources.
⏰One hour to go! We can't wait to hear from our brilliant panellists. Can you?— #WomenInJournalism (@CFWIJ) March 17, 2022
Join us at 12pm ET/6pm in #Ukraine as we discuss experiences of women journalists reporting from the frontlines.https://t.co/CXD73yJ9cf
Journalists being targeted
Journalists on the ground really are putting themselves at great personal risk. Russia has been deliberate in its targets so far, says Olena Halushka, a Ukrainian activist now based in Warsaw, Poland. Peaceful towns and civilian buildings have been bombed, while growing numbers of members of the press have been shot at and killed in conflict this past month.
They are the face of the resistance, according to Haluska.
"Reporting from the ground in Ukraine is indeed heroic," she says. "The more truth the world knows, the more actively western countries will engage with helping Ukraine to defend itself. The better we defend ourselves, the faster this war ends."
The remaining reporters on the ground are splitting their time between covering the conflict and helping out in any other way they can.
Anastasiia Levchenko is a journalist for the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine, documenting the Kyiv hospitals desperately trying to provide care for injured patients around the clock. But she is also volunteering to help provide clothing and food for the territorial defence.
She spoke about the moment she witnessed an explosion and the panic that set in. While safe now, it has made her realise how important it is to be staying in Ukraine.
"I'm useful here as a person who can inform, speak with people and report the truth, [either on] Ukrainian TV or abroad with my colleague, and I feel great support from abroad," she continues, adding that foreign media has an important role in helping to translate work professionally into English and provide work opportunities for those who, like Levechenko, want to remain on the ground.
Freelance journalists on their own
This creates a temptation within the minds of young reporters who feel they can carve a name for themselves by grabbing big scoops from a war zone. Such thinking is dangerous, according to Daniela Prugger, a freelance journalist who evacuated to Moldova around three weeks ago.
Before the Russian invasion, it was hard to get stories about Ukraine commissioned in foreign media; now they are in high demand. Requests for stories are flooding in - but there are often no protections given to freelance journalists and the risk is not reflected in the commissioning fees.
"The answer I got was ‘Kyiv is not Kabul, you should be fine: there's no justification for a higher fee at this point'," Prugger says. "They made it clear they were not sending me there and they were not responsible for me.
She says that freelancers are very often overlooked in terms of funding, security, insurance but also equipment. She has been working without a flak jacket or a driver. Once you leave the country, you also run the risk of losing your gig with editors.
"I felt alone. I did not parachute in to Ukraine for the war, I was already there. The outlets that I was working with did not give me the feeling they were there for me or would pull me out [if I needed it]."
She adds that by contrast, most international news teams work in packs of security advisors, drivers, translators and fixers. Local journalists need to understand that working in Ukraine right now is highly dangerous and can be very isolating.
What about the impact of being a women journalist in these situations? When it comes to risk assessments, men tend to downplay the risks, says Kristina Jovanovski, another freelance journalist based on the Russian-Ukraine border.
This can leave women, along with others on the team, feeling uncomfortable about going into a situation they are ill-prepared for. It is a key reason why Jovanovski started to work independently.
"You can tell important stories from places where there isn’t shelling right in front of your feet," she says.
"Some editors would want you to take those crazy risks, but those editors will not be dealing with the aftermath if something happens to you, it’s your family that will be taking on the costs.
"Do not take on sacrifices for editors who are not going to sacrifice for you. There are really high-level editors out there who value people on the ground who do not take massive risks and know their limits."
Be delicate with refugee stories
For instance, you can get a lot of important human interest stories by talking to refugees, and this reporting can be done outside the most dangerous areas. But you must be careful not to push the microphone under their nose as you can re-traumatise these people.
"These people have lived through the worst days of their lives; they have lost family members and apartments," says Prugger.
"They had to flee war and I just hope that reporters keep that in mind when you ask them how they are feeling. There’s a risk of re-traumatising people. It’s such a sensitive job at the moment."
Be sensitive with evacuating journalists
At the border, Jovanovski has been pursuing stories about the Russian journalists fleeing the country after Putin's latest crackdown on the independent Russian press, as the last remaining outlet TV Rain was taken off the airwaves earlier this month.
These journalists are scattered across Europe, mostly travelling to Georgia, but also to Turkey and Serbia. Many spoke to Jovanovski of the fear of being imprisoned in Russia; all were too scared to tell her where they planned to go.
Dissent is growing within Russian media, given the harshness of the Kremlin's stance, talking about a self-cleansing of society, even targeting journalists working for state-affiliated organisations like Ruptly. But they are too afraid to speak up.
"These risks were real before and they’re exceptionally real now," she describes. When hearing from people with these fears, she takes off her journalistic hat and points them to the best possible support, like the charitable trust Rory Peck, which has resources in Russian.
Russia is well-known for its disinformation tactics. The Kremlin is pushing hard a narrative of far-right support in Ukraine, but as far as Halushka is concerned, that line has not stuck within Ukraine. She says it is mostly because Russian propaganda has been thwarted well by shutting down state-owned Russia TV and Sputnik across Europe.
What is important now, she adds, is for western media to continue documenting the war crimes happening against the country.
"People still need justice, we are still very angry and frustrated by what Russia has done. Journalists are a big part of the collection of information on Russian war crimes."
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