Ukrainian journalists on working in a country at war - and their hopes for the future
Life has changed inexplicaibly for all Ukrainians, including journalists Volodymyr and Kateryna
Looking from the outside in, the atrocities in Ukraine have shocked those of us watching from afar.
It has been seven weeks since Russian troops were ordered over the border by Vladimir Putin and in that short amount of time, the number of lives lost and changed has been growing exponentially.
While people from across the UK have responded with an outpouring of support - from the DEC Ukraine appeal, to Concert for Ukraine, to people opening their homes to refugees in need of safety - life for Ukainians everyday is an unthinkable reality most of us will never experience.
NationalWorld spoke to two working journalists in Ukraine about how their lives have changed, why they decided to keep working while war wages around them and what their hopes are for Ukraine’s future.
‘We feel guilty for not being in the east’
Volodymyr Skrypin is the deputy editor-in-chief of ITC.ua, a Ukrainian website which normally covers technology.
He currently resides in Rivne, in western Ukraine, with his wife and seven-year-old daughter.
Only moments before we were due to speak, Volodymyr and his family were called to their shelter by an air raid siren.
“Life will never be what it was like. It has changed for all Ukrainian people.
“We have the sirens now and when they go off, we only have five minutes to get to the shelter underneath our building. We had sirens seven or eight times a day, but right now it’s about two or three.
“It is not possible to say how this can happen in the 21st century.”
Despite dealing with constant air raid sirens in recent weeks, Volodymyr explains that there is often a “guilt” that is felt among the citizens of western Ukraine.
“I have a seven-year-old daughter who is really scared at night. The first few nights, she would cry because we could hear attacks and see very bright flashes in the distance.
“But sometimes we feel guilty because we live in the west of Ukraine. When we look at Ukrainians in the east, for example in Mariupol, and what is happening to their homes and cities - what is happening in Rivne and the west is nothing compared to that.”
Volodymyr, who as a male aged between 18 and 60 is barred from leaving Ukraine, added that he had told his wife to leave with his daughter to find safety away from the fighting.
However, his family refused to leave him.
Life has inexplicably changed for every Ukrainian, and Kateryna Smulska, editor of MC.today is no different.
‘No one believed war would break out’
Kateryna and her family were forced to flee the Podil district of Kyiv, and currently find themselves in Drohobych, western Ukraine.
“Me, my son, my wheelchair-bound uncle, my mother and my sister had to leave my hometown because of the high risk of a projectile or shrapnel hitting a house. We did not know where we would go in the west of the country, but we were helped by volunteers and sheltered by completely strange people.”
Kateryna explained that her home in Kyiv was quickly under fire from Russian troops, with her street being on the road to heavy fighting regions such as Bucha, Irpin and Gostomel.
“When the war broke out, many were not ready for it. To tell the truth, no one believed that it would actually begin.
“When it started, many sick and elderly people were left without help, so my neighbours and I delivered medicine and food to them. Also, when the shops ran out of bread, the neighbours rallied and everyone brought everything they had to make bread in the ovens for the whole house.”
How the job of a journalist in Ukraine has changed
As media professionals, Volodymyr and Kateryna have remained committed to serving their country in wartime.
However, both have had to adapt their way of working in the media, doing what they can to help out the citizens and soldiers of Ukraine.
“Our format of working has changed completely,” Volodymyr says.
“Before the war, we wrote about things like technology, games and entertainment, but nobody needs that any more. Instead we have begun writing about the war, about information that will help our people live and survive.
“It’s important to us that we help Ukrainians get the information they need because of Russian fakes and misinformation.”
Kateryna added: “We didn’t stop working [from the beginning], but now our media has almost no sources of income any more. The war has really affected all the media in our country.
“Many of my colleagues keep on working from bomb shelters, from villages in the middle of nowhere, and from other countries like Germany, Czech Republic and others, where they had to escape from the atrocities of this war.
“It is very important to support people in difficult times, especially during war, when many people become depressed and lose hope in the future.
“Therefore, our task as journalists is to give people necessary information about volunteer initiatives that can help them and about where to find safe places inside the country or work abroad. And also the important task is to inspire people with both the stories of victories of our soldiers and the initiatives of our entrepreneurs.”
Volodymyr and Kateryna also speak of how every Ukrainian is doing their part to guide their country to victory.
Kateryna said: “We all help our soldiers, whether as volunteers or in the ranks of the Territorial Defence or the Armed Forces. The Ukrainian people are doing everything to win at any cost.”
Volodymyr added: “We’re supporting soldiers but also those who have lost their jobs from the war. We collect food and share it out to those people.
“The impact on business in Ukraine has been big. People have lost their jobs and have no income. We have to be there to support them too.”
Ukrainian citizens are living in fear of the next attack and the way in which their lives will be uprooted, but despite this, hope remains high in the country.
‘Ukraine needs freedom, not peace’
While recent peace talks between Ukraine and Russia have continued, a resolution does not seem within reach, and the feeling amongst Ukrainians is that the country does not settle for peace.
“Russia is waiting to destroy Ukraine,” says Volodymyr.
“The Ukrainian people do not believe in these talks. I think that Russia is using peace talks to regroup and hit us from another position.
“What Ukraine needs is freedom, not peace. And we must think optimistically - this is one of the main character traits of Ukraine.
“Zelensky means a lot to us. We believe he can bring freedom to Ukraine. I can’t imagine someone else better for the job.”
Kateryna added: “What I sincerely believe in, is that our country does not need peace, it needs victory!
“We have already proved to the world that we are stronger than the so-called ‘second strongest army of the world’. All that remains is to prove it to Putin and his supporters.
“Ukrainians are a very strong people, and we are already used to difficulties. In my opinion, the history of our state, full of constant struggle for nationhood and independence, made us strong and creative.
“We accept the challenges of war, unite, and together, with the help and the support of the EU and the whole civilised world, will become an even richer, economically stable, attractive country for investment.”
Support people fleeing the devastating conflict in Ukraine: donate to the DEC appeal
Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) charities and their local partners are in Ukraine and in neighbouring countries providing food, water, shelter and medical assistance. Learn more and donate what you can today