oDR: Interview

This is how Kyiv’s oldest newspaper is covering Russia’s war on Ukraine

Evening Kyiv is the Ukrainian capital’s oldest newspaper. Its chief editor told us what he has learned about working while his homeland is being invaded

Lyudmila Makey
7 April 2022, 3.33pm
Kyiv
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(c) ZUMA Press, Inc. / Alamy Stock Photo. All rights reserved

Established in 1906, Evening Kyiv has lived through two revolutions, three wars, a Stalinist restructuring of the editorial office, the Khrushchev thaw and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Today, Evening Kyiv’s website has become a chronicle of resistance and life during Russia’s war on Ukraine, from news updates about shelling and air-raid warnings to in-depth stories of how people are fighting and volunteering.

openDemocracy spoke to Evening Kyiv’s editor-in-chief Yevhen Lopushinskyi about what it’s like to run Kyiv’s oldest newspaper during wartime.

Yevhen Lopushinskyi is former general director of Poltava’s regional state television and radio company, a member of the board of the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine, and a former press secretary of Poltava regional state administration.

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Tell us how you remember the first day of the war.

I can reproduce 24 February minute by minute. I went to sleep the night before with heavy foreboding. The day before, Russia had recognised the so-called ‘Luhansk People’s Republic’ and ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ [regions in the east of Ukraine, bordering Russia and controlled by pro-Russian separatists]. This indicated that a military escalation could begin at any moment.

I woke up a few minutes before 5.00am. My hand reached for my phone, although I don’t usually do that. I read in the news that Putin is starting, as he said, a ‘military operation’ against Ukraine. But I understood that this was a full-scale war.

Fifteen minutes later, a journalist of ours called me in tears. Their parents live in Nova Kakhovka [a town in Kherson region that was attacked on the first day of the war]. “I don’t know what to do,” they told me desperately. “Everything is on fire! The war has begun.”

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Source: Evhen Lopushinskyi

I reassured them as best I could. I dialled my wife, who was in Poltava [a city in central Ukraine, between Kyiv and Kharkiv], and said: “It’s started.” She immediately understood what had happened. I asked her to inform her parents, who live in the Donbas [the region of south-east Ukraine that borders Russia]. I called my mother, then I began to get ready for work. I knew that the day would be difficult.

I began to hear the first explosions outside my window. Obviously, the air defence system worked and the missiles were being fired at targets near Kyiv. I asked my colleagues to stay at home while I went to work.

The atmosphere in the city was like something in a movie. Kyiv was like a giant anthill. People did not understand what was happening, did not know where to run. It looked pretty apocalyptic.

Today we have already learned to live in this new reality, when the intensity of shelling is growing, the enemy is not far from the capital, air-raid alerts are constantly coming in, buildings are destroyed and casualties among the civilian population... But at that time it was a new, terrible reality.

How has your editorial policy changed since 24 February?

The day before the invasion, we switched to an enhanced mode of operation. I told the team that we have to report all important information coming from the official authorities of Ukraine and constantly monitor the situation.

This is one of the moments when people are put to the test, and I’m happy that I have this team. The intensity of work has grown exponentially. Before the war, we produced 30 to 35 items for the news feed per day. Now it’s around 70 or 80.

Our journalists worked sitting in a bomb shelter, in a train carriage, someone was actually working while being shelled. But none of them stopped. Everyone understood their exceptional mission: you have to work even in these conditions, because this work is no less important than the work of the Ukrainian armed forces.

We had to work out a lot along the way. In particular, how will we write the name of the aggressor country ‘Russia’: with a small or capital letter? How to name the military actions: a ‘special operation’ as the Russian authorities call it, or an ‘invasion’, ‘war’, ‘Russian aggression’? We quickly found answers to these questions for ourselves.

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Ukrainian forces have retaken Irpin, a town on the outskirts of Kyiv

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(c) Abaca Press / Alamy Stock Photo. All rights reserved

What role do city media play for Ukrainians today? Since the moment of the invasion, a lot of duties and responsibilities have fallen on city administrations, which are organising the life and protection of their cities.

Their role is mega-important right now. We provide the latest news, from where the shops are open today, what the public transport schedule is, and ending with information about where the last shelling took place.

We do not have censorship, but we understand that journalists, like doctors, have to follow a basic rule: do no harm. There have been calls from the official authorities [to refrain from showing images, for example, of locations that have been shelled, in order not to ‘help’ Russian artillery correct its fire]. It is now a criminal offence to publish the location of certain personnel or the location of our troops. We did not expect these regulations, but we switched on our own self-regulation when we realised that our work can also be used by Russian forces. Therefore, we have refrained from publishing certain kinds of information.

Let’s be honest: no one taught us this. Most people working in our newsroom did not have previous experience of this. But on a subconscious level, we found the right answers to most of the issues that arose.

People read us not only in Kyiv, but also outside Ukraine. Now there is a huge demand for information, which the number of views on our site shows. In 2019, when the online version of Evening Kyiv was only just launched, the site had about half a million readers a year. During the war, we have had up to three million unique visitors per month, and page views are over 12 million. This indicates that we have an audience that trusts us. In March, Evening Kyiv came out on top among all local media in the rankings. We have a high level of citation: many of the stories that we were the first to publish become TV spots and appear in other media.

You know, in the pre-war period, employees often pestered me with the question: why don’t you praise us? I answered: if a person does his favourite work to a high standard, what is there to praise? But the war came and I said: “The time has come to praise you. I am proud of each of you.”

How does Evening Kyiv work in the face of growing disinformation?

We understand how important it is to convey to people not only timely, but also objective and truthful information. Therefore, we publish only verified facts. It is better to lose something in efficiency, but to inform the reader of guaranteed truthful information. Our reputation is important to us, but it is equally important that our readers see an objective picture of what is happening. That’s why we use fact-checking. We try to check any information through our channels. Even when we take it from some page on social networks, we are still looking for official confirmation. It is difficult in the current conditions, but necessary.

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March 2022: Journalists document a Russian attack on the Ukrainian capital

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(c) Abaca Press / Alamy Stock Photo. All rights reserved

What is the feedback like from readers?

Hundreds and thousands of people write to us every day, mostly via social networks. Now there are streams of requests from our readers who lived in Bucha, Irpin, Hostomel and other hot spots [in Kyiv region]. The vast majority of requests are for help establishing contact, finding information about where someone’s relatives are. Although there are also organisational questions: where can you buy bread today, is the South Bridge open, how will the metropolitan subway work?

Which of Evening Kyiv’s latest stories have impressed you the most?

In the early days of the war, we worked mainly as a news resource, but now we write stories about people. And about different people, not only the military. And not only because these kind of stories are read widely. We are aware of our mission: to be chroniclers of these events, to capture as many stories as possible of how people are involved in this war and bringing our victory closer.

I cannot single out any one story about these amazing people – volunteers and territorial defence soldiers, fighters in Ukraine’s armed forces and ordinary citizens. The story of a girl who led a bunch of crippled dogs out of Irpin, saving them from shelling. Or when a national fencing champion prepares food for soldiers in a field kitchen, together with a nine-year-old boy and an eleventh-grader. The story of doctors from Okhmatdyt [Kyiv children’s hospital] rescuing a mother who covered her child with her body during an attack.

When I read the stories about people dying in Bucha, Hostomel, Irpin, towns which have been temporarily occupied by Russians [at the time of the interview], I want to cry out loud and say: “Why are you doing this, you bastards?” But we must record this terrible truth as well. I am glad that we have these stories, and they will remain behind so people can study the true history of Ukraine.

During a recent video meeting with Ukrainian and Western colleagues, you called on the European and International Federation of Journalists to break off relations with Russian journalists. Why?

Let’s start with the fact that we don’t have any colleagues left in Russia. After the invasion of Ukraine, Putin arranged the complete destruction of the islands of democracy that were left in Russia in the form of journalism. The Dozhd TV channel, Meduza and Novaya Gazeta, and the radio station Ekho Moskvy, even though it was funded by Gazprom, created a more or less independent product. These media still remembered what journalism is. But they have been destroyed.

The rest work solidly in the vein of Olga Skabeeva and Dmitry Kiselyov [Russian state media presenters]. This information product has nothing to do with journalism and journalism standards. I do not consider Skabeeva, Kiselyov, Vladimir Solovyov [a presenter on Russian state media] or Maria Simonyan [editor-in-chief of RT] to be journalists. These are the lackeys of the Putin regime, who cynically and deliberately mislead the audience. As a result of their work, more than 70% of Russians approve of the war.

This is why I have insisted on excluding Russian journalists from the European media space. They don’t produce the truth. The sooner European partners understand this, the better it will be for Europe itself. The International and European Federations of Journalists should show solidarity with Ukraine and break off relations with Russian propagandists.

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Source: Ratynskiy Vyacheslav, UNIAN

At least a dozen journalists have been killed so far in Ukraine, including foreign reporters. Why do you think journalists are being killed in Ukraine?

There is an objective reason: the war. Not only soldiers are killed, but also civilians. Medics who are taking people out from under shelling are dying. Volunteers and journalists are dying. But there is also a subjective reason. Putin and his regime are most afraid of one thing: the truth. I am more than convinced that Russian soldiers are shooting at our colleagues marked ‘Press’ for a reason. They have a corresponding order from the leadership.

Is your editorial office provided with security measures?

We have body armour and a helmet. Our photographer Borys Korpusenko uses them when he is on the front line. Every time he goes to film, my heart hurts. Therefore, one of the appeals to foreign colleagues was a request to expedite the provision of protective equipment for Ukrainian journalists. It is still catastrophically lacking, including for our team. But I hope this problem will be solved soon.

How do you feel about accusations against journalists and bloggers that their work helps Russian forces find targets for shelling?

Hand on heart, I am ready to say: not one of my employees has been a ‘spotter’ for Russian artillery. We have a very patriotic editorial staff.

Regarding the fact that some bloggers make these ‘gifts’ to Russian forces, I again want to remind you of the ‘do no harm’ rule. Of course, everyone wants to make some hype about this, but think about what consequences this can have. And not only for the enemy. Your work can cause deep psychological trauma for someone who can see their deceased relative in your footage.

Everyone should clearly understand: what will consequences will I face if I release my ‘cool’ video of a street fight or shelling of residential areas? And those who do it consciously should face some [legal] responsibility under the laws of wartime.

11 April: Name of photographer Borys Korpusenko corrected.

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