Pitting Their Words Against Annihilation – Support Ukrainian Journalists!

ECPMF

02 March 2023

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Russia’s regime does not only want to conquer Ukraine, but to destroy it on a cultural level. That is why journalists, too, have been placed on Russian death lists. Despite this they keep on working. We must help them make their voices heard, much more than up until now.

An essay by Rebecca Harms

A few days ago, an article written by my friend Jurko Prochasko was published. He is a psychoanalyst and writer living in Lviv. His most recent text struck me deeply. Once again, he writes poignantly about what the war of annihilation means. He writes about how Russia is not only terrorising the Ukrainian population, but is trying to literally exterminate Ukrainian culture wherever Ukrainian territories are Russian-occupied. 

 

The invasion is aimed at the Ukrainian people and against all things Ukrainian. Whatever has been conceived, carved in stone, written, printed, painted, photographed, collected, composed or filmed by Ukrainian men and women, is destroyed. Ukrainian books are taken from libraries and schools and burned, museums are looted and vandalised, the editorial offices of newspapers smashed, theaters, schools and universities bombed. One of the buildings targeted in the war was the television tower in Kyiv. Parts of the Babyn Yar memorial were destroyed in the same attack. Entire cities are being razed to the ground, it seems as if they had never been there at all. 

 

Defending the country – and its culture

Even as the war began, I Iearned from a journalist friend that lists were being compiled in Moscow containing the names of thousands of Ukrainian individuals. On these lists there are well-known artists, politicians, activists, as well as journalists. The vast majority of these people, who are being persecuted by order of Putin and his regime so that they can be locked up or killed, have not run away from the threat. Like their president, they decided against taking the ride and in favour of resistance, of freedom. Many artists, and also many journalists, reported for army service in order to defend their country. Many, and in particular those who are from the east or the south, sent their wives and children abroad. If they aren’t fighting in the army, they are continuing their work. The defense of Ukraine is happening on the frontlines and in numerous other places. 

 

Especially writers and journalists are among those defending their country and its culture, by writing. They are reporting from the front, writing about expulsion and return, about destruction and rebuilding, telling the stories of the great and the ordinary people, of life without electricity and heating, of help for self-help, and about how people despair in wartime but keep each other afloat, and about how they sing out loud against the war in their bunkers and cellars. They are even still writing from inside the occupied territories. The courage and strength that drives many of the journalists I know is founded on the decision not to surrender to the old empire, to the terror of ‘Greater Russia’, ever again. 

 

Many of them are helping to document war crimes. Journalists are often among the first to arrive in a liberated town or at the scene of a war crime. Meanwhile, many have learned how witnesses’ statements and testimonies must be recorded so that they can be used in a court of law. They collaborate with international legal teams. It is also the objective of the Ukrainian journalists to ensure that the Russian leadership and their accomplices will have to answer for this criminal war and the countless atrocities before a special international tribunal. 

 

Support from press freedom organisations

To enable the Ukrainian colleagues to carry on their work, many organisations that are committed to press freedom and the protection of journalists are supporting their colleagues in Ukraine. The assistance meanwhile has become more comprehensive than in the initial phase of the war. There are recurring shipments of all manner of equipment as well as protective gear. Ever since Russia set out to systematically destroy the country’s energy supply, generators and batteries have been added to the list. Together with their Ukrainian counterparts, local and foreign journalists are being trained for working under wartime conditions. Centres have been set up in several Ukrainian cities for this purpose.

 

At ECPMF, we realised early on that the collapse of the media market also necessitates direct financial assistance for our colleagues. Thanks to support from the German foreign ministry, we will be able to extend the grant program with monthly allowances into the summer of this year. We and other organisations can offer Ukrainian colleagues residencies to allow them to take a step back from the horrors of their current work and have a bit of a rest. The support required to address the mental suffering, the trauma of this war, is a task that will accompany us into the future. 

 

All these forms of assistance may appear small in the face of the war’s brutality. Yet it will be part and parcel of the defence of Ukraine’s freedom that we support the vibrant media landscape and help the many professional and committed colleagues to seize the future. We should therefore give them as much space, as many lines, as much airtime as possible in every forum, at events and conferences, in our organisations, but also in the media outside Ukraine. We already have for some time been in need of an agency that brings the outstanding work of the Ukrainian journalists to market.

 

The eyes and ears of the world

In a piece for the German newspaper taz, Kateryna Zergatskova, editor-in-chief of Zaborona Media, wrote several months ago that the Ukrainian journalists are the eyes and ears of the world in this war. She objected to the role of her Ukrainian colleagues being reduced to that of a ‘local fixer’ for the war correspondents from around the world entering Ukraine. She did, however, also point out that we need these Ukrainian ‘eyes and ears’, that we outside Ukraine would be at a loss without them. 

 

A great number of civilians have been killed since Russia attacked Ukraine one year ago. Also among them are 48 journalists. In the face of the danger they are putting themselves in, our colleagues are continuing to work. They are not doing this despite, but because of the horrors of Mariupol, Bucha or Izium, they are working around the clock, beyond the limit. They take seriously the declared goal of the Russian war, which is to annihilate Ukraine in the truest sense of the word. They are pitting their word against it. To allow these words to be heard beyond the Ukrainian borders, not just in regular appearances in the papers’ Arts & Culture section, but to take them seriously in the newsrooms of the world, is what is called for now. Passing on what Ukrainian eyes and ears see and hear, disseminating the words of our colleagues, is an act against annihilation.

Rebecca Harms - Foto Dickfeitzen

Rebecca Harms is the Vice Chair of ECPMF. From 2004 to 2019, she was a Member of the European Parliament and during this time headed the Green group in the EP for seven years. Following the illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula by Russia, she first warned that Russian troops might launch an invasion of Ukraine. 

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