Five ways one of the largest Ukrainian newspapers survived Putin's invasion
Sevgil Musaieva is a Ukrainian journalist from Crimea, editor-in-chief of Ukrainian newspaper Ukrainska Pravda, recipient of a 2022 International Press Freedom Award, and featured in TIME’s 100 most influential people of 2022. Before joining Ukrainska Pravda, Musaieva served as a business reporter for the newspaper Delo (Happenings), the weekly Vlast Deneg (Power Money), and Forbes Ukraine, where she covered corruption in the oil and gas industries, among other topics.
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Why Ukrainska Pravda’s survival matters
- Ukrainska Pravda is the oldest digital newspaper in Ukraine, reaching over 4 million people daily in Ukrainian, English and Russian.
- The outlet has faced attacks before. Georgy Gongadze, the founding editor, was murdered in 2000 and another of Sevgil's colleagues, Pavel Sheremet, was killed by a car bomb in 2016.
- The Digital News Report 2022 found that most people in the five countries surveyed followed the Russia–Ukraine conflict at least somewhat closely. Independent news organisations based in Ukraine like Ukrainska Pravda are a way of sourcing first-hand accounts and providing this information to a national and international audience, including 7.4 million Ukrainian refugees.
Five ways Ukrainska Pravda survived the invasion
1. A plan was in place. “We asked our employees, ‘Do you want to stay, do you want to leave?’ at the end of January and then after this one piece in der Spiegel said the invasion would happen on 16 February, we decided to relocate a part of our team to the western regions. A lot of people didn't understand this decision or people were thinking that maybe we’d become a victim of a conspiracy theory.” However, Sevgil’s foresight meant her team were ready when the war broke out, and she was able to keep them safe. Two of the editors who had relocated on 15 February were from Bucha, the city that would become synonymous with the horrors of the war. The elderly father of one of the journalists, who Sevgil remembers as “a 70-year-old unarmed man”, was killed there by Russian soldiers, she shared.
2. They cared for each other. As with the rest of the country, Ukrainska Pravda’s newsroom was impacted on a personal level by the invasion. The relocations and the tragic death of the editor’s father in Bucha are just some of the events faced by Sevgil and her team. “Our designer for Ukrainska Pravda, we lost connection with him for 14 days. And we didn't know if he was alive and he didn't respond to emails, he didn't respond to phone calls. We knew that he was under occupation in a city close to Kyiv, around 15 kilometres from here and then after 14 days he gave me a call and just a short message: ‘I'm alive. I'll be able to do my work tomorrow morning.’ This message made me cry for the first time in two weeks of this terrible war. And then he covered the story in this publication, how it was to be under occupation in the Kyiv region for 14 days. He said that they didn't have electricity, they didn't have water, they had only potatoes and it was very, very difficult and it was a miracle. He survived. He escaped occupation and it’s just a wonderful story.” The story Sevgil shared shows how the team, although separated by war, continued to care for one another and share their experiences with each other and with their audience.
3. They identified and catered to a new audience. “At the beginning of the war we also launched an English version because it was extremely important for people to receive first-hand information in English,” Sevgil said. This initiative started off being run by volunteers, who then began to be paid a salary funded by donations to Ukrainska Pravda. “We started to pay them but in the first month they weren't paid, they were literally volunteers and it was just a great example of solidarity with the people of Ukraine,” she said.
4. They connected with their audience. In the first days of the war, as the world focused on Kyiv, Sevgil’s team asked their audience to tell them what the situation was like in their cities. The response was thousands of messages, photos and videos from across the country. “Of course, we double-checked and we verified this information we received from our readers, but it helped us to report the full picture of this war and I am still in touch with a lot of people in occupied territories,” Sevgil said. “They provide us important information about deaths, about what occupants do in these territories, about human tortures, about killings of civilians. Of course, they're afraid, so I ask them to be very careful with this and I ask them to clean everything after they send me a picture, but they still provide us information and they still help us.”
5. Their focus is on human stories. As with sharing the experiences of their own newsroom, Sevgil and her team aim to tell the stories of ordinary Ukrainians as well as covering breaking news. “I want to hear and see more stories about Ukrainian resistance, not in general, but in faces and believe me, there are thousands of human stories and you will be so touched by them, when people dramatically change their lives,” Sevgil said.
The bottom line
Ukrainska Pravda’s team was able to quickly adapt to working in a warzone, thanks to the prior preparation and foresight of their editors. Nevertheless, the war affected the entire newsroom in deeply personal ways. Throughout, they used their own experiences and those of their audience to tell the stories of ordinary Ukrainians, their tragedies and courage. This is the work Ukrainska Pravda’s team will aim to keep doing as the conflict continues.
If you want to know more…
- Read this Q&A with Sevgil Musaieva on how Ukrainska Pravda rallied at the very beginning of the war. | Read the piece
- For more on organised efforts to help independent Ukrainian media, read this piece about the fundraising campaign organised by The Fix, Are We Europe, Jnomics, and the Media Development Foundation. | Read the piece
- And catch up on our seminar on this topic with Jakub Parusinski of The Fix. | Watch and read a summary