Our duty is to help brave Ukrainian journalists

Article by Sergiy Tomilenko, President of the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine

Today, out of 24 Ukrainian regions nine are under attack by Russian tanks, and bombs are being dropped on civil areas. The situation in Kharkiv, Mariupol, Kherson, Chernihiv, Sumy, and Kyiv regions is critical. 

As the representative of the largest community of journalists in Ukraine, I am obliged to outline the main things that are needed to be done to ensure the survival of journalists in the regions of Ukraine.

Our immediate priority is the safety of journalists. The office of our Union was relocated to a safer place in Western Ukraine from Kyiv. We work 24 hours a day as a hotline providing  maximum support and assistance to colleagues who are trying to evacuate from the dangerous regions. 

Last week, my colleague, the editor-in-chief of a leading Ukrainian local newspaper, Kostyantyn Grygorenko, got the opportunity to escape from the Izyum town in the Kharkiv region. He and his family spent three days not in their own flat, but in the basement of a neighboring house, as the town is constantly under bombs. It’s miracle that they manage to escape unharmed. Now he is in safe at the Lviv region and continues to work on social networks for his audience.

Similarly, the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine’s hotline is constantly responding to urgent requests from international journalists. We help confirm the journalistic status of those colleagues who do not yet have official military accreditation (the other day we helped a member of the NUJ who works as an Independent media group journalist), we help find local fixers and protective equipment.

The recent extraordinary request from the AlAraby TV crew to our hotline was incredible. A producer from London asked us to help in a situation when journalists became hostages of the Russian army in a town near Kyiv. We kept in touch with our colleagues, informed the adviser of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the Minister of Defense of Ukraine mentioned this critical case of hostage journalists in his statement.

But in the end, the journalists dared to take a risk. A car marked  “PRESS” and full of foreign journalists led the evacuation convoy, headed for the occupiers and saved a group of civilian Ukrainians from the shelling in Irpin. 

In addition to helping with the evacuation, we are also distributing different safety and first aid guidelines and kits. Overnight, thousands of Ukrainian journalists have turned into front-line war reporters. Clearly, in a peaceful country, average media workers have not been prepared to work and survive in a war zone. Protective equipment (bulletproof vests and helmets, first aid kits) is the most pressing need now.

At the same time, we are keeping in touch with local journalists who are currently held hostage. They are either in towns surrounded or controlled by the Russian army. And yet they try to do their professional duties, informing their audience about the current situation. Despite the risk, brave local journalists refuse to cooperate with the occupiers. For example, in Berdyansk (Zaporizhia region), the occupiers held local journalists hostage for six hours and forced them to cooperate. Colleagues refused.

In strategic terms, it is already necessary to establish programs of economic stability and support for independent Ukrainian journalists. We are currently seeing a big  economic decline in Ukraine. It is physically impossible to print newspapers in some regions. There are no advertising funds anywhere. Digital platforms do not generate advertising in the war-torn country . Therefore, it is crucial to create different funds for the development and support of independent media in Ukraine. It is important to emphasize the support of local media.

At the initiative of well-known Ukrainian online media and with the support of the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine, we have appealed for support to digital giants – Meta and Google. We proposed to these social platforms to create special funds to support independent Ukrainian journalism.

Yes, at this moment, no one knows what awaits Ukraine and the Ukrainian media tomorrow or next week. Putin may intensify the destruction of Ukraine, unfortunately… But Ukraine is fighting, Ukrainian journalists are continuing to do their important professional duties. And it is our duty to help them.