Getting the story out – Ukrainian journalists in a war-torn country

Nataliya Gumenyuk in Kharkiv, 13 March. Photo: Andrii Bashtovyi

How do you continue working while your country is being invaded, people are fleeing by the millions and air strikes can rain from the sky at any time? Nataliya Gumenyuk, a Ukrainian reporter in Kyiv, is staying to tell the world what is happening in the country.

“The most vulnerable people, the poorest people, the people in the streets whose houses have been shelled. Their stories should be told. You really need to go there, you need to take photos, you need to verify,” says Nataliya Gumenyuk.

Nataliya is a Ukrainian journalist, who specializes in international security and conflict reporting. Like all journalists in Ukraine today, she is working under intense pressure. Russian troops cut deeper into the country every day.

“The greatest challenges for journalists right now are safety and logistics. There are Russian airstrikes, and they don’t really care who is there when they fire. These strikes could be happening anywhere.”

Nataliya and her colleagues try to take as many precautions as they can. Bulletproof vests, clearly press-marked vehicles, and credentials from the Ukrainian military to travel and gain access.

“It is mainly about the physical danger right now, not about identity or things like that,” says Nataliya.

Places where foreign journalists don’t go

Another challenge facing reporters is the scale of both the country and the war. Ukraine is the biggest country in Europe, and the conflict is going on everywhere.

“There are so many events happening at the same time in so many cities. We are not able to document it. We cannot access smaller cities that are in Russian control or areas where there are shelling, so we do not know what is going on with the people there,” says Nataliya.

Nataliya Gumenyuk in Kharkiv, 13 March. Photo: Andrii Bashtovyi

Public transport doesn’t function and trips that used to be a couple of hours can now take days to make. For a working journalist with cameras, computers, and safety equipment, it is very difficult to reach faraway places. Ukrainian reporters often lack funds and equipment.

“Foreign reporters can pay for drivers, fuel, hotels. They can have a bigger crew to help them with all the equipment. We don’t have that possibility. And with all due respect, foreign reporters aren’t interested in the stories in the smaller towns. There are so many places where journalists haven’t really been”, says Nataliya.             

“I am a well-established journalist with lots of contacts, and I am complaining. I can’t even imagine how it is for the local reporters in for example, Kharkiv. There are just a few journalists left. And they need to be there,” says Nataliya.

During the last few days, several people have been killed in Ukraine covering the war, among those the 24-year-old Ukrainian field producer Oleksandra Kuvshinova and US journalists Brent Renaud and Pierre Zakrzewski. Despite the dangers, Nataliya is planning to stay in the country and continue her work.

“I am not thinking for a moment about leaving. I’m staying here.”

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