Three weekends ago I was invited by Vladimir Berezin, a local environmental journalist and editor of Konstantinovka’s Province Newspaper, to speak to other regional journalists about the importance of incorporating digital storytelling and social media into their work, as well as environmental journalism in America.
The group of about 15, comprised of journalists from Konstantinovka, Kramatorsk, Donetsk, Makeevka, Dobrpolya and other cities, were a great audience, listening attentively as I spoke about writing for the web and utilizing Twitter. And they hung in there with me when I started in with what little I knew about environmental journalism, which really amounted to what I deemed to be some of the biggest stories of the past few years and how they were covered.
It got interesting during the second hour of my time there. After opening the floor up to questions, we began discussing how best to cover the many environmental issues facing the region – trash, mine waste, water contamination.
Of course, it’s impossible to discuss such a thing without also bringing politics into the mix, since everything here seems to be intertwined. And so another thirty minutes or so was spent talking about media rights in Ukraine, which took a big hit in January when the Constitutional Court of Ukraine passed a law banning the disclosure of information about public officials without their consent, and the government’s crackdown on free speech.
Anyway, I met a lot of good people that day who do good work and who are genuinely interested in making a difference in their community. Working as a journalist here – at any level – isn’t easy. I hope what I had to say inspired them to continue their work.
Last October, as a fall 2011 Glimpse Correspondent for Glimpse.Org, I spent a weekend with six coal miners in the eastern Ukrainian mining town of Torez. The plan was to get an idea of their lives and then to write a piece that would provide the outside world with a glimpse into their lives. While in Torez that weekend we discussed everything from work and moonshine to family and the future. The result, published earlier this month, was a 4,000-or-so-word story illustrating the mining culture that’s existed in the area for decades and highlighting the future of the illegal mines, called “kopanki,” and what their disappearance would mean for the Torez community.
I finally got my hands on a copy of The Other Chelsea – A story from Donetsk, a documentary film by German director Jakob Preuss. Having lived in the Donbass region – where the film is set – for the past two years, I found it to be a very accurate and fair depiction of the culture and mindset that exists here in eastern Ukraine.
The film follows a Donetsk coal miner and a city assemblyman during the run-up to the UEFA Cup in 2009, which was won by Donetsk’s football team Shakhtar (Miners), owned by billionaire oligarch Rinat Akhmetov. The Other Chelsea examines the stark contrast of the region’s working class and political elite as well as that of east and west Ukraine.
With multiple film festival wins and nominations, The Other Chelsea is well worth the 86 minutes, especially if you’re interested in football, corruption and eastern Europe. The film is mostly in Russian, with some parts in German and English, but English subtitles are provided throughout.
In Ukraine, apparently, splashing blue paint across a billboard of the president could result in jail time.
Ukrainian police are looking for those responsible for defacing billboards in Kiev, Lvov, Rivne and Zaparozhia of President Viktor Yanukovich.
Earlier this week, the billboards were found with blue paint splattered across the face of the president. Authorities have said that those responsible could face charges of minor hooliganism or criminal hooliganism, offenses that range from large fines to a handful of years in state prison.
Other crimes considered hooliganism include assault, arson, hate crimes and fighting between football fanatics.
At least the paint was one of the national colors and not, say, blood red.
It’s been five days since Ukraine celebrated Christmas on January 7, but I thought this story in The Local East Village, an NYU Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute project in collaboration with the New York Times, was interesting enough to post here.
The story about a small Ukrainian shop in the New York City area once known as Little Ukraine does a good job of sharing what Christmas is to Ukrainians while providing a glimpse into the life of an immigrant who migrated to the U.S.
Here’s a snippet:
Andrew Ilnicki, the store’s 50-year-old manager, spoke as customers shopped for smoked meats, breads, borscht mixes, pierogi, and jellied pigs’ feet. “On Christmas Eve,” he said, meaning Jan. 6, “people serve non-meat food, which can be dairy; a lot of fish; and kutya, which is a pearled wheat with poppy seeds.”
“You can make kutya richer with honey and walnuts and raisins,” he said, describing one of 12 dishes that make up a traditional Ukrainian Christmas Eve supper. “On Christmas, there will be hams. They’re very popular with people. We cure them, smoke them, bake them and sell them.”
As Mr. Ilnicki spoke, the store’s owner, Julian Baczynsky, looked on with a paternalistic smile. Mr. Baczynsky was a displaced person in a German labor camp before he migrated to New York in 1949, one of tens of thousands of Slavic immigrants to do so after World War II.
“I worked for a farmer in Germany,” he recalled, adding that he has a degree from a German college and has learned to speak seven languages. He described himself with a grin as “just a young fellow – 88 and a half years old.”
Mr. Baczynsky opened his now iconic market in 1970, after closing a store he ran on Avenue B in 1955. It has since drawn visits from a multitude of locals and dignitaries ranging from the first President of Ukraine to Ray Kelly, the city’s police commissioner.
A monument for those who died in the Chernobyl disaster stands near the nuclear power plant’s reactor No. 4. On April 26, 1986, an explosion and fire released large quantities of radioactive material into the atmosphere, which spread across the western USSR and Europe.
I spent nearly two hours this afternoon going through the incredible multimedia project created by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty to commemorate the fall of the Soviet Union.
Each of the stories told by the people who lived under Communism – the miner who was arrested by the KGB for predicting a mining accident; the villagers who lived through the 1932-33 Holodomor under Stalin’s rule; the men who escaped to Finland only to be arrested, sent back and put in a mental hospital – are fascinating glimpses into an oppressive society.
If you have any interest whatsoever in this part of the world, I highly recommend checking this out.
State prosecutors charged the former president in March of abuse of office for giving orders that led to the gruesome slaying. Prosecutors said they had authenticated secret recordings, allegedly made in Mr. Kuchma’s office by one of his bodyguards, Mykola Melnychenko, that appeared to capture the then-president speaking with other top officials about Mr. Gongadze.
In one widely circulated audio file, a voice that Mr. Melnychenko and others familiar with the tapes allege is Mr. Kuchma’s pesters then-police chief Yuri Kravchenko to get rid of Mr. Gongadze. The voice on the file says: “Throw him out, drive him out, give him to the Chechens.”
But a Kiev judge, Halyna Suprun, ruled Wednesday that the opening of the case was illegal, dismissing the tapes as evidence as they were obtained “through unlawful means,” the Interfax news agency reported. Prosecutors said they would appeal the ruling.
The decision outraged critics, including Valentyna Telychenko, the lawyer of Gongadze’s widow, who said the tapes should be allowed as evidence.
“It’s the latest refusal to investigate the Gongadze case, which damages the prospects of establishing the person who ordered the murder,” she said.
Gongadze’s headless body was found in a forest outside Kiev in November 2000, two months after he disappeared. Three police officers have been convicted in the killing, but it’s still unknown exactly who ordered the murder.