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A Trial By Fire For A Young Reporter At The Center Of The Euromaidan Protests

Ukraine -- Zhanna Bezpiatchuk, correspondent with the Ukrainian Service.
Ukraine -- Zhanna Bezpiatchuk, correspondent with the Ukrainian Service.
When Zhanna Bezpiatchuk joined RFE/RL’s Kyiv bureau last August, she couldn’t have predicted the events that would unfold in Ukraine over the ensuing months, nor the personal and professional challenges they would present her with as an independent journalist.

President Viktor Yanukovich’s rejection of a seminal association agreement with the European Union in November triggered the so-called Euromaidan demonstrations in central Kyiv that would alter the fate of Ukraine.

They also launched Bezpiatchuk into the role of multimedia journalist--preparing videos, radio reports, social media news updates, and live broadcasts--a role that put her on the frontline of current events in her country.

“Working on all these platforms is challenging and time-consuming, but it’s also very rewarding,” she said. “You really feel like you’re a front-runner in terms of media trends and developments. I just believe that it’s the future--like it or not.”

A graduate of Swansea University in the UK with a master’s degree in media and journalism, Bezpiatchuk had experience shooting and editing video reports for television before joining RFE/RL. With the help of LiveU, a live broadcasting tool used by the bureau’s journalists to cover events on the Maidan, she upped her game while transforming the quality and immediacy of the local news coverage available to her audience.

“LiveU was very useful for the Ukrainian audience because they can see exactly what is going on, sometimes 24/7,” she said.

The Ukrainian service's live video stream from the Euromaidan demonstrations were viewed more than 19 million times in just the first two weeks of protests in the capital. CNN aired live video from the Service on December 4, and local media such as the popular website Ukrayinska Pravda also picked up RFE/RL’s live feed.

From Euromaidan to Crimea, a look back at RFE/RL's coverage of the Ukraine crisis
From Euromaidan to Crimea, a look back at RFE/RL's coverage of the crisis in Ukraine
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Bezpiatchuk is aware of the pitfalls of live broadcasting protests and confrontations like those seen in Kyiv, Odessa and eastern Ukraine, since the need to keep up with a fast-moving event can limit the journalist’s editorial control. But she said the Ukrainian Service contextualizes the live coverage with accompanying analysis and features for web, radio and television.

Bezpiatchuk was reporting on assignment in Crimea before the March 16 status referendum on joining the Russian Federation. She says the atmosphere was extremely tense, especially for journalists, but that the security situation deteriorated even further after the peninsula was annexed by Russia.

She says local so-called self-defense groups, some armed and some clearly under the control of Russian soldiers, regularly stopped journalists in the street to question them.

“They kept a close eye on us,” she said. “If we told them we were from Kyiv or RFE/RL, they told us we have to leave Crimea, and that it was our last warning.”

In recent months the U.S - based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has documented numerous cases of attacks targeting local and international journalists covering the crisis in Ukraine, including assaults, detentions, and abductions.

For Bezpiatchuk, the growing risk for journalists in Crimea and eastern Ukraine is especially lamentable in light of the propaganda campaign being waged by pro-Russian media, which is now the only source of news for much of the population in the east of the country.

“We are witnesses to a rapid progress of totalitarian ideology that is underpinned by very strong propaganda, and this propaganda is the most dangerous form of state propaganda because it leads to hatred and intolerance,” she said. “It’s a very sad story.”

Bezpiatchuk is optimistic, however, that the Ukrainian Service can help change that story’s ending by working to counterbalance the propaganda with accurate, professional reporting across multiple platforms.

As one example of this effort, she points to a daily report produced by the service called “The Lie of the Day,” in which journalists debunk the latest false claim from pro-Russian media.

“We pick the most outrageous example and disprove it with facts,” she said. “Only facts -- that’s all you need.”

--Emily Thompson