Uncovering the truth in Ukraine
While Ukraine is notorious for its corruption across all platforms, the KyivPost fights to uncover the truth about the government and the war in the east for its readers. The motto for the organization reads “Independence. Community. Trust.” because they are committed to the most ethical and highest journalistic standards.
According to Reporters Without Borders, as of 2017, Ukraine ranks 102nd out of 180 countries in regards to press freedom. Efforts have been made to increase the freedom of the press in the country. After the Ukrainian Revolution in 2014, authorities have adopted many reforms including transparency of media ownership, but almost all media outlets in Ukraine remain controlled by oligarchs who use them to push their business and political interests.
After gaining their independence in 1995, Ukraine’s poor reforms ended up making their oligarchs extremely rich and powerful, leaving the rest of the country in poverty. According to the Hofstede country comparisons, Ukraine has a score of 92 in power distance, meaning they expect and accept that power is not equally distributed.
This is where the KyivPost differs from most media outlets in Ukraine; it has remained editorially independent since its creation in October of 1995. The news organization has faced numerous attacks and attempted buyouts from oligarchs and political figures, but they insist that the truth is better than money.
The KyivPost is the oldest English language newspaper in Ukraine, serving a proximate community of expatriates in the city of Kyiv. The paper’s original goal was to provide stories and information about the town in English to make foreigners more comfortable.
The newspaper has a print circulation of 10,000 and went online in 2002. Due to a lack of funding the KyivPost had to introduce a paid subscription to view online content in 2013.
Being editorially independent in a county like Ukraine comes with its consequences. The news organization was bankrupt when a British millionaire, Mohammad Zahoor, bought it in 2009.
In an interview with the Colombia Journalism Review in 2014, Zahoor said, “ I knew from day one that commercially it was not going to survive. The only thing I was striving for was to at least break even, so the journalists and newspaper can feed themselves instead of asking for subsidies.”
One of those journalists is Will Ponomarenko from Volnovakha, a small city in the Donetsk Oblast of Ukraine. The Donetsk Oblast is the region of Ukraine that is currently under control by the Russian-backed separatists and is the site of the ongoing war in Ukraine.
Ponomarenko graduated with a degree in international relations from Mariupol State University in 2015. Mariupol is a port city also located in the Donetsk Oblast. During his time there he witnessed the first gruesome months of the war, leading him to volunteer for the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
After his short time in the armed forces, he moved to Kyiv to pursue a career in journalism.
In an email interview with Ponomarenko, he stated that his “mission is covering blind spots of the Donbas war for the general Western public.”
The front lines of the war in Ukraine are dangerous for reporters, therefore there are no critical journalists and no foreign observers in the region. Because of this, only local or other journalists from Ukraine tell the stories of the war.
“In the West, our war is not much spoken about, we don’t have many foreign reported at the frontline, so many people there don’t really know what kind of things really happen in eastern Ukraine since 2014,” said Ponomarenko. “Very few realize that this is a real war, with massive shelling’s, tens of thousands killed, with blood, dirt and tanks in battlefield, with many cities laid waste.”
Figures from the United Nations state that in the three years since the start of the war in Donbas, the conflict has claimed 9,940 lives, wounded 23,455 people, internally displaced 1,414,798 Ukrainains, and made 925,500 people flee the country.
“I believe my work helps show people how gruesome this war really is — I provide numbers of casualties, refugees, pictures of suffering in the war zone, calculations of damage to vital infrastructure — everything that is necessary to realize the scale of this conflict,” said Ponomarenko.
Ponomarenko published many stories about the manpower of the Russian army in Donbass and events taking place that most people don’t know about. His work has even gained the attention of Sweden’s Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
“There is a very competent Sweden-based military institute, the SIPRI, and they did not even know how big the separatist Donbas army was before we published a story on how much manpower and vehicles our enemies had,” said Ponomarenko. “Now they operate those figures in their military researches.”
Ponomarenko knows how to keep himself safe in the field due to his experience with the armed forces and his mission is simple: to show everyone the truth about the war in Donbas through the stories he writes.
“And this way, step-by-step, we hope to let the whole world know everything about the war in Donbas, and learn from this mistake,” said Ponomarenko.
Ponomarenkos said the mistake was the lack of pressure the West put on Putin during the unrest in Ukraine.