In the World Press Freedom ranking, Ukraine has suddenly risen 27 places, despite the war. It grew to 79th place from 106th. There are several reasons for this, and they are all very different. First, it is a drop in the ranking of other countries. Almost complete suppression of independent journalism in Russia as a result of the war in Ukraine, mass arrests of media workers in Turkey, and the further increase in aggression against reporters during demonstrations in Germany have led to many countries falling in the rankings. A record of 31 countries have a press freedom situation judged to be “very serious.”
Second reason is in many ways hidden in so-called anti-oligarch law initiated by Volodymyr Zelensky in 2021. Despite huge criticism, it led to the fact that the biggest Ukrainian businessman Rinat Akhmetov gave up his media holding. This and the unity of TV channels during the war to cover the events as one reduced the influence of oligarchs.
The third reason named as improvement — the economic stabilization of most media outlets — surprised me, as majority of Ukrainian media suffered from a 70% ad market reduction and decrease of salaries because of high inflation.
However, Ukraine enjoys the biggest freedom of speech among non-EU post-Soviet countries and Ukrainian journalists definitely do their best despite the hardships of war.
“I admire Ukrainian journalists, they feel proud of being Ukrainian journalists, of working for local media. They have devotion, pride and responsibility for being heard by their own citizens,” says Anna Nemtsova, an independent journalist who writes for international publications.
To help Ukrainian media workers deal with war stress and recover psychologically she has found resources for a “Breathing” retreat in Portugal, “the farthest possible edge of Europe”. She knew that while journalists care about others, someone has to care about them. She organizes trips for journalists and their families to the ocean, where they can live without sirens and explosions for a week or two.
“Being in a very peaceful medieval village where you walk a lot and where there is ocean is the best therapy. We talk through their experience. The journalists clean their minds from observing this clear and calm space. They relax and calm down, focus and get inspired,” says Nemtsova.
Over 30 families who cannot afford traveling financially have already tried this retreat. However, some Ukrainian journalists flatly refused to leave Ukraine. Anna believes that guilt prevents them from leaving the country, because they feel that society needs them the most now, that their voice matters and can help.
Like Victoria Roshchyna, 26, a freelance reporter, who was detained by Russians in the spring of 2022. It happened in Berdiansk, Zaporizhzhia region, when she was trying to get to Mariupol that was hugely shelled at that moment. They took her to a prison with a bag over her head and demanded that she speak Russian propaganda about the Ukrainian government and state on camera. She stayed there for 10 days and refused, despite the intimidation. In the end, they only recorded a video where Victoria said that she was treated well and was thrown out in the middle of the city with a bag over her head again.
"Maybe it was a shock, but I wasn't afraid of them. My biggest fear was that they might keep me for a year or two and that I wouldn't be able to work, wouldn't be able to do my job. I felt that I had to stay in Ukraine and work where I could work," Victoria admits over the phone while she was heading for another trip to the frontlines.
Most Ukrainian journalists have no choice but to cover the war. Perhaps with so many basic needs for reconstruction the journalists won’t be the TOP priority of attention after peace is achieved. But their work was recognized, and they even have been collectively awarded the first symbolic Pulitzer Prize award.
While the journalists are going through the horrors of war, they are also exposing the unethical behavior of some Ukrainian politicians who, amid the destruction of Ukraine, continue to care about personal enrichment, luxury, or going on long trips abroad to resort countries. This is perhaps the reason why during the war journalists have increased their credibility from 32%to 58%.
Freedom of speech has become a core value of democratic Ukraine and continues to influence the formation of national identity and societal perception.
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