Intern Alexis O’Connor wrote this blogpost about Ukraine and the Euromaidan Journalist Collective before we had confirmed our Niagara Forum on the unrest in Ukraine. I am excited to share it with you now. The forum, if you’re interested, is on March 27th here at the Niagara Foundation offices. Please register for the forum and then read Alexis’s take on the subject.
Eleanor Peck, Director of Communications and Member Relations.
by Alexis O’Connor, intern at Niagara Foundation and student at Northwestern University
I attended the Euromaidan Journalist Collective lecture series at DePaul University on February 2. EJC is a group of young Ukrainian Americans providing an English news source about Ukraine’s current unrest. The members of this collective have walked the streets of Ukraine during the height of protests in order to give an accurate portrayal of the situation to the American public.
Surprisingly, none of the members of EJC are professional or trained journalists. Rather, they are people who desire to educate the public and reveal truths and misconceptions about a critical international situation. As a journalism student, this profoundly affected me. It brought up a very serious question that I have addressed over and over again personally—is it someone’s education or drive that is more important for success? Yes, it is important to understand the tools and tricks of the trade. But education does not create a great journalist. The undeniable passion to show the world something it hasn’t seen—or hasn’t properly given attention to—is what creates good journalists. A degree alone cannot create a journalist. Both an inquisitive nature and the intuition that there is more to the story are what create good journalists. If you ask me, the uncountable hours and immeasurable effort that EJC has put into their work is the perfect example of journalism as it should be.
The presentation began with a brief summary of the political and historical background of Ukraine that led up to the protests. These protests, which began in November 2013, were sparked by the intention to reject an association agreement with the European Union by Ukraine’s presidential association. Rather, the presidential association expressed interest in an agreement with Russia. These intentions sparked anger in a great deal of Ukrainians who desired to move towards Europe rather than Russia in international relations.
A major point of the presentation involved EJC members’ view of the “East-West divide” theory. The theory describes how the western part of Ukraine exhibits sympathy towards Russia while the east sways toward Europe. This geographical divide is due to differences in language and culture. The east is predominantly Ukrainian speaking and the west is predominantly Russian speaking. The divide is believed to carry over to the current political unrest, with eastern Ukraine protesting pro-Russian policy and western Ukraine desiring political alignment with Russia.
As I brushed up on my current news on the way to the event, every article I read focused on how the ethno-linguist divide between east and west Ukraine has shaped the conflict. To my dismay, this information that I took as fact was not as solid as I thought. The EJC lecture complicated this idea. Rather than being the entire source of conflict, according to the EJC lecture, major media sources had once again oversimplified a very complex situation for the ease of their readers.
Although there is a language divide, Euromaidan (pro-European Union) protests are evenly spread through the country. EJC member Mykola Murskyj believes that Ukrainians in the western region feel forced to vote a certain way due to the government or older members of their communities. Murskyj believes that the inundation of the divide theory in Russian media has had implications as well. Although EJC has made it part of its mission to complicate these oversimplified ideas, much of major media has yet to catch on to the trend.
Personally, I believe no situation can be confined to the black and white, good and bad, this-and-that configuration that is so prevalent in media. The grey area in between extremes is the reality of most situations. But taking the time to explain heavy context would lose readers, who barely stop to read news as it is… or would it? I object to this idea that the vast majority of Americans don’t care or don’t have enough time to fully comprehend serious news matters. Is it that difficult for media to present the simple version, but have a “but wait—there’s more!” disclaimer for readers? I’m not denying the ethno-linguist divide in this situation; rather, I am a genuinely interested reader that the media has dis-serviced its readers by not explaining the situation in greater depth. EJC is a news source that has taken the time to flesh out complex situations—and they still have plenty of readers.
As a news source solely dedicated to Ukraine’s current events, they have the time and ability to focus in on details missed by major media sources. This specialized approach to media has allowed EJC to delve deeper and give better coverage of an event already on the headlines of every major news website. EJC also presented raw video clips and interviews with various people from their reporting in Ukraine. Interviews with academics, opposition leaders, students, and protestors of both sides explained the situation in Ukraine further. EJC members were even able to interview Senator John McCain during his visit to the country. In his interview, McCain expressed his support of the “steadfast efforts of Ukrainian citizens to adopt democracy.”
As an intern at Niagara Foundation, I am very glad to see EJC as a speaker at one of our Niagara Forums on March 27 (You can register here!). Alongside the general consul of Ukraine and the president of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America in Illinois, the President of EJC, Julian Hayda, will be able to discuss immediate coverage via livestream video directly from Kyiv, Ukraine. Along with his fellow panelists, Hayda, still reporting from the streets of Ukraine, will be able to discuss the complex situations that have occurred since the protests began in November.