Ukrainian journalists carve out a new niche in Germany
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Greifswald (Germany) (AFP) – Two months ago, Roksana Panashchuk was working as a freelance journalist in Ukraine. Today, she is a refugee in Germany and closely monitors events at home from the town of Greifswald in the northeast of the country.
“The situation is difficult, of course, but everyone is doing what they can,” she told AFP.
“Soldiers are fighting, volunteers are distributing food and ammunition” — and journalists are “telling the truth… about what is happening” in Ukraine.
Panashchuk works as a coordinator for a network of Ukrainian journalists in the country and abroad financed and organized by the German magazine Katapult, which specializes in statistics and social scientific studies.
The project is one of many such initiatives that have sprung up in Germany since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.
The RTL network has launched a daily TV show hosted by Ukrainian presenter Karolina Ashion, one of more than 300,000 Ukrainians who have found refuge in Europe’s biggest economy.
In Berlin, the daily Tagesspiegel has also decided to open its doors to Ukrainian and Russian journalists by offering them work space and a monthly salary.
“Delivering the Facts”
Katapult’s offices are located in a building currently being renovated in Greifswald, a breezy coastal town of around 60,000 people.
Construction workers parade and the sound of drilling explosions echoes through the office as Panashchuk and his colleagues translate and edit articles in Ukrainian and Russian.
“We want to fight fake news by delivering the facts on the ground using reliable sources,” said Panashchuk, who lives in a hotel near the newsroom.
Since the start of the war, Katapult has added around 20 Ukrainian journalists to its staff of around 50.
“Our initial idea was to open our doors to them and offer them a workspace, computers, cameras, mobile phones,” explains Benjamin Friedrich, founder of the magazine.
But he and his team soon realized that many journalists were not considering leaving Ukraine, “so we thought we had to hire them remotely”.
The only question was how to finance such a wave of hiring by a magazine which, although it has around a million subscribers, hardly rolls any money.
Friedrich asked his colleagues if they would be willing to give up part of their own salary to finance the salaries of their Ukrainian colleagues.
Some were strongly opposed to the idea. But in the end, 20 people agreed to give up between 25 and 50 percent of their gross monthly salary of 3,300 euros ($3,600).
In the meantime, Katapult has gained many subscribers for its Ukrainian edition and collected some 200,000 euros in donations, which means it has more or less broken even, according to Friedrich.
For Katapult, which promotes its work through the Telegram and Twitter messaging app as well as its own website, it was crucial to properly vet all content from Ukraine and Russia.
It’s important to be wary of “stories of heroism,” said Friedrich, who recently visited Ukraine himself, because “when a war breaks out, there’s propaganda from all sides.”
“The Ukrainians did it in a smart way, they spread a lot of stories on social media and we didn’t know here as German journalists if they were true or not,” he said.
Before coming to Germany, Panashchuk worked for 15 years as a freelance journalist in Ukraine.
“I can clearly see if a story is Russian propaganda,” she said. But on the other hand, Ukrainian journalists can also be “too emotional”.
“I can deal with inappropriate things in their text, like an opinion that all Russians are our enemies,” she said.
The Ukrainian edition of Katapult also aims to tell the story of everyday life in a country at war, focusing on details such as what can still be found in supermarkets.
“Very ordinary things suddenly became very interesting” as a result of the conflict, according to Friedrich.
On the ground floor of the building, piles of mattresses sit alongside boxes of toys and food on the freshly laid linoleum floor.
These are the constituent elements of the next Katapult project: providing temporary accommodation to around fifty Ukrainian refugees.
© 2022 AFP