Tracking the latest news on Ukraine from my kitchen in
Scarborough has been a nerve-racking experience.
My son was in Kyiv working as a volunteer for the
International Red Cross. Under sniper fire he was ferrying out casualties from
the city’s Independence Square last month as the clashes between protestors and
He had told me his Red Cross arm-band would protect him.
Then we heard that he and a colleague were targeted as they were lifting out a
casualty. His friend was shot in the back.
News was a vital link for my wife and me. She is Ukrainian,
desperate to know what was happening and how family were coping.
Through the internet we were able to access Ukrainian TV
channels and news services. It gave me a chance to see how some of the
journalists I had worked with over the years were coping.
BBC Media Action is currently working on a journalism
mentoring project in Ukraine, the latest in a number of large-scale activities
carried out since 1996.
One of our trainers, Valentina Samar caught my attention as
she delivered a live report from Crimea. I watched as she described the tense
events on the Peninsula, now controlled by pro-Russian troops.
I was impressed by her careful language and use of local knowledge
to create a picture of what was happening. I first met Valentina in the late
90s when we worked on a BBC World Service Training Overseas project designed to
counter hate speech against Crimean Tatars.
Our paths crossed again when she became one of our local
trainers as we worked on transforming the university journalism curriculum, in
particular with the main university in Kyiv, but also in Uzhhorod and Crimea’s
The tensions around that time, fuelled by coming elections
and rows over land, in many ways feed into the current crisis.
There have long been challenges and surprises working in the
region, with the underlying political tensions sporadically bubbling to the
surface. In 2003 BBC Media Action set up
Top Media in Odessa, a media support project offering legal advice and training.
When the EU-funded project closed two and half years later, a journalism
student burst into tears in my office, apologising for spying on us for the SBU
– the former KGB.
It was a sensitive time; we were being monitored as a result
of the scandal following the kidnap and murder of journalist Georgiy Gongadze. There
were concerns that, as a BBC entity, we might encourage coverage of the story
in ways the then authorities would not like.
Back in the current crisis, Andriy Kulykov, another trainer
we worked with, a former BBC journalist and now one of Ukraine’s leading
talk-show presenters, has also been at the heart of events.
He took a brave step of broadcasting his programme Svoboda
Slova (Freedom of Speech) not in Ukrainian, but in Russian – an attempt to
reach out to all sides.
He has also used his BBC journalism training and experience
as a trainer with Media Action, to maintain balance during his on air interviewing..
And for me, as a listener eager to know the latest, I am
grateful to those who worked on projects with me over the years, who maintain
the editorial standards we have promoted and kept me in touch with how my
family’s life is being affected – now and in the uncertain future Ukraine is