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USAID Media Program in Ukraine: Assistance in Covering Potential Escalation of Conflict

November 1 – On October 30, the Washington Post reported on a renewed buildup of Russian troops near Ukraine’s eastern border. Earlier this year in April 2021, the Russian government moved nearly 100,000 troops to the border, according to EU estimates. This action was combined with a disinformation campaign that claimed Ukraine was shelling civilians in the Donbas region. These moves sparked fears that the Russian government was softening the ground for a further incursion into Ukrainian territory. Following a call between President Biden and President Putin and the proposal of a US-Russia summit, the Russian Defense Minister announced that troops were being recalled.

During this troop build-up in spring 2021, Internews partners met to discuss how to address the information needs of the public should the conflict escalate. This included information needs of citizens generally and specifically for those living in areas that might be invaded; training and equipment needs of journalists; front-line accreditation for journalists; and psychosocial preparation for journalists covering conflict and interviewing victims of trauma. Partners adapted their plans to include the training and preparation of journalists on how to effectively and accurately cover conflict, first-aid and safety in extreme situations, conflict-sensitive interview techniques, and gaining front-line accreditation from the military.

Ukrainian media coverage of the current escalation has been monitored by Internews partners Detector Media and the Institute for Mass Information (IMI). Coverage so far has been low key (1+1, Channel 5 and Channel 24). IMI has been approached by two journalists from Babel requesting the use of bulletproof vests and helmets for use at the frontline (equipment purchased in spring 2021 with the support of USAID’s Media Program in Ukraine).

Internews partners carried out the following conflict-related activities:

  • Kharkiv Press Club conducted five trainings on tactical medicine (first aid during military actions), working on the frontline, journalistic ethics, legal aspects of work in a military conflict, organizing the work of newsrooms during conflict, and ways to interview victims of the conflict. Around 60 journalists from Kharkiv, Donetsk, Luhansk, Dnipropetrovsk and Sumy regions took part.
  • Institute of Political Information (Odesa) conducted four trainings for 100 journalists from Odesa, Mykolayiv, Kherson and Zaporizhia, focused on security while working as a journalist in conditions of a conflict.
  • Institute of Mass Information conducted five three-day trainings on tactical first aid, working on the frontline, and journalism ethics for 91 journalists. The IMI training agenda was designed to meet the needs of the media community as identified through an online IMI survey of media workers regarding their preparedness to work on the frontline in the event of an escalation of the conflict in the East of Ukraine. IMI also made bulletproof vests and helmets available to journalists who report from the frontline by setting up a bank of protective equipment. IMI purchased five sets of personal protective equipment to form the bank.
  • Detector Media added Facebook and YouTube social media platforms to its interactive dashboard of its monitoring and analysis of Russian disinformation (previously it covered only Twitter and Telegram). The monitoring methodology includes identifying related content (posts) and coordinated campaigns, examining the audience and engagement (views and shares), analyzing tone and wording

Upcoming partners’ activities:

  • Independent Media Council will hold an online meeting on conflict-sensitive reporting for Odesa regional journalists (out of four planned to be held in the south-east of Ukraine) in late November 2021.
  • Detector Media will publish six monitoring reports during November 2021 – January 2022 on its online platforms. The analysis will be shared with the Center of Strategic Communication and Information Security at the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy and the Center for Countering Disinformation at the National Security and Defense Council. The aim of the reports is to help neutralize Russian disinformation messaging by increasing public understanding of what is behind the stories, and helping government institutions retune their communication strategies.

Photo: Google maps screenshot of one of many Russian military base near the Ukrainian border, Kamensk-Shakhtinsky, 14 km from the Ukrainian border.