Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Newspapers in the time of Euromaidan

I'm a little confused about Euromaidan. It seems like such a long time ago... or was it? So much has happened. Is happening. Do these new events still qualify as Euromaidan? Or should they get their own title?

Months ago, people waited for things to "return to normal". Now "normal" has become an absurd thought. I should have believed Graham when he predicted that there is no more normal, there's only a new Ukraine and its birth is just as messy and traumatizing as any birth is. My heart goes out to the Ukrainians who are living through this creation of a new reality, where every day brings a new headline and students confess they're thinking about sending their wives and children away to safer places.

But let's go back in time to November and December, the very beginning of all this. Those days, most people I spoke to saw Euromaidan as a beacon of hope, a way to sweep out all the corruption and dirt that had built up over time. Here in Kharkov, some friends (like Denis) traveled to Kiev to spend a day or two in what was then an idealistic and almost festive atmosphere. I didn't read the newspapers but I did see an increasing number of sensational internet ads pop up, like this one:
Attention! Euromaidan: new developments! Nov 2013. I remember thinking: "tanks? no way it'll come to that!"

Then came January and February, when things got very dark, Euromaidan was still mainly based in Kiev, and many people hoped against hope that the devastation seen up to that point could somehow still usher in a new age of prosperity and fairness for the nation. That's when I start picking up the local newspapers whenever the chance arose. I'd like to share some of what I saw with you. It's heavy stuff, but I thought you might appreciate seeing things from within the country and via another language. It's also eerily tragic to see how accurate some of the paper's headlines were.

Euromaidan coverage from Vesti newspaper, February 2014.
Вести newspaper, February 19th, 2014: Black Tuesday. War began in Kiev yesterday. As this paper goes to press, it's continuing. More than 10 people have died. There have been clashes in the government district since morning. The assault on Maidan began in the evening. How it will end, we still don't know, but we know for sure- today we all woke up in a different country.
Вести newspaper, February 19th, 2014.
Вести newspaper, February 19th, 2014: Help! I'm dying! It hurts!
Вести newspaper, February 19th, 2014: Who was killed during the conflict. Corpses lying right on the street.
Вести newspaper, February 26th, 2014: Insurance companies begin to pay for Maidan.
Вести newspaper, February 26th, 2014: Maidan will stay until the new government comes. To the right, a premonition of what's coming to Kharkov: The Freedom Square Lenin is temporary.
Вести newspaper, February 26th, 2014: When will government appear?
Вести newspaper, February 26th, 2014. List of those who were killed during the (Euromaidan) conflict.
Вести newspaper, February 26th, 2014: Danger of the month. Depression after Maidan- how to prevent it. At bottom right: Now it's important to hug and kiss each other more often.

At the same time, banks and loan agencies were still splashing full color ads throughout the pages.

A few mundane articles made it to publication:
"Warm weather will end after Feb 20th", "An ATM was blown up but not a single cent was taken"

Sometimes bad news was followed by bad news:
"The Carpathians are short on tourists because of snow", "Ukrainians assist hackers and end up on banking black lists", "The grivna's value awaits resolution of the country's troubles". Feb 19, 2014.

Kharkov's political celebs also showed up in the pages. The city's (former?) mayor, Gennadiy Kernes, was photographed getting chummy with Russian supermodel Kseniya Sobchak. Not longer after that, he was on the run and in some serious hot water.
"Sobchak visits Kernes and Timoshenko", "Hanging out with Kernes. Sobchak was here for 2 hours."

Timoshenko bravely smiled out from behind her prison bars.
(Don't mind the circling; I was learning a lot of news words during these reading sessions.)
"Stubborn rumors have sprung up that Yulia will soon be released", which did indeed happen about 10 days after this article was published.
Weapons were everywhere:
Feb 26th, 2014. L: "Armed people have appeared in the cities. They call themselves 'self-defense units' or 'Praviy Sektor' and threaten bureaucrats and public prosecutors."[Note: the man in this picture was shot dead exactly 27 days later. ] Middle: The balance of power in Crimea could change (if only they knew how much!!) R: Black market prices of different weapons (Feb 19th, 2014)

As always, there's got to be a shot of the Ukrainian parliament that harkens back to those viral videos of the other year:
"Why politicians didn't prevent the massacre"

And then, at the end of February, I stopped reading the local papers so much.

During the past few months there's been a lot of talk about the English-language media over-inflating accounts of what's actually happening in Ukraine and I do believe that to be true. It's easy to photograph a war zone and ignore normal life happening a few blocks away (something which I had no idea could coexist until now. Now I'm understanding, though, it can be equally as insane to photograph normal life and ignore that war zone.) Recently a lot of people have been emailing me to ask "Is it really that bad there?" I don't know what to say. No. And yes. Even on days when everything seems fine, the real issue is that you don't know if things will be fine tomorrow or not.

On Sunday, I was totally caught unaware by something that had only just been business as normal. Saturday, walking downtown, enjoying the spring weather. Sunday, same exact place, and wind up walking out of a café and smack into a situation that led to an "anti-terrorist operation" just a few hours later. Pretty freaky.

So in summary, while I still think the English-language media tends to exaggerate the reality of the situation in many ways, they're pretty on target with the possibilities... which could easily become tomorrow's reality.


  1. Thanks for sharing the thoughts of a woman on the #Kharkiv omnibus :-)

    I have reposted and subsequently gone through G+ and Twitter: http://rupertbuukraine.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/8-months-in-ukraine-newspapers-in-time.html

    1. :p And just a week after I said "politics-free zone"! But it's been on my mind a lot recently...

      Thanks for the repost, Rupert!

  2. Please stay safe and remember the precautions! CNN says there are protests in Kharkiv. Things like this can get out of hand very quickly. I'm still concerned about the three of you - (this includes the Ukranian Whale). - Joyce

  3. Thanks for the post. I always pick up a local paper when I travel. You get an insider's view. @mondeeredman