By Ken Smith
Even before Russian forces invaded Ukraine on February 24, mainstream media put their 24/7 news cycle on coverage of the conflict. However, this cycle often focuses only on the greatest reports that are repeatedly mixed together, and sometimes lacks the perspective of ordinary citizens living through the horrors of war.
Excellent coverage of the war has emerged from independent journalists with boots on the ground, both in beleaguered Ukraine and inside Russia. The latter country is increasingly cut off from the global community every day as sanctions are imposed, opposition to the war and Putin’s narratives are suppressed, and channels of communication are closed or threatened. Social media users have also stepped up, with culture and travel bloggers unwittingly making the leap to citizen war correspondents and opposition voices.
Here are a few sites that we think offer interesting insights into the war.
No news source is closer to the action than the Kyiv Independent, which continues to deliver some of the most timely and visceral coverage of the war raging in its home country. The “Independent” tag in the media title is earned. It was founded last year by Kyiv Post staff after that newspaper was bought by an oligarch, and it is partly employee-owned and funded through endowments and crowdfunding.
As the Independent shares Ukraine’s struggle with the world, the English and Russian news agency based in Latvia Medouza largely focuses on getting real news inside Russia and chronicling opposition to the war there. A Photo documentaryCovering protests in several Russian cities in a single day (March 6) is a stark reminder that not all Russians support the invasion or are willing to stand up for their beliefs.
Youtube channel 1420 has a simple premise – a young man wanders around Moscow asking dozens of people the same question in classic man-in-the-street fashion. Before two weeks ago, these questions ranged from serious (“Do people trust the Sputnik vaccine?”) to silly (“Are you ready for the zombie apocalypse?”). The site is now fully commercial, with new videos posted almost daily. people’s thoughts on the invasion, both before it starts and how it persists. The responses are varied and revealing, emphasizing the power of propaganda (pro-Putin stances), peace (most don’t want war), and fear (some say how dangerous it is to express themselves, or they simply run away from the camera).
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty offers both original reporting and aggregated information on their YouTube channel, ranging from hard news to reactions from Russian citizens showed footage of the invasion present exhibits on Ukrainians find solace in song.
Bald and bankrupt is a long-running YouTube channel showcasing the exploits of a Russian-speaking Englishman named Ben (aka “Bald”) as he travels the world, with his primary focus being countries that were part of the former Soviet Union. One of Bald’s travel companions is sometimes an American named Johnny, who operates a similar travel-focused YouTube site called Johnny DF. Last summer, Johnny bought an apartment in kyiv. The day before the invasion, Bald traveled from Poland along the border areas of Ukraine to join Johnny in the capital, talk to the locals along the way and discussing their doubts that war would come the day before the fighting started. Johnny and Bald gave live updates on Instagram from kyiv’s Town Square as the bomb began to fall and the Russian army encroached, eventually fleeing kyiv on February 25. Both posted videos of their departure filled with the kind of imagery that represents kyiv in the past two weeks – people and pets camped out in metro stations and piled side by side on a train platform – but from ground level. There are glimpses of humanity at its best everywhere, like Bald’s pictures of a Ukrainian train driver jumping off the train at the last minute to help a number of ticketless passengers board. Johnny is staying in Budapest and recently posted a video of a demonstration against the warin front of the Russian embassy in this city.