Helping Ukraine’s women journalists to keep telling their stories

A year ago, Russia invaded Ukraine, destroying lives and livelihoods. A partnership between the Ukrainian Independent Regional Publishers’ Association (AIRPPU) and WAN-IFRA’s Women in News programme awarded reporting grants to ensure the stories of women in Ukraine and their everyday struggles – and triumphs – continued to be told.

In February 2022, life for millions of Ukrainians took a dark turn. Russian tanks rolled in, shattering the peace and unleashing new horrors. Many Ukrainian journalists were silenced – both literally and figuratively.

They needed indestructible reserves to tell the stories that needed to be told. Yet, the media industry was working under near-impossible conditions. Access to basic resources like electricity, mobile phones and notebooks was severely curtailed. Reporters also had targets on their backs. 

As a result, important voices and perspectives went missing from news coverage. And as often happens in times of crisis, women’s testimonies were especially absent.  

In response, WAN-IFRA Women in News, a programme that works to amplify women’s voices and leadership in the news – partnered with member Association of Independent Regional Press Publishers of Ukraine (AIRPPU) to administer short-term reporting assignments to women and non-binary journalists throughout the country. 

The resulting stories centred women’s perspectives on the war – and provided short-term support to those immediately impacted by the Russian invasion.

The grant programme fell under the auspices of WAN-IFRA WIN’s Social Impact Reporting Initiative (SIRI) which has run in multiple countries throughout Africa and the Arab Region through support from primary benefactor SIDA (Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency). 

More than 200 journalists applied to produce stories that shine a light on under-told issues, or those that have been neglected by mainstream media. Many of them focused specifically on the stories and experiences of Ukrainian women. Twenty candidates were successful. 

The partnership led to the production of 80 pieces of content on 228 platforms across two months. This translates to an estimated audience of 148,400 print users and 55.9 million total monthly unique online users. Some journalists had to use pseudonyms due to security concerns.

The stories produced under the SIRI Ukraine reporting grant were published here. In mid-2023, they will be translated and reproduced in the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, a bastion of independent journalism.

Here are a selection of some of the stories.

A snapshot of SIRI Ukraine 

Their whereabouts are unknown. How Ukrainian women try to find their husbands who have gone missing during the full-scale war

Oleksandra Horchynska provides a heartfelt account of the devastation women face when searching for information on their husbands’ whereabouts. She gives an in-depth account of these wives’ struggles to accept unverifiable reports that these brave men have died on the frontline – despite there being no body to bury.

“This man, Boris, who managed to return home, said that the Russians had taken civilians to the forest near Bucha. They dug pits there, kept people, and tortured them. Those who did not survive were left in the pit. Some were made captives.”

Pentagon lights and people disappearing in the basements: how Mariupol residents survived Russia’s “filtration camp”

Alona Martyniuk’s powerful narrative brings out the reality of Ukrainians living in blockaded towns – and the resilience of a mother determined to protect her children from the horrors that lie outside their makeshift hideout.

“If something whistles, it is better to immediately fall face down. The main thing is to get close to it as much as possible so that the fragments fly by. A plane always arrives at night. The whistle means that the bombs are about to fall. The younger son asks Ira: ‘Mother, why do you lie on top of us at night?’”

How war stress affects women’s health and how to protect it: a Gynaecologist advises

Inna Yeshchenko’s article gives insights into the effects of war on women – and provides a practical guide on how to navigate the unique challenges their bodies face under extreme stress. With expert perspectives and real-life examples, this article paints a powerful picture of the realities of Ukrainian women forced to give birth under shelling. 

“… when I saw her desire to bear this child, the absence of any fear, then I believed that we could not be defeatedOur women are ready to bear and give birth even on the second day of the war. The victory will be ours.”

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