Vpered: The Newspaper is our Front and our Contribution to Victory

It is not only food, electricity and medicine that the people living through difficult war conditions are experiencing shortage of. Information is also in short supply. Svitlana Ovcharenko, Editor- in-Chief of the Vpered Bakhmut-based newspaper, did the impossible to get Bakhmut residents to start receiving the newspaper again. Here is an interview with Svitlana as part of the project to support the sustainability of Ukrainian media.

– Bakhmut. What information about the city are the Ukrainians missing?
– Now Bakhmut is the centrepiece of almost all news, TV stories, front pages not only of Ukrainian, but also of world magazines. It has become a place of pilgrimage for journalists from all over the world, and a lot has been said about its life from TV screens, radio stations and various level newspapers. The information has been coming from various sources: from Ukraine’s President to a random elderly lady from Bakhmut. Therefore, I believe there is enough information for society to realize that our heroic city, at the cost of many lives, is now fighting not only for Ukraine, but for the whole of Europe.

– What do your readers need most these days?
– It’s just the opposite here. The world knows almost everything about Bakhmut, whereas Bakhmutians are in a desperate need of information. That’s where we are supposed to step in.

When heavy fighting began near the city, there was neither electricity, nor mobile communications/Internet signal, when people who remained in Bakhmut found themselves in a complete information vacuum, the only source of information for them could only be a newspaper. Only the newspaper could lay out important and reliable information about the situation countrywide and locally, and most importantly, about the possibility of evacuation and receiving free shelter, medical support and humanitarian assistance.

On November 4, the first Vpered issue, after a long eight months of forced interruption, was delivered to Bakhmut with the help of volunteers and local authorities and distributed to those who are remaining in the epicentre of the fighting, our exhausted Bakhmutians who are staying in basements and have no idea what is happening around them. You can’t imagine how hectic it is there now.

The Union of journalists of Ukraine and their Japanese partners helped us print the first issue of the newspaper. By the end of last year, four more issues were published and two more were published in January. This is largely due to the project ‘Improving the Sustainability of Ukrainian Media’ that the Institute of Regional Media and Information together is implementing together with the Swiss-based organization Media for Peace and Human Dignity.

When volunteers tell us how people cry when they pick up a newspaper in Bakhmut under merciless shelling, it is clear to us – that is our front and our contribution to the victory. Only thanks to Vpered did Bakhmut residents learn that they were not abandoned or forgotten, that the whole world is now standing with them, that the President mentions Bakhmut in almost each of his addresses …

– How is the editorial office of your publication working now?
– We have been facing major economic and organizational challenges. The team was scattered all over Ukraine. But we managed to get out of this spin and learn how to work in war conditions. The team will eventually be in place. We get information, write stories, do the lay out, and printing – all remotely. In conditions of constant blackouts one often has to work nights. Especially when it is about the layout. The layout designer and I are based in different cities. When the power is on in my city, it is off in his and vice versa. Often during the day there is a couple of matching hours a couple of times for us. We are constantly in touch, set alarms for both two in the morning and four in the morning to do our work, because we know that our readers that are now in need for unbiased accurate information more than ever are waiting for their copy of the newspaper. We must send the newspaper to the printing house on time, so as not to break the chain by which it is delivered to Bakhmut. The chain was extremely difficult to build. But that’s another story.

– What kind of support for your project do you expect in the first place?
– The funds, of course, are very important. It is no secret that a newspaper can only make itself sustainable by good sales and solid advertising. Before the war, we were firmly on our feet, had a robust circulation and never received any subsidies. We are now distributing the newspaper in Bakhmut and it’s free for the readers, of course. So, what kind of advertising could we be talking about?

The project for us is primarily an opportunity to get out of our comfort zone, learn, by communicating with colleagues and mentors of the project, on new approaches in modern journalism and on the tools that will enhance our multimedia component, expand the audience and newspaper’s credibility as a reliable source of information. At this stage, for example, we are rebuilding our website and setting up our page on social media. Before the war, our newsroom published two newspapers: the 24-page Vpered and the 16-page Pohliad. It was quite an intense job to do for four journalists, and there was simply not enough time for the web site and social media. Now we still want, so to speak, to catch up on things. We have high hopes for the project in this regard.


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