MediaFit: The EU and the future of journalism in Ukraine | Europe/Central Asia | DW | 08.05.2024
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MediaFit: The EU and the future of journalism in Ukraine

After three years of MediaFit support, journalists and policymakers from Ukraine and the European Union examine the changes war has brought to the country and what the future may hold.

After losing her husband, journalist Artem Skoropadskyi, in 2022, Ukrainian filmmaker and journalist Olena Solodovnikova felt like her life had been turned upside down.

Yet, she knew she was not alone. In a country that has been at war since 2014, and particularly since Russia’s full-scale invasion in 2022, many Ukrainians are suffering from the loss of loved ones.

Solodovnikova decided that these stories needed to be told. She started recording interviews with widows whose husbands died in Russia’s war against Ukraine.

"I understand what it means for people who lost their relatives and their husbands," Solodovnikova explained at the MediaFit closing event. "So, I understand not only about loss but what it is like to start their lives from scratch, to find new meaning."

What came out of these interviews was the podcast "After the Hero," in which she interviews women about their journeys through grief and the process of rebuilding their lives. Some women even went on to join the military themselves.

Olena Solodovnikova at the European Commission in Brussels

Journalist Olena Solodovnikova is a well-known documentary filmmaker and MediaFit participant

New territory for journalists

Yet making a podcast was novel territory for her. An experienced documentary filmmaker, she had to adjust to the medium.

"Radio was completely new for me," the filmmaker explained. "It is very intimate and I found you can really get people to open up more than on camera."

Part of the MediaFit Creators Fund, she worked with mentors specializing in podcasting, who were able to give her insights into how to make her project successful.

"The MediaFit trainers absolutely inspired me every time," she said.

Her hard work paid off. On April 19, she was awarded the Grand Prix Award at the MediaFit award ceremony in Brussels, sharing the honor with Serhi Huleikov for "Country of Heroes."

DW Akademie's MediaFit closing event in Brussels

Journalists from across southern and eastern Ukraine came to Brussels for the two-day event

Creators for a resilient Ukrainian media

The ceremony was part of the MediaFit event "Resilient Ukrainian media," where Solodovnikova and 50 other journalists and media workers came to Brussels to mark the end of the program.

In all, MediaFit supported 14 media organizations and 60 media creators throughout southern and eastern Ukraine since 2021. MediaFit also supported 29 documentaries, 29 multimedia products, six fact-checking projects and 29 other podcasts.

EU support is crucial for Ukraine

Celebrating MediaFit was not the only reason Solodovnikova and the other journalists came to Brussels. The delegation also had the opportunity to exchange with EU policymakers on how the bloc can continue to support a free and independent media in Ukraine.

Speakers included Henrick Huitfeldt (EU Delegation to Ukraine); Oksana Diakun (Mission of Ukraine to the European Union); Natalie Pauwels (DG Near, European Commission); Mykola Chernotytskyi (Ukrainian public broadcaster Suspilne); Veronika Kucherchuk (European Endowment for Democracy); Jeanne Cavelier (Reporters without Borders); and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Vasilisa Stepanenko (AP, Academy Award-winner 20 Days in Mariupol).

"So far, EU support has been crucial to fight back against the Russian invasion," said Oksana Diakun of the Mission of Ukraine to the European Union at the event. "And the task of journalists is to tell the stories of Ukrainian resistance and to make sure that this war is never seen as the new normal."

A panel discussion at the MediaFit event in Brussels

Alexandra von Nahmen (left), Jeanne Cavelier, Veronika Kucherchuk and others discussed the future of media in Ukraine at this pivotal moment in the country's history

The future of media in Ukraine

According to recent reports,more than 230 media outlets have closed since the start of the war and more than 100 journalists have been victims of Russian attacks.

Despite the challenges media has faced so far, there have been some successes in Ukraine. For example,Reporters without Borders’ Press Freedom Index has elevated Ukraine’s standing from 106th to 79th in its world ranking from 2022 to 2023.

Mykola Dondiuk at the closing event for MediaFit

Filmmaker Mykola Dondiuk (right) won Best Documentary for "Extraordinary" about firefighters in Kherson

"We have seen an increasing trust in grass roots media in Ukraine," said Henrik Huitfeld from the EU delegation in Ukraine.

These hard-earned gains are made possible in part through support like MediaFit and other media development programs that allow for media workers to continue to produce stories and provide important information to its audiences, despite the difficult conditions.

For Solodovnikova, the opportunity to share these women’s stories came about because of MediaFit, which gave her the funding and the training necessary to make this project a reality. Now, she is currently working on a new podcast in English called "Comments" andhas launched a website with her new husband, Belarusian journalist Serhiy Prokhorov.

While the stories on "After the Hero" remain too common an experience in Ukraine, support from the EU will at least continue to help journalists and media organizations share the experiences of Ukrainians during this pivotal time.

MediaFit, funded by the European Union with co-financing from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), is concluding. The new "Strengthening independent media for a strong democratic Ukraine" project will continue to focus on supporting niche media in the country, media and information literacy programs for younger audiences and will cooperate with the Ukrainian public broadcaster Suspilne.

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