Ukrainian journalists carve out new niche in Germany

·3-min read

Two months ago, Roksana Panashchuk was working as a freelance journalist in Ukraine. Now, she's a refugee in Germany, closely watching events back home from the northeastern city of Greifswald.

"The situation is tough, of course, but everyone is doing what they can," she told AFP.

"Soldiers are fighting, volunteers are distributing food and ammunition" -- and journalists are "telling the truth... about what's going on" in Ukraine.

Panashchuk is working as a coordinator for a network of Ukrainian journalists at home and abroad funded and organised by the German magazine Katapult, which specialises in statistics and social scientific studies.

The project is one of many such initiatives that have sprung up in Germany since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.

The RTL network has launched a daily TV show hosted by Ukrainian presenter Karolina Ashion, one of more than 300,000 Ukrainians who have found refuge in Europe's biggest economy.

In Berlin, the daily Tagesspiegel newspaper has also decided to open its doors to Ukrainian and Russian journalists by offering them work space and a monthly wage.

- 'Delivering the facts' -

The offices of Katapult are located in a building currently undergoing renovations in Greifswald, a windy coastal city with a population of around 60,000.

Construction workers mill past and the sound of drilling blasts through the office as Panashchuk and her colleagues translate and edit articles in Ukrainian and Russian.

"We want to fight false information by delivering the facts on the ground using reliable sources," said Panashchuk, who is living in a hotel near the newsroom.

Since the start of the war, Katapult has added around 20 Ukrainian journalists to its staff of around 50.

"Our initial idea was to open our doors to them and give them a workspace, computers, cameras, mobile phones," said Benjamin Friedrich, who founded the magazine.

But he and his team soon realised that many journalists were not planning to leave Ukraine, "so we thought we should hire them remotely".

The only question was how to finance such a hiring spree by a magazine that, although it has around a million subscribers, is hardly rolling in money.

Friedrich asked his colleagues whether they would be prepared to give up part of their own wages to finance the salaries of their Ukrainian colleagues.

Some were strongly opposed to the idea. But in the end, 20 people agreed to give up between 25 and 50 percent of their gross monthly salary of 3,300 euros ($3,600).

In the meantime, Katapult has gained many subscribers for its Ukraine edition and collected some 200,000 euros in donations, meaning it has more or less broken even, according to Friedrich.

- Propaganda -

For Katapult, which promotes its work through the Telegram messaging app and Twitter as well as its own website, properly vetting all content from Ukraine and Russia has been crucial.

It's important to be wary of "stories of heroism", said Friedrich, who recently visited Ukraine himself, because "when a war breaks out, there is propaganda on all sides".

"The Ukrainians did it in a clever way, they spread a lot of stories on social networks and we didn't know here, as German journalists, if they were true or not," he said.

Before coming to Germany, Panashchuk worked for 15 years as a freelance journalist in Ukraine.

"I can see clearly if a story is Russian propaganda," she said. But on the other hand, Ukrainian journalists can also be "too emotional".

"I can face inappropriate things in their text, like an opinion that all Russians are our enemies," she said.

Katapult's Ukraine edition also aims to tell the story of everyday life in a country at war, zoning in on details such as what can still be found in the supermarkets.

"Very ordinary things have suddenly become very interesting" as a result of the conflict, according to Friedrich.

On the ground floor of the building, piles of mattresses stand alongside boxes of toys and food on the freshly laid linoleum floor.

These are the building blocks of the next Katapult project: providing temporary accommodation for around 50 Ukrainian refugees.

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