When Russia launched its all-out invasion of Ukraine on February 24, the country’s journalists found themselves on the front lines.
The commitment of Ukrainian journalists to continue reporting in such difficult times will be recognized on Thursday when Sevgil Musaieva, Editor-in-Chief of Ukraine Pravdareceives an International Press Freedom Award.
Known for its investigative reporting on corruption, Ukrainska Pravda has focused on reporting on the Russian invasion since the war.
In announcing its award to Musaieva, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists cited her leadership as having supported her Ukraine Pravda journalists in “delivering critical and reliable reporting despite the dangers of war”.
On the way to New York to accept her award, Musaieva spoke to Myroslava Gongadze, head of VOA’s Eastern Europe office, in Warsaw, Poland, about how the war has changed the approach of her media company, and Ukrainian journalists’ commitment to media freedom in general . Gongadze is the widow of Ukraine PravdaThe founder of , Georgiy Gongadze, who founded the publication in 2000 and was kidnapped and killed that same year in retaliation for his reporting.
Musaieva is one of three international laureates for freedom of the press. The CPJ also recognizes in 2022 jailed Vietnamese blogger Pham Doan Trang, Iraqi Kurdish reporter Niyaz Abdullah and independent Cuban journalist and Washington Post Columnist Abraham Jiménez Enoa, who is in exile in Spain.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
VOA: What does this prestigious media freedom award mean for you and for Ukrainian journalists?
Musayeva: It is a tribute to all journalists covering this terrible war. And it is also a recognition of my colleagues, journalists from Ukraine Pravda and independent journalism [which is] one of the greatest achievements of our country in the last 30 years of independence.
VOA: How did the war affect your work in terms of reporting and the difficulties you endured during that time?
Musayeva: Of course [our work] has changed dramatically. Before this war, we focused more on domestic issues. We’ve covered politics and corruption, we’ve conducted many investigations into high-ranking officials.
[That focus] has changed dramatically as 90% of our reporting is now about war and reporting from the front lines.
Even though we publish political stories, some of [that reporting] irritates people because they think it’s not a good time for such coverage.
But still, we do our best to report not only on this war, but also on the misconduct of senior officials even in wartime.
VOA: Ukraine Pravda is one of the top publications in Ukraine and famous for its investigative journalism. How will this work during and after the war, after Ukrainian officials get used to not being challenged by journalists?
Musayeva: Many investigative projects in Ukraine focus more on war crimes. Our team also publishes many stories about Russian oligarchs and the yachts and jets. We reported a story [Chechen leader] Ramzan Kadyrov’s mansion in Dubai.
But now we’ve decided that we need to move on with our investigative division [and] domestic policy.
For example, we published an investigation into misconduct by a senior official in [the Ukrainian city of] Dnipro.
After the war it will be even more terrible. We will [likely find] that much wrongdoing and corruption took place.
VOA: How does the role of journalism change during the war?
Musayeva: I went to areas under Russian occupation and met a lot of people. They told me the hardest part of the occupation was not being without electricity, food or water. The biggest challenge was not having any messages all the time.
In the first days of the invasion, I received a call from one of my colleagues in Mariupol. It was February 28 and he was crying, believing Kyiv had surrendered.
Russia spread this information in Mariupol when it occupied the city.
What Russia did first was they blocked all Ukrainian websites, blocked all Ukrainian information and even prosecuted people who still read Ukrainian news.
But at the same time I think [Ukrainian] Authorities changed media understanding during the war. They think they can use us however they want. And I think it’s a big mistake.
I understand many limitations during the war – for example, not publishing the location after a missile attack, and some limitations in early September before the counter-offensive.
However, some of the restrictions may be a manipulation to avoid covering sensitive issues for the Ukrainian government.
But journalism will fight back.
VOA: What kind of challenges will influence the future of media and journalism in Ukraine?
Musayeva: The most important is the emotional pressure. The second is financial pressure. The business model of Ukraine Pravda was destroyed by this war and now we depend on donors and our readers.
But I hope something will change in the near future.
There is this definition, “the fog of war”. Everyone is so focused on the war that you may miss important events or stories.
So these challenges will also be important for Ukrainian journalists.
And of course I think that unfortunately we will face censorship efforts because it is war and because officials say that during war you cannot tell the whole truth and they want to control the information field.
But I firmly believe that Ukrainian journalists will fight back because we experienced it [censorship] before and [because] One of the most important values of the Ukrainian democratic state is freedom of speech.
VOA: You are a young journalist and Crimean Tatar who has experienced a lot in the history of Ukraine: the revolution, censorship during Viktor Yanukovych’s presidency and now the war. How do you keep yourself?
Musayeva: Of course it’s difficult when I see people in the occupied territories and when I see many former journalists, former artists in this Ukrainian army. I understand that I don’t have time for self-reflection.
what gives me hope I have a dream that Ukraine will be free and my native Crimea will be free. And I will see the Black Sea together with my children and my husband. This one picture gives me hope.
I have this connection to this country, to my homeland of Crimea. And I understand that we will be free. And every day we pay a high price for this freedom and for democracy. But at the same time it gives me hope.