Why we don’t avoid ‘unpleasant’ stories about Ukraine

We’ve got some bad news.

In fact, we’ve got plenty of bad news. As well as some good news, and a handful of regular news.

As with any media publication, we cover many topics and developments, both upsetting and inspiring.

But lately, we have seen a worrying trend that needs addressing.

That is, people have been attacking journalists for “negative” stories about Ukraine and the war.

More often than before, when we publish a story touching on something that can be seen as “upsetting,” we get pushback from those following what’s happening in Ukraine, in the form of emails to journalists or comments on the website and social media.

These “upsetting” stories include reports about the hardships on the front line, battlefield missions not going as planned, corruption allegations rocking the Ukrainian government, or political quarreling that seems inappropriate for the times of war.

While such stories get a lot of appreciation from our readers seeking well-rounded reporting about Ukraine, they also provoke accusations of being “too pessimistic,” publishing “harmful” or “demoralizing” stories, helping Russian propaganda, or even being “infiltrated with Kremlin agents.” The words “clickbait” and “disinformation” get thrown around.

We want to take this opportunity to explain why we, a Ukrainian publication, choose to publish stories that can be seen as presenting Ukraine in a “bad light.”

At the Kyiv Independent, our mission is to report on Ukraine. We aspire to be the place for those seeking to understand Ukraine and the developments here. As journalists, we keep the public informed and hold those in power to account. That includes Ukraine’s leadership in times of war.

We wouldn’t be doing anyone any good if we ran the Kyiv Independent as a propaganda outlet or a feel-good publication, filled solely with stories about Ukraine’s successes, of which we cover a lot.

Falling out of touch with reality is dangerous, especially in times of war. We saw how this disconnect with reality has been the reason behind some of the Russians’ failures. Thanks to their bad intelligence and corrupt leadership, they walked into Ukraine thinking they would take Kyiv in three days and be met with flowers.

We can’t afford to fall into the same trap of ignorance. Reading the stories of Ukrainians’ incredible bravery and victories feels good – and so does writing them. But reality is bigger than just those stories.

As with anywhere, our reality in Ukraine is a mix of inspiring and upsetting developments. The war makes everything more vivid. Corruption or political quarreling are more shocking than before, because they’re happening while Ukraine’s defenders lose their lives to buy the country time. And we understand that people are shocked and hurt that these things still happen. So are we.

We would be doing a poor service to our readers, both inside and outside of Ukraine, if we filtered out the “bad” stories. In fact, we’d be actively causing harm if we were doing it.

We have been getting comments complaining about things “becoming more negative” or “editorial policy changing in the last few months.” The truth is, the editorial policy hasn’t changed. The events we report on have.

We are careful and do everything we can to get our facts straight. We’d rather wait and run the story later but get it right. There have been many stories that we haven’t published because we didn’t have enough evidence to be absolutely sure that we have a solid story.

Like everyone else, we make mistakes. We make sure to fix it fast, run a correction, and talk it through in the newsroom to keep it from happening again.

We understand that readers find certain stories upsetting. It doesn’t change that they are part of our objective reality, and the public deserves to know about them.

The only facts we won’t publish are the kind that can hurt troops on the battlefield, such as the locations of specific units or details of planned operations. But we don’t think that the war should be used as a pretext to put a blanket cover over issues like corruption or misconduct.

We also don’t think that “upsetting” stories from the front lines should be censored. The daily reality of the war is brutal and it shouldn’t be concealed for the sake of positivity alone. Soldiers defending Ukraine are people with feelings and fears. They are giving their lives and the least we can do is listen to what they have to say, especially if doing so can prevent misconduct whose cost is measured in human lives. Shedding light on it can make a case for action.

Importantly, no matter how upset one is with any story, incendiary comments and personal attacks against journalists are irresponsible and can’t be justified. We live and report in a country where journalists have been attacked and killed for their work.

Last but not least, Ukraine is about freedom. This war is about staying free – not just from Russia, but from what it stands for: authoritarianism, oppression, and lawlessness. One can’t win a war by adopting the enemy’s values.

Freedom of the press is the cornerstone of democracy and a healthy society. Suppressing “unpleasant” stories and calling for the journalists’ silence isn’t what Ukraine stands for.

We are serving Ukraine, its future, and our readers. In light of this, expect that the Kyiv Independent will continue to bring you the truth. At times, it will be unpleasant.

Do you want to share your thoughts with us? Write a letter to the editor, and we will consider publishing it.

We’ve been working hard to bring you independent, locally-sourced news from Ukraine. Consider supporting the Kyiv Independent.

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