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By Chris Sutcliffe, Senior reporter

March 22, 2022 | 5 min read

Marie Claire Ukraine’s editor-in-chief Iryna Taterenko says her team of journalists – more used to writing about celebrities and fashion trends – have found themselves on the frontline covering the conflict in the country. She shares her story on The Drum Show.

The role of the journalist in Ukraine has never been more important. Over the past few years, Ukrainian publications have created their own identity, refocusing on the Ukrainian language and serving audiences in a country that is increasingly a communications superpower.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, however, the established strategies and beats of publications in the country have been ripped up and reinvented. Newspapers and their journalists are on the frontline, both as reporters and fixers for international publications keen to get local expertise. They are having to produce journalism at the same time they defend their towns and cities.

Meanwhile, magazine brands that in other countries continue to focus on lifestyle content are pivoting to write life-saving advice. In the case of Maire Claire Ukraine, it has gone from publishing celebrity and fashion news to explainers about how to fire guns and cope emotionally during an armed conflict.

Its editor-in-chief is Iryna Taterenko. She tells The Drum: “I’m sorry for being cynical, but I’ve been sick and tired of writing about glamorous parties and celebrities. It might be cool to interview some fashion designer about their recent collections in Paris or Milan Fashion Week, but my latest project is interviewing cleaning lady who cleans after the daily bombings. And this is – at the moment – way more important than interviewing some glamorous star.

“As terrible as it sounds, this challenge was something new. And if I can write about this then I want to write about it in the best way possible and be as useful as I can for my readership. This is not something I would like to write for a long time, because we are all hopeful that this, the war, will eventually end.”

The same is true for a number of the journalists Taterenko works with, who are as much on the frontline as anybody. She says the magazine’s beauty editor Olga is part of the territorial defense and has personally captured two Russian soldiers, while another editor is creating camouflage nets and its brand manager is involved in blocking Russian propaganda websites.

It is a world away from the normal operation of a lifestyle title, but is absolutely true to the fundamental mission of journalism, she says, adding that the crisis has demonstrated which parts of the Ukrainian media are genuinely serving their publics – and which have acted more like “Judases”.

“As terrible as it sounds, the times have shown the community is as strong as ever. We still have that spirit of unity. And irrespective of which publication we work for before, now we share ideas, we share our thoughts. We saw people who really are ready to fight for the spirit of freedom, or moving towards European values, and those ready to sell themselves for 15 coins.”

The disinformation war

Tatrenko notes that, despite the best efforts of Ukrainian journalists to get accurate information out of the country, they are still grappling with Russian disinformation. In addition to countering that disinformation within its borders, Ukrainian media is having to correct Putin-backed falsehoods elsewhere.

“Two days ago, I was very surprised when I did three or four South African interviews and they were asking strange and stupid questions like: ’Why are there Ukrainian nationals? Why is there discrimination towards Russian speaking?’ And all this bullshit about the Nazis here in Ukraine, that’s all Russian propaganda.”

Despite the circumstances and the need to fight on two fronts – military and disinformation – Tatarenko is confident in the ability of her team to continue to produce necessary journalism on behalf of Ukrainians. She says it’s an existential mission and one that nobody will quit while they can still work.

“My goal as a journalist is to inform you, to inform our readership through my projects, through the magazines, websites. And my mission is to tell the truth, not to lie. That’s what I’ve been doing on a daily basis and as long as I’m alive I won’t stop doing it.”

For more information or to donate to keep Ukrainian media producing journalism, visit the Support Ukrainian Media crowdfunding page.

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