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Ukraine Stories Podcast: NPR Veterans Deliver A Tour De Force Of Narrative Journalism


It’s been virtually three months now since Russia invaded Ukraine, and far of the most recent information protection has been depressingly predictable. It appears like day-after-day, international correspondents share phrase of but one other Russian atrocity. Or, of outnumbered Ukrainian defenders nonetheless hanging on. Of a brand new present of defiance from President Zelenskyy. Extra international locations, just like the US, sending assist packages and weapons. Extra combating, extra dying.

Journalists tasked with reporting this story definitely need to maintain readers and audiences again house invested and caring about what occurs. However moderately than wrap their arms across the bigness and the battles which might be a part of this bloody geopolitical battle roiling Europe — because it hurtles towards an unsure endgame — a bunch of NPR veterans determined to deal with the small, and the private.

As an alternative of protecting the warfare the identical method as most everybody else, the journalists launched a podcast in partnership with Spotify to inform first-person narratives of atypical Ukrainians. Of Ukrainians like Galyna, who fled Mariupol along with her canine and a digital camera. Of Max, who information fairy tales for kids hiding from the warfare in basements. And of Svetlana, who barely survived an assault by a Russian anti-tank missile as she fled a village close to Kyiv.

Ukraine Tales: One particular person at a time

Every episode of the podcast, with just a few exceptions, is simply shy of the 15-minute mark. The hassle is a product of Fearless Media, a brand new journalism collective that set itself the next roadmap as a information:

As David Greene, a former NPR host and Fearless Media co-founder advised me, “We imagine headlines don’t assist us course of the world. Tales do.” And so, every episode of the podcast begins with Greene telling listeners, throughout the first few moments, that this can be a present about “Telling the story of the warfare in Ukraine, one particular person at a time.”

“One factor we have been already exploring at Fearless is the best way to cowl the ‘information’ in several methods – extra narratively and extra experientially,” Greene advised me about Ukraine Tales, which received a greenlight from Spotify in early March.

Fearless Media flew to Warsaw and was prepared to start its work just a few weeks later. The group then began reporting from inside Ukraine on March 28.

‘An intimate connection’

“All of us have information backgrounds and respect the big significance of protecting occasions and moments as they unfold,” Greene continued in his chat with me. Then once more, that didn’t essentially lend itself to a simple or computerized reply to the query of, “What might we do to assist folks course of this mindless warfare?

“Ukraine Tales,” Greene stated, “was born out of making an attempt to reply that query. If we centered on one particular person and one story every day, we hoped an intimate connection would type between listeners and the storyteller. There can be relatability and empathy. The context is unimaginable to these of us not dwelling via a warfare. However the humanity and life questions an individual is dealing with are, at their core, acquainted.”

The simplicity of the thought right here can be the energy behind this journalistic product. Every episode’s title is the primary identify of the Ukrainian telling their story. Ukrainians like Marco, Tatiana, Max, Sonia, and Nadia.

The story of Svetlana comes roughly midway via the season, and is probably probably the most emotionally devastating of all of them. She sniffles and cries at moments all through, apologizing, asking for time to compose herself — clearly nowhere near having put the trauma of the warfare behind her. In actual fact, this Polish language instructor and yoga teacher catches herself at one level nonetheless referring to her regular life within the current tense. “I feel that Kyiv is one of the best. It actually has every little thing,” she tells Greene. “… I imply, it had every little thing.

“One thing I miss probably the most is my common life. Sitting and consuming some type of cappuccino and dealing on my laptop computer. Simply common, you understand, life. Of an everyday particular person.”

She recounts how, after the warfare began, she left Kyiv and went to a village simply exterior to cover out along with her household. However then Russian troopers occupied that village, and after working out of meals and electrical energy, she and her household determined to enterprise again into Kyiv. Due to the youngest passengers of their automotive, they made white posters that declared there have been kids inside.

Svetlana recounts in horrifying and granular element what it was wish to stay via an assault at a checkpoint, when bullets began chewing up the bottom round their automotive.

“I don’t know the way it simply popped up in my thoughts, the place they are saying if one thing occurs you simply put your head in your knees. I remembered that, and began crying, ‘Head in your knees! Head in your knees!’ And, ‘Cowl your head!’ It was simply capturing on a regular basis. All the things was, you understand … the glass. I’d simply been making an attempt to drag myself to the seat in entrance and put my head lowest as I might. I additionally had my telephone in my hand, and I simply did this—” (She places her telephone on prime of her head, to reveal).

She begins to cry softly.

“I’m sorry.”

She pauses.

“I believed that one thing big is coming. And orange … and that was the second I noticed it. That is it. Now, I’m going to die.”

An antitank missile hit the again of her household’s automotive. Miraculously, she survived. Not everybody did. There was a ringing inside her head. She frantically received out of the automotive. “I hid behind the open door, like within the motion pictures they do, you understand? I began screaming, ‘We’ve children! Cease capturing us! We’ve children!’”

The primary challenge from Fearless Media

There are different interviews like Svetlana’s which is able to stick with listeners lengthy after the episode has completed taking part in. The Fearless Media group taped as lots of the interviews as they might in particular person — sitting with Ukrainians in refugee shelters, in refugee receiving facilities, parks, espresso outlets, and accommodations. From Lviv to Kyiv, Poltava to Zaporizhia. As a result of some interviews got here collectively last-minute, and others concerned folks on the transfer, a few of them have been taped remotely.

Lead producer Ashley Westerman, who alternates internet hosting duties with Greene, used her audio manufacturing expertise to make the distant interviews nonetheless sound as intimate as doable for the listener.

“I’ll definitely miss this place,” Westerman advised me. “This challenge has had such an influence on me.”

She praised the present’s fixer and translator, Anton Loboda, as indispensable to the trouble. Loboda additionally helped herald a number of interview candidates. Fearless Media’s native colleagues, Westerman continued, “have been additionally vital in serving to persuade folks to talk with us. Somebody who speaks an individual’s personal language and is of their very own tradition taking the helm in asking somebody to speak about their latest traumatic experiences goes a really good distance in serving to potential interviewees really feel secure sufficient to open up.

“I don’t assume we might have landed the interviews we did with out the assistance of our Ukrainian colleagues. Then, as soon as the interviews began, David and I carried them via by leaning on years of expertise interviewing people who find themselves traumatized and folks in disaster. So it really was a group effort.”



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