How the story of Russia’s war on Ukraine will be covered inside Russia is increasingly uncertain following the closure of the country’s remaining independent media outlets. Ekho Moskvy radio station, the main opposition outlet in Russia, was dissolved by its board on Thursday, two days after the Russian Prosecutor General’s office issued an order removing it from the airwaves and blocking access to its website. The Tuesday order also shut down the website and app of Dozhd (also known as TV Rain), Russia’s last independent TV channel. Both media outlets, as The New Yorker’s Masha Gessen put it, “were guilty of violating a ban on calling the war a war, the invasion an invasion, and the aggression aggression.” Tikhon Dzyadko, the editor-in-chief of TV Rain, announced on Wednesday that he had fled Russia, along with his family and members of the editorial staff. “After the blocking of Dozhd’s website, Dozhd’s social media accounts, and the threat against some employees, it is obvious that the personal safety of some of us is at risk,” Dzyadko said on Telegram, per CNN.
Foreign reporters in Moscow, too, are fleeing. “I’ve left Russia amid reports martial law could be declared & borders closed. Tickets mostly sold out,” Alec Luhn, who is American and a former correspondent for the Guardian and Telegraph, wrote on Twitter Thursday morning. “I’ve lived & reported in Russia for more than 10 years & have seen people get kicked out of the country. But this was the 1st time there seemed to be a real risk of being kept in it.” A mass exodus among other journalists may be underway depending on what tomorrow brings. As foreign and national editor Jeffrey Fleishman of the Los Angeles Times noted, “Russian security services certainly have no problem going after foreign and especially domestic Russian journalists.”
Meanwhile, NPR, which currently has one reporter in Russia—Moscow correspondent Charles Maynes, along with some support staff—is actually trying to move more people in. Nancy Barnes, NPR’s head of news, told Vanity Fair on Thursday that she signed a visa application for somebody only the other day. “We’re not confident that Russia is going to let any more journalists in but we have to try,” she said. But it’s a moving target. NPR, which also has roughly ten people in Ukraine and Poland—including their own staffers, plus security personnel and fixers—is “committed to this story for the long haul,” said Barnes, but she acknowledged that “we don’t exactly know what that means, because we don’t know where this war is going to go.”
On the ground in Ukraine, members of the media are facing heightened threats to their safety as Russian forces close in on Kyiv, the capital, where a Ukrainian journalist was killed in a strike on a TV tower earlier this week. Kyiv is one of two locations where ABC News has teams—the other is in Lviv, where London bureau chief Katie den Daas told V.F. “things are tense” but “nothing has been hit or struck.” Additionally, being closer to borders, it’s “easier to get supplies and people in and out,” she noted. Kyiv is a different story. “We are everyday reassessing our security plan, reassessing where we are in the city” and “where we should be going,” she said. But for now, ABC News is also staying put in both Ukraine (where they have three correspondents) and Russia (where they have one). “We’ll reassess that when the sun comes up tomorrow,” den Daas said on Thursday. In Russia, she said, “I think we’re in uncharted territory.”
Den Daas pointed out that “the key to all of our coverage in both countries are our local journalists who work with us.” She added: “These are their homes; these are their families; these are their lives.”
The Washington Post currently has nine correspondents across Ukraine—including a staff photographer and three video journalists—which foreign editor Douglas Jehl told V.F. is, for the paper, “more people covering a single conflict than at any time since the Arab Spring.” Moscow bureau chief Robyn Dixon and Moscow-based reporter Mary Ilyushina have been covering the story out of Russia from the capital and cities in the south. “We are committed to covering this conflict, the most consequential to unfold in Europe in decades,” Jehl said. But “the environment remains unpredictable” and “we are constantly assessing the level of risk.” (Michael Slackman, an assistant managing editor at The New York Times, said: “We have a dedicated team covering the conflict, and robust measures in place to protect our journalists.”)
The Los Angeles Times, which has photographer and roving correspondent Marcus Yam and Middle East bureau chief Nabih Bulos in Ukraine and foreign correspondent Patrick McDonnell on the border of Ukraine and Poland, may send more people into the country, according to Fleishman. But the paper is also speaking to Yam and Bulos “about possible escape routes” should things escalate, Fleishman said. “Everyday we have to do the mathematics of getting them out and finding the right way,” he said.
Finding drivers and translators “has been a problem for us,” Fleishman said, given that “so many of the young Ukrainian men” whom the Times would otherwise hire “are either trying to get their families out or joining the military.” For NPR, the biggest logistical challenge has been getting people in and out of the country since the war started and flying into Kyiv ceased to be an option. “You have to move by ground now,” Barnes said.
Editorial priorities also remain fluid as the war shifts by the day. “It went from being build up to war to missiles flying to tanks rolling,” said Terence Samuel, NPR’s managing editor for news, noting that the refugee flow in and out of Poland and surrounding countries has also become a bigger part of NPR’s focus. McDonnell, of the Los Angeles Times, is seeing four-day wait times at the border between Ukraine and Poland, according to Fleishman, who noted there’s also a criss-cross of internationals who want to enter and fight for Ukraine.
For now, the decisions that newsrooms must make in covering Russia’s invasion of Ukraine depend on the biggest unknown of all—Putin. The Russian president “has stunned a lot of people,” Fleishman said. “Not only journalists covering him.”
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