- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 27, 2004

Ukraine elections

The unfolding crisis in Ukraine is the kind of story that foreign correspondents live for. You work 12-, 14- and 16-hour days, knowing you are sitting on top of a story the whole world is watching. The story takes two or three twists a day, with the fate of a nation at stake. You wrestle with recalcitrant sources and even more recalcitrant communications but somehow find a way to get the story to your editors. Then you fall asleep, exhausted but strangely exhilarated, only to wake up a few hours later and start all over again.

For Kiev-based freelancer Natalia A. Feduschak, a former Washington Times staff reporter who has covered Ukraine for us for several years, the election crisis is all that and more. It is also a highly emotional personal experience, intimately involving her in a crucial moment in the history of her ancestral home.

“As Americans, we all come from somewhere; in my case, my parents were born in Ukraine and I still have relatives living in the [western part of the country],” Miss Feduschak explained in an e-mail. “It is quite emotional when you hear Ukraine’s national anthem sung by hundreds of thousands of people.

“Growing up in the Denver suburbs, this anthem and Ukraine’s yellow and blue flag were dear to me. Now, those same symbols have tremendous meaning for millions of people who want to be proud of their country and to live in a democracy.”

It’s not easy to cover a story like this one on your own, and not only because of the frozen pens and cell phone batteries as Ukraine’s winter digs in. The wire agencies, television outlets and perhaps a couple of the biggest newspapers no doubt have teams of reporters.

A reporter alone has to rely on instinct, local media and the latest scuttlebutt from other reporters to be in the right place at the right time. You fill in the blanks by watching local television and reading the wire stories on the Internet.

Media in revolt

In this case, according to Miss Feduschak, watching the local media has become far more interesting than ever before as, one after another, TV and radio stations refuse to serve any longer as mouthpieces for a censorious government.

“Initially, only Channel 5 and ERA television stations broadcast the events in Kiev,” Miss Feduschak reports. “Then Studio 1+1 stopped broadcasting its news program and state television, leaving only news director Vyacheslav Pyhovskyk to cover the elections by himself because his other colleagues refused to go on the air because of censorship.

“On Friday the news went back on the air, but only after journalists read a statement that they had been ‘pressured’ for many years to portray the news in the government’s favor. Now they promised to work objectively. … The collective would decide what’s news and not ….

“Ukraine, it seems, is in a national dialogue, one that it has not had in many years, and that may actually be good for democracy.”

These are heady times for journalists in a country where no reporter, including Miss Feduschak, is ever certain who is listening in on his or her phone conversations.

Before the past week’s crisis, she says, “It seemed quite evident that someone was listening in on both the cell phone and land lines. On the cell phone I could hear voices in the background and music playing, while the land line had clicks. … My Hotmail account has [become] more problematic [and] I routinely now have messages sent to two accounts to ensure I’m getting everything.”

Miss Feduschak, meanwhile, has her cousin’s son camped out on her living room floor along with his friends, who have come to Kiev for the demonstrations.

“With each day, friends and relatives say they are proud that they live in Ukraine,” Miss Feduschak said. “It is, they say, on its way to becoming a true democracy and they hope this will be the final break with an authoritarian past.”

David W. Jones is the foreign editor of The Washington Times. His e-mail address is djones@washingtontimes.com.

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