The Ukraine of Adriana Krasniansky’s childhood was a very foreign place.
Growing up, she experienced what young people in many old world cultures across Northeast Ohio have struggled with --- an alienation from the peasant costumes, folk music and dancing lessons drummed into them by their elders.
“The Ukrainian culture that we were brought into was very strong and very beautiful, but outdated regarding what was currently occurring in Ukraine. The 90s, and 2000s and 2010s were very alive and very exuberant in culture and history, but that wasn’t something that we were taught.”
The Ukrainian disaspora
Krasniansky’s childhood friend Mike Fedynsky lives in Washington, D.C. But he’s never far from his cultural roots. Fedynsky says, unlike some members of Greater Cleveland’s ethnic melting pot, many Ukrainians have resisted melting --- maintaining a strong cultural identity, and even preserving the mother tongue across generations.
“I actually grew-up bi-lingual. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t speak both English and Ukrainian. And, even though my parents both speak English as well as I do, when we’re all together at home, we speak Ukrainian.”
Part of that cultural loyalty comes from Ukraine’s history of subjugation under the former U.S.S.R. Though many fled their homeland for the freedom of the United States, the Ukrainian diaspora has always kept an eye on events in the mother country --- especially since the Soviet Union fell apart in 1991. And in the past couple months, those events have been gripping.
Demonstrators have filled the “Maidan” --- or public square --- in downtown Kiev since late November, when Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych backed down from a plan to join the European Union. Many protestors saw this reversal as a step back towards the anti-Western Soviet days. The protests sparked a social media buzz among young people in the U.S.
“During the first days of this revolution, we were all sitting by our computers, hitting “refresh” every two minutes to see what news popped up.”
The birth of the Euromaidan Journalist Collective
The difficulty of getting enough news about the protests sparked an idea for Mike Fedynsky, Adrianna Krasniansky and another childhood friend, with the unlikely name of Seamus Kelleher.
“My blood is nearly 100 percent Irish, but my heart is 100 percent Ukrainian.”
In December, the three 20-somethings, joined several other friends to form the “Euromaidan Journalist Collective.” There are seven members altogether, including three others in the U.S. and one on the ground in Kiev. Together they aggregate news sources from around the world onto a website and Facebook page, and supplement it with information from their personal contacts in Ukraine. Kelleher says, although none of them have official training as reporters, they treat the collective as a journalistic enterprise, keeping out their personal feelings.
Vetting your material
“Our job is not to skew the perception to our own bias, it’s really to report on the cold hard facts of what is currently taking place. We don’t offer any personal opinion in any posts. We try to be completely objective --- “this is what happened” --- give everything from both sides, if we can.”
The rise of social media in relation to protests in recent years has led to the coining of terms like the “Twitter Revolution.” Current technology also allows videos from the streets to be uploaded to YouTube and widely disseminated. Kent State emeritus journalism professor Barbara Hipsman-Springer says that although these news sources are different, the basics of journalism remain the same. It all boils down to vetting your material.
“Have you checked it through? Have you seen other videos similar to it? Have you any local context, feet on the ground? --- enough times so that you know that this person is sending things that are real. Traditional journalists have always been scrutinized that way.”
The old and the new
Adriana Krasniansky spent two weeks in Kiev with a videographer, last month, gathering material for the Euromaidan Journalist Collective. She says of her favorite interviews linked the old and the new worlds in an emotional way.
“He was an 82-year-old man. He was standing there and he had a walker and a cane. And he had a protest sign taped to his cane.”
“I asked him, ‘What are you doing here?’ He stops and looks at me and says, ‘The free food.’ (laughs) ‘Really?’ And he says, ‘No, but I tell all my friends I am. I tell all the senior citizens that they should come out here, because there is free food. And then they will come and see the Movement, and once they see what these young people are doing for Ukraine, they will stay and protest.’”
She smiles at the thought, and says she thinks she’s finally found a way to connect the old world Ukraine of her childhood with the possibilities for a new future.