Disinformation in Ukraine: How to Stop Fakes
Welcome to Ukraine Calling! Your weekly roundup of what’s been happening in Ukraine focusing on a main story. I’m Marko Suprun for Hromadske Radio in Kyiv, and here’s a look at some of the stories that were in the news this week.
FOCUS – Marko Suprun interviews Margo Gontar and Iryna Chalupa about Russian Disinformation in Ukraine.
CULTURE and MUSIC
There are three parts to Ukraine’s economy: black, grey and white. In the battle to turn Ukraine’s economy “white”, the National Agency on Corruption Prevention created a new electronic declarations system and the mandate is that anyone in government has to complete an on-line form and declare their “wealth” and the favorites seem to have been cash, paintings, yachts and watches. This week, the equivalent of 465 million dollars in cash was declared by members of parliamentwhile 7 million dollarswas listed in the e-declarations of 24 ministers. Channel 24 estimated that the pile of cash declared by the parliamentarians alone must weigh around 27,5 tons and if was stacked up, it would be nearly 2,500 meters high. This would make it Ukraine’s highest mountain surpassing Mount Hoverla, by about 400 meters. The Minister of Justice admitted that he has half a million dollars, in cash. Not in a bank. Now before we start thinking about a Jacobin Club or looking for a Robspierre-like approach to money in politics, and really, the piles of cash had Ukrainians wondering about the success of anti-corruption reforms because the scale is huge, but almost everyone in Ukraine keeps dollars in their homes. Remember that 25 years ago, Ukrainians saw their savings in roubles turn to dust. Then, when the financial crisis hit in 2008, Ukrainians lost their savings again. After Russia’s invasion and occupation, the Hryvnia is suffering against the dollar. So, most Ukrainians keep their dollars at home. What this DOES show is that there is very little trust in Ukraine’s banking system and the economy therefore stays “grey.” Some members of parliament poked fun at the system. Serhiy Melnychuk, former commander of the Aidar Battalion declared 3 trillion hryvnias in cash and Oleh Lyashko, head of the Radical Party, declared his iconic pitch-fork alongside luxury watches. Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Yurii Lutsenko promised to investigate the sources of income of every civil servant having over 100,000 dollars in cash, and will compare this amount to their previous declarations and check if all the taxes were paid.
The European Union is apparently hedging its bet with regard to Ukraine. A vote in the EU parliament about whether or not to create a visa-free regime between Ukraine and the EU has not been included in the draft agenda of the parliament’s next plenary session scheduled for November 21st, which is the third anniversary of the Euromaidan protests. Ukraine has fulfilled its part of the bargain and has satisfied all 144 visa-free travel conditions, but the EU is reluctant to start the visa-free regime BEFORE the mechanism for the suspension is in place. According to Radio Liberty correspondent Rikard Jozwiak, corruption in Ukraine and France are the main obstacles. However, Deputy Foreign Minister of Ukraine Olena Zerkal said in an interview on Channel 5 that the visa-free regime vote can still be added to the agenda on November 21st, provided that the EU countries agree on the suspension mechanism on November 7.
President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko had a telephone conversation with the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte and leader of the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy. Rutte assured Poroshenko that the Netherlands will not block the ratification of the EU Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU and instead, will continue “consulting.” Remember that the Netherlands held a referendum in which the people voted NO to the EU-Ukraine association back in April. Many analysts noted that Russian disinformation in the referendum, something we’ll talk about later in the show, was to blame for the outcome.Last week, Pavlo Klimkin, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, travelled to Holland to meet with Dutch leaders and convince them why it was important for Ukraine and the EU to move forward. Ukraine Calling listeners will remember that the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement was the trigger for the Euromaidan protests back in 2013. When then president Yanukovych pulled out of the talks people took to the streets.
Petro Poroshenko also had two intense conversations with the President of the European Parliament Martin Schultz and President of the European Council Donald Tusk. All of them agreed to coordinate their efforts to ensure the Association Agreement gets ratified.
On Nov 2nd, two Ukrainian solders died in battle and five were wounded. The town of Stanytsia-Luhanska remains under fire while battles in the town of Avdiyvka account for over 80% of the attacks by the Russian occupation proxies this week. Colonel Lysenko noted that every incident involved mortar shelling. The Russian occupation army and their proxies are directing their fire in the direction of the town of Mariupol. A spokesperson for the ATO said, “In addition to grenades and mortars, the occupiers are using ArmoredPersonnel Carriers and snipers.” Lysenko also added that Ukrainian positions recorded two flybys of drones from the Russian occupied territories. Hromadske Radio reported that as a result of the heavy fire in the direction of Mariupol, several villages suffered serious damage leaving 600 buildings without gas.
As of November 2, there are no mobilized draftees on the front. President Poroshenko met with Minister of Defense Stepan Poltorak and Head of the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Services Viktor Muzhenko in which they announced that only members of the armed services who have signed contracts are now stationed on the front. He said, “Ukraine’s armed services have to be made up of volunteers, soldiers who volunteer for service and sign a contract, they have to be properly motivated, prepared, trained and outfitted.” He also noted that a reserve made up from the demobilized will be created and should constitute about 100,000 servicemen. Defense Minister Poltarak said that there is no need for a seventh round of mobilization and more than 50,000 have signed contracts who are currently undergoing training at various bases around Ukraine.
Russia is restoring Soviet military bases in the occupied Crimean peninsula. A Reuters reporter has seen 18 such restored military bases during his visit to Crimea including airports for fighter jets and bunkers built during the Cold War. Another vector of Russian military activity was noted by the coordinator of the Information resistance group Dmytro Tymchuk, who reported on his Facebook page that numerous military units and troops without identification have arrived in Russian Rostov oblast next to Ukraine’s border on November 1.
Prisoners & Spies
The SBU (Ukraine’s Secret Service) uncovered a spy-network in the Luhansk sector. Russian spies recruited a government employee of Ukraine’s military-civilian administration. Apparently he agreed to work for them, after his life was threatened, however he was captured by counter-intelligence agents of the SBU before he could leak any information. The SBU also announced that they are ready to exchange three Russian proxy prisoners for one Ukrainian. In a briefing in the city of Kramatorsk, Vasyl Hrytsak head of Ukraine’s Security Service said, “We’ve made our lists and we’ve given over the lists to the other side in line with the terms and format outlined by Minsk. I’m hoping that priests will be able to help with this work so that we can hasten the return of our boys.” But Iryna Herashchenko, Member of Parliament representing Ukraine at the Trilateral Contact Group says that the release of prisoners is still being blocked by the other side. They are demanding that 600 criminals be granted amnesty and have rejected the “all for all” exchange.
Natalya Sharina, the Director of Ukrainian library in Moscow goes on trial for storing ‘Russophobic’ materials and loaning Ukrainian books. Books about the Holodomor, the genocide organized and executed by Stalin and the Soviet authorities in 1932-33 that took the lives of several millions of Ukrainians were determined to be “extremist and Russophobic” according to Russia’s Security Service the FSB. The librarian has been held under arrest for a year, but the first court hearing took place on November 2. UAToday reported that Human Rights Watch director in Europe and Central Asia, Hugh Williamson called for the immediate release of the 58-years-old women saying that “the detention of a librarian for the materials in her possession is not only an assault on her personal liberty, but on every person who cares about ideas and learning and education.”
The Head of Ukraine’s governmental public service broadcasting system Zurab Alasania has resigned. Zurab Alasania cited several reasons for his resignation including the ‘soviet’ mindset of the employees, and the burden to organize and fund the Eurovision contest, the responsibility for which was preliminarily assigned to the public broadcaster. The resignation of Alasania, who has been leading the public broadcaster since its very beginning in 2014, is a cause for concern for Ukraine’s journalists, activists and representatives of parliament. They formed coalition ‘For Public Broadcasting’ and even met with Prime Minister of Ukraine Volodymyr Groysman to ensure that the resignation of Alasania will not lead to the failure of reforms in public service broadcasting.
Hromadske Radio correspondents Larysa Denysenko and Serhiy Stukanov interviewed journalist Oleskiy Zakharchenko this week. Although he’s a journalist, he was drafted into the Army and instead of putting his professional skills to use, he was stationed in an antiaircraft unit. Being so close to the occupied territories, he noted that the propaganda being pushed by the Russian occupation administration is of a high quality. Oleksiy noted that there are more Russian stations than there were before the invasion happened. They managed to catch new TV stations like “Novorossiya” “Oplot” “Oplot-2” “First Republican” and others. He also said that there are no Ukrainian channels available. Oleksiy said, “If you’re unaware of the real situation and only watch the DNR news, you come to believe that everything is fine.” Without skepticism, anyone will believe anything. But he also noted that there are plenty of people who are waiting for Ukraine to return. He was stationed at the Zero Block post that saw people coming and going from occupied city of Donetsk and many of the residents would ask, “Boys, when will you liberate us already? We’re tired of waiting.”
FOCUS – DISINFORMATION
Host Marko Suprun speaks to journalist/scholar Iryna Chalupa, formerly RFE/RL now Atlantic Council Fellow, and journalist/activist Margo Gontar, one of the founders of StopFake, about disinformation and how to counteract it.
Suprun: For the past three years if not longer, Russia has been running a disinformation campaign that reminds those of us who are old enough to remember about the lies that masqueraded as truth during the Soviet era. Orwell even wrote about the “Ministry of Truth.” Back then however, the lies were easily identifiable. They came from the [Soviet] government, because the press was controlled by state security agencies. It was easy to discern black from white. Today, that’s not the case.
Iryna Chalupa is a Non-Resident Fellow at the Atlantic Council and a Fulbright scholar working on new media initiatives in Ukraine. She was part of Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe back in the 1990s. Margo Gontar is a Ukrainian journalist and one of the founders of StopFake, an organization that has dedicated itself to exposing fake stories coming out of the Russian information space.
Iryna, Margo, thank you for joining us today. To tackle Russian disinformation, I think, requires ovaries of steel. Margo, what prompted you and the team at the Kyiv-Mohyla School of Journalism to launch StopFake?
Gontar: Obviously the huge amount of disinformation that was in the information space in March 2014 when we launched [the project]. We are willing to use our expertise and skills to help our people with the things we’ve done the best for a long time. I think that the reason is to have your own place and your own Maidan, a place where you are doing your job in the most perfect way.
Suprun: You finished university with journalism major. Before you went to journalism school you had a career in music.
Gontar: Yes, I had a music career, and I still kind of have it.
Chalupa: She still does…
Suprun: So what was the story that prompted you to react?
Gontar: First of all, the Maidan [2013-2014 protests in Ukraine] prompted us to react. Secondly, the aggression of the “little green man” in Crimea, because it was obvious that everything got worse, and that we needed to react. All of us. And the fact that the Director of Kyiv-Mohyla School of Journalism, Yevhen Fedchenko, made a call on Facebook group saying, “Let’s meet and brainstorm and think what we can do as the journalists.” So I think that was just the perfect combo of people who wanted to act.
Suprun: Iryno, you traveled back and forth between the United States and Ukraine and you’ve spent a lot of time launching media initiatives in Ukraine.
Chalupa: Actually, no. I haven’t really launched any media initiatives in Ukraine.
Suprun: You’ve been working in radio in Kharkiv and Dnipro.
Chalupa: Those are student radio attempts, and it’s a very initial and basic kind of thing.
Suprun: Are the journalist students being trained with the skills to recognize these fake stories?
Chalupa: I think almost all the people in Ukraine almost instinctively recognize the Russian nonsense that is being fed to them. In your introduction you said that people of a certain age recognize this information and propaganda because we grew up with it and it was generated by then Soviet government. It’s still the same. It’s still generated by the government. It’s till done on a cross-national basis. It’s still heavily supported, financially and ideologically, but the government, but now it’s an alignment of perfect conditions so to speak. The tools of the 21st century are such that they allow their lies and bull****, I’m going to use that word if I may, to be much more sexy. It’s cloaked in the tools of the 21st century. Fact checking is something that StopFake does as well as serious newspapers and serious media organizations. Fact checking is something that had never existed in the Soviet mentality and certainly doesn’t exist in the post-Soviet mentality across borders, so it’s a perfect situation for them to disseminate their lies. And also in our times, now people consume information really quickly and don’t stop to think about it. The 24 hour news cycle has changed the way we consume information, the way we process information, how we think about things. We’ve got several media outlets trying to propagate the equivalent of slow foods: slow sort of media, the long reads and so on and so forth. Not everybody is even interested in that sort of journalism. We see it in the English-speaking world. In this part of the world it’s “here today, gone tomorrow.”
Suprun: You mentioned fact checking. Margo, you attended The Poynter Institute’s summit “Global Fact Checking” in London. What were some of the conclusions you walked away with after the summit?
Gontar: I’ve been to two [summits] and I think the first conclusion is that the very fact, which kind of fascinates me, is that there is actually a separate thing called fact-checking. I mean previously it was a part of journalist’s job. That was what journalism was about. So you didn’t need to differentiate whether you were a journalist or a fact-checker. The very fact that there are summits like this and that the community of fact-checkers is only growing only shows that the problem with journalism is so huge that you need a separate group of people and even media outlets, and even institutes that are actually focusing on fact-checking.
Suprun: That’s actually interesting because the media isn’t only print, it includes pictures and videos.
Gontar: Right, and social media. I love Jessikka Aro from Finland. She is famous for researching trolls and how they behave. She spoke about this at a Finish conference in Helsinki that I also went to. Basically, what Kremlin is doing, is they are using social media as general media. They all exploit and speculate the news in the social media to be later used in regular media outlets.
Suprun: How many times have you noticed that the fake stories were being picked up by international media?
Gontar: Well, some. Though obviously there is less than what we can see in Russian media outlets. I think the most famous one to us has to be when a column in The Guardian by John Pilger. It was based on a fake notion about Igor Razovski, a doctor, during the tragedy in Odessa, and his Facebook account and all these things about him not being able to help people was actually fake. But still it got in the news because of all of these translations it had. It got to The Guardian. We had a talk with The Guardian’s journalists at this conference and they told us “Oh, it’s is just a column”.
Chalupa: One story that got a lot of attention by all kinds of media that StopFake was part of, is the story of this alleged thirteen year old girl named Lisa, in Berlin, who according to Russian media and Russian politicians, including Lavrov [Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs], was allegedly kidnapped by some Arabs, sexually abused and raped of over a period of three days and so on. Russians in Berlin protested and accused the local authorities of not doing anything about it and so forth. Well, the local authorities investigated the case and [found out] that apparently Lisa just went off with her boyfriend and had a good time and there was no sexual abuse that was taken. But these things take on a life of their own. Once it became a part of Russian public discourse, it gained attraction and kept growing. The German authorities, including politicians, editors and journalists, kept writing about it and eventually it did sort of fade away. This is an example how lies can become real. It’s sort of like in cartoons when you see a snowball on a top of a mountain and suddenly it becomes this huge monstrous ball that takes everything in its path. That’s how these things work. This thing had a life that lasted around two or three months. Right, Margo?
Gontar: Right. I think the scariest part is how later fakes work now. This became a myth, with no actual name of the girl. Just some girl being raped or abused. Then later stories can be built on this base because people may not remember the details, but they remember this kind of story and what happened. This is basically why people can pick up the untrue stories.
Suprun: I remember there was a story back in 2014 about a child in the Donbas. The crucified child…
Gontar: I think this is just the classic. Everyone kind of knows about it. This is just basic stuff.
Suprun: But surely after pictures of the woman appeared, a pro Ukrainian dissident in the Donbas, who was tied to a post and abused. Now, that was a real story. So what happens, in your opinion, when a lie brushes up against somethings that’s true? What happens to the true story?
Gontar: What happens to the true story? I really love what Peter Pomerantsev says about this, about us living in a post-fact or a post-truth era. It happens that they coexist because truth does not squeeze out the lies, and that is the problem. Even though we have all these stories published, they are not taken down by most of the media outlets. Maybe a few of them take them down or change, but this just doesn’t count in the course of our history over the past two and a half years. So this is the problem. Because they didn’t take it down, it means that for many people it’s not exactly understandable what is true and what is not.
Suprun: And how does that impact the United States? I mean you see amongst the genetic code, among these fakes and you actually see it happening, it’s having an impact on US elections?
Chalupa: To some extent. I’d like to touch base on what Margo has just said. That story of Iryna Dovhan, the woman who was tied to a post and kicked by some really violent people in Donetsk, would probably had not been noticed if a New York Times photographer had not snapped a picture of it and written about it. That story did feature in several prominent media, but it kind of fizzled away relatively quickly. She left the region and is now living here in safety continuing her activist work. It looks almost like being bad is sexier than being good. Lies, nonsense, and fakes are sexier than the truth more often than not. I don’t want to really believe that and I don’t on some level. But the packaging that we have today makes these lies very, very plausible. We’ve recently debunked a fake that had been debunked in America already, about a ballot stuffing. We have seen the American candidate Donald Trump generating all kinds of fakes by himself, calling into question everything from the American electoral system and how votes are cast to the very framework of democracy. A man who goes into an election and says it’s all rigged is already dealing with very serious fakes. A very questionable newspaper, actually a site, called Christian Times ran a story with a photograph of men unloading boxes claiming that those are electricians somewhere in Ohio who while checking things in a warehouse stumbled upon tens and tens of boxes of already checked ballots cast for Hillary Clinton. This was complete and utter nonsense. This was a photograph taken from Birmingham in 2015 when the UK was having a general election. They photoshopped ballot box out of the picture and they just made a fake about it. Snopes.com, a debunking site, set the record straight. But these things have a way of perpetuating themselves. The Internet is a free for all. It has no fact checking. Newspapers have editors. They have Firewalls. Very few sites on the Internet, unless they’re the sites of responsible journalist outlets like the New York Times or Frankfurter Allgemaine, a lot of these things have no borders, nobody controls them. The Internet is a relatively new thing. We are dealing with copyright law, editing rights, slander, all of these kinds of things on the Internet. This is still a work in progress. I think we are going to see this gray area where lies become semi facts, and facts are called into a question. Truth becomes an elastic concept. But we, those old fashioned people, who still believe in the truth, have to be doubly vigilant. One of the things that I always say when I’m involved in a discussion: journalism is about truth. It’s about covering the facts about those basic questions that we ask: who, what, where, and so on. These things have concrete answers. Journalism has room for opinion. It has room for commentary. But at the base of it all, facts are facts. They’re hard. Black is black. It’s not dark gray, it’s black. So these are the things that we need to keep reminding ourselves of. If we see somebody shooting somebody, they are shooting somebody. They are not waving their arms around. These are the kinds of things we have to keep coming back to. The basics of journalism are facts and facts are truth.
Suprun: This is interesting. Two things, I suppose, come to my mind. Last year Spotlight won Best Picture. Spotlight is a story about spotlighting the group of journalists at…
Gontar: A Boston Newspaper
Suprun: A Boston newspaper
Gontar: Is it the Globe? I think it is the Boston Globe.
Suprun: It was a story that was covered for years. And it reminded me of the Washington Post. When [Bob] Woodward and [Carl] Bernstein covered Watergate it took them two years. And that means that the publishers and the editors were ready to put money on the table, support them, support their families…
Gontar: Two years, that’s quite a lot…
Chalupa: Look, they didn’t support their families. They paid their salaries, and the journalists did other things. I mean, surely the vast majority of their work was dedicated to delving into this story, exploring, researching it and so on. But they did other things as well. It wasn’t just the luxury of sitting around and just following this story. As we saw in Spotlight, it was a long-term project. But also what was interesting for me about it is that they stumbled onto facts unexpectedly, in the most inane kind of bases and data-bases, old newspapers, and so forth. They started seeing patterns, and these patterns gave them the story. So I think it’s not just time, its attention. We want everything really quickly in this day and age. But certain things take a long time. Not a super long time, but a relatively long time. And I don’t believe it’s a question of only money, financing these kinds of projects. We see that investigative journalism, good hard-core, digging journalism continues to happen. Look, the New York Times uncovered the fact that Donald Trump hasn’t paid taxes for God-knows how many years, okay. This is work. You go to open sources. When you can’t find something in open sources, you get special documents, you get court permissions and so forth and so on, to look into various documents. We have freedom of information in America and this allows you access to certain things. You’ve got to stop being lazy, you’ve got to dig and look.
Suprun: Is that being developed, is that growing in Ukraine, that kind of real investigative journalism?
Gontar: You’re speaking about fact checking. That doesn’t seem to be the case. But I really love, and remind every time, of an example I love about fact checking. There is this story for Vice News done by Simon Ostrovsky, about Russia checks in Ukraine and this is basically the story which has been quoted and cited a lot in the Balkans, or whatever. Everyone says they love it. But this is actually a good example. He basically took one concrete military man from Russia, who’s been to Ukraine, and he basically just followed it, all the places where he made a photo in, and made the same photo there. And so this is a very concrete example. So this is very real, down to earth to everyone, like showing there are Russian military in Ukraine. But I’m not sure how much time was involved, like how much time he used, and resources to get to all the places and to find them. It might be at least months of him and his team travelling around. While, for example, for Stop Fake, we are kind of refuting about four, five stories every week. And this is kind of hard if you need these kind of teams for every sort of thing. So I think what can be good for our situation is to have both, so I mean like people in teams doing these short term things just to stop the fire from getting more destruction, and to maybe have someone and some teams doing these deep investigations because they were basically be a base for these short term things.
Chalupa: There are a lot of things happening in Ukraine in terms of that kind of digging. I think some of them are quite good, others are less good. I mean, a lot of the kind of so-called investigative journalism is what people here call “zlyv”. Somebody gives you documents…
Suprun: Oh right, you mean…
Chalupa: Somebody gives you documents…
Gontar: Like Ukrainska Pravda [on-line media outlet]
Chalupa: Yes, somebody who wants to attack somebody else finds a journalist, and gives them incriminating evidence about someone else. But we do see things, you know. We’ve got Nashi Hroshi [investigative journalism show] which does some serious kind of stuff. But basically, it’s sort of… Skhemy, also, the Radio Liberty [investigative journalism] project is quite impressive. But basically a lot of these things, most of the investigative work that is done here is about corruption…
Chalupa: The enrichment of politicians. So basically…
Suprun: Which is an international phenomenon, mind you. But we’re facing an oligarch of our own, potentially.
Chalupa: But I don’t know, you know, I really don’t know if we have these kind of traditions here in Ukraine, of editorial support, sort of collaboration of resources and efforts to really uncover these kinds of things. Like for example we know that there’s a lot of corruption happening with the war. That a lot of people are making money on, basically, on blood, and the lives of Ukrainian young men who are dying at the front and through contraband and so forth and so on. We hear bits and pieces of it but I have yet to see something very, very kind of fundamental and concrete. There’s a lot of supposition and a lot of suggestion and we sort of understand that, yes, everything’s corrupt, everybody’s corrupt, so there’s bound to be corruption going on.
Suprun: Margo, do you see a future for StopFake in Ukraine?
Gontar: Do you mean by checking media? By checking media on propaganda, or by checking politicians you mean?
Suprun: I mean, is Ukraine, are there outlets that are following the Russian disinformation model, but in a Ukrainian way?
Gontar: Certainly there are. And we are also part of this mutual project with our Eastern European colleagues and basically our job is to check. My job is to check Ukrainian media on how they are influenced by Kremlin propaganda. So there are such cases, for months we are actually doing this [monitoring]. Not sure about the future thing. I suppose we might, and also they are also included every time we spot them while doing their job. So basically I’d say we are doing this from the very beginning. It’s just that Russian media, in a way, and foreign media spreading the Russian point of view on Ukraine, are the most dangerous things in our opinion, so I think that is why we’re focusing on it at the moment.
Chalupa: We do a fair amount of debunking of Ukrainian lies as well. But basically, they’re not generally lies that are generated in the Ukrainian media. They usually pick up something that’s already existed on the Russian side or in a Russian newspaper and they go with that. So basically it’s copying, you know, copy-pasting kind of stuff. It’s careless journalism. And when you look at just how people write news here, it’s all the same thing. Nobody bothers rewriting, checking or doing anything in terms of tailoring a news item to anything. So basically there is that. I suppose, a fact-checking enterprise in today’s day and age is, I think, probably necessary in every Western country.
Gontar: But in a way, because some Ukrainian outlets really pick up what Russian media outlets are saying, basically when you stop, or fact-check what Russian media say, you basically stop this food line. Because Ukrainian media might not pick it up and other things which we can see. Like fake stories in Ukrainian media, that might be just sloppy journalism, which might be not picked up from Russian media but might be something from social media or somewhere, but then we might deal with this as well.
Suprun: Iryna, Margo, thank you for being with us today!
Chalupa: My pleasure.
CULTURE and MUSIC
This week Ukraine’s social media exploded with criticism of a sexist book that supposed to be used by schools teaching a course on family values for teenagers. The book suggests that women should primarily devote their lives to their families, and spend their time taking care of their beauty and developing ‘feminine’ skills such as cooking or painting. “If a woman wants, she can also work, provided that this is a creative job helping her to reveal her femininity”, the book says. Ukraine’s Minister of Education Liliia Hrynevych explained that the family values course was aimed at reducing divorce levels in Ukraine, and claimed that she finds gender inequality rhetoric unacceptable. She blamed this incident on the current system in which school books are being approved by volunteers instead of by a full-time paid committee of professionals.
Another film being released this month is by director Oleksandr Alyoshkin and producer Oleksiy Kashyn. The thriller is called “Jungle” and the film’s budget was around 220,000 dollars. Hromadske Radio correspondent Iryna Sampan interviewed the director and producer about their film. It’s a thriller about people who find themselves in an abandoned village, to of course repair their car. Getting in isn’t always as easy as getting out. In order to leave the village, the characters have to pay a price to the local sorcerer. And the price gets too big to pay when the wizard falls for the father’s daughter.
Film and music buffs got their fair share of both this past week. The 46th International Film Festival (KIFF) called Molodist was held in Kyiv, from October 22nd through the 30th. The event grew from a modest start–In 1970, the Kyiv State Theatrical Art Institute organized a 2-day showing of student films. Molodist means Youth, and the festival’s aim was to promote young professional cinema. Today it’s one of the main European film festivals, and is ranked by the International Federation of Film Producers Associations (FIAPF). This year’s festival presented around 250 films by young filmmakers from 80 countries. The Grand Prix winner was the film “The Last Family,” by Jan P. Matuszynski from Poland. The prize comes with $10,000.00 US dollars. We’ll post a link to the Festival Website that lists all the films and winners on our page.
And on the musical front, Jamala, the Crimean Tatar singer who won the Eurovision contest, hit the headlines with a new recording. She was jamming with the cult group DakhaBrakha, and at the end of it a new song appeared. They called it “Zamanyly,” which means “Enticed,” and released it on October 31st. Jamala described it as a sort of mystic folk sound.
Next week, Americans go to the polls to select a new President. Ukrainians are of course very interested to find out how US foreign policy will change toward Ukraine as well as what the next president will do with regard to Russia. We’ll be following this and other stories. Tune in next weekend for a new episode of Ukraine Calling. If you have any suggestions or comments, feel free to write the show at: [email protected]. I’m Marko Suprun in Kyiv. Thanks for listening.
Headlines by Marko Suprun and Maria Terentieva, Interview by Marko Suprun, transcribed by Larysa Iarovenko, Alexander Konovalov, and Oksana Smerechuk. Culture and Music, Looking Forward by Marko Suprun and Marta Dyczok, Sound engineer Andriy Izdryk.