Ukrainian riots screenshot
Ukrainian riots screenshot

Now here’s a line fit for a B-grade journalism film: “This is not the column I expected to write.” But please bear with me, because whether viewed by 100,000 people or 100, it’s without question the most important one I’ve turned in during 2022, or since the pandemic began.

I do want to acknowledge what I planned to write about, because it all still troubles me: the unfair 20-20 hindsight punditry (“the West should’ve seen this coming!”); thumbsucking over just how evil Lucifer Putin is (were those hellhounds trembling in the bunkers?); or why a home-grown sycophant autocrat called him a “genius” (no more print space for that kind of delusional crap).

Now it’s time to pivot.

Because Ukraine is in trouble. Deep, violent, there-will-be-blood trouble. Shutting down Russia’s banks is a start to reversing the tide, not that the Russian people deserve to suffer and sprint towards the ATMs. But If I could seize even a crumb of an oligarch’s frozen, ill-gotten gains, I know where I’d send it.

The Guardian, that British journalism outlet without peer, has given a massive boost to a GoFundMe campaign to save independent Ukrainian media from Putin’s ruthless campaign to obliterate it.

It’s the brainchild of a senior executive from the Kyiv Independent, and as of early morning March 1 had raised more than £150,000, equivalent to $200,000, to protect national and regional titles scrambling to survive the chaos caused by the Russian invasion. By 3 p.m. Manhattan time, it had busted past its goal and was about to hit the half-million dollar mark. Now in case you were wondering why the Russians invaded, Putin has stated clearly that the Ukrainian government is run by modern day Nazis. So indeed he must be a genius, like the Florida swamp slug said, as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is Jewish.

The Guardian quotes Jakub Parusinski, the Independent’s chief financial officer, as saying this:

“What we really need right now is for the world to have trusted, verified information from across the country, so that people in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus know exactly what is going on. However important foreign correspondents from overseas news organizations are, you need local media to tell the local story.”

You can see why Putin hates brave journalists like this. Parusinski is quite the young man to take on such a herculean effort but he’s now another hero in a nation overflowing with them. Please Tweet your support to him here.

Making a mockery, for the truth

Never has such an argument for local media support carried so much weight, truth and imperative. Russia has waged a good part of its war through disinformation, releasing videos that purport to show Ukrainians provoking aggression, or offering “proof” that Zelensky is on the run, or worse.

But as a former comedian, Zelensky was made for this moment on the world media stage in a way no world leader can touch. He’s also teaching us that you can fight the most insidious fake news with the real, true stuff. He’s regularly putting out videos that taunt Putin’s disinformation by saying, in essence, “So sorry, Vlad, I’m still here.” On March 1, he granted an interview to Reuters and CNN dressed in a forest-green t-shirt and matching military duds, a sharp contrast to the detached frigidity of Putin’s stiff suits.

Yet you can bet that the Russians–who just blew up a Kyiv TV tower hours ago as of this writing–will continue to strike at the heart of the Ukrainian media. That is why Parusinski’s GoFundMe is so important. In war, there are a plethora of competing needs that would drive Maslow crazy in terms of creating a hierarchy. You’ve got citizens swarming to get out and citizens taking up arms. You’ve got the ever-present travesty of orphaned children and families torn asunder. The next missile could turn peaceful Ukrainian streets into funeral pyres of blood-soaked rubble.

When it comes to Ukraine, there are many, many deserving causes (and, it must be stressed, fraudsters who will pop up to leech off our goodwill and best intentions). Parusinski’s site is real, the need is irrefutable, and role it plays is easy to discount but every bit vital if Ukraine is to prevail in any sense.

You see, every time an image of Ukrainians surrounding a destroyed Russian tank gets out, it jabs at Putin’s formaldehyde-soaked heart. There’s an old saying that the one thing the devil cannot stand is to be mocked. What’s more, it telegraphs the message that the outmanned, outgunned Ukrainians are facing down their aggressors bravely.

Those images can, do and will get out through Ukraine’s free and unfettered media.

Why Putin fears Ukraine’s free press

Leaning on his here’s-to-Stalin KGB training, the Russian “leader” is choking his nation’s independent media and using content pimps and puppets to pump out his rhetoric, his propaganda. What can serve as the antidote to that press poison? Ukraine’s free and unfettered media.

Kateryna Sergatskova is editor in chief of the Ukrainian news website Zaborona, one of the dozen outlets that will benefit from the GoFundMe campaign, which will be used to relocate journalists in danger so that they can continue their work. It should be stressed, though, that so far these intrepid reporters haven’t budged, and are working from shelters while under attack. Sadly, the link for Zaborona shows it as “currently offline.” Should we fear for the worst?

Sergatskova told The Guardian:

“Independent media are covering the actual events of the war and provide accurate, unbiased information at a time of an information war.”

It emerges as crystal clear to me, I hope to you and pray to the world that all the cliches you’ve ever heard about the media–from “who will tell the people?” to “witnesses to history”–have emerged as frightfully real and relevant. It the journalists of the world, and who call that part of the world home, cannot do their work, then all we’ll have to lean on are the narratives the Kremlin and its cronies want us to hear and see, concocted from somewhere in the stink of Putin’s un-flushed palatial toilet.

Taking the lunge to pledge, and a line against hate

I have put my hand up, pledging $30 to my brothers and sisters in the field there. If for some reason this cause doesn’t resonate, I would urge you to check out this piece by the Washington Post, which lists many legitimate channels to get money into the right hands. (DO NOT, under any circumstances, consult a list from an unknown or obscure outlet. Even a supposed link to, say, a U.N. donation page may actually lead to a scammer’s account. Stick to reputable entities such as the Post.)

Just one more thing. It is so tempting in this time to take out anger and outrage on the Russians in our backyard. We cannot allow this to happen nor tolerate it. Russian Americans and immigrants instead deserve our compassion and sympathy at a time when the world hates their leader.

True, it’s exasperating that having democracy handed to them on a silver platter, the Russians as a people defaulted to the bad old days and ways of autocracy. But neither can I imagine what it would be like for them to experience the equivalent of the wrath and hostility Asian Americans faced over COVID.

Marvin Gaye was no political hero, let alone a comic like Zelensky, but he put it best: “War is not the answer, only love can conquer hate.” As a certain Russian ideologue is trying to convince the world of the exact opposite, we must double down by showing up. Please go to Jakub Parusinski’s GoFundMe site. The reporters, editors, photographers, videographers and publishers in Ukraine deserve to get some good news.

Lou Carlozo is Qwoted’s Editor in Chief. All views expressed take a back seat to the bravery and heroism of Volodymyr Zelensky, Jakub Parusinski, and the Ukrainian press and people. Email or connect on LinkedIn.