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Ukrainian voices on campus: Former Ukrainian journalist evaluates media coverage of war

| Tuesday, April 5, 2022

This article is part three of a series called “Ukrainian voices on campus” detailing the stories and perspectives of Ukrainian and Ukrainian American tri-campus community members. The first two installments of the series can be read online.

Ukrainian graduate student Anna Romandash knew for months that Russia posed a threat to Ukraine. However, she never expected a full-scale invasion.

“This is a movie about you,” she said of watching Russia invade her native Ukraine.

Romandash grew up in the Lviv region in western Ukraine before attending Ukrainian Catholic University (UCU). After college, she became a journalist, collaborating with media outlets such as Radio Free Europe and at one point was a fellow with CNN. Romandash freelanced throughout Europe, primarily working on topics such as human rights violations and liberation movements. 

After about seven years as a journalist, she enrolled in the Master of Global Affairs (MGA) program at the Keough School of Global Affairs. 

With her family in Ukraine while she completes an internship in the U.S. as part of her studies, the distance between her and the war has led to a sense of powerlessness, Romandash said.

“It’s very difficult to comprehend this. It’s very difficult to function knowing this,” Romandash said, referencing the alleged massacre in Bucha, Ukraine. 

At the same time, Romandash has felt more connected to Ukraine since the war broke out. She said it has been harder to connect with people who are not Ukrainian because a lot of people fail to completely understand the suffering Ukrainians are experiencing right now.

Romandash criticized Western media’s coverage of the war. She said outlets should stop referring to the war as “Putin’s war.”

“It’s not Putin’s war against Ukraine. There are more than 100,000 Russians fighting in Ukraine. They are not Putin. They are Russian individuals who are committing atrocities,” she said. “Putin, of course, is the leader, but he would not be able to wage the war if he didn’t have significant support within the army and within the society in Russia.”

Along with the narrative of “Putin’s war,” she added that Russian citizens should not be viewed as victims. She said she has heard the narrative that Russians are victims of the sanctions imposed by the U.S. and Europe and called it “dangerous.”

“We know that more than 80% of Russians support Putin and support the war. They do suffer from the sanctions imposed by the US and by Europe, but they’re certainly not victims of the war because there are no missiles falling on their houses and there are no massacres happening in Russia and there’s no war there,” Romandash said.

“And it’s very dangerous how a lot of Western media keep victimizing Russians and they say, ‘Well, you know, poor Russians cannot afford sugar now.’ Well, those Russians, if they’re so unhappy with sugar prices, they should take to the street, and they should demand the war to be stopped. But you don’t see that happening,” she added.

As Ukraine experiences the largest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II, Romandash said she would like to see more media coverage of the over 6 million internally displaced people within the country. Instead, she said, she has seen the majority of coverage dedicated to the European countries receiving refugees.

“So there are at least 6 million Ukrainians inside Ukraine who are internally displaced and Ukraine alone has to deal with that situation,” she said. “It’s much more difficult because Ukraine as a country has super limited resources.”

Romandash said the current Russian-Ukrainian war is a continuation of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine in 2014. During the 2014 war, most of the correspondents covering the war were based in Moscow, leading to Russian-centric coverage. Trying to balance opinions when one side is lying, she said, distorts the coverage.

“Everything was done through the Russian perspective. ‘This is what Russia says and this is what other governments are saying to that.’ This is really wrong,” she explained. “As a journalist, you want to have this two-sides [narrative] of the story, but one side is lying and one side is committing war crimes. This is not the balance of opinions that you’re presenting to your readers.” 

One positive aspect of Western media’s coverage of the war that Romandash recognized is the amount of attention it has received. Since the war broke out, she said she has pushed professors and classmates to support Ukraine through humanitarian aid. As an influential Catholic institution, Notre Dame has the ability to provide lots of support for Ukraine, she said.

“We do need prayers,” she said, “but we also need humanitarian aid.”

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About Ryan Peters

Ryan is a sophomore in Knott Hall from Lake Forest, Illinois. He is majoring in business analytics and minoring in constitutional studies. He currently serves as Notre Dame News Editor for The Observer. Follow him on Twitter @peterrsryan.

Contact Ryan