“The propaganda is very strong, and we should overcome it”
By Nadezhda Azhgikhina. This story belongs to the Moscow Centre.
When Crimea was annexed, I was in Moscow and we decided to get in touch with the Ukrainians. It was a couple of days before the events in Maidan in Kiev. We had sessions in the High Commission for Human Rights in Geneva, then with IFJ in Brussels… We had two roundtables in UNESCO for the International Press Freedom Day. During the crisis in Crimea we established a hot line for international journalists from both sides. We helped two international journalists (French and Chilean) who were detained for not having documents. I approached the RUJ president and asked him to call the military men who were retaining the journalist. He gave them a 20 minutes lecture about freedom of expression. They listened to him, and the guy got released .
We prepared a handbook in English and Russian about how to work in the conflict. I visited Ukraine many times, we had four different meetings with people from many countries. Many politicians wanted to join, but it was not a public event. We were a working group. We published many joint statements on the protection of journalists. The most important – we rescued 8 Ukrainian journalists from detention in Eastern Ukraine. One was a writer, Valery Makeev, he published a book and said that he was alive because of Russian- Ukrainian journalist cooperation, Another, Roman Cheremsky, made a film about that and said the same. We never expected that result. But I am proud that I took part in this work.
We had problems with two Ukrainian organisations. Trade Union changed the leadership and radical nationalists came to power. They didn’t want to work with the Russians anymore. They started accusing me of promoting Russian propaganda. The dialogue is officially frozen, but it is still alive. We decided to think how to go on. I think we could ask PEN International to support some gathering of young writers, Ukrainians, and Russians, and maybe Belarus. Those who are 40 years old maybe have been to Russia, but those who are 20 have never been there. The propaganda is very strong, and we should overcome it. We should look for real communication and build professional bridges across the borders. The division is a tragedy; most Russians have relatives in Ukraine. The meeting should definitely be in another country.
We already had some meetings with the European Federation of Journalists, the International Press Institute and Reporters without Borders. It was a network of different organisations, people coming from different conflictive parts of the world. It is important to realise that our problems are not alone. At some point the authorities became much angrier because they couldn’t interfere with our work. It seems that the Ukrainians could be willing to work with PEN Moscow. When we joined PEN Moscow, we were ready to be proactive and to work with Free Word Association.
Interview with Nadezhda Azhgikhina. By Ginevra Avalle, Oxford, 29th September 2018
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