June 10, 2016

Ukrainian Journalists of North America gather for third conference at Soyuzivka

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Participants of the third conference of Ukrainian Journalists of North America.

Daria Kish

Participants of the third conference of Ukrainian Journalists of North America.

KERHONKSON, N.Y. – The professional organization Ukrainian Journalists of North America (UJNA) held its third conference here at the Soyuzivka Heritage Center on May 20-22.

The event brought together a group of journalists from the United States and Canada who represented various news media outlets – including Svoboda and The Ukrainian Weekly of Parsippany, N.J., Kontakt Ukrainian TV Network and Kontakt Ukrainian Media of Toronto, Ukrainian News of Edmonton, Alberta, The New Pathway of Toronto, Forum TV of Toronto, Nova Hazeta of Rego Park, N.Y., Chas i Podii of Chicago, as well as the Washington-based Voice of America, the Washington correspondent of the TV channel Ukrayina and free-lance writers.

Elected to head the UJNA for the next two years were: President Jurij R Klufas (Toronto); Vice-President, U.S.A., Leo Iwaskiw (Philadelphia); Vice-President, Canada East, Walter Kish (Oshawa, Ontario); Vice-President, Canada West, Marco Levytsky (Edmonton); Vice-President, International Relations, Michael Bociurkiw (Sidney, British Columbia); Secretary/Treasurer Alexander Kharchenko (Toronto); and Immediate Past President Roma Hadzewycz (Morristown, N.J.).

Speaking at the conference (from left): Ukraine’s Ambassador to Canada Andriy Shevchenko; outgoing UNJA President Roma Hadzewycz; new UJNA President Jurij Klufas; and Myroslava Gongadze, chief of Voice of America’s Ukrainian Service.

Speaking at the conference (from left): Ukraine’s Ambassador to Canada Andriy Shevchenko; outgoing UNJA President Roma Hadzewycz; new UJNA President Jurij Klufas; and Myroslava Gongadze, chief of Voice of America’s Ukrainian Service.

The 2012 conference’s keynote speaker was to be Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States, Valeriy Chaly, but he sent word that he would be unable to attend after all due to a visiting delegation from Ukraine. The ambassador forwarded a Ukrainian-language message to the UJNA in which he underscored that “journalism is a key factor in the development of democracy.” He cited the ongoing information war by the Kremlin against Ukraine, and underscored that it is journalists “who are the main defenders of our freedom on the information front, a firm foundation of the Ukrainian struggle in this hybrid war.”

“Ukraine is living through difficult times: the Revolution of Dignity, the Russian attempt to illegally annex Crimea, the horrible and perfidious war in the Donbas. During these three years, Ukraine not only survived, but it demonstrated to the entire world its courage, wisdom, steadfastness, devotion to democratic values and its chosen path of development. The world has begun to view Ukraine differently thanks also to your work. I expect that we, Ukrainian diplomats, together with you, journalists, will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder as we bring the truth to the world until Ukraine’s final victory over aggression, evil and falsehood,” Ambassador Chaly wrote.

His message to the UJNA conference was read during the Saturday evening banquet by Mr. Klufas.

A presentation on the topic “Looking Ahead to the 25th Anniversary of Ukraine’s Independence” by Ukraine’s Ambassador to Canada Andriy Shevchenko, opened the conference proceedings on Saturday morning. He began his remarks by observing that many Ukrainians in Ukraine once had a faulty image of the Ukrainian diaspora but now understand that it comprises hard-working people who were brought up to understand that they should help Ukraine in any way possible. Yesterday’s simple packages of goods (known as “banderoli”) for one’s family in Ukraine have now evolved into serious support for Ukraine’s armed forces fighting in the country’s east.

Himself a journalist by training, Ambassador Shevchenko pointed to the importance of the Ukrainian press, “which connects us around the globe.” The diaspora press, he continued, has played a great role in pressuring their governments to support Ukraine and in pressuring the Ukrainian government to move ahead on necessary reforms.

Ambassador Shevchenko noted several irreversible changes that had taken place in Ukraine, including a national consensus on Euro-integration, support for potential membership in NATO, and calls for political reform. He cited the new national police of Ukraine as a big success story and a change that positively affects all the people. Other positive developments: Ukraine is working toward energy independence; oligarchs are successfully being pushed out of the energy market; the new system of government tenders is open and transparent. Thus, he said, “it is unfair to say that nothing has changed,” cautioning his listeners to not fall victim to cynicism.

At the same time, however, Mr. Shevchenko noted that the greatest challenges for Ukraine today are corruption and the war in the country’s east, as well as Russia’s hybrid war against Ukraine. In addition, “Russia is preparing – indeed, it is already conducting – a hybrid war against the West,” he said. Therefore it is most important for us to fight disinformation and to continue to inform your governments about the truth. The ambassador said that now is the time for a “partnership” of sorts between journalists and the Ukrainian government, and he said diplomats in the United States and Canada are already working along those lines.

The first conference session discussed the “Status of Media in Ukraine,” with Myroslava Gongadze, chief of Voice of America’s Ukrainian Service, and Hanna Homonai, a Ukrainian TV journalist who happens to be Ambassador Shevchenko’s wife, as presenters.

Ms. Gongadze cited weaknesses in Ukraine’s news media, including a deficient level of professionalism, oligarchs’ ownership of media resources and the lack of knowledge of foreign languages, as a result of which many journalists rely on Russian-language sources for world news and thus share misinformation. The speaker also singled out several media outlets that are doing a good job, including the public broadcaster Hromadske and Channel 1 of Ukrainian National TV.

Ms. Homonai added that oligarchs control the post-Maidan media and have made their presence felt even more; they use journalists as their weapons. She also pointed out that 80 percent of Ukrainians say television is their primary source of news, and that source is often unsatisfactory. The good news, she said, is that there is also a renaissance in the Ukrainian media thanks to which the range of topics that can be freely discussed has been markedly broadened and that investigative journalism is now becoming more prevalent. Noting the role of women journalists on the front, she cited war journalism as a new genre in today’s Ukraine.

The session dubbed “Hromada Status and Future” featured Askold Lozynskyj, a lawyer, community activist and former president of the Ukrainian World Congress and the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, and Walter Kish, columnist for the Toronto-based newspaper New Pathway (Novy Shliakh).

Mr. Lozynskyj began by warning journalists not to accept at face value what U.S. government sources say. “U.S. politics is opportunistic,” he commented, adding that there are people in the State Department who are not favorably inclined toward Ukraine. He noted that, while Canada recognized Ukraine’s independence the day after the December 1, 1991, referendum, the U.S. did not do so until December 25. He also said there is much Russophilism in academic circles and the American media, and the result is much disinformation.

The Ukrainian press has a very important role to play in presenting the facts about Ukraine and in staking out a political position that serves the interests of both our community and Ukraine, he continued. The Ukrainian diaspora press also serves as a crucial link among our communities and as a tool to prepare the younger generations of Ukrainians. Mr. Lozynskyj stressed that we cannot think only about Ukraine, but also about ourselves in the diaspora, “otherwise we help neither ourselves nor Ukraine.”

On the topic of Russian aggression, he said the “Ukrainian-Russian war” will never end – “it will be a hybrid war as long as Russia is a neighbor of Ukraine and denies that Ukraine is a separate independent country.”

Mr. Kish provided a well-researched statistical look at today’s Ukrainian community in Canada, which is the result of four waves of immigration. According to the 2011 census, there are 1,251,170 Ukrainians in Canada and they constitute 3.7 percent of the Canadian population. However, only 5 to 10 percent of those can be considered “active Ukrainians.” The speaker went on to offer a breakdown of the various groups that make up the Ukrainian Canadian community, among them nationwide organizations, credit unions, youth/scouting organizations and foundations.

Michael Bociurkiw, former spokesperson for the Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and Stefko Bandera of CTV’s “W5” news magazine (the latter participating via Skype) discussed “Getting the Ukraine Story Out” from their unique and distinct perspectives.

Mr. Bandera underscored that what is most important in telling Ukraine’s story is to speak the truth and to speak in a timely manner. He went on to cite a number of prevalent perceptions and misperceptions of Ukraine and offered some suggestions on how to counter them.

Mr. Bociurkiw noted the lack of transparency regarding media ownership in Ukraine, the fact that stories are sensationalized and the low professionalism of many journalists in Ukraine. Another negative factor is that salaries in journalism in Ukraine are low, which leads to job-hopping.

He also spoke of the use of Russian media in the Donetsk and Luhansk “people’s republics,” the inability of Ukrainian news media to reach audiences there and the stricter permit system for foreign correspondents that was put in place by the DNR and LPR authorities. Mr. Bociurkiw pointed out that there are many journalists among the internally displaced persons forced to leave the occupied territories in Ukraine’s east, and he noted that investment will be needed to rehabilitate destroyed media outlets in that part of the country.

Both speakers agreed that Ukraine is doing a poor job in projecting a positive image and said that Ukrainians have to work hard to get Ukraine on the news media’s agenda.

“Two-Way Street: Ukraine-Diaspora” was the topic addressed by Daria Dieguts, a correspondent for the Ukrayina TV channel who is based in Washington. She spoke about her work as a U.S.-based journalist for a Ukrainian media outlet and pointed to examples of media coverage from the U.S. that interest Ukrainian viewers.

Appearing via Skype from Toronto, Andy Holowaty, producer and host at Radio Kontakt, covered “Internet Resources and Social Media Bridges.” He agreed with the assessments of previous presenters that not enough is being done to get Ukraine’s message out. He noted that Ukraine Today is trying to disseminate information about Ukraine in English, but it is not having the success that RT (formerly known as Russia Today) is having. He also commented that the English language used by many Ukrainian sources is poor and that turns away readers. He went on to comment on the work of such news providers as Euromaidan Press, the UNIAN and Ukrinform news services, and others.

A special guest at the conference was Natalia Feduschak, director of communications for Ukrainian Jewish Encounter, who spoke about the work of her organization in ensuring dialogue between Ukrainians and Jews, as well as plans for this year’s 75th anniversary commemoration in Kyiv of the Babyn Yar massacre. UJE, which is based in the Toronto area, is organizing a non-governmental international commemoration that will take place in Kyiv on September 23-29 to remember the tens of thousands of Jews, Ukrainians, Roma, Soviet prisoners of war and others who were murdered in 1941 at a ravine on the outskirts of Kyiv. The events will include a public symposium, a memorial concert and programs for youth. In addition, there will be an international competition for a landscape design for Babyn Yar that aims to transform it into a historic preservation site and a sacred place of memory.

The goal of these events, Ms. Feduschak said, is “to show the multicultural nature of Ukraine” and “to shape the image of Ukraine.” In concluding her remarks, Ms. Feduschak offered her assistance to journalists in covering this major event.

On Saturday evening, the journalists and guests enjoyed dinner prepared by the Soyuzivka staff, while continuing their discussions of current issues that affect their work. Among guests attending were Roma Lisovich, treasurer of the Ukrainian National Association and the Ukrainian National Foundation (an affiliated company that does charitable work for the UNA), and Dr. Lubomyr Romankiw, former chief scout of Plast Ukrainian Scouting Organization, an IBM Fellow and an inductee of the Inventors’ Hall of Fame.

A special prayer for the victory of truth was offered by the Rev. Dr. Ivan Kaszczak, pastor of Holy Trinity Ukrainian Catholic Church in Kerhonkson, N.Y., and the author of several books, including monographs about Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky and Bishop Soter Ortynsky. A moment of silence was observed for the late journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, who would have celebrated his 47th birthday on May 21.

Marco Levytsky, editor of the Edmonton-based Ukrainian News, spoke during the dinner, offering his perspective on how the diaspora press engages in advocacy on behalf of Ukrainians and Ukraine, focusing on such past issues as the denaturalization and deportation proceedings in Canada and current issues of support for Ukraine and sanctions against Russia. He outlined the efforts of his newspaper, both in terms of reporting and editorial comments, to urge a more pro-active role by the Canadian government. His comments were echoed by Roma Hadzewycz, who pointed to the work of The Ukrainian Weekly in that vein in the U.S.

Sunday’s program included a presentation on the state of the Ukrainian language, both here in North America and in Ukraine, by Stefan Genyk-Berezowsky of Toronto’s Forum TV. He reported that, after the Maidan, the Ukrainian language acquired some prestige and people began to use it more often. However, on the official level, the situation is entirely different, as there is no government support for the Ukrainian language.

Mr. Berezowsky said the sad fact is that Ukrainian TV and radio promote Russification. Only 28 percent of TV broadcasts during prime time are in Ukrainian; on radio, only 3.4 percent of the songs played are in the Ukrainian language.

The situation in print journalism is not rosy either, with the number of Ukrainian publications declining. As regards book publishing, most of the Ukrainian books printed are textbooks, and there are many more Russian-language books imported into Ukraine than the number of Ukrainian books published in the country.

The speaker went on to comment on the state of the Ukrainian language itself, pointing out that it has become popular to use English terms in Ukrainian even when there are appropriate Ukrainian words (e.g., handmade, due date, background). In addition, he cited statistics on the use of the Ukrainian language in everyday life, in restaurants, etc. He concluded his remarks by underlining that the Ukrainian language must be supported and defended.

The final session of the conference was devoted to the election of officers and discussion of plans for the UJNA. Recommendations included: having UJNA membership cards; holding meetings via Skype when the situation warrants; and continuing the UJNA group page on Facebook (which is for members only) and encouraging others to sign on. Conference participants agreed that the next conference of Ukrainian Journalists of North America will be planned for May 2018, possibly in the Chicago area.

At the conclusion of the business session, the outgoing president, Ms. Hadzewycz, thanked Self Reliance New York Federal Credit Union for once again being the principal sponsor of the journalists’ conference, noting its longstanding support of myriad Ukrainian community organizations and projects.

She also thanked four other credit unions – Self Reliance (NJ) Federal Credit Union, Ukrainian Selfreliance Federal Credit Union, SUMA Federal Credit Union and Selfreliance Ukrainian American Federal Credit Union – for sponsoring individual conference sessions

Throughout the three days they were together for their conference, the journalists discussed a variety of topics that concern them, their media outlets, the Ukrainian community in North America and Ukraine. In fact, some of the most interesting and fruitful discussions occurred during the informal get-togethers in the evenings, such as the Friday social gathering held before the conference’s official opening, and at mealtimes.

For information about the UJNA, readers may contact: Jurij Klufas, c/o Kontakt Ukrainian TV Network, 145 Evans Ave., Suite 210, Toronto, ON, M8Z 5X8; or Roma Hadzewycz, c/o Svoboda and The Ukrainian Weekly, 2200 Route 10, Parsippany, NJ 07054, staff@ukrweekly.com.

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