Viktor Pichuhin is a journalist, trainer and research and development director for the media outlet Nakipelo in Ukraine. He spoke to DW Akademie about his experiences reporting from a warzone.
Viktor Pichuhin is based in the Kharkiv region in eastern Ukraine. Since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion, he has been reporting from the liberated Ukrainian territories and as a DW Akademie trainer supported fellow journalists. At DW’s Global Media Forum 2023 in Bonn, he shared his experiences in the session "Is it scary? Reporting on the war in Ukraine".
It’s obviously very hard emotionally because this war is going on in my native country, my native city, the city where I was born and raised. Sometimes I need to interview people whom I have known half my life but who have now lost everything. It is also very hard physically because of all the physical threats. We need to wear full scale protection.
Yet the war is the first time I’ve seen why this job needs to be done. There are so many stories that, if we weren't there to tell them, would remain untold. People would not know about some of the heroes but also about unspeakable, horrifying crimes against humanity that Russians have committed.
After February 24, I finally understood why my job is so important and why I need to do it, even though it is sometimes so hard and exhausting.
We have gone through a number of trainings ourselves and have also offered them to fellow journalists. One aspect was how to not traumatize yourself or the heroes of your reports. Obviously, this does not always work if you are speaking to people who have lost everything. You cannot go home unchanged inside, and I think I’m carrying all these stories with me.
The thing that helps me keep my sanity is keeping all the good stories with me: the stories of people who saved not only their own lives but also the lives of their neighbours or just cats and dogs in the streets, those who have risked everything to help someone else. At least these stories help in balancing the horrifying ones. But it's not like you can forget the horrifying ones.
You cannot leave the war zone without being traumatized because there is so much pain and so many tears and you have to carry those stories with you, even to peaceful places.
The first one is like the doctor’s oath, “Do no harm.” You have to remember that you must not harm the heroes of your reports, either psychologically or physically. You always have to think: Can the things I am recording or filming right now be harmful to civilians or soldiers?
Secondly, you must obviously think about your safety, both psychological and physical. You must wear your bulletproof vest and carry your first aid kit and you must know how to properly use them. There are a lot of journalists who have a first aid kit but do not know how to use it to stop a bleeding or something similar.
The third one is to try to find the bright side everywhere. Even in the trenches. Because if you only have doom and gloom, it will kill you psychologically. And when it kills you psychologically, it kills you physically - you can become more reckless and more scared. Or you just don’t care about your physical safety anymore because you are depressed. Try to find some light even in the darkest situation you and that can keep you alive.
Viktor Pichuhin works as a trainer for DW Akademie’s MediaFit program. MediaFit is funded by the EU and co-financed by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). The program originally focused on economic aspects of media and media innovation in southern and eastern Ukraine. The focus is now on rapid survival assistance in times of war for 14 independent regional media.