Ukrainian tech publications pivot to cover the war and provide survival advice
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Vera Chernysh is the СЕО and managing editor of the three largest technology and business news publications in Ukraine — MC.today, ITC.UA and Highload. Chernysh has seen her own reality shift since Russia’s invasion and attack on Ukraine in February, but she quickly made the business decisions to shift the operations of her entire business from covering the latest tech trends to boots-on-the-ground war reporting.
“On [February] 21, I woke up and I saw the news about the war had broken. I was laying for three hours in the bed looking at videos of the rockets and seeing people from my team in chats discussing what’s going on,” Chernysh said. “Then I realized I need to get up and should be strong in this situation. So, I gathered the team on a call. On one of the early Zoom calls, I saw a tank pass by outside the window of one of our employees in the morning.”
In that same call, Chernysh told her team that, first and foremost, they are journalists, and that the country was now calling for them to tell its stories and get accurate information to people as quickly as possible.
Tech publications deliver news for survival
The three publications, which are made up of 70% women and 40 total journalists, normally focus on emerging technology and business news in Ukraine and receive four million monthly readers. Now, after the shift to on the ground war coverage and articles about how to get involved for Ukraine’s victory and protection, the company’s readership has skyrocketed to nearly half a million readers per day.
Rather than crafting articles about the anticipation surrounding what was at the time Apple’s upcoming tech announcement set for March 10, Chernysh and her technology journalists began writing articles about how to create makeshift shelters inside residential flats, how to exit to safety if there’s a shelling blast and how to stay healthy if there’s a chemical blast.
The group even began writing how-to pieces focused on helping those who had fled the country and what to do as a refugee since several Ukrainians fleeing had not been to Europe, Chernysh said.
Several of Chernysh’s staff members and journalists are writing and reporting from bomb shelters, which are equipped with Wi-Fi, throughout Ukraine daily. One of the media company’s games editors is now part of Ukrainian Territorial Defense.
“Our games’ editor wakes up at 6 a.m. and works part-time in territorial defense. He does what he has to do there and then after lunch, he comes back and works as a journalist and writer from a bomb shelter,” Chernysh said..
Other technology journalists were able to flee to safety in surrounding countries and, after arriving as a refugee in a safe location, have continued to report and write for MC.today, ITC.UA and Highload.
Two female reporters Chernysh did not hear from for several weeks, but have since been confirmed safe.
Cyberattacks on Russian and Ukrainian media
A few days after the coverage pivot, the company, like several other media publications, was targeted by cyberattacks, likely by Russian authorities, Chernysh said, to control the messaging of war information coming into and going out of the country.
“At first, we did not know what to do. They were trying to shut our websites down, but we have quite a good support team that’s responsible for our cybersecurity. They [made adjustments] and our websites didn’t stop running [for long],” Chernysh said. “I think [the attacks occurred] for the first five days and has since been OK.”
Chernysh said that after the attacks on their media publications, the IT professionals strengthened protocols like halting the ability to register on the media websites, in case an attacker attempts to gain access through the registering for an account to comment, for example.
Since the war began, cyberattacks have not only targeted Ukrainian media, but also government entities and websites, telecoms and large-scale distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks against financial and military institutions.
The road ahead for Ukrainian tech media
Shifting back to coverage of technology isn’t likely to come in the days ahead as the war rages on in Ukraine, but Chernysh and her team remain steadfast in doing what they can as a company to equip their neighbors and fellow Ukrainian citizens with accurate reporting and information to help them stay alive, organize as communities and unite to fight back as effectively as they can.
“My dream is that soon, very soon we will stop writing about war and will go back to telling stories of the amazing Ukrainians who build technology businesses,” said Chernysh. “For this dream to come true, our media have to survive until the victory. [We need others to] help us survive to keep doing journalism for the sake of Ukraine — and in a free Ukraine.”
Since the war began, advertising revenue for publications has ceased, just as several other normal operations across the region have as well,. The invisible battle Chernysh and her team now face, in addition to the tanks, bombs and rockets, is funding to keep their news coverage afloat.
“I think that it’s important to show, and I don’t know if it’s shown enough right now in Western media, that Ukrainians are really positive,” she said. “Of course we are suffering a lot, but everybody here is doing something for victory. For example, some programmers became soldiers and those who didn’t have been organizing and volunteering in different tech initiatives. We’re all doing something for victory.”
Chernysh and her team have started a fundraiser to support their media companies during this time. Further information can be found on the fundraiser’s landing page.
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