Bohdan Logvinenko: “Culture is the glue that unites us, because the glue of hatred is gradually weakening”
Every year, the Ukrainian PEN presents the Heorhiy Gongadze Prize, founded together with the Kyiv-Mohyla Business School, the Kyiv-Mohyla Business School Alumni Association, and the publication “Ukrainian Pravda”.
Among this year’s nominees, Bohdan Logvinenko is the co-founder of Ukrainer.
Read a conversation with him about the shortcomings of portraying stories of success and resistance, how to tell about the deep changes in Ukraine, and the importance of non-war content.
– During the year of work, Ukrainer has changed – new formats, social networks in foreign languages, other topics and vector have been added. You were overseas when the invasion started, but the media changed immediately. How was it possible to drastically reorganize the work of the team, even at a distance at first?
– We had three vectors: the Ukrainian one, where in the first weeks we had to support morale with stories, the international one, where we had to inform and spread messages, and the Russian one, where we worked on demoralizing Russians in the media field. The latter lasted for several weeks before we gave it up entirely. In Ukrainian, they later stabilized the work and did not engage exclusively in encouragement.
And it was possible to reorganize precisely because part of the team was abroad – me, the organizational head, the chief director, the producer. And we could work when everyone in Ukraine dropped out due to moving and new life. However, it was very difficult emotionally to be outside of Ukraine, and it felt like the worst decision at the time – but rationally, we were able to use this opportunity.
Hungarian, Korean and Portuguese language versions appeared during the invasion, the rest were already there. The Korean and Hungarian ones arose due to the fact that volunteer teams appeared. But we were looking for Hungarian translators – it was clear that in that media environment the voice of Ukraine cannot be heard, and it is impossible to break through the monopoly of Opran. Now we are looking for the possibility of launching several more, which are important from the point of view of communications of Ukraine.
In general, we changed the language versions to other tracks – before that we only wrote educational content about Ukraine, but after the invasion, we started talking about the war in front of everyone. Several times we launched the Japanese version of Instagram, but it was immediately banned. However, our main page on Instagram was in the shadows for most of the year and it was more difficult to find it in search than foreign language pages.
|Bohdan Logvynenko, photo from his Facebook page|
– Social networks are your main work tool. But most of the important content is “sensitive” or “hate speech”, which is blocked. Why do you think it hasn’t changed in a year?
– The international offices of these companies live in a slightly different reality. For them, social networks are still for entertainment. There is little understanding of how they are actually used in transitional countries emerging from authoritarianism. In these societies, social networks take on a completely different meaning, which is invisible to the offices of any social networks. What has been happening with Twitter for the past six months is a confirmation of that. Musk understands what influence through social networks is, but rather superficially. We have a much larger part of our lives in social networks due to distrust of traditional media than countries that are called democratic.
But even the impact we have with blocking, the reach and views, is equivalent to the results that sometimes states spend millions on. We do it practically on a voluntary basis. However, we cannot compete with Russia Today as much as we would like. They have huge success, for example, in the Spanish-speaking environment, where they overtake CNN. We need to have our voice there, but they have billions of dollars, and we at best have hundreds of thousands from international donors, not the state.
– Since the spring of last year, the series of materials “Deoccupation” has been the main topic of the Ukrainian vector. How did they start filming it? After all, the team had not worked with war and its consequences before.
– The format found us by itself – from the moment of the idea to the first shooting, a day and a half passed.
In March 2022, we understood that it was necessary to record everything that was happening, and we will see what will come of it later. Part of the form was the idea of Mykola Nosk, the director, some ideas arose during the shooting.
We had a VR camera with us the whole time, and we’re now editing these videos. We are already printing a book of reports on de-occupation. It will be released not only in Ukrainian, because it is important for foreigners to show our war through human stories – this is a level that they often do not see at the level of the president, commander-in-chief or politicians. And here directly the level of ordinary people, villages, farmers, townspeople, who at times made quiet and practically imperceptible resistance, but also very important.
And since by 2022 we traveled the entire country several times, we found stories in the de-occupied territories mainly through existing contacts.
– You knew the country well until 2022. And how did the occupation and liberation from it change people?
– During these filmings, we mainly recorded shock, joy of return, stories about partisanship, resistance, and rapid actions that took place during the occupation or immediately after.
But I would like to record the long-term consequences, how people change profoundly, realizing that it is necessary to take power into one’s own hands on the ground, to be included in the process of reconstruction, defense capability. At the community level, this is important, because last year we saw how the communities that were actively involved in this, persevered.
For example, the jokes of the first month that the second army of the world wanted to take Kyiv in three days, but could not take Okhtyrka, the Dergachyv community, which was not occupied. I don’t want to downplay the action at the strategic level, but the action at the local level is also very important.
And now I see how a large number of people understand that the enemy did not come only for our statehood, but came to the home of each of us. And it will not be possible to sit down.
– Was it possible to film the continuation of the heroes’ stories until 2022, but already in the context of the war?
– So, for example, the head of the Trostyanets community, Yuriy from the village of Moskali, director Oleksandr Kniga from Kherson. He was in the “Forest Theater”, near Oleshok. Oleksandr was captured, and immediately after leaving the controlled territory, he began organizing theater festivals at international venues, and became involved in the advocacy of Ukraine. Now “Forest Theater” cannot be restored. But Oleksandr is an example of a person who, despite the occupation, continued to work actively. Circumstances have changed, but not him.
It is difficult for me to talk about the fact that we saw how our heroes changed. They were active even before the invasion. And there are people who spoke Russian before February 24 or did not see the war as such. For example, in the story about Lyman, Vitaliy Ovcharenko says that people who were collaborators in 2014 collected money for pickup trucks for the Armed Forces this year. There is little discussion of such stories in the public sphere.
– Yes, and you don’t raise these issues either. Before the invasion, your focus was on local “success stories”, now on resistance stories. Doesn’t that distort what the country really is?
– It is really important for us not to shy away from difficult stories and not to close our eyes to people who may be heroes today, but in the past had a completely different path. We have several heroes who were in the OPZZH until February 24 and they did not fall into our focus. The stories of the transformation of the Russian Orthodox Church will be just as important. These are complex stories that our audience can hate us for. But these are not stories about corruption, for example, where it is difficult to show positive cases.
One of the functions of the media is to be a mirror of society. If you consume only our content, the picture will be distorted. The bubble can burst at the most unexpected moment and it will turn out that society is not so good and beautiful. The solution may be the consumption of content from different media. Because we are only part of the picture.
– You mentioned stories of resistance in communities, and I remember how these actions of ordinary people at the local level came as a surprise to many. Did you have this surprise?
– Sometimes it seems that a year ago there was a different life. Was I surprised at that moment? Probably not. Neither from the Ukrainians, nor from the Russians. In 2009-2010, I traveled in the hinterland of Russia, and I saw what kind of violence is going on there, how differently relationships among people are built there, how little of value there is and how much is trivial. It sounds trite, but I wanted to kiss the ground when I returned to Ukraine.
We traveled all over Ukraine and focused on the stories of local victories, so there was a feeling that most of our heroes would follow suit – and it happened.
|Filming in de-occupied Kherson. Photo courtesy of Ukrainer|
– You filmed stories of local victories, but there were others – more frightening, not so inspiring. How did that affect you and the team?
– Yes, we filmed a lot of very difficult stories. We can talk about resistance, but many of our heroes were tortured and interrogated, and we do not know how many of those who resisted did not survive. After that I became more rigid and intolerant.
And it is probably more difficult for the team to understand our efficiency. At the beginning of the invasion, it was noticeable, we saw the growth of foreign language versions, for example, how Japanese on Twitter overtook Ukrainian, as we reported. And now it is much more difficult to see the result. We are no longer at the reactive stage, but at a much slower one.
We have to maintain the information field in adequacy, support the team in adequacy. The editorial team last week went on vacation for the first time since February 24, 2022. Now we have to hold on to integrity and understand that there is no such reactivity when everyone is fired up and burning, ready to work and volunteer. It is much more complicated. Now the most important thing is to keep the team.
– Regarding reactivity. It disappears not only inside Ukraine, but also abroad. They are talking about fatigue from the topic of Ukraine. How do you now work for a foreign audience?
– I think that some people really have fatigue and exhaustion, despite beautiful political statements. Therefore, we need to be interested in Ukraine not only in the context of the invasion, but to take an active part in cultural, economic, and scientific events. It is very difficult. This task falls on the shoulders of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, communities and, unfortunately, the Ministry of Culture.
We are currently preparing a book about Ukrainian wine, immediately in English. Because Ukrainian wine has a huge growth abroad – for example, some wineries have signed a contract with Japanese supermarkets, and we can strengthen this in the information field. There are other projects that we cannot talk about.
There is also a military project “Victory Units”, where we will talk about the Ukrainian armed forces at different levels – from a brigade to a regiment. And not only about the events that happened to them, but also about the culture of their organization, management features. Mobilization will change, now we see effective recruiting in offensive units. This is how we will increase the employer brand of specific units and spread the mission of their culture.
– In one of the interviews, you also said that it is worth gradually returning content that is not about the war. Why do it and how does this process move for you?
– We made books about wine and celebrating Christmas and Malanka. For the latter, we went on an expedition even before the invasion. Ten teams were filmed on four different dates. But during the year we did not release this content. But they decided to do it before the holidays of this winter 2022-2023. We realized that we can offer the return of traditions.
The de-occupied territories mostly already suffered from the influence of the Soviet occupation, in most of them traditions have not been preserved. We took there a nativity scene, which some of the eastern communities received for the first time. We felt how important and demanded culture is and how lacking it is in the de-occupied territories.
We must shape not only the contours of our enemy, but also continue to create and complement our values and common cultural space. For this, it is important not to stop in creating cultural content, content that is not about war. This is the glue that unites us, because the glue of hatred is gradually weakening. This content is important because if we don’t create it, we will be using the culture and values of others – and we know what this can lead to in the end.
Diana Delurman, especially for UP. Life